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Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines. Over the decade that I've been subscribing, I've fallen into a habit. I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies). I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding. I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last. This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests-- my dessert for the month, as it were.

These days, the stories aren't as good. Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won't review until it finishes next month. As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication). Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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1961. The year that an Irishman named Kennedy assumed the highest office in the land. The year in which some 17 African nations celebrated their first birthday. The air smells of cigarette smoke, heads are covered with hats, and men run politics, industry, and much of popular culture.

In a field (and world) dominated by men, it is easy to assume that science fiction is as closed to women as the local Elks Lodge. Who are the stars of the genre? Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley; these are household names. But if there is anything I have discovered in my 11 years as an avid science fiction fan (following another 20 of casual interest), it is that there is a slew of excellent woman authors who have produced a body of high quality work. In fact, per my notes, women write just one ninth of the science fiction stories published, but a full fourth of the best works.

For this reason, I've compiled a list of female science fiction writers active in this, the second year of the 1960s. These authors are just the tip of the vanguard. They are blazing a trail for women to one day share equally in the limelight...and the Hugos!

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Greetings from sunny Kaua'i! It seems like only yesterday I was reporting from this island's idyllic shores. Much has changed, of course--Hawai'i is now a state! 50 is a nice round number, so perhaps we won't see any new entries into the Union for a while.



Accompanying me on this trip is the last science fiction digest of the month, the February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction. On a lark, I decided to read from the end, first. In retrospect, I'm glad I did, but it certainly made the magazine a challenge. You see, the stories at the end are just wretched. But if you skip them (or survive them, as I did), the rest of the magazine is quite excellent.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Has Rosel George Brown finally broken through?

For several years, I've kept an eye on this promising New Orleans native. Apart from being a woman writer in a predominately male field, she has brought a refreshingly feminine viewpoint to her stories. But they've never quite rung all of my bells. Some, like Virgin Ground have a real bitter tone to them. Others, like Car Pool and Flower Arrangement are overly domestic in feel. I want my heroines to be lantern-jawed and stalwart!



(See the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction regularly beats out the other regular digests in terms of consistent quality. This month's, April 1960, is no exception.

There's a lot to cover, so let's dive right in:

Daniel Keyes, who wrote the superb Flowers for Algernon, has returned with the issue's lead novelette, Crazy Maro. Our viewpoint character is an attorney who has been contracted by unseen agents from the future to secure psychically adept (and invariably disadvantaged) children for work in a later time. The fellow meets his match, however, when he is asked to recruit the titular Maro, a young black man with an uncanny talent for reading the emotions of others. Much of the novelette is a mystery story, with the lawyer trying to puzzle out the root of Maro's power. It's a powerful piece, assuredly, though the very end is unnecessarily melodramatic.

Another serious piece is The Hairy Thunderer by "Levi Crow" (Manly Wade Wellman in disguise). The writing is deceptively simplistic, describing the arrival of a hairy pale foreigner to the lands of an American Indian tribe. The European commences to ensnare the tribe with his boom stick and, more effectively and terribly, his firewater. A young man of the tribe, Lone Arrow, is able to resist him with the magical assistance of a certain eight-legged class of arthropods.

The moral of the story, that one should be kind to spiders for they are misunderstood but fundamentally good creatures, is one that resonates strongly. I'm always hoping that, when I die, the Spider Gods will look favorably upon me for the compassion and mercy I have shown Their Kind.

The incomparable Edgar Pangborn brings us The Wrens in Grampa's Bears, in which "Grampa," the narrator's Great Grandfather, hosts a brood of beneficient angels within his long beard. Their existence is only hinted at, and the story is mostly a mood piece capturing the sunset of an old man's life in the Summer of '58, a man whose memories encompass both Gettysburg and satellites. Yet, the theme of the tale is not how much things have changed, but how they stay essentially the same.

A Certain Room, a short by Ken Kusenberg, translated from German by Therese Pol, is a silly, archaic piece. What happens when you fiddle with the objects in a room that have a causal connection to bigger, worldwide events? Not much good.

George Elliott has the issue's second novelette, the fantasy-less, science-fiction-less, but nevertheless compelling Among the Dangs. It is a mock account of an anthropologist's sojourn amongst the fictional Dang tribe of Ecuador. Enlisted for his talent for mimicry and his dark skin, the protagonist spends years living with the Dang, learning their customs and even taking a wife, so that he can become one of their high prophets. His initial motivation is to compose a thesis for an advanced degree. But so complete is his indoctrination that it is only through a titanic force of will that he breaks free, and the experience forever marks him.

The piece originally appeared a couple of years back in Esquire, and it is a strange story to find within the covers of F&SF. On the other hand, while the content is neither science fictional nor fantastic, there is a certain flavor to it that allows it to fit nicely in the middle of this issue. I'm not complaining for its inclusion.



I'm not sure what to do with Rosel George Brown. I really want to like her, but she has this tendency toward first-person pieces featuring scatterbrained housewives. Their situations are tediously conventional and exhaustingly frenetic. I have to wonder if the stories aren't semi-autobiographical. A Little Human Contact continues in this vein, and while it's not horrible, it is still not the masterpiece I know Brown is capable of. Of course, I may be looking in the wrong place--Amazing and Fantastic are still around, and I understand she's due to be published there soon.

Isaac Asimov has an excellent non-fiction piece this month, It's About Time, describing the evolution and fundamental incompatibility of our various calendar systems. The conclusion: trust the astronomers and go with Julian dating.

I won't spoil Joseph Whitehill's In the House, Another since it's a one-trick pony. Cute, though.

Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson's latest novelette, The Game of Five. It is strangely reminiscent of his earlier The Man in the Mailbag, but it's not as good. Both stories involve a man infiltrating an alien culture to rescue a captured woman. In both stories, it quickly turns out that the situations are more complex than they seem at first blush. In both stories, the "captured" woman turns out to be an agent of some kind.

But though Five is competently written, the Hercule Poirot moment, that bit at the end where the hero explains the mystery, is not supported strongly enough by clues in the narrative. The world is also not as interesting as the one depicted in Mailbag. Unlike the former title, I don't this one will get nominated for any Hugos. Not that it's bad, mind you—just not up to the bar Dickson has set for himself.

That's it for April 1960. I have a whole new crop of magazines and books to review for next month. I also have far more time to devote to the column now that I am between day jobs. Cry not for me—it was a decision long coming and well worth it.

In the meantime, before we get onto things fictional, I have some scientific news with exciting science fiction ramifications...

...but you'll just have to wait two days for it!

---










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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!

---

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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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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How scary is a truly dark night sky?

In Asimov's Nightfall, a certain planet's orbital situation ensures that there is always a sun overhead. On the rare occasion that all of the nearby stars align on the opposite side of the planet, the planet's population is consumed with hysteria. I suppose it's a justifiable extrapolation of the impressive and cowing effect on our ancestors caused by eclipses of the sun.

In A. Bertram Chandler's The Man Who could not Stop (which I will discuss at length further on in the article), there are inhabited planets at the edge of the galaxy. When the lens of the galaxy aligns with a rim planet's sun, the result is a near-featureless dark sky marred only by a few far-away solitary stars and nebulae. As Chandler describes it, the effect is unsettling in the extreme, and most natives move away to planets comfortably surrounded with stars.

I suppose it's Chandler's world, and he can do what he wants, but would a truly empty sky be that disconcerting? Even today, on Earth, there are plenty of locales where cloud cover renders the stars invisible. In downtown Tokyo or New York, the lights of the city drown out any puny stellar competition. I should think that the spectacle of the full lens of the galaxy, visible at least half of the year, would more than make up for a half-year of darkness.

What do you think?

As you can probably guess, I have finished this month's Fantasy & Science Fiction, and I've got a report for you. I can honestly say that the magazine ended on a rising trend, quality-wise.

The lovely Rosel George Brown is back with the light-hearted Lost in Translation. It's a silly tale of time travel featuring a drippy but lovely fan of the classics (the Greek classics, that is), but the whole thing is really just a set-up for a bad pun at the end. I like Brown's writing--I'm just waiting for one of her stories to really wow me.



Avram Davidson's The Montavarde Camera is a moody piece (does he write any other kind?) about an antique camera whose pictures spell doom for their subject. Well-written (does he ever write poorly?), but rather a second-rate premise.

I enjoyed (with reservations) Jack London's tale of present-day adventure told in past-tense, The Angry Mammoth, in which a hunter recounts his adventures tracking down and killing the last of the hairy elephant cousins. Not for the animal-lover. Of course, it is a reprint, the original story having been published in 1901 (and it reads like it).

But the real jewel of this issue is the aforementioned The Man Who could not Stop. It is a little reminiscent of those stories where people who could not fit into the regimented roles meted out by society (a la Asimov's Profession) become its masters. In Chandler's story, the protagonist (name of Clavering) is a hardened criminal fleeing justice. He runs from Earth to the galaxy's rim, from where extradition is impossible. Once there, however, he quickly runs afoul of the law. The first time is intentional--he wants to be incarcerated to locate a fence so as to offload a haul of stolen jewelry. The second time is unintentional, but criminal habits are hard to break (and the rim planets make recidivism all but inevitable). The third time is intentional--our anti-hero is told that criminals are deported third time 'round.

Except it turns out that deportation is a one-way trip into the abyss; Clavering ends up press-ganged into the crew of a starship heading out deep into inter-galactic space. So we learn that this is standard operating procedure on the rim worlds: attract the incorrigible and shanghai them.

I liked it a lot, and I understand there may be more tales of the rim worlds on the way. I'm looking forward to it.

That's that for today. I've largely finished this month's Galaxy (which is excellent, by the way), but I understand that NASA plans to announce the Mercury astronauts on April 9, so I'm sure that event will feature prominently in my next article.

Thanks for reading!

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Wow!

I do declare, the February 1959 IF really is something else. Not a stinker in the book, and some truly excellent stuff. If had always been like this, I think it would have dislodged Astounding and jostled its way into the top tier of science fiction digests.

Without further ado...

The other day, I read in the newspaper that Andrei Gromyko (the Soviet foreign minister) lauded the strength of the Communist Bloc, stating that the counterbalance of the two superpowers actually insured against an atomic apocalypse. Be that as it may, I don't see how we can live persistently at two minutes to midnight without snapping some taut nerves. The Last Days of L.A., by George H. Smith, is a brutal second-person piece about cracking up under the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. I'd be very interested to see statistics on this phenomenon, because I bet it is happening quite often.

I advise you not to read this piece right before going to sleep.



Have you heard of Rosel George Brown? She's an up-and-comer, and Virgin Ground is her third published story. It is a spin on the "pioneer spouse" trope: in this case, it's brides for Mars. This is another dark story with an unhappy ending, but there's no question but that it's well-written.

I found Discipline, by Katerine St. Clair, to be excellent. It is a tale of archaeological rivalry, but with a setting in space. One has to wonder how often it happens that scientific integrity is squandered to preserve an attractive thesis. In this story, one man's pride spells another's doom, but the ending is pleasantly unexpected.

Another newcomer is David R. Bunch. His In the Jag-Whiffing Service is good, funny stuff, but it is so short that to tell you anything about it would spoil the whole thing. Take my word for it. Better yet, read it yourself.

Star of Rebirth, by Bernard Wall (of whom I've never heard; perhaps he is an incognito Damon Knight), is one of the few rays of light in this rather dark set of stories. Set far in the future after a devastating nuclear war, it is a convincing and touching piece following the leader of a tribe of primitive survivors. I liked it a lot.



Finally, you've probably all heard of Cordwainer Smith. His No, No, not Rogov! is a piece of present-day scientifiction (yes, that word is still in vogue) about a husband-and-wife science team working in the Soviet Union; their super-secret work into the field of electric clairvoyance yields unexpected results. Of all of the stories in this magazine, I predict this one may go down in history as a classic.

I think I can see a trend in Damon Knight's editorial choice. Most of these tales are bleak things, though they are of indubitably good quality. However, there is just enough hope leavening the mix to make the book palatable. In any event, it is clear that Mr. Knight was a solid choice to navigate IF out of the sales doldrums.

Except I did promise you bad news, didn't I?

Just after I'd picked up this magazine, I learned that publisher James L. Quinn is throwing in the towel. IF is for sale, and there's no telling when (or if) the magazine will resume publication. It's really a shame. Mr. Knight really hadn't had a chance to bring the magazine back from the brink, and I'm sure that he could have.

On the other hand, I don't think his stable of authors will quit writing. Maybe Galaxy will get enough material to go back to a monthly format. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned day-after-tomorrow for.... I'm not sure yet. I'm playing this one by ear!





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