galacticjourney: (Default)


It's another one of those bittersweet months, much like when I discovered IF only to see it die.
This month's Satellite (the best in science fiction) is a fair bit better than last month's issue, which makes the magazine's fate all the more tragic. But we'll talk about that at the end.

The lead tale, Sister Planet, by Poul Anderson, is excellent--except for the last two pages. I strongly recommend simply stopping before reading the end. It takes place on Venus, specifically an ocean-planet version. There is too little oxygen to breathe, and the air is eternally muggy and over-warm. Yet men (not women, at least not yet) populate a floating base to conduct science and to trade with the natives. As one would expect, the Venusians are not at all humanoid; their closest terrestrial analog is the bottlenose dolphin, cute, playful creatures. They have worked out a trade deal with the humans--art and tools for Venusian fire gems.



The characters are well-realized, the descriptions lush and poetic, and the scene in which a Venusian takes the protagonist for a ride down to the underwater city of the cetoids is absolutely spellbinding. Following which, there is a fine discussion of the pros and cons, moral and economic, of opening Venus up for colonization at the expense of its sentient denizens. There is also a lot of interesting geophysics, the kind I've come to associate with Anderson, who is a trained scientist.

But then the end... it's a complete pill, and it makes no sense. Such a shame. Thankfully, one can skip the last portion with little ill effect.

E Gubling Dow, by Gordon Dickson, is something of a second-rater. An egg-like being crashes to Earth in a spaceship, is rescued by a couple of rural types, and dies slowly, agonizingly, from its wounds. Sad and unpleasant.

On the other hand, the non-fiction column continues to be excellent. This month's feature (by Sam Moscowitz) spotlights the short but prolific life of Stanley G. Weinbaum. It's nearly unbelievable that this fellow wrote so much in just one year's time before his untimely death. A short-short of Weinbaum's is included at the back of issue--it's called Graph.



The other non-fiction piece, on French fantasist Albert Robida (by Don Glassman), is a bit florid but educational. I never would have known about this 19th century poor-man's Verne otherwise.

Oh, and there's a silly short non-fiction piece by Ellery Lanier speculating that the reason "real" scientists haven't ventured a design for a hyperspace drive is because they are too terrified of the great unknown. Right.

If you've ever been in a relationship with an over-needy person (what my friends and I knowingly call a "black hole of need") then the plot of Robert Silverberg's Appropriation will ring true. Clingy aliens come within an ace of consumating a psychologically unhealthy relationship with a set of human colonists, but the terrestrials are saved by a bit of bureaucratic chicanery. The best part of the story is the empathic aliens.



Last, but definitely not least, is a beautifully atmospheric story about a Great War veteran and the French wood he falls in love with. The Woman of the Wood, by A. Merritt, naturally has a twist: the trees are really dryads engaged in a centuries-long slow war with the French peasants who occupy the same land. Really good stuff.

With an issue that started and ended so well, not to mention the advertisements for a new Frank Herbert story and a biography of Hugo Gernsback, I was really looking forward to picking up the June edition. But shortly after picking up this issue and last month's, I learned that publisher Leo Margulies has tossed up the sponge. Satellite joins the long list of science fiction publications that has recently disappeared. I'm even told that the June issue was printed, but that it's not going to be distributed. What a treasure that would be to find.

As sad as that is, at least I still have that stack of Galaxy novels to get through. And next up, provided there are no new space spectaculars, I'll be previewing the movie I saw last week with my little girl. I know, I know. I'm an irresponsible dad, not for taking her to see sci-fi horror films, but for taking her to see bad ones.

So stay tuned. I'm sorry about the widely varying spaces between articles--between work and my hands, it can be tough to stick to a regular schedule. Rest assured, I will keep up the fight.

P.S. And if that pair of teens I met at the record store is reading, thanks for joining the (small) club!

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


galacticjourney: (Default)

by Ray Pioch

And now for something a bit different.

Back in '56, famed pulp editor, Leo Margulies, launched Satellite, a bi-monthly science fiction digest with the gimmick that it contained a full-length short novel as well as a few short stories. I always had a soft spot for that mag. One of my favorite novels was Planet for Plunder by Hal Clement and Sam Merwin; it came out in the February '57 ish, and I read it on the beach during one of trips to Kaua'i. It's an excellent tale of first contact mostly from a truly alien viewpoint. Highly recommended.

Late last year, Satellite went out on hiatus. Then, at the beginning of this year, Satellite returned with Cylvia Kleiman at the editorial helm. The magazine sported a full-sized format, presumably to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the slicks. No longer featuring novels, it dubbed itself "The Best in Science Fiction."

Who could resist a pitch like that? So the other day, I picked up this month's (May) and last month's (April) issues. What did I find inside?

I suppose one could argue that some of the writers are among science fiction's best, but these are definitely their second-rate stories. This is not the Satellite I used to know and love. Let's have a look, shall we?

The lead story is by the reliable J.T. McIntosh; The Solomon Plan is easily the best fictional piece in the magazine. In Plan, a terran spy tries to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed before: solving the mystery of the backward planet of Bynald. Where the other planets of the 26th century terran federation enjoy a correspondingly advanced quality of life, the hyper-patriotic Bynald seems to be stuck in the 20th century. Moreover, their population is unaccountably low given the length of time it has been settled.


by Leo Morey

McIntosh creates a nice group of characters, including a couple of reasonably developed females. The solution to the mystery is rather implausible, and the ending rather pat, but the story does not fail to entertain. I would have been more impressed had Plan not been a reprint--originally appearing in the February 1956 New Worlds Science Fiction.

A regular feature of Satellite is a biographical piece on one of the antediluvian forefathers of science fiction. In this case, it is a somewhat hagiographic piece by Sam Moskowitz on the justifiably famous A. Merritt. I'm a sucker for history, so it was worth picking up this ish for the piece.

The rest of the magazine is mediocre at best. Fritz Leiber's Psychosis from Space was, reportedly, an old story that he thought so little of that he forgot of its existence until Satellite asked him for a contribution. An astronaut goes out on humanity's first faster than light mission and returns able only to stumble about aimlessly and babble meaninglessly. Turns out his brain is running backwards. There is also some intrigue surrounding the astronaut's doctor and his attempts to coerce information about the trip from his patient. At least the (female) nurse character is competent and resourceful.


by Leo Morey

The duel of the insecure man, by newcomer Tom Purdom, is rather strange. In the far future (1988), it has become popular to engage in duels of cutting questions, the goal being to lay bare the soul of one's opponent and leave them a humiliated wreck. I am given to understand that this story was heavily hacked in editorial, so I won't dignify the resulting kluge with further verbiage.

I did enjoy Ellery Lanier's rather star-eyed account of the American Rocket Society meeting. In particular, I was excited to see his report on the Mouse in Able project. For those who don't know, prior to the Air Force's Pioneer missions, the Thor-Able rocket was used in suborbital shots to test re-entry nose cones. Since scientists abhor unused space as much as nature does, a mouse was included as part of the payload.

What makes this story particularly interesting is that the project was the brainchild of one of the very few woman scientists working in the space program: Laurel 'Frankie' Van der Wal, an amazon of a lady both in stature and fiery spirit. At some point, I'll give you all the inside story on that project; it is both enlightening and humorous.

Algis Budrys' The Last Legend is fair but not up to his usual standard. It's a traditional gotcha story of an older generation of science fiction: an astronaut makes humanity's first trip to another star, the journey having been previously unsurvivable by living things. After returning as a hero, it turns out that he's just a robot.

Robert Wicks' Patient 926, in which all children are inoculated against imagination, and Henry Slesar's Job Offer ("Dig this! The post-nuclear mutant is a normal human!") are both unremarkable in the extreme.

In sum, Satellite is definitely bargain-bin science fiction, though it is not without its charms. I have trouble seeing it surviving much longer, especially out on the newstands next to Life and Time.

Next up, the other half of double-feature that included The Blob!

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


Profile

galacticjourney: (Default)
galacticjourney

September 2017

S M T W T F S
      12
3 45 67 89
101112 1314 1516
17 181920212223
24252627282930

Links

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 03:50 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios