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by Victoria Silverwolf

The last decade saw a boom in written science fiction as well as science fiction cinema, due in part to both the fear of atomic warfare and the promise of space exploration. Both trends have tapered off recently, possibly due to the many stories and films of poor quality offered to a public grown tired of cheap thrills. (No doubt such a fate awaits the countless Westerns currently dominating American television screens.)

In any case, the two media have had an influence on each other, not always to the advantage of either. Although science fiction movies have sometimes made use of the talents of important writers within the genre, such as Robert A. Heinlein’s contribution to Destination Moon, too often they have turned to the most juvenile pulp magazines and comic books for inspiration. In turn, some written science fiction has lost the sophistication it gained under editors such as John W. Campbell, H. L. Gold, and Anthony Boucher.



These musings come to mind when one peruses the pages of the latest issue of Fantastic. Of the two longest stories in the magazine, one is reminiscent of recent science fiction films, while the other deals directly with the movie business.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The human experience is a visual one. While each of the five senses has its function and importance, we rely primarily on our eyes to navigate the world. Sighted people take this fact for granted – even the verb "to see" means "to understand." Inability to see is considered (by the sighted) to be a devastating plight, the resulting world of darkness unbearable.

But is it? In his latest book, Dark Universe, Daniel Galouye takes the horror out of blindness, putting us in the viewpoint (or more accurately, the "hearpoint") of a post-apocalyptic civilization of humans that has lived for generations underground without any sources of light. While their eyes may technically still work, they are useless. Hearing and smell have become the operative senses for interpreting the world. Over the generations, even the memory of sight has become forgotten, and many inhabitants of this subterranean world spend their lives with their eyes tightly shut, their hair grown long over their face. Yet they live, even thrive, in a beauty that goes beyond the visual.

It is a fascinating set-up, and it's rendered beautifully by Galouye...

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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by Ron Church

Summer is here! It's that lazy, hot stretch of time when the wisest thing to do is lie in the shade with a glass of lemonade and a good book. Perhaps if Khruschev did the same thing, he wouldn't be making things so miserable for the folks of West Berlin. Well, there's still time for Nikita to take a restful trip to the Black Sea shore.

As for me, I may not have a dacha, but I do have a beach. Moreover, this month's IF science fiction proved a reasonably pleasant companion during my relax time. If you haven't picked up your copy yet, I recommend it. Here's what's inside:



(see the rest 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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It's been a topsy turvy month! Not only have I been to Japan, but I've just gone to yet another new science fiction convention taking place virtually next door (pictures appended below). Yet, despite all the bustle, I've managed to find time for my #1 pasttime: my monthly pile of science fiction/fantasy digests. And here, at long last, is my review of the September 1960 IF Science Fiction.



(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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It is March Oneth, as my father would say, and it's time to review the last of the March 1960 science fiction digests.

Last on my plate was IF Science Fiction, which in 1959 had proven a slightly erratic but worthy sibling to Galaxy Science Fiction, also edited by Horace Gold. Sadly, this current issue reminds me more of the inferior issues of Imagination or Amazing. It's not all bad, just rather weak.

It has been said of Clifford Simak that when he's good, he's very good, and when he's not, he's forgettable. It appears he used up all of his energy on his masterpiece appearing in this month's F&SF, because his lead novella for IF, The Gleaners, is mediocre. It's a story about a fellow who coordinates a for-profit time travel agency that sends agents back in time to observe, but not to meddle. It's a tough job: the agent defection rate is high, and there is much pressure to verify the historical assertions of the various world faiths. It sounds like it would be a great read, but it doesn't do much interesting development. Perhaps Cliff should start over and try making a novel on the concept.

Raymond Banks has a short story called to be continued about colonists marooned on a tiny island hundreds of light years from Earth for centuries. The beginning and ending are a bit slipshod, but the meat of the story is pretty good, and I particularly like that the story features a starship crewed by a pair of women.

In The Upside-Down Captain, by Jim Harmon, an ethnologist joins the crew of a starship to seek out truly unusual planets. The ship is aided in its endeavor with the help of a cybernetic brain—but is the robot really being much help? It's oddly paced and written, weakening what might have been a strong story.

There are a couple of very short vignettes that I shan't spoil other than to give their titles and authors since any description would give away most of their game. They seem to be written by unknowns, either amateur auteurs or pseudonymic regulars. They are Old Shag, by Bob Farnham, and Monument, by R.W. Major; neither are good, but nor are they long.

Ray Russell has something of a career writing for Playboy. His Father's House is an story about an heir forced to inhabit his deceased father's home, bullied by ghostly holograms of his abusive parent, for five years in order to collect an inheritance. The protagonist seemingly has two choices—be a penniless but satisfied writer and husband or endure a lonely, unfulfilling life in the hopes of inheriting a fortune. In the end, he comes up with a third path with no down sides.

Ignatz, by Ron Goulart, is a cute story about a fellow who leads a one-man crusade against the fad of "Applied Lycanthropy," whereby the citizens of his sleepy town transform into cats for fun and relaxation. The fellow hates cats, you see; they make him feel "crawly." It's cute, though I can't imagine what anyone could have against felines, of whom I am far more fond than dogs.

The magazine ends rather strongly with Daniel Galouye's satirical Gravy Train, in which a retired couple on a remote planetoid gets mistaken for an important Third-World state and finds itself the recipient of a torrent of aid from both the Capitalist and Communist intergalactic empires.

All in all, it's not so much a bad issue as a merely weak one. Most of the stories end rather abruptly with a decidedly last-decade sci-fi slammer, and the writing has a slapdash feeling about it. Perhaps it's just a temporary lull.

In any event, I've got a whole new crop of magazines for this month that I'm looking forward to sharing with you. See you soon!


---

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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I've finally finished the January 1960 IF and can report fully on its contents. January has been a decidedly uninspiring month for digests. They're all in the 3-star range (though for Astounding, that's actually a good month!) with no knockouts in the bunch. Perhaps this is the calm before the storm.

The reliable if stolid Mack Reynolds (writing as Mark Mallory) kicks off this issue with The Good Seed. Can a man trapped on a tiny island by a swelling tide escape before he is drowned? Perhaps with the help of a sentient, telepathic plant. It's actually quite a touching story.

James Stamers seems to be a newcomer, and it shows in his unpolished writing. Despite this, his The Divers, about psionic neutrals (essentially anti-telepaths) with the ability to astrally project, has some fascinating ideas and some genuinely evocative scenes. Had Stamers given the tale to Sturgeon to work over for a final edit, I think it could have been an epic. As it is, the story suggests that its author is a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished.

Two Ulsterians, Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, wrote the short Dissolute Diplomat, about an unsavory space traveler who crashes on an alien world, bullies the jelly-ish inhabitants into fixing his ship, and then gets what he deserves in a groan-worthy fashion that is truly pun-ishing.

The Little Red Bag, by Jerry Sohl, is a good piece of thrilling writing, at least until the somewhat callous and abrupt end. A fellow on a plane has the power of tactile clairvoyance—and he discovers a ticking time bomb in the luggage compartment. Can he save the passengers before it goes off? Having flown the route that the plane takes many times (Southerly down California into Los Angeles), the setting is quite familiar, which is always fun.

Daniel Galouye (how do you pronounce his name?) is up next with the interesting teleportation yarn, The Last Leap. Three military subjects have gone AWOL after artificially gaining the ability to materialize anywhere. Surely they were not killed--after all, even the vacuum of space poses no danger, for the 'porters reflexively snap back to a safe spot; moreover, they instinctively avoid teleporting into solid objects. What could have happened? You find out in the end...

To Each His Own, by Jack Sharkey, stars a team of Venusians who explore the Earth after a recent holocaust. The nature of said disaster is never made explicit until the very end, though it is alluded to subtly. I confess that I should have figured out the gimmick ending, but I didn't. I suppose that constitutes a point in the author's favor.

Margaret St. Clair has a fun story (The Autumn after Next) about a magical missionary whose job is to convert magic-less cultures into adepts at the Arts. He meets his match, and his end, attempting to introduce the most reluctant of tribes to the supernatural. Better than The Scarlet Hexapod, not as good as Discipline, both IF stories.

Finally, we have Cultural Exchange by J.F. Bone wherein a crew of space explorers meets a sophisticated alien race with both superior and inferior technologies. It is a first contact story of Cat and Mouse with both sides attempting to be the predator. Not stellar, but satisfying.

That's that! It's an unremarkable issue, slightly under the standards of its older sibling, Galaxy, I'd say. Worth a read, but you won't remember it next month (unless, of course, you review my column).

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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There is a certain perverse joy to statistics.  Think of the folks who spend hours every week compiling baseball scores, hit averages, etc.  It’s a way to find a pattern to the universe, I suppose. 

To date, I’ve sort of off-handedly rated issues on a 1 to 5 star scale.  Last weekend, I went through my issues and compiled real statistics.  Here’s my methodology:
Each story/article gets rated 1 to 5 with these meanings.

5: Phenomenal; I would read again.
4: Good; I would recommend it to others.
3: Fair; I was entertained from beginning to end, but I would not read again or recommend.
2: Poor; I wasted my time but was not actively offended.
1: Abysmal; I want my money back!

I generally skip editorials and book reviews (in the ratings; I do read them... except for Campbell's editorials).

I then average all the stories in the book.  I do another, weighted, average where I factor in the length of a story (i.e. if the long stories are great and the short ones are terrible, the latter do not bring down the score as much).  Generally, the two scores are close.

My preliminary analysis has confirmed what I’d already felt in my gut--Fantasy and Science Fiction is a consistently better magazine than Astounding.  F&SF runs a consistent 3 or 3.5 average.  That may not sound like a lot, but any score over 3 means there must be at least one good story inside.  I haven’t reviewed a magazine that scored a 4 yet.
Astounding, on the other hand, runs in the 2.5 to 3 range.  This is why I find the magazine a chore.

I haven’t don’t Galaxy yet, but I suspect it will fall in between the two above magazines.



Using my brand new rating system, let’s talk about the new IF Science Fiction.  I’m afraid it’s not quite up to Galaxy’s standards, nor even those set by Damon Knight’s outing as editor, but it’s not horrible, either.

The issue starts strongly enough with F. L. Wallace’s Growing Season, about a starship hydroponics engineer with a contract out on his life.  It’s a very plausible and advanced story whose only flaw is that it ends too quickly and in a pat manner.   4 stars.

The Ogre, on the other hand, is a disappointing turn-out from normally reliable Avram Davidson.  As one reader observed, it falls between two stools, being neither chilling nor funny.  It’s another story where an anthropologist would rather kill than revise a pet theory, in this case, the date of Neanderthal extinction.  2 stars.

Wynne Whiteford, of whom I had not heard before, though I understand he’s been around for a while, writes a rather hackneyed tale of immortality and body-snatching called Never in a Thousand Years.  If you don’t see the end coming from the beginning, you’re not looking very hard.  2 stars.

Sitting Duck, by Daniel Galouye, is one of those stories with a uncannily relevant but unnecessary parallel subplot.  In this case, aliens are hunting humans from artificial “blinds” in the shapes of homes, malls, and movie theater... just like the protagonist when he hunts ducks from blinds.  It really doesn’t work as a story, but it’s not execrable.  Just primitive.  2 stars.

I rather enjoyed Mutineer by Robert Shea, in which cities have reverted to city states (albeit high-technology ones), professions are regimented, and soldiers are both fearsome and feared.  There are interesting parallels to be drawn to Classical Greece, perhaps.  3 stars.



Paul Flehr’s A Life and a Half is inconsequential, a bitter reminiscence by an old-timer about a century from now, noting how much better things were “back then.”  It has a rather strong Yiddish tone throughout, however, so it’s not all bad.  2 stars.

Rosel George Brown continues to show potential that is never quite realized.  In Car Pool, a young mother struggles with mixing alien and human children in a pre-school setting; at the same time, she wrestles with her plainness and puritanical virtuosity.  I liked it, but it is not quite great.  3 stars.

Baker’s Dozens is about a series of clones who encounter life and death in a number of interesting ways in their interstellar journeys.  The story is mainly a vehicle for author, Jim Harmon’s, groan-worthy puns.  3 stars.

IF ends as it began, with a quite good story by Phillip K. Dick called Recall Mechanism.  It combines a post-apocalyptic world with investigations into psychiatry and precognition.  I’m torn between assigning it a 4 or a 5.  If only there were an integer between the two!



Averaged out, this issue clocks in at 3 stars.  You could definitely do worse, and the first and last stories are worth reading.

See you in two days, and thanks for reading!





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There's been big news in the space world over the weekend, but I want to talk about it next time so I can see how things shake out. Thus, without further ado, I move onto the rest of the extra-thick Galaxy June 1959.

Avram Davidson is a bit of a writing fiend--it seems I find one of his stories in every magazine I pick up, and they all tend toward the quite good. Take Wooden Indians is one of the good'ns. It's a delightfully confusing (at first) tale of time travel, artistic expression, and nostalgia for Americana, that straightens out nicely at the end. Of course, I imagine there are many out there who would use time travel to save the real Indians rather than their wooden likenesses, but that's another story (one I'd be interested in reading--smallpox inoculations handed out five hundred years ago might do the trick...)



Willy Ley's article is, as usual, worthy reading. I particularly like his answer to the question, "What is the best size for a payload?" Answer: depends on what you're trying to do. If you want to map the Earth's magnetic fields, lots of small satellites are better than one big one. The Soviets like to brag on the size of their probes, but they are of limited utility if they only put up a few.

The next story is from prolific pulp writer, Richard Wilson, who spends most of his time writing for Future these days (I haven't picked up any copies). Traveling Companion Wanted has been described by one of my very favorite readers as a Victorian fantasy, wherein a space traveler falls into the ocean in his space suit and ends up swept by current into a globe-spanning underwater river. On his way, he ends up the unexpected guest of a subterranean race of advanced, Eskimo-ish natives. Unfortunately, they can't figure out how to unsuit the traveler, and he nearly starves (I found this bit rather horrific). But all's well that ends well--he makes it back to the surface with the resolution to revisit the fantastic realm he discovered. It looks like he'll be successful, too!

I'm afraid the "non-fact" article by Larry M. Harris, Extracts from the Galactick Almanack, really isn't worth the space it takes in the magazine. It's one of those "droll" pieces, this one about musical accomplishments of various aliens. Skip it.



Soft Touch, by Daniel F. Galouye, is another matter, entirely, though like his last story, it is frustratingly underdeveloped. In the future, there is a mutant strain of humanity that is utterly moral and good, incapable of lying or hurting a fellow person. They are treated poorly by their non-mutant neighbors because everyone hates a do-gooder. Very impactful and well-written stuff... but the ending is way too rushed. Another 5-10 pages would have been nice.

The final tale of the issue is No Place for Crime, by J.T. McIntosh. It's rare that a locked door mystery is told from the point of view of the criminals, and McIntosh keeps you guessing as to its outcome until the very end. One of the better pieces in the issue, and typical of the writer.

Given Pohl's masterpiece, Davidson and McIntosh's excellent work, the decent Wilson and Galouye stories, the fine Ley article, and the unimpressive Harris, I'd say this issue is a solid "4." I'd like Mr. Wood to stop drawing such lurid cheesecake illustrations, however...

See you on Wednesday with news... from SPAAAACCCCE!





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If you are a devout follower of my column, you know that I love First Contact stories. From Arthur C. Clarke to William Tenn, I love a good yarn about the meeting of two races. Lucky for me, Daniel Galouye (a fairly seasoned writer from Louisiana), has delivered a solid, if not outstanding, addition to my library of such stories.



The City of Force kicks off the April issue of Galaxy. Here's the set-up: not too far in the future (it can't be too far--the conversational slang is all straight out of today's movies), incorporeal spherical aliens show up and blow up all of our cities. They set up shop, erecting cities of their own. These cities are just as insubstantial as the aliens. They are towering, radiant, multi-hued things, whose walls of force shift to fulfill every need of the aliens, from shelter to sustenance. Humanity is left to scratch out a primitive existence in the wilderness. Any attempt to use electricity is met with vindictive zapping.

Except some humans have figured out how to live inside the cities. They have discovered that the alien force fields are activated by thought--any sentient thought. And so the humans live within the walls of the alien city like rats. Their life is virtually idyllic. There is plenty of food, and it tastes like whatever one wants. The force fields mold easily into furniture and even conveyances.

Of course, every so often, the aliens try to exterminate the human vermin, just as we might do with rats, but the risk is considered worth it.

Enter Bruno, a young man from one of the wilderness tribes. His destination is one of the cities. His intention: to make contact with the aliens and convince them that we are sentient and deserve to be able to coexist on Earth. Once in the city, he discovers he has a particular affinity for force field manipulation, and a few experiments establish his ability to convert harmless yellow and green constructs into explosive red ones.

At first, the city-dwellers welcome Bruno and try to convert him to their posh style of living. Bruno eats better than ever before, falls in love, and nearly succumbs to temptation. But only nearly. Spurning the trappings of comfort, Bruno redoubles his efforts to make contact despite the danger. When his attempts are at last successful, the story reaches a genuine climax of excitement.

Unfortunately, what ensues is rather rushed and disappointing. Once communication is established, the aliens lose all of their mystery and become rather pedestrian human analogues. I won't spoil the ending, but I wish Galouye had written a longer story and kept the aliens more mysterious. Tenn did a better job in Firewater.

Still, there are a lot of good ideas in this story. The force cities are very well realized and interesting. The aliens are suitably alien throughout most of the story. The characters are reasonably well realized, though their incessant use of modern slang is jarring, particularly when the story is supposed to take place several hundred years in the future.

Next up--the rest of the magazine... unless events overtake me again. Let's hope the news is better next time.





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