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by Gideon Marcus

It's not quite time for a funeral, yet!

Nearly a decade ago, the Chicken Littles of our genre scribbled at length in our magazines and buttonholed each other at conventions to voice their fears that science fiction was dying. Well, it is true that we are down to just six American sff digests per month, off of the 40 magazine peak of 1953. On the other hand, I'd argue that we're not that much worse off for having lost the lesser monthlies. Moreover, sff novels still seem to be doing a brisk trade.

In the three years since I started this column, I've seen a cadre of new writers burst onto the scene; clearly, no one told them that their field is dead! And while sff continues to be something of a man's world, this fact is changing, slowly but surely. Since just last year, when I wrote 18 mini-biographies of the women authors of science fiction, I've become exposed to a whole new crop of female bylines. Some of them are just new to me, having been in the biz for a long time. Others are genuinely fresh onto the scene.

Without further ado, the supplemental list for early 1962:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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by Gideon Marcus

It's the end of the year! "What?" you exclaim, "but it's only November!" True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years. Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy. Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place? Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no. I'm afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat. That said, it's still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past. So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

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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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