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Wow!

I do declare, the February 1959 IF really is something else. Not a stinker in the book, and some truly excellent stuff. If had always been like this, I think it would have dislodged Astounding and jostled its way into the top tier of science fiction digests.

Without further ado...

The other day, I read in the newspaper that Andrei Gromyko (the Soviet foreign minister) lauded the strength of the Communist Bloc, stating that the counterbalance of the two superpowers actually insured against an atomic apocalypse. Be that as it may, I don't see how we can live persistently at two minutes to midnight without snapping some taut nerves. The Last Days of L.A., by George H. Smith, is a brutal second-person piece about cracking up under the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. I'd be very interested to see statistics on this phenomenon, because I bet it is happening quite often.

I advise you not to read this piece right before going to sleep.



Have you heard of Rosel George Brown? She's an up-and-comer, and Virgin Ground is her third published story. It is a spin on the "pioneer spouse" trope: in this case, it's brides for Mars. This is another dark story with an unhappy ending, but there's no question but that it's well-written.

I found Discipline, by Katerine St. Clair, to be excellent. It is a tale of archaeological rivalry, but with a setting in space. One has to wonder how often it happens that scientific integrity is squandered to preserve an attractive thesis. In this story, one man's pride spells another's doom, but the ending is pleasantly unexpected.

Another newcomer is David R. Bunch. His In the Jag-Whiffing Service is good, funny stuff, but it is so short that to tell you anything about it would spoil the whole thing. Take my word for it. Better yet, read it yourself.

Star of Rebirth, by Bernard Wall (of whom I've never heard; perhaps he is an incognito Damon Knight), is one of the few rays of light in this rather dark set of stories. Set far in the future after a devastating nuclear war, it is a convincing and touching piece following the leader of a tribe of primitive survivors. I liked it a lot.



Finally, you've probably all heard of Cordwainer Smith. His No, No, not Rogov! is a piece of present-day scientifiction (yes, that word is still in vogue) about a husband-and-wife science team working in the Soviet Union; their super-secret work into the field of electric clairvoyance yields unexpected results. Of all of the stories in this magazine, I predict this one may go down in history as a classic.

I think I can see a trend in Damon Knight's editorial choice. Most of these tales are bleak things, though they are of indubitably good quality. However, there is just enough hope leavening the mix to make the book palatable. In any event, it is clear that Mr. Knight was a solid choice to navigate IF out of the sales doldrums.

Except I did promise you bad news, didn't I?

Just after I'd picked up this magazine, I learned that publisher James L. Quinn is throwing in the towel. IF is for sale, and there's no telling when (or if) the magazine will resume publication. It's really a shame. Mr. Knight really hadn't had a chance to bring the magazine back from the brink, and I'm sure that he could have.

On the other hand, I don't think his stable of authors will quit writing. Maybe Galaxy will get enough material to go back to a monthly format. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned day-after-tomorrow for.... I'm not sure yet. I'm playing this one by ear!





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Wrapping up my tour of Kaua'i, here are some pictures I took on the south shore estate of Robert Allerton, whose hospitality is as tremendous as his philanthropy (science fiction-related stuff to follow).









For this installment, I've got something a little different. It's also the good news half of a good/bad news combination.



If is a science fiction magazine that has been around since 1952. Amongst the several dozen that have existed throughout the decade, it is perhaps (outside of The Big Three) the best. I haven't followed it very closely, and that's why I missed the big news.

Two issues ago, Damon Knight (acerbic critic and often brilliant writer) was tapped for the job of editor. I didn't find out until a couple of weeks ago, by which time, I'd missed the opportunity to buy the October and December 1958 issues. February 1959 was still on the stands, however, and I took it with me to Kaua'i.

Perhaps it's just the rosy glow imparted from having read mostly on the lovely Kalapaki beach, but it's really good. I've gotten through the first five stories, and they shall be the topic of today's discussion.

It is, of course, with trepidation that I read the opening piece, Pipe Dream by Fritz Leiber. As I've explained before, I used to like Fritz a lot (who can forget the brilliant A Pail of Air, which appeared in Galaxy many years ago). His stuff of late, however, has been pretty lousy. To be fair, it all appeared in F&SF, so that may have something to do with it. Anyway, Pipe Dream, about the creation of artificial life, is slickly written and atmospheric, but it's also disturbing and unpleasant, and perhaps not in the way Fritz intended. I didn't like it, though I imagine many would.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Wind People is almost a winner. It is a haunting tale of a ship's medical officer who elects to remain on a presumably uninhabited planet rather than expose her newborn child to the risks of hyperdrive travel. Bradley writes powerfully, and the mystery presented as the protagonist and her son make tentative and increasing contact with the furtive natives of the planet is exciting and engaging. The ending, however, is a let-down. One had to wonder if Bradley intended for the story to go in a different direction, one in which the editor was afraid to go. You'll have to read it and see. At least it's by a woman, stars a woman, and takes place in a universe where women make up half of a starship crew. Progress!

I'll skip story #3 until the end, as I've got a lot to say about that one. Number four is The Man who tasted Ashes by Algis Budrys. This is only the third story of his that I've read, and the second really good one; I'm going to look forward to more from him (and perhaps pick up earlier ones I've missed). If ever there was an anti-hero, it is the viewpoint character for this story: a petty political intriguer-for-hire who is contracted by an extraterrestrial concern to facilitate World War III. Good stuff.



Next up: Love and Moondogs by Richard McKenna (a career Navy man who got a writing degree on the G.I.Bill—now there's the American Way!) This is a silly story about the lengths some might go in the pursuit of their cause, however frivolous, and the hypocrisy often inherent therein. In this case, the object of outrage is a Soviet moon-muttnik. Gentle, pleasant satire.

Now back to story #3: The Good Work by relative newcomer Theodore L. Thomas. Remember when I talked about overpopulation in stories and the laughably small numbers most authors bandy about as too much for our planet? Well, Thomas doesn't play around—there are 350 billion souls inhabiting his Earth, and their life is accordingly regimented and drab. It's a satirical anti-utopia (a dystopia?) with a barbed punchline. The core of the story is the search for meaningful work in an age when everyone has just enough, and everything is automated.

I think this story is particularly relevant given that we are, I believe, on the cusp of a dramatic change in our economy. Before the industrial revolution, virtually everyone in the United States was employed in the agricultural sector. By the early 1800s, the industrial and service sectors began to rise as machines created jobs and allowed for the distribution of wealth; this was balanced by a drop of employment on the farm. Around 1900, employment in the agricultural sector had dropped to 35%, tied with the service sector and only slightly above the industrial sector. Industrial sector employment rose to a peak of 37% around 1950, and it has begun a gradual but steady decline since. Agricultural employment was at just over 10% in 1950, and it is plummeting fast. Service sector employment makes up the rest.

Projecting out another 50 years, agricultural employment will decline logarithmically, with a limit of zero as time goes to infinity. Industrial employment may take longer, but with mechanization and (ultimately) roboticization, that sector will also see declining employment. That leaves the service sector, which means that in the end, our economy will consist of nobody making anything, and everyone doing something for each other. Except, in the future, I imagine machines will also be my servants. So what will anyone purchase in 50 years to drive the economy? How will anyone work? Perhaps we'll all be scientists and artists in 2009. More likely, we'll develop artificial needs for useless products. Radio advertising has already been honed to a fine art, and the ad execs are figuring out the television advertising game pretty quickly.

Maybe we'll all be employed making advertisements. That sounds fulfilling.



Anyway, I promised good news, so in summation, If with Damon Knight at the helm promises to be a fine magazine.

The other shoe will drop on the last day of this month...





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