galacticjourney: (Default)
[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

It's a hot, doldrumy summer. My wife and I are hard at work. Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation. There's hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you've been living under a rock this whole year, he's the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson).



About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence. I visited the place before the war. I don't remember much but lush beauty and friendly people. The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).



So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines. One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest. This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows. But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise. See if you agree:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)
New to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

There's a war going on in our nation, a war for our souls.

No, I'm not referring to the battle of Democracy versus Communism or Protestants against Catholics. Not even the struggle between squares and beatniks. This is a deeper strife than even these.


(from Fanac)

I refer, of course, to the schism that divides science fiction fans. In particular, I mean the mainstream fans and the literary crowd. The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication.

Devotees of editor Campbell's Analog, though they occasionally chide the editor's obsession with things psychic, appreciate the "hard" sf, the focus on adventure, and the magazine's orthodox style it has maintained since the 1940s. They have nothing but sneering disdain for the more literary F&SF, and they hate it when its fluffy "feminine" verbosity creeps into "their" magazines.

F&SF, on the other hand, has pretentions of respectability. You can tell because the back page has a bunch of portraits of arty types singing the magazine's praises. Unfortunately for the golden mag (my nickname – cover art seems to favor the color yellow), many of the writers who've distinguished themselves have made the jump to the more profitable "slicks" (maintstream magazines) and novels market. This means that editor Davidson's mag tends to be both unbearably literate and not very good.

This is a shame because right up to last year, I'd sided with the eggheads. F&SF was my favorite digest. On the other hand, I'm not really at home with the hoi polloi Campbell crowd. Luckily, there is the middle ground of Pohl's magazines, Galaxy and IF.

Nevertheless, there is still usually something to recommend F&SF, particularly Dr. Asimov's non-fiction articles, and the frequency with which F&SF publishes women ("feminine" isn't a derogatory epithet for me.)

And in fact, if you can get past the awful awful beginning, there's good stuff in the August 1962 F&SF:

galacticjourney: (Default)

by Gideon Marcus

A wise fellow once opined that the problem with a one-dimensional rating system (in my case, 1-5 Galactic Stars) is that there is little differentiating the flawed jewel from the moderately amusing. That had not really been an issue for me until this month's issue of Analog. With the exception of the opening story, which though it provides excellent subject matter for the cover's striking picture, is a pretty unimpressive piece, the rest of the tales have much to recommend them. They just aren't quite brilliant for one reason or another.



So you're about to encounter a bunch of titles that got three-star ratings, but don't let that deter you if the summaries pique your interest:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)

by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties...and yet, here we are. Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson's tenure, it appears that the mag's transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete. The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine. But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it's a slog. And while one could argue that last issue's line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it's clear that this month's selections were mostly Davidson's.

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone "Kindly Editor") used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests. Davidson's are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish.

I dunno. Perhaps you'll consider my judgment premature and unfair. I certainly hope things get better...



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)

by Gideon Marcus

I read a lot of stuff every month. I consider it my duty, as your curator, to cover as broad a range of fiction as possible so that you can pick the stories most likely to appeal to you. What that means is I wade through a lot of stones to find the gems.

Analog is the magazine with the highest stone/gem ratio, I'm afraid. Nevertheless, it's rare that an issue goes by without something to recommend it, and the January 1962 edition has at least one genuine amethyst amongst the quartz.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)

by Gideon Marcus

Every successful endeavor goes through the cycle of growth, stability, decline, and renewal (or death, in which case, there's no cycle). Science fiction magazines are no exception. A particularly far-sighted editor can plan for decline by setting up a successor. For instance Galaxy's H.L. Gold has turned over the reigns to Fred Pohl with no apparent drop in the digest's quality. Anthony Bourchier transitioned to Robert Mills at F&SF, and I understand that Renaissance Man Avram Davidson is waiting in the wings to take over. That event can't happen too soon, as F&SF has been lackluster of late.

Analog has had the same master since the early 30s: John W. Campbell. And while Campbell has effected several changes in an attempt to revive his flagging mag (including a name change, from Astounding; the addition of a 20-page "slick" section in the middle of issues; and a genuinely effective cover design change (see below)), we've still had the same guy at the stick for three decades. Analog has gotten decidedly stale, consistently the worst of The Big Three (in my estimation).

You can judge for yourself. Just take a gander at the December 1961 issue. It does not do much, if anything, to pull the once-great magazine from its shallow dive:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


War is still a ripe subject for fiction. It has been a constant part of the human existence since there were nations. For six thousand years, we've glorified it, hated it, resolved ourselves to it. There's no reason to expect it will go away any time soon, and it's no wonder that war is a common theme in science fiction.

A couple of years back, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers made a big splash with its interesting take on interstellar combat and the character of patriotism. It was a jingoistic piece that I'm sure resulted in a small spike in enlistments. Gordy Dickson's war novel Dorsai also came out in in 1959. Dorsai was a fairly straightforward war story of a genius mercenary with the temperament and training to become a renowned general. Like Troopers, it was a runner up for the 1960 Hugo (Troopers won).



Both are what I'd call "typical" of the genre. I find it interesting how often war is positively portrayed: exciting, filled with tales of cunning, guts, and derring-do. I suppose it's because World War Two was a "good" war. Democracy vs. Tyranny with clear villains to fight. Sure, we lost some of our boys, but we made the world safe again. And so we have a stream of war movies which are by turns dramatic, gripping, even comedic, but rarely overtly anti-war. A Walk in the Sun, a candid film that even included a portrayal of battle fatigue in the midst of action, is one of the few exceptions.

Pacifist sci-fi novels have been similarly rare. Given the nature of Dickson's Dorsai, I was thus surprised (and delighted) to see that his recent Naked to the Stars, serialized over the last to months in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a thoughtful and engaging anti-war book.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


Science fiction digests are a balancing act. An editor has to fill a set number of pages every month relying solely on the stories s/he's got at her/his disposal. Not to mention the restrictions imposed if one wants to publish an "all-star" or otherwise themed issue.

Analog has got the problem worst of all of the Big Three mags. Galaxy is a larger digest, so it has more room to play with. F&SF tends to publish shorter stories, which are more modular. But Analog usually includes a serialized novel and several standard columns leaving only 100 pages or so in which to fit a few bigger stories. If the motto of The New York Times is "All the news that's fit to print," then Analog's could well be, "All the stories that fit, we print."



How else to explain the unevenness of the October 1961 Analog?

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


Take a look at the back cover of this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction. There's the usual array of highbrows with smug faces letting you know that they wouldn't settle for a lesser sci-fi mag. And next to them is the Hugo award that the magazine won last year at Pittsburgh's WorldCon. That's the third Hugo in a row.



It may well be their last.

I used to love this little yellow magazine. Sure, it's the shortest of the Big Three (including Analog and Galaxy), but in the past, it boasted the highest quality stories. I voted it best magazine for 1959 and 1960.

F&SF has seen a steady decline over the past year, however, and the last three issues have been particularly bad. Take a look at what the August 1961 issue offers us:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


Science fiction digests, those monthly magazines filled with s-f short stories, are often like little anthologies. Editors will let their "slush pile" stack up, and when they have enough of a kind of piece, they publish them in a themed issue.

I don't know whether the theme of the July 1961 IF science fiction was intentional or not, but it definitely focuses on the issues of over-population and over-mechanization. That is, in the future, there will be too many of us, and we won't have a whole lot to do.

I'm not particularly concerned about the former. We live on a big planet, and although our presence on it definitely has an impact, I don't think living space is going to be an issue for a long time, if ever. On the other hand, the latter topic holds a strong fascination for me.

We've already seen a precipitous drop in the percentage of people employed in agriculture. Industry looks like it will shed workers soon, too, as the use of robots increases. That leaves the nebulous "service" sector, whose added value to our lives seems rather arbitrary. Eventually, I foresee a world where no one has to grow or build anything...and then what will work mean to us?

It's a worthy topic for discussion. Sadly, the writing in the July 1961 IF fails to impress and often downright disappoints. Here's what we've got:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)



At a local gathering of science fiction fans, my wife and I discussed the state of the genre, particularly how our digests are doing. Their boom began in 1949 and peaked in 1953, when there were nearly 40 in publication. That number is down to less than 10, and many are (as usual) predicting the end of the fun.

While it is true that the volume of production is down, I argued that the quality is up...or at least evolving. I used Galaxy's sister magazine IF as an example. IF pays it writers less than Galaxy, and it is a sort of training ground for new blood. Fred Pohl, the magazine's shadow editor, also prints more unusual stories there. As a result, the magazine's quality is highly variable, but the peaks tend to be interesting.



Sadly, this month's IF is chock full of valleys. You win some, you lose some. Still, for the sake of completeness, here's my review; as always, your mileage may vary!

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction regularly beats out the other regular digests in terms of consistent quality. This month's, April 1960, is no exception.

There's a lot to cover, so let's dive right in:

Daniel Keyes, who wrote the superb Flowers for Algernon, has returned with the issue's lead novelette, Crazy Maro. Our viewpoint character is an attorney who has been contracted by unseen agents from the future to secure psychically adept (and invariably disadvantaged) children for work in a later time. The fellow meets his match, however, when he is asked to recruit the titular Maro, a young black man with an uncanny talent for reading the emotions of others. Much of the novelette is a mystery story, with the lawyer trying to puzzle out the root of Maro's power. It's a powerful piece, assuredly, though the very end is unnecessarily melodramatic.

Another serious piece is The Hairy Thunderer by "Levi Crow" (Manly Wade Wellman in disguise). The writing is deceptively simplistic, describing the arrival of a hairy pale foreigner to the lands of an American Indian tribe. The European commences to ensnare the tribe with his boom stick and, more effectively and terribly, his firewater. A young man of the tribe, Lone Arrow, is able to resist him with the magical assistance of a certain eight-legged class of arthropods.

The moral of the story, that one should be kind to spiders for they are misunderstood but fundamentally good creatures, is one that resonates strongly. I'm always hoping that, when I die, the Spider Gods will look favorably upon me for the compassion and mercy I have shown Their Kind.

The incomparable Edgar Pangborn brings us The Wrens in Grampa's Bears, in which "Grampa," the narrator's Great Grandfather, hosts a brood of beneficient angels within his long beard. Their existence is only hinted at, and the story is mostly a mood piece capturing the sunset of an old man's life in the Summer of '58, a man whose memories encompass both Gettysburg and satellites. Yet, the theme of the tale is not how much things have changed, but how they stay essentially the same.

A Certain Room, a short by Ken Kusenberg, translated from German by Therese Pol, is a silly, archaic piece. What happens when you fiddle with the objects in a room that have a causal connection to bigger, worldwide events? Not much good.

George Elliott has the issue's second novelette, the fantasy-less, science-fiction-less, but nevertheless compelling Among the Dangs. It is a mock account of an anthropologist's sojourn amongst the fictional Dang tribe of Ecuador. Enlisted for his talent for mimicry and his dark skin, the protagonist spends years living with the Dang, learning their customs and even taking a wife, so that he can become one of their high prophets. His initial motivation is to compose a thesis for an advanced degree. But so complete is his indoctrination that it is only through a titanic force of will that he breaks free, and the experience forever marks him.

The piece originally appeared a couple of years back in Esquire, and it is a strange story to find within the covers of F&SF. On the other hand, while the content is neither science fictional nor fantastic, there is a certain flavor to it that allows it to fit nicely in the middle of this issue. I'm not complaining for its inclusion.



I'm not sure what to do with Rosel George Brown. I really want to like her, but she has this tendency toward first-person pieces featuring scatterbrained housewives. Their situations are tediously conventional and exhaustingly frenetic. I have to wonder if the stories aren't semi-autobiographical. A Little Human Contact continues in this vein, and while it's not horrible, it is still not the masterpiece I know Brown is capable of. Of course, I may be looking in the wrong place--Amazing and Fantastic are still around, and I understand she's due to be published there soon.

Isaac Asimov has an excellent non-fiction piece this month, It's About Time, describing the evolution and fundamental incompatibility of our various calendar systems. The conclusion: trust the astronomers and go with Julian dating.

I won't spoil Joseph Whitehill's In the House, Another since it's a one-trick pony. Cute, though.

Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson's latest novelette, The Game of Five. It is strangely reminiscent of his earlier The Man in the Mailbag, but it's not as good. Both stories involve a man infiltrating an alien culture to rescue a captured woman. In both stories, it quickly turns out that the situations are more complex than they seem at first blush. In both stories, the "captured" woman turns out to be an agent of some kind.

But though Five is competently written, the Hercule Poirot moment, that bit at the end where the hero explains the mystery, is not supported strongly enough by clues in the narrative. The world is also not as interesting as the one depicted in Mailbag. Unlike the former title, I don't this one will get nominated for any Hugos. Not that it's bad, mind you—just not up to the bar Dickson has set for himself.

That's it for April 1960. I have a whole new crop of magazines and books to review for next month. I also have far more time to devote to the column now that I am between day jobs. Cry not for me—it was a decision long coming and well worth it.

In the meantime, before we get onto things fictional, I have some scientific news with exciting science fiction ramifications...

...but you'll just have to wait two days for it!

---










(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
galacticjourney: (Default)


We left off on a cliff-hanger of sorts, half-way through my review of the second issue of IF under Gold and Pohl’s management. In brief, it ends as it began: with a strong start and a fairly middlin’ finish.

Gordy Dickson is back to form with Homecoming, a quite nice novelette about a fellow running afoul of Earth customs agents when he tries to declare his pet. If you had a beloved companion, would you sacrifice your chances at immigration by refusing to part with it? The deck is extra stacked in this case—said “animal,” an enhanced kangaroo, is near-sentient. It’s a page-turner, and over too fast.

I’ve never heard of Kirby Kerr, but his An Honest Credit, about a down-on-his-luck fellow with nothing to his name but a priceless, ancient coin (with which he refuses to part) is pretty good. A bit maudlin and short on much that would identify it as science fiction, but I enjoyed it.

I normally don’t include book-review columns in these reviews, but Fred Pohl takes his column a step further, making it a sort of essay. Worlds of If discusses the appearance and non-appearance of gadgetry in science fiction stories, and whether or not it adversely affects the story (or makes it less “science-fictiony.” What do you think? Do you require whiz-bang inventions, or do you prefer a more subtle kind of s-f?

The penultimate tale is Escape into Silence by Australian Wynne N. Whiteford. I enjoyed most of it, this tale of a colony world that has slowly but inexorably ended up under the strict and paternalistic dominion of another colony, one that has risen to supremacy. The protagonist tries to escape, is given the opportunity to emigrate lawfully, but ultimately embraces the confined, noisy enclosures of his home town. I suppose people are loathe to give up what they know, even if they have a chance at something better. Something about the end rang false, however.

Finally, we have Hornets’ Nest by a Mr. Lloyd Biggle Jr. (which suggests there is a Lloyd Biggle Sr. roaming about; that makes me smile). Nest could have been written in the 1930s. A human starship returns to the solar system and finds all of humanity dead for having DARED TO PROBE THE HEART OF JUPITER, THE PLANET WITH THE BALEFUL EYE OF DEATH! It’s not quite so hackneyed; it’s actually a decent read, but I take my amusements where I can.

IF continues to be a solid, if uninspiring, magazine. Lacking the utter dreck of Astounding, it is, nevertheless, not as consistently good as its sister, Galaxy. It feels like what it is—a repository for the second-rate Galaxy stories (though, to be fair, they are not bad so much as often mediocre, and some are quite good). Three stars, and that makes it one of the better mags this month, sad to say.

---

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!



(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)


Profile

galacticjourney: (Default)
galacticjourney

September 2017

S M T W T F S
      12
3 45 67 89
101112 1314 1516
17 1819 2021 2223
24252627282930

Links

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 24th, 2017 09:19 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios