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by Gideon Marcus

If there is any true measure of fame, it might well be the amount of fan mail you get. Many stars employ services to plow through their truckloads and give each missive personal response. Jack Benny came out on his TV stage last night holding a giant sack of fan mail – of course, it was really filled with trash and old cans...



Galactic Journey's popularity lies somewhere inbetween; we do get our fair share of postcards, but I haven't needed to hire help to read them...yet. Truth be told, it was for these correspondences that I started this column. I love meeting you folk – you start the most interesting conversations!

Science fiction magazines get letters, too. Many of these digests feature letter columns: Analog, IF, Amazing, and Fantastic. The two notable hold-outs are Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy. I suspect the main reason for F&SF is lack of space, it being the shortest of the monthly mags.

Galaxy's reasoning is more complex. In fact, its editors (first H.L. Gold, now Fred Pohl) have polled readers to see if they wanted a lettercol. In the last 12 years' of the magazine's existence, the answer has always been no. Ironically, as much as I love talking to fellow fans, I think I'm in agreement (though I do like letters in comic books). More room for stories!

Speaking of which...have a look at the stories that came out in this month's quite good Galaxy, dated April 1962:



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

Science fiction is a broad genre. It includes hard scientific, nuts-and-bolts projections that read like modern tales with just a touch of the future in them; this is the kind of stuff the magazine Analog is made up of. Then you've got far out stuff, not just fantasy but surrealism. The kind of work Cordwainer Smith pulls off with such facility that it approaches its own kind of realism. In this realm lie the lampoons, the parables, the just plain kooky. They get labeled as "science fiction," but they don't predict futures that could actually happen, nor do they incorporate much real science. Rather, they end up in the sf mags because where else would they go? The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction showcases this type as a good portion of their monthly offerings (appropriately enough -- "Fantasy" is in the name).

Galaxy magazine has always trod a middle road, delivering pure scientific tales, fantastic stories, and pieces of psychological or "soft" science fiction that fall somewhere in between. It's that balance that is part of what makes Galaxy my favorite magazine (that and stubborn loyalty – it was my first subscription).

The first Galaxy of 1962, on the other hand, veers heavily into the fantastic. Virtually every story presented has a distinct lack of grounding in reality. Does it work? Well...see for yourself.



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

The Earth is dead, its verdant continents and azure oceans replaced with a roiling hell. The crew of the Benjamin Franklin, humanity's first interstellar ship, gaze on the holocaust in horror. Are they only humans left? Do any of Terra's other ships (particularly the all woman-crewed Europa) still survive? And most of all, who is responsible for this, the greatest of crimes?



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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How small the world has gotten!

Less than a decade ago, trans-oceanic travel was limited to the speed of a propeller. If you journeyed by boat, as many still do, it would take two weeks to cross the Pacific. Airplanes were faster – with a couple of stops, one could get from California to the Orient in less than two days. As a journalist and travel columnist, I spent a good amount of time in both hemispheres during the early 1950s. I got to be quite seasoned at the travel game.

I have to tell you, things are so much faster these days. The jet engine has cut flight times in half, taking much of the tedium out of travel. Oh, sure, I always had plenty to do in the air, between writing and reading and planning my next adventures, but for my poor fellow travelers, there was little to do but drink, smoke, and write letters. For hours and hours.

These days, the Journey is my primary occupation. I can do it from anywhere, and I often do, bringing my family along with me. As we speak, I am writing out this article with the roar of the Japan Airlines DC-8's jets massaging my ears, music from pneumatic headphone cords joining the mix. It's a smooth ride, too. It would be idyllic, if not for the purple clouds of tobacco smoke filling the cabin. But again, I suffer this annoyance for half the time as before. I'll abide.

We've just lifted off from Honolulu, and in less than 8 hours, we will touch down at Haneda airport, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan's capital. We will be in the Land of the Rising Sun for two weeks, visiting friends and taking in the local culture. I'll be sure to tell you all about our adventures, but don't worry. I've also brought along a big stack of books and magazines so I can continue to keep you informed on the latest developments in science fiction. Moreover, I'm sure we'll see a movie or two, and we'll report on those, too.



Speaking of reports, I've just finished up this month's Galaxy Science Fiction....

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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It doesn't take much to make me happy: a balmy sunset on the beach, a walk along Highway 101 with my family, Kathy Young on the radio, the latest issue of Galaxy. Why Galaxy? Because it was my first science fiction digest; because it is the most consistent in quality; because it's 50% bigger than other leading brands!

And the latest issue (October 1961) has been an absolute delight with a couple of the best stories I've seen in a long while. Come take a look with me – I promise it'll be worth your while.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Human beings look for patterns. We espy the moon, and we see a face. We study history and see it repeat (or at least rhyme, said Mark Twain). We look at the glory of the universe and infer a Creator.

We look at the science fiction genre and we (some of us) conclude that it is dying.

Just look at the number of science fiction magazines in print in the early 1950s. At one point, there were some forty such publications, just in the United States. These days, there are six. Surely this is an unmistakable trend.

Or is it? There is something to be said for quality over quantity, and patterns can be found there, too. The last decade has seen the genre flower into maturity. Science fiction has mostly broken from its pulpy tradition, and many of the genre's luminaries (for instance, Ted Sturgeon and Zenna Henderson) have blazed stunning new terrain.

I've been keeping statistics on the Big Three science fiction digests, Galaxy, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction since 1959. Although my scores are purely subjective, if my readers' comments be any indication, I am not too far out of step in my assessments. Applying some math, I find that F&SF has stayed roughly the same, and both Analog and Galaxy have improved somewhat.

Supporting this trend is the latest issue of
Galaxy (August 1961), which was quite good for its first half and does not decline in its second.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Even months are my favorite.

Most science fiction digests are monthlies, but the twins run by Fred Pohl, IF and Galaxy, come out in alternating months. The latter is noteworthy for being the longest regularly published sf magazine, comprising a whopping 196 pages, so big that I need two articles to cover it. Galaxy also happens to be a personal favorite; I've read every issue since the magazine debuted in October 1950 (when it was a smaller monthly).

How does the August 1961 issue fare? Pretty good, so far!



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Something is changing over at Galaxy magazine.

Horace Gold, Galaxy's editor, started the magazine in 1950, near the beginning of the post-pulp digest boom. He immediately set a high bar for quality, with some of the best authors and stories, and including a top-notch science columnist (this was before Asimov transitioned from fiction). Galaxy only once won the Best Magazine Hugo (in 1953, and that one it shared), but it paid well, eschewed hoary cliches, and all-in-all was a pillar of the field. It was the magazine that got me into reading science fiction on a regular basis.

Warning bells started to clang in 1959. The magazine went to a bi-monthly schedule (though at a somewhat increased size). Author rates were slashed in half. Gold, himself, suffering from battle fatigue-induced agoraphobia, became more erratic. This new Galaxy was not a bad mag, but it slipped a few rungs.

Fred Pohl came on last year. He was not officially billed as the editor, but it was common knowledge that he'd taken over the reigns. Pohl is an agent and author, a fan from the way-back. I understand his plan has been to raise author rates again and bring back quality. While he waits for the great stories to come back, he leavens the magazines with old stories from the "slush pile" that happen not to be awful. In this way, Galaxy showcases promising new authors while keeping the quality of the magazine consistent.

The June 1961 Galaxy is the first success story of this new strategy.

Last issue, I talked about how Galaxy was becoming a milquetoast mag, afraid to take risks or deviate far from mediocrity. This month's issue, the first that lists Pohl as the "Managing Editor," is almost the second coming of old Galaxy -- daring, innovative, and with one exception, excellent.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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My nephew, David, has been on an Israeli Kibbutz for a month now. We get letters from him every few days, mostly about the hard work, the monotony of the diet, and the isolation from the world. The other day, he sent a letter to my brother, Lou, who read it to me over the phone. Apparently, David went into the big port-town of Haifa and bought copies of Life, Time, and Newsweek. He was not impressed with the literary quality of any of them, but he did find Time particularly useful.

You see, Israeli bathrooms generally don't stock toilet paper...



Which segues nicely into the first fiction review of the month. I'm happy to report I have absolutely nothing against the June 1961 Galaxy – including my backside. In fact, this magazine is quite good, at least so far. As usual, since this is a double-sized magazine, I'll review it in two parts.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Last time, my theme was "more of the same," pointing out that Galaxy is keeping its content as consistent as possible, at the expense of taking any great risks. It is ironic that, as I pound the keys of my typewriter, my radio is playing a new version of "Apache." This bossanova version by a Danish cat, name of Jörgen Ingmann, is fair, but I like the British one better, the one compellingly performed by The Shadows.



You are, of course, here to find out if the rest of the April 1961 Galaxy follows the trend set by the first half. The answer is "yes." It's a good issue, but not a great one.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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As we speak, my nephew, David, is on the S.S. Israel bound for Haifa, Israel. It's the last leg of a long trip that began with a plane ride from Los Angeles to New York, continued with a six-day sea cruise across the Atlantic to Gibraltar, and which currently sees the youth making a brief landing in the Greek port of Piraeus. He's about to begin a year (or two) in Israel on a kibbutz. An exciting adventure, to be sure, though I will miss our discussions on current science fiction, even if his tastes were, understandably, a little less refined than mine.

So I hope, dear readers, that you will make up for his absence by sending me even more of your lovely comments!



Of course, you can hardly prepare your posts until I've reviewed this month's set of magazines. First on the pile, as usual, is the double-large issue of Galaxy, the biggest of the science fiction magazines with 196 pages packed with some of the biggest names in the field.

But is bigger always better? Not necessarily. In fact, Galaxy seems to be where editor H.L. Gold stuffs his "safe" stories, the ones by famous folks that tend not to offend, but also won't knock your socks off.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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How do rate a story which is objectively well done, but which you just don't like?

We taught our daughter manners at a very early age. When she encountered a food she didn't enjoy, she was to say, "This is not to my taste," rather than something more forceful and potentially bruising of feelings. I recognize that my readers are turned on by different things than I am. One person's trash is another's treasure, and so on. But at the end of every review, I have to come up with a numerical score, and that score necessarily reflects my views on a piece.

This conundrum is particularly acute with the current issue of Galaxy, dated February 1961. None of the stories are bad. Many are well crafted, but I found the subject matter unpleasant. They may be the bees knees for you. Take my reviews with that disclaimer in mind, and you should be all right.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The old saying goes, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." As you know, I am rarely reserved when I don't like a piece of work. Every once in a while, I get a gentle chiding. One reader said he didn't want to hear about stories I don't like--just the ones I do. Another opined that my fans might tire of my consistently negative reviews of a certain author.

I don't want to discount these criticisms as I think they are valid. On the other hand, if I am unreserved in my scorn, I am similarly effusive about what I like. My columns are rarely completely negative. Moreover, I recognize that even the works I don't like often appeal to others, and I love receiving letters from folks who disagree with my judgments.

Besides, you good folk likely come here to see me as much as to get reading recommendations. Alfred Bester said in F&SF last month that he prefers English non-fiction to American as English authors will intrude into the text. There are only so many ways to package facts; the only distinguishing character is the personality of the packager. Certainly, I read Asimov as much for the science lesson as for the fun anecdotes.

So, enjoy all of me, even the kvetching. And if you don't, feel free to tell me just how much you dislike me. I may even agree with you...



On to the task at hand--reviewing the first half of the February 1961 Galaxy!

(read 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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Ten years ago, a World War Two vet named H. L. Gold decided to try his luck as editor of a science fiction digest. His Galaxy was among the first of the new crop of magazines in the post-war science fiction boom, and it quickly set an industry standard.

A decade later, Galaxy is down to a bimonthly schedule and has cut author rates in half. This has, predictably, led to a dip in quality, though it is not as pronounced as I'd feared. Moreover, the magazine is half-again as large as it used to be, and its sister publication, IF, might as well be a second Galaxy. All told, the magazine is still a bargain at 50 cents the issue.



Particularly the December 1960 issue. There's a lot of good stuff herein (once you get past yet another senilic Gold editorial):

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I'm sure you've all been waiting like caught fish (with baited breath), so I shan't keep you in the dark any longer regarding the October 1960 Galaxy. The second half of the magazine is better than the first, but it is not without its troubles.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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There is an old saw: "Just when I got my mule to work without being fed, she up and died on me!"

At the end of 1958, Galaxy editor H. Gold announced that his magazine was going to a bi-monthly publication schedule. He did not mention that he was also slashing writer pay rates in half.

Last issue, Gold crowed about his stable of fresh new authors who would carry the torch of science fiction creation. And, of course, there is plenty of room for the new authors now that the old names have departed for greener pastures.

Is this how a great magazine dies? Not with a bang, but with a whimper? You may disagree with me, but the October 1960 issue of Galaxy feels like a throwback. A lesser mag from the mid '50s. Let me show you the first half of the issue, and you'll see what I mean.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!
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Thanks to Galaxy's new oversized format, we can read serials over just two issues rather than seeing them spread across three or four. Of course, there's a longer gap between installments now that Galaxy has gone bi-monthly.



As a result, I'd completely forgotten that Fred Pohl had left Drunkard's Walk half-finished as of the end of the June 1960 issue. It's a good thing magazines provide synopses!

Actually, it all came back to be reasonably quickly. Drunkard's Walk is a good read, like much of what issues from Pohl's pen. Here's the skinny:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold bowed to economic necessity, trimming the length of his magazine and slashing the per word rate for his writers. As a result (and perhaps due to the natural attrition of authors over time), Galaxy's Table of Contents now features a slew of new authors. In this month's editorial, Gold trumpets this fact as a positive, predicting that names like Stuart, Lang, Barrett, Harmon, and Lafferty will be household names in times to come.

In a way, it is good news. This most progressive of genres must necessarily accept new talent lest it become stale. The question is whether or not these rookies will stay long enough to hone their craft if the money isn't there. I suppose there is something to be said for doing something just for the love of it.



As it turns out, the August 1960 issue of Galaxy is pretty good.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Without preamble, let's get to the second half of this month's Galaxy, the June 1960 issue. I hope you've all been reading along with me because there will be a quiz next period.

(read all about it at Galactic Journey!)

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