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Good morning, dear readers. Based on the incidence of fan mail, it appears you now number nearly half a dozen (unless, of course, it's just you, Laurose, writing in under a number of pseudonyms; if that be the case, I'm still grateful).

And now comes the moment you have all been waiting for: my review of the December Astounding. Did this issue top the last in terms of sheer awfulness? I'm afraid not. The magazine is, in fact, back to its old low but passable standards.



I mentioned
last time that Randall Garrett has the lead novella in this issue. The Destroyers starts off well enough. Slowly, even compellingly, Garrett describes a group of farmers in a barony on one of the more backward planets in the galaxy. The placid cycle of years is disturbed by the news of impending interstellar war. When it does break out, the conflict seems far away and does not immediately disturb the peaceful farmers. But over time, the fight comes closer and closer to home until the barony is taken by the conquerors, and the planet surrenders.

So what's wrong with this story? Garrett, as you know, is fond of the historical parable. In Despoiler of the Golden Empire, he writes rather praisingly of Pizarro's murderous conquest of Peru with the "twist" being that the readers were meant to think the story was one of science fiction rather than historical fiction.

About half-way through The Destroyers, I started to worry that he was doing it again. When he spoke of the invaders' blockade and the plucky captains who dared run it, I began to look for other Civil War parallels. Sure enough, the conquerors come from the north, they represent an industrialized society preaching equality and freedom, they are superior technologically. The "South" wins at first but inexorably starts to lose. Their country is split in two. The war ends with the taking of the capital.

Even this would be fine except for the story's punchline. The Union colonel who comes to accept the baroness' surrender (yes—by this time, Randy has named the invaders "The Union") announces to the farmers that they are all free, and that now they can earn money and get an education. And what is the reaction of the farmers (read: Negro slaves)?

Horror! All of their needs had been tended to under the old regime. They had been happy, had had purpose and direction. What, oh what, would they do with money and education and freedom?

That smell assailing your nostrils is last night's dinner. My apologies. I don't think I need comment further other than to observe that it may be impossible for Randy to write without offending. But I guess he keeps Astounding's target demographic happy...

On to happier, or at least less saddening, entries. Chris Anvil's Mating Problems, about how a colony deals with the aftermath of two crises by combining their ill effects, is not bad. I note that Anvil likes stories about pioneering colonials, and I do too. At some point, he'll write an outstanding one, perhaps.

Les Collins has a non-fiction article entitled How to write Science faction, a rather glibly written description of the technical writing field. Perhaps the best part of the column is a list of ten technical paragraphs in need of editing. Collins invites those who are able to properly fix a majority of them to contact him for a possible job opening. I'm tempted.

George O. Smith's The Big Fix is kind of fun. In a world where everyone is psionic, how does one keep the gambling "honest?" And once that puzzle is solved, how does one rig the game? The story even features, though doesn't star, a cigar-chomping tough gal, though she ends up a romantic interest, sadly. The dialogue consciously imitates the over-verbose New York gangster dialect featured in the recent hit, Guys and Dolls. The conceit is either cute or annoying. I suppose it depends on your mood.



I skipped Part Two of Everett Cole's The Best Made Plans since I could not finish Part One. I think it's a futuristic ignominy to imperial throne story, but I can't be certain.

Last, and fairly least, is Tell the Truth, by E.C. Tubb. In this story, humans are confronted with a stronger, aggressive alien foe (that looks just like us). As a prelude to conflict, both races agree to exchange a single representative who will serve as the exemplar of the species. Based on the examination of said ambassador, the choice between peace and war will be made.

Of course, the humans are able to select the exact right person to hoodwink the aliens. It turns out that the aliens are wholly logical and, thus, deduce from the ambassador, who sells military toys to children, that Earth is a highly armed camp whose youth are trained from birth to be soldiers.

It's a typical Campbellian piece, and it makes no sense. For one thing, the aliens are trained from birth to be soldiers. Moreover, much is made of the fact that the ambassador cannot lie (for the aliens are experts in preventing deception); therefore, the conclusion that the aliens make is inescapable. One would think that these aliens, who clearly have a profound knowledge of deceit, would recognize the cheap ploy for what it was. After all, the ambassador may be telling the truth, but that doesn't mean his masters are obligated to.

At least I've saved dessert for last—the December F&SF is next up, and with its reading, I will have an entire year's worth of magazines from which to choose this annum's Galactic Stars.

See you soon!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

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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The new IF Science Fiction magazine, now under the Galaxy aegis, is an odd duck. Not quite a literary book, like F&SF, not an antediluvian throwback like Astounding, and not as polished as its older brother, Galaxy, IF is nevertheless generally a worthy read.

I don’t think it’s just a repository for substandard Galaxy submissions—the stories in IF are different in style and tone. I think, if anything, it’s more of a showcase for experimental stuff and new authors.

As such, we get to see a lot of fresh faces, but not necessarily the best tales. Here are my impressions from the November issue, the third under Gold/Pohl’s editorial helm:

First up is If You Wish, by John Rackham, in which a confirmed bachelor botanist secluded in a space-based greenhouse, is burdened with a female-form robot assistant, with whom he (grudgingly) falls in love. Traditionally, IF has stuck its best submissions right up front, but not this time. It’s not bad, exactly, and there is some quite good writing in here, as well as a lot of interesting and detailed stuff on Venusian botany, but it reads a bit like a wish-fulfillment daydream. It also strikes me as overly fannish that the robot’s name is “Susan Calvin,” and direct reference is made to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

On the other hand, the two characters are pretty well-drawn, the protagonist is unfailingly a gentleman, albeit a somewhat neurotic one, and in the end, it’s Susan who’s in control of the situation the whole time. By the way, if you don’t spot the “twist” in the first few pages, you’re not trying.

Miriam Allen deFord has been around for a while. Her Nor Snow Nor Rain starts out so well, but it ends with a whimper. A retiring postal worker comes upon a mystery on his last day—the office to which he must deliver his last parcels doesn’t exist! Being a science fiction fan (the first I’ve read about in a science fiction story, and a nice piece of portraying someone with multiple interests), he comes up with a number of explanations, which serve as effective red herrings.

Sadly, the actual explanation is the least interesting and the most hackneyed. Again, good writing but flawed execution.

I did not like Good-by, Gloria by “Ted Bain” (really the prolific Britisher, E.C.Tubb). Spacers working for an insufferably perfect captain decide to leave stranded an insufferably perfect female castaway, who has bootstrapped herself a la Tarzan, for fear that she and the captain will have insufferably perfect children. It’s supposed to be funny; it comes off as heartless. And dumb.



The talented J.T.McIntosh’ Return of a Prodigal is an altogether different matter. It is more bitter than sweet, but it’s also defiant and triumphant, and it stars a very compelling female lead. In brief: about six generations from now, the Moon is colonized. It turns out that a decent proportion of humanity suffers from incurable and potentially fatal spacesickness. As a result, the Moon colony (the beautifully conceived and described Luna City) becomes a haven for hereditary “viaphobes,” those who cannot go anywhere else to live. They are a proud bunch, and they refuse to admit that they have a disorder; they can leave whenever they want, they maintain.

At the tender age of 18, a girl named Clare, overshadowed by her pretty older sister, Emma, decides to go to New York on Earth and expose viaphobia publicly. The ensuing article shames the lunar residents, and Clare is essentially banished. Some ten years later, after a failed marriage on a colony world, Clare returns to Luna City, and that is where the story begins.

I don’t want to spoil any more, even though I do not have permission from Mr. McIntosh to distribute the tale. All I can say is that it’s worth finding and reading. I’m not sure if it’s a 4 or 5 star story, but I suspect I will go for 5 since there’s nothing wrong with it—it’s just a little hard to take at times.

Wynne Whiteford has the next entry: The Gelzek Business. Alien female engineer and temptress convinces two men to back production of her gizmos despite her secretiveness regarding their actual function. It’s an unsatisfying story, one of the weaker entries. I’m still waiting for an unflawed Whiteford piece.

Jerry Sohl's Counterweight, about the extreme measures taken to keep several thousand colonists sane on a year-long trip to an interstellar colony, is diverting, well-written, but unremarkable. The solution, having one of the crew commit a slew of crimes to invoke the wrath of the passengers, seems awfully silly.



I did enjoy E.C. Tubb's other story in this book, the thriller, Orange. On a world with the universe's most valuable substance, guarded by a race of psionic aliens, money is king. And the only way to make money is to own a trading concession. One can duel a concession-holder for such a prize, which makes life interesting indeed. This story details one such duel and the unorthodox way in which it turns out. It's the most Galaxy-style of all of the stories in this ish, I think.

All told, the November issue comes up a 3-star mag. This is misleading, however, given the wide inconsistency of its contents. IF may end up being one of the greats someday. It's certainly a damnsight better than Astounding.

Sorry about the late edition. I didn't have much to report on before, and now my typewriter is busted. Expect the next update in a few days. At least the next lovely crop of magazines has arrived in my mail.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

(Note: It is not clear who drew the internal artwork--credit goes to "Harrison, Morrow, and Emsh." I'm guessing the art for Prodigal is Emsh's.


---

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.
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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Last year, Galaxy moved to a bi-monthly format. Coincident with that was a drop in writer rates per word. I had had concerns that there would be a corresponding drop in quality. Thankfully, this year's issues have been of consistently high quality.


All pictures by Dick Francis

Moreover, Galaxy really isn't a bi-monthly anymore. Inside the front cover of this month's (October) issue is a full-page advertisement for IF magazine, which is now owned by the same publishers, has the same editors, and appears in Galaxy's off months. Quacks like a duck; sounds as if Galaxy is a monthly, and every other month, is an oversized issue, to boot.

One of the reasons Galaxy can still fill its pages is that both the editor (H.L.Gold) and his brother (Floyd Gold, known as Floyd Gale) are both fair writers in their own right. Their opening novella, co-written under the pseudonym "Christopher Grimm," is called Someone to Watch Over Me, and it is almost excellent.

Len Mattern is a space merchant, seasoned from decades of meandering from star to star in a tramp freighter. His obsession is the high-class prostitute, Lyddy, and Len has spent his entire adult life amassing sufficient wealth to wed her, which he does at the story's beginning. The rest of the tale is told mostly in flashback. In this universe, traversing hyperspace has the most unsettling effect on travelers: they become unnatural beasts with tentacles and extra eyes. All but the most hardened spacer must knock her/himself out for the journey or suffer profound psychological trauma.

Mattern, however, has discovered that hyperspace is a destination, as well as a conduit, and it is inhabited. Moreover, some items that are useless in our dimension become highly valuable in the other, and vice versa. Mattern becomes the first to establish trade relations with the horrible but peaceful aliens. One of them even accompanies Mattern for the next decade of highly lucrative commerce, becoming a combination best-friend and perpetual shadow.



If the story has any flaw, it's a sort of dismissive view of women, though, to be fair, one of the best characters is the alien queen, at once beautiful and terrible. My favorite line: "I see no reason...why a male should be deemed incapable of ruling, provided he is under careful supervision."

Worthwhile reading. I'm glad the Gold brothers are writing as well as editing.

E.C. Tubb's Last of the Morticians is short and unremarkable, about two undertakers weathering a lack of business resulting from the recent advent of immortality. Their solution: bury something other than people!

Willy Ley's article this month is a little scattered, but the latter two thirds (he has split the column in three this time) is quite good. And bad Ley is still fine reading. I especially liked his piece on "Zilphion," a now-extinct Graeco-Roman spice plant.

Last for today is the very good "A Death in the House," by Cliff Simak. Simak is a very uneven writer, I have found, but when he's on top of his game, he is a real stand-out. Death is reminiscent in tone and subject of Dickson's E Gubling Dow from May's Satellite, but far better in in execution. In this tale, Old Mose (whom, until I saw the illustration, I pictured as Black), is a lonely farmer whose heart is big enough to rescue a rather repulsive alien that he finds mortally wounded on his property. It's really quite a beautiful story with a rather happy ending. In stark contrast to Garrett, Simak actually kept me up until I'd finished!



From what I can tell, the rest of the magazine is excellent, too. This issue may well earn the coveted four star rating. Only Galaxy has managed this feat of consistent quality in 1959, though excellent stories have appeared in other magazines, of course.
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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