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by Gideon Marcus

Since humans have been a species, there has always been a frontier. Whether it be Alaska for the first settlers of the Americas, or the New World (for Europeans), or the Wild West (for White Americans), there has always been an "over there" to explore. Today, our frontiers are the frozen Arctics, the deep seas, and the vastness of orbital space.

Science fiction has always stayed one step ahead. A hundred years ago, Jules Verne took us 20,000 leagues under the sea. A generation later, Edgar Rice Burroughs took us to Darkest Africa, lost continents, and fancifully rendered nearby planets,. Astounding and its ilk of the 30s and 40s gave us scientific jaunts through the solar system.

These days, one is hard-pressed to find stories that take place on Mars or Venus. Now that four men have circled the Earth and probes have flown millions of miles from our planet, tomorrow's frontier lies among the stars. Thus, science fiction has taken up residence in the spacious quarters of the Milky Way, light years away from home.

As you'll see if you pick up this month's most worthy issue of Galaxy:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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by Gideon Marcus

Three years ago, my wife pried my nose out of my sci-fi magazines. "You've been reading all of these stories," she said. "Why not recommend some of the best ones so I can join in the fun without having to read the bad ones."

I started a list, but after the first few titles, I had a thought. What if, instead of making a personal list for my wife, I made a public list? Better yet, how about I publish little reviews of the magazines as they come out?

Thus, Galactic Journey was born.



It's been an interesting ride. I was certain that I'd have perhaps a dozen subscribers. Then a large 'zine made mention of the column, and since then, we've been off to the races. Our regular readers now number in the hundreds, and the full-time staff of The Journey is eight, going on nine. We've been guests at several conventions around the West Coast, and we've been honored with one of fandom's most prestigious awards.

All thanks to you. So please join us in a birthday toast to the Galactic Journey family.

Speaking of significant dates, this month marks the end of an era. Astounding Science Fiction, founded in 1930, quickly became one of the genre's strongest books under the stewardship of Editor John W. Campbell. Last year, Campbell decided it was time to strike out in a new direction, starting with a new name of the magazine. The process has been a gradual one. First, the word, Analog, was slowly substituted month after month over Astounding. The spine name changed halfway through this transition. As of this month, the cover reads Analog Science Fiction. I am given to understand that next month, it will simply say Analog.

I think it's a dopey name, but it's the contents that matter, right? So let's see what Campbell gave us this month:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Mediocre magazines are always the hardest to plow through.

When I've got a good issue in my hands, reading is a pleasure, and I generally tear through in nothing flat. Bad issues are unpleasant, but I also feel no compunctions in skimming.

But it's those middle-of-the-road, "C Minus" magazines that drag you down. Each story is a chore, but none are so offensive as to register on the memory, even in their badness.

Had I known that this month's Galaxy would be so lackluster (my apologies to those who favor the Bird), I might have skimmed faster and compiled my reviews into one article. As it is, I have to devote an entire column's space to the four remaining pieces, and they don't deserve the energy.

Willy Ley's column, entitled What's Only Money, is an arid piece on the history and composition of coin currency. As a numismatist, I found the subject matter interesting, but the presentation was lacking. I miss the Dr. Ley of ten years ago.

Don't Look Now, by Leonard Rubin, is a turgid tale about (I think) image projectors and the way they disrupt our lives in the future. I tackled this story in small increments, and it left virtually no impression on me.



Then you've got the vignette, The Power, by veteran Frederic Brown. It is neither remarkable nor offensive.

Rounding out the issue is George O. Smith's, The Troublemakers, which starts promisingly but falls flat on its face. It is really two intertwined stories. The first involved a headstrong (read: "thinks for herself") young woman who objects to being sedated into placidity, as is the norm in the overcrowded, genetically optimized future. Note that Mr. Smith believes 6 billion souls will lead to cramped living conditions—see my thoughts on this issue in a prior article.

She also refuses to be paired with a somnolent drip of a fellow, who needs medication to act at an even minimal level of energy.

Then you've got the young spacer, who believes he has discovered an efficient hyperdrive that could open the stars to humanity. He is told to cool his heels in a dead-end assignment until he discovers the error in his mathematics. There, of course, isn't one.

It turns out, as is telegraphed far in advance, that the seemingly unfair practices of the society, ostensibly designed to cull outliers, are really designed to find the few exceptional people so that they can be sent to far flung colonies and become the cutting edge of humanity.



I do find the idea of a crowded society a fascinating one, and rigid societal norms take on heightened importance in that circumstance. Contrast the American expression, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," to the Japanese expression, "the nail that sticks out gets pounded." It makes sense that, on an overpopulated Earth, culture would favor conformity and sticking to the center of the bell curve.

But Troublemakers is boring, so even a good premise can't save it. And with that, the April 1960 Galaxy comes to an unsatisfying end.

Twilight Zone is on tonight. Let's see if that improves my outlook. I've got a four-week summary coming up soon.
---

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!

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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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...

---

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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Sorry about the wait, friends, but I promise to make it up to you. I had a lovely night at the drive-in that precluded my fingers hitting the typewriter keys, but I'll have movies to discuss in short order as a result.

In the meantime, let's wrap up this month's Astounding. shall we? After all, new issues come out in just a couple of days, and I have to have the boards clear before pressing on.


(illustrated by Martinez)

George O. Smith, science fiction's A-lister of latin descent, turns out a fine story for animal lovers with History Repeats. In the far future, canis familiar has been given enhanced intelligence to rival that of humanity's, but their loyalty to their bipedal companions remains undiminished. In this tale, Terran agent, Peter, and his furry companion, Buregarde, are sent to Xanabar, a sort of latter-day Byzantium, to rescue a kidnapped damsel in distress. It's worth reading just for Buregarde--Smith always writes a fun, poetic story.


(illustrated by van Dongen)

Operation Haystack, by Frank Herbert, is an interesting political thriller set about a thousand years from now. It involves a centuries-old plot by the descendants of nomadic Arabs to seize political control of the galaxy. What makes the story special is that the orchestrators of the plot are women--and they pretty much win in the end. That said, it's a little disappointing that these powerful women generally rule through their husbands, who hold the political offices (though the women pull the strings). I'd like to think that the future lies in the equality of the sexes rather than the eternal struggle, with one side or the other side enjoying supremacy for a while. Still, I suppose Herbert's is as plausible a future as any, and at least the women are getting their say in it.


(NASA photo)

Philip Latham's Disturbing Sun is written in the form of an interview, the kind of transcription you often find in NASA press releases. It's one of those non-non-fiction pieces, and it is not un-clever. Psychologist Dr. Niemand describes the untoward effects increased sunspot activity has on the psyches of people during the sunlit hours. Given that we still don't know what sunspots really are (well, we know they are cool spots, but we don't know why they exist or how they're made), I suppose Latham's fancies are to disprove. Interestingly, Latham (who appears in the story as the interviewer) is actually the alter-ego of real-life astronomer Robert Richardson; Richardson was even the technical advisor on Destination: Moon, so I imagine he knows whereof he speaks. Even if you don't buy the sunspot/neurosis connection (I doubt Richardson does either), the style is captured with verisimilitude and is a fun read.


(illustrated by Summers)

Last up is Hex by Larry M. Harris. This is a story I would have expected to find in Fantasy & Science Fiction (that's a compliment) dealing as it does with witchcraft, a do-gooder welfare worker with fine intentions but creepy, eldritch methods, a scheming Russian ex-patriate who wants to bilk the system rather than be magically compelled to find work, and a gypsy witch in over her head. Interesting, whimsical, disturbing. Good stuff.

Gosh, where does that leave us? I guess this really wasn't a bad book, all told. 3.5 stars? Worth getting, particularly if you want to catch Dorsai in serial form.

Next up: The last issue of Satellite! Stay tuned!

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Now that you've all read Despoilers of the Golden Empirer, I imagine you'll want to know my thoughts.

I feel as if I waited an inordinate amount of time for the shoe to drop only to be hit in the ear with a wet sock.

As I read Garrett's piece, I kept thinking to myself, "All right. This is clearly modeled on Pizarro's trek. What's he going to do with it?" Was he going to reveal his feelings about intolerant imperialism, either favorably or unfavorably? Was his protagonist going to bring about the ironic ruin of the father Empire through hyper-inflation? I mean, what's the point of an analogy without a point?

And then I got to the end, and there was no analogy at all. It was the literal story, and the only reason one might think it was supposed to be science fiction was the fact that appeared in a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction.

Perhaps Garrett's work was supposed to be a dig against inferior science fiction. After all, H.L. Gold opened up Galaxy by denigrating the "space western." Maybe this piece was made to show how easy it is to dress up non-science fiction as science fiction with the minimum of trappings.

Somehow, I don't think so. I think this was an early April Fool's prank, and not a very clever one. Here Garrett was leading us to think there was going to be a trick ending to the story... and there actually wasn't (though he might argue that was the trick all along).

Oh well.



The rest of the book is pretty unimpressive, too. George O. Smith's Instinct, is about the abduction of an Earther by aliens who have tried seven times to smash humanity back into the stone age only to have us come back as world-beaters every time. The aliens want to know what makes us tick so they can stop us once and for all or peacefully integrate us into their galactic federation. Their plan backfires in the biggest of ways. Not badly written, but not much of a story.

Silverbob's Translation Error is really bad. It's not the concept--meddling alien returns to Earth 50 years after having ended the Great War early hoping to find a backward but peaceful world. Instead, he finds that none of his historical changes took, and the resultant world (our world) is on the brink of nuclear war and the threshold of space. I like alternate histories. The problem with this one is there are about three pages of story and ten more pages of repetition. It is poorly written, repetitive stuff with a conclusion so obvious, one wonders why it was written at all. This is the worst story, technically, that I've read in Astounding. Interestingly enough, my 17 year-old nephew, David, loved this story. There's no accounting for taste.

The only bright spot (aside from part 2 of Murray Leinster's serial, which I have not yet read, and which I shan't review until next month along with part 3) is Algis Budrys' The Man who did not Fit. It's another in the genre where an advanced civilization has figured out how to determine the ideal employment for each of its citizens. Of course, the few who do not fit in to the system are destined to rule. Seen it. Read it. Many times. But this one is nicely done with a rich setting: a conquered Earth at the crossroads of interesting interstellar politics. The protagonist is the son of the Terran government-in-exile (a bit of self-insertion by the author, whose father was the consul general of the Lithuanian government-in-exile after the Soviet take-over). Not a brilliant story, but a good one, and it shines in comparison.

Thus, excluding the Leinster, the issue barely manages to cross the 2 star mark. I suppose that if you enjoyed Part 1 of The Pirates of Ersatz, you should pick up this issue for Part 2, but there's precious little else for you in the March 1959 Astounding.

Happy Valentine's Day, by the way. If you want to recommend any appropriately romantic science fiction, I'm all ears!





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