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I miss one lousy newspaper...

December is a busy month. There are the holidays to shop for, the tax year is wrapping up, family to visit, etc. This December has been particularly crammed with work and domestic concerns such that I (gasp!) missed a very important pair of newspaper articles 'round the beginning of the month.

I caught up on my 'paper reading over Christmas and was astonished to find that, in my haste to read this month's magazines, resolve a few corporate calamities, and clean the house for company, I had missed the latest Soviet launch.

(see what happened to the Sputnik at Galactic Journey!)
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I don't know who Ben Barzman is, but he's written an interesting little book.

The synopsis makes the novel sound as if it is composed of more cheese than the Moon. 186 million miles away, on the opposite side of the Sun, is another Earth. It is a virtual twin, to the point of having the same landmasses, the same biological history, even the same human history up through the end of The Great War. Thanks to their not having a Second World War, they are far ahead of us in the social, medical, and energy sciences (though not, apparently, in the rocket and atomic sciences). Scientists of our Earth manage to create a new ray, a ray so powerful that it becomes a living, intelligent entity, which facilitates contact with this other Earth. The counter-Earth responds by sending a delegation to our planet to determine whether or not we are worthy of receiving their technological gifts.

Sounds silly, doesn't it? Like something that might have been written in the '30s or earlier. And, in fact, if you read the story just for the science fiction, you'll be disappointed. I suspect Barzman is not a scientificitioneer by trade. Luckily, what he gives us goes far beyond the basic plot.

(see more at Galactic Journey!)
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There's a big difference between weather and climate. Weather is immediate; climate is gradual. 50 years from now, when the Earth's average temperature has climbed a half a degree or more, thanks to the warming effects of human-caused pollution, people will still point to a cold day in January as proof that nothing has changed.

Just like the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot of water, slow change is difficult to perceive. Only by assiduous collection of data, and by the subsequent analysis of that data, can we detect long-term trends.



Thus, it is too early to tell whether or not Analog is ever going to pull itself out of its literary doldrums. I had such high hopes after December's issue; January's has dashed them.

(see why at
Galactic Journey!)
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There are days when everything goes right.

Here we are at the end of a difficult year for space travel. The Air Force had nearly a dozen failures in a row with its Discoverer proto spy satellite. The Pioneer Atlas Ables moon shots were all a bust. Even the successful probes rarely made it into space on the first try, viz. the communications satellites, Echo and Courier. The American manned space program was dealt a number of setbacks, limping along at a pace that will likely get it to the orbital finish line quite a bit behind the Soviets.

But Discoverer now has enjoyed a several-mission success streak. The latest Explorer probe is sending back excellent data on the ionosphere, and it's elder sibling is still plugging away in orbit, returning information on the heat budget of the atmosphere. TIROS 2 provides up-to-date weather photos from overhead.



And this morning, just a few hours ago...

(find out what happened at Galactic Journey!)
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Today, NASA made a record; just not one it wanted to.

For the first time, a space program has been a complete failure. Sure, we've had explosions and flopniks and rockets that veered too high or too low. We've had capsules that popped their tops and capsules that got lost in the snow. But never has there been a clean streak of bad missions.



(see what happened at Galactic Journey!)
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1961 began on November 10, 1960.

I see some of you are scratching your heads in confusion; others are nodding sagely. It's a long-held tradition in the publishing industry that the date printed on magazines is the date through which they are expected to be on the bookstands, not the date they are first displayed. IF Science Fiction, a bi-monthly, comes out a full two months before it's "expiration date." Thus, I picked up a copy with a January 1961 stamp well before Thanksgiving 1960!

Since IF was acquired by the folks who bring us Galaxy Science Fiction, it has been something of a weak sister to that elder magazine. This month's issue may turn all that around.

(see why at Galactic Journey!)
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The chill of winter is finally here, heralding the end of a year. It's time for eggnog, nutmeg, presents, pies, and family. But more importantly, it's time for the second annual Galactic Stars awards.

Forget the Hugos–here’s what I liked best in 1960.

In a tradition I began last year, I look back at all fiction that debuted in magazines (at least, The Big Four) with a cover date of this year (1960) as well as all of the science fiction books published. Then I break down the fiction by length, choose the best by magazine, and finally the best overall. All using the most modern and sophisticated scientific techniques, of course.

Last year, my choices mirrored those chosen at the Labor Day Worldcon for the Hugo awards. We'll see if my tastes continue to flow in the mainstream. I break my length categories a bit finer than the Hugos, so there are bound to be some differences from that aspect, alone.

(see my choices at Galactic Journey!)
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If anyone can claim the title of “Dean of Modern Science Fiction,” it is Murray Leinster. For decades, the gentle old man of the genre has turned out exciting interstellar adventures leavened with humor and hard science.

But old men are prone to losing their faculties, and I fear we're seeing the first signs of it.

(see why at Galactic Journey!)
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We are now deep into the second year of Rod Serling's horror/fantasy anthology, The Twilight Zone. I expressed my dissatisfaction with this sophomore season during my review of the first four episodes. Has the show, justly nominated for a Hugo this year, gotten any better?



(find out at Galactic Journey!)
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I didn't start Galactic Journey with the intention of spotlighting female writers and characters in science fiction. It just happened organically. A good many of my readers are women, and their interests may have influenced me. Or perhaps I simply became bored with the status quo. Woman authors tend to be more experimental or, at least, stylistically unique. And good female characters are a rare surprise (though increasing in frequency).

For a column that emphasizes the literary contributions of the species' better half, there has been one curiously large omission. Not once have I reviewed a work by Andre Norton.

Norton, despite the masculine pen name, is a woman, and she is one of the genre's most prolific writers. I think she has escaped my ken because she tends to write juveniles and fantasy novels, so she doesn't appear in my magazine subscriptions. I also attempted to start one of her books at a reader's suggestion (Star Gate), and I found it impenetrable.



But last month, I was caught up with current publications and an Ace Double from a few years back attracted my interest: The Crossroads of Time by Norton paired up with Mankind on the Run by Gordon Dickson. I finished Norton's short novel over Thanksgiving weekend, and here's what I found:

(find out at Galactic Journey!)
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November is done, and the first chill of winter is upon us (for the rest of you, that happened about a month ago—we San Diegans are a happy lot). As we head into the Christmas shopping season, it's good to take a moment to reflect on where we've been and where we're going. Then we can dive into 24 commercially hectic days.

(read it at Galactic Journey!)
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Here's a math problem for you, kids! If more than half of your magazine is taken up by a 2-star short novel, how likely is it that you'll still end up with a good issue?

Answer: not very.

I'm used to Fantasy & Science Fiction having a long table of contents page. This one (the December 1960 issue) comprises just ten entries, and all save the Asimov article are vignettes. I wonder if we'll be seeing a slew of larger stories now that Editor Mills has depleted his stock of tiny ones.

Anyway, it's quality, not quantity that counts. So how was the quality?

(find out at Galactic Journey!)
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Sometimes, I just don't get it.

The December 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction is almost completely devoted to one short novel, Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys. I like Budrys, and F&SF is generally my favorite magazine, so I've been looking forward to this book since it was advertised last month.

To all accounts, it is a masterpiece (and by "to all accounts", I mean according to the buzz in the local science fiction circles). The premise is certainly exciting: there is an alien structure on the moon, an amorphous multi-dimensional thing, that kills all who enter it. To facilitate its exploration, the navy utilizes a matter transporter that disassembles one's molecules in one place and reconstructs them elsewhere. Volunteers are sent from Earth to their certain death to push a few more feet into the deadly extraterrestrial maze.

Of course, the transporter doesn't actually send anyone anywhere; it destroys the original and creates a copy that thinks it is the original. In fact, it's possible to make multiple copies of a person, and that is what is done: one copy goes to the moon to die, while the other stays on Earth to live on. It turns out that the two copies have a limited degree of telepathic contact for a short time, so the Earthbound copy can report on what his moonbound copy experiences.

The project's main hurdle is that it takes a special kind of person to experience one's own death and not go insane. How, indeed, to find such a person to unlock the riddles of the maze?

(see the rest at Galactic Journey)
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The American manned space program is on a tight schedule if it wants to place an astronaut in orbit before the Soviets. The Communists already have a striking lead. They had it three years ago when they launched the first Sputnik, and they've maintained it with the recent Sputnik 5, which featured two Muttniks, who were returned safely to Earth after an orbital flight.

It may well be that, as I write this, the Soviets will already have put a man in space.

NASA is moving at as brisk a pace as they can manage while doing their best to guarantee the safety of our spacemen. I can only imagine the frustration and impatience of the seven Mercury Astronauts, who were picked a year and a half ago as they cool their heels watching the test program play out.

So far, we've seen several low altitude launches of the Mercury spacecraft (Little Joe). There has been a test of the Atlas orbital booster )Big Joe). But there had yet to be an all-up suborbital test of the Mercury-Redstone, mimicing the first few missions that will be flown.

Until the day-before-yesterday.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If the United States is doing well in the Space Race, it is in no small thanks to a group of German expatriates who made their living causing terror and mayhem in the early half of the 1940s. I, of course, refer to Wehrner von Braun and his team of rocket scientists, half of whom were rounded up by the Allies after the War, the other half of whom apparently gave similar service to the Soviets.

I don't know if the Russian group is still affiliated with the Communist rocket program--I don't think so. Last I heard, they had all been repatriated. But bon Braun's group is still going strong. Until last year, they worked under the auspices of the Army, but now they are employed in a civilian capacity by NASA. Their giant Saturn project is the backbone of our nascent lunar program.

Of course, the fact that an ex-Nazi is playing such a pivotal role in our space program may not sit well with some. Perhaps to address this concern, the rather hagiographic movie, I Aim at the Stars has been released.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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As the year draws to a close, all of the science fiction magazines (that is to say, the six remaining--down from a 1953 peak of 45) scramble to publish their best fiction. Their aim is two-fold: firstly, to end the year with a bang, and secondly, to maximize the chances that one of their stories will earn a prestigious award.

By which, of course, I refer to my Galactic Stars, bestowed in December. There's also this thing called a Hugo, which some consider a Big Deal.



And that's probably why the December 1960 Astounding was actually a pretty good ish (for a change). I'll gloss over Part 2 of Occasion for Disaster, co-written by Garrett and Janifer, and head straight into the stand-alone stuff.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The bird finally has wings!

By bird, I mean that lawn-dart of a rocket plane, NASA's X-15. Until yesterday, that sleek black vehicle, designed to probe the edges of space from underneath, had been a work in progress. The X-15 had already flown 25 times, zooming at faster than Mach 3 and climbing to a height of 40 kilometers. But its engines, a pair of Reaction Motors XLR11s, were an old set of training wheels: virtually the same rockets that pushed Chuck Yeager's X-1 past the sound barrier in 1947.

Together, these engines gave the plane a thrust of 32,000 lbf (pounds of force--or the force of Earth's gravity on one pound of matter). That's nothing to sneeze at, but it was always an interim solution. Yesterday, veteran test-pilot Scott Crossfield took the X-15 for a spin with the engine it was always meant to have: the Reaction Motors XLR99.

(find out how the flight went at Galactic Journey!)
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It's hard to keep the quality up in a long-format magazine like Galaxy, especially when your lower tier stuff gets absorbed by a sister magazine (IF). Thus, it is rare to find a full issue of Galaxy without some duds that bring the average down. Editor Gold has saved this month's weak entries for the second half.

(or has he? See the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Ten years ago, a World War Two vet named H. L. Gold decided to try his luck as editor of a science fiction digest. His Galaxy was among the first of the new crop of magazines in the post-war science fiction boom, and it quickly set an industry standard.

A decade later, Galaxy is down to a bimonthly schedule and has cut author rates in half. This has, predictably, led to a dip in quality, though it is not as pronounced as I'd feared. Moreover, the magazine is half-again as large as it used to be, and its sister publication, IF, might as well be a second Galaxy. All told, the magazine is still a bargain at 50 cents the issue.



Particularly the December 1960 issue. There's a lot of good stuff herein (once you get past yet another senilic Gold editorial):

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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At long last, the contest is over. Not since the 1876 clash between Hayes and Tilden for this nation's highest office have the results been this close; it was not until this morning that anyone could really be sure who would be taking possession of the Oval Office in January 1961.

In fact, as I took in a late lunch yesterday, the big IBM computer at CBS had already predicted a Nixon win with overwhelming confidence. This was an artifact of the flow of voting in this country: the day belongs to the Republican voter--it is only when the Democratic voter clocks out of his urban, blue-collar job that the tide begins to shift.

By dinnertime, CBS' big brain had switched opinions based on the torrent of Kennedy votes streaming in from the Northeastern seaboard and the big Eastern cities. New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago all threw the balance of their support for the Democratic candidate. Just as the tide was cresting, President Eisenhower took to the airwaves exhorting me and my fellow West-Coasters not to give up the fight (the message was lost on me, of course; I'd voted that morning).

Because the contest was not yet over. The Senator from Massachusetts had acquired a hefty lead, but it was slowly eroded as the night went on. When the polls closed in California, it became clear fairly quickly that the Union's second largest state was still undecided. The Los Angelinos had not followed the example of the other big cities, their ardor for Kennedy moderated by their fondness for native son Nixon. By midnight Pacific Time, when I decided to turn in (I still had work the next day, after all), the fate of the presidency rested on four states: Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and California.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)

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