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by Gideon Marcus

A wise fellow once opined that the problem with a one-dimensional rating system (in my case, 1-5 Galactic Stars) is that there is little differentiating the flawed jewel from the moderately amusing. That had not really been an issue for me until this month's issue of Analog. With the exception of the opening story, which though it provides excellent subject matter for the cover's striking picture, is a pretty unimpressive piece, the rest of the tales have much to recommend them. They just aren't quite brilliant for one reason or another.



So you're about to encounter a bunch of titles that got three-star ratings, but don't let that deter you if the summaries pique your interest:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The measure of a story's quality, good or bad, is how well it sticks in your memory. The sublime and the stinkers are told and retold, the mediocre just fades away. If you ever wonder how I rate the science fiction I read, memorability is a big component.

This month's IF has some real winners, and even the three-star stories have something to recommend them. For the first time, I see a glimpse of the greatness that almost was under Damon Knight's tenure back in 1959. Read on, and perhaps you'll agree.



(see 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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Before I finish my review of the August 1959 Astounding, let’s look at the issue’s “Analytical Laboratory” and what the readers thought of the May 1959 ish (and compare it to my findings).

Interestingly enough, no story got higher than a 3.00, which means the readers had trouble picking a favorite. That indicates a good issue or a bad one. Garrett’s mediocre Cum Grano Salis got top ratings followed by the first installment of Dorsai!, then the charming Hex and Project Haystack. I suppose that’s as good an order as any. One might as well throw a dart at the wall.

The August issue, on the other hand, has clear strong and weak points. Newcomer Anne Walker’s A Matter of Proportion is one of the strong points. Her tale about a super-competent commando, who was once a paraplegic is gripping. Anyone who can write about the ascent of a flight of stairs with the same tension and excitement of a daring assault on an enemy base has done an excellent job. An interesting, sensitive story.



The following tale, Familiar Pattern, is so obviously a Chandler piece under a pseudonym (George Whitely), that one wonders why the ruse was even attempted. To wit, it involves an Australian coast guard ship (Chandler is a former Australian naval officer), and one of the characters shares a name with a character in The Outsiders, which came out in the same issue!

Now, I like Chandler, but this story is only decent. Aliens come to Earth to set up a trading mission, manufacture a diplomatic incident, and use said event as a pretext to invade. It’s a metaphor for what the Europeans did to the Polynesians; I appreciate the sentiment, and I am amazed it could appear in the xenophobic pages of Astounding, but the allegory is a bit too precise and heavy-handed to be effective.

Lastly, there is Theodore L. Thomas, whose Day of Succession is, as Orwell might say, rather un-good. Aliens land on Earth, and their ships are dispatched with cold-blooded efficiency by an American general. The officer is recalled to Washington and chastised for his bloodthirstiness, but is soon proven right when more aliens appear and wreak havoc (I wonder why they would be hostile after such a warm welcome!) The general advises a nuclear strike on the entire Eastern seaboard to defeat the incursion. When the President and Vice President disagree, the general shoots them and requests that the Speaker of the House adopt the officer’s plan.
I didn’t really understand it either.

The book finishes off with P. Schuyler Miller (a self-professed Conservative from North-Eastern United States) lamenting the death of science fiction, again. We’ll see. This seems to happen every five years.

So where does this issue end up in the ratings? Well, I’d had high hopes. Aliens was a five-star story, and Outsiders and Proportion were both quite good. But Pattern was average fare, Succession was sub-par, and the Garrett was soporific. The non-fiction “article” was also pretty bad.

All told, the issue clocks in at a “3,” which is actually admirable for Astounding. Read it for the good stories, eschew the rest, and you won’t be disappointed!

In two days, the Explorer that wasn’t.

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I suppose it was too much to hope for two good issues of Astounding in a row. The magazine that Campbell built is back to its standard level of quality, which is to say the bar is not very high. Still, I read the stories so you don't have to (if you don't want), so here's all the news that fits to print.

Randal Garrett's But I don't think isn't horrible. It's actually genuine satire, about a ordnance evasion officer (a "Guesser") who ends up inadvertently jumping ship during shoreleave. He is the denizen of a lawfully evil and hierarchical society, and the story is all about the miserable things he does and that are done to him in large part due to this evil culture. It'll leave a dirty taste in your mouth, like old cigarette butts, but I think it was actually intentional this time.

It's not exactly downhill from here, but there aren't exactly heights, either. The next story, Broken Tool, by Theodore L. Thomas, is a short piece about a candidate for the Space Corps, who ends up washing out because he, ironically, doesn't have enough attachment to his home planet of Earth. A "gotcha" story, the kind I might expect to find in one of the lesser magazines... not that they exist anymore.

I generally like Algis Budrys, and his Straw, about an entrepreneur who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became the Big Man of the underwater community of Atlantis, isn't bad. It's just not terribly great.

Isaac Asimov has an interesting article entitled, Unartificial elements, explaining how all of the elements humans have managed to synthesize actually do exist in nature, albeit in rather small amounts. This was the best part of the magazine.

There are two stories after the last installment of Dorsai, which I reviewed last time. Chris Anvil's Leverage is a mildly entertaining story about colonists dealing with a planet's ecosphere that has a single-minded, but fatally flawed, vendetta against the settlers. Another low-grade story I'd expect in Imagination or somewhere similar.



Finally, we have Vanishing Point, by C.C. Beck, the illustrator for D.C.'s Captain Marvel. It's all about what happens when an artist learns the true nature of perspective. Cute, but, again, not much to it.

Campbell published the user reviews for March and April 1959. I won't go into great detail, but suffice it to say, Leinster's Pirates of Ersatz topped both months. But in March, Despoiler of the Golden Empire got #2, whereas my favorite, The Man Who Did Not Fit was bottommost. The April results were less disappointing--Now Inhale got #2, and Wherever You Are got #3. I probably would have swapped the places, but I suppose a female protagonist is too much for Analog readers to swallow comfortably.

Lots of space launches coming up--a Vanguard and a Discoverer, so expect some launch reports this week!

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Wrapping up my tour of Kaua'i, here are some pictures I took on the south shore estate of Robert Allerton, whose hospitality is as tremendous as his philanthropy (science fiction-related stuff to follow).









For this installment, I've got something a little different. It's also the good news half of a good/bad news combination.



If is a science fiction magazine that has been around since 1952. Amongst the several dozen that have existed throughout the decade, it is perhaps (outside of The Big Three) the best. I haven't followed it very closely, and that's why I missed the big news.

Two issues ago, Damon Knight (acerbic critic and often brilliant writer) was tapped for the job of editor. I didn't find out until a couple of weeks ago, by which time, I'd missed the opportunity to buy the October and December 1958 issues. February 1959 was still on the stands, however, and I took it with me to Kaua'i.

Perhaps it's just the rosy glow imparted from having read mostly on the lovely Kalapaki beach, but it's really good. I've gotten through the first five stories, and they shall be the topic of today's discussion.

It is, of course, with trepidation that I read the opening piece, Pipe Dream by Fritz Leiber. As I've explained before, I used to like Fritz a lot (who can forget the brilliant A Pail of Air, which appeared in Galaxy many years ago). His stuff of late, however, has been pretty lousy. To be fair, it all appeared in F&SF, so that may have something to do with it. Anyway, Pipe Dream, about the creation of artificial life, is slickly written and atmospheric, but it's also disturbing and unpleasant, and perhaps not in the way Fritz intended. I didn't like it, though I imagine many would.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Wind People is almost a winner. It is a haunting tale of a ship's medical officer who elects to remain on a presumably uninhabited planet rather than expose her newborn child to the risks of hyperdrive travel. Bradley writes powerfully, and the mystery presented as the protagonist and her son make tentative and increasing contact with the furtive natives of the planet is exciting and engaging. The ending, however, is a let-down. One had to wonder if Bradley intended for the story to go in a different direction, one in which the editor was afraid to go. You'll have to read it and see. At least it's by a woman, stars a woman, and takes place in a universe where women make up half of a starship crew. Progress!

I'll skip story #3 until the end, as I've got a lot to say about that one. Number four is The Man who tasted Ashes by Algis Budrys. This is only the third story of his that I've read, and the second really good one; I'm going to look forward to more from him (and perhaps pick up earlier ones I've missed). If ever there was an anti-hero, it is the viewpoint character for this story: a petty political intriguer-for-hire who is contracted by an extraterrestrial concern to facilitate World War III. Good stuff.



Next up: Love and Moondogs by Richard McKenna (a career Navy man who got a writing degree on the G.I.Bill—now there's the American Way!) This is a silly story about the lengths some might go in the pursuit of their cause, however frivolous, and the hypocrisy often inherent therein. In this case, the object of outrage is a Soviet moon-muttnik. Gentle, pleasant satire.

Now back to story #3: The Good Work by relative newcomer Theodore L. Thomas. Remember when I talked about overpopulation in stories and the laughably small numbers most authors bandy about as too much for our planet? Well, Thomas doesn't play around—there are 350 billion souls inhabiting his Earth, and their life is accordingly regimented and drab. It's a satirical anti-utopia (a dystopia?) with a barbed punchline. The core of the story is the search for meaningful work in an age when everyone has just enough, and everything is automated.

I think this story is particularly relevant given that we are, I believe, on the cusp of a dramatic change in our economy. Before the industrial revolution, virtually everyone in the United States was employed in the agricultural sector. By the early 1800s, the industrial and service sectors began to rise as machines created jobs and allowed for the distribution of wealth; this was balanced by a drop of employment on the farm. Around 1900, employment in the agricultural sector had dropped to 35%, tied with the service sector and only slightly above the industrial sector. Industrial sector employment rose to a peak of 37% around 1950, and it has begun a gradual but steady decline since. Agricultural employment was at just over 10% in 1950, and it is plummeting fast. Service sector employment makes up the rest.

Projecting out another 50 years, agricultural employment will decline logarithmically, with a limit of zero as time goes to infinity. Industrial employment may take longer, but with mechanization and (ultimately) roboticization, that sector will also see declining employment. That leaves the service sector, which means that in the end, our economy will consist of nobody making anything, and everyone doing something for each other. Except, in the future, I imagine machines will also be my servants. So what will anyone purchase in 50 years to drive the economy? How will anyone work? Perhaps we'll all be scientists and artists in 2009. More likely, we'll develop artificial needs for useless products. Radio advertising has already been honed to a fine art, and the ad execs are figuring out the television advertising game pretty quickly.

Maybe we'll all be employed making advertisements. That sounds fulfilling.



Anyway, I promised good news, so in summation, If with Damon Knight at the helm promises to be a fine magazine.

The other shoe will drop on the last day of this month...





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