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It had to happen some day--Astounding has pulled itself out of a nose dive, for now.

Last time, I discussed the most excellent serial, Deathworld. Still, a single good serial does not a good issue make. Thankfully, Campbell has at long last, and after a merciless rough patch, delivered a quite readable book.

J.T. McIntosh can always be relied upon to provide entertainment; his lead novella, Immortality for Some is no exception. In the future, society's most worthy, the 10% with sufficient talents and/or accomplishments to make the cut, are allowed to undergo "Rebirth." This process erases all memories and restores the body to an adolescent stage of physical development. The special person gets to live again in a sort of cloned reincarnation.

But what happens when one of the world's intellectual elite doesn't want to cheat death? This is a world that doesn't want to lose a cultural treasure, and it takes an exceptional person, indeed, to evade Rebirth.

Strongly written, with the first half written from the point of view of an aged woman pianist of superlative talent giving her last concert before Rebirth; the second stars the aforementioned fellow—a seemingly unremarkable caretaker whom the musician befriends. It's worth your time.

And now, I shall surprise my audience by saying with a straight face that I actually enjoyed Randall Garrett's contribution to this issue: In Case of Fire.... In this far future, the sprawling Terran Empire cannot afford to send its best and brightest as ambassadors to less-esteemed stations. The story opens on a remote, unimportant world whose embassy is staffed with barely functional neurotics. Yet in that insanity lies the key to ending an interstellar war. Garrett manages to be somewhat clever and to not offend. Quite an accomplishment for him.

Chris Anvil's Shotgun Wedding is another of his unremarkable space-fillers about an alien race whose plan to disrupt humanity by flooding the market with clairvoyant television backfires. One bit I liked, however, was the depiction of pen pals from different countries using their television screens to correspond across thousands of miles. When the world is finally wired into OMNIVAC, decades from now, I imagine we'll see such a phenomenon.

Editor Campbell has been trying to make a go of the slick non-fiction section of his magazine for several months. This issue is the first with readable articles, the first of which is Mars: A Summing Up by R.S. Richardson (perhaps better known by his nom d'plume, Philip Latham). Mr. Richardson does an admirable, if slightly dry, job of comprehensively summarizing the current state of knowledge regarding the mysterious Red Planet.



We've enjoyed three relatively close approaches to Mars over the past six years, the likes of which will not recur until 1971, by which time we will probably have sent at least one probe to investigate close-up. As a result, scientists have amassed a bonanza of information. Yet it is still unknown whether or not Mars has life, though if it does, it must be of a very low order. The most exciting work has been done by the astronomer A. Dolfuss, who has determined the nature of Martian soil to examination of its polarization (the non-randomness of the angle of vibration of light that reflects from it). That we've learned so much about Mars is, of course, a marvel in and of itself. To quote the author, "To tell anything about a body that never comes closer than thirty-five million miles taxes your ingenuity to the utmost."

Dr. Asimov was also tapped to provide an article after a long hiatus from Astounding's pages. Microdesign for Living, about the biochemical synthesis of proteins, is not one of his better pieces, which is to say that is readable but not memorable.

Poul Anderson (as his Astounding alter-ego Winston P. Sanders) wraps things up with a short piece called The Barrier Moment. Scientists may not know why one can't go back in time more than three years, but a philospher believes he has the horrifying answer. Perhaps there isn't any time to go back to...

All told, the March 1960 Astounding clocks in at a respectable three-and-a-half stars. That is the best this magazine has been since I started rating the issues in January 1959. I sincerely hope Campbell can keep this up!

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Good Lord, is it already 1960?

When I started this endeavor in 1958, I had only a vague notion what it would look like and how long it would last. Over the past year 14 months, Galactic Journey has settled into what I hope is a consistent, yet varied, mature column. Moreover, I have suspicion that this column will last just about as long as I do, as I see no reason to ever stop.

It is hard to imagine Galactic Journey with bylines dated with futuristic years like 1965 or 1972 or 1988, but why not? Perhaps one day, instead of San Diego, Seattle, or Sapporo, the dateline will read Sinus Rorus, Syrtis Major, or Saturn.



Returning to the present, it must be 1960, for that is the date on the current Fantasy and Science Fiction, January to be exact. Actually, the February issue has already arrived, but that's a topic for a future week. In the meantime, let's see what the first F&SF of 1960 has to offer:

Poul Anderson is back with another Time Patrol story, The Only Game in Town. This time, Everard and his faithful Indian companion (I kid; Salgado is quite a well-developed and co-equal character) are dispatched to the American Southwest in the 13th century to stop, get this, a Mongol invasion.

It's not so silly as it sounds. In fact, it sounds downright plausible that the Mongols could, after conquering China, send a scouting expedition to the New World. It didn't take many horsemen to conquer the Aztecs, and the Mongols were a formidable race, to be sure. What makes this story interesting, aside from the fine writing and evocative setting, is Everard's dawning realization that the Time Patrol's mission may not be as pure as once thought. The Time Cops are told they are to preserve the original timeline, but in this story, they appear to be meddling for meddling's sake rather than fixing damage caused by others.

I look forward to learning more about the secret agenda of Everard's future employers.

Then we have A Divvil with the Women, apparently a resubmission of an earlier story once published in a lesser magazine. It's by Eric Frank Russell (slumming as "Niall Wilde"), and it involves an unpleasant fellow who makes a deal with the devil—with disastrous results, of course. My, but these stories are popular these days! It's no longer than it needs to be to deliver the punchline, which is a blessing (pun intended).

Damon Knight has translated a piece from F&SF's French edition: The Blind Pilot by Charles Henneberg. Sadly, the thing is only half-translated or something; it's well nigh unreadable, and I didn't make it past the first few pages. Oh well.

Reginald Bretnor, who writes the execrable Ferdinand Feghoot puns in F&SF under a pseudonym, has a very silly short-short ("Bug-Getter") that, you guessed it, ends in a pun. I must confess that I did laugh, so it couldn't have been all bad.

For once, Asimov has a decidedly unremarkable article. It's called Those Crazy Ideas, and it segues from a discussion of Asimov's personal creativity to observations on how scientific creativity can be maximized. Fluffy.

Cliff Simak's Final Gentleman just barely misses the mark. Quite a long tale for F&SF, it is one of those excitingly creepy tales with a prosaic payoff. In this case, a respected author retires after 30 years only to find that the trappings and details of his life are largely imaginary, sort of a psychic cloak that surrounds him, altering his surroundings and himself to seem more refined and engaging than they actually are. I found this notion compelling. After all, I often swathe myself in a fantasy, pretending to be decades in the past. I complete the illusion by listening to old music, using obsolete slang, wearing out-of-date clothing. It is a conceit in which I engage to better understand a bygone era for historical purposes, and simply to have a fun invisible refuge from the real world. Hey—it's cheaper than heroin.

But in Simak's story, the psychic hoodwink is perpetrated solely to influence the course of history through an implausible Rube Goldberg chain of interactions. I was disappointed, but you may feel differently.

A Little Girl's Christmas in Modernia, by Ralph Bunch, is next. In this future, we gradually trade in our flesh parts for metal as we grow older. Bunch's tale features a fully human moppet and her mostly-converted parents in the kind of inconsequential story I'd expect to find in a slick. I suppose they needed a Holiday-themed story to fill out this issue.

What do you do when an alien weather probe crashes into your backyard? You bake it, of course, and thus unintentionally forestall an extraterrestrial invasion. G.C. Edmondson's The Galactic Calabash is fun, though it took me several sessions to get through the short story, largely because I always picked it up at bedtime.

Rounding out the magazine is the quite good Double Double, Toil and Trouble by Holley Cantine. An anarchist turned recluse decides to take up magic, eventually learning the secret to doubling anything. It starts out well enough, but the ending provides a cautionary tale against dabbling in the Dark Arts. Holley Cantine, I understand, is a bit of a political theorist, and Double has a deeper message wrapped in a gentle fiction coating.

And so the January 1960 F&SF ends as it began with a four-star story. In-between, there lies a muddle of uncharacteristic unevenness such that the whole issue clocks in at a mere three stars, the same as this month's Astounding.

That just leaves us with the January IF, whose reading is in progress. In the meantime, I'll soon have a report on my latest excursion to the drive-in with my daughter. It don't all gotta be highbrow, after all.

Happy New Year!



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There are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month. It would go something like this:

"Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters. The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster. Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment."

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I've never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster's weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick. Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he's just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth.


by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war. Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month. Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material. A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there's nothing wrong with the subject matter. Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won't be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson's The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent. Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet's Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on. The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.


by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint. A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time. The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish. It's not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern. This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here. On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg's wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives. The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale's 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small "s") and social welfare. The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless. While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don't think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests. Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell's fancy. It has that "secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine" conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along. I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good. He's not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it's a 2.5 star issue. But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I'm keenly anticipating next month's installment. You'll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!







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Statistics are (is?) fun. There is a simple joy to compiling data and finding patterns. Since the beginning of the publishing year, i.e. issues with a January cover date, I have been rating stories and magazine issues in aggregate. This is partly to help me remember the stories in times to come and also to trace patterns of quality. In a couple of months, I plan to have my own mini-Hugo awards; perhaps one of you might help me think of a catchy name.

I use a 1 to 5 star rating system, and until this month, individual issues varied between aggregate ratings of 2.5 and 3.5. But this month, the October 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction broke the curve scoring an incredible, unprecedented 4.5 stars. That’s about as close to perfection as I can imagine, and I strongly urge all of you to get your hands on a copy while they remain at newsstands.

I talked about the first third of the book last week. I’ve since finished the rest, and the quality has not dipped an inch.

To be sure, Charles G. Finney’s The Gilashrikes is only decent. A biologist mates his gila monster to his shrike, and the resulting hybrid, in an attempt to make up for their ignoble provenance, become the town moralists, enforcing virtue to an increasingly annoying degree. I know of Finney from the much raved-about Circus of Dr. Lao, and Gilashrikes has a similar, whimsical quality.



Operation Incubus, by Poul Anderson, on the other hand, is fantastic in both senses of the word. A newlywed magician couple, one a lycanthrope, the other an adept (relearning her trade after losing the maidenhood that was the source of much her power) go on a honeymoon only to run afoul of demonic predators. It’s lyric, tasteful, and impacting. Also very exciting. It also paints a universe much like ours, but with magic more intertwined with our lives. Highly recommended.

Hassoldt Davis’ The Pleasant Woman, Eve is a Garden of Eden story starring God and the Wandering Jew discussing how to get the first humans to make more of themselves independently. It’s very good, but it could have used an extra paragraph. Perhaps space concerns dictated the abrupt ending.

The Pi Man is Alfred Bester’s latest tale of a haunted, pursued psychic. In this case, the protagonist is sensitive to karmic patterns, and he must do good and hateful things, in turn, to maintain balance in the universe. It’s very strangely written, and it took me a few pages to get into it, but I found the journey ultimately rewarding.

Finally, for the short stories at least (and they are all under 16 pages in length to accommodate Heinlein’s serial) is Avram Davidson’s Dagon. I must confess that I did not quite understand this rather ominous tale of an American soldier’s rise to virtual Godhood in post-War China. As the fellow becomes more powerful, he becomes more detached from reality, in the end becoming an intangible viewpoint on the world.--a literal goldfish in a bowl. Perhaps that is the point—with power comes a loss of free will and agency. Or perhaps it was just a comeuppance delivered by a mischievous old Chinaman.

As for the novel, Heinlein’s Starship Soldier, the first half is excellent, particularly in contrast to Dickson’s recent military serial, Dorsai!. Oh, it’s got its share of Heinlein preaching through the mouths of characters, but he has to get it out somewhere. I’ll devote a full article to the story next month.

As a teaser for the next article, I've just learned that the Soviets have launched their second lunar probe. It only takes half a day to get there, so we'll know if it was a success in short order!



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In this month’s F&SF editorial, editor Doug Mills reports that he’s gotten a number of complaints regarding the oversaturation of stories in the post-apocalyptic, time travel, and deal-with-the-Devil genre.  Mr. Mills’ response was that any genre can be oversaturated, but quality will always be quality, and F&SF will publish quality stories in whatever genre it pleases. In fact, there are stories dealing with all three of the "oversaturated" genres in this issue.

What do you think?  I have to agree with Mr. Mills.  Personally, I can never get enough of After the Bomb stories, time travel is often a hoot, and the Devil features in relatively few tales these days, in my experience.   But I’d like your opinion on the matter.
I had not realized that Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol story had taken up so much of the current issue; there isn’t much left to review.  There is some goodness, however:

Rosebud, by Ray Russell, is teleological nonsense in a single-pager.  Damon Knight’s book review column deals with horror, and is interesting, as usual.  I wish he were still helming IF (come to think of it, I just received this month’s copy… I wonder who’s in charge.)

Kit Reed’s Empty Nest is well nigh unreadable, but I think it’s a horror about being eaten by anthropoid birds.

Obituary, by Isaac Asimov, is actually quite good, and one of his few stories from the viewpoint of a woman.  It involves domestic abuse, a truly evil (yet in a plausible and everyday sort of way) villain, and a satisfactory, grisly come-uppance.  I hope the good doctor is not writing from experience in this one…

Finally, we’ve got Pact, by Poul Anderson (under his pseudonym, Winston P. Sanders). This is the aforementioned Devilish Deal story, and it is my favorite story of the issue. I hear you gasp--an Anderson story is my favorite? Yes! It's clever all the way through, this story of a demon summoning a human in the hopes of consumating a contract. Fine stuff.

My apologies for the shortness of this installment. I'll make it up next time. Perhaps.

P.S. One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction so much is the clever gadgets. In Asimov's story, the villain uses a "desktop computer" with some sort of typewriter keys attached. Boy, would that be a fine tool to have, and I've never seen the like in a story before. Something to look forward to in a decade or two?





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For most people, the beginning of the month coincides with the 1st (or, as my late father might say, the “oneth”—i.e., May the “oneth” followed by May the “tooth”).  For me, and doubtless for most of my science fiction loving sistren and brethren, the month starts around the 26th, which is when the science fiction magazines hit the newsstands.

Of course, those who get their issues via mail-order get them at varying times, but in general, the last week of the month preceding the month preceding the cover date  (I did not stutter; the duplication is intentional) is when the goodies arrive.  For me, that’s The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (generally good), Astounding Science Fiction (often bad, but sometimes good), and on a bi-monthly and alternating basis, Galaxy (generally decent), and IF (quality as yet undetermined).  When these run out, I pray for interesting space news and/or interesting new novels.  Exhausting these, I turn to my collection of older books, preferably ones I have been given the right to distribute freely.

I am currently at the giddy start of a new month, and I’ve decided to eat my dessert first, tearing through the August 1959 F&SF.  Take my hand, and away we go!

Jay Williams generally sticks to juveniles, co-writing the Danny Dunn series, which are pretty fun if you’re the right age to enjoy them (pre-teen).  His Operation LadyBird opens up this month’s issue, and it’s a lighthearted romp on a Venus that a United Nations force has recently cleaned of a loathsome alien menace.  Turns out that we were actually called in (unwittingly) by Venusians (who look just like Hopi Indians) to act as exterminators.  I liked the story better when it was called Cat and Mouse, but the story is not without its charms, and it does feature a strong female character, a resourceful Soviet major.

Asimov’s column is good this month.  The Ultimate Split of the Second begins as a primer on measuring really big and small things.  The Doctor recommends using the time it takes light to travel certain small distances as really small units of time (i.e. a light meter, a light kilometer, etc.).  This the flip side to using light years, minutes, hours, for distance measuring.

Then he gives us a survey of the latest discoveries of subatomic particles, exciting new things that are the very bleeding edge of modern physics.  Their halflives are exceedingly small, so the nomenclature described above comes in handy to describe them. 

The prolific Carol Emshwiller (whose husband’s art graces the pages of many digests under the byline “EMSH”) has an interesting post-apocalyptic mood piece called Day at the Beach.  There’s not much to it; it is largely the depiction of a family in a ruined, but not extinguished, United States.  Gasoline is exorbitantly expensive, most citizens have lost all of their hair, mutations are legion, and there is not much law and order.  Diverting, forgettable.

Fantasist Marcel Aymé’s The Walker-Through-Walls is cute, though it is a reprint from 1943.  Our straight-laced protagonist discovers that, in mid-life, he has the ability to traverse walls as if they did not exist.  He resists exploiting this power, but little by little, he succumbs to temptation.  First, he terrifies his tyrannical boss, then he becomes a dashing, popular thief.  Ultimately, he becomes involved in a torrid affair that proves to be his undoing.  Well-written, somewhat fluffy.



Finally, for today, we have Poul Anderson’s latest Time Patrol story.  As you know, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the good Swede, but this one is pretty good.  For those who don’t know, the Time Patrol is an organization based in the far future that recruits constables from across time to police for alterations in the timeline.  It’s a tough task, but it is made easier by the laws of the universe which have the time stream move along in a way not unlike a river—it takes a lot to get a substantial altering of course.
 Patrolman Manse Everard, nominally stationed in the late ‘50s, is approached by Cynthia, wife of his best friend, and object of Manse’s unrequited affections, to find her husband, who has disappeared without a trace some 2500 years in the past.  Unable to say no, Manse takes an unauthorized trip to the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great to find his friend, who turns out to be none other than the King of Kings himself!  It’s an exciting but somewhat ironic and bittersweet story, and it gets extra stars for being about a rather unsung but personal favorite era of mine.

All told, the first half (and a little extra) of this issue has had no clunkers, but also no home runs, to mix my metaphors.  Call it 3.5?
See you in two days!





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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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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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Last time on this station, I informed all of you that Part 2 of this (last) month's Fantasy & Science Fiction review would have to wait since I'd wanted to get through the Poul Anderson novelette before reporting.

Well, I'm glad I did. Damn that Anderson, anyway. How dare he write a good story! Now I can't justify skipping him. But more on that later.

Of Time and Cats by Howard Fast, who normally doesn't dip his toe in the science fiction pool, is a fun tale of the multiplicity that ensues when time travel is involved. A slick, paradoxical story.

Algis Budrys has another winner with The Distant Sound of Engines about impending death and the urgent need to impart a lifetime's accumulated wisdom before final departure. Sad. Good.

Avram Davidson's The Certificate is dystopic in the extreme, and probably inspired by the recent Holocaust. A subjugated humanity is reduced to bitter slave labor. The only "gift" from their new overlords is perfect health. How does one escape?



I liked Three Dimensional Valentine by Stuart Palmer (who had a story in the very first F&SF) quite a lot. It is fun and frivolous and rather old-fashioned. It is also unexpected. The author has given me permission to distribute this one, but I haven't quite received it in the mails yet. I'll let you know when I do.

And now to Poul Anderson's The Sky People. As you know, I always approach Anderson with trepidation. Apart from the amazing Brainwave, his work is generally turgid, and I don't like his manly men and absent women.

This one was different. There is still plenty of swashbuckling in this post-apocalyptic tale, but it is done in the style and with the flaire of a good pirate movie like Black Swan. It is set in old San Antone, in the heart of the decaying "Meycan" Empire, south of Tekas and north of S'america. Their technology and mindset is mired in the 16th century. The eponymous "Sky People" are dirigible-driving corsairs from the Kingdom of "Canyon." Though rapacious and ruthless, they possess a greater technology than their target--the Meycans. Unfortunately for them, the timing of their attack proves to be inauspicious as it coincides with the arrival of a delegation from the Federation, successors to the Polynesian nations of Oceania.



Told by three viewpoint characters, one Polynesian, one sky pirate, and one Meycan (a woman!), it is really quite good. Not only has Anderson managed to convincingly portray a wide variety of cultures, he has done a fine job of projecting recovery from an atomic catastrophe in a world that has used up most of its natural resources. I don't know if Anderson has written other stories in this universe or if he intends to, but I would enjoy reading more.

The final story is Alfred Bester's Will You Wait?. The deal with the Devil story has been just about done to death, but this is an infernally cute story about how the modern way of business has made the process Hell on Earth.

Gosh, where does that leave us for the issue? 4 stars? 4 and a half? Definitely a good read worth picking up--if there are any left on the stands, that is.

See you on the 12th!





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A bit of a grab bag today as I finish off the odds and ends before the new (diminishing) crop of magazines comes in.

Firstly, the sad news regarding Vanguard II has been confirmed: the wobbly little beachball has got the orbitum tremens and is unable to focus its cameras on Mother Earth. So much for our first weather satellite.

Secondly, the sad news regarding the April 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction. Yes, Poul Anderson does have a story in it. The Martian Crown Jewels is a science fiction Sherlock Holmes pastiche. As a mystery and as a story, it is fairly unremarkable. Still, Doyle-philes may enjoy it. As can be expected, both for the genre and for the author, the only women's names are to be found gracing ships, not characters.



There are a couple of oddball pieces in this issue. One is a translated Anton Checkhov parody of a Jules Verne story called The Flying Islands. Perhaps it's better in the original Russian.

There is also a chapter of Aldous Huxley's new book, Brave New World Revisited, comparing the myriad of mind-altering substances available today to the simple and perfectly effective soma that appeared in the original Brave New World. It is an interesting contrast of prediction versus reality. It is also a great shopping list for some of us.

As I mentioned earlier, Damon Knight is out of an editorial job after just three issues at the helm of IF. F&SF has found him a new place to hang his reviewer's hat--as the new writer for the magazine's book column. Good news if you like damonknight.

Jane Roberts, an F&SF regular, contributes a two-page mood piece called Nightmare. It's another two-minutes-to-midnight fright.

But the real gem of the latter portion of the magazine is Fred Pohl's To see another Mountain about a nonagenarian supergenius being treated for a mental illness... but is he really sick? Interestingly, I never liked it when Pohl and Kornbluth teamed up, but Pohl by himself has been reliably excellent. This story is no exception.

Where does that leave us in the standings? There isn't a bad piece in the bunch (the Anderson and Chekhov being the least remarkable). Let's say "four", maybe "four-and-a-half" given the greatness of the lead story.

Two days to Asimov!





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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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Writing good science fiction is hard. Writing good anything is hard, but science fiction multiplies the complexity. Science fiction requires a writer to project the effect that a scientific development will have on society. Moreover, the writer must portray this future society plausibly, which means distinguishing it from our current culture by extrapolating/inventing new mores and activities. I think this is why so many authors, even quite good ones, come up with brilliant technical ideas, but their visions of the future look uncannily like our world of the late 1950s.



Take smoking, for example. Smoking is practically ubiquitous in our current society, but there is now a small but vocal movement by doctors and scientists to alert us to the potential dangers of tobacco. They include a variety of respiratory ailments and even cancer. Yet, smoking is just as commonplace in the future worlds of science fiction. You would think someone would portray a smokeless future.




Another example is the portrayal of women. For centuries, women have struggled for and obtained the rights and privileges of men. The trend has historically been in their favor. They fought for and got the vote—quite recently, in fact. In the last war, they “manned” our factories and flew our planes. There seems to be a backlash against this these days; between soap operas and nuclear families, women are expected to stay at home and be seen and not heard. Still, on a long time-scale, this seems to be an anomalous blip. You would think a future in which women are portrayed as leaders and scientists and businessmen would be more common. Yet you can go through an entire issue of Astounding and find just one female character in ten, and odds are that woman will be a wife with little agency of her own. It is a man's future, if you read science fiction—a smoking man's future.

It could be argued that this is not all the fault of the writer. Even the greatest virtuoso must play to his or her audience, which in this case includes both the readers and editors. This audience is usually forgiving of one or two deviations from the norm. We call them “hand-waves.” For instance, so far as we currently know, it is impossible to go faster than light. Yet, science fiction is full of stories featuring vessels that do just that. That's a hand-wave. Psionic powers are another hand-wave. People only have two hands; too many extrapolations results in an alien world that may be too unfamiliar to its audience.

Maybe. I'd like to think we science fiction fans are a more sophisticated lot than the average person on the street. Also, Heinlein certainly doesn't have a problem dreaming up new ideas by the baker's dozen and incorporating them into his worlds. The few standout female characters (e.g. Asimov's Susan Calvin, Piper's Martha Dane, the protagonists of Zenna Henderson's The People series) have not driven fans away in droves.

But in the end, science fiction writers start out wearing the same cultural blinders as everyone else. And so the Randall Garretts, Poul Andersons and Bob Silverbergs write their stories filled with chain-smoking men because they can't imagine a different world. Someday, perhaps, they will read the few great, truly visionary stories of their peers, and light will shine through their blinders.

If you're wondering what triggered this screed, stay tuned for my next piece. I promise I'll get back to reviewing the latest magazines.

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I'm willing to concede that we (currently) live in a “man's world.” Men make up most of the protagonists and characters in science fiction, and the vast majority of science fiction authors are men. This month's Astounding does not buck this trend--virtually every story has no, or at best a token, female presence. I suppose I should be grateful for this, however, as I would rather have no women in my stories than see them horribly mistreated and poorly portrayed, as I saw happen rather gratuitously in the second half of the magazine.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Poul Anderson's “Bicycle Built for Brew” ended as it started with a fine premise, an interesting if whimsical storyline, and horrible execution. The resourceful engineer of the Mercury Girl managed to escape from the occupied planet by fashioning a ship from a sealed crate and several barrels of beer (providing the reaction mass for propulsion). The national and gender stereotypes were tired by page 2 of the last installment, and they don't get better here. All's well that ends, and I was happy to see this story finish.

Miller's pre-book-review column focused on UFOs, which are still popular. I remember reading in an Asimov or Ley article that the number of UFO sightings climbed sharply in the late '40s coincident with the testing of new jets and sounding rockets. At the same time, the number of reported demonic encounters dropped dramatically. You may draw your own conclusions from this.

“Seller's Market,” by Chris Anvil, is another inconsequential but readable story of the type that has characterized his writing since he started. It depicts a small military force on a harsh planet as it struggles against a nominally superior but fatally flawed foe.

And now, I can put it off no longer. The story that ruined my morning and my impression of Randall Garrett, and by extension, Astounding magazine: “Queen Bee.”

I don't think misogyny can adequately convey the sentiment in this story. “Hatred of women,” may get closer to the mark. The setting of the story was interesting-enough: Four men and three women marooned on a wild planet for life. However, the story begins with the viewpoint character hitting a woman (she was hysterical, of course), and it goes downhill from there.

It is decided, pursuant to codified law (!) that the males and females must breed constantly and switch partners each time such that a colony with a maximum of genetic diversity can be produced. One of the women, the only married one, seems fine with this, much to the consternation of her old-fashioned husband. The other two women resist the idea for some reason. One of them is diagnosed by the resident doctor as a “man-hater,” and the other is a Taming of the Shrew Kate-type character. That's all right--the male characters beat sense into them, quite literally. The man-hater, after being walloped a good one realizes the error of her ways and becomes pregnant shortly thereafter.



But the other hold-out won't budge despite several clouts and a full course of spanking (!!) Eventually, she kills the other two women so that she, as the only woman, can enjoy an indispensable (and perhaps beating-free) status. Given the circumstances, I'm not sure that I find her actions unreasonable. Of course, the men are horrified, and they exact a horrible revenge... er... mete out appropriate justice. They hold a trial and find her not guilty by reason of insanity.

And then they lobotomize her, turning her into a mindless child-bearing factory.

What is so maddening about this story is its contrast with Judith Merril's story in this month's F&SF. The set-up is quite similar, except the women don't have to resort to constant brutality to keep the men-folk in line. One could argue that the arrangement in Merril's story was consensual and thus a whole different matter. This only emphasizes the horror of Garrett's scenario: the women in his story didn't sign up to be mothers of a colony. They certainly never agreed to be dominated and brutalized by their fellow castaways.

Perhaps, if the story had been meant as satire, I could have taken it. But I think Randy Garrett's premises, that men should automatically be in charge, that a woman's duty is to bear children, and violence against women is the best method to keep them in line, must ring natural and true to Mr. Garrett, to Mr. Campbell, and if the readers of Astounding do not subscribe to them, I imagine they do not generally find them egregious.

Well, I did. This is worse than the story that turned me off of Venture ("Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams" by Robert Silverberg; the set-up was similar--in that one, all starships came equipped with a ship's whore, and when the story's ship's whore wouldn't perform, the Captain drugged her up so that she could fulfill her role while unconscious). Garrett's lost me as a fan, and I am sending a copy of this article straight to Mr. Campbell.

Sorry to end this piece on a down note. I will hopefully have cheerier things to discuss next time around. The final score: 4 stars for the first half, 1.5 stars for the second, 2.25 for the whole magazine.

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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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