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by Gideon Marcus

The coverage for John Glenn's orbital flight was virtually non-stop on the 20th. My daughter and I (as many likely did) played hookie to watch it. During the long countdown, the Young Traveler worried that the astronaut might get bored during his wait and commented that NASA might have been kind enough to install a small television on the Mercury control panel.

But, from our previous experience, we were pretty sure what the result of that would have been:

CAPCOM: "T MINUS 30 seconds and counting..."

Glenn: "Al, Mr. Ed just came on. Can we delay the count a little bit?"

30 minutes later...

CAPCOM: "You are on internal power and the Atlas is Go. Do you copy, Friendship 7"

Glenn: "Al, Supercar's on now. Just a little more."

30 minutes later...

CAPCOM: "The recovery fleet is standing by and will have to refuel if we don't launch soon...John, what's with the whistling?"

Glenn: "But Al, Andy Griffith just came on!"

So, TV is probably out. But a good book, well...that couldn't hurt anything, right? And this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction was a quite good book, indeed. Witness:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Here's a question I've gotten more than once: what is the point in spotlighting woman writers? Shouldn't I simply point out the good stories as I find them, and if they happen to be written by women, bully for them? Why should I create an artificial distinction?

Those are actually fine questions, about which I've given much thought. I make no claims to being an expert, or even someone whose opinion should matter much to you. All I have is my taste, my gut and (lucky for me) my own column in which to voice my opinions. So take my words as strictly my viewpoint.

We live in a particular kind of world. Men are the default: the default heroes, the default writers, even the default pronoun. Open a history book, and it will be filled with the names of great men. Women are a seeming afterthought. You may not even have thought twice about it. It seems "natural" that movies should star men, that books should star men, that men should be the generals, the presidents.

But, there is a change a brewing. Black men universally won the right to vote in 1865. Women secure duniversal suffrage in 1920, fully three generations after the least privileged men. The gap is narrowing. This year, a Black man became skipper of a U.S. Naval vessel. 1961 also marks the year a woman became a shipboard U.S. Naval officer for the first time. Women are now just one generation behind the least advantaged of the men. Someday, we may be on a level playing field, all races of men and women.

Science fiction is supposed to be forward-looking, yet socially it seems stuck in the present, or even the past. One almost never reads about woman starship captains or woman presidents or woman...well... anything. I don't think this is the result of deliberate collusion by the science fiction writing community. It's just that society is the air we breathe. We are unconsciously bound by its rules and traditions. Unless something shakes up our viewpoints, we'll stick in our ruts and continue to accept this male-dominated paradigm as the natural order of things.

So when I spot something unusual that I think should be universal, I note it. I encourage it. I enjoy it.

Without further ado, part #3 of my encyclopedic catalog of the woman writers active as of this year of 1961:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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[Here is Rosemary Benton's article for April 1961. She asked if she could do Zenna Henderson's compilation of The People stories, none of which she had previously read; I hadn't picked up the book since I have the stories in magazine form. I thought it a smashing idea since it would give us all a fresh insight on Henderson's works. I've been vindicated...(the Editor)]



In my quest to break my bookshelf under the weight of my science fiction, horror and fantasy collections, this month I picked up noted author Zenna Henderson's latest publication. To anyone who frequents Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy, Zenna Henderson and her alien race, the People, should not be unknown to you. Pilgrimage: the Book of the People contains Ararat (1952), Gilead (1954), Pottage (1955), Wilderness (1956), Captivity (1958) and Jordan (1959), all tied together through an overarching narrative that tells the story of a human observing the People. As each one of the People takes their turn recounting their time on Earth, the book progresses along such themes as self-discovery, selflessness for the betterment of community, and the definition of home and belonging.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Every year or so, Fantasy and Science Fiction releases an "All Star" issue in which only Big Names get published. It's a sort of guarantee of quality (and, presumably, sales). I'll tell you right now that, with the notable exception of the lead novelette, it's largely an "All Three Star" issue. Perhaps it's better to leave things to the luck of the draw. That said, it's hardly an unworthy read, and Zenna Henderson, as always, makes the issue a must buy.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey)
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I was recently told that my reviews are too negative, and that I should focus on telling the world about the good stuff; for that hopeful fan, I present my assessment of the July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction. There's not a clunker in the bunch, and if none of the stories is a perfect gem, several are fine stones nevertheless.

My receipt of this month's issue was accompanied by no small measure of eagerness. The cover promised me two stories by female authors (Zenna Henderson and Miriam Allen deFord) as well as a novella by Wilson Tucker, who wrote the excellent The City in the Sea.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I made fun of Galaxy editor Horace Gold for the slightly panicked tone in this month's editorial. It's clear that he has concerns that the quality of his magazine might dip unless he can tap a reservoir of new talent.

That said, the February 1960 Galaxy finishes as it started (and as did its sister, the January 1960 IF)--on the good side of three stars, but not too far from the middle. Let us see how Part 2 turned out.

I am sad to report that Willy Ley's articles just aren't as engaging as once they were. They were what originally sold me on getting subscription, Galaxy being the first magazine I followed regularly. The lovable ex-German just seems unfocused and a little cranky these days.

Zenna Henderson's Something Bright, on the other hand, is that engaging mix of magic, grit, unease, and wonder that I have come to expect from her. This one is told from the point of view of a Depression-era teen who has a close encounter with a peculiar, and rather frightening, neighbor. It's nice to see work by two woman authors in Galaxy, a sign that the genre as a whole is becoming more balanced.


Dillon

Simak's Crying Jag takes place in a similar setting—he does enjoy those rustic tales, evocative of his home in rural Minnesota. In this one, the rather soused protagonist becomes the friend and keeper of an alien for whom sad stories are an intoxicant. Everybody wins in this one, as the storytellers thus find themselves free of their psychological pain. Not stellar, but enjoyable.


Wallace Wood

For some reason, I really enjoyed David Fisher's East in the Morning, about a intellectual prodigy who must wait until his very old age for his genius to bear fruit. It is told in this detached yet gripping manner that I found engaging. Perhaps there is a bit of identification, too—after all, I too blazed through my early life displaying signs of promise and even, perhaps, genius... but I'm still waiting to make my mark. Someday.


Dick Francis

Sadly, the magazine has stumbles to an unimpressive finish. Jim Wannamaker is a new face to the science fiction world, and his Death's Wisher, about a psychokinetic who threatens to blow up the world by setting off its hydrogen bombs, is not an impressive first outing. Truth to tell, I almost fell asleep.


Dick Francis

Space news is up next. All about a midget Mercury and its furry astronaut. Stay tuned!

(all Galaxy magazines can be found here)

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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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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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Writing good science fiction is hard. Writing good anything is hard, but science fiction multiplies the complexity. Science fiction requires a writer to project the effect that a scientific development will have on society. Moreover, the writer must portray this future society plausibly, which means distinguishing it from our current culture by extrapolating/inventing new mores and activities. I think this is why so many authors, even quite good ones, come up with brilliant technical ideas, but their visions of the future look uncannily like our world of the late 1950s.



Take smoking, for example. Smoking is practically ubiquitous in our current society, but there is now a small but vocal movement by doctors and scientists to alert us to the potential dangers of tobacco. They include a variety of respiratory ailments and even cancer. Yet, smoking is just as commonplace in the future worlds of science fiction. You would think someone would portray a smokeless future.




Another example is the portrayal of women. For centuries, women have struggled for and obtained the rights and privileges of men. The trend has historically been in their favor. They fought for and got the vote—quite recently, in fact. In the last war, they “manned” our factories and flew our planes. There seems to be a backlash against this these days; between soap operas and nuclear families, women are expected to stay at home and be seen and not heard. Still, on a long time-scale, this seems to be an anomalous blip. You would think a future in which women are portrayed as leaders and scientists and businessmen would be more common. Yet you can go through an entire issue of Astounding and find just one female character in ten, and odds are that woman will be a wife with little agency of her own. It is a man's future, if you read science fiction—a smoking man's future.

It could be argued that this is not all the fault of the writer. Even the greatest virtuoso must play to his or her audience, which in this case includes both the readers and editors. This audience is usually forgiving of one or two deviations from the norm. We call them “hand-waves.” For instance, so far as we currently know, it is impossible to go faster than light. Yet, science fiction is full of stories featuring vessels that do just that. That's a hand-wave. Psionic powers are another hand-wave. People only have two hands; too many extrapolations results in an alien world that may be too unfamiliar to its audience.

Maybe. I'd like to think we science fiction fans are a more sophisticated lot than the average person on the street. Also, Heinlein certainly doesn't have a problem dreaming up new ideas by the baker's dozen and incorporating them into his worlds. The few standout female characters (e.g. Asimov's Susan Calvin, Piper's Martha Dane, the protagonists of Zenna Henderson's The People series) have not driven fans away in droves.

But in the end, science fiction writers start out wearing the same cultural blinders as everyone else. And so the Randall Garretts, Poul Andersons and Bob Silverbergs write their stories filled with chain-smoking men because they can't imagine a different world. Someday, perhaps, they will read the few great, truly visionary stories of their peers, and light will shine through their blinders.

If you're wondering what triggered this screed, stay tuned for my next piece. I promise I'll get back to reviewing the latest magazines.

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