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by John Boston

Summertime, and the living is . . . hot and sticky, here in the near-South. Also fairly boring, if one is not much interested in such local rustic amusements as hayrides and frog-gigging (if you have to ask, you don’t want to know.) There’s no better time to find a comfortable hiding place and read science fiction magazines, except possibly for all the other times. Of course the season—any season—doesn’t guarantee merit, and the August 1962 Amazing is the usual mixed bag.



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

Since humans have been a species, there has always been a frontier. Whether it be Alaska for the first settlers of the Americas, or the New World (for Europeans), or the Wild West (for White Americans), there has always been an "over there" to explore. Today, our frontiers are the frozen Arctics, the deep seas, and the vastness of orbital space.

Science fiction has always stayed one step ahead. A hundred years ago, Jules Verne took us 20,000 leagues under the sea. A generation later, Edgar Rice Burroughs took us to Darkest Africa, lost continents, and fancifully rendered nearby planets,. Astounding and its ilk of the 30s and 40s gave us scientific jaunts through the solar system.

These days, one is hard-pressed to find stories that take place on Mars or Venus. Now that four men have circled the Earth and probes have flown millions of miles from our planet, tomorrow's frontier lies among the stars. Thus, science fiction has taken up residence in the spacious quarters of the Milky Way, light years away from home.

As you'll see if you pick up this month's most worthy issue of Galaxy:



(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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I had planned on breaking up the rest of this month’s (October 1959) Astounding into two parts, but seeing how there are only four pieces of fiction, albeit long ones, I’ve decided to give it all to you in one blow.

Chris Anvil continues to put out the most mediocre stuff imaginable. These are the stories I’d expect to see in Imagination, if “Madge” were still around. The Law-Breakers is the cover story for this issue, and it really is barely worth the space it takes. Two invaders from a race of extremely humanoid aliens attempt to infiltrate the Earth using sophisticated invisibility technology. All of their predecessors have failed on these missions, so the stakes are high. As it turns out, the Terrans are ready for the invaders, trailing them wearing cloaking fields of their own.

Once captured, the invaders are offered a deal—become citizens and their sentence will be reduced from felony sabotage to a host of petty misdemeanors. Along the way, we get some fatuous smugness about how Earth is better than the aliens because it is a planet of multiple competing civilizations rather than a single, united race. It took me three sittings to finish the story, which is saying something for a 30-page story.

Story #2 is even worse: The Unspecialist, by unknown Murray F. Yaco, features a pilot and co-pilot of a small scout ship accompanied on their mission of reconnaissance by a “Bean Brain,” a seemingly useless fellow who, nevertheless, contributes valuable expertise in a particular pinch. The gotcha of the story (a disappointing trope of science fiction that I thought had died out) is learning the former profession of the unspecialist. Dull, dull, dull.

I was thus rather pleasantly surprised by the third story, Dodkin’s Job, by the old hand, Jack Vance. Somehow, I have a soft spot for dystopian stories with highly regimented societies. Not so much the predestined occupation stories, like Asimov’s Profession, but more the totalitarian tales where people are pigeonholed into horizontal layers of privilege and are constantly trying to climb out.

In this one, Luke is a 40-year old born with ample opportunities, but due to his nonconformist nature, he finds his career a sordid succession of demotions until he finds himself a Level D Flunky assigned to clean sewers. When a new labor directive is passed down to return his shovel to the central office every day, thus wasting three hours of his own time, Luke decides to petition the authorities. Up the ladder he goes, to the very top, and then back down to the prestige-less clerk levels whence the impetus for the decision came. There, he finds the true secret of bureaucracy—that data is power, and it is the presenter of data who really has the power, not the decision-makers who can only make decisions based on the data presented.

It’s a story that kept me up past my bed-time, and, as a person who presents data for a living, a very instructive piece, to be sure!

That leaves us with Part 2 of That Sweet Little Old Lady, by Mark Phillips aka Randall Garrett. As you know, I’m rather predisposed against Mr. Garrett, but I did stick it out through both installments, this tale of telepaths, espionage, FBI agents, and renaissance costumery.

In short, there is an information leak somewhere in America, and it’s up to Agent Malone to find it. Along the way, he teams up with a host of insane telepaths, all of whom are non-functioning with the exception of one who believes herself to be an immortal Queen Elizabeth I. She insists that her entourage dress appropriately, and I now understand why Randy dressed up as Henry VIII for Wondercon—he was really dressing up as Agent Malone (or Malone was designed to look like Randy playing Henry VIII).



Anyway, it’s a flippantly written who-dunnit. It’s not offensive, and I was able to finish it in a reasonable amount of time, but it was the literary equivalent of Saltines—bland and not particularly satisfying. Also, I’m getting rather tired of Kelly Freas—how many wrinkles does an illustrated person need, anyway?

Thus ends another 2.5 star Astounding. This makes the biggest spread between magazines I've seen in a month--compare to 3.5 for Galaxy, 4.5 for F&SF.

That’s that for magazines this month, though I'll do an Astounding Analytical Laboratory stop press in a couple of days. Next month, we’ve got another Astounding, F&SF, and IF. Also, a host of anticipated space shots, probably a movie or two, and a new science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology debuting in about a week: The Twilight Zone.
See you soon!

---

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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The December 1958 Galaxy came in the mail on the 26th, and I've read about half of it. Willy Ley's column, on the amazing alien world beneath the surface of the sea, is fascinating stuff. The third part (of four) of Sheckley's Time Killer is engaging, though not in the same class as most of his short stories. The short murder mystery, "Number of the Beast," by Fritz Leiber, might have made an interesting novella; as it is, it is too underdeveloped to be interesting. Too bad. Fritz is good.

But what inspired this blog was veteran Jack Vance's latest: "Ullward's Retreat." It is a tale about how a little bit of privacy and living space is a status symbol in an overcrowded world; but, in a society used to being crowded together, too much privacy and living space is undesirable.

Recent figures show that our population is about to hit the 3 billion mark. Given that we reached 1 billion in 1800 and 2 billion in 1927, it is understandable that a good deal of science fiction depicts an overpopulated future.

I find it laughable when an author describes shoulder-to-shoulder crowding with a population of (gasp) 7-10 billion! I recognize that some of our cities are pretty crowded these days, but even tripling the population is not going to squish people together--it will just spread the cities out. Most of the world is still uninhabited, and I can only guess that science will make more of the world inhabitable.

Vance's Earth, however, has a whopping 50 billion souls on it, and that seems a reasonable strain on space limitations. The story starts in the spacious apartment of the eponymous Ullward, a wealthy man. His home comes with a real garden and an honest-to-goodness oak tree. His guests are suitably impressed: their homes are tiny cubicles with doors that exit right onto the commuter slidewalks. To overcome claustrophobia, walls are replaced with image panes that display scenery to convey a convincing illusion of greater space.

Interestingly enough, in Ullward's Retreat, whole planets are available to colonize with relative ease. Ullward leases a continent and invites his friends to visit. They quickly tire of the vast vistas and the pervasive loneliness. They pine to investigate the "good parts" of the world, which are rendered off-limits by the planet's owner. Ultimately, Ullward forgoes his enormous estate and returns to his comparatively (to his peers, not to us) extravagant abode, which has proven, despite its smaller scope, much more impressive to Ullward's friends.

Vance's story is a trivial one and not to be taken especially seriously. I did like some points, however. For one, it depicts an overcrowded future as not dystopian, simply different. Anyone who has been to Japan (before or after the war) has seen a society far more used to crowding than ours. They don't seem to mind it. They just make do with smaller gardens and narrower houses; they adapt with greater politeness and cultural rigidity. The people in Ullward's Retreat like their little privileges, but those privileges become meaningless without a social context. I guess it's the difference between having a 1 karat diamond ring and a 50 karat hunk of diamond in your closet.

I also like that the ability to colonize does not reduce the population pressure on mother Earth. Columbus and Cabot finding America did not make Europe any less populated. It just led to the Americas being more populated (after the colonists did some depopulation of the natives, of course). Moreover, in a world where people are happier in close quarters with their neighbors, it makes sense that the colonizing spirit would be correspondingly lower.

Was it a good story? Is it worth 35 cents? Sort of, and, probably not. Nevertheless, it did provoke thought, and can you put a price on that?

Stay tuned. I'll have more on this month's Galaxy in a day or two!

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