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There are few folks who have taken greater advantage of the Silver Age of science fiction (i.e. the Post-War boom and bust of the digests) than Robert Sheckley. As of last month, the fellow had already published four collections of his works. The beneficiaries of this production are Bob's pocketbook...and every reader who gets hands on his stuff. Sheckley's mastery of the science fiction short story, whether straight, humorous, cynical, or downright horrific, is legendary.

Now, Notions: Unlimited, Sheckley's fourth collection, just came out in June. Moreover, I'd had reason to believe that November would be a month of slim pickings for new fiction. Imagine my surprise (and delight!) at finding yet another Sheckley collection on sale.

This one, Store of Infinity, may be my favorite of them all.



(see the review at Galactic Journey!)
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Readers of my column know of my affection for Bob Sheckley's work. A fellow lanzmann, he has turned out a regular stream of excellent short stories over the past decade. He's already published four collections, and they are all worth getting.

But though Sheckley gets an A for his shorter works, his novel-writing talents earn him, at best, a B-. He's written two thus far, both of them novelizations of serials. One was the tepid adventure, Timekiller. The other, The Status Civilization, was serialized in Amazing earlier this year. It just came out in book form; I'll let my readers tell me if it's been substantially changed.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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As a rule, I don't review anthologies. By definition, they are composed of stories already published elsewhere, and since I cover the magazines regularly, chances are I've already seen most of an anthology's contents.

I make an exception for Bob Sheckley.

Sheckley is the master of the science fiction short story. They are sometimes humorous, sometimes terrifying, never bad. And since the novel I'd planned on reading, Mark Clifton's Eight Keys to Eden bored me right out of the gate, I gratefully picked up a copy of Sheckley's new anthology Notions: Unlimited.

Here's what I found:

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)

1960, book, robert sheckley
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From the depths of mediocrity to the peaks of quality, it looks like our long literary winter may finally be over. Perhaps the groundhog didn't see a shadow this year.

First, we had an uncharacteristically solid Astounding. This month's Fantasy and Science Fiction is similarly exceptional without a clunker in the bunch, and some standouts besides.

I used to see Poul Anderson's name and cringe. The author who had impressed me so much with 1953's Brainwave turned out consistent dreck for the next several years, though to be fair, he generally did so within the pages of Campbell's magazine, not Boucher's. A couple of years ago he got back into his groove, and his stuff has been generally quite good again.

He has the lead novella in the March F&SF, The Martyr, set in a far future in which humanity has met a race of clearly superior psionicists. We are so jealous of these powers, and the possessors so unwilling to give up their secrets, that a small human contingent takes several aliens prisoner to coerce the secrets of psi out of them. But what if it's a secret better left unrevealed?

It's a beautiful story, but there is nastiness here, and it can be a rough read in places. It is no less recommended for that, however. Just giving fair warning.

Ray Bradbury is an author I've never held in much regard, but his Death and the Maiden, about a withered rural crone who shuts herself in an ancient house in defense against mortality, isn't bad.

It doesn't even suffer too badly when compared to Ted Sturgeon's subsequent Like Young, perhaps because the subject matter is so different (Ray was less successful when both he and Ted wrote mermaid stories in quick succession, Ted's being, by far, the superior.) In Sturgeon's tale, the last surviving 504 humans, rendered sterile by radiation, decide to give their race a kind of immortality by planting cultural and scientific relics so as to bootstrap humanity's evolutionary successor. The joke is on us in the end, however.

John Collier's Man Overboard is an atmospheric piece about a dilettante sea captain pursuing an elusive sea-going Loch Ness Monster. It feels old, like something written decades ago. I suspect that is a deliberate stylistic choice, and it's effective.

Then we have a cute little Sheckley: The Girls and Nugent Miller, another story set in a post-atomic, irradiated world. Is a pacifist professor any match against a straw man's Feminist and her charge of beautiful co-eds? The story should offend me, but I recognize a tongue permanently affixed to the inside of the cheek when I see one.

Miriam Allen DeFord has a quite creepy monster story aptly called, The Monster, with an almost Lovecraftian subject (the horror in the cemetery that feeds on children) but done with a more subdued style and with quite the kicker of an ending.

The Good Doctor (Isaac Asimov) is back to form with his non-fiction article on the measuring of interstellar distances, The Flickering Yardstick. I must confess with some chagrin that, despite my astronomical education, I was always a bit vague on how we learned to use Cepheid variable stars to compute galactic distances (their pulsation frequency is linked to their brightness, which allows us to determine how far away they are). Asimov explains it all quite succinctly, and I was gratified to see a woman astronomer was at the center of the story (a Henrietta Leavitt).


"Pickering's harem," the computers of astronomer Edward Pickering (Leavitt is standing)

Avram Davidson has a fun one-pager called Apres Nous wherein a dove is sent to the future only to return wet and exhausted with an olive leaf in its mouth. I didn't get the punchline until I looked up the quote in a book of quotations.

The remainder of the issue is filled with a most excellent Clifford Simak novella, All the Traps of Earth, in which a centuries-old robot, no longer having a human family to serve, escapes inevitable memory-wiping and repurposing by fleeing to the stars. We've seen the "robot as slave" allegory before in Galaxy's Installment Plan. In fact, it was Cliff, himself, who wrote it, and I remember being uncomfortable with his handling of the metaphor in that story.

I had no such problems this time—it's really a beautiful story of emancipation and self-realization, by the end of which, the indentured servant has become a benevolent elder. A fine way to end a great issue.

So pick up a copy if you can. At 40 cents (the second-cheapest of the Big Four), it's a bargain.


"Spacecraft landing on the Moon" - cover artwork without overprinting - Mel Hunter

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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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Galaxy editor Horace Gold is hard up for writers these days now that he's cut payment rates. In this month's (February 1960) editorial, he notes that he's getting all kinds of low-quality stuff, and would these would-be authors please try reading a scientific journal or two to get better ideas!



Be that as it may, thus far, this double-sized issue of Galaxy is quite enjoyable. I'm splitting the book into two columns so as not to overwhelm you and give you a chance to follow along at home.

Bob Sheckley has a new story out: Meeting of the Minds. I think I've mentioned in an earlier column how one of my best friends has a profound aversion to stories involving a take-over of the body a la Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. He'd have to give Meeting a miss, because that's its central theme: the bug-like Quedak, psychic coordinator for the extinct hive-mind species of Mars, hitches a ride back to Earth where he intends to conduct a similar conquest.


Dick Francis

While Bob tends to write in a flip sort of way, he also is capable of some downright creepy prose. I particularly like how the Quedak is portrayed in glances through other characters' eyes. The use of limited viewpoints is quite effective. Moreover, it would be interesting to viscerally feel what a bird or pig or other human feels, were the cost not losing one's individuality to a hive-mind.

Unsettling, but good.

Margaret St. Clair has been a busy bee, with stories appearing both here and in IF this month. The Nuse Man is a shaggy dog story about a brick salesman from the future, and how he ran afoul of political intrigue in ancient Mesopotamia. You won't remember it long after you read it, but you will enjoy it.


Wallace Wood

Newcomer James Stamers is another author who is filling the pages of two Golden magazines in one month. Dumbwaiter is cute, but eminently forgettable (clearly, as I had to rack my brain for several minutes to remember what it was about!) It opens, excitingly enough, with a master smuggler attempting to secret an extraterrestrial animal through customs. That half of the story is a pleasant cat and mouser. The remainder, wherein the animal turns out to be a sort of eager-to-please teleport, who charms the smuggler's fiancée by bringing her numerous treasures, is not as engaging.


Dillion

Finally, in The Day the Icicle Works Closed, we have a solid extraterrestrial whodunit by Fred Pohl featuring body-swapping, kidnapping, politics, and a reasonably compelling detective. It starts out rather prosaic, but the pace accelerates as the pieces fit together, and the end is worth waiting for. I shan't spoil any more in the event you want to take a crack at some armchair sleuthing.


Dillon

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I'll discuss Willy Ley, Zenna Henderson (two women in one Galaxy!) and more.

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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Whenever I read the book review columns by Floyd Gold, Damon Knight, Groff Conklin, etc., or the science articles by Willy Ley and Isaac Asimov, I’m always as fascinated by the little personal details they disclose as the information and opinions they provide. It’s a glimpse into their lives that humanizes their viewpoint. Anecdotes make fun reading, too.

Since I assume all of my readers (bless the five of you!) feel similarly, otherwise why bother reading my column, I thought I’d share a little bit about how information gets into my brain prior to article composition.

My issues all come by mail subscription now as it is significantly cheaper than buying them on the newsstand and more consistent. It means I’m no longer hunting the newsstands for other magazines, but now that there are so few active digests, this seems the best way to go.

I have an evening ritual that I’ve preserved since my teen years, particularly in the Fall and Winter when the sun sets early. After coming home from work, the rays of sunlight slanted sharply against my driveway, I pull out my portable radio and a beverage, rest my back against a tree or lamppost, and read until the sun dips below the horizon. Here in Southern California, we get a nice mix of White, Negro, and Latin stations, so I can listen to all the latest Rock ‘n Roll and Rumba as well as the insipid croonings of Paul Anka and Pat Boone. It makes for a delightful half hour of escape from the real world better than M, reefer, or any other drug you’d care to mention.

What have I been reading, you ask? This bi-month’s issue of Galaxy, of course—December 1959 to be exact. Galaxy is the most consistent of the four magazines to which I have subscriptions, generally falling in the upper middle of the pack.


EMSH

As always, I started with Willy Ley’s column. I’m impressed that after ten years of writing, he still finds interesting topics to teach about. In this one, he discusses the (probably) extinct Giant Sloth and the efforts naturalists have made over the centuries to learn more about the creature. I love paleontology, so it was right up my alley. By the way, for the overly curious, this piece I read while soaking in a nice hot bath over the weekend.

Leading the book is Robert Sheckley’s newest, Prospector’s Special. The setting is Venus , where a handful of hardscrabble miners brave the blazing heat and sandwolves of the Venusian deserts in the hopes of finding a vein of Goldenstone. It’s one of those stories where the protagonist runs into worse and worse luck and has to use wits to survive to the end, which has a suitably happy ending. Bob is invariably good, particularly at this kind of story, and I polished this one off in the same aforementioned bath.


DILLON

Rosel George Brown continues to be almost good, which is frustrating, indeed. Her Flower Arrangement is the first-person narrated story of a rather dim housewife and how the bouquet she and her kindergartener made turned out to unlock the secrets of the universe. It comes from a refreshing female perspective, but it’s just a bit too silly and affected to work well.


DILLON

Con Blomberg’s only written one other story, and that one appeared in Galaxy two years ago. His Sales Talk is interesting, about two salesmen who try to sell a recalcitrant unemployed fellow on the joys of living vicariously through the taped memories of others. The would-be mark makes a compelling argument against the dangers of becoming a worthless consumer. There is, of course, a twist, which I half-predicted before the end.

There's an interesting point to the story. In the first place, it predicts a “post-scarcity” economy. Let me explain: There are three sectors to the economy. They are Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Service. Until a few hundred years ago, Agricultural was far and away the dominant sector, with most people relying on subsistence farming. Then the Industrial Revolution hit, and the peasants moved to the city to work on the assembly line, while farming became more and more mechanized, requiring fewer people. As industry became more efficient, the Service sector grew—waiters, courtesans, attorneys, doctors, advertisers, artists, etc.

But what happens when industry and agriculture become fully mechanized? What if robots take over the Service sector? What is left for humans to produce? The world only has so much need for art, music, politics, and religion. In a post-scarcity economy, most of us will become consumers, so the more pessimistic predictions go. And all we'll do all day is lie around living other people's dreams, predicts Blomberg.


MORROW

Is the idea that plugging oneself into a memory-tape machine, experiencing all five senses and the feelings of the original senser, all that different from watching a film or reading a good story? After all, both take you out of reality for a while, make you feel along with the protagonists. When full “Electronic Living” becomes possible, will it really be a revolution or just evolution? Food for thought.

That’s what I’ve got so far. Stay tuned soon for further reviews of this extra-thick magazine. You’ll next hear from me in sunny Orlando, Florida!

---

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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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Reading Galaxy is like coming home.

Galaxy is the only science fiction magazine that I have bought consistently since its inception. For nine years, I have read every story, enjoyed every Willy Ley article, perused every Bookshelf column, reviewed every Gold editorial.

There are some who say that Galaxy's heyday was the first half of this decade, and that the story quality has deteriorated some (or perhaps the content simply isn't as revolutionary as once it was). Editor Gold is famously exacting and difficult to work with, and now he's paying less for content. The magazine is down to a bimonthly schedule, and Gold is still suggesting there might be a letters column (padding at best, a slog at worst).

And yet...

Galaxy is consistent. I rarely feel as if I've suffered when I close its pages. I haven't read any offensive Garrett or Silverberg stories in Gold's magazine, and the Leiber stories Gold publishes are the good ones. When Bob Sheckley appears in print, it's usually in Galaxy. Of course, this consistency results in a kind of conservatism. The tone of the magazine has not changed in a decade even though the world around it has changed significantly. It is not a liability yet, but as new authors and new ideas arise, I hope Galaxy can adapt to fit our new science fiction culture.

Enough blather. My April 1959 Galaxy has arrived, and it's time to tell you about it!

As usual, I've done a lot of skipping around. My practice is to eat dessert first (i.e. the authors I know and love) and then proceed to the main course.



First up was Ley's excellent, if dry, article on the Atlantic Missile Range. These days, you can't go a week without hearing about some new missile launch, and the twin but not identical facilities of Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base are usually the launch point. Ley gives a detailed account of his experiences witnessing a recent Atlas test. It is a good behind-the-scenes. Ley also describes "failures" philosophically explaining that they are always learning experiences even when they don't achieve their mission objective. Easy for engineers to understand, not so easy for those who hold the purse-strings.

I then, of course, jumped to "Finn O'Donnevan's" (Robert Sheckley's) The Sweeper of Loray. Unscrupulous Earther wants to steal the secret of immortality from a race of "primitives" and gets more than he bargained for. It's a dark tale, especially the betrayal at the hands of his partner for the sake of preserving a thesis (similar in concept if not execution to Discipline by Katherine St. Clair).



J.T. McIntosh can always be relied on to turn out a good yarn, and his Kingslayer does not disappoint. Terran spacer has an accident while ferrying royal tourists and ends up in an alien pokey. Can he get out? Does he even want to? The story does rely on a bit of silliness to keep the reader in the dark about the spacer's fate until the very end, but it's worth reading naytheless.

Finally for this installment, there is Cordwainer Smith's When the People Fell. The title says it all, but you'll have to read the story to understand what it means. The Chinese figure prominently in this tale of Venusian colonization, which should come as no surprise when you know that Smith is one of the world's premier sinologists and godson of none other than Sun Yat-Sen! A haunting story, it is also a commentary on the Chinese people and government... as well as a cautionary tale. I don't know if Chairman Mao would approve.

That's that for now. More in two days, like clockwork!





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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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Regular readers of this column know that I am unreserved in my praise of Robert Sheckley. Since bursting on the scene early this decade, he and his alter-ego, Finn O'Donnovan, have graced the pages of Astounding and Galaxy and probably more magazines. If you haven't read his three short-story anthologies, you need to plunk down the $1.05 and expand your library.

I'm not quite so enthusiastic about Sheckley's first novel, serialized in Galaxy as Timekiller. It's not bad; it just doesn't rise to the standard set by his shorter work.

Timekiller is the story of the bland Thomas Blaine, a junior yacht designer from 1958. He lives a pleasant but uninteresting life as the dogsbody of an East Coast boatwright. Blaine is charming-enough, but he's never really scored with ladies, work or life. On the way home one night, his car swerves out of control causing a fatal collision with an oncoming driver.



Yet Blaine awakens—in 2110! It turns out that some time in-between Blaine's death and rebirth, it is discovered that each person has a soul distinct from his/her body, and about one in ten thousand make it through the death trauma with the soul intact. The soul hovers about in a transition between Here and the Hereafter, occasionally wreaking havoc on Earth. Hence the stories of ghosts and poltergeists.

Not long after the discovery that one's persona survives death, a company is founded to insure that everyone with enough cash on hand can safely navigate death and journey to the Hereafter. The company is fittingly called “Immortality, Inc.” Unfortunately, the work of this company has played havoc with the world's religions, who are staunchly against Immortality, Inc. This is why they tried to save the soul of a 1958 religious leader, who could serve as a spokesman for the company after his resurrection.

Unfortunately for Immortality, Inc., they got Blaine instead.

I commented in an earlier piece that science fiction authors tend to incorporate only one or two truly revolutionary changes into their stories, either for fear of alienating their audiences or for inability to envision more (or both). Sheckley's future is not that different, technologically, except for the flying cars that we all expect to be driving. Instead, Sheckley focuses on the social and medical implications of resurrection. People sell their bodies in exchange for Hereafter insurance to rich people who want to stay on Earth for another lifetime. Others transplant their souls to other bodies for kicks or more-nefarious purposes. Imperfectly transplanted souls never synchronize properly with their host bodies, which become zombies and eventually decay to uselessness.

In a story about independent souls, the consuming questions to my mind are (1) does a transplant body retain any vestiges of the old soul inhabitant? and (2) what is the Hereafter like? The first is answered pretty well. The second isn't touched upon. I suppose that makes sense, but it is hardly satisfying.

My issue isn't with set-up but rather the execution, which is a bit lacking. Much of this can be attributed to the format. The novel began serialization way back in the October 1958 issue of Galaxy, and it was spread over an unprecedented four installments. As a result, the story reads a lot like four connected novellas. The first primarily deals with Blaine's arrival, in which Blaine narrowly escapes death at the hands of a body peddler. In part two, Blaine is a “hunter,” an assassin hired for an elaborate suicide game in which the quarry expects to die in a blaze of combat. Part three, perhaps the most interesting, reveals a sinister plot against Blaine's life and introduces us to the subterranean zombie community. Part four wraps things up in an exciting escape from the country and finishes off with a good (though not unguessable) twist.

Because of the format, Timekiller feels a bit padded and uncoordinated. I had a similar problem with Heinlein's latest serial, Have Spacesuit Will Travel; Part 2 of that novel was largely filled with an exciting but rather pointless escape attempt that ended in frustration.

The characters in Timekiller aren't terribly exciting either. Most prominent besides Blaine is Marie Thorne, the scientist in charge of Blaine's recovery; she ends up largely a love interest. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, though I did like Ray Melhill, a fellow target of the aforementioned body peddler, who provides Blaine a lot of assistance despite being dead most of the story. Smith, a zombie, probably has the most interesting story to tell, and his thread runs from beginning to end.

So what's the final verdict? I'm afraid this review makes me sound a bit harsh. Timekiller is thoroughly readable, and the world it portrays does capture the imagination. I could see the novel being improved in editing for book publication, which I understand is forthcoming. As is, however, it is merely competent.

For Bob Sheckley, that's damned faint praise indeed.

3 stars out of 5.

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There is nothing that satisfies like a good collection of short stories. And there is nobody who consistently releases good collections of short stories like Robert Sheckley.

A fellow lanzmann, Bob Sheckley emerged onto the science fiction magazine scene early in this decade, and he has elevated the standards of every digest for which he's written (Galaxy seems to be his primary literary residence). His first compilation, 1954's Untouched by Human Hands, was a masterpiece right out of the gate. I am especially partial to his second collection, Citizen of the Galaxy, perhaps because it is the first one I read. It was published in 1955.

Somehow, I missed his third, Pilgrimage to Earth, even though it was published last year (1957). It's good, though perhaps not quite as good as the previous two. It does deliver the qualities I've come to expect from Mr. Sheckley--whimsy, comedy, satire, horror. The collection also has several stories I had missed when they were first published.

Standouts include the AAA Ace stories, Milk Run and Lifeboat Mutiny, featuring the unlucky yet plucky interstellar hustlers, Gregor and Arnold. Bad Medicine, in which the protagonist receives psychiatric aid from a machine tuned to the Martian brain, is quite good. I enjoyed All the Things You Are, a tale of a disastrous first contact between humanity and an alien race, but with an unexpectedly happy coda. Protection is a cautionary tale regarding guardian angels--sometimes we're better off without their help!

There are a few stories in this collection that miss the mark, to my mind. These are stories that betray a certain degree of misogyny or at least resentment toward the female (I understand Mr. Sheckley divorced a few years back, and this may have colored his views; he is recently re-married, mazel tov.) We saw a bit of this attitude in last collection's Ticket to Tranai and it is quite evident in the titular Pilgrimage to Earth. In the latter story, a hayseed colonist travels to Earth, where he purchases a very convincing love affair. The unsatisfactory ending leaves him bitter and soon a customer of another Earth commercial specialty--shooting galleries with live women as targets.

Also unpleasant was Fear in the Night. I won't spoil the story, but it highly disturbed my wife when she read it.

On the other hand, Human Man's Burden features a mail-order settler's bride, but the execution and the twist make the story surprisingly good. There is a bit of male fantasy and wish-fulfillment in it, but I thought the bride was well-developed and a strong, self-reliant character.

In short, this collection is worth getting despite being more of a mixed bag than the previous two. I am not too worried. Anyone as prolific as Sheckley is bound to dash out a few clunkers, and perhaps his second try at marital bliss will improve his outlook on women. Moreover, I've enjoyed Sheckley's (and his alter-ego, Finn Donnovan's) recent, as-yet unanthologized stories, and that's a good sign.

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On a walk down the block on a warm autumn afternoon, I finished the rest of the December 1958 Galaxy. I'd worked my way backward from the end, as I'd wanted to finish the next installment of "Time Killer." Thus, I got to the lead novella, "Join Us" by Finn O'Donovan, last.

Both the name and the style were familiar. 18 pages into the tale, I recalled that O'Donovan is a pen name for Robert Sheckley. It is obvious from the writing style that it's a Sheckley story, and given that Time Killer is being serialized in the same issue, I am not surprised Galaxy used a pseudonym.

Of course, this means that of the 142 pages, a good half of them were penned by Sheckley. Galaxy is becoming Satellite (a bi-montly magazine which features a full-length, though short, novel plus a short story or two)!

Being a Sheckley short, it's great. It's not science fiction, per se, or perhaps you might call it soft science fiction. This is the kind of stuff Galaxy pioneered and Sheckley excels at. This particular tale is about a "Splitter," one of class of people in the future who splits his/her personality into three parts: the aggressive "id," the conscientious and dull "superego," and the fun-loving "libido." The superego remains in its own body while the other two parts are put into super-realistic androids.

Traditionally, the polite superego stays on overcrowded Earth while the libido heads to Mars, which is mostly a fleshpot and tourist resort. The tough id heads out to Venus, a wide-open jungle frontier. Sheckley's tale follows superego-bearing Crompton, as he travels to Mars and Venus, desperate to re-unite with his other parts.

I think my favorite parts of the story involve Crompton's libido-bearer, Loomis, and his speeches justifying his hedonistic lifestyle by which he makes fine money as a gigolo and escort. There's compelling satire here:

"Today everything is biased toward the poor as though there were some special virtue in improvidence. Yet the rich have their needs and necessities, too. These needs are unlike the needs of the poor, but no less urgent. The poor require food, shelter, medical attention. The government provides these admirably.

But what about the needs of the rich? People laugh at the idea of a rich man having problems, but does the mere possession of credit exempt him from having problems? It does not! Quite the contrary, wealth increases need and sharpens necessity, often leaving a rich man in a more truly necessitous condition than his poor brother."

To the question, "Why doesn't the rich man give up his wealth," Loomis replies, "Why doesn't a poor man give up his poverty? No, it can't be done. We must accept the conditions that life has imposed on us. The burden of the rich is heavy; still they must bear it and seek aid where they can."

The poor, poor rich people. Also amusing is Loomis' justifications for engaging in adultery. He's quite convincing, too...

Finishing up this month's Galaxy is a short tale by the team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. This was obviously written some time ago since Kornbluth died quite unseasonably of a heart attack in March of this year. He was only 34 (places hand over heart).



The story is called, "Nightmare with Zeppelins," and it is less science fiction than an exercise in writing anachronistically. Specifically, it is a tale told by someone living during the Great War reminiscing about his travels in Africa in 1864. It is fun, ironic stuff; the point of such an exercise, of course, is really to comment on the present. I might try my hand at it some time.

Next up: December 1958's F&SF!

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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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