galacticjourney: (Default)

Illustrated by Van Dongen

Sometimes one plus one is greater than two, and sometimes, two authors produce a substantially better product than either of them might individually.

Take Randall Garrett and Robert Silverberg, for instance. Here are a couple of fellows whose personal output tends toward the uninspiring, at best, and the downright offensive, at worst. Yet, together, they wrote the Nidor series, which was solid reading all the way through. Now, Laurence Janifer, on the other hand, writes some pretty good stuff on his own, so perhaps he is not helped by his pairing with Randy. On the third hand, Randy sure as hell writes better stuff when working with Larry (under the pen name of Mark Phillips)!

Case in point: A couple of years ago, the two teamed up to produce a serial novel in Astounding (now Analog) called That Sweet Little Old Lady. It followed the travails of FBI Agent Ken Malone as he tracked down a gaggle of insane telepaths in the early 1970s. His main partner, aside from the Garrett stand-in, Agent Boyd, is a charming grandmotherly telepath whose primary quirk is that she believes herself to be Queen Bess herself. Not a reincarnation, mind you--the real deal.

The G-Man and Her Majesty teamed up again for another serial, Out Like a Light, where the subject of interest was a gang of teleporting juvenile car thieves. By the end of this novel, Malone has picked up some psychic skills of his own, including a sense of precognition and the ability to teleport.

Three months ago, installment one of the latest Mark Phillips novel debuted in Analog. This one is aptly titled Occasion for Disaster, and it is Malone's most ambitious outing to date...

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


Each month, I lament what's become of the magazine that John Campbell built. Analog's slow decline has been marked by the editor's increased erratic and pseudo-scientific boosting behavior. Well, I just don't have the heart to kick a dog today, and besides, the fiction is pretty good in this month's (November 1960) issue. So let's get right to it, shall we?

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

by Freas

I poke a lot of fun at John Campbell's magazine, Astounding for its overfeaturing of psionics and Randall Garrett, two things of which I've gotten very tired--so imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying a serial that intimately involves both!

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


Every science fiction digest has a flavor. Part of it is due to the whimsy of the editor, part of it is the niche the magazine is trying to fill, and part of it is luck of the draw.

Astounding can be summed up in just a few words: psionic, smug, workmanlike, crackpot, inbred.

Not necessarily in that order.

You see, every editor has an agenda. For F&SF's Tony Boucher, and his successor, Paul Mills, it's to have as literary a magazine as possible. For Galaxy and IF's H. L. Gold, it's to present solid science fiction without resorting to hackneyed tropes of the pulp era.

For Astounding's John Campbell, the motivation might once have been to mentor young writers so that they could create the best science fiction of the day. Certainly, Campbell's magazine pioneered the field in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s. But these days, Campbell seems determined to be the strongest champion of psychic phenomena and other silliness.

For instance: perpetual motion. Campbell promises to fully educate us on the "Dean Drive" next month, a flop of a device (so I understand) that supposedly turns rotational energy into linear energy for propulsion purposes.

For instance: psychic paper. The "Heironymous Machine," a meaningless circuit that is just as effective (so its creator and defenders claim) whether it be made out of electronic components or simply drawn on a sheet.

For instance: virtually every story that appears in Astounding must feature psychic powers and/or some reference to one of Campbell's pet projects.

It reminds me of how Fantastic Universe catered to the UFO crowd during its sunset years, much good it did them.

The result of this editorial policy, and the over-reliance on just a few of the field's less exceptional authors, is a magazine that usually ranks lowest of the Big Three (combining Galaxy and IF). Last month was a striking exception to this rule. This month, we may not be so lucky.



The May 1960 Astounding only has five pieces apart from the second part of the "Mark Phillips" serial, Out like a Light. I won't review the serial until its completion next month.

Astounding perennial Randall Garrett contributes the lead novella, the promising but ultimately flawed Damned if you Don't. In 1981, an enterprising scientist develops a perfect, tiny energy source that threatens to throw the entire planet's economy into chaos. Everyone is out to stop him, from the power company to the government. The first half is pleasant reading, with some reasonably good characterization and suspense as to who's actually after the powerful "Converter" machines. There's another nod to Murray Leinster by name. At one point, there is a description of a computer small enough to have been knocked over by a single person, which is an interesting extrapolation of miniaturization trends.

But then the story gets talky. There is a meaningless aside describing a lukewarm Middle Eastern and European war in the late '60s that leads to a clamp down on private scientific investigations. It is meaningless not only for its implausibility but also for the fact that it doesn't really have any bearing on the story. Then there are pages of discussion on how release of the device will destroy the world as we know it. These are capped off with the realization that the device has been stolen, and it's all a moot point. So much for that story.

Then we have John Cory's three-pager Egocentric Orbit. Twice before, astronauts have been launched into space and refused to come down. In this story, following the third orbital astronaut, we find out why.

Laurence Janifer, one half of the pair that is Mark Phillips (the other being Randall Garrett) has a decent story under the pseudonym "Larry M. Harris." It's a period piece set in 1605 called Wizard, and it involves a brotherhood of telepaths attempting to thwart the inquisition, which threatens to wipe their breed from the Earth.

The final fiction entry is Mack Reynold's pedestrian Revolution, which entertains a number of ridiculous propositions. Item: the Soviet Union will surpass the United States in production in just seven years. Item: a revolution is easy to incite so long as you throw lots of money at the problem. Item: if you think the USSR is productive now, wait until bright-eyed Syndicalist Technocrats take over!

Much like Garrett's opening story, the latter half is composed mostly of speeches justifying the plot line, and the ending features the revolution's catalyst, a western agent, suggesting that the revolution be aborted lest the USSR someday truly trounce the West. Pretty bad stuff.

On the other hand, Dr. Asimov is back with a nice long piece (The March of the Phyla) on the various animal groups and the successive adaptations that allowed them to increasingly become masters of their environment rather passive creatures vulnerable to the caprice of Mother Nature. It's a bit teleological in its presentation, but quite informative.

I just have to wonder when Asimov will supplant Ley at Galaxy and monopolize all of the digests. Nice racket if you can get it...

So, there you have it. A magazine largely written by just two authors (Garrett and Janifer), suffused with smugness, even the non-fiction, featuring psionics and super-inventions, none of it terribly well-written. Campbell's got to find some new blood, or Astounding is going to founder, I fear. Perhaps Harry Harrison offers some hope—his Deathworld was the overwhelming favorite of the fans, per the Analytical Laboratory (the magazine's reader survey) for January and February. More like that would help.

There's an exciting launch coming tomorrow. If it's successful, I'll see you on the 2nd with an update on... TIROS.

---










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


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!



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


galacticjourney: (Default)
People seem to enjoy extremes. The first to do this. The best at doing that. The most exciting. The brightest. The darkest.

If you're wondering why I failed to write on schedule, day-before-yesterday, it's because I was wrestling with the worst. Specifically, the worst magazine I've had to trudge through since I began this project in 1954. Let me tell you: there was nothing to enjoy about it.

I speak of the September 1959 issue of Astounding. Not only are the stories (at least those I've thus far read) thoroughly dull, but they have that sharp stamp of Campbellian editing, or pandering, which causes them to have the same tedious, nonsensical elements.



Take That Sweet Little Old Lady, by "Mark Phillips," a pseudonym so phoney, I knew Randall Garrett had to be involved. Sure enough, Mark Phillips is Randy and a fellow named Laurence F. Janifer. It's a drab, unamusingly droll stream-of-consciousness story about a detective and his quest to find a psionic spy. In the course of his investigations, he meets a dotty esper convinced that she is an immortal Queen Elizabeth. Joy of joys, this is only the first of a two-part serial.

As for the Campbellian twist, much reference is made to psionic devices that are part electronic and part symbolic. This is a nod to Campbell's obsession with "Heironymous Machines," devices that measure "non-electromagnetic radiation," using electric circuits that appear to have no function and could, it is boasted, be replaced by pen-and-ink diagrams of those same circuits without affecting the ability of the machine.

Well, I can't disagree with that.

Chris Anvil continues to make solid 2-star stories that fill blank spots in the pages of Astounding. Captive Leaven is about the effect an interstellar traveler had on a primitive civilization, uplifting it to a very specialized sophistication so that it could produce parts to repair the traveler's spaceship. Not a bad idea, I suppose, but executed in so dull a fashion that I fairly had to reread the whole tale to remember the plot.

Finally, even Murray Leinster disappoints with his A Matter of Importance, in which Leinster's characteristic employment of short sentences annoys to distraction. Ostensibly a story about an interstellar police rescue mission, it's really an opportunity to point out that the human form is the most natural of forms for intelligent creatures, that the Solar System is the most typical of planetary systems, and the predictions of a canny protagonist always come out to be correct.

Fatuous determinism. You can have it.

I'm dreading the rest of this issue, and the next one, to be honest. I'll read them, because I feel I've a contract with you, my good readers, but I can't promise not to skim.

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


Profile

galacticjourney: (Default)
galacticjourney

April 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
2 34 56 78
9 1011 121314 15
16 171819 2021 22
23242526272829
30      

Links

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Apr. 24th, 2017 09:03 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios