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by Gideon Marcus

The coverage for John Glenn's orbital flight was virtually non-stop on the 20th. My daughter and I (as many likely did) played hookie to watch it. During the long countdown, the Young Traveler worried that the astronaut might get bored during his wait and commented that NASA might have been kind enough to install a small television on the Mercury control panel.

But, from our previous experience, we were pretty sure what the result of that would have been:

CAPCOM: "T MINUS 30 seconds and counting..."

Glenn: "Al, Mr. Ed just came on. Can we delay the count a little bit?"

30 minutes later...

CAPCOM: "You are on internal power and the Atlas is Go. Do you copy, Friendship 7"

Glenn: "Al, Supercar's on now. Just a little more."

30 minutes later...

CAPCOM: "The recovery fleet is standing by and will have to refuel if we don't launch soon...John, what's with the whistling?"

Glenn: "But Al, Andy Griffith just came on!"

So, TV is probably out. But a good book, well...that couldn't hurt anything, right? And this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction was a quite good book, indeed. Witness:



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

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note. F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.



(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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Have you ever ordered your favorite dessert only to find it just doesn't satisfy like it used to? I'm a big fan of crème brûlée, and I used to get it every chance I could. That crispy carmelized top and that warm custard bottom, paired with a steaming cup of coffee...mmm.

These days, however, crème brûlée just hasn't done it for me. The portions are too small, or they serve the custard cold. The flavor doesn't seem as bold, the crust as crispy. I've started giving dessert menus a serious peruse. Maybe I want pie this time, or perhaps a slice of cake.

Among my subscription of monthly sf digests, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction used to be my dessert -- saved for last and savored. These days, its quality has declined some, and though tradition will keep it at the end of my review line-up, I don't look forward to reading the mag as much as once I did. This month's, the November 1961 issue, is a typical example of the new normal for F&SF:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines. Over the decade that I've been subscribing, I've fallen into a habit. I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies). I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding. I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last. This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests-- my dessert for the month, as it were.

These days, the stories aren't as good. Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won't review until it finishes next month. As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication). Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

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

Just what is the Galactic Journey? Who is this mysterious "Traveler"?

Every so often, it's good idea to remind my readers who I am and why I do what I do. This weekend, I am presenting at a local science fiction gathering, so it makes sense that the first article they see makes sense of all of this.

My twin passions are science fiction and outer space. I live with my wife and daughter in San Diego, the fairest city in the Golden State of California. From 9 to 5, I run a mid-sized electronics company. In my off time, I maintain this column, writing about current books, magazines, movies, and science news (as well as other miscellany).

Oh yes. I live in 1961.



Normally, I wouldn't have cause to mention this fact. For the longest time, I was the under the impression that we all lived in the same time. Some of the mail I've been getting, however, suggests that a few of you come from the future -- 55 years, to be exact.

It's quite exciting to have a fan-base from the far-flung time of 2016. They report on all sorts of far out advances, some of which have been conceived in science fiction, others of which are beyond our wildest dreams.

Happily, they report that global overpopulation has not been realized. On the other hand, global warming has. They say that Pluto is not a planet; well, that's nothing new.

I suspect, of course, that this is all a fannish game. No one really can know the future. The best we can do is write down our speculations and hope we're right (or in the case of scary visions, wrong!)



And that leads nicely into the subject of this article, the September 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

(See the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Some 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs vanished from the Earth. There are many hypotheses as to why these great reptiles no longer walk among us. One current of thinking goes thusly: dinosaurs were masters of the Earth for so long that they became complacent. Because their reign was indisputed, they evolved in ways that were not optimized for survival. Thus, the strange crests of the Hadrosaurs. The weird dome head of the Pachycephalosaurs. The giant frills of the Ceratopsians. Like Victorian ladies' hats, the dinosaurs became increasingly baroque until they were too ungainly to survive.

I worry that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is heading in that direction. I'm all for literary quality in my sf mags, but F&SF has been tilting so far in the purple direction that it is often all but unreadable. I present Exhibit A: the July 1961 "All-Star" issue.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Have you ever heard/seen Karl Orrf's Carmina Burana? It's an opera of sorts, the performance of a set of medieval poems to music. It is likely that you're at least familiar with its opening number, the catchy Oh Fortuna!. Well, having seen Carmina, I can tell you that even Orff knew there wasn't much to the rest of the piece – as evidenced by the fact that Oh Fortuna! gets performed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. You can snooze through the rest.

This month's Fantasy and Science Fiction is like Carmina: a tremendous beginning followed by a largely snoozeworthy remainder. I suppose that, if you want to complete the analogy, you can simply read the opening piece again after finishing the book. You probably will.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Why read science fiction? To act as your headlights as you hurtle faster and faster down the but dimly visible road to the future. Reading through this month's Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found Dr. Isaac Asimov's article particularly thought-provoking. I'd like to get your thoughts.

It's called Four Steps to Salvation. The Good Doctor attributes the success of our species to a series of revolutions in communication. They are:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Del Shannon's on the radio, but I've got Benny Goodman on my hi-fi. Say...that's a catchy lyric! Well, here we are at the end of April, and that means I finally get to eat dessert. That is, I finally get to crack into The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While it is not the best selling science fiction digest (that honor goes to Analog by a wide margin), it is my favorite, and it has won the Best Magazine Hugo three years running.

So what kind of treat was the May 1961 F&SF? Let's find out!



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If you've been a fan in the scientificition/fantasy genre for any length of time, you've likely been exposed to rumors of its impending doom. The pulps are gone. The magazines are dying. The best writers are defecting for the lucre of the "slicks."

And what is often pointed to as the cause of the greatest decline of an entity since Commodus decided he liked gladiating more than emperoring? The visual media: science fiction films and television. Why read when you can watch? Of course, maybe the quality's not up to the standards set by written fiction, but who cares?

All this hubbub is silly. There are two reasons why printed sf/f isn't going anywhere, at least for the next few decades. The first is that the quality isn't in the films or television shows. Sure, there are some stand-outs, like the first season of The Twilight Zone, and the occasional movie that gets it right, but for the most part, it's monsters in rubber suits and the worst "science" ever concocted.

But the second reason, and this is the rub, is the sheer impermanence of the visual media. If you miss a movie during its run, chances are you've missed out forever. Ditto, television. For instance, I recently learned that an episode of Angel (think I Love Lucy, but with a French accent) starred ex-Maverick, James Garner. I'm out of luck if I ever want to see it unless it happens to make the summer re-runs.

My magazines, however, reside on my shelves forever. I can re-read them at will. I can even loan them out to my friends (provided they pony up a $10 deposit). They are permanent, or at least long-lived.

And that's why I'll stick with my printed sf, thank-you-very-much.



Speaking of permanence, I think April 1961 will be a red-letter date remembered for all time. It's the first time, that I'm aware of, that women secured equal top-billing on a science fiction magazine cover. To wit, this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction features six names, three of which belong to woman writers. Exciting stuff, particularly given my observation that, while female writers make up only a ninth of the genre's pool, they produce a fourth of its best stuff.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If you are in the accounting profession, you are familiar with the concept of "closing the books," wherein you complete all your reconciliations and regard a month as finished. Here at the Journey, Month's End does not occur until the last science fiction digest is reviewed. Thus, though the bells have already rung for the new year of 1961, December 1960 will not officially end until I get a chance to tell you about the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction!

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Here's a math problem for you, kids! If more than half of your magazine is taken up by a 2-star short novel, how likely is it that you'll still end up with a good issue?

Answer: not very.

I'm used to Fantasy & Science Fiction having a long table of contents page. This one (the December 1960 issue) comprises just ten entries, and all save the Asimov article are vignettes. I wonder if we'll be seeing a slew of larger stories now that Editor Mills has depleted his stock of tiny ones.

Anyway, it's quality, not quantity that counts. So how was the quality?

(find out at Galactic Journey!)
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With Halloween around the corner, one might have thought that there would have been an extra spooky issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction this month. Nothing doing. The current issue is nothing extraordinary, if not completely forgettable. Having covered the end novellette in my last article, it's time to cover the rest of the magazine.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Science fiction is not prediction. It is extrapolation. No one can see the future, but a gifted writer can show you, dramatically, what will happen "if this goes on."

It's no surprise that science fiction writing has enjoyed a boom since 1950. Never has our world been on the brink of so many exciting and dangerous potentialities. On the positive side: space travel, automation by computers and robots, atomic energy. On the negative side: pollution, global warming, and atomic annihilation.

As a species, we stand on the edge of superabundance created by fewer and fewer people. It used to be that the vast majority of us made our living through subsistence farming. By the end of World War 2, the percentage of Americans employed in farming of all kinds was down to 14%, and since then, it has declined to about 8%. Over the next few decades, thanks to mechanization, the profession of farmer as we know it may cease to exist. We can expect the same trend to happen globally as the poorer parts of the world catch up.

What have we been doing now that we don't have to farm? Building things. By the end of the War, Blue-collar workers made up 40.7% of the labor force. As of 1959, they were down to 37%. This seems like a small dip, but the decline is consistent. Automation is getting cheaper every day, and it is pretty certain that the industrial sector will experience the same downturn as the agricultural sector.

Well, then, what is everyone else doing? White-collar workers, the professionals, the managers, the clerks, and those in sales, have grown in percentage of the work force from 35% in 1947 to around 42% last year. Moreover, service workers, both domestic and for-hire, have gone up from 10.4% to 12.2%. In other words, fewer people are using their hands and their backs to produce things. More are using their brains to produce...or entertain.

That's a snapshot at this place and time. What happens "if this goes on?"--when everyone has all the food and goods they need, what will people want? At what profession will people work? Will we all take turns serving each other at restaurants (until robo-waiters come into vogue)? Will we all write sonnets and paint pictures for each other in a sort of round-robin gift economy (until machines write songs and craft art better than we can)? Will we all become citizen-scientists, pioneering the limits of knowledge (before computers figure out ways to do it better and faster)? Or will we all ultimately end up loose-mouthed in a torpor watching endless robot-created television programs?



(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I've said before that there seems to be a conservation of quality in science fiction. It ensures that, no matter how bad the reading might be in one of my magazines, the stories in another will make up for it. Galaxy was pretty unimpressive this month, so it follows that Fantasy and Science Fiction would be excellent. I am happy to say that the October 1960 F&SF truly is, as it says on the cover, an "all star issue."


from here

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I've said before that I like my reading to be light and pleasant. Not exclusively, mind you, but I find the current trend toward the depressing to be... well... depressing. This month's F&SF is the bleakest I've yet encountered, and under normal circumstances, it would not have been to my taste. On the other hand, being near Hiroshima on August 6 and then near Nagasaki on August 9, fifteen years after they became testing grounds for a terrible new weapon, is enough to put even the cheeriest of persons into a somber mood, and my choice of reading material proved to be quite complementary.

As usual, I lack the rights to distribute F&SF stories, so you'll just have to buy the mag if you want the full scoop, but I'll do my best to describe the stories in detail.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I was recently told that my reviews are too negative, and that I should focus on telling the world about the good stuff; for that hopeful fan, I present my assessment of the July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction. There's not a clunker in the bunch, and if none of the stories is a perfect gem, several are fine stones nevertheless.

My receipt of this month's issue was accompanied by no small measure of eagerness. The cover promised me two stories by female authors (Zenna Henderson and Miriam Allen deFord) as well as a novella by Wilson Tucker, who wrote the excellent The City in the Sea.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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With Astounding so good this month, I suppose it was too much to ask that Fantasy and Science Fiction would also be of high caliber. While it's not a bad issue, it's not one of the better ones, either.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Every month, there is the perennial hope that this will be the month a truly great story will be published. Every month, a stack of science fiction digests arrives at my door. There are few moments as exciting as that day (my postman holds them all so they arrive at once; I like big events). With great enthusiasm, I tear into my magazines. Sometimes the promise is fulfilled. Sometimes it isn't.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction most consistently delivers the stand-out stories, so I usually save it for last. Other months, I am a greedy child and eat dessert first. This time around, I split the difference.



First up is Fritz Leiber's short story, The Oldest Soldier. It's a good piece, very atmospheric. I originally thought it was another story about an immortal, a la Long Live Walter Jameson, the Twilight Zone episode, but upon further reflection, I think it's about one of the many time traveling soldiers in Leiber's The Big Time universe.

Fred McMorrow follows Leiber with the thematically similar, The Man from Tomorrow. It takes place in a New York steak and booze joint. A reporter and a crustily jovial bartender are debating the appeal of gambling when they are accosted by a fellow from the future. As a time traveler, the man has a perfect knowledge of events, and as a marooned prisoner of the 20th Century knowing everything that will happen (down to the most minute detail, it seems, and with no ability to alter events), he is miserable with boredom.

The reader is left with the question: Is it better to know the future and capitalize upon it, or to revel in the uncertainty of what's to come?

I did not like Rex Lardner's American Plan, about a fellow who goes to Mars as a tourist and ends up a prisoner in his hotel. As Damon Knight says in his book review column, it is not sufficient to slap a few science fiction trappings (in this case, a Martian setting) onto an otherwise conventional story and call it "genre."

John Collier's That Tender Age (a New Yorker reprint) is even worse. A would-be lodger interviews with potential landlords. He has a nomadic history, and he's had experience sojourning with cannibals. Early on, he makes it clear, inadvertently, that he has predatory designs upon the landlord's daughter, and at the end, cannibal and landlord's daughter head off to the woods, hand-in-hand, presumably never to return.

What makes this story unbearable is its run-on construction, with no quotation marks or attributions of expression. While Collier does indicate who is speaking through tone and use of proper nouns, it's tedious going. Moreover, the end is telegraphed from the beginning, which makes the conclusion all the more ridiculous. At least it's short.

A Specimen for the Queen is the conclusion (?) to Arthur Porges' "Ruum" series, in which a taxidermist alien robot is deposited in the backwoods of Canada to assemble a preserved zoological collection. In the millions of years that the robot has been on Earth, it has amassed quite an exhibit, including one sentient biped. In this story, the robot encounters a detachment of Galaxy-conquering human-sized bees, who have mounted a scouting expedition to the Canadian wilds.

Has the robot finally met its match? Or are the bees grasping a tiger by its tail? Entertaining, if somewhat disturbing.



Dr. Asimov has a fascinating (if you are mathematically inclined) article on the fundamental constant, Pi. Of particular interest, to me anyway, was his presentation of Liebniz's series, which can be used to calculate Pi, provided one has a lot of spare time. It's quite simple: 4/1-4/3+4/5-4/7+4/9... and so on. You can do it with a pen and paper, but it will take you hundreds of thousands of iterations to get close to the answer, since you'll keep bouncing high and low around it.

Or, you can do what I did and rent some time on a local computer; I borrowed the university's lightning-fast IBM for a few hours. I cleverly reduced the computation time by having my program calculate the average of the last two numbers in the sequence (since one is an upper bound, and the other is a lower bound, to the value of Pi, the actual value must be somewhere about halfway). After 20,000 iterations, I narrowed Pi down to 3.1415926. Good enough for government work!

Finally, we come to Philip Jose Farmer's Open to me, my sister. Lane, the lone surviving astronaut of a five-man expedition to Mars discovers a wildly alien symbiotic biology. This beautifully described, but somewhat simplistic, set of species is responsible for the life-giving canals of Mars, which are actually biologically constructed water transport tubes.

Stranger still is Martia, also a lone survivor, but from a different solar system, who shelters Lane after he nearly drowns in one of Mars' natural hydroponic pools. Tantalizingly humanoid but repulsively alien, she and Lane enjoy a budding friendship and attraction over 25 fascinating, well-written pages. Near the end, Lane discovers how Martia's race breeds—an exchange of an internally carried worm-like parasite.

Whereupon, revolted by his attraction to a female with such a shocking sex life, Lane goes beserk, binds Martia, and kills her parasite. Lane is, soon after, captured by some of Martia's people, who plan to rehabilitate him (to Lane's horror).

It was such an unnecessarily violent end to such a beautiful story. Moreover, it was implausible. Early on, Farmer took great pains to describe Lane as a fellow in touch with his "feminine" side, able to bend ideologically without breaking. And yet, by the end, Lane cannot suffer this threat to his machismo. He cannot love/lust after an alien whose reproduction is, to him, so distasteful.

I get what Farmer is trying to do here, but I don't like it.

Which raises another question: What's worse? Consistent mediocrity, or the promise of greatness capped by a disappointing ending? Both the story and the issue fall into the latter category.

Ah well. There's still one more magazine to go.


Cover by Mel Hunter

P.S. I have exciting news! Very soon, the format of this column will change, and all of you lovely readers can get automatic notification (via instant telegraphic message) whenever a new piece is published.

P.P.S. I have found a kindred spirit, though his focus is both more scattershot chronologically and focused topically: Science Fiction Ruminations

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