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by Von Dongen

Gordy Dickson's newest novel, serialized in the last three Astoundings, has already created a stir in the community. Dorsai! is the tale of Donal Graeme, youngest member of a mercenary family from a planet of mercenaries, who starts at the bottom and works his way into the most senior military post in the Earth sphere. It's definitely designed to appeal to those who like combat, military structures, and politicial intrigue.

Sadly, while I actually enjoy all of those things (after all, I've read the magnificant Caine Mutiny at least four times), I was unable to really get into this book at all. Definitely disappointing Dickson for me.

The universe is promising enough. I like stories set in a small set of worlds clustered around Earth, and Dorsai! does a good job of depicting the sixteen colony worlds within about 25 light years of Earth. There are three main camps, each reflecting the sentiment of their parent worlds: liberal Earth, restrictive Venus, middle-ground Mars. Largely autonomous, the primary export of the colony worlds is specialized humans. Some planets export technicians, others sociologists. The world of the Dorsai breeds the galaxy's best soldiers.

These worlds are in constant warfare, and they rent out the Dorsai to lead their troops. The situation is unstable--political forces are gathering to push a truly free market of people peddling, essentially contract slavery. The ambitious Prince William of Ceta plans to be the informal head of all the human worlds, pulling the strings.

The real problem with Dorsai! is its utter lack of characterization. In this big universe Dickson has painted, there are but a handful of recurring characters. It reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo, where there are about nine people in all of Paris. None of the characters have any depth, and the story is narrated in a distant, aloof manner. We never really get inside anyone's head, and Graeme is the only viewpoint. Moreover, Graeme's military genius is never really explained. He just goes from victory to victory, continuously rising in rank. The plot is a bare skeleton; the story would probably benefit from being a series of books, if each one could hold a reader's interest, of course.

It's also a very male-heavy universe, which I find implausible for a story set four centuries in the future. All in all, if feels very shallow and brawny. I'm sure it will go down in history as a defining tale in the genre, but it's a bandwagon I'm afraid I can't be bothered to buy a ticket for.

Stay tuned next time for the rest of this month's Astounding! I hope it will be better than the Dorsai!, but I shan't hold my breath.


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It's another one of those bittersweet months, much like when I discovered IF only to see it die.
This month's Satellite (the best in science fiction) is a fair bit better than last month's issue, which makes the magazine's fate all the more tragic. But we'll talk about that at the end.

The lead tale, Sister Planet, by Poul Anderson, is excellent--except for the last two pages. I strongly recommend simply stopping before reading the end. It takes place on Venus, specifically an ocean-planet version. There is too little oxygen to breathe, and the air is eternally muggy and over-warm. Yet men (not women, at least not yet) populate a floating base to conduct science and to trade with the natives. As one would expect, the Venusians are not at all humanoid; their closest terrestrial analog is the bottlenose dolphin, cute, playful creatures. They have worked out a trade deal with the humans--art and tools for Venusian fire gems.



The characters are well-realized, the descriptions lush and poetic, and the scene in which a Venusian takes the protagonist for a ride down to the underwater city of the cetoids is absolutely spellbinding. Following which, there is a fine discussion of the pros and cons, moral and economic, of opening Venus up for colonization at the expense of its sentient denizens. There is also a lot of interesting geophysics, the kind I've come to associate with Anderson, who is a trained scientist.

But then the end... it's a complete pill, and it makes no sense. Such a shame. Thankfully, one can skip the last portion with little ill effect.

E Gubling Dow, by Gordon Dickson, is something of a second-rater. An egg-like being crashes to Earth in a spaceship, is rescued by a couple of rural types, and dies slowly, agonizingly, from its wounds. Sad and unpleasant.

On the other hand, the non-fiction column continues to be excellent. This month's feature (by Sam Moscowitz) spotlights the short but prolific life of Stanley G. Weinbaum. It's nearly unbelievable that this fellow wrote so much in just one year's time before his untimely death. A short-short of Weinbaum's is included at the back of issue--it's called Graph.



The other non-fiction piece, on French fantasist Albert Robida (by Don Glassman), is a bit florid but educational. I never would have known about this 19th century poor-man's Verne otherwise.

Oh, and there's a silly short non-fiction piece by Ellery Lanier speculating that the reason "real" scientists haven't ventured a design for a hyperspace drive is because they are too terrified of the great unknown. Right.

If you've ever been in a relationship with an over-needy person (what my friends and I knowingly call a "black hole of need") then the plot of Robert Silverberg's Appropriation will ring true. Clingy aliens come within an ace of consumating a psychologically unhealthy relationship with a set of human colonists, but the terrestrials are saved by a bit of bureaucratic chicanery. The best part of the story is the empathic aliens.



Last, but definitely not least, is a beautifully atmospheric story about a Great War veteran and the French wood he falls in love with. The Woman of the Wood, by A. Merritt, naturally has a twist: the trees are really dryads engaged in a centuries-long slow war with the French peasants who occupy the same land. Really good stuff.

With an issue that started and ended so well, not to mention the advertisements for a new Frank Herbert story and a biography of Hugo Gernsback, I was really looking forward to picking up the June edition. But shortly after picking up this issue and last month's, I learned that publisher Leo Margulies has tossed up the sponge. Satellite joins the long list of science fiction publications that has recently disappeared. I'm even told that the June issue was printed, but that it's not going to be distributed. What a treasure that would be to find.

As sad as that is, at least I still have that stack of Galaxy novels to get through. And next up, provided there are no new space spectaculars, I'll be previewing the movie I saw last week with my little girl. I know, I know. I'm an irresponsible dad, not for taking her to see sci-fi horror films, but for taking her to see bad ones.

So stay tuned. I'm sorry about the widely varying spaces between articles--between work and my hands, it can be tough to stick to a regular schedule. Rest assured, I will keep up the fight.

P.S. And if that pair of teens I met at the record store is reading, thanks for joining the (small) club!

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The penultimate magazine offering this month, at least that has made it into my house for review, is Astounding. As always, my bar is pretty low with that mag, though last month's issue made me dare to hope.

In fact, I'm not quite sure how I feel about the May issue. This may come out rather stream of consciousness, so bear with me!

Gordy Dickson, who has written much I like, starts a new serial this month uninspiringly called Dorsai! I am both enjoying it and somewhat off-put by it. It's the story of a young mercenary from a planet whose primary export is mercenaries. It is written in this sober, manly style, and there is lots of posturing and fighting. At the center of it all is the sole female character, who is bound by contract to a rather odious fellow, and whom it appears the protagonist is trying to save, somehow.

Story-wise, it's not really my cup of tea. Yet it is well written, and I've seen enough of Dickson's work to know that he is facile in a number of styles (i.e. he must be writing this way for a reason) so I'm going to go with it and see where it takes me. I will send you postcards along the way.

We didn't do anything wrong, hardly, by Roger Kuykendall (of whom I know nothing) might well be called I didn't write anything, hardly. Children build a space ship out of spare parts and snag a Russian satellite. I guess Campbell is reduced to buying Danny Dunn rejects these days.

(Please note that Mr. Kuykendall has given me permission to distribute his story, but Mr. Campbell has not. If he expresses his displeasure, I shall let you know.)


by EMSH

Cum Grano Salis isn't bad. Of course, I had to get past the distaste that just comes naturally from seeing "Randall Garrett" on the byline (or, in this case, his nom de plume, David Brown). In this tale, a colonizing team (all men, natch) are stuck on a planet with too few provisions to survive until relief. All of the food on the planet tests poisonous. Yet one crewmember, a hypochondriac with a supply of nostrums, manages to eat the local fruit and thrive. The solution is interesting.

(Again, I have distribution permission from the author, not the editor.)

So that takes me exactly half-way through the magazine, so I will leave the other half (including a rather good tale by George O. Smith) for day-after-tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

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Good gravy! Two good Andersons in a row?

This month's Astounding opens with Wherever you are, by "Winston P. Sanders." If it wasn't the swashbuckling yet science-adoring prose, it was the heroine protagonist's name and ethnicity (Ulrica Ormstad--couldn't get more Swedish!) that suggested Mr. Sanders might well be the well-known nordic science fiction writer, Poul Anderson. A quick checking of sources confirmed the suspicion.

Well, it's really good. The fierce soldier, Major Ormstad, gets to be the viewpoint character for half the novelette, whereupon her meek and brainy shipmate, Didymus Mudge, becomes the reader's eyes. Both have become marooned on an alien planet, an ocean away from the local Terran base. Ship's instruments have been destroyed, and constant cloud cover and a lack of a magnetic pole preclude navigation. It is up to Mudge to puzzle out a way home, and up to Ormstad to deal with the fierce mini-Tyrannosaurs so as to secure transportation. My favorite line of the story goes to Ormstad, who initially thinks little of Mudge yet deigns to speak to him anyway:

"For one honest human conversation, in any human language, she would trade her soul. Make it Swedish, and she'd throw in her sidearm."



On to the next story. When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was John Dough and the Cherub, by L. Frank Baum, sort of a Wizard of Oz side story. In one of the chapters, the story's heroes (John Dough and Chick the Cherub) are captured and threatened with execution. However, this execution is delayed when Chick the Cherub begins to tell the tale of "The Silver Pig." So entranced are the heroes' captors that they delay the execution every night so as to hear more of the pig's adventures. Of course, the story is designed to be endless so as to forestall the execution long enough for John Dough and the Cherub to escape.

I learned much later that this had been the plot to 1,001 Arabian Nights, and the trope has been used a myriad of times since then. Usually, the format is that sentence of death will follow some religiously or legally prescribed ritual, with the sentenced to have some choice as to the format of the ritual. Virtually every story has the same format--the reader is informed that our hero has worked out the puzzle to prolong his/her life, but we don't get to find out the solution until the end. Since classic science fiction favors the "gotcha" ending, I've seen this kind of story a lot in my literary travels.



So it is with Now Inhale, by Eric Frank Russell. I didn't much care for his last story, but this one is fine. A Terran is imprisoned for suspected espionage on an alien world. Condemned to death, he is allowed one final game of his choice before strangulation. The trick is to prolong the game, to neither win nor lose. The record was 17 days. Our hero beats this record a dozen-fold and is prepared to play the game forever, if need be. Can you guess the game?

I'm afraid the rest of the ish meanders into mediocrity (which is perhaps above par for Astounding these days. Chris Anvil's The Sieve is nothing special--on a brand new colony world, half the pioneers take up smoking the local marijuana and become lazy and shiftless. The rest of the colonists decide to let them starve over the winter. Reefer madness, indeed.

Gordy Dickson turns in a disappointing performance with The Catch, in which a galactic federation fairly begs humanity to retake the reins after thousands of years of retirement. It seems those darned aliens just can't stand the burden of leadership. And it turns out they got all of their technology from humanity the last time we were ascendant. Poor little primitive aliens.

Definitely a story after Campbell's heart.

Finally, we have Set a Thief by H. Chandler Elliott, a Canadian brain doctor whose stuff I've never before read. It's an interesting first contact story, though told in a flip off-hand manner I didn't much care for. Is it a set of thieves' tools or a lady's handbag? And interesting case of convergent evolution, to be sure.

The rest of the ish is the final installment of The Pirats of Ersatz so there's nothing more to report for this month. My hands are throbbing, so I may take a break until March 24. I'll have lots to write about by then, though.

Thanks for reading!

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Happy birthday to me! I entered my fifth decade of life yesterday; I hope middle age will be kind to me.

This month's F&SF certainly has been. I have an interesting mix of stories about which to relate.

It has often been said that, to be a good writer, one must be an avid reader. There is no better way to learn the tricks of the trade than to see how others have manipulated the printed word. I, myself, have been a writer for two decades, but I still often find some new technique that impresses me sufficiently to enter my repertoire.


Permission to republish graciously granted by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

Something that struck me while reading Gordon Dickson's quite good modern fantasy, "The Amulet," was its focus on sensual descriptions. You always know the temperature and flavor of the air, the tactile qualities of a seat, the character of sound and light. It makes this a very feeling story, very visceral.

The following psi/space-travel story, by brand-newcomer Anne McCaffrey, The Woman in the Tower, is far more spare in its descriptions. The focus is on a series of telepathic conversations that presumably carry little sensual information. It is a story drawn almost in skeleton sparseness, and it makes sense in the context.

Seeing the two techniques in stark juxtaposition really drove home how important it is to focus (or choose not to focus) on the scenery. Frankly, when I write fiction, I am often afraid to lavish attention on the background or prosaic items for fear of boring my audience. Yet spending some extra time describing an item or sensation is the literary equivalent of conveying the focus of a character's attention. It happens in real life, so it should happen in a story, where appropriate.

So an oldish dog can learn new tricks!

Aside from all that, you probably want to know more about the stories, themselves. Well, The Amulet has witches and all the paraphernalia associated with them. It's a dark story with a dark viewpoint character, about as different from The Man in the Mailbag (April 1959 Galaxy) as you can get. Gordy's got some range.

McCaffrey's tale features a future in which a few supremely powerful telepaths with the ability to teleport matter have become the foundation for an interstellar transportation system. It is a first contact story in several ways, and it is also a love story. I found it very good though perhaps with a bit of the rough-hewn quality one associates with new writers. I hope we see more of Anne in the future.

Speaking of unusual writing styles, Asimov has a piece of fiction in the issue in addition to his science article. Unto the Fourth Generation is an interesting mood piece involving the evolution of a name's spelling and pronunciation over time. Perhaps the only "Jewish" piece I've seen Asimov write, it is a departure from his usual unadorned, functional technique. I liked it.

That's that for this installment, but there are still several more stories on which to report. And if you're an Asimov-o-phile, you'll like this column 'round the end of the month.

Stay tuned!

P.S. Some have inquired as to what happened to the March F&SF and how I got my hands on an early April release. The answer is simple--the author of this column pulled a "Charlie Gordon" (as opposed to a "David Gordon," which some would argue is worse). I actually managed to pick up both the March and April copies at the same time at the source, the latter being a pre-release proof. So entranced was I by the cover that I started reading and forgot that I needed to do March first.

Please forgive me, and if the order bothers you, I recommend swapping your left eye for your right, or perhaps reading upside down.





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Since the second decade of this century, humanity has been indiscrimately pouring out a star's worth of electromagnetic waves. First with radio and now television, there is a sphere of information heading out to the stars at the speed of light that has already passed Arcturus, Capella, and is just now reaching Alderamin. Imagine what conception an alien race must have of us judged solely on the basis of our advertisements, entertainment programming and news bulletins.



Now imagine an alien whose very form is shaped by these media. That's the premise behind Avram Davidson and Laura Goforth's cleverly titled Love Called This Thing. Like all of Davidson's stuff, it's short and brilliant (I have not heard of Ms. Goforth before; perhaps the story was her idea). Read it if you can.

Security Plan by Joe Farrell is no great shakes, but it is a cute and diverting tale of time travel involving the years 1959 and 1991. There is apparently a lot of profit to be had in inflation. My favorite parts dealt with the outré styles of the future; they are extreme extrapolations of modern beat culture. Absolutely sub-zero, o-daddy!

Fred Pohl's The Bitterest Pill is another science fiction potboiler involving an eidetic-memory drug. You'll see the ending a mile away. Possibly the weakest entry of the bunch.

Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson's The Man in the Mailbag, which I liked very much. Not quite a first contact story, in this one, humanity is trying to negotiate diplomatic and trade relations with a race that is singularly unimpressed with humans. It's not difficult to see why: the aliens (Dilbians) are all eight feet tall if they're an inch. Prideful, honorable, and incredibly strong, humans are comparatively puny and inspiring of mistrust. As it is put by one of the elder Dilbians (in my favorite passage of the story), "What if, when you were a lad, some new kid moved into your village? He was half your size, but he had a whole lot of shiny new playthings you didn't have, and he came up and tapped you on the shoulder and said, 'C'mon, from now on we'll play my sort of game?' How'd you think you'd have felt?"



Solving the diplomatic and economic impasse is left to the temperamental young redhead, John Tardy. It so happens that a young lady, nicknamed "Greasy Face" has been abducted by a Dilbian tough (with the ominous and deserved name of Streamside Terror), and Tardy's boss believes that sending a Terran out to rescue her is just the ticket to demonstrates humanity's pluck and worthiness. To ensure that Tardy makes it all the way to Streamside Terror without being waylaid, he is dispatched as a mail parcel to be carried on the back of a Dilbian postman. This is about the safest place to be as the proud Dilbian postal service has a work ethic that would be familiar to anyone who served in the United States (or Persian) Postal Service. Of course, this story has a twist, and the damsel in distress is not quite so distressed (and far more resourceful) than one might think.

What I really like about this tale is that this time, for a change, despite all our unquestionable technological prowess, humanity is on the weaker footing and the writer treats the aliens with respect. But then, this isn't Astounding. Or Cliff Simak.

Feeding the issue into JOURNEYVAC, this issue comes out a solid 3.75 stars. The magazine seems to be weathering the format change reasonably well, so far.

See you on the 10th! And if you're new to the column, leaf through the older entries. Feel free to share them with your friends, too.





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I tried. I really tried.

When last we left off, I had saved Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads for last. It comprises a good third of the January F&SF, and I thought it would be worth an article all to itself. I suppose it does, at that, but not the way I had thought.

For some reason, when I started this project, I'd had the impression that I liked Fritz Leiber. I think it was from reading The Big Time, which was pretty good. Thus my puzzlement when I reviewed "Number of the Beast", and again when I reviewed "Poor Little Miss MacBeth.".

I am now coming to realize that I don't like Fritz Leiber. The Silver Eggheads was yet another of his over written yet frivolous stories. I know Fritz has won the Hugo, and I haven't published any fiction since I was 14 (so what do I know?), but his latest novella was execrable.



Here's the plot. I think. In the future, fiction is turned out by sentient computers. The fiction-bots are destroyed by disgruntled writers (in the future, human writers don't actually compose; they just tend the machines), but then are unable to come up with their own stories. The glib explanation is that people are insufficiently educated in the future to write. This makes no sense--if the primary form of entertainment in the future is reading, how can it be impossible to know how to write, even if a mediocre fashion?

And there are these silver eggs that are apparently the brains of dead writers. And there is a whole species of robots with their own culture and even genders (but who act just like people--a typical sin of contemporary writers). And the whole thing is written in this baroque mess that is as much fun to read as stabbing forks into my eyes, with that same casual Playboy Magazine glib chauvinism that I've come to expect from Mssrs. Anderson and Garrett.

So, I tried. I really tried. But I could not get past the 16th page without skimming. I have failed you. I present myself prostrate and ask forgiveness. Or vindication, whichever may be appropriate.

The rest of the issue fares little better. John Collier's Meeting of Relations is a slight, biblically-inspired piece. It is also 16 years old; its reprinting suggests it was picked based on length rather than quality.

Invasion of the Planet of Love, by George P. Elliott, is another one of those strange pieces that leaves me wondering if it supposed to be satire or not. I suspect it is, because the subject (rapacious Victorian-types looting and torturing Venus and its inhabitants only to be thwarted by the most peaceful of peoples) is implemented in so heavy-handed a fashion that it must have been meant as some kind of allegory. It's certainly not science fiction, at least no more than Burroughs' work at the turn of the century.

From <i>Exploring the Planets</i> Copyright 1958
From Exploring the Planets Copyright 1958

Incidentally, it is looking as though the "hot but tolerable" Venus is about to go by the wayside (along with all the science fiction stories that take place on it). A presentation at the Paris Symposium on Radio Astronomy last summer revealed that radar studies done a few years ago show that Venus may be extremely hot--well above the boiling point of water. I have a suspicion that most of our treasured science-fiction tropes may well be rendered obsolete in the next few years of space exploration.

Wrapping up the magazine is The R of A by Gordon Dickson. It's another in a long line of wish-granting genie stories and an interesting commentary on predestination. Not great, but not bad.

That leaves the score for this magazine at one third 4-star, one third 2-star, and one third 1-star. This leads to an average of 2.33. And things started out so well. On the other hand, the nice thing about digests is you can pick and choose.

Next article: 43,000 Years Later by Horace Coon. Stay tuned!

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Happy (day after) Thanksgiving from sunny San Diego! Sorry for the delay, but the travails of travel put a crimp in my bi-daily update schedule. I am now happily back at the typewriter and ready to tell you all about....



The January 1959 Astounding was particularly lackluster. Filled with turgid tales of men running world governments with smug omnipotence, it was quite the slog. Some details:

“To Run the Rim,” was the stand-out exception, as described earlier this week. Sadly, it simply set the bar higher for the subsequent stories, which did not even try to clear the hurdle.

Gordy Dickson's “By New House Fires,” wasn't bad so much as inconsequential. In this story, humanity has made the planet unlivable for any but humans, animals being found solely in preserves. I've seen this concept before, and I never buy it. I have no trouble believing that humans will run pretty roughshod over planet Earth, and many thousands if not millions of species will be the casualties. We may pollute the world into a stinking mess and/or incinerate the surface in atomic hellfire, but we'll never reduce its inhabitants to people and food-yeast. Of course, Dickson's set-up is necessary for the tale, the story of the world's last dog, and the master he adopts.

Oh look! The next story is a Poul Anderson, surprise, surprise. In premise, “Robin Hood's Barn,” is not unlike Piper's story in the last Astounding following the leader of a decadent Empire. In this case, the Empire is solely terrestrial, only one inhabitable extrasolar world having yet been discovered. This is the story that predicated my recent rant on the dearth of women in science fiction. Though it takes place far in the future, all government is run by men, and worse still, it is one of those smug stories where the person in charge has perfect Machiavellian control of the various competing factions beneath him.

I suppose I must sound hypocritical. After all, I gave Piper's story a pass (and even a favorable grade). I think the difference is two-fold: Piper's story was meant to be somewhat fanciful. Moreover, I've seen Piper write strong women. Anderson's never tried (except that isn't quite true—he managed five years ago in Brainwave, his one excellent book). Maybe Piper is just as bad, but Anderson was the straw that broke my back.

“Seedling,” by Charles V. de Vet (he worked with Katherine MacClean in Astounding earlier this year) is a pleasant, albeit brief, interlude about the drastic steps one might take to establish relations with an alien race. The twist is nice, too.

All too soon, we're plunged back into another top-level womanless depiction of world government: “Deadlock,” by Robert and Barbara Silverberg. This is one of those old-fashioned stories in which a problem is introduced and the solution comes as a gotcha at the last second. What's particularly frustrating is the Silverbergs spend 40 pages on what should have been a 10-page tale.

Here's the set-up: It is a hundred years from now, and humanity is on the eve of settling Mars. The Americans want to terraform the planet; the Chinese want to biologically engineer humans to settle the planet as is. One intrepid U.N. representative is tasked with finding a suitable compromise. This set-up is described over and over again in several slightly varying ways (newspaper clippings, interviews with officials on both sides) until the inevitable and unclever solution is presented. It would be fine as backdrop to characterization, or as bookends to a novel, but it just can't bear the weight of a novella.

One has to wonder if John Campbell simply needed to fill space and asked the Silverbergs to pad their submission out. Since authors are paid by the word, I can imagine there was little resistance to the idea.

Now, I do have some praise for the story. I am impressed with anyone willing to throw her or his hat over the fence and make a timeline of future history, especially when it makes assumptions that few others do. For instance, in this world, the Soviet Union collapses in the early 21st century not from American success in a Third World War, but from economic inadequacy. An economically revitalized (but probably still Communist) China takes its place as a superpower. The U.N.'s power is enhanced after an abortive and politically fraught Space Race. While this makes for a more peaceful Earth, preventing large-scale conflicts, it also means that any plan to settle other planets requires a consensus of most of the Earth's countries. Hence, the presented dilemma. It's a plausible set-up, they just don't do much with it.

I am also impressed with how far science fiction (and science) have come. Just 16 years ago, Heinlein was writing about transforming humanity at glacial speed through selective breeding a la Mendel. Genetic engineering reduces the process time to a single generation. I look forward to seeing more stories with this development as a component.

There's more, but I find myself in danger of over-writing this column, so I'll save it for next time.

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And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: An actual review of an actual science fiction magazine!

NOVEMBER 1958, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION



I usually save Astounding for last among my subscriptions. I have mixed feelings about this magazine. On the one hand, it is physically of the lowest quality compared to its competitors (F&SF being easily the highest). Editor John Campbell, with his ravings about psionics, perpetual motion and Hieronymous machines, as well as his blatant human-chauvinism, is tough to take. But he had a fine stable of authors, and some of the best stories come out of his magazine.

This issue's headliner, Poul Anderson's short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew,” does not look like it will be among them. It is the first half of a two-parter set some time in the next century in the Asteroid Belt. The setting is interesting, and so is the set-up: a renegade faction of an Irish-colonized nation of asteroids has taken over Grendel, a small asteroid under the sovereignty of the "Anglians," and the crew of the trader, Mercury Girl is stranded until it can find a way out.

Unfortunately, this is one of those “funny” stories, the kind of which Bob Sheckley is a master and Poul Anderson is not. Moreover, Anderson phonetically transcribes the exaggerated accents of his multinational cast of characters, which quickly becomes a slog to read. I had high hopes for Anderson after “Brainwave” (1953), but everything since then has been generally (though not entirely) mediocre to turgid. It's all very chauvinistic stuff, too. More so than most contemporary authors.

"Goliath and the Beanstalk," by Chris Anvil is forgettable, like all of Anvil's stuff I've read to date. He and Robert Silverberg are much alike: prolifically generating serviceable, uninspired space-filler.

The next story is by a fellow named Andrew Salmond, a name so unfamiliar to me, that I suspect it is a pseudonym for one of the regular contributors. "Stimulus" is a mildly interesting yarn about Earth being the one planet in the universe made of contra-terrene matter (also known as anti-matter), and the effect this has on spaceflight and humanity's future in general. The gotcha is that the situation was recently imposed upon the Earth--right before our first moon launch, in fact. Can you guess how the Earth figured out what had happened? I (he said smugly) did quite early on.

By the end of the story, humanity is the most powerful race in the galaxy and rather insufferable about it, too. I'm sure this appealed to Editor Campbell, given his taste (editorial requirement?) for stories where humans are better than everyone else.

Gordy Dickson's "Gifts..." is not science fiction at all, and it reads like a screenplay for a short television episode. It is about a man given the opportunity to wish for whatever he wants, and his decision whether or not to use the power. Slight stuff.

Katherine MacLean's “Unhuman Sacrifice” is reason enough to buy this issue. I had not read much of MacLean's stuff before, but I will be on the look-out for her stories from now on. Her tale of a spaceship crew's encounter with an alien species with a singular life cycle, told from the viewpoint of both the humans and the aliens, is fascinating and haunting. I won't spoil it by telling you anything more.

Asimov's new science column continues. This time, it attempts to answer why, in a galaxy filled with billions of suns, Earth has yet to be contacted by alien civilizations. He ultimately concludes that galactic civilizations are likely to form in the center, where stars are densest, and may well avoid the backward edges, where we live. He further opines that we may well have been discovered by vastly superior races (for any race that could find us must be far beyond us, at least technologically) and are being left alone so as not to disturb our development. It's a cute idea, but it is also indistinguishable from our being undiscovered. Until the flying saucers announce themselves outside of the deep Ozarks, we have to assume We Really Are Alone.

P. Schuyler Miller's book review column remains the most comprehensive available. His comparing and contrasting of Bradbury with Sheckley, Matheson and Beaumont is interesting and arch. The rest is good, too.

The issue wraps up, as always, with Campbell's letter column, Brass Tacks. I skipped it, as always. Campbell may fill his magazine with fine stories, but I find the quality of his own opinions (like the quality of Astounding's paper) to be lacking.

New magazines come out on the 26th. Stay tuned!

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