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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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Happy St. Patrick's Day! It's a banner year for Irishmen, particularly with one having reached the top spot in the country, if not the world. And did you know that the phrase, "Luck of the Irish," actually referred to the knack of Irish immigrants and Americans of Irish descent for becoming wealthy in the Silver and Gold Rushes of the last century? Though the term was often used derisively by folks who thought the fortune was ill-earned.

My luck with Analog, deserved or not, ran out this month. With the exception of the opening serial installment, The Fisherman, by Cliff Simak (which I have not yet read but look forward to), the April 1961 Analog has been singularly unimpressive.

(read more at Galactic Journey!)
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If there is any innovation that defined the resurgent science fiction field in the 1950s, it is the science fiction digest. Before the last decade, science fiction was almost entirely the province of the "pulps," large-format publications on poor-quality paper. The science fiction pulps shared space with the detective pulps, the western pulps, the adventure pulps. Like their brethren, the sci-fi pulps had lurid and brightly colored covers, often with a significant cheesecake component.

Astounding (soon to be Analog) was one of the first magazines to make the switch to the new, smaller digest format. Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, and a host of other new magazines never knew another format. By the mid-'50s, there were a score of individual science fiction digests, some excellent, some unremarkable. It was an undisputed heyday. But even by 1954, there were signs of decline. By the end of the decade, only a handful of digests remained. The "Big Three" were and are Astounding, F&SF, and Galaxy (now a bi-monthly alternating production with a revamped version of IF). Also straggling along are Fantastic Stories and Amazing, the latter being the oldest one in continuous production.

My faithful readers know I don't generally bother with the last two titles. Although some of my beloved authors sometimes appear in them, their quality is spotty, and my time (not to mention budget!) is limited. Nevertheless, Rosel George Brown had a good story in Fantastic last month, and this month's Amazing had a compelling cover that promised I would find works by Blish, Bone, and Knight inside.



I bit. This article is the result.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I've finally finished the January 1960 IF and can report fully on its contents. January has been a decidedly uninspiring month for digests. They're all in the 3-star range (though for Astounding, that's actually a good month!) with no knockouts in the bunch. Perhaps this is the calm before the storm.

The reliable if stolid Mack Reynolds (writing as Mark Mallory) kicks off this issue with The Good Seed. Can a man trapped on a tiny island by a swelling tide escape before he is drowned? Perhaps with the help of a sentient, telepathic plant. It's actually quite a touching story.

James Stamers seems to be a newcomer, and it shows in his unpolished writing. Despite this, his The Divers, about psionic neutrals (essentially anti-telepaths) with the ability to astrally project, has some fascinating ideas and some genuinely evocative scenes. Had Stamers given the tale to Sturgeon to work over for a final edit, I think it could have been an epic. As it is, the story suggests that its author is a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished.

Two Ulsterians, Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, wrote the short Dissolute Diplomat, about an unsavory space traveler who crashes on an alien world, bullies the jelly-ish inhabitants into fixing his ship, and then gets what he deserves in a groan-worthy fashion that is truly pun-ishing.

The Little Red Bag, by Jerry Sohl, is a good piece of thrilling writing, at least until the somewhat callous and abrupt end. A fellow on a plane has the power of tactile clairvoyance—and he discovers a ticking time bomb in the luggage compartment. Can he save the passengers before it goes off? Having flown the route that the plane takes many times (Southerly down California into Los Angeles), the setting is quite familiar, which is always fun.

Daniel Galouye (how do you pronounce his name?) is up next with the interesting teleportation yarn, The Last Leap. Three military subjects have gone AWOL after artificially gaining the ability to materialize anywhere. Surely they were not killed--after all, even the vacuum of space poses no danger, for the 'porters reflexively snap back to a safe spot; moreover, they instinctively avoid teleporting into solid objects. What could have happened? You find out in the end...

To Each His Own, by Jack Sharkey, stars a team of Venusians who explore the Earth after a recent holocaust. The nature of said disaster is never made explicit until the very end, though it is alluded to subtly. I confess that I should have figured out the gimmick ending, but I didn't. I suppose that constitutes a point in the author's favor.

Margaret St. Clair has a fun story (The Autumn after Next) about a magical missionary whose job is to convert magic-less cultures into adepts at the Arts. He meets his match, and his end, attempting to introduce the most reluctant of tribes to the supernatural. Better than The Scarlet Hexapod, not as good as Discipline, both IF stories.

Finally, we have Cultural Exchange by J.F. Bone wherein a crew of space explorers meets a sophisticated alien race with both superior and inferior technologies. It is a first contact story of Cat and Mouse with both sides attempting to be the predator. Not stellar, but satisfying.

That's that! It's an unremarkable issue, slightly under the standards of its older sibling, Galaxy, I'd say. Worth a read, but you won't remember it next month (unless, of course, you review my column).

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!







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At long last, the February 1959 Galaxy is done, and I can give my assessment of the new bi-monthly format. It is likely that this issue was composed of material the editor, Mr. Gold, had accumulated before the decision to reduce the number of annual issues. Therefore, the real proof of the pudding will happen when the next issue comes out in the first week of February next year.



Two stories remained to be read when last you saw me. One is by newcomer, Ned Lang, whose short story, Forever is about the peril one faces when one has developed the world's first immortality serum. Or, at least, when one thinks he/she is the first. It's not a bad story, and it has a cute ending, but the writing has a certain clunkiness to it. I suppose allowances have to be made for neophytes, especially ones working for a penny-and-a-half a word.

The other story, a novella by J.F. Bone called Insidekick, is quite good. This is, in part, because it turns a genre on its head. Thanks to people like Bob Heinlein, the “Body Snatcher” trope is well-known: Evil, amorphous alien insinuates itself into its host human and turns it into a hollow shell. In particularly gory instances, the parasite eats its host like the larvae of the Digger Wasp. I have a friend who is relatively immune to the most nauseating of phenomena, but show him a movie about bodysnatching beasts, especially when they enter through cranial orifices, and he fairly faints.

In Insidekick, however, the symbiont is charitable rather than menacing. The Zark, as it is known, only wishes to help its host survive as best it can, for in doing so, the chances of success for both host and symbiont is maximized. The host, in this case, is a government agent by the name of Johnson, who is investigating a corrupt interstellar corporation under suspicion of growing tobacco illegally for profit on the planet Antar. Johnson is quickly fingered, and he certainly would not have lasted long were it not for the happy accident of his meeting with the Zark, a native to Antar. As the union of the two creatures occurs while Johnson is unconscious, he is unaware of the relationship.

The results, however, quickly become obvious. In Bone's story, all humans have a certain degree of psionic potential. Practitioners of psi, on the other hand, are universally psychotic and, thus, only marginally useful. The Zark unlocks Johnson's psionic potential without precipitating any nasty psychological effects. Johnson gradually realizes he has become a telepath and has the ability to teleport. Telekinetic and precognitive ability follow soon after. With his newfound skills, he is able to evade death and take down the criminal organization.



What makes the story so fun is how nice the Zark is. Who wouldn't want a benevolent guardian angel living inside him/her, and thus enjoy a panoply of superpowers? Better yet, there is no sting in the story's tail. Johnson isn't doomed to die prematurely; it doesn't turn out the Zark is really planning on eating Johnson; the Zark isn't part of an alien invasion. The story simply is what it is—the happy tale of a man and his symbiont. The only weakness is the two-page coda, which feels tacked on.

If I did not know that Bone is a real flesh-and-blood person, I'd think he was a cover for Bob Sheckley (who also appeared in this issue, finishing up Timekiller). Insidekick has that same light, pleasant touch.

To wrap things up, let's give the new giant-sized Galaxy a final score. Timekiller was decent, Installment Plan was flawed and disturbing in its politics, but the rest of the magazine ranged from good to quite good. Let's call it three out of five stars.

And good news! I managed to secure a copy of F&SF. Stay tuned!

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With December's Galaxy and F&SF done and reviewed, I now turn to the last of the Big Three: Astounding. The elephant in this magazine is, of course, the second half of Poul Anderson's dreary short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew.” It lurks at the end of the magazine like an oncoming train at the end of a tunnel. Thus, I abandoned my usual haphazard reading habits and began at the beginning, like normal people.

Good thing, too. The first three stories, comprising 65 pages, are good and somewhat of a theme. I have to congratulate myself for making it through a full three quarters of Campbell's blatherous editorial before skipping to story #1.

“Ministry of Disturbance” is a fun story of a week in the life of the august ruler of a 1300-planet galactic imperium, one that has persisted virtually unchanged for centuries. At first it seems that it will be a sort of light farce, but the story takes several turns before arriving at an unexpected conclusion. It's a little bewildering: there are a lot of moving parts including a large cast of characters and several concurrent event threads. Ultimately, there is something of a happy ending. My favorite line from the story is, “If you have a few problems, you have trouble, but if you have a whole lot of problems, they start solving each other.”

Did I mention it's by H. Beam Piper? That should be enough to recommend it. He did that lovely tale, Omnilingual (from which story the lady in my masthead derives), which you can find in the February 1957 Astounding.

Next up is “Triggerman” by a fellow I'd never heard of before, an “R.T. Bone.” Rather than a tale of the far future, it is highly contemporary. We've all heard of the metaphorical “button” on which the collective finger of the President and his generals rests, the pressing of which initiates atomic armageddon. In Bone's story, the button is real, and one man has his finger on it. It's a silly concept, but it is thankfully just the set up for a interesting short tale of an overwhelmingly destructive attack on the United States. As with the last story, there is a surprise, and the subject matter is not apolitical.

The third in the initial trio is “Pieces of the Game” by Mack Reynolds. Mack has been around for a while, bouncing from digest to digest, but I believe this is his first appearance in Astounding. Like “Triggerman,” it is set in the Cold War, but a few years in the future, in a recently Communist Austria. There is mention of a war, but it is clear that both sides are still active, as this story is a tale of espionage by an unlikely-looking agent. It's a pretty standard thriller; I hesitate to even call it science fiction. But it is entertaining, and it fits in well with the theme of the first two stories.

That makes a solid 4 out of 5 stars for the first half of December's Astounding! Lord knows where that score will finish, however...

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