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by Victoria Silverwolf

April is the cruelest month -- T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Maybe it's because it's almost time to mail in those tax forms to Uncle Sam, or maybe it's because of the tension between President Kennedy and the steel companies, or maybe it's because Jack Parr left his television series (which will now be known by the boring, generic title The Tonight Show), or maybe it's because the constant radio play of the smash hit Johnny Angel by actress Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show is driving me out of my mind, or maybe it's because of George Schelling's B movie cover art for the May 1962 issue of Fantastic; but for whatever reason your faithful correspondent approached the contents of the magazine with a leery eye.


(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I love the bookstore in my town. Not only do they have a news stand in front that provides me with the latest world events and developments in the US space program, but they have a very comprehensive science fiction section front and center as you walk in. I'll occasionally look at the newsstand's selection of comic books when I hear that there is a new series from Marvel Comics, but every trip to the bookstore must come with at least thirty minutes spent in the science fiction section. This month part of my book budget went to an Ace Double Novel containing the third publication of A. Bertram Chandler's The Rim of Space as well as the first edition of John Brunner's Secret Agent of Terra.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Before I finish my review of the August 1959 Astounding, let’s look at the issue’s “Analytical Laboratory” and what the readers thought of the May 1959 ish (and compare it to my findings).

Interestingly enough, no story got higher than a 3.00, which means the readers had trouble picking a favorite. That indicates a good issue or a bad one. Garrett’s mediocre Cum Grano Salis got top ratings followed by the first installment of Dorsai!, then the charming Hex and Project Haystack. I suppose that’s as good an order as any. One might as well throw a dart at the wall.

The August issue, on the other hand, has clear strong and weak points. Newcomer Anne Walker’s A Matter of Proportion is one of the strong points. Her tale about a super-competent commando, who was once a paraplegic is gripping. Anyone who can write about the ascent of a flight of stairs with the same tension and excitement of a daring assault on an enemy base has done an excellent job. An interesting, sensitive story.



The following tale, Familiar Pattern, is so obviously a Chandler piece under a pseudonym (George Whitely), that one wonders why the ruse was even attempted. To wit, it involves an Australian coast guard ship (Chandler is a former Australian naval officer), and one of the characters shares a name with a character in The Outsiders, which came out in the same issue!

Now, I like Chandler, but this story is only decent. Aliens come to Earth to set up a trading mission, manufacture a diplomatic incident, and use said event as a pretext to invade. It’s a metaphor for what the Europeans did to the Polynesians; I appreciate the sentiment, and I am amazed it could appear in the xenophobic pages of Astounding, but the allegory is a bit too precise and heavy-handed to be effective.

Lastly, there is Theodore L. Thomas, whose Day of Succession is, as Orwell might say, rather un-good. Aliens land on Earth, and their ships are dispatched with cold-blooded efficiency by an American general. The officer is recalled to Washington and chastised for his bloodthirstiness, but is soon proven right when more aliens appear and wreak havoc (I wonder why they would be hostile after such a warm welcome!) The general advises a nuclear strike on the entire Eastern seaboard to defeat the incursion. When the President and Vice President disagree, the general shoots them and requests that the Speaker of the House adopt the officer’s plan.
I didn’t really understand it either.

The book finishes off with P. Schuyler Miller (a self-professed Conservative from North-Eastern United States) lamenting the death of science fiction, again. We’ll see. This seems to happen every five years.

So where does this issue end up in the ratings? Well, I’d had high hopes. Aliens was a five-star story, and Outsiders and Proportion were both quite good. But Pattern was average fare, Succession was sub-par, and the Garrett was soporific. The non-fiction “article” was also pretty bad.

All told, the issue clocks in at a “3,” which is actually admirable for Astounding. Read it for the good stories, eschew the rest, and you won’t be disappointed!

In two days, the Explorer that wasn’t.

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)


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All right, all right. There is no putting off at least an initial review of this month’s Astounding. Actually, I’m more than half done, but I covered The Aliens earlier, so there was much reading to do to have anything of substance to report.

Randall Garrett’s Dead Giveaway literally put me to sleep several times before I was able to finish it. The premise isn’t so bad, though it is quite hoary: humanity finds a long lost alien civilization whose technologies seem to dovetail perfectly with our own. A bunch of eggheads (male, white, of course) determine that the abandoned city is actually a gift designed to give us a leg up. It is also a test—do we have the ability, as a species, to accept the help?

This is discussed in one of the more ludicrous paragraphs ever written by Randy (and there is much competition):

Scholar Duckworth said: "It takes a great deal of humility—a real feeling of honest humility—to admit that one is actually inferior to someone—or something—else. Most people don't have it—they rebel because they can't admit their inferiority."

"Like the examples of the North American Amerindian tribes." Turnbull said. "They hadn't reached the state of civilization that the Aztecs or Incas had. They were incapable of allowing themselves to be beaten and enslaved—they refused to allow themselves to learn. They fought the white man to the last ditch—and look where they ended up."

"Precisely," said Duckworth. "While the Mexicans and Peruvians today are a functioning part of civilization—because they could and did learn."

"I'd just as soon the human race didn't go the way of the Amerindians," Turnbull said.


I’m reasonably certain that this is not how history went in the Americas. If I’m not mistaken, the native Mexicans and Peruvians were devastated and supplanted by an imported European aristocracy. Sure, they didn’t end up on reservations, but it is also disingenuous to suggest that they gratefully accepted European wisdom and, as a result, are better off than their impoverished North American counterparts (who had the temerity to, you know, fight for their lives).



I was going to give this story two stars, but upon reflection, I think it belongs at the bottom of the ash heap. Which is too bad, because it is sandwiched between two quite good tales.

Which brings us to The Outsiders, the second of the Rim stories by A. Bertram Chandler. It is a direct sequel to To Run The Rim, about the adventures of a pack of oddball space traders on the edge of the galaxy. And it’s well worth reading. In the last tale, Calvert and his band of misfits saved an interstellar liner and secured a tidy reward. In The Outsiders, the crew buys its own ship and attempts operation as an independent concern. I was happy to see that the ship’s complement is half-female by the end, all of them competent, hardened spacers.

Of course, for Calvert the dreamer, a hardscrabble life of tramp spacing isn’t enough. Instead, he wants to chase legends of alien ghost ships floating Outside in the vast emptiness of intergalactic space. Following a hot lead, he and his crew ultimately find what they’re looking for…

But we won’t know the resolution of this tale until the next story. Or perhaps the one after that. I strongly suspect there will be a book compilation of these stories when all is said and done, and it will be worth buying. A strong, four-star story. It only misses five stars for being so clearly a bridging piece.

Next time: the rest of the magazine and a review of the Analytical Laboratory!





(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
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How scary is a truly dark night sky?

In Asimov's Nightfall, a certain planet's orbital situation ensures that there is always a sun overhead. On the rare occasion that all of the nearby stars align on the opposite side of the planet, the planet's population is consumed with hysteria. I suppose it's a justifiable extrapolation of the impressive and cowing effect on our ancestors caused by eclipses of the sun.

In A. Bertram Chandler's The Man Who could not Stop (which I will discuss at length further on in the article), there are inhabited planets at the edge of the galaxy. When the lens of the galaxy aligns with a rim planet's sun, the result is a near-featureless dark sky marred only by a few far-away solitary stars and nebulae. As Chandler describes it, the effect is unsettling in the extreme, and most natives move away to planets comfortably surrounded with stars.

I suppose it's Chandler's world, and he can do what he wants, but would a truly empty sky be that disconcerting? Even today, on Earth, there are plenty of locales where cloud cover renders the stars invisible. In downtown Tokyo or New York, the lights of the city drown out any puny stellar competition. I should think that the spectacle of the full lens of the galaxy, visible at least half of the year, would more than make up for a half-year of darkness.

What do you think?

As you can probably guess, I have finished this month's Fantasy & Science Fiction, and I've got a report for you. I can honestly say that the magazine ended on a rising trend, quality-wise.

The lovely Rosel George Brown is back with the light-hearted Lost in Translation. It's a silly tale of time travel featuring a drippy but lovely fan of the classics (the Greek classics, that is), but the whole thing is really just a set-up for a bad pun at the end. I like Brown's writing--I'm just waiting for one of her stories to really wow me.



Avram Davidson's The Montavarde Camera is a moody piece (does he write any other kind?) about an antique camera whose pictures spell doom for their subject. Well-written (does he ever write poorly?), but rather a second-rate premise.

I enjoyed (with reservations) Jack London's tale of present-day adventure told in past-tense, The Angry Mammoth, in which a hunter recounts his adventures tracking down and killing the last of the hairy elephant cousins. Not for the animal-lover. Of course, it is a reprint, the original story having been published in 1901 (and it reads like it).

But the real jewel of this issue is the aforementioned The Man Who could not Stop. It is a little reminiscent of those stories where people who could not fit into the regimented roles meted out by society (a la Asimov's Profession) become its masters. In Chandler's story, the protagonist (name of Clavering) is a hardened criminal fleeing justice. He runs from Earth to the galaxy's rim, from where extradition is impossible. Once there, however, he quickly runs afoul of the law. The first time is intentional--he wants to be incarcerated to locate a fence so as to offload a haul of stolen jewelry. The second time is unintentional, but criminal habits are hard to break (and the rim planets make recidivism all but inevitable). The third time is intentional--our anti-hero is told that criminals are deported third time 'round.

Except it turns out that deportation is a one-way trip into the abyss; Clavering ends up press-ganged into the crew of a starship heading out deep into inter-galactic space. So we learn that this is standard operating procedure on the rim worlds: attract the incorrigible and shanghai them.

I liked it a lot, and I understand there may be more tales of the rim worlds on the way. I'm looking forward to it.

That's that for today. I've largely finished this month's Galaxy (which is excellent, by the way), but I understand that NASA plans to announce the Mercury astronauts on April 9, so I'm sure that event will feature prominently in my next article.

Thanks for reading!

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)


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Editors are often capricious creatures. Depending on the busyness of their schedules, they will one month wax poetic on some topic, and the next, they will give their columns short shrift. Forgive me, but this is going to be a brief column.

“Why?” you ask. The answer is simple. Travel between cities in Japan is about as convenient as any travel can be, but until someone builds a super-express high-speed train from Osaka to Fukuoka (on the southernmost main Japanese island of Kyushu), the trek is an arduous one leaving little time for extracurricular activities. Moreover, while I sometimes can find the time to write while train-bound, we picked an unfortunate day to travel: Saturday during a holiday.





Nevertheless, we have arrived at Fukuoka, and it is a lovely city. Their ra-men (white noodles in fish broth) is nationally famous, and the weather has been most kind to us.

Another trick editors employ is spending a great deal of verbiage on frivolous topics to disguise the fact that they don't have much to talk about. You'll never see that tactic employed here, no sirree!

The new Astounding is out, and it is the only one of the Big Three magazines available to me in Japan. Thus, even though Astounding made my stomach churn last month, it is at the top of my list this month. Don't ask me how I obtained a copy in advance of the normal publishing schedule. I have my methods.

Nevertheless, I got it so recently that I've only managed to read the opening story, “To Run the Rim,” by A. Bertram Chandler. I don't know much about him, but I understand he is an Australian with a nautical background. This is evident in his writing; “Rim” is a tale of tramp space freighters on the frontier of the galaxy, and it is redolent with terrestrial nautical tradition. Our hero, Calvert, is a retiree from the regular navy who signs up as second mate on a rickety boat. Chandler's characters, especially the ship's quartermistress, Alden, are well-drawn. The setting, with its few but highly distinguishable worlds, is interesting and would make a good setting for more stories.



Everyone has a favorite style of science fiction. You may enjoy psychological science fiction, or dystopias/utopias, or space opera on a Doc Smith scale. Gadget stories may be more your thing, or tales of Martians and Venusians. My favorites are stories that feature interstellar exploration and commerce on a personal level, particularly if they have a strong naval tradition. The idea of seasoned sailors plying the space lanes in a kind of star trek strongly resonates with me. Moreover, my hat is off to Chandler for featuring a strong female officer whose steadiness and expertise are vital to the success of her ship. I will definitely look forward to his future works.

Well, that turned out to be not as short as I'd feared. I hope you feel you got your money's worth. In the meantime, while you wait for my next article, why not send a letter expressing your favorite kinds of science fiction.

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