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2017-08-06 10:22 am

[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

[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!)
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2017-07-09 03:31 pm

[July 9, 1962] To the New Frontier (August 1962 Galaxy Science Fiction)


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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2017-04-10 07:42 pm

[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)

[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The measure of a story's quality, good or bad, is how well it sticks in your memory. The sublime and the stinkers are told and retold, the mediocre just fades away. If you ever wonder how I rate the science fiction I read, memorability is a big component.

This month's IF has some real winners, and even the three-star stories have something to recommend them. For the first time, I see a glimpse of the greatness that almost was under Damon Knight's tenure back in 1959. Read on, and perhaps you'll agree.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-12-05 05:14 pm

[Dec. 5, 1961] IF I didn't care... (January 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

There is an interesting rhythm to my science fiction reading schedule. Every other month, I get to look forward to a bumper crop of magazines: Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and the King-Sized Galaxy. Every other month, I get F&SF, Analog, and IF (owned by the same fellow who owns Galaxy).

IF is definitely the lesser mag. Not only is it shorter, but it clearly gets second choice of submissions to it and its sister, Galaxy. The stories tend to be by newer authors, or the lesser works of established ones. This makes sense -- Galaxy offers the standard rate of three cents an article while IF's pay is a bare one cent per word.

That isn't to say IF isn't worth reading. Pohl's a good editor, and he managed to make decent (if not extraordinary) issues every month. The latest one, the January 1962 IF, is a good example.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-06-09 08:14 pm

[June 9, 1961] Common denominator (July 1961 IF)



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!)
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2016-03-02 10:12 am

[March 2, 1961] Rounding out the month (March 1961 IF)




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!)
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2015-11-14 08:13 am

[November 13, 1960] Evening out (December 1960 Galaxy, second half)



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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2015-10-03 05:54 pm

[Oct. 2, 1960] Second-rate fun (November 1960 IF Science Fiction)



Galaxy's little sister, IF Science Fiction has settled into a predictable format. Filled with a number of "B" authors, mostly neophytes, it generally leads with a decent novelette, and the rest of the stories are two and three-star affairs. I don't think the blame can be put on IF's shadow editor, Fred Pohl (Horace Gold is all but retired these days, I understand). Rather, this is about the best quality one can expect for a penny a word.

That said, the stories in IF are rarely offensively bad, and perhaps some day, one of these novices learning the ropes of writing in the minor leagues will surprise us with a masterpiece.

Preamble out of the way, let's take a look at the November 1960 issue:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-06-19 10:33 am

[June 19, 1960] Half Measures (July 1960 IF Science Fiction)

I'm glad science fiction digests haven't gone the way of the dodo. There's something pleasant about getting a myriad of possible futures in a little package every month. You can read as much or as little as you like at a time. The short story format allows the presentation of an idea without too much belaboring.

Every month, I get several magazines in the mail: Astounding and Fantasy and Science Fiction are monthlies; Galaxy and IF are bi-monthlies, but since they're owned and edited by the same folks, they essentially comprise a single monthlie. I don't have subscriptions to the other two digests of note, Amazing and Fantastic (again, both run by the same people); they just aren't worth it, even if they occasionally publish worthy stuff.



This month, IF showed up last; hence, it is the last to be reviewed. As usual, it consists of several moderately entertaining stories that weren't quite good enough to make it into Galaxy. Let's take a look:

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-03-01 02:31 pm

[March 1, 1960] The Slow Sibling (March 1960 IF)



It is March Oneth, as my father would say, and it's time to review the last of the March 1960 science fiction digests.

Last on my plate was IF Science Fiction, which in 1959 had proven a slightly erratic but worthy sibling to Galaxy Science Fiction, also edited by Horace Gold. Sadly, this current issue reminds me more of the inferior issues of Imagination or Amazing. It's not all bad, just rather weak.

It has been said of Clifford Simak that when he's good, he's very good, and when he's not, he's forgettable. It appears he used up all of his energy on his masterpiece appearing in this month's F&SF, because his lead novella for IF, The Gleaners, is mediocre. It's a story about a fellow who coordinates a for-profit time travel agency that sends agents back in time to observe, but not to meddle. It's a tough job: the agent defection rate is high, and there is much pressure to verify the historical assertions of the various world faiths. It sounds like it would be a great read, but it doesn't do much interesting development. Perhaps Cliff should start over and try making a novel on the concept.

Raymond Banks has a short story called to be continued about colonists marooned on a tiny island hundreds of light years from Earth for centuries. The beginning and ending are a bit slipshod, but the meat of the story is pretty good, and I particularly like that the story features a starship crewed by a pair of women.

In The Upside-Down Captain, by Jim Harmon, an ethnologist joins the crew of a starship to seek out truly unusual planets. The ship is aided in its endeavor with the help of a cybernetic brain—but is the robot really being much help? It's oddly paced and written, weakening what might have been a strong story.

There are a couple of very short vignettes that I shan't spoil other than to give their titles and authors since any description would give away most of their game. They seem to be written by unknowns, either amateur auteurs or pseudonymic regulars. They are Old Shag, by Bob Farnham, and Monument, by R.W. Major; neither are good, but nor are they long.

Ray Russell has something of a career writing for Playboy. His Father's House is an story about an heir forced to inhabit his deceased father's home, bullied by ghostly holograms of his abusive parent, for five years in order to collect an inheritance. The protagonist seemingly has two choices—be a penniless but satisfied writer and husband or endure a lonely, unfulfilling life in the hopes of inheriting a fortune. In the end, he comes up with a third path with no down sides.

Ignatz, by Ron Goulart, is a cute story about a fellow who leads a one-man crusade against the fad of "Applied Lycanthropy," whereby the citizens of his sleepy town transform into cats for fun and relaxation. The fellow hates cats, you see; they make him feel "crawly." It's cute, though I can't imagine what anyone could have against felines, of whom I am far more fond than dogs.

The magazine ends rather strongly with Daniel Galouye's satirical Gravy Train, in which a retired couple on a remote planetoid gets mistaken for an important Third-World state and finds itself the recipient of a torrent of aid from both the Capitalist and Communist intergalactic empires.

All in all, it's not so much a bad issue as a merely weak one. Most of the stories end rather abruptly with a decidedly last-decade sci-fi slammer, and the writing has a slapdash feeling about it. Perhaps it's just a temporary lull.

In any event, I've got a whole new crop of magazines for this month that I'm looking forward to sharing with you. See you soon!


---

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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2014-11-17 04:44 pm

[Nov. 17, 1959] Dead Center (December 1959 Galaxy and wargames)

Hello, fellow travelers! As promised, here's a round-up of this month's Galaxy magazine.

Or should I say Galaxy Science Fiction? According to editor Horace Gold (and I somehow missed this), Galaxy was misprinted last month with the old logo and the old price! They really lost their shirt on that issue, sadly. On the other hand, Gold is going to try not being ashamed of what he peddles and see if it affects sales positively or adversely. I'm hoping for the former.

Diving into the stories, George O. Smith continues to write in a workmanlike fashion. His The Undetected is part thriller, part who-dunnit, part romance, and features a psionic detective looking for a psionic criminal. And you thought it could only happen in Astounding.


Virgil Finlay

The often-excellent Phillip K. Dick has a lackluster story in this ish: War Game. In the future, the tricky Ganymedians are constantly trying to sneak subversive toys past our customs censors. In this case, they succeed by occupying the attention of a pair of said censors with a sort of automated toy soldier kit. It's the sort of throwaway tale I'd have expected ten years ago.


Wallace Wood

On the other hand, it provides an excellent segue to an exciting new arena of gaming. A hundred years ago, the Germans invented sandbox "wargaming," wherein they simulated war with a set of rules and military units in miniature. A half-century later, H.G. Wells proposed miniature wargaming as a way of scratching the human itch for violence without bloodshed. Fletcher Pratt, popularized the naval miniature combat game in World War 2, playing on the floor of a big lobby.

A fellow named Charles Roberts has taken the concept of miniature wargaming and married it to the tradition of board-gaming (a la Scrabble and Monopoly or Chess, perhaps a prototype wargame). Thanks to his revolutionary Tactics, and its sequel Tactics II, two players can simulate war on a divisional scale between the fictional entities of "Red" and "Blue" using a gameboard map, cardboard pieces, and dice. While perhaps not as visually impressive as facing off thousands of tin soldiers against each other, it is far more accessible and inexpensive.



War leaves me cold; I am a confirmed pacifist. But there is fun in the strategy and contest that a wargame provides. I look forward to seeing what new wargames Roberts' Avalon Hill company comes up with. Perhaps we'll see games with a science fictional theme in the near future—imagine gaming the battles depicted in Dorsai! or Starship Soldier!

To the next story: Jim Harmon is a fine writer, and his Charity Case, about a fellow hounded by demons who cause his luck to be absolutely the worst, starts out so promisingly that the rushed ending is an acute disappointment. Maybe next time.


Dick Francis

Fred Pohl's The Snowmen is a glib, shallow cautionary tale covering subject matter better handled in Joanna Russ' Nor Custom Stale. In short, humanity's need to consume compels it to generate power from heat pumps that accelerate the process of entropy leaving Earth in a deep freeze.

I did like Robert Bloch's Sabbatical, about a time traveler from 1925 who quickly determines that the grass is always greener in other time zones, and one might as well stay home. I enjoyed the off-hand predictions about the future—that Communism will no longer be the big scare, to be replaced with Conservativism; the patriarchy will be replaced with a matriarchy; the average weight of folks will be dramatically higher. I guess we'll see which ones come true.

Finally, we have Andy Offut's Blacksword. I had hoped for an epic fantasy adventure. Instead, I got one of those satirical political romps wherein one man plays chess with thousands of inferior minds, and things work out just as he planned. And then it turns out he's just a pawn (or perhaps a castle) in a bigger political chess game. Inferior stuff.


Wallace Wood

All told, this issue tallied at three stars. The problem is that this issue wasn't a mix of good and bad but rather a pile of unremarkable stories. With the exception of the Sheckley and the Ley article, and perhaps Bloch's short story, it was rather a disappointment.

Of course, this month's Astounding prominently features Randall Garrett, again. Out of the frying pan, into inferno.

See you in two! Try not to get involved with any rigged quiz shows...

---

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

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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2014-07-07 05:11 pm

IF Returns! (July 1959 IF; 7-07-1959)



There is a certain perverse joy to statistics.  Think of the folks who spend hours every week compiling baseball scores, hit averages, etc.  It’s a way to find a pattern to the universe, I suppose. 

To date, I’ve sort of off-handedly rated issues on a 1 to 5 star scale.  Last weekend, I went through my issues and compiled real statistics.  Here’s my methodology:
Each story/article gets rated 1 to 5 with these meanings.

5: Phenomenal; I would read again.
4: Good; I would recommend it to others.
3: Fair; I was entertained from beginning to end, but I would not read again or recommend.
2: Poor; I wasted my time but was not actively offended.
1: Abysmal; I want my money back!

I generally skip editorials and book reviews (in the ratings; I do read them... except for Campbell's editorials).

I then average all the stories in the book.  I do another, weighted, average where I factor in the length of a story (i.e. if the long stories are great and the short ones are terrible, the latter do not bring down the score as much).  Generally, the two scores are close.

My preliminary analysis has confirmed what I’d already felt in my gut--Fantasy and Science Fiction is a consistently better magazine than Astounding.  F&SF runs a consistent 3 or 3.5 average.  That may not sound like a lot, but any score over 3 means there must be at least one good story inside.  I haven’t reviewed a magazine that scored a 4 yet.
Astounding, on the other hand, runs in the 2.5 to 3 range.  This is why I find the magazine a chore.

I haven’t don’t Galaxy yet, but I suspect it will fall in between the two above magazines.



Using my brand new rating system, let’s talk about the new IF Science Fiction.  I’m afraid it’s not quite up to Galaxy’s standards, nor even those set by Damon Knight’s outing as editor, but it’s not horrible, either.

The issue starts strongly enough with F. L. Wallace’s Growing Season, about a starship hydroponics engineer with a contract out on his life.  It’s a very plausible and advanced story whose only flaw is that it ends too quickly and in a pat manner.   4 stars.

The Ogre, on the other hand, is a disappointing turn-out from normally reliable Avram Davidson.  As one reader observed, it falls between two stools, being neither chilling nor funny.  It’s another story where an anthropologist would rather kill than revise a pet theory, in this case, the date of Neanderthal extinction.  2 stars.

Wynne Whiteford, of whom I had not heard before, though I understand he’s been around for a while, writes a rather hackneyed tale of immortality and body-snatching called Never in a Thousand Years.  If you don’t see the end coming from the beginning, you’re not looking very hard.  2 stars.

Sitting Duck, by Daniel Galouye, is one of those stories with a uncannily relevant but unnecessary parallel subplot.  In this case, aliens are hunting humans from artificial “blinds” in the shapes of homes, malls, and movie theater... just like the protagonist when he hunts ducks from blinds.  It really doesn’t work as a story, but it’s not execrable.  Just primitive.  2 stars.

I rather enjoyed Mutineer by Robert Shea, in which cities have reverted to city states (albeit high-technology ones), professions are regimented, and soldiers are both fearsome and feared.  There are interesting parallels to be drawn to Classical Greece, perhaps.  3 stars.



Paul Flehr’s A Life and a Half is inconsequential, a bitter reminiscence by an old-timer about a century from now, noting how much better things were “back then.”  It has a rather strong Yiddish tone throughout, however, so it’s not all bad.  2 stars.

Rosel George Brown continues to show potential that is never quite realized.  In Car Pool, a young mother struggles with mixing alien and human children in a pre-school setting; at the same time, she wrestles with her plainness and puritanical virtuosity.  I liked it, but it is not quite great.  3 stars.

Baker’s Dozens is about a series of clones who encounter life and death in a number of interesting ways in their interstellar journeys.  The story is mainly a vehicle for author, Jim Harmon’s, groan-worthy puns.  3 stars.

IF ends as it began, with a quite good story by Phillip K. Dick called Recall Mechanism.  It combines a post-apocalyptic world with investigations into psychiatry and precognition.  I’m torn between assigning it a 4 or a 5.  If only there were an integer between the two!



Averaged out, this issue clocks in at 3 stars.  You could definitely do worse, and the first and last stories are worth reading.

See you in two days, and thanks for reading!





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2014-06-02 04:35 pm

The pen is mighty painful (August 1959 Galaxy, Part 1; 6-02-1959



Just what is this world coming to?

Reading this month's edition of Galaxy, it was hammered home just how far our linguistic standards have fallen. Have you ever read a letter from the last century? Even the prose from the most humble of fellows is lyric and articulate. And while the published fiction might sometimes be a bit purple, there's no denying the facility the authors had with our language.

And now? I'm only half-way through the August 1959 Galaxy, and I've spotted "there" for "their" as well as "effect" for "affect." I thought this magazine was supposed to be edited.

I'm overreacting, you say. I know what the writer meant--what's the big deal? Here's my deal: we pay a contractor to build a house properly, we pay a doctor to do an operation correctly, and we pay a wordsmith to write competently. If our literary experts can't be bothered to communicate clearly, that will inevitably lead to a trickle-down of linguistic sloppiness. Half a century from now, who knows how far standards will decline?

That's about my gripe quota for the month. I'm happy to say that the actual content of the magazine is pretty good, malaprops aside. I assume you've all picked up an issue so we can compare notes.

Cliff Simak hasn't written anything I've loved since Junkyard, but his latest, No Life of Their Own is pretty solid. Four kids, at least two of them quite alien, share a rural summer together several centuries in the future. Their pastimes are pretty timeless, though with some notable exceptions, largely derived from the alien nature of the children and their families. It's not an entirely idyllic setting--all of the farmers in the area are suffering from a run of unmitigated bad luck, whereas the meanest cuss of them all seems to be blessed. There's a reason, and the kids find it out.

Warning: There is a little bit of cruelty to a cat. Rest assured, however, that the cat is not unduly damaged, and the malefactor gets a comeuppance.



Newcomer Michael Shaara contributes Citizen Jell. If you were a fugitive with the ability to do tremendous good, but only at the cost of your freedom, what would be your tipping point? That's the subject of Shaara's ultimately heartwarming story.



Willy Ley has another excellent article, this time on the solar orbit of Mechta, the Soviet lunar probe. I must say, I have to admire a fellow who can remain the first item on my monthly science fiction read list for a decade.



Finally (for today), there is The Spicy Sound of Success, by the prolific Jim Harmon. For some reason, interstellar explorers become afflicted with transphasia (the swapping of sensory inputs--taste for sound, etc.) when scouting a new world. This story involves a daring rescue and an interesting first contact.



Join me next time for a round-up of this double-sized, bi-monthly edition... unless the Air Force's impending space shot stops the presses!

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