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By Ashley R. Pollard

I mentioned last time I find December winter difficult. In January it snowed, which reminds me of the song Let it Snow! by Vaughn Monroe, though the cover version sung by Dean Martin may be more familiar to younger readers of Galactic Journey. So with the frightful weather outside I had a good reason to stay indoors and read, and thanks to the Traveller's influence I have laid hands on preview copy of Eric Frank Russell’s, The Great Explosion, soon to be available at the end of May / beginning of June in hardback from all good bookstores.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Good Lord, is it already 1960?

When I started this endeavor in 1958, I had only a vague notion what it would look like and how long it would last. Over the past year 14 months, Galactic Journey has settled into what I hope is a consistent, yet varied, mature column. Moreover, I have suspicion that this column will last just about as long as I do, as I see no reason to ever stop.

It is hard to imagine Galactic Journey with bylines dated with futuristic years like 1965 or 1972 or 1988, but why not? Perhaps one day, instead of San Diego, Seattle, or Sapporo, the dateline will read Sinus Rorus, Syrtis Major, or Saturn.



Returning to the present, it must be 1960, for that is the date on the current Fantasy and Science Fiction, January to be exact. Actually, the February issue has already arrived, but that's a topic for a future week. In the meantime, let's see what the first F&SF of 1960 has to offer:

Poul Anderson is back with another Time Patrol story, The Only Game in Town. This time, Everard and his faithful Indian companion (I kid; Salgado is quite a well-developed and co-equal character) are dispatched to the American Southwest in the 13th century to stop, get this, a Mongol invasion.

It's not so silly as it sounds. In fact, it sounds downright plausible that the Mongols could, after conquering China, send a scouting expedition to the New World. It didn't take many horsemen to conquer the Aztecs, and the Mongols were a formidable race, to be sure. What makes this story interesting, aside from the fine writing and evocative setting, is Everard's dawning realization that the Time Patrol's mission may not be as pure as once thought. The Time Cops are told they are to preserve the original timeline, but in this story, they appear to be meddling for meddling's sake rather than fixing damage caused by others.

I look forward to learning more about the secret agenda of Everard's future employers.

Then we have A Divvil with the Women, apparently a resubmission of an earlier story once published in a lesser magazine. It's by Eric Frank Russell (slumming as "Niall Wilde"), and it involves an unpleasant fellow who makes a deal with the devil—with disastrous results, of course. My, but these stories are popular these days! It's no longer than it needs to be to deliver the punchline, which is a blessing (pun intended).

Damon Knight has translated a piece from F&SF's French edition: The Blind Pilot by Charles Henneberg. Sadly, the thing is only half-translated or something; it's well nigh unreadable, and I didn't make it past the first few pages. Oh well.

Reginald Bretnor, who writes the execrable Ferdinand Feghoot puns in F&SF under a pseudonym, has a very silly short-short ("Bug-Getter") that, you guessed it, ends in a pun. I must confess that I did laugh, so it couldn't have been all bad.

For once, Asimov has a decidedly unremarkable article. It's called Those Crazy Ideas, and it segues from a discussion of Asimov's personal creativity to observations on how scientific creativity can be maximized. Fluffy.

Cliff Simak's Final Gentleman just barely misses the mark. Quite a long tale for F&SF, it is one of those excitingly creepy tales with a prosaic payoff. In this case, a respected author retires after 30 years only to find that the trappings and details of his life are largely imaginary, sort of a psychic cloak that surrounds him, altering his surroundings and himself to seem more refined and engaging than they actually are. I found this notion compelling. After all, I often swathe myself in a fantasy, pretending to be decades in the past. I complete the illusion by listening to old music, using obsolete slang, wearing out-of-date clothing. It is a conceit in which I engage to better understand a bygone era for historical purposes, and simply to have a fun invisible refuge from the real world. Hey—it's cheaper than heroin.

But in Simak's story, the psychic hoodwink is perpetrated solely to influence the course of history through an implausible Rube Goldberg chain of interactions. I was disappointed, but you may feel differently.

A Little Girl's Christmas in Modernia, by Ralph Bunch, is next. In this future, we gradually trade in our flesh parts for metal as we grow older. Bunch's tale features a fully human moppet and her mostly-converted parents in the kind of inconsequential story I'd expect to find in a slick. I suppose they needed a Holiday-themed story to fill out this issue.

What do you do when an alien weather probe crashes into your backyard? You bake it, of course, and thus unintentionally forestall an extraterrestrial invasion. G.C. Edmondson's The Galactic Calabash is fun, though it took me several sessions to get through the short story, largely because I always picked it up at bedtime.

Rounding out the magazine is the quite good Double Double, Toil and Trouble by Holley Cantine. An anarchist turned recluse decides to take up magic, eventually learning the secret to doubling anything. It starts out well enough, but the ending provides a cautionary tale against dabbling in the Dark Arts. Holley Cantine, I understand, is a bit of a political theorist, and Double has a deeper message wrapped in a gentle fiction coating.

And so the January 1960 F&SF ends as it began with a four-star story. In-between, there lies a muddle of uncharacteristic unevenness such that the whole issue clocks in at a mere three stars, the same as this month's Astounding.

That just leaves us with the January IF, whose reading is in progress. In the meantime, I'll soon have a report on my latest excursion to the drive-in with my daughter. It don't all gotta be highbrow, after all.

Happy New Year!



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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I've found the bottom, and it isn't the Mariana Trench.

They say fifty cents won't buy you what it used to, and that's certainly true of Astounding, a science fiction digest. The November issue, which has a hastily pasted price of four bits on its cover (replacing the original 35 cents) is, without a doubt, the worst pile of garbage I've read in a very long time.

I'll spare you the gory details and give you a quick thumbnail sketch of its contents. Opening the ish is the first part of a two-part story, The Best Made Plans. I didn't even make it through the first half of this first part. So dull was the tale, so linearly and prosaicly was it told, that I can't even remember what it's about. I'll read the summary next month and, perhaps, try again.

Eric Frank Russell's Panic Button features two exploring aliens who happen across a lone Terran on an otherwise uninhabited planet. Upon finding him, the human pushes a blue button, which frightens off the aliens. This is all part of a brilliant human scheme to seed the planets of the universe with convicts equipped with panic buttons. The assumption (proven correct, of course; aliens are so dumb, says editor Campbell) is that the button must do something and the lone humans must be there for a reason, and the overactive imaginations of the would-be conquering aliens do the rest.

And this is one of the book's better stories!

Then you've got A Filbert is a Nut, by newcomer Rick Raphael. In this one, a crazy person makes atom bombs out of clay that work. Or does he? Passable--for 1953 Imagination, perhaps.

Randall Garrett's The Unnecessary Man should have been titled "The Unnecessary Story." Young man learns that democracy is a sham and the galaxy is run by a dictatorship. But it's a benevolent one, so that's okay. Bleah.

I've never heard of Richard Sabia before, and if his I was a Teen-age Secret Weapon is any indication, I hope I don't see him again. Yokel causes harm to anyone around him. He is eventually inducted into the army, dropped off to be captured by the enemy, and Communism's collapse ensues. Lousy.

Finally, we have Robert Silverberg's Certainty, which is almost decent. Alien ship lands on a human outpost planet, and the crew of the garrison ship is helpless against the intruders' mind-control powers. Again, it's the sort of thing I'd expect from a decade-old lesser mag.

As for the Analytical Laboratory for the far-superior August issue, the readers' results are well in line with mine, with Leinster's The Alien's a clear winner.

I'm sorry I don't have anything cheery to report. It took me most of the month to get through this awful, 1.5 star book. I'm about ready to cancel my subscription...

---

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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Good gravy! Two good Andersons in a row?

This month's Astounding opens with Wherever you are, by "Winston P. Sanders." If it wasn't the swashbuckling yet science-adoring prose, it was the heroine protagonist's name and ethnicity (Ulrica Ormstad--couldn't get more Swedish!) that suggested Mr. Sanders might well be the well-known nordic science fiction writer, Poul Anderson. A quick checking of sources confirmed the suspicion.

Well, it's really good. The fierce soldier, Major Ormstad, gets to be the viewpoint character for half the novelette, whereupon her meek and brainy shipmate, Didymus Mudge, becomes the reader's eyes. Both have become marooned on an alien planet, an ocean away from the local Terran base. Ship's instruments have been destroyed, and constant cloud cover and a lack of a magnetic pole preclude navigation. It is up to Mudge to puzzle out a way home, and up to Ormstad to deal with the fierce mini-Tyrannosaurs so as to secure transportation. My favorite line of the story goes to Ormstad, who initially thinks little of Mudge yet deigns to speak to him anyway:

"For one honest human conversation, in any human language, she would trade her soul. Make it Swedish, and she'd throw in her sidearm."



On to the next story. When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was John Dough and the Cherub, by L. Frank Baum, sort of a Wizard of Oz side story. In one of the chapters, the story's heroes (John Dough and Chick the Cherub) are captured and threatened with execution. However, this execution is delayed when Chick the Cherub begins to tell the tale of "The Silver Pig." So entranced are the heroes' captors that they delay the execution every night so as to hear more of the pig's adventures. Of course, the story is designed to be endless so as to forestall the execution long enough for John Dough and the Cherub to escape.

I learned much later that this had been the plot to 1,001 Arabian Nights, and the trope has been used a myriad of times since then. Usually, the format is that sentence of death will follow some religiously or legally prescribed ritual, with the sentenced to have some choice as to the format of the ritual. Virtually every story has the same format--the reader is informed that our hero has worked out the puzzle to prolong his/her life, but we don't get to find out the solution until the end. Since classic science fiction favors the "gotcha" ending, I've seen this kind of story a lot in my literary travels.



So it is with Now Inhale, by Eric Frank Russell. I didn't much care for his last story, but this one is fine. A Terran is imprisoned for suspected espionage on an alien world. Condemned to death, he is allowed one final game of his choice before strangulation. The trick is to prolong the game, to neither win nor lose. The record was 17 days. Our hero beats this record a dozen-fold and is prepared to play the game forever, if need be. Can you guess the game?

I'm afraid the rest of the ish meanders into mediocrity (which is perhaps above par for Astounding these days. Chris Anvil's The Sieve is nothing special--on a brand new colony world, half the pioneers take up smoking the local marijuana and become lazy and shiftless. The rest of the colonists decide to let them starve over the winter. Reefer madness, indeed.

Gordy Dickson turns in a disappointing performance with The Catch, in which a galactic federation fairly begs humanity to retake the reins after thousands of years of retirement. It seems those darned aliens just can't stand the burden of leadership. And it turns out they got all of their technology from humanity the last time we were ascendant. Poor little primitive aliens.

Definitely a story after Campbell's heart.

Finally, we have Set a Thief by H. Chandler Elliott, a Canadian brain doctor whose stuff I've never before read. It's an interesting first contact story, though told in a flip off-hand manner I didn't much care for. Is it a set of thieves' tools or a lady's handbag? And interesting case of convergent evolution, to be sure.

The rest of the ish is the final installment of The Pirats of Ersatz so there's nothing more to report for this month. My hands are throbbing, so I may take a break until March 24. I'll have lots to write about by then, though.

Thanks for reading!

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I promised a wrap-up of this month's Astounding, so here it is. “Study in Still Life,” by Astounding's resident satirist, Eric Frank Russell. It is a 20-page depiction of governmental bureaucracy whose only connection (I should say connexion; Russell is British) with science fiction is its having been printed in a science fiction magazine. I'm sure some find tedious depictions of tedium humorous (humourous?). I just find them tedious. Oh well.

This makes the January 1959 issue of Astounding the worst in quite some time. With the exception of the lead story, which is undoubtedly good, but not exceptional, and the brief “Seedling,” the book was a bore. 2 stars at most.

Still, it did inspire a think. I like my science fiction with a touch of verisimilitude. One of the tropes I find tiresome is the “spaceship as automobile” trope. Particularly, the one man builds a rocketship in his backyard and flies it to the moon story. Now, I have no doubts that the Space Age will have spaceship pilots, and they may well be a rare breed. I also don't have too much trouble swallowing the idea that, in the far future, spaceships may be as reliable as the present-day automobile.



But for the foreseeable future, spaceships, and their atmospheric cousins, airplanes, are incredibly finicky beasts that require dozens of hours of prep time for every hour of flight. The recent Pioneer launches had crews topping one hundred. Manned jaunts are sure to require more crew, and a lunar shot will have, I'll bet, thousands of people involved. A few authors have gotten it right. I recently read Satellite E One by Jeffery Lloyd Castle, which is half textbook, half British wish-fulfillment, and it does a good job of depicted the long logistical tail any expensive, high-tech aeronautic project has/will have.

I blame World War II, specifically post-war depictions of the war. We've gotten used to tales of doughty pilots soaring into the skies on a moment's notice, and we've forgotten just how much sweat goes into building and maintaining the crates. Movies don't get made about mechanics, anymore than they get made about quartermasters and cooks. And so science fiction stories not only fail to depict their space age counterparts, they omit them entirely. I think that's too bad. While the general public may like reading stories of plucky rocket-jocks making it to the moon on ingenuity and baling wire, I think a far more meaningful story is made when the spaceships sent to the moon (hopefully with more than just one person inside!) have thousands, if not millions of people behind them as part of the effort. It's like a mountain, with the spaceship comprising just the very top, and the rest being not just the people who were directly involved in building and supporting the ship, but a collective effort representing all of humanity.

(Note: Danny Dunn and the Antigravity Paint, published in 1956, is actually a delightful story; I almost feel bad using it as my demonstrative picture, but it's what I have on hand)

By the by, the Air Force may have failed in America's first efforts toward the moon (Pioneers 0-2), but it looks like the Army plans to launch a probe on a modified Jupiter IRBM next week. I think their odds are pretty good. Their “Juno II” rocket is identical to the Jupiter-C that launched Explorer, at least from the second-stage up, and I understand the Jupiter to have a decent record. Moreover, the probe is smaller and less sophisticated than its Air Force predecessors, and Von Braun said there is no intention of hitting the moon or sending it into orbit; a near miss will be good enough. I suppose if one sets the bar low enough, it's hard not to clear it! I shall cross my fingers, toes and eyes.



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