galacticjourney: (Default)

by Gideon Marcus

Ask the average citizen their opinion of science fiction and they'll likely mention monsters, flying saucers, and ray guns. SF has gotten a bad rap lately, largely due to the execrable movies nominally representing it, but there's no question that the pulps of the 30s and 40s, and the lesser magazines of the 50s didn't help much. And yet, only Science fiction offers endless worlds in which to explore fundamental human issues. Religion. Philosophy. Politics. It is only in our fantastic genre that the concept "if this goes on" can be pushed to extremes, whether a story be set in the far future or on a remote planet. SF isn't just kiddie stuff – it can be the most adult of genres.



Case in point: Analog, formerly Astounding Science Fiction, set a standard in the pulp era as the grown-up magazine in the field. And while I've had something of a love-hate relationship with the digest that Campbell built, this particular issue – the April 1962 edition – offers up some intriguing political predictions that, if not probable, are at least noteworthy.

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

by Gideon Marcus

Author Harry Harrison has been around for a long time, starting his science fiction writing career at the beginning of the last decade (1951). Yet, it was not until this decade that I (and probably many others) discovered him. He came into my view with the stellar Deathworld, a novel that was a strong contender for last year's Hugo. Then I found his popular Stainless Steel Rat stories, which were recently anthologized. The fellow is definitely making a name for himself.



Harrison actually occupies a liberal spot in generally conservative Analog magazine's stable of authors. While Harry tends to stick with typical Analog tropes (psionics, humano-centric stories, interstellar hijinx), there are themes in his work which are quite progressive – even subversive, at least for the medium in which they appear.

For instance, there is a strong pro-ecological message in Deathworld. I also detect threads of pacifism in Harrison's works, not to mention rather unorthodox portrayal of women and sexual mores. Harry isn't Ted Sturgeon or anything, but he is definitely an outlier for Analog, and refreshing for the genre as a whole.



Harrison's latest novel, Sense of Obligation (serialized over the last three issues of Analog) continues all of the trends described above.

(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)


Everyone who writes has got an agenda, but Science fiction writers may be the most opinionated of authors. That's because their pigeon involves prediction, which in turn, is a personal interpretation of current trends. They can't help but express their own biases in their work. And so we have Robert Heinlein and his penchant for plugging love of cats, libertarianism, and nudism (not necessarily in that order!). Dr. Asimov denounces anti-scientific themes in his works. It is no secret that I advocate for the equal representation of women and minorities.

John W. Campbell, editor of the monthly science fiction digest, Analog, is a big fan of psi – the ability of the human mind to alter matter.

Psi is one of those "pseudo-sciences." To date, I don't think there has been a scrap of compelling research as to the existence of ESP or telepathy or precognition, save in the parlors of the less reputable carnivals. Yet it can make for interesting storytelling, a sort of modern magic. I don't mind it so much in my stories, any more than I mind Faster than Light space travel, which is just as baseless.

That said, Campbell, who has more power projection than a single writer, is a psi fanatic. It's rare that an issue of Analog appears without at least one psi-related story, and most have several.

Like this month's, the September 1961 issue:

(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)
As the year draws to a close, all of the science fiction magazines (that is to say, the six remaining--down from a 1953 peak of 45) scramble to publish their best fiction. Their aim is two-fold: firstly, to end the year with a bang, and secondly, to maximize the chances that one of their stories will earn a prestigious award.

By which, of course, I refer to my Galactic Stars, bestowed in December. There's also this thing called a Hugo, which some consider a Big Deal.



And that's probably why the December 1960 Astounding was actually a pretty good ish (for a change). I'll gloss over Part 2 of Occasion for Disaster, co-written by Garrett and Janifer, and head straight into the stand-alone stuff.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)
I believe I may have discovered a new physical law: The Conservation of Quality.

Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold decided to slash writer pay in half. The effect was not immediately apparent, which makes sense since there was likely a backlog of quality stuff in the larder. But the last issue of Galaxy was decidedly sub-par, and I fear Gold's policy may be bearing bitter fruit.

On the other hand, Astounding (soon to be Analog) editor John Campbell has been trying to reinvent his magazine, and this latest issue, dated April 1960, is better than I've seen in a long time. To be sure, none of the stories are classics for the ages, but they are all readable and enjoyable.


by Kelly Freas

Randall Garrett still pens a good quarter of the magazine, and you know how I feel about him, but he's not bad this month. For the lead serial, Out Like a Light, Garrett teams up again with Laurence Janifer under the pseuonym "Mark Phillips" in a sequel to That Sweet Little Old Lady. FBI Agent Malone and Garrett look-a-like Agent Boyd investigate a series of Cadillac heists only to discover a ring of teleporting juvenile delinquents. I had expected the story to drag, and it is occasionally too cute for its own good, but I found myself enjoying it. We'll see if they can keep up the interest through two more installments.

Next up is the enjoyable short story, The Ambulance Made Two Trips by ultra-veteran Murray Leinster. Mob shake-down artist meets his match when he tangles with a psionically gifted laundromat owner who can alter probability to make violence impossible—with highly destructive results! It's a fun bit of wish fulfillment even if it (again) stars the Heironymous device, that silly psychic contraption made out of construction paper and elementary electronics. I'm not sure whether Campbell inserts references to them after editing or if authors incorporate them to ensure publication.

Harry Harrison is back with another "Stainless Steel Rat" story featuring Slippery Jim diGriz (the first having appeared in the August 1957 Astounding). My nephew, David, had rave reviews for The Misplaced Battleship, in which con man turned secret agent tracks down the construction and theft of the galaxy's biggest capital ship. I liked it, too: stories with lots of interstellar travel get extra points from me, and Harrison is a good writer. Not as compelling as Deathworld, but then, that was a tour de force.


by John SchoenHerr

Wedged in the middle of Harrison's tale, on the slick-paged portion of the magazine, rocketteer G. Harry Stine has an entertaining plug for model rocketry. It is a hobby that has grown from a dangerous homebrew affair to a full-fledged pastime. Safe miniature engines are now commonplace, and launches can be conducted in perfect safety—provided one observes all the rules. Stine prophetically notes that the first person to walk the sands of Mars is already alive and in high school, and he (of course, he) probably cut his engineering teeth on model rockets. Maybe so.

The story published under Randall Garrett's name is The Measure of a Man, and it's surprisingly decent. The lone survivor in a wrecked Terran battleship must find a way to get the hulk back to Earth in time to warn humanity of an alien superweapon before it is used. Again, I like stories with lots of planets and spaceships. I also liked the direct reference to Leinster's The Aliens, a really great story.

Finally, we have Rick Raphael's sophomore effort, Make Mine Homogenized, a surprisingly good story about a tough old rancher, a cow that starts producing high octane milk, and hens that lay bomb-fuse eggs. The first half is the superior one, in which the rancher discovers that her (yes her!) "milk" is highly combustible and that, when mixed with the fuse eggs, creates an explosion that puts Oppenheimer's work to shame. The second half, when the AEC gets involved, is still good, but it digresses and becomes more detached. I really enjoyed the intimacy of the beginning. I'm a sucker for accurately detailed farm stories, having grown up on a farm.


by Kelly Freas

So, there you have it. A perfectly solid Astounding from cover to cover. Who'da thunkit?

Happy Spring everyone!

---










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


Every now and then Astounding (excuse me--"Analog") surprises me. The end of last year saw some of the worst issues of the digest ever, with stories as poor as any that used to populate the legion of now-defunct science fiction pulps.

Then along comes Harry Harrison, a brand-new writer, so far as I can tell, with one of the best serial novels I've read in a long time.

Ever get the feeling that the world is out to get you? What if it were literally true? This is the premise of Harrison's interstellar adventure, Deathworld, in which the psychically gifted (and crooked) gambler, Jason dinAlt, is contracted by the ambassador from the planet Pyrrus to win a tremendous sum of funds to finance a war. It turns out that the war is against the planet, itself, which seems to have mobilized all of its biological forces to wipe out the colony there.

Pyruss is deadliest of planets. With its high gravity, eccentric orbit and overactive vulcanism, its physical qualities alone would be enough to deter any would-be exploiters. But Pyrrus is also home to a highly inimical set of flora and fauna whose sole purpose is to eradicate humans. It is a nightmare assortment employing fang, talon, and poison, continually evolving to make life impossible for the colonists.



For the Pyrrans, it has been centuries-long struggle of increasing difficulty, maintained in the hope of eventual victory. For dinAlt, with a fresh outsider's prospective, the fight is an exercise in futility—and a paradoxical puzzle to be resolved. After all, what motive force could impel an entire ecosystem to direct its fury against one small group?

There is a great deal of physical scope to this story, from the gambling halls of Cassylia, to the drab city of the Pyrran colony, to the vast wilds of the Pyrran hinterlands. There is also an impressive amount of emotional scope. This is not, as one might expect within the pages of John Campbell's magazine, the story of a muscular ubermensch's victorious combats against the savage brainless monsters of Pyruss. Rather, it is the story of the weakest man on a planet trying to effect a peaceful solution to a problem that appears, on its face, insoluble. Deathworld is also supported by a fine cast of characters, particularly the tough Pyrran ambassador, Kerk, and the self-reliant and liberated space pilot, Meta.



I don't want to spoil any more of the novel for you. Go ye and read it. You'll be glad of the time invested.

---

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)
galacticjourney: (Default)


I've devoted much ink to lambasting Astounding/Analog editor John Campbell for his attempts to revitalize his magazine, but I've not yet actually talked about the latest (February 1960) issue. Does it continue the digest's trend towards general lousiness?

For the most part, yes. Harry Harrison's serial, Deathworld, continues to be excellent (and it will be the subject of its own article next month). But the rest is uninspired stuff. Take the lead story, What the Left Hand was Doing by "Darrell T. Langart" (an anagram of the author's real name—three guess as to who it really is, and the first two don't count). It's an inoffensive but completely forgettable story about psionic secret agent, who is sent to China to rescue an American physicist from the clutches of the Communists.

Then there's Mack Reynold's Summit, in which it is revealed that the two Superpowers cynically wage a Cold War primarily to maintain their domestic economies. A decent-enough message, but there is not enough development to leave much of an impact, and the "kicker" ending isn't much of one.

Algis Budrys has a sequel to his last post-Apocalyptic Atlantis-set story called Due Process. I like Budrys, but this series, which was not great to begin with, has gone downhill. It is another "one savvy man can pull political strings to make the world dance to his bidding" stories, and it's as smug as one might imagine.

The Calibrated Alligator, by Calvin Knox (Robert Silverberg) is another sequel featuring the zany antics of the scientist crew of Lunar Base #3. In the first installment in this series, they built an artificial cow to make milk and liver. Now, they are force-growing a pet alligator to prodigious size. The ostensible purpose is to feed a hungry world with quickly maturing iguanas, but the actual motivation is to allow one of the young scientists to keep a beloved, smuggled pet. The first story was fun, and and this one is similarly fluffy and pleasant.

I'll skip over Campbell's treatise on color photography since it is dull as dirt. The editor would have been better served publishing any of his homemade nudes that I've heard so much about. That brings us to Murray Leinster's The Leader<. It is difficult for me to malign the fellow with perhaps the strongest claim to the title "Dean of American Science Fiction," particularly when he has so many inarguable classics to his name, but this story does not approach the bar that Leinster himself has set. It's another story with psionic underpinnings (in Astounding! Shock!) about a dictator who uses his powers to entrance his populace. It is told in a series of written correspondence, and only force of will enabled me to complete the tale. There was a nice set of paragraphs, however, on the notion that telepathy and precognition are really a form of psychokinesis.

I tend to skip P. Schuyler Miller's book column, but I found his analysis of the likely choices for this (last) year's Hugo awards to be rewarding. They've apparently expanded the scope of the film Hugo from including just movies to also encompassing television shows and stage productions, 1958's crop being so unimpressive as to yield no winners.

My money's on The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.

---

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)
galacticjourney: (Default)


There are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month. It would go something like this:

"Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters. The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster. Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment."

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I've never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster's weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick. Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he's just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth.


by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war. Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month. Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material. A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there's nothing wrong with the subject matter. Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won't be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson's The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent. Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet's Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on. The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.


by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint. A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time. The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish. It's not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern. This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here. On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg's wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives. The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale's 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small "s") and social welfare. The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless. While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don't think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests. Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell's fancy. It has that "secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine" conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along. I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good. He's not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it's a 2.5 star issue. But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I'm keenly anticipating next month's installment. You'll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

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!







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

Profile

galacticjourney: (Default)
galacticjourney

March 2017

S M T W T F S
    12 34
56789 1011
1213 141516 1718
192021 22232425
262728293031 

Links

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Mar. 24th, 2017 06:16 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios