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It had to happen some day--Astounding has pulled itself out of a nose dive, for now.

Last time, I discussed the most excellent serial, Deathworld. Still, a single good serial does not a good issue make. Thankfully, Campbell has at long last, and after a merciless rough patch, delivered a quite readable book.

J.T. McIntosh can always be relied upon to provide entertainment; his lead novella, Immortality for Some is no exception. In the future, society's most worthy, the 10% with sufficient talents and/or accomplishments to make the cut, are allowed to undergo "Rebirth." This process erases all memories and restores the body to an adolescent stage of physical development. The special person gets to live again in a sort of cloned reincarnation.

But what happens when one of the world's intellectual elite doesn't want to cheat death? This is a world that doesn't want to lose a cultural treasure, and it takes an exceptional person, indeed, to evade Rebirth.

Strongly written, with the first half written from the point of view of an aged woman pianist of superlative talent giving her last concert before Rebirth; the second stars the aforementioned fellow—a seemingly unremarkable caretaker whom the musician befriends. It's worth your time.

And now, I shall surprise my audience by saying with a straight face that I actually enjoyed Randall Garrett's contribution to this issue: In Case of Fire.... In this far future, the sprawling Terran Empire cannot afford to send its best and brightest as ambassadors to less-esteemed stations. The story opens on a remote, unimportant world whose embassy is staffed with barely functional neurotics. Yet in that insanity lies the key to ending an interstellar war. Garrett manages to be somewhat clever and to not offend. Quite an accomplishment for him.

Chris Anvil's Shotgun Wedding is another of his unremarkable space-fillers about an alien race whose plan to disrupt humanity by flooding the market with clairvoyant television backfires. One bit I liked, however, was the depiction of pen pals from different countries using their television screens to correspond across thousands of miles. When the world is finally wired into OMNIVAC, decades from now, I imagine we'll see such a phenomenon.

Editor Campbell has been trying to make a go of the slick non-fiction section of his magazine for several months. This issue is the first with readable articles, the first of which is Mars: A Summing Up by R.S. Richardson (perhaps better known by his nom d'plume, Philip Latham). Mr. Richardson does an admirable, if slightly dry, job of comprehensively summarizing the current state of knowledge regarding the mysterious Red Planet.



We've enjoyed three relatively close approaches to Mars over the past six years, the likes of which will not recur until 1971, by which time we will probably have sent at least one probe to investigate close-up. As a result, scientists have amassed a bonanza of information. Yet it is still unknown whether or not Mars has life, though if it does, it must be of a very low order. The most exciting work has been done by the astronomer A. Dolfuss, who has determined the nature of Martian soil to examination of its polarization (the non-randomness of the angle of vibration of light that reflects from it). That we've learned so much about Mars is, of course, a marvel in and of itself. To quote the author, "To tell anything about a body that never comes closer than thirty-five million miles taxes your ingenuity to the utmost."

Dr. Asimov was also tapped to provide an article after a long hiatus from Astounding's pages. Microdesign for Living, about the biochemical synthesis of proteins, is not one of his better pieces, which is to say that is readable but not memorable.

Poul Anderson (as his Astounding alter-ego Winston P. Sanders) wraps things up with a short piece called The Barrier Moment. Scientists may not know why one can't go back in time more than three years, but a philospher believes he has the horrifying answer. Perhaps there isn't any time to go back to...

All told, the March 1960 Astounding clocks in at a respectable three-and-a-half stars. That is the best this magazine has been since I started rating the issues in January 1959. I sincerely hope Campbell can keep this up!

---

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 this month’s F&SF editorial, editor Doug Mills reports that he’s gotten a number of complaints regarding the oversaturation of stories in the post-apocalyptic, time travel, and deal-with-the-Devil genre.  Mr. Mills’ response was that any genre can be oversaturated, but quality will always be quality, and F&SF will publish quality stories in whatever genre it pleases. In fact, there are stories dealing with all three of the "oversaturated" genres in this issue.

What do you think?  I have to agree with Mr. Mills.  Personally, I can never get enough of After the Bomb stories, time travel is often a hoot, and the Devil features in relatively few tales these days, in my experience.   But I’d like your opinion on the matter.
I had not realized that Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol story had taken up so much of the current issue; there isn’t much left to review.  There is some goodness, however:

Rosebud, by Ray Russell, is teleological nonsense in a single-pager.  Damon Knight’s book review column deals with horror, and is interesting, as usual.  I wish he were still helming IF (come to think of it, I just received this month’s copy… I wonder who’s in charge.)

Kit Reed’s Empty Nest is well nigh unreadable, but I think it’s a horror about being eaten by anthropoid birds.

Obituary, by Isaac Asimov, is actually quite good, and one of his few stories from the viewpoint of a woman.  It involves domestic abuse, a truly evil (yet in a plausible and everyday sort of way) villain, and a satisfactory, grisly come-uppance.  I hope the good doctor is not writing from experience in this one…

Finally, we’ve got Pact, by Poul Anderson (under his pseudonym, Winston P. Sanders). This is the aforementioned Devilish Deal story, and it is my favorite story of the issue. I hear you gasp--an Anderson story is my favorite? Yes! It's clever all the way through, this story of a demon summoning a human in the hopes of consumating a contract. Fine stuff.

My apologies for the shortness of this installment. I'll make it up next time. Perhaps.

P.S. One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction so much is the clever gadgets. In Asimov's story, the villain uses a "desktop computer" with some sort of typewriter keys attached. Boy, would that be a fine tool to have, and I've never seen the like in a story before. Something to look forward to in a decade or two?





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Good gravy! Two good Andersons in a row?

This month's Astounding opens with Wherever you are, by "Winston P. Sanders." If it wasn't the swashbuckling yet science-adoring prose, it was the heroine protagonist's name and ethnicity (Ulrica Ormstad--couldn't get more Swedish!) that suggested Mr. Sanders might well be the well-known nordic science fiction writer, Poul Anderson. A quick checking of sources confirmed the suspicion.

Well, it's really good. The fierce soldier, Major Ormstad, gets to be the viewpoint character for half the novelette, whereupon her meek and brainy shipmate, Didymus Mudge, becomes the reader's eyes. Both have become marooned on an alien planet, an ocean away from the local Terran base. Ship's instruments have been destroyed, and constant cloud cover and a lack of a magnetic pole preclude navigation. It is up to Mudge to puzzle out a way home, and up to Ormstad to deal with the fierce mini-Tyrannosaurs so as to secure transportation. My favorite line of the story goes to Ormstad, who initially thinks little of Mudge yet deigns to speak to him anyway:

"For one honest human conversation, in any human language, she would trade her soul. Make it Swedish, and she'd throw in her sidearm."



On to the next story. When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was John Dough and the Cherub, by L. Frank Baum, sort of a Wizard of Oz side story. In one of the chapters, the story's heroes (John Dough and Chick the Cherub) are captured and threatened with execution. However, this execution is delayed when Chick the Cherub begins to tell the tale of "The Silver Pig." So entranced are the heroes' captors that they delay the execution every night so as to hear more of the pig's adventures. Of course, the story is designed to be endless so as to forestall the execution long enough for John Dough and the Cherub to escape.

I learned much later that this had been the plot to 1,001 Arabian Nights, and the trope has been used a myriad of times since then. Usually, the format is that sentence of death will follow some religiously or legally prescribed ritual, with the sentenced to have some choice as to the format of the ritual. Virtually every story has the same format--the reader is informed that our hero has worked out the puzzle to prolong his/her life, but we don't get to find out the solution until the end. Since classic science fiction favors the "gotcha" ending, I've seen this kind of story a lot in my literary travels.



So it is with Now Inhale, by Eric Frank Russell. I didn't much care for his last story, but this one is fine. A Terran is imprisoned for suspected espionage on an alien world. Condemned to death, he is allowed one final game of his choice before strangulation. The trick is to prolong the game, to neither win nor lose. The record was 17 days. Our hero beats this record a dozen-fold and is prepared to play the game forever, if need be. Can you guess the game?

I'm afraid the rest of the ish meanders into mediocrity (which is perhaps above par for Astounding these days. Chris Anvil's The Sieve is nothing special--on a brand new colony world, half the pioneers take up smoking the local marijuana and become lazy and shiftless. The rest of the colonists decide to let them starve over the winter. Reefer madness, indeed.

Gordy Dickson turns in a disappointing performance with The Catch, in which a galactic federation fairly begs humanity to retake the reins after thousands of years of retirement. It seems those darned aliens just can't stand the burden of leadership. And it turns out they got all of their technology from humanity the last time we were ascendant. Poor little primitive aliens.

Definitely a story after Campbell's heart.

Finally, we have Set a Thief by H. Chandler Elliott, a Canadian brain doctor whose stuff I've never before read. It's an interesting first contact story, though told in a flip off-hand manner I didn't much care for. Is it a set of thieves' tools or a lady's handbag? And interesting case of convergent evolution, to be sure.

The rest of the ish is the final installment of The Pirats of Ersatz so there's nothing more to report for this month. My hands are throbbing, so I may take a break until March 24. I'll have lots to write about by then, though.

Thanks for reading!

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