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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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by Gideon Marcus

If "no news is good news," then this has been a very good week, indeed! The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th. The Congo is no more restive than usual. Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war. The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power. John Glenn hasn't gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians. The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th. The Congo is no more restive than usual. Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war. The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power. John Glenn hasn't gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians.



And while this month's IF science fiction magazine contains nothing of earth-shattering quality, there's not a clunker in the mix – and quite a bit to enjoy! Get a load of these headlines:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Last time, my theme was "more of the same," pointing out that Galaxy is keeping its content as consistent as possible, at the expense of taking any great risks. It is ironic that, as I pound the keys of my typewriter, my radio is playing a new version of "Apache." This bossanova version by a Danish cat, name of Jörgen Ingmann, is fair, but I like the British one better, the one compellingly performed by The Shadows.



You are, of course, here to find out if the rest of the April 1961 Galaxy follows the trend set by the first half. The answer is "yes." It's a good issue, but not a great one.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Ted Sturgeon wrote a book about sex.

It appears that Sturgeon has always wanted to write "a decent book about sex,"--how it affects our society, not the act itself. At least, that's what Sturgeon says in the post-script of his strange new novel, Venus Plus X. Well, it is a decent book (pun intended), and Sturgeon has a lot to say about sex and the relations of the genders in its 160 pages. Some of it is told, some of it is shown; the end result is a fiction-buffered sermon not unlike the kind Heinlein likes to concoct.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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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

---

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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Not too long ago, I lambasted the September 1959 issue of Astounding as the worst science fiction magazine I’d read in a long while. This is not to say that it’s the worst of the bunch—I’m sure there are plenty of issues of B and C-level mags that constitute the nadir of written science fiction, although I don’t imagine there are too many of those publications still around.

I’m happy to report that this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction may well be the best single issue I’ve ever read.



I asked last time whether folks prefer whiz-bangery in their science fiction or not. The overwhelming response was that gadgets aren’t important; characters, story, and writing are. F&SF typically holds to a higher standard of writing, and this month, they’ve hit a zenith.

The incomparable Theodore Sturgeon has the first story, The Man who lost the Sea. It’s told in a weird and effective 1st/2nd/3rd person style, about an explorer who has come to grief beside what appears to be a vast ocean. As his thoughts become more lucid, it becomes clearer and clearer what has happened to him until we get the powerful reveal. I understand Sturgeon has been making a concerted effort to get into the slicks (non-science fiction commercial magazines), and it’s a travesty that he hasn’t been more successful. Oh well; the mainstream public’s loss is our gain.

Asimov has a great column this month entitled, The Height of Up, in which he discusses the coldest and hottest possible temperatures. Ever wonder why our temperature scales (Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin) have such weird and arbitrary end-points? Dr. Asimov spells it out most entertainingly.The good doctor is definitely finding his feet with this column. It was so good that I read a good half of it aloud to my wife as she put together a complicated piece of electronic equipment (a hobby of hers, bless her).

I was delighted to find that Zenna Henderson has published another story, And a little child… It’s not exactly a story of the People, but it has the same sort of magical feel. The viewpoint character is a grandmother on a two-week camping trip with family, particularly a young girl who can see things that others can’t. Such things are monstrous, living creatures—the hills are alive, quite literally. It’s really quite a lovely piece.

Finally, for today, we have Damon Knight’s compelling and cute To be Continued, about a sword-and-sandals fantasy writer (whose name’s first two thirds are “Robert E.”) who is compelled to write a tale of Kor the Barbarian after reading a work that the author had never written, but which only could have been authored by himself!

Peeking ahead, I see that Heinlein’s newest novel, Starship Soldier, is going to be among his best yet. To accommodate the work, F&SF is a whopping 32 pages longer this month!

With the star-o-meter steadily quivering at 4-and-a-half stars, I’m eagerly anticipating the book’s second half.

However, the next time we chat, so to speak, it will not be about magazines, but about the 17th annual Worldcon going on right now in Detroit. “Detention,” as it’s called this year, will last until the 7th, and I expect to have a full, breathless telephonic report in time for the 8th.

Last year, Worldcon was in my backyard (Los Angeles). This year, Los Angeles is going to Detroit: an intrepid group of Angelinos, organized by the dynamo, Betty Jo Wells, embarked earlier this week on a road-trip across the country, Detroit-or-Bust. I’ve reprinted “BJo’s” ad in its entirety for your entertainment.



"TRAVELCON to the DETENTION -- a different city every day. TravelCon plans are starting to shape up. Latest report from Bjo is that about 20 L.A. fans are already making plans to attend the Detention. Fans in the Berkeley area are organizing a group to join up with the Travel Con In L.A. For information and details, contact Betty Jo Wells, 2548 West 12th, Los Angeles 6, California."

Sadly, I was unable to spare time off from work for this event; it looks like fun.

---

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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I promised a book review today, but then I misplaced my book. Life is like that. So, for your reading pleasure, I instead offer my meanderings through the March 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction (you know, the one I was supposed to have done last month instead of the prematurely secured April issue).

As with the last (next) ish of F&SF, it starts with a bang. Robert Heinlein's "All You Zombies---" is an unique tale of time travel. Everyone has heard of the Grandfather's Paradox, but what if you end up being your own granpaw? I have to give extra credit to Heinlein for having a transsexual protagonist (i.e. someone who has been both male and female). I hope I'm using that word correctly--it's brand new.

I like Asimov's science article, Nothing, in which he points out that the mass of all the "empty" spaces between the galaxies actually exceeds the mass contained in the galaxies by a significant margin. I suppose that makes sense, but it is odd to conceptualize. I guess the Great Watchmaker needs to stir up the universe just a little more to get the lumps out...



Ray Bradbury has a tale involving mermaids in this issue called The Shoreline at Sunset. Any mermaid story in F&SF naturally invites comparison to Sturgeon's mermaid story A Touch of Strange (published in the Jan. 1958 issue). Unfortunately, unlike Sturgeon's quite brilliant piece, Bradbury's is well-written but somewhat pointless. But then, I might say that any time I compare Bradbury to Sturgeon.

Have you been following Zenna Henderson's stories of "The People"? Human in form but possessed of tremendous psychic powers, these interstellar refugees have been trapped on Earth in hiding for many years. They dwell in their sequestered valleys, occasionally venturing forth to rescue isolated members of their kind raised by native Earthers. Henderson's stories are always beautiful, often with a touch of sadness.

Well, with Jordan, the castaways finally have the opportunity to be rescued. More "civilized" members of their race arrive in a spaceship with an invitation to settle on a new planet, one on which they won't have to hide their powers or use rough technology to do what their powers could do more elegantly. Yet the exiled People have grown to love the Earth and even the crude methods they've had to employ to survive. Can they leave it all behind?

According to the editorial blurb preceding the story, it looks like Ms. Henderson finally has enough stories of The People to fill an anthology. I definitely recommend picking it up when it hits the shelves.

See you on the 8th!





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Boy, am I glad I read from front to back this time!

As my faithful readers (should that be plural?) know, the first half of this month's Fantasy & Science Fiction was pretty lackluster stuff. It turns out I was mistaken about Tony Boucher's story--it was not a new one, but some old thing from 1945 under the name “William A. P. White.” At least I know one of Boucher's pseudonyms now.



The second half, thankfully, was far superior. Story #1 was “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P. G. Wodehouse. I have not read much by this famous ex-patriate English humorist. I think all of the stories I have encountered by him were published in F&SF. This particular tale came out in 1928. One wonders if Wodehouse is desperate for cash since being, perhaps unfairly, chased out of his home country for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Or perhaps Boucher could only afford an old reprint. Either way, it's a fun little story about a mystery writer being cursed with the haunting of his romance-writing aunt. I liked it.

“Wish upon a star,” by famed anthologist Judy Merril, is an excellent story about coming of age on a generation ship. For those not in the know, a generation ship is a starship, generally traveling slower than the speed of light, designed to colonize a planet many tens or even hundreds of years in the future. Because the mission takes so long, it is anticipated that several generations will be born before the ship reaches its destination. Even more unusually, though quite plausibly, most of the crew and all of the officers of the ship are women. The only thing wrong with the story is its length--I would love to see a novella or full-length novel on the topic--by Ms. Merril, preferably.



Though Boucher no longer edits F&SF, he still does the book-review column. He spends most of it praising Theodore Sturgeon but expressing his dissatisfaction with “The Cosmic Rape.” This, Sturgeon's third novel, is an expansion on the novelet, “To Marry Medusa,” which appeared in Galaxy a few months ago. Alternatively, the Galaxy story may be a pared-down version of the novel. I recall the story, which was about an interstellar hive-mind's attempts to incorporate humanity, had said all that was needed to be said. I have to wonder what purpose the extra verbiage served.

Next up is “Dream Girl,” a slight head-trip penned by Ron Goulart, who had an interesting story back in July called “The Katy Dialogues.” The following story, “Somebody's Clothes, Somebody's Life,” by mystery-writer Cornell Woolrich, is written like a play and could easily be an episode of F&SF's counterpart to X Minus One. It's sheer fantasy involving a Countess with a gambling problem, a young woman with bigger problems, and the Russian clairvoyant who crosses their paths. Good affecting stuff. Finally, there is a cute three-page story by Walter S. Tevis, which I shan't spoil for you, but it's worth reading.

So that's that. 2.5 stars out of 5 for this week's F&SF, but that's only because the first half is a 1.5 and the latter is a 4.5.

You should all know that I am flying out to Japan this Friday with my family. This should not stem the tide of articles, however. I am bringing along this month's Astounding, two unread Heinlein novels, and I expect to catch up on my giant monster movies. It's my understanding that Godzilla has a sequel, and other movies by that studio have also recently come out. Here's hoping these films uphold the fine standard set by the first of them.

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