galacticjourney: (Default)


How small the world has gotten!

Less than a decade ago, trans-oceanic travel was limited to the speed of a propeller. If you journeyed by boat, as many still do, it would take two weeks to cross the Pacific. Airplanes were faster – with a couple of stops, one could get from California to the Orient in less than two days. As a journalist and travel columnist, I spent a good amount of time in both hemispheres during the early 1950s. I got to be quite seasoned at the travel game.

I have to tell you, things are so much faster these days. The jet engine has cut flight times in half, taking much of the tedium out of travel. Oh, sure, I always had plenty to do in the air, between writing and reading and planning my next adventures, but for my poor fellow travelers, there was little to do but drink, smoke, and write letters. For hours and hours.

These days, the Journey is my primary occupation. I can do it from anywhere, and I often do, bringing my family along with me. As we speak, I am writing out this article with the roar of the Japan Airlines DC-8's jets massaging my ears, music from pneumatic headphone cords joining the mix. It's a smooth ride, too. It would be idyllic, if not for the purple clouds of tobacco smoke filling the cabin. But again, I suffer this annoyance for half the time as before. I'll abide.

We've just lifted off from Honolulu, and in less than 8 hours, we will touch down at Haneda airport, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan's capital. We will be in the Land of the Rising Sun for two weeks, visiting friends and taking in the local culture. I'll be sure to tell you all about our adventures, but don't worry. I've also brought along a big stack of books and magazines so I can continue to keep you informed on the latest developments in science fiction. Moreover, I'm sure we'll see a movie or two, and we'll report on those, too.



Speaking of reports, I've just finished up this month's Galaxy Science Fiction....

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


Here's a question I've gotten more than once: what is the point in spotlighting woman writers? Shouldn't I simply point out the good stories as I find them, and if they happen to be written by women, bully for them? Why should I create an artificial distinction?

Those are actually fine questions, about which I've given much thought. I make no claims to being an expert, or even someone whose opinion should matter much to you. All I have is my taste, my gut and (lucky for me) my own column in which to voice my opinions. So take my words as strictly my viewpoint.

We live in a particular kind of world. Men are the default: the default heroes, the default writers, even the default pronoun. Open a history book, and it will be filled with the names of great men. Women are a seeming afterthought. You may not even have thought twice about it. It seems "natural" that movies should star men, that books should star men, that men should be the generals, the presidents.

But, there is a change a brewing. Black men universally won the right to vote in 1865. Women secure duniversal suffrage in 1920, fully three generations after the least privileged men. The gap is narrowing. This year, a Black man became skipper of a U.S. Naval vessel. 1961 also marks the year a woman became a shipboard U.S. Naval officer for the first time. Women are now just one generation behind the least advantaged of the men. Someday, we may be on a level playing field, all races of men and women.

Science fiction is supposed to be forward-looking, yet socially it seems stuck in the present, or even the past. One almost never reads about woman starship captains or woman presidents or woman...well... anything. I don't think this is the result of deliberate collusion by the science fiction writing community. It's just that society is the air we breathe. We are unconsciously bound by its rules and traditions. Unless something shakes up our viewpoints, we'll stick in our ruts and continue to accept this male-dominated paradigm as the natural order of things.

So when I spot something unusual that I think should be universal, I note it. I encourage it. I enjoy it.

Without further ado, part #3 of my encyclopedic catalog of the woman writers active as of this year of 1961:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)
I've said before that there seems to be a conservation of quality in science fiction. It ensures that, no matter how bad the reading might be in one of my magazines, the stories in another will make up for it. Galaxy was pretty unimpressive this month, so it follows that Fantasy and Science Fiction would be excellent. I am happy to say that the October 1960 F&SF truly is, as it says on the cover, an "all star issue."


from here

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)
Happy (day after) Thanksgiving from sunny San Diego! Sorry for the delay, but the travails of travel put a crimp in my bi-daily update schedule. I am now happily back at the typewriter and ready to tell you all about....



The January 1959 Astounding was particularly lackluster. Filled with turgid tales of men running world governments with smug omnipotence, it was quite the slog. Some details:

“To Run the Rim,” was the stand-out exception, as described earlier this week. Sadly, it simply set the bar higher for the subsequent stories, which did not even try to clear the hurdle.

Gordy Dickson's “By New House Fires,” wasn't bad so much as inconsequential. In this story, humanity has made the planet unlivable for any but humans, animals being found solely in preserves. I've seen this concept before, and I never buy it. I have no trouble believing that humans will run pretty roughshod over planet Earth, and many thousands if not millions of species will be the casualties. We may pollute the world into a stinking mess and/or incinerate the surface in atomic hellfire, but we'll never reduce its inhabitants to people and food-yeast. Of course, Dickson's set-up is necessary for the tale, the story of the world's last dog, and the master he adopts.

Oh look! The next story is a Poul Anderson, surprise, surprise. In premise, “Robin Hood's Barn,” is not unlike Piper's story in the last Astounding following the leader of a decadent Empire. In this case, the Empire is solely terrestrial, only one inhabitable extrasolar world having yet been discovered. This is the story that predicated my recent rant on the dearth of women in science fiction. Though it takes place far in the future, all government is run by men, and worse still, it is one of those smug stories where the person in charge has perfect Machiavellian control of the various competing factions beneath him.

I suppose I must sound hypocritical. After all, I gave Piper's story a pass (and even a favorable grade). I think the difference is two-fold: Piper's story was meant to be somewhat fanciful. Moreover, I've seen Piper write strong women. Anderson's never tried (except that isn't quite true—he managed five years ago in Brainwave, his one excellent book). Maybe Piper is just as bad, but Anderson was the straw that broke my back.

“Seedling,” by Charles V. de Vet (he worked with Katherine MacClean in Astounding earlier this year) is a pleasant, albeit brief, interlude about the drastic steps one might take to establish relations with an alien race. The twist is nice, too.

All too soon, we're plunged back into another top-level womanless depiction of world government: “Deadlock,” by Robert and Barbara Silverberg. This is one of those old-fashioned stories in which a problem is introduced and the solution comes as a gotcha at the last second. What's particularly frustrating is the Silverbergs spend 40 pages on what should have been a 10-page tale.

Here's the set-up: It is a hundred years from now, and humanity is on the eve of settling Mars. The Americans want to terraform the planet; the Chinese want to biologically engineer humans to settle the planet as is. One intrepid U.N. representative is tasked with finding a suitable compromise. This set-up is described over and over again in several slightly varying ways (newspaper clippings, interviews with officials on both sides) until the inevitable and unclever solution is presented. It would be fine as backdrop to characterization, or as bookends to a novel, but it just can't bear the weight of a novella.

One has to wonder if John Campbell simply needed to fill space and asked the Silverbergs to pad their submission out. Since authors are paid by the word, I can imagine there was little resistance to the idea.

Now, I do have some praise for the story. I am impressed with anyone willing to throw her or his hat over the fence and make a timeline of future history, especially when it makes assumptions that few others do. For instance, in this world, the Soviet Union collapses in the early 21st century not from American success in a Third World War, but from economic inadequacy. An economically revitalized (but probably still Communist) China takes its place as a superpower. The U.N.'s power is enhanced after an abortive and politically fraught Space Race. While this makes for a more peaceful Earth, preventing large-scale conflicts, it also means that any plan to settle other planets requires a consensus of most of the Earth's countries. Hence, the presented dilemma. It's a plausible set-up, they just don't do much with it.

I am also impressed with how far science fiction (and science) have come. Just 16 years ago, Heinlein was writing about transforming humanity at glacial speed through selective breeding a la Mendel. Genetic engineering reduces the process time to a single generation. I look forward to seeing more stories with this development as a component.

There's more, but I find myself in danger of over-writing this column, so I'll save it for next time.

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
galacticjourney: (Default)
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: An actual review of an actual science fiction magazine!

NOVEMBER 1958, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION



I usually save Astounding for last among my subscriptions. I have mixed feelings about this magazine. On the one hand, it is physically of the lowest quality compared to its competitors (F&SF being easily the highest). Editor John Campbell, with his ravings about psionics, perpetual motion and Hieronymous machines, as well as his blatant human-chauvinism, is tough to take. But he had a fine stable of authors, and some of the best stories come out of his magazine.

This issue's headliner, Poul Anderson's short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew,” does not look like it will be among them. It is the first half of a two-parter set some time in the next century in the Asteroid Belt. The setting is interesting, and so is the set-up: a renegade faction of an Irish-colonized nation of asteroids has taken over Grendel, a small asteroid under the sovereignty of the "Anglians," and the crew of the trader, Mercury Girl is stranded until it can find a way out.

Unfortunately, this is one of those “funny” stories, the kind of which Bob Sheckley is a master and Poul Anderson is not. Moreover, Anderson phonetically transcribes the exaggerated accents of his multinational cast of characters, which quickly becomes a slog to read. I had high hopes for Anderson after “Brainwave” (1953), but everything since then has been generally (though not entirely) mediocre to turgid. It's all very chauvinistic stuff, too. More so than most contemporary authors.

"Goliath and the Beanstalk," by Chris Anvil is forgettable, like all of Anvil's stuff I've read to date. He and Robert Silverberg are much alike: prolifically generating serviceable, uninspired space-filler.

The next story is by a fellow named Andrew Salmond, a name so unfamiliar to me, that I suspect it is a pseudonym for one of the regular contributors. "Stimulus" is a mildly interesting yarn about Earth being the one planet in the universe made of contra-terrene matter (also known as anti-matter), and the effect this has on spaceflight and humanity's future in general. The gotcha is that the situation was recently imposed upon the Earth--right before our first moon launch, in fact. Can you guess how the Earth figured out what had happened? I (he said smugly) did quite early on.

By the end of the story, humanity is the most powerful race in the galaxy and rather insufferable about it, too. I'm sure this appealed to Editor Campbell, given his taste (editorial requirement?) for stories where humans are better than everyone else.

Gordy Dickson's "Gifts..." is not science fiction at all, and it reads like a screenplay for a short television episode. It is about a man given the opportunity to wish for whatever he wants, and his decision whether or not to use the power. Slight stuff.

Katherine MacLean's “Unhuman Sacrifice” is reason enough to buy this issue. I had not read much of MacLean's stuff before, but I will be on the look-out for her stories from now on. Her tale of a spaceship crew's encounter with an alien species with a singular life cycle, told from the viewpoint of both the humans and the aliens, is fascinating and haunting. I won't spoil it by telling you anything more.

Asimov's new science column continues. This time, it attempts to answer why, in a galaxy filled with billions of suns, Earth has yet to be contacted by alien civilizations. He ultimately concludes that galactic civilizations are likely to form in the center, where stars are densest, and may well avoid the backward edges, where we live. He further opines that we may well have been discovered by vastly superior races (for any race that could find us must be far beyond us, at least technologically) and are being left alone so as not to disturb our development. It's a cute idea, but it is also indistinguishable from our being undiscovered. Until the flying saucers announce themselves outside of the deep Ozarks, we have to assume We Really Are Alone.

P. Schuyler Miller's book review column remains the most comprehensive available. His comparing and contrasting of Bradbury with Sheckley, Matheson and Beaumont is interesting and arch. The rest is good, too.

The issue wraps up, as always, with Campbell's letter column, Brass Tacks. I skipped it, as always. Campbell may fill his magazine with fine stories, but I find the quality of his own opinions (like the quality of Astounding's paper) to be lacking.

New magazines come out on the 26th. Stay tuned!

(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 222324 25
262728293031 

Links

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Mar. 27th, 2017 10:40 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios