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It is common practice for serials published in science fiction digests to get turned into stand-alone novels. Not only does this constitute a nice double-dip for publishers and authors, but it offers the writer a chance to polish her/his work further. Sometimes, the resulting product ends up something of a bloated mess. In the case of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the novelization of Starship Soldier (which appeared in F&SF a couple of months ago), the opposite is the case. Heinlein’s expanded story has turned a flawed gem into a masterpiece.

Left virtually intact are the first two acts as presented in F&SF. Johnny Rico is a bright but rather callow youth who joins the "Mobile Infantry" without much forethought. After an intense and vividly portrayed Basic Training, Rico becomes versed in the art of combat from within a suit of powered armor with enough power to destroy a 20th Century tank company. He then goes off to fight an interstellar war against the "Bugs," a hive-mind race of Arachnoids, and their co-belligerents, the humanoid "Skinnies." There is precious little depiction of combat, however, with the exception of a well-executed first chapter (Basic Training is described in flashback).

It was all well done, but the serial just sort of ends without much resolution or pay-off. The novel includes a full third act wherein Rico is involved in a mission to capture one of the Bug "brains" for interrogation/experimentation purposes. This is what the novel needed, and I have to wonder if Heinlein intended it to be there all the time, but was limited by space constraints. It makes the book a must-have, and it is possibly the best thing Heinlein has written to date.

Of course, there is a bit more of the jingoistic, even Fascist pro-militarism speeches issuing from the mouths of various officers and professors. I imagine a number of impressionable young folk will be motivated to enlist after reading the book. I can only hope that we don't fight any major wars over the next decade or two, though so long as the minute hand on the F.A.S. Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to Midnight, that seems wishful thinking.

Then again, so long as there are just 120 seconds to Armageddon, the next major war is likely to be very short.

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

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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In other news, the XLR-115 rocket was successfully tested on December 7, 1959.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

I see you scratch your head. "Is that important?" you wonder. "Aren't rockets tested all the time?"

Yes and yes.

You all have heard of Newton's Third law, "For Every Action, there is an Equal and Opposite Reaction." This principle powers our rockets: through the controlled rapid combination of fuel and oxygen (also known as burning), exploding gasses are produced, which are given a hole at the base of the rocket through which they can escape. This action propels the rocket in the opposite direction—up, hopefully.

The heavier the rocket, the more fuel it takes to send it into space. Fuel is by far the largest component of any rocket through most of the rocket's flight (until it is all used), so it stands to reason that one would want the lightest, most efficient fuel possible.

Up to now, rockets have used familiar fuels, from petroleum derivatives to alcohol, because they are relatively cheap and easy to manipulate. To break the weight barrier, one needs a truly light material, preferably the smallest stuff that could possibly oxidize. Hydrogen happens to be the lightest element possible, Atomic Number One. It burns: most of you know the chemical nomenclature for water is H2O, which simply means that any molecule of water comprises two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Water is, essentially, burnt hydrogen.

If one could bottle hydrogen safely in a rocket, then it would be the most efficient rocket fuel possible.

It's a tough project. It won't do for the hydrogen to be kept in gas form, as in a World War I zeppelin. That would result in an overlarge rocket and very elaborate mixing and ignition mechanisms. No, you need to store the stuff in liquid form, and that takes a very cold and very good Thermos, indeed. Just a few years ago, the idea of using liquid hydrogen as rocket fuel was as much science fiction as hyperspace and flying cars.

Until now. The XLR-115 is a liquid hydrogen rocket.

Thus, the next generation of rocketry has begun. At first, the XLR-115 will be used in the Centaur second stage, allowing boosters like the Atlas to send large payloads to high orbit, the moon, and the planets. Ultimately, the liquid hydrogen rocket will likely be a vital component is the first manned lunar rocket.

And that's why this news is important. Now you know.

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

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 are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month. It would go something like this:

"Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters. The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster. Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment."

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I've never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster's weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick. Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he's just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth.

by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war. Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month. Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material. A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there's nothing wrong with the subject matter. Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won't be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson's The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent. Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet's Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on. The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.

by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint. A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time. The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish. It's not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern. This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here. On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg's wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives. The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale's 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small "s") and social welfare. The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless. While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don't think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests. Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell's fancy. It has that "secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine" conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along. I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good. He's not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it's a 2.5 star issue. But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I'm keenly anticipating next month's installment. You'll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

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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This Friday night was a bit of a repeat performance of last week's: another trip to the German delicatessen in Escondido, another beer, another coffee and dessert. This time, I was in the most enjoyable company of my wife, and we had an avid discussion of what it is to be a "fan."

A mutual friend of ours once observed that fandom has three things in common—the following utterances:

"Where did you get that?"

"How can we get more people into it?"

"It's not as good as it used to be..."

It's true that fandoms come and go. The "Golden Age" of science fiction, when Astounding ruled the roost with its Campbellian stories, is departed. The boom of science fiction magazines came to an end a couple of years ago. The cozy British country-house mystery is becoming a thing of the past.

Things change. It's an inevitable part of life. But it's a mistake to get so stuck in nostalgia that one cannot see the old fandoms that continue to thrive (Conan Doyle, for instance) or the new evolutions in current fandoms (the small but rising tide of female authors, the general increase in quality of science fiction and fantasy even as the number of digests diminishes).

There are also brand new fandoms. I am very excited to have gotten in on the ground floor of one on which the paint is still wet: Rod Serling's anthology science fiction show, The Twilight Zone.

Three months ago, the program was an exciting idea. Now, eleven episodes in, it is a bonafide phenomenon with staying power. Though the quality of each episode varies, of course, Twilight Zone is still head and shoulders above what came before on television. I've high hopes it will only rise in excellence.

Here's what my daughter and I have enjoyed for the last four Fridays:

Time Enough at Last came out on November 20. The buzz I hear is that it went over well, and there's no question that Burgess Meredith turned in a fine performance as a frustrated bibliophile bank teller, who finds himself alone after surviving a nuclear holocaust. But the ending, where he finds a lifetime of books to read and then immediately breaks his glasses, is not clever. It's just cruel, and it soured me on the whole piece.

Charles Beaumont is the first writer whose name isn't Rod Serling to pen an episode, and his outing, Perchance to Dream was interesting. A fellow with a heart condition is afraid to sleep for he knows that a temptress in his dream will lead him into a carnival of horrors, which will aggravate him into cardiac arrest. The afflicted man tells his story to a sympathetic doctor, and we get to see the narrative progress in flashback. It's creepy and fascinating. I guessed the ending early on, but the tale was so compelling, I forgot all about my premonition until it actually happened.

I enjoyed the subject and setting of Judgment Night, in which a German man finds himself aboard a British liner cruising the Atlantic during World War II. He is deathly afraid of U-Boats and seems to be certain that an attack from under the sea is impending. It's a suitably atmospheric piece though somehow a bit plodding. It was during this episode that my daughter noted that virtually none of the protagonists on the show are female. I can only recall one, from The 16 millimeter Shrine.

This week's episode was a winner. Written by the master of science-fiction horror teleplays and fiction, Richard Matheson, it stars the excellent Rod Taylor as one of three survivors of a spaceplane crash. It seems each of the astronauts is disappearing one-by-one, not just from the Earth, but from history and memories. Creepy creepy stuff, though my daughter complained that she was getting tired of episodes featuring "people acting crazy." (A neat tidbit: the spaceplane featured is the X-20, a real-life Air Force project that has either just gotten or is in the process of getting the green light for construction. This vehicle will be the next step beyond the X-15, actually capable of orbital flight!)

As much as I enjoyed the episode, it shared the same overwrought middle that I've seen consistently in the last eleven episodes. This, I think, is the main weakness of this young show. While the writing is often brilliant, the acting usually excellent, and the cinematography remarkable, the middle third of each episode tends to take a bit too long padding out the set-up before the payoff.

Perhaps I'm just a little too clever, guessing the ends before well before they happen. It may well be that Twilight Zone is starting easy to draw in the uninitiated, those who haven't read a thousand science fiction stories already. With all the talent going into this program, I have faith that the show will continue to mature and, as with science fiction, move beyond "gotcha" storytelling.

What say you?

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

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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Two days ago, there were three active satellites—two Vanguards and one Explorer.

Yesterday, there were two: Vanguard 3 has gasped its last beep.

For 84 days, the last of the Vanguards circled the Earth, returning data from its solar X-Ray detectors, its magnetometer, and its micrometeoroid sensors from an orbit higher than that of its dumber, smaller older brother, Vanguard 1.

Did you know that the Sun emits X-Rays? That's what happens when you heat gasses to millions of degrees Kelvin; such temperatures are common in the solar corona, the bright fringe of gas surrounding the sun's disk that one can see during a solar eclipse. The atmosphere absorbs most extraterrestrial X-Rays, so a satellite is needed to gather comprehensive data. Sadly, all of the energetic particles trapped in the Earth's Van Allen Belts swamped Vanguard 3's detectors, and no useful data were obtained.

On the other hand, Vanguard 3's magnetometer did a heck of a job, returning more than 4000 signals, nearly 3000 of which were of high quality. We have never had such a comprehensive map of our planet's magnetic fields, and it is likely that scientists will be studying these results for years to come, learning how these fields interact with the solar wind to cause phenomena from radio storms to aurorae.

Speaking of radio, if you've ever listened to your shortwave, you might have heard "Whistlers"--those enigmatic sound that calls to mind a skyrocket flying overhead or birds chirping or even a flying saucer. Such signals have been heard since radios were invented, and it is now known that they are emitted by lightning and propagated in the ionosphere. Vanguard 3 was able to "tune in" to Whistler emissions with its magnetometer, which allowed scientists to make some estimates of the density of electrons in the ionosphere. Two for one is a good deal!

No micrometeoroids pierced Vanguard 3's hull for the duration of its mission, but that doesn't mean the satellite didn't run into its share of space junk. The first preliminary estimates from returned data suggest that 10,000 tons of space dust crash into the Earth's atmosphere every day. That sounds like a lot, but considering that it is spread out over the entire surface area of the planet, it's a negligible concern to a small satellite.

With the silence of Vanguard 3, the Vanguard program has come to a virtual end (though Vanguard 1 still keeps beeping away). Three successful launches out of eleven seems like a pretty lousy record. Consider this legacy, however: the bonanza of returned data, the comparative inexpensiveness of the program, the first stage being turned into the Vega second stage booster for other rockets, the second and third stages being used on the Atlas Able and the Thor Able rockets, the Vanguard worldwide signal receiving station pioneering space communications. Vanguard surely must count as a raging success. Moreover, Vanguard set an important precedent by showing that rockets can be used for purely civilian purposes as well as for sending weapons of mass destruction across the globe.

If my epitaph is half as laudatory, I shall be a very happy corpse.

Up next—The Twilight Zone and then... Astounding!

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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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Science fiction is dead. Long live science fiction.

Naysayers have been predicting the end of the genre since 1953 when the first post-war boom started to lose momentum. Since then, I've read a lot of science fiction (and fantasy). It's true that a lot of the lesser magazines have folded in the past 6 years, but I still find plenty to read every month, and much of it is quite good.

Now that I've been at this article-writing business for more than a year, I have enough comparative data to not only convey my favorite stories of 1959, but the best stories (in my opinion) for each magazine, and for each length.

In other words, I can conduct my own mini-Hugos specifically for the Big 3 (or 4, depending on how you count Galaxy/IF. Let this serve as both a buying guide and a request for agreement/rebuttal.


The Categories:

Best Astounding Stories by Length

Serial: Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster—3 stars.
Novella: Despoiler of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett—2 stars.
Novelette: Cat and Mouse by Ralph Williams—5 stars.
Short story: Seeling by Katherine MacLean—4 stars.
Vignette: Vanishing Point by C.C. Beck—3 stars.
Non-fiction: Blood from Turnips by William Boyd—4 stars.

Pretty pathetic that the best novella is one of the worst I've ever read. There were just two 5-star stories the entire year (Murray Leinster's novelette Aliens being the other). In fact, if you took all of Astounding's four and five star stories and articles, they would fit in a single large-ish issue. It'd be a very good issue, but the other eleven would be just dreadful.

Best Galaxy/IF Stories by Length

Serial: None (Bob Sheckley's Time Killer started last year).
Novella: Whatever Counts by Fred Pohl—5 stars.
Novelette: Return of a Prodigal by J.T.McIntosh—5 stars.
Short Story: Death in the House by Clifford Simak—5 stars.
Vignette: Jag-Whiffing Service by David R. Bunch—4 stars.
Non-fiction: Solar Orbit of Mechta by Willy Ley—5 stars.

There were a total of seven 5-star entries in Galaxy/IF in 1959 and plenty of 4-star pieces. IF is slightly more uneven in quality than its big sister, Galaxy, but it consistently has stand-out tales. Call it an experiment that's working.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories by Length

Serial: Starship Soldier by Robert Heinlein—4 stars.
Novelella: None.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes—5 stars.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon—5 stars.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess by Leslie Bonnet—4 stars.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages by Isaac Asimov—5 stars.

F&SF had 11 5-star pieces this year! There were some hard choices here. Knight's What Rough Beast, Boucher's Quest for St. Aquin, This Earth of Hours, To Fell a Tree--F&SF has no shortage of excellent novelettes. Asimov's articles are consistently better than Ley's, too (not to slight Willy, whose pieces are never bad and often cover more esoteric territory).

I'm very curious to see what gets anthologized.

Best Overall by Story Length

Serial: Starship Soldier.
Novella: Whatever Counts.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages.

F&SF comes out on top, though there was stiff competition. I find it interesting that there were no 5-star vignettes; it may simply be that it is harder to make a strong impression in such a short space, or perhaps I am simply biased against the format.

Best Magazine

Fantasy and Science Fiction: 3.33
Galaxy/IF: 3.21
Astounding: 2.58

I don't think these rankings come as a surprise.

There you have it: 1959's Galactic Stars. I had considered making this a double-length article by judging the worst science fiction and fantasy stories of the year (perhaps the Galactic Turkeys?), but it's the holiday season, and I'm feeling charitable. Let's just make one award, engrave it with Randall Garrett's name, and burn it in effigy.

Now—tell me your top picks for 1959!

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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I admit it. I splurged last night.

I'm not the poorest of people, but I am thrifty. Last night, however, I took a detour on the way home. I ended up at my favorite cafe off Grand Avenue in downtown Escondido. They sell pizza, which I've noticed is becoming as commonplace as burgers these days. I ordered a slice pepperoni, a salad, and I washed it down with a beer. Then I sauntered down to a local coffee shop and enjoyed a day-old brownie and a cuppa joe. For dessert, I had a new 35 cent Ace Double (novel, that is).

The night set me back 16 bits, but all of the week's stress washed away. It beats a head shrinker, right?

Now, you might expect that this is a lead-in to a review of the Double, but I haven't finished it yet, so you'll just have to wait. In the meantime, here's an exciting Double Dose of Space News.

Remember Little Joe? It's that cluster of rockets with a Mercury capsule on top designed to test out the abort systems on the spaceship. That little tower on top has rockets that will propel a Mercury and its pilot to safety if something goes wrong during booster launch. The first flight was a total bust.

Since then, there have been two missions, the first of which was not entirely successful. Little Joe 1-A, launched November 4, seemed to go off okay, but the escape rocket went off too late, and the pressure on the capsule was far too low to make a good test of the system.

December 4 saw the next flight, Little Joe 2. NASA decided to go for broke with this one and fully equip the capsule with a host of biological specimens. One minute into the flight, the escape rocket blasted the Mercury and its contents, including seeds, bugs, cell samples, and a rhesus monkey named "Sam," at Mach 6 to an altitude of 53 miles. Sam experienced a good three minutes of weightlessness during the flight. All occupants were recovered several hours later, safe and sound.

The flight was a complete success, but it was not as strenuous a test as it might have been. The next mission will feature an abort rescue at "max q," or the craft's strongest acceleration. If the escape system works then, it will be probably be rated safe for actual use. Exciting stuff!

Next up: 1959's Galactic Stars awards!

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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With only four science fiction digests coming out per month (really three if you count Galaxy and IF as one monthly magazine instead of two bi-monthlies), I often fill my reading time with anthologies and novels. Robert Heinlein has a new anthology of his works out, The Menace from Earth, which largely features stories I hadn't previously read.

Let's take a look, shall we?

Year of the Jackpot came out in Galaxy nearly eight years ago! It was rightly anthologized in the 1952 Galaxy Reader as the lead story. Statistician Potiphar Breen plots a trend to the increased silliness in the world and concludes that the Apocalypse is nigh. Along with Meade Barstow, whom Potiphar meets while she is stripping bare at a bus stop (one datum of silliness), the unlikely hero manages to escape catastrophe when nuclear war breaks out. But out of the frying pan...

I found By his Bootstraps, detailing the adventures of a time-looping fellow who crosses his own path several times, to be rather tedious. There is an art to telling such stories so that one does not repeat the same scene over and over, just from different viewpoints. This story was written before Mr. Heinlein developed that art.

I'm sure I've read Sky Lift before, I think in Imagination. A hotshot pilot is tasked with bringing fresh blood to a plague-ridden Pluto base. He only has about a week, which means he'll have to pull nearly four gees of acceleration the entire way. Will he make it?

Goldfish Bowl is a sad tale in which giant pillars of unknown origin appear in the Pacific Ocean, their tops lost in the stratosphere. Two men explore the pillars only to be abducted and placed in the extraterrestrial (or perhaps hyperterrestrial) equivalent of a fishbowl—with only one way out. Who are these aliens? What do they want with us? And can humanity be warned if and when the prisoners answer these questions?

The worst of the bunch is unquestionably Project Nightmare, a ridiculous tale in which the Soviets plant several dozen bombs in our biggest cities and hold the country hostage. Only a team of psychics, working 'round-the-clock can save the day. And then, just for kicks, blow up the Russkies. Terrible.

Water is for Washing, about an earthquake causing the Imperial Valley to flood, is near and dear to my heart seeing how I grew up in its setting. The Valley a miserable, desolate place—120 degrees in the summer and 25 degrees in the winter. Yet it is an agricultural marvel, and there are good people who reside there. If you've ever read The Winning of Barbara Worth, you'll get a good sense for what it's like, and you'll know why the place at which the protagonist stops for a drink early in the story is called the Barbara Worth Hotel!

I've saved the best for last. The eponymous The Menace from Earth is simply a tour de force. Told convincingly from the viewpoint of a 15-year old girl living on the moon, it is a story of teen love, angst, jealous, and low-gravity aerodynamics. I gave the book to my 10-year old daughter so she could read this story, and she “loved it.” She asked if Heinlein wrote more stories like it, to which I had to reply in the negative.

I hate to leave things on a down note, however. Do you know any stories written in a similar style? Juveniles from the female point of view? Please share!

All told, Menace is a book worth getting even though many of the stories have melancholy endings. If you're still in the mood for Heinlein after this large portion, you can try picking up the other recently released anthology: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. But that's a review for another day...

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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It's enough to make a fellow cry.

There she stood, a proud and lovely Atlas Able booster, with the largest American lunar probe ever built at its tip. Well, perhaps it wasn't so lovely. The Atlas ICBM is impressive enough, with three mighty engines at its base and a hot temper that has resulted in an unimpressive operational record to date. On top were the second and third stages of the Vanguard rocket, the same "Able" that has served the Air Force so well when mated to the Thor IRBM. That's how NASA got its first Pioneers into space, if not to their desired target: The Moon.

The Able looked a bit like a silly Q-tip perched above the Atlas. Nevertheless, it's the best combo we've got at the moment to compete with the Russians at their game.

Just 30 seconds after the launch, early morning on Thanksgiving (November 26), a piece fell off the nose. Four-and-a-half minutes later, the second stage failed to ignite, and the rocket plunged into the ocean along with its precious cargo, the a 300 pound Pioneer posthumously dubbed "P3."

This setback may push the program back a full year. There is a back-up payload but no rocket to launch it, the Atlas being in high demand for both the military and the Mercury program.

What went wrong? I gave my friend, John Vehrencamp, a call last night to commiserate and get the inside dope. John designed the payload shroud, you see, which appears to be the likeliest culprit for the failure. Sure enough, his long face was clearly expressed in the morose tones of his voice. He took the full blame for the incident. You see, he hadn't taken into sufficient consideration the drop of air pressure outside the nosecone as the rocket ascended. The thing wasn't properly vented and exploded like a balloon in vacuum. It's going to be a many-beers kind of weekend for John, I'm afraid.

I don't think this mishap will have any impact on the Thor-Able deep space mission planned for early next year, thankfully.

In related news, the Air Force had another bad Discoverer mission on November 20. The eight in the series of "biomedical capsule recovery flights" (which ironically have not carried a biomedical payload in many missions) launched all right, though I understand the orbit was eccentric and not optimal. The recovery capsule ejected, but no parachute was spotted. Much like Thomas Edison, the flyboys are finding many ways to get the process wrong. Their losing streak can't continue forever, right?

See you soon—December looks to be a great month (he said hopefully).

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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Happy Thanksgiving!

This season, we have much to be thankful for, but I am particularly thankful that I ended this publishing year on a high note—the December Fantasy and Science Fiction.

If anything could get out the taste left by this month's Astounding, particularly the Garrett story, it's F&SF. In this case, the lead novelette, What now, little man? by Mark Clifton, was the indicated antidote.

Clifton addresses the issue of racial abuse head on with this excellent tale. On a distant mining colony, humans have only one native source of food—the bipedal, humanoid "Goonie." When the colony was first inhabited, the Goonies were deemed unintelligent by human standards. They seemed to have no culture, and they let themselves be slaughtered without so much as a peep of protest.

Then they proved to be trainable. At first, they performed simple beast-of-burden chores, but over time, they learned more sophisticated skills. By the time of the story, many can read and write, and one exceptional example can perform as an accountant.

This tale is that of a man wracked with conscience. This farmer, who was the first to train a Goonie to perform advanced mathematical services, is convinced that the slaughter of Goonies is wrong. To champion this cause, he is willing to put his life on the line, though it turns out that a female sociologist from Earth employs better, non-lethal methods to effect change, or at least to set the world on the course of change.

The protagonist, and the reader, are left with the fundamental questions: What defines intelligence? Who defines intelligence? Can one justify making the definition so rigid as to exclude members of one's own race? And what do the Goonies represent? True pacifists? The ultimate survivors?

Good stuff. Four stars.

Dr. Asimov has another fine article, this one on the layers of the Earth's atmosphere. It's well timed, perhaps on purpose, as I'd just read a scholarly article on a new revised atmospheric model. We've learned a lot in just three years of satellite launches.

I've never heard of Gerard E. Neyroud. His Terran-Venusian War of 1979, in which Venus conquers the Earth with love, but subsequently devolves into civil war, is glib and fun, if rather insubstantial.

Marcel Aymé has another cute short translated from the French. The State of Grace is about an (un)fortunate fellow whose saintliness is blessed with a halo only a few decades into his life. This quickly becomes a terrible annoyance to his wife, who begs him to do something about it. His solution: to sin like there's no tomorrow. Yet, no matter how far he indulges himself in the seven deadly sins, he cannot rid himself of the damned thing. The moral is, apparently, piety will out, even when covered in degradation.

Stephen Barr's The Homing Instinct of Joe Vargo is chilling stuff, indeed. An expedition to a mining planet finds a truly unbeatable creature. Ubiquitous, cunning, and virtually indestructible, "It" is a translucent blob that kills by extruding threads of incredible strength, constricting its prey, and slicing it alive.

Only one fellow, the eponymous Joe Vargo, is able to survive thanks to equal parts wisdom and luck. The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and also implausible. As with Poul Anderson's Sister Planet, one can excise the coda and come away with a perfectly satisfying story.

Jane Rice has another good F&SF entry with The Rainbow Gold. Told in folksy slang, it is the story of a somewhat magical (literally) yokel family and their quest to secure that legendary pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It's a lot of fun, and it has a happy ending.

damonknight has, perhaps, the best line of the issue in his monthly book column. Writing of Brian Aldiss, he says, "If the writer ever does a novel with his right hand, it will be something worth waiting for."

The Seeing I is Charles Beaumont's new column on science fiction in the visual media. In this installment, he details at length his involvement with the new show, The Twilight Zone. It's an absolutely fascinating read, and it just goes to show that things of quality can still be made, on purpose, so long as people are willing to invest the time and energy into the endeavor.

Finally, we have Robert Nathan's A Pride of Carrots, written as a radio play. That's because it actually was a radio play a couple of years ago on CBS. The prose has been substantially embellished, but it's largely the same story. At least, I think it is. I'm afraid fell asleep during the last act of the radio show.

I won't spoil the plot, save that it involves the planet Venus, two warring states peopled by vegetables, two visitors from Earth, and an interracial love triangle.

But is it good, you ask? Well, it's silly. It's not science fiction, but it is occasionally droll. Try it, and see what you think.

That wraps up the year. I'll be compiling my notes to determine which stories will win Galactic Stars for 1959. I'll make an announcement sometime next month.

In the meantime, enjoy your turkey. I'll have more for you soon.

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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Good morning, dear readers. Based on the incidence of fan mail, it appears you now number nearly half a dozen (unless, of course, it's just you, Laurose, writing in under a number of pseudonyms; if that be the case, I'm still grateful).

And now comes the moment you have all been waiting for: my review of the December Astounding. Did this issue top the last in terms of sheer awfulness? I'm afraid not. The magazine is, in fact, back to its old low but passable standards.

I mentioned
last time that Randall Garrett has the lead novella in this issue. The Destroyers starts off well enough. Slowly, even compellingly, Garrett describes a group of farmers in a barony on one of the more backward planets in the galaxy. The placid cycle of years is disturbed by the news of impending interstellar war. When it does break out, the conflict seems far away and does not immediately disturb the peaceful farmers. But over time, the fight comes closer and closer to home until the barony is taken by the conquerors, and the planet surrenders.

So what's wrong with this story? Garrett, as you know, is fond of the historical parable. In Despoiler of the Golden Empire, he writes rather praisingly of Pizarro's murderous conquest of Peru with the "twist" being that the readers were meant to think the story was one of science fiction rather than historical fiction.

About half-way through The Destroyers, I started to worry that he was doing it again. When he spoke of the invaders' blockade and the plucky captains who dared run it, I began to look for other Civil War parallels. Sure enough, the conquerors come from the north, they represent an industrialized society preaching equality and freedom, they are superior technologically. The "South" wins at first but inexorably starts to lose. Their country is split in two. The war ends with the taking of the capital.

Even this would be fine except for the story's punchline. The Union colonel who comes to accept the baroness' surrender (yes—by this time, Randy has named the invaders "The Union") announces to the farmers that they are all free, and that now they can earn money and get an education. And what is the reaction of the farmers (read: Negro slaves)?

Horror! All of their needs had been tended to under the old regime. They had been happy, had had purpose and direction. What, oh what, would they do with money and education and freedom?

That smell assailing your nostrils is last night's dinner. My apologies. I don't think I need comment further other than to observe that it may be impossible for Randy to write without offending. But I guess he keeps Astounding's target demographic happy...

On to happier, or at least less saddening, entries. Chris Anvil's Mating Problems, about how a colony deals with the aftermath of two crises by combining their ill effects, is not bad. I note that Anvil likes stories about pioneering colonials, and I do too. At some point, he'll write an outstanding one, perhaps.

Les Collins has a non-fiction article entitled How to write Science faction, a rather glibly written description of the technical writing field. Perhaps the best part of the column is a list of ten technical paragraphs in need of editing. Collins invites those who are able to properly fix a majority of them to contact him for a possible job opening. I'm tempted.

George O. Smith's The Big Fix is kind of fun. In a world where everyone is psionic, how does one keep the gambling "honest?" And once that puzzle is solved, how does one rig the game? The story even features, though doesn't star, a cigar-chomping tough gal, though she ends up a romantic interest, sadly. The dialogue consciously imitates the over-verbose New York gangster dialect featured in the recent hit, Guys and Dolls. The conceit is either cute or annoying. I suppose it depends on your mood.

I skipped Part Two of Everett Cole's The Best Made Plans since I could not finish Part One. I think it's a futuristic ignominy to imperial throne story, but I can't be certain.

Last, and fairly least, is Tell the Truth, by E.C. Tubb. In this story, humans are confronted with a stronger, aggressive alien foe (that looks just like us). As a prelude to conflict, both races agree to exchange a single representative who will serve as the exemplar of the species. Based on the examination of said ambassador, the choice between peace and war will be made.

Of course, the humans are able to select the exact right person to hoodwink the aliens. It turns out that the aliens are wholly logical and, thus, deduce from the ambassador, who sells military toys to children, that Earth is a highly armed camp whose youth are trained from birth to be soldiers.

It's a typical Campbellian piece, and it makes no sense. For one thing, the aliens are trained from birth to be soldiers. Moreover, much is made of the fact that the ambassador cannot lie (for the aliens are experts in preventing deception); therefore, the conclusion that the aliens make is inescapable. One would think that these aliens, who clearly have a profound knowledge of deceit, would recognize the cheap ploy for what it was. After all, the ambassador may be telling the truth, but that doesn't mean his masters are obligated to.

At least I've saved dessert for last—the December F&SF is next up, and with its reading, I will have an entire year's worth of magazines from which to choose this annum's Galactic Stars.

See you soon!

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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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Here's a short update before I fully review this month's Astounding. Remember my piece on Despoiler of the Golden Empire? Well, good old Randy Garrett is at it again with his historical parables. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop in his lead novella of this ish, The Destroyers, and it did in a big way.

It's disappointing since the writing was actually good and compelling for the first two thirds of the story--and then I saw where good old Randy was going. Boy did he get there.

Try it, but don't spoil the ending for the other readers until my article on the issue as a whole, which should come tomorrow or the next day.


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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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Hello, fellow travelers! As promised, here's a round-up of this month's Galaxy magazine.

Or should I say Galaxy Science Fiction? According to editor Horace Gold (and I somehow missed this), Galaxy was misprinted last month with the old logo and the old price! They really lost their shirt on that issue, sadly. On the other hand, Gold is going to try not being ashamed of what he peddles and see if it affects sales positively or adversely. I'm hoping for the former.

Diving into the stories, George O. Smith continues to write in a workmanlike fashion. His The Undetected is part thriller, part who-dunnit, part romance, and features a psionic detective looking for a psionic criminal. And you thought it could only happen in Astounding.

Virgil Finlay

The often-excellent Phillip K. Dick has a lackluster story in this ish: War Game. In the future, the tricky Ganymedians are constantly trying to sneak subversive toys past our customs censors. In this case, they succeed by occupying the attention of a pair of said censors with a sort of automated toy soldier kit. It's the sort of throwaway tale I'd have expected ten years ago.

Wallace Wood

On the other hand, it provides an excellent segue to an exciting new arena of gaming. A hundred years ago, the Germans invented sandbox "wargaming," wherein they simulated war with a set of rules and military units in miniature. A half-century later, H.G. Wells proposed miniature wargaming as a way of scratching the human itch for violence without bloodshed. Fletcher Pratt, popularized the naval miniature combat game in World War 2, playing on the floor of a big lobby.

A fellow named Charles Roberts has taken the concept of miniature wargaming and married it to the tradition of board-gaming (a la Scrabble and Monopoly or Chess, perhaps a prototype wargame). Thanks to his revolutionary Tactics, and its sequel Tactics II, two players can simulate war on a divisional scale between the fictional entities of "Red" and "Blue" using a gameboard map, cardboard pieces, and dice. While perhaps not as visually impressive as facing off thousands of tin soldiers against each other, it is far more accessible and inexpensive.

War leaves me cold; I am a confirmed pacifist. But there is fun in the strategy and contest that a wargame provides. I look forward to seeing what new wargames Roberts' Avalon Hill company comes up with. Perhaps we'll see games with a science fictional theme in the near future—imagine gaming the battles depicted in Dorsai! or Starship Soldier!

To the next story: Jim Harmon is a fine writer, and his Charity Case, about a fellow hounded by demons who cause his luck to be absolutely the worst, starts out so promisingly that the rushed ending is an acute disappointment. Maybe next time.

Dick Francis

Fred Pohl's The Snowmen is a glib, shallow cautionary tale covering subject matter better handled in Joanna Russ' Nor Custom Stale. In short, humanity's need to consume compels it to generate power from heat pumps that accelerate the process of entropy leaving Earth in a deep freeze.

I did like Robert Bloch's Sabbatical, about a time traveler from 1925 who quickly determines that the grass is always greener in other time zones, and one might as well stay home. I enjoyed the off-hand predictions about the future—that Communism will no longer be the big scare, to be replaced with Conservativism; the patriarchy will be replaced with a matriarchy; the average weight of folks will be dramatically higher. I guess we'll see which ones come true.

Finally, we have Andy Offut's Blacksword. I had hoped for an epic fantasy adventure. Instead, I got one of those satirical political romps wherein one man plays chess with thousands of inferior minds, and things work out just as he planned. And then it turns out he's just a pawn (or perhaps a castle) in a bigger political chess game. Inferior stuff.

Wallace Wood

All told, this issue tallied at three stars. The problem is that this issue wasn't a mix of good and bad but rather a pile of unremarkable stories. With the exception of the Sheckley and the Ley article, and perhaps Bloch's short story, it was rather a disappointment.

Of course, this month's Astounding prominently features Randall Garrett, again. Out of the frying pan, into inferno.

See you in two! Try not to get involved with any rigged quiz shows...


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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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Have no fear, for The Traveler has returned from Orlando safe and sound. My apologies for not submitting this article earlier, but I did not have easy access to a typewriter or my editor while on my vacation.

I have come home to my brand new typewriter, however, and it is time to tell you all about the Martin Marietta plant... and to wrap up the last four weeks' worth of that television sensation, The Twilight Zone!

First off, the plant. Martin Marietta has become one of this nation's leading developer of rocket systems including the Titan and the Atlas, both of which have been tapped for service with the manned space program. Their Orlando plant opened in December 1957, and I was looking forward to seeing some boosters in the process of manufacture.

Nothing doing. The Orlando plant is specifically for the production of smaller weapons systems including the Lacrosse and Pershing artillery missiles (for the Army), the Bullpup air-to-surface missile (for the Navy), and the Missile Master, an electronic air defense control system. Worse yet, all of the work is secret, for obvious reasons, and I was turned away at the gate. So much for the inside view! At least I had a lovely time in the Orlando sun, which looks much like San Diego's sun, with my cousin and her family.

Also, I got home in time to watch The Twilight Zone last night, so I now have four episodes to talk about. Ready for a preview?

The fourth episode of The Twilight Zone was The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, in which Ida Lupino, playing an aging star of the screen, shuts herself off from he world to watch endless replays of her old movies. Unable to face an aging reality and the reality of aging, she ultimately disappears into one of her films. The end is telegraphed from the beginning, and this was one of the show's poorer entries.

Walking Distance, episode five, fares a bit better. A 36-year old ad-man (played by a 46-year old Gig Young) flees from the city, desperate to recapture the simplicity of his small town pre-teen days. He returns to his stomping grounds to find them unchanged—in fact, he has gone back in time. He even meets himself and his family, whereupon his father urges him to return to the present and let his younger self enjoy an unshared youth. It's not bad, but it is mawkish and somewhat drawn out.

I'm a sucker for “deal with the Devil” stories, so I enjoyed Escape Clause: A thoroughly unlikable hypochondriac played by David Wayne bargains his soul for invulernability and immortality. The fellow had only been concerned with himself before the exchange, and such remains the case afterward. Rather than focusing on a myriad of fantasized ailments, he instead throws himself into a series of would-be fatal accidents in an attempt to chase thrills. He quickly tires of the game and becomes just as miserable as he had been.

Things look up when his wife ends up in a fatal accidental fall. Our “hero” calls the police and confesses to the crime, hoping to get the Chair, which he would endure with ease and a smirk on his face. Instead, he receives life imprisonment. Oh the irony. In his final act, the prisoner beseeches Old Nick to take his life prematurely, and off he goes—to Hell, presumably.

That ending frustrated me. Were I immortal and stuck in prison, I'm sure I'd find little difficulty (and excitement) in breaking free. But, as my daughter noted, the fellow hadn't much soul to begin with; selling it to Satan couldn't improve matters. It's no wonder Wayne's character was doomed to disappointment.

Finally, we've got the brand-new The Lonely. A convict is incarcerated on an asteroid; a supply ship comes every three months, but besides that, he has only a few books and a diary to keep him company. Though the prisoner is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted, a pardon seems unlikely. The supply ship captain takes pity on the convict some four years into his sentence and gives him an unusual gift—a robot in the shape of a woman.

I actually don't want to spoil this one in the event it gets rerun mid-season. Jack Warden does an excellent job with his role as the convict. The episode kept us guessing throughout. It has the setup of Eric Russell's Panic Button and much of the plot of John Rackham's If You Wish. These stories were so recently published that I have to wonder if they did not directly inspire the show.

Back shortly with a wrap-up of the new Galaxy. Stay tuned!


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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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Greetings from sunny Orlando, Florida!

I know what you're thinking: why travel across the country to central Florida, which at first glance has little to offer to the tourist?

Firstly, my only first cousin on my father's side lives here with her family. Secondly, Orlando is home to the Martin Marrietta manufacturing plant—and guess who has a free pass to see the Titan and Atlas rocket assembly lines?

Also, I wanted to see the place before it is destroyed in next month's atomic holocaust. Or at least before Fidel's revolution travels to the mainland. I imagine it will hit Florida before other states.

As you can see, Orlando has gotten its Christmas decorations up early. Someday Christmas will precede Halloween, I predict.

I haven't had a chance to tour much, so I'll save the meat of my sightseeing report for next time. In the meantime, here's a Space News round-up:

(Note that neither of these stories happened in Florida, which just figures since it is one of the rare times I'm actually in the state)

As you know from reading this column, there are two competing manned space programs in this country. Sadly, one of them has suffered a setback: On its third mission, the rocket plane X-15 experienced an explosion in mid-flight. Luckily, pilot Scott Crossfield managed to dump his fuel in a jiffy and get the plane on the ground in one piece. He's fine, and the plane will fly again, but it won't go up until it's known precisely what happened.

The Air Force has also had a mishap: Discoverer 7, their capsule-return spacecraft designed for biological sample return (which hasn't carried an actual biological sample in several flights) got up into orbit just fine; but then it started to tumble, and the boys in blue couldn't get the capsule to separate from the rest of the craft.

While I may be cynical about the stated purpose of the Discoverer program, it does underline how technically complicated even an unmanned mission can be. Getting the rockets to work is only one of many problems to be tackled before we can think of sending a person into space.

I will try to have an update in two days' time, but it may have to wait until I get back home. I've a brand-new typewriter waiting for me there!


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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The new IF Science Fiction magazine, now under the Galaxy aegis, is an odd duck. Not quite a literary book, like F&SF, not an antediluvian throwback like Astounding, and not as polished as its older brother, Galaxy, IF is nevertheless generally a worthy read.

I don’t think it’s just a repository for substandard Galaxy submissions—the stories in IF are different in style and tone. I think, if anything, it’s more of a showcase for experimental stuff and new authors.

As such, we get to see a lot of fresh faces, but not necessarily the best tales. Here are my impressions from the November issue, the third under Gold/Pohl’s editorial helm:

First up is If You Wish, by John Rackham, in which a confirmed bachelor botanist secluded in a space-based greenhouse, is burdened with a female-form robot assistant, with whom he (grudgingly) falls in love. Traditionally, IF has stuck its best submissions right up front, but not this time. It’s not bad, exactly, and there is some quite good writing in here, as well as a lot of interesting and detailed stuff on Venusian botany, but it reads a bit like a wish-fulfillment daydream. It also strikes me as overly fannish that the robot’s name is “Susan Calvin,” and direct reference is made to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

On the other hand, the two characters are pretty well-drawn, the protagonist is unfailingly a gentleman, albeit a somewhat neurotic one, and in the end, it’s Susan who’s in control of the situation the whole time. By the way, if you don’t spot the “twist” in the first few pages, you’re not trying.

Miriam Allen deFord has been around for a while. Her Nor Snow Nor Rain starts out so well, but it ends with a whimper. A retiring postal worker comes upon a mystery on his last day—the office to which he must deliver his last parcels doesn’t exist! Being a science fiction fan (the first I’ve read about in a science fiction story, and a nice piece of portraying someone with multiple interests), he comes up with a number of explanations, which serve as effective red herrings.

Sadly, the actual explanation is the least interesting and the most hackneyed. Again, good writing but flawed execution.

I did not like Good-by, Gloria by “Ted Bain” (really the prolific Britisher, E.C.Tubb). Spacers working for an insufferably perfect captain decide to leave stranded an insufferably perfect female castaway, who has bootstrapped herself a la Tarzan, for fear that she and the captain will have insufferably perfect children. It’s supposed to be funny; it comes off as heartless. And dumb.

The talented J.T.McIntosh’ Return of a Prodigal is an altogether different matter. It is more bitter than sweet, but it’s also defiant and triumphant, and it stars a very compelling female lead. In brief: about six generations from now, the Moon is colonized. It turns out that a decent proportion of humanity suffers from incurable and potentially fatal spacesickness. As a result, the Moon colony (the beautifully conceived and described Luna City) becomes a haven for hereditary “viaphobes,” those who cannot go anywhere else to live. They are a proud bunch, and they refuse to admit that they have a disorder; they can leave whenever they want, they maintain.

At the tender age of 18, a girl named Clare, overshadowed by her pretty older sister, Emma, decides to go to New York on Earth and expose viaphobia publicly. The ensuing article shames the lunar residents, and Clare is essentially banished. Some ten years later, after a failed marriage on a colony world, Clare returns to Luna City, and that is where the story begins.

I don’t want to spoil any more, even though I do not have permission from Mr. McIntosh to distribute the tale. All I can say is that it’s worth finding and reading. I’m not sure if it’s a 4 or 5 star story, but I suspect I will go for 5 since there’s nothing wrong with it—it’s just a little hard to take at times.

Wynne Whiteford has the next entry: The Gelzek Business. Alien female engineer and temptress convinces two men to back production of her gizmos despite her secretiveness regarding their actual function. It’s an unsatisfying story, one of the weaker entries. I’m still waiting for an unflawed Whiteford piece.

Jerry Sohl's Counterweight, about the extreme measures taken to keep several thousand colonists sane on a year-long trip to an interstellar colony, is diverting, well-written, but unremarkable. The solution, having one of the crew commit a slew of crimes to invoke the wrath of the passengers, seems awfully silly.

I did enjoy E.C. Tubb's other story in this book, the thriller, Orange. On a world with the universe's most valuable substance, guarded by a race of psionic aliens, money is king. And the only way to make money is to own a trading concession. One can duel a concession-holder for such a prize, which makes life interesting indeed. This story details one such duel and the unorthodox way in which it turns out. It's the most Galaxy-style of all of the stories in this ish, I think.

All told, the November issue comes up a 3-star mag. This is misleading, however, given the wide inconsistency of its contents. IF may end up being one of the greats someday. It's certainly a damnsight better than Astounding.

Sorry about the late edition. I didn't have much to report on before, and now my typewriter is busted. Expect the next update in a few days. At least the next lovely crop of magazines has arrived in my mail.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

(Note: It is not clear who drew the internal artwork--credit goes to "Harrison, Morrow, and Emsh." I'm guessing the art for Prodigal is Emsh's.


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I've found the bottom, and it isn't the Mariana Trench.

They say fifty cents won't buy you what it used to, and that's certainly true of Astounding, a science fiction digest. The November issue, which has a hastily pasted price of four bits on its cover (replacing the original 35 cents) is, without a doubt, the worst pile of garbage I've read in a very long time.

I'll spare you the gory details and give you a quick thumbnail sketch of its contents. Opening the ish is the first part of a two-part story, The Best Made Plans. I didn't even make it through the first half of this first part. So dull was the tale, so linearly and prosaicly was it told, that I can't even remember what it's about. I'll read the summary next month and, perhaps, try again.

Eric Frank Russell's Panic Button features two exploring aliens who happen across a lone Terran on an otherwise uninhabited planet. Upon finding him, the human pushes a blue button, which frightens off the aliens. This is all part of a brilliant human scheme to seed the planets of the universe with convicts equipped with panic buttons. The assumption (proven correct, of course; aliens are so dumb, says editor Campbell) is that the button must do something and the lone humans must be there for a reason, and the overactive imaginations of the would-be conquering aliens do the rest.

And this is one of the book's better stories!

Then you've got A Filbert is a Nut, by newcomer Rick Raphael. In this one, a crazy person makes atom bombs out of clay that work. Or does he? Passable--for 1953 Imagination, perhaps.

Randall Garrett's The Unnecessary Man should have been titled "The Unnecessary Story." Young man learns that democracy is a sham and the galaxy is run by a dictatorship. But it's a benevolent one, so that's okay. Bleah.

I've never heard of Richard Sabia before, and if his I was a Teen-age Secret Weapon is any indication, I hope I don't see him again. Yokel causes harm to anyone around him. He is eventually inducted into the army, dropped off to be captured by the enemy, and Communism's collapse ensues. Lousy.

Finally, we have Robert Silverberg's Certainty, which is almost decent. Alien ship lands on a human outpost planet, and the crew of the garrison ship is helpless against the intruders' mind-control powers. Again, it's the sort of thing I'd expect from a decade-old lesser mag.

As for the Analytical Laboratory for the far-superior August issue, the readers' results are well in line with mine, with Leinster's The Alien's a clear winner.

I'm sorry I don't have anything cheery to report. It took me most of the month to get through this awful, 1.5 star book. I'm about ready to cancel my subscription...


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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Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a melancholy masterpiece.

Every so often, a science fiction novel comes around that transcends the genre and gives lie to the assertion that non-mainstream fiction is somehow literarily inferior. When this happens, the field gains a bit of respectability and, hopefully, attracts more great authors to its fold.

Miller’s three-part novel was originally published as three separate stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction, and I am given to understand that they have been much improved in book form. In brief summary, Canticle tells the story of seventeen centuries of history after an atomic apocalypse nearly destroys humanity. The protagonists are monks associated with an abbey of the Catholic Church which, as it did in the Dark Ages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, keeps the flame of knowledge kindled even as the world sinks to barbarism around it.

In the first part, Fiat Homo, a 26th century novitiate discovers a fallout shelter that bears relics of the long-departed, venerable Leibowitz, in whose honor the novitiate’s abbey has been founded. It is more of a mood piece than anything else, and if not for the setting, could have been a tale of any 7th century monastery.

Fiat Lux is a 32nd century story tale that takes place during a Renaissance. As abbey monks re-invent the arc light, a natural philosopher from a would-be continental empire visits the compound to conduct research. His coming presages an invasion by the empire’s ruler as prelude to a bid for American conquest. This was my favorite section of the book, capturing that flush of excitement that accompanies a great scientific leap forward. It also has, I think, the best-drawn characters.

Part 3, Fiat Voluntas Tua, takes place in the 37th century. Humanity has surpassed the achievements of the 20th century, with robot highways and interstellar colonies. Yet the old rivalries between East and West remain, and the Superpowers are just a hair-trigger away from a second Diluvium Ignis. The Church stands ready to launch an mission (of the religious variety) to the stars to preserve itself through the impending catastrophe. I enjoyed this part the least, though it is by no means unworthy.

Canticle moves at a majestic, unhurried pace, and yet also a page-turner--no mean feat. Throughout is this feeling of inexorability, that humanity is doomed to a certain cycle of events so long as we remain human. The book is the embodiment of Santayana's now-famous aphorism, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." My wife found the premise depressing, but I saw (and I think Miller intended us to see) that sliver of hope in the Church's final peregrine mission. Canticle's Church is the one element of humanity whose purpose was to preserve humanity's memories, after all.

Miller makes liberal use of Latin, which is translated directly, obliquely, and sometimes not at all. For those of us who took college Latin, it poses no great difficulty, but the new breed of uncultured students may find it challenging. It cannot be denied that it lends a distinct and authentic flavor to the proceedings.

Interestingly, one character (aside from the erstwhile Leibowitz) appears in all three parts of the book: Lazarus, the Wandering Jew. Wry and wistful, he lends an earthy element to otherwise rather majestic proceedings as he carries the virtual entirety of the mantle of Judaism as he waits for Him to return to Earth. I liked Lazarus, but I may be a little biased on the matter.

In sum, Canticle is a superb piece of fiction: spiritual, daring, by turns tense, prosaic, horrifying, and humorous. I'll be very surprised if it isn't nominated for next year's Hugo.

(By the way, this article marks a full year since I began this column! Many thanks to those of you who have stuck with me. You keep me writing.)


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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Twilight Zone, the new television science fiction/fantasy serial program, continues to be excellent. As a result, Friday night's activities now revolve around ensuring that the family can tune in.

Here's a quick recap:

Episode 2, One for the Angels features aged sidewalk peddler Lou Bookman, beloved by the neighborhood children. Unfortunately for all concerned, his hours are numbered; a certain Mr. Death has been dispatched to ensure that the salesman's departure occurs according to schedule. Of course, the huckster has other plans, but cheating Death has its own set of consequences...

There were no surprises in this episode, at least not to me, but I did enjoy the characterization of Mr. Death a great deal.

Episode 3, Mr. Denton on Doomsday, follows the eponymous Al Denton, a former gunfighter turned alcoholic both for his protection and that of those who would challenge him (and lose). An encounter with a new gun and a mysterious snake oil salesman named Dr. Fate sobers Denton up, but also appears to set him back on his old destructive path.

I did not see the twist coming in this episode, and it's a good one. And if you like oaters, you'll especially enjoy this outing.

My daughter summed up the last fortnight's viewing with this: "The great thing about this show is it takes all your deepest fears and sets them on their head." I think I may have her start writing my columns from now on.


In other news, Luna 3 has finally returned a dozen vacation slides from its jaunt around the Moon. At first glance, it looks as if the back side is quite a bit different from the front. Significantly, there are far fewer of the gray splotches or "maria" (seas). The Soviet news source, T.A.S.S., has been typically tight-lipped regarding the primary question on everyone's lips: is the far side where the Moon keeps all the cheese?

Seriously, I have not read anything in the press regarding data from Lunik's other scientific instruments. These are the results I was really excited about. It is rumored that previous releases were incorrect and that Luna 3's only experiment was the camera. That's a shame, if true, though one cannot deny the moment of that lone experiment's success.

Next up: A Canticle for Leibowitz! See you soon.


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!

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


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