There some convention information to start off with this week. First, most you probably already heard that LibertyCon had to change it’s date and venue. It’s now the last weekend of June in the Marriott. I’m sure that there are a number of people negatively affected by the change, but fortunately, I’m not one of them.
The other change is that I just got added to ConCoction in Cleveland next weekend. It works out conveniently for my trip to Gulf Wars, actually, as I’ll stay in Pittsburgh during the following week before heading down to Hattiesburg.
I hope that by the time I leave I can send Chris Kennedy a full draft of The Feeding of Sorrows. I’m around 100k words on it, but better yet, I’ve been cleaning out a bunch of plot holes and mistakes. I’m about 2/3rds of the way doing that, and this process always adds a bunch of words as I realize I missed things.
The step after that is the grammer/spelling/crutch word cleanup. Then it’s off to the editor.
Following that I’ll be working on None Call Me Mother and a couple of short stories. One is a follow on “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril, this one with an aeronautical aspect. The other is a future of war kind of thing.
Lots of stuff to do to meet deadlines, which is really nice. Also, I’ve been averaging well over 1000 words per day in 2019. More like 1500 counting every day. It’s nice to be back into the flow, even though I wasn’t feeling well this week.
With that, I’m going to relax with the sweetie and kitties tonight and get back to the grind tomorrow. Have a great week.
Current Playlist Song
Anthrax’s Skeleton in the Closet. I’ve found myself really getting into Anthrax as I get older. Actually, I’ve found my tastes get harder and more metal in general. Anyway, it’s a great song.
Quote of the Week
On this day in 532, the Emperor Justinian began building one of his greatest legacies, the Hagia Sophia. Of this building, Procopius had this to day:
For it soars to a height to match the sky, and as if surging up from amongst the other buildings it stands on high and looks down upon the remainder of the city, adorning it, because it is a part of it, but glorying in its own beauty, because, though a part of the city and dominating it, it at the same time towers above it to such a height that the whole city is viewed from there as from a watch-tower.”
-Procopius, De Aedificiis
It’s the first Mag Review of 2019. I hope you enjoy these. I certainly have fun doing them.
By the way, I’m going to start something new. While I love these magazines, I don’t want to keep them all forever. So I will start giving them away at certain panels at various conventions. I’ll ask a trivia question and the winner gets it. I’ll also give out hints in my weekly update the week before those events. Stay tuned for ChattaCon.
Whatever else this issue contains, I love this cover. Rockets, stars, emotion. I love it.
It also has a fantastic ad on the inside of the cover:
Live in the days of the Galactic Empire…
Live on the ships of the first Interstellar Expedition…
Live – in a million could-be years, on a thousand may-be worlds.
The hope and attainments – the strivings and ultimate defeats – of all the future years of endless time.
We’ve a Time Machine for sale – a simple little machine of paper and ink that, coupled with your own mind, can soar down the years of Eternity.
It’s a small thing – and the doorway to Infinity and Eternity .
Ok, you got me. Sign me up now!
The issue starts with John W. Campbell’s editorial Elementary, My Dear Watson. This discusses how man is beginning to use a variety of elements that had been difficult to use up to that point, including rare earth elements. It was cool, but I’d it’d be especially interesting to someone who actually deals with such things to get a perspective from 67 years ago.
Next is the first story of the issue, Space Fear by James H. Schmitz. This was a puzzling story to me. It had so many elements that I like, but it seemed disjointed and I never really got into the flow. It’s about an agent of the Confederacy of Vega who pilots an intelligent ship fixing problems in the galaxy. That’s a fantastic start, right?
Well, the problem is that the story sends her on a number of missions all at once. The first thing is a mission to try and trap an alien race that sends ships in that are so far advanced they come into their space, look around, and then leave without hindrance.
Trapping them would have been a great story. Instead, that’s sort of the prologue. While she makes progress, more progress than anyone had before, they send her on another mission. With it’s own set of exposition. Then another.
It’s so jumbled I’ll freely admit I couldn’t really read the story well. I kept getting jarred out of it and skimming a bit until something caught my eye. I tried four times to thoroughly read it, and it’s clearly beyond me. I’ve liked Schmitz before, but this story kept dancing around at the edge of my attention, always seeming to push me away at some point.
A full space opera novelette wasted. That is, in these magazines, a true tragedy. Cut it into separate fast-paced stories and you got a tiddly little book along the lines of the Retief adventures or the novel M*A*S*H.
Next we move on to Philosophical Corps by E. B. Cole. This was Cole’s first release, and he didn’t write much more besides it. It’s too bad, because I think he had a goodly amount of talent.
A side note. This story starts off poorly in the magazine. There’s a longish excerpt from a future book that’s pure exposition. It has two problems. One it’s longer than perhaps works for a short story. Two, and far more important, the excerpt was printed in the magazine in a smaller font. Like difficult to read smaller font.
But if you get past that you get another story that has so much potential. The Philosophical Corps are the people who go to planets where the inhabitants are low tech and have had criminals and slavers set themselves up as gods to steal their wealth and gain slaves. Not only do they have to rescue the indigenous population from the criminals, they have to do so on a way to keep the planet growing as it has without too much corrupting of its way of life.
Man, this could be an awesome series of stories. Tap-dancing through the challenge of understanding a myriad of alien civilizations while facing high-tech organized crime? If you ever see me write a book entitled E.B. Cole, PCI you’ll know it’s about a hard-boiled detective going from planet to planet fighting interstellar crime bosses trying to be gods.
Of course, you might say Stargate already did that. You’d be right. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it, too.
I will also say that had Cole written more of these, he would have written stronger stories. This one is good, but somewhat direct. He released a later version of this story along with two other adventures in that universe in 1962, and I expect those are all stronger.
Still, this is a B/B+ story with tons of untapped potential in the universe.
Next we come to a skillfully written story, …Of the People… by Morton Klass. Klass was an anthropologist, and not surprisingly this story deals with the study of a people. Like E.B. Cole, he didn’t write much and again, it’s a shame.
This story starts out in a strange way, taking us to a place I didn’t care for initially. Basically, it’s about the President of Earth in 1975 talking about how he earned that title starting in 1955. He’s actually an alien who, with his advanced technological and cultural was able to unify the Earth.
He was actually sent here by his race because the Galactic Federation did not know what to do with this planet. We had achieved atomic power, but had not settled down. So they put us in quarantine for a while so that they could take a look at us later before possibly exterminating us.
The species that the President comes from could not let that happen without trying to help, so they sent him. Understand that this is tripping all of my buttons, and not in a good way. I may be an idiot, but I’d rather fail trying stupid stuff than having someone swoop in and protect me from making the attempt. Let me touch the hot stove and find out it freaking hurts, if you please.
But Klass is tricky and I ended up really liking this story. You see, the President has discovered that the entire council that helps him rule the earth consists of aliens sent by worlds who have just as much empathy as his. They’re all here to help.
However, the quarantine is about to end. The Federation is likely to send them all away. Not only will they rip away this world government, but they will expose that it’s composed entirely of aliens. Yes, the flying saucers did come to control us.
The President knows he can’t allow this to happen, so he confronts the council. No matter where they came from before, he and the councilors are now from Earth. Now they have to defend it from the Federation.
That’s where the story ends, so we don’t know if they succeeded or not, which is fine. A full answer would take a novel, in my mind, and I think this is stronger by Klass letting the reader think he’s going one way and then pushing into what is clearly an oncoming train full of adventure and politics.
His technique is amazing. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a story I disliked so much at the start come right around and use my distaste like that. Here, let’s challenge your independence, then let’s make it something we can root for. Brilliant.
Next we get to Casting Office by Henderson Starke (really Kris Neville). This story has an interesting premise. Basically it’s discussing the plight of actors seeking a job, along with stagehands, directors, and the like. It becomes clear that the author is God, who has made a universe of strange physical laws and outlandish events. He wants a place to exercise his whimsy and also to retreat to so he can become happy, but he also has this idea that the story will eventually be that of overcoming great trials.
Unfortunately, ratings plummet essentially. Critics lambaste his work. Eventually the directors bring in a script doctor over the author’s vehement objections. They turn his tale of heroism over the millennia into a horror movie that panders to those viewers who want violence.
Fascinating premise indeed, but not well executed. It needed more detail and less top-down discussion, I think. For example, the story talks about the critics blasting it, but never has a paragraph that talks about specific issues. It leaves the story too vague and we’re not invested in it.
There’s a solid scene where the author is in a role as a wealthy man enjoying good food, driving on beautiful days, the company of lovely women, and fine drink. Then he’s ripped from it by the director in order to face the music from the critics. That was great. It’s the only such scene, really. Oh, there are hints here and there of odd props like millions of extra bugs for England in 1869, but there’s just not enough of this quirkiness.
After that comes Experimentum Crucisby Andrew MacDuff (E.B. Fyfe). This is a solid story with a fun twist at the end. In it we have a human visiting an alien planet that is at something like our technological level of the 1970s.
The human is there negotiating a variety of mineral and resource rights on the moons of the system. The leader of the aliens is not stupid, though, and he is wary of the negotiations. His suspicions are increased when the human finds out about a particular moon with high radiation readings and has his car salesmen tendency come to the forefront.
Basically, the alien sets it up that if the human lands on the moon, he’ll come out ahead by owning the sponsorship rights. And, if the aliens’ belief that it’s a moon made of negative matter, “there will be a beautiful flare-up to prove my claim” (p. 97).
Gotta love the bad guy getting his comeuppance.
Following is the normal In Times to Come description of what’s in the next issue. Included is one of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime stories, so I’ll look forward to unearthing that issue eventually.
Then we get High Threshold by Alan Nourse. I’ve reviewed Nourse before and I will look forward to seeing him again. He writes good stories, though not yet a great story.
This one starts out very well. While experimenting with temperatures around a thousandth of a Kelvin, researchers discover an entrance to a completely alien place. The five people that have been sent into the entrance have all died of fear. The only hint they have is a tennis ball, which went into the entrance and came out completely reversed. The fuzzy part was on the inside and the rubber on the out. The same thing happened to a pencil, which returned as a sliver of wood sheathed by graphite.
The answer they come up with is to find someone so completely able to reject earlier data and accept new data, so adaptable, that they can survive long enough for their mind to adapt.
They find someone and send her in there. She goes in and realizes what’s going on, but realizes that she cannot explain the differences to the researchers because they simply have no way to understand. Her solution is to find a newborn baby and raise it in both worlds so that it can relate both universes instinctively.
This is all good stuff. The end isn’t as strong, though. She also realizes that she is going to have to trick the researchers into letting her try the baby idea. She also knows that she can now see how to get into that universe at any time. She plays as if she’s insane, and then escapes through the dimensions.
I sort of felt unsatisfied, almost as if I’d ordered chicken fried steak and there was no actual steak inside the breading. The breading, gravy, and mashed potatoes all tasted good, but it was missing the substance. Maybe the story should have been longer. Maybe a completely different twist that I’m not thinking of. I don’t know. Still, it should be noted I was sucked in reading this story and it is only at the end that I realized I wasn’t satisfied.
Next, in a half-page blank area, Campbell talks about what he looks for in the letters that he’ll respond to in the Brass Tacks section. He’s looking for things that are broad and general and will have some connection to the majority who read Astounding.
One wonders how many times he was nagged for not putting up a convention announcement for Wecanhandle50peopletotalacon or letters announcing someone has a cool pet rock for sale.
The next story is Protected Species by E.B. Fyfe writing under his own name this time. This is an oft-published story, meaning a bunch of readers liked it. I’m one of them.
It’s about surveyors and xenoarchaeologists on a nearby planet studying ruins of a long-dead alien civilization. The ruins show advanced technology, but also damage from explosions and war instead of earthquakes and natural disasters. There is no evidence that the people who made those ruins exist anymore, except perhaps a species that might have devolved from intelligence in the wake of wars.
The species provides some of the workers with a bit sport. They’re fast and hard to catch, and there’s not much else to do on the planet and their morale is generally fairly low. Then an inspector comes to look at their progress. He sees these hunts and he is bothered by them, especially with the likelihood that they are intelligent, even if devolved.
So he arranges to have them named a protected species, preventing future hunts. After so doing, he takes one last pass around the ruins, going specifically to a place where he had run into one of the natives, which had prompted his work to name them protected.
There, another native awaits him. Instead of running, or throwing rocks, or anything likes that, he greets the inspector by name. Apparently they have been watching this world for some time. His job is to watch for the revival of the original species on this world, and he is quite pleased to see the inspector name the species on this world protected. For, after all, that is what they actually did for humans after destroying this world humans inhabited. He’s very happy to see us finally returning to the stars. Perhaps, soon, we won’t be a protected species ourselves.
Fun twist, and an excellent job of twisting our humanocentric point of view against us. That’s two stories by Fyfe in this issue, and both are good to very good with good twists. I’ll keep an eye out for him.
Next is an article Notes on Nuclear Radiation by Edwin N. Kaufman. He didn’t write much for any SF magazine. He appears to have been an aeronautical researcher for Douglas and Lockheed, but I can find little more about him.
Anyway, like Campbell’s editorial to open this issue, I found this article moderately interesting, but obviously outdated. Again, i think this might be fascinating to someone in that field and interested in its history.
Jack Williamson is next with The Man from Outside. Williamson is one of the great fathers of SF of course, and I him a lot. I would expect a sizable fraction of you readers know he’s the guy who coined “Terraforming” but I had not realized until reading up on him today.
Anyway, this story is about an alien unit dedicated to watch Earth and ensure that its society is not corrupted by other aliens. The commander of the unit is hard, harsh man. A fresh idealistic lieutenant comes to him and asks to involve himself in the world below. The commander refuses. The lieutenant persists, finally convincing the commander something must be done, but the commander stalls and delays. Then, before the mission is done, he brings the lieutenant back.
The lieutenant is anguished. He wants to help some dissidents kill Stalin, who he realizes only exists because of outside contamination and who is an abomination. The commander stops him, and the dissidents are destroyed because they make a mistake designing a fusion bomb.
In the ensuing exchange, we discover that the outside influence that allowed Stalin to exist is the commander in his youth, as an idealistic lieutenant. He met Lenin, was impressed, and let slip some advanced knowledge about revolutions and the like, allowing for the Soviet Union and now Stalin.
He has stayed on this post during the decades since. He has refused promotion above his current grade and re-assignment to a better station. He knows what he’s done and his atonement is to remain here and prevent a re-occurrence. Now, because of the idealistic lieutenant’s actions, the balance is endangered. The lieutenant must now take up the commander’s mantle and “watch against the sort of men we used to be” (p. 143)
Where should duty and idealism meet? What’s the balance. It’s a tough question because unintended consequences are always lying in wait. Great story.
Last is Brass Tacks, the letters to the editor. There’s a lot of discussion about previous letters in this issue. Sort of like a monthly opportunity to reply on Twitter. The only difference is that the responses here are well-written with thought behind their premise.
The one topic I think remains relevant is the discussion of what language should an author use in SF/F. It’s a tough one sometimes, and I try to strike a balance. Language in another world would be completely different with different foundations. We would all have to be linguists to understand them.
Obviously, this is what Tolkien did. Yet he knew he could not write a tale in Elvish. He was also aware that the common speech was not English. He put enough of the other language in to give the flavor of Sindarin or Quenya or whatever. I think that is what we must do to give the taste of an alien or fantasy world.
But there’s a balance, and I’m not sure I’ve achieved it. I will occasionally perform Old English poetry, usually the Wanderer or Beowulf. Mostly, I do this in modern English, but I regularly insert a few lines here and there of Old English to let the sound resonate.
It’s a tough thing to accurately re-create a medieval performer. On the one hand, they had to connect with the audience so they could make money or have a place to sleep and eat. On the other, a true performance should be in the original language, but little else sends an audience away than reciting poetry in a language they don’t understand. Might be better to recite Vogon poetry. Flipping languages back and forth is my best compromise.
I don’t know if I have the answers, but it’s something I dwell on probably too often. If the language takes me out of the moment, then I know it’ll take some readers out, too. My problem is that I also know I use words that flow with me, but not with others. It’s a challenge, and no doubting.
Anyway, overall this was a grade B issue. All the stories were quality, even if I didn’t like the execution or some other quibble. There weren’t instant classics to me, but still I’ll reread a few of these someday.
Next week I’ll review the Analog from February, 1963. This one looks promising with a Gordon Dickson and H. Beam Piper.
This week I’m reading through the Galaxy, Vol. 20, No. 2, of December, 1961. It’s got a story by Poul Anderson that I’m looking forward to, and I always wonder what Willy Ley had to say. Also of note is that Frederik Pohl is the editor, and of course I always think of him as a writer. I loved the Heechee series.
As I grabbed the links for Pohl and the Heechee series, I noticed that Gateway was also originally published in Galaxy starting in November of 1976. That issue was edited by Jim Baen. Ah, the fascinating trail of science fiction publishing.
Anyway, the initial editorial is by Pohl. It’s a fun one about the size of the galaxy and the possibility of alien life. Also, he talks about some planetary conjunctions.
There are all sorts of time capsule moments when reading these books and Pohl provides one. He says that Jupiter is “monarch of more than a dozen moons. (p. 7)” Right now we know of 79 moons around Jupiter. Yep, that’s definitely more than a dozen.
The issue’s first story is The Day After Doomsday by Poul Anderson. The story begins with a starship returning after a three-year mission to find the Earth destroyed. Carl Donnan is the one man who keeps his head, barely, and he tries to lead the 300 men of the ship’s crew to find those who killed his world and maybe even find some of humanity’s other spaceships. If he gets dead lucky he can find one with women on it and humanity can survive.
The story is fantastic. I’d be on pins and needles waiting for the next issue to show up in my mailbox. There are a couple of data dumps, but the rest of it is fast-paced and full of action. Aliens and politics. Ship battles. A mystery. Clues hidden here and there. And the possibility of answers more deadly than the crimes.
Fun stuff. I’m looking forward to the conclusion.
Next we have Miriam Allen deFord’sOh, Rats. DeFord is not an author I’ve read before, though she wrote in both of my two favorite fictional areas, SF/F and mystery.
This is a twist on the Flowers for Algernon idea. SK540 is a super-rat engineered in a lab. Unfortunately, the engineering was too successful. He understands what is going on, leads an escape from the lab of his choice of the other rats, and then takes them to the house of one of the scientists.
Then he leads a fairly diabolical campaign against the scientist and his wife. He tricks them into befriending him and keeping him secret for the moment. Then he reveals that he has impregnated two other lab rats and the scientist realizes that it’s a war.
But he realizes it too late. SK540 has used rat poison (nice irony from deFord there) to kill the scientist and his wife. The story ends with the note that it’s the tale of the founder of their race and the end of humans.
This is a great story in many ways. I love the twist at the end. Yet, I’ve sat here for a bit to figure out why I detest it and I think I have the answer. SK540 wins because the wife recognizes him as a person and treats him nicely. I don’t like characters that take advantage of people being nice, so I simply can’t want him to win, not that way.
However, despite my dislike of the result, I can’t help but admire the quality of the work.
We move on to Willy Ley’s monthly essay. This one focuses on Dragons and Hot Air Balloons. In it, he talks about the possibility that the Chinese candle balloons are ancient. His argument is that they are not because Western travelers would have spoken about them prior to the 18th-century. I’m not sure I buy his argument completely, but that’s mostly because I wonder what research has occurred since 1961. He talks about the possibility that dragon banners might have been early balloons, but dismisses that too. He does so based on weight/volume ratio of the long tail.
His last segment discusses some of the biggest guns in history. He details the ones we know of and if they fired. Interesting stuff.
Then we move to Joy Leache’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. I don’t know much about her. She only had three stories published and I can’t find much about her on the internet.
This is a cute little story that where an account administrator from a promotions company is sent to a small planet to figure out something it can export so it can join the Galactic Empire. They have to have something they can contribute before getting accepted.
The problem is they have no resources. They aren’t artists. Their planet isn’t terribly attractive. As a species, the Felicians are attractive. They look like leprechauns, and they could get by setting up a tourist industry to take advantage of that. However, that would be demeaning and likely to lead to their extinction.
The get the promoter drunk, and while he’s drunk his steno, the real hero of the story, manages to figure out that the Felicians are excellent cobblers. So they set up a method to sell the shoes and it seems like the problem is at an end.
However, the Felician shoes don’t wear out and they only produce one style per species. Any others would be inefficient and demeaning for the leprechauns. That means the sales dry up within a few years.
So they go back to Felix to figure out a new plan. While there, the steno breaks a tooth. The Felicians don’t have teeth, ergo no dentists, so she has to go elsewhere. When she comes back she realizes that the Felicians, with their small size and skilled, dexterous fingers, would make excellent dentists.
It’s a cute story, but limited. It’s the kind of thing that suggests a promising author-in-training. Unfortunately, the was Leache’s last published story that I know of. Too bad.
Next is Algis Budrys’sWall of Crystal, Eye of Night. All I can say is wow! This was an amazing story about a media mogul getting to the top of the heap, so he thinks. However, his rival has gotten advanced tech from the ancient and dying Martian race to ruin him.
The tech essentially creates a sort of virtual reality, but with less on the virtual and more on the reality. It allows someone to essentially program a person’s future within broad guidelines. In this case, the mogul’s rival curses him with an adventure that will end with sorrow and pain.
Much of the story is the mogul trying to escape this doom. He kills his rival, sort of. However, the Martian tech keeps him alive as a sort of zombie to follow the mogul and push him into wilder and wilder bad decisions. To ruin his life. Very Shakespearean.
The Martian tech succeeds and the mogul dies at the end of the story. However, he leaves behind the seeds of his revenge by using the tech on the guild agent who eventually kills him. These agents are surgically altered to make incorruptible by removing their ability to feel, or taste, or enjoy much of anything. It’s sort of like a Blade Runner thing where they are changed into replicants and can’t ever go back to being human.
The mogul’s revenge is to change this one back. Suddenly, he can feel centuries of things he’s seen and done. And now he goes back to get his vengeance and the mogul’s.
Fantastic. Would make a great movie. And, as you can see from the ISFDB, it’s been republished a number of times. Find it if you can.
To fill out the final page of Wall of Crystal, there’s an ad for one of those book clubs. I could get 6 books for $2, including stuff from Asimov, Leinster, Farmer, Anderson, Aldiss, van Vogt, and a bunch of others. Here, take my money.
“Inventive” jumped to mind as this story is about an inventor who is greater than da Vinci. At the end of his life, he laments about all the things he meant to improve but never did. He has done amazing things, like wiring Philadelphia for electricity in 1799, but there’s some much else to do. So, he invents a time machine and goes back to himself while his younger self was hawking.
He lays out to his younger self a huge amount of information, to which that version of himself listens intently. The younger version puts away the joys of hawks and falcons, and invents at an incredible pace. Even gets us to Mars by 1830. However, when he is 85, he curses himself for being an idiot as he has never quite gotten around to corporeal immortality. He decides to go back to yet another younger version and impress upon him the importance of immortality to allow him to achieve all that he wants and needs to.
But this younger version is distracted by the hawk and the falcon and the joys of life. Now he is remembered for a number of useful things like a safer nutmeg grater and better wedge for splitting logs. And this one never figures out the time machine and never can do anything about all the things he meant to do someday.
Very good story, but with a limitation. It’s oddly structured in that it is almost pure exposition. This structure works, though, and you get caught up into it. It needs more of the main character doing, though, to become great.
But I don’t think this was her best story. She was Wiccan, and this story is a melange of Christian, Norse, Wiccan, Zoroastrian, Native American, and other mythologies combined with an evil time traveling company from 3000 AD fighting over when and how to use electricity.
The main character is a reverend who wants to return to simpler, more traditional Christmas’s. One way to do that is to avoid using electric lights and rely on candles, firelight, etc. His wife is beautiful, but she was a spy implanted by the electric company to get him to stop preaching against using electrical lights after dark.
If that all seems complex, it is, and the melange has too many elements. She loves Easter Eggs, and I’ll bet most of what’s in here exists because “So-and-so will love this!” I’m not unfamiliar with the vast majority of the mythology she uses, but it whizzes by so fast I can’t quite connect all the pieces together to make the story really work for me.
I’m also not entirely fond of the ending. In the end, he wins, and a great beings says, “You want an old-time Christmas, you can have it.” The last scene is the reverend, now converted to a Druid, getting ready to sacrifice a number of Christians in honor of the winter solstice. The main character, who is a good man that you root for, then becomes evil. I love endings that aren’t happy.
Had he been the Christian sacrificed and faced his ending with pride and honor, I’d have loved it. He’d have won, though he’d have died. In this case, he’s corrupted into evil through no fault of his own, only the great evil deus ex machina making him murderous. That’s too heavy-handed for me to enjoy.
Next we get to The Watery Wonders of Captain Nemo by Theodore L. Thomas. This is actually a long form review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Thomas’s main criticism is that Jules Verne’s science is awful. He didn’t look for the technology given the submarine advances that had already been made when he wrote the story in 1870. He didn’t double-check the viability of the scientific-sounding things he says in the novel. Furthermore, we may think he advanced submarine science with his ideas, but Thomas points out that what readers think is there is not, actually, there. Batteries for the Nautilus, for example.
However, Thomas loves the way Verne tells stories. He might have missed some tech that was available to him, but he captures us in such a way that even an expert glosses over things. He calls it “non-science,” though a good story.
This story is about a guy who pulled himself up from the gutter, but he goes back from time to time to remind himself what he once was. While there, he meets two men, one large and obvious, and the other so withdrawn as to be almost invisible.
Turns out the withdrawn man is sliding from this universe to the next. He’s not really a part of this place, and this place is not really a part of him. That means that only people who are out of touch of this place, like those on skid row, can even see him. The main character can only see him when he’s visiting skid row, but not when he’s back at his job and real life with a newspaper.
The withdrawn man leaves, saying he’s found some other friends, so he disappears. He comes back to introduce his friend and the friend is terrifying. He has a form that seems to embody a sort of Platonic Ideal of the viewer’s greatest terror. Spiders, snakes, heights, whatever.
The terrifying creature says that’s the way it always goes and the withdrawn man promises to come back with more of them. The main character and the large man hope that the withdrawn man is so connected to the large man that if he cannot connect to the large man, he can’t get back. So the main character helps the large man succeed in society and escape skid row, where the terror lies.
Great story that catches you almost immediately even though there’s not much action, just a vague hint that yanks at your curiosity for a time until you can’t get away.
This was a very good issue. The worst story might simply be the worst because of my taste, and others might find it excellent. To me, that’s a great compliment for magazine.
I decided I wanted to spend time with the family last week instead of reviewing a magazine. I suspect I’ll do that again around Christmas as I had a great Thanksgiving.
Anyway, this week’s magazine review is the Analog of August, 1962. It promises to be an excellent issue with a cover story by , plus other works by James Schmitz, Mack Reynolds, and one of my favorite authors, Randall Garrett. It also has a hilarious ad on the inside cover.
The hilarious ad inside the front cover is for the Remington Rand Microfilm Camera. It talks about how its unfair to SF, because it doesn’t have have enough knobs, doesn’t hum, has no green light, nor does it have an oscilloscope. Plus it weighs in at a svelte 155 pounds.
The first story in the issue is Christopher Anvil’sThe Toughest Opponent. This is an excellent story pitting a solver of problems against a tough test. He is on a planet where the natives can eat virtually anything, meaning they really can’t run out of food. Their population explodes, but they never need to organize past the individual. As individuals, the natives are intelligent. However, he has to face them as an amorphous mob.
What I loved about this story was the solution. He found a native insect that terrified the natives during the day, but which was quiescent at night when the natives hunted them. He could, and did, use the insects as a defense to protect various enclaves around the planet. This worked, but left the situation back where they started.
So he set up these insects in defensive positions that required two or more natives to defeat. Eventually, this forced the natives to start working together, which then began the creation of tribes and larger units.
Someone mentioned that this was their toughest opponent yet, but the hero looks in the mirror and says, that’s our toughest opponent. We forget to think, and that lack of thinking is the root of all our problems. There’s a lot to that.
There was another striking quote. “The trouble with life, Towers, is that it presents an endless selection of choices between undesirable alternatives. For instance, if a man wishes to act sensibly, he should first understand the situation thoroughly. But, if he waits till he understand the situation thoroughly, the opportunity for action passes (p 12.)” I love that truism.
Our main character is a nuke plant technician in a plant on the Moon. He wakes up to find that two of his co-workers are unconscious and one of their reactors is having real problems. The only other co-worker around is ineffectual and panics easily. So, he goes in to do what needs to be done.
He saves the unconscious guys and slows the reactor, but does not solve the problem. However, in the process, he forgets the chemistry of the situation and his protective suit gets covered in radioactive mercury. He needs to be able to get out of the suit in order to go back to the control center to put an end to the problem, however, a shower won’t remove the mercury from his suit, and he can only reach a small fraction of the mercury to scrub it off. If he takes the suit off, he’ll die, and if he doesn’t, the reactor will blow.
But Mercury-203 mixed with Helium-4 in a fusion reactor fuses to Lead-207, which is a stable element. So his solution is to go back into the reactor and wait until the process is completed, even though it becomes a bit uncomfortable at 350 or so Celsius. Then he simply leaves the reactor, takes off the heavy, but non-radioactive suit and goes into the control panel to set everything back to normal.
One of Garrett’s greatest skills is ending short stories, and this is a great example. During the process of solving the problem, the hero ruefully laughs that he’s a knight in shining armor. When the rescue crew arrives to find him dozing, our hero mutters, “I am a knight in dull armor” (p. 67), which is humorous enough, but then Garrett adds this brilliant bit: “Hi yo, Quicksilver, away” (p. 67).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but if you can get your hands on The Best of Randall Garrett, do it. It’s some of the best short story writing you will ever find.
Next we get to Watch the Sky by James H. Schmitz. In this story, our protagonist and other plotters arrange a hoax to further their careers. Humans have been in a war with the Geest for decades and hundreds of millions on each side have perished.
The hoax is the duplication of a Geest weapon war relic owned by the protagonist’s great grand-uncle and the subsequent “discovery” of that duplicate on his planet. It’s a backwater planet that at one point had another intelligent species on it, but is now on the other side of human space from the existing front of the war. The problem is that the duplication machine does not have access to certain Geest materials so a molecular scan proves it must be a forgery.
That puts the plotters in a bad place. This is, essentially, treason during a war, and as such is a capital crime. That isn’t all, however, as the main character discovers that the only place his ancestor could have found the weapon was on this planet, so his hoax is not actually a hoax. Worse, there’s evidence that this planet will become the focus of a new attack by the Geest.
Can’t prove it though, and they have no credibility because of their actual hoax attempt. However, in the conclusion, the government hears their theories, agrees with them, and then sets a trap. In the end, the plotters all become heroes and the Geest are slaughtered when they attack.
I’m telling this story abruptly in this blog post, but that abruptness mirrors the story. I like this story, but I would have liked it a lot more with some subtle hints of what was coming.
When I write my mysteries, once I figure out the bad guy and the ending, I always make sure there’s a subtle line of bread crumbs that, when the book is read again, make sure the reader knows the evidence was there all along and that the reader had a chance to figure it out.
I’m reading some Nero Wolfe stories and while I am enjoying them, we are not always presented with all the information we need to solve the story. That’s the case here. I would have liked more hints at the provenance of the MacGuffin.
Also, the transition from bad guy to good guy at the conclusion was too fast. All of the twists happen in only two pages and the plotters need to be hammered a bit before getting their reprieve in my opinion.
It’s still a good story, though, and I wonder if Jack McDevitt has read it. It reminds me a bit of his A Talent for War, which is a fantastic book.
That is followed by another science fact essay on The Color of Space, also by Campbell. Here, he discusses some of the particulars in taking pictures of space.
We get to another story, this one by Mack Reynolds called Border, Breed nor Birth. This is part 2 of 2, so we miss much of the story. What I did read was reasonably well-constructed, but this is one of the worst stories I’ve read since starting this exercise. If I run across part 1, my opinion might change, but I don’t think so. The lack of the first half is not the problem with it, it’s the conclusion.
The story is basically of a Westerner claiming the name al-Hassan who creates a new country in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s more of a thriller than SF, as the SF aspects only appear in terms of a few technological items. It could be a good story, especially given the context Reynolds wrote in. The world powers are all jostling for their best outcome. There’s spying, assassination attempts, and a guerilla war, so there are building blocks to make a good story.
But the story’s conclusion is awful. One character says, “You know, Isobel, in history there is no happy ending ever. There is no ending at all. It goes from one crisis to another, but there is no ending” (p. 156). This is absolutely true of history. In this case, the story ends with the al-Hassan learning there’s a new challenge to face, a new warleader arrayed against him. Yeah, sure, that’s historically the way things often happen, but I want the story to have some sort of conclusion.
This doesn’t have one. At all. It literally spends more time on the grammar of Esperanto than on having a conclusion. It is simply pages and pages of rambling events whose final words are “…there is no ending.” Really? That’s it? My reaction when I got to it was unprintable as it frustrated me immensely.
All in all, this was a fun issue. Two very good stories and another solid one well outweigh the clunker. Plus, you have plenty of contribution from Campbell, who I wish I could have argued with over beers for hours on end.
Oddly, the issue I randomly grabbed has a direct tie in to this issue. It’s the Galaxy of December, 1961, and its cover story is The Day After Doomsday by Poul Anderson. Should be fun.
The issue starts with a humorous thing on the first page. It’s an add asking “Are you giving your wife the companionship she craves?” I didn’t realize Cialis and Viagra ads were that old.
The first story is Bear Trap by Alan E. Nourse. Like so many authors of the Golden Age, he’s an interesting guy. He wrote SF to pay for medical school.
A side note, the movie Blade Runner got its title form his story The Bladerunner, though nothing of the story in the movie comes from the book.
Bear Trap is a pretty good story with a number of worrisome thoughts. The main character is a propagandist tasked with helping control American society. He has to frame words to get the emotional impact his bosses desire.
And what they desire is to create a war. The people behind it, though, are not what they seem. In a fun twist, the people behind the system are creating a war not to make a profit, but to push humanity to create offworld habitats. The mastermind’s analogy is that humanity is caught in a bear trap. We are trapped on Earth and will die if we don’t escape it, but to escape it we have to gnaw off our own leg, so to speak.
Again, a good story, though not a great one. The last bit drags because the mastermind has to explain why he has done all of the bad things he’s done to get out of the trap. That exposition eliminates the tension at the end.
Then there’s a small essay about the “Coming Conquest of the Moon.” Sad to say, their optimism has proven unfounded.
Man, it was disappointing. It had such promise. “Min and I were just getting settled into the spotel game when the leg turned up” (p. 49) That should have been the first sentence, but even as the first line of the third paragraph, that’s got so much power in it. What leg? What are space hotels going to be like? Where is this story going?
It is a great setup for a good hardboiled detective mystery, but it’s not that kind of story. They find out fairly quickly a robot called Frank Nineteen has been smuggling up his one true love part by part. They catch him reassembling and activating her about a third of the way through.
That, too, could have had promise. A tragic romance that can never be or Robot and Juliet. Instead, it then turned into a boring bit about Frank Nineteen becoming the face for robot civil rights, becoming a movie star, and parading around Earth with a different female robot chosen as his co-lead.
Even then, the story could have been salvaged, and almost was. His love sees the coverage of him and the leading lady gallivanting around. She tries to commit suicide, which would have been a heartwrenching story when Frank finally returns to her. But, no, they manage to save her and they go off happily ever after.
Sigh. Once again, a potential story ruined by some supposed need for a happy ending. Bleah. It’s close, really close, to being very good, but it’s almost like every time Knight had a choice, he choose the boring option.
After that is My Father the Cat by Henry Slesar. In German, it’s Mein Vater, der Kater. I accept that I’m just an immature little boy, but that makes me chuckle. Slesar is another interesting guy. He might very well have coined the term “coffee break.” Starbucks should pay him royalties, if true.
This is a great story. All of the potential the Knight ignored, Slesar pursued. The main character is, in fact, the son of a Breton noblewoman and big, intelligent Angora. The cat is a lover of art, and literature, and good food, and all such things. He educated his son in these things, and the son comes to America to excel at a university on this side.
Over here, he finds the woman of his dreams and he brings her back to Brittany to get married. However, he has not told her of his, shall we say, different parentage. He is determined to tell her once back at home, but his father tells him he would lose her if he does. He refuses to believe that and tries to force the issue.
The father stops it by breaking his son’s heart. He comes to dinner and meows. The butler gives him a saucer of milk in the corner, and he acts like a normal cat. The scene is powerful and excellent.
But this is a fascinating rip on Ivan Sanderson, who follows next with Comments from a Scientist. Kornbluth has many complimentary things to say about Sanderson, but tears him to shreds for losing his scientific mind and proselytizing about UFOs.
Sanderson’s rebuttal is quite fun, actually. He says that while he’s never met Kornbluth, after reading his critique, says, “I think I will like him too, when we meet. In the meantime, I am genuinely appreciative of his criticisms for it will be a sad when everybody agrees about everything…” (p. 79). Then he proceeds to eviscerate Kornbluth’s argument.
I sure hope they had a chance to argue over pints, for that would have been lots of fun.
A Martian explorer called Klimp
Found earth, but it left him quite limp.
Tho’ man merely bored him,
The weather here floored him –
So he hurried back home in his blimp.
It’s been snowy and in the 20s here most of the past week. I don’t blame him for heading back to sunny and warm Mars 😉
We get more whimsy with the next story, Inside Stuff by Theodore Pratt. It stars Young Gastric Juice and Old Gastric Juice. Young GJ falls in love with a spritely Celery who has such lovely eyes. Young GJ refuses to push her out of the stomach because of her beauty, despite the fact that Old GJ has seen this story before. The two GJs spend much of the rest of the story dealing with the variety of foods coming through, including a tough old Steak.
Unfortunately, the love story ends when Celery turns her affections to a newcomer, Bonbon. Young GJ, in pain from getting spurned, promises he will never fall in love again until, at the end, he muses that maybe there’ll be celery again tomorrow.
Hilarious, cute story.
Next is another essay called Shapes in the Sky. This one lists a variety of skyquakes in the hopes of determining the reality of UFOs. It’s written by CSI, the Civilian Saucer Intelligence. Now I want a mash-up of Project UFO and CSI. Gil Grissom should be in charge of Project Blue Book!
The story Moment of Truth by Basil Wells follows. This is a disappointing story about a woman who has emigrated to Mars but has at some point lost connection with reality. Her husband tries to save her by showing her the Mars desert, but she merely incorporates it into his vision.
It’s disappointing because nothing really happens. If literature needs to show some change in characters, then this does not qualify. The main character lives in a dream. Her husband tries to bring her out of the dream, but she remains where she was. What’s the point?
This story is incredibly good. It’s about the ability of new science to restore life to any human being if there are any cells left. A woman asks to hear the whole story of one of these resurrected people. It’s a great conversation, and is the start of a fantastic story.
But it’s less than two full pages. There’s no result. There’s no action. You don’t even get to finish the initial conversation. Gah! This could be a great series of novels, not a few hundred words. Less than this review. It’s a damn shame.
Gah! It happens again, exactly the same thing, in Forgotten Ones by Stephen Bond (really, Hans Stefan Santesson under a pen name). It’s a robot artist staring at a statue of humans amazed that they might in any way be involved with the creation of the First Ones. But it is, again, less than two full pages.
It’s a fantastic introduction or ever just raw world-building for an interesting robot universe as they struggle with religion, creation, and all such things. Asimov would have done amazing things with it.
Sadly, you can basically see the entire story on the front cover. No real need for those few hundred words.
L. Sprague de Camp is next with an essay about Ignatius Donnelly Pseudomath. This essay is de Camp pointing out just how wrong Donnelly, (Wikipedia entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_L._Donnelly) was about Atlantis, how Francis Bacon was Shakespeare, and other ideas.
Donnelly is another fascinating character, though. He wrote SF in the 1800s. He was a fairly successful politician and a leader in the Populist Party. The things you learn reading these magazines is amazing.
The last story is Kenneth Bulmer’sBy the Beard of the Comet. It’s another potentially fun story that lacks fleshing out. It’s about a man frustrated by an evil boss and a nagging wife. He goes to the local VR theater, which interprets his thoughts and gives him the VR experience his mood wants. So the VR makes him a pirate on the spaceways, fighting and defeating his boss. He has jewels, wealth, skill with the rapier, and many other defeated enemies.
But his wife tracks him down and inserts herself into his VR. She does it as much as anything to continue yelling at him. In the end, though, he comes out filled with the confidence installed as a pirate captain, and he vows to take his boss’s place.
The transition happens too swiftly, though. There’s not enough of him fighting through his inner demons. Nor is the twist at the end anything terribly surprising.
As you can tell, this issue frustrated me. The prose is all well-constructed. There’s a good kernel to every story but they’re just not executed well enough. Sigh.
Anyway, next week I’ll be reading the Analog of August, 1957. I’m really excited about this one because it’s the first one I’ve run across with something by Randall Garrett.
After a tumultuous October, it’s time to get back into the normal groove.
This week I’ll review Imagination, Vol. 1, No. 1 from October, 1950. Yes, that’s right, it’s the first issue of this magazine. I’m actually curious how it might differ from a regular issue, so let’s dive into it.
Most of you probably recognize Ackerman, but maybe not Palmer. However, Palmer was a foundational piece of SF magazines. He helped start one of the first fanzines and as editor for Amazing Stories bought Isaac Asimov’s first professional story. Imagination was his baby, for all intents and purposes.
In general, the editorial promises what Imagination would be. It is not terribly remarkable as it states that it will provide a freshtake on the SF magazine. However, based on what I see in the editorial and his biography, I think Palmer would have loved to be at the 20Booksto50K conference this week. He seemed to really enjoy bringing in new authors.
The first story in the issue is Chester S. Geier’sThe Soul Stealers. It’s a workmanlike story, in my opinion. It suffers, I think, from a little too much plotting, in that I struggle at some of the transitions. A certain thing has to happen, so it happens, but I was not convinced by the events in the story that the thing was going to happen. It’s got action and mystery, but it didn’t quite mesh for me. It’s technically good, but left me wanting a harder fight for the protagonist.
Immediately after is a small space-filler that discusses the amazing impact of trucking and heavy earth-movers on American society. This is the most striking line: “All this is a harbinger of the future. Instead of concentration in cities as has been happening all over the world for the last few centuries, it is possible for a civilization to spread itself out all over the country and still produce as effectively as if it were in one spot” (p. 39). This is coming to pass, but Palmer could have had little idea of the internet. Still, it’s a prescient thought.
The next story is Wind in Her Hair by Kris Neville. I confess that when I see the name Neville I *always* think first about a shield bearing the device gules, a saltire argent, with 50 troops attached from the game Kingmaker. Sorry, not sorry.
Anyway, this Neville is a Missourian I have not ever heard of before. The reason why is SF was too limiting for him and after publishing a number of stories, he went to do other things that interested him. Namely, epoxy resins.
After reading this, I really wish he hadn’t shifted to epoxy resins. Wind in Her Hair is one of those “what happens on generational ships” kind of stories. How will our society evolve, and that sort of thing. This is a great example of the subgenre, because, in the end, it’s not really human society that’s evolved, but our physiology.
A screwed up environmental system meant the people on that ship now cannot breathe Earth air or live on Earth at all. The only way they find out is by actually returning to Earth. They’re excited about coming home, dreaming dreams of a future outside the ship, only to have their dreams crushed. Fantastic story.
Rog Phillips is next with One for the Robot – Two for the Same … Phillips, actually Roger Phillips Graham, is vaguely familiar to me, but I cannot recall reading anything by him. I’ll look for him in the future, though. His writing career is a tad tragic, and it’s a shame, because he looks to be a very good writer.
This story is about a scientist who tries to figure out how to transfer a human’s brain to a new, robotic body to make himself immortal. He figures out the secret, but in so doing he discovers something that essentially destroys him. He loses his reputation and becomes an alcoholic.
Another scientist replicates his work and tracks him down. He wants to know what it is that the main character discovered that destroyed him. He wants to try it himself, but doesn’t want to make the same mistake.
The main character’s first name is January. It’s a cool hint at the answer. The procedure doesn’t transfer the brain, it copies it. There is now a second one of himself, one facing back to what he has done, and the other facing to an immortal, robotic future. I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation, either. Very good story that kept me wondering until the end. It is only afterwards I really understood his first name.
Next is a couple of short essays. One discusses how brains work much the same as a TV or telephone does. The second essay talks about the brand new instrument, the encephalograph, and how it can help us understand sanity and why people murder other people. I wonder what we think of as cutting edge will seem so quaint to people in 2090.
I’m a sucker for anyone who writes a mythology to start the story from whence that mythology derives. I like piecing the clues together, and this has all of that.
A crazy scientist creates a spaceship. Eight others come to him, not really by choice. By seeming accident, they get on the ship and it activates, sending them to the stars. But the ship has been encased in a special form of clay that holds anything with a spark of like in stasis, and takes them, along with all of the creatures and plants it has captured to a far distant world. These then repopulate the planet. The mythology is that of the eight’s descendants.
Part of the fun is the fact that seven of the eight are criminals and awful people. But the last line is, “All were gods, stupendous beings of high courage and noble aims…” (p. 149). It’s a good story. It drags a bit, and could have been smoothed, but it is still a fun read.
The last story is Inheritance by Edward W. Ludwig. This is actually his first published story of 25 or so. It’s a solid story and creepy. A dog and her puppy run down into a cave and gets lost and her master chases them into the tunnel. They get lost for several days. During that time a chemical attacks kills everyone else on earth, but never reaches them.
He is initially terrified of being the only person left alive and contemplates suicide, but decides to have a last meal. He enjoys the best steak he can find, cigars he could never have afforded, and good scotch. He decides to enjoy these good things for a bit. Then he remembers there’s so much left to see on earth, and he decides to go visit them. There may not be people, but he’s got his dog and her puppy and he loves them more than people anyway.
After this story is a personal ad section. These include:
Have you seen flying disks or believes invisible beings walk the earth?
Selling a collection of SF/F books 3 for $1.
The Universal Musketeers , an unofficial fanclub around Newport News, VA, is looking for new members.
An F.J. Ackerman at 236 1/2 N. New Hampshire in Hollywood seeks certain magazines and books
Last is the letters to the editor page. First off is one by Chet Geier, yes the first author in this issue, thanking Palmer for the opportunities he has given him. There’s also a similar letter by Rog Phillips. My favorite letter is the one announcing all the things happening at Norwescon 1950. I wonder when this issue of Imagination was actually released, because Norwescon was actually on Labor Day, 1950 and this was the October, 1950 issue.
Anyway, though I didn’t really know any of authors coming into this issue, I really liked it. There’s no earth-shatteringly amazing story in here, but they’re all at least solid. Altogether, it’s an auspicious beginning and I look forward to future issues.
You have my apologies for not getting a chance to review a magazine last week. It will happen again next week as I’m on the road for most of the week.
This week, I’ll be reviewing the Astounding from May, 1941 (Vol. XXVII, No. 3). This is the first time I’ll be reviewing a magazine where I’ve read the issue immediately before or after. You can find my review for April, 1941 here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1352.
This issue starts out with an editorial by John W. Campbell entitled History to Come. The opening line is a fun one to remember. “Fundamentally, science-fiction novels are “period pieces,” historical novels laid against a background of a history that hasn’t happened yet” (p. 5). I like that thought, especially since Campbell uses this editorial to discuss what that means. He focuses especially on the research involved and emphasizes that what an SF author should be doing is “mental research into possible future” (p. 5). He does this to set up Robert A. Heinlein’s “History of Tomorrow” timeline, which we’ll discuss in about 120 pages.
As I research this editorial and wallow in Campbell’s brilliance (and, of course, Heinlein’s), I discovered something very interesting. Alexei and Cory Panshin said in The World Beyond the Hill that this idea of world creation, which seems fairly obvious to me, changed science fiction. “Science fiction hadn’t been seen in these terms previously. But the publication of Heinlein’s Future History chart would force a general alteration of perception of what science fiction was about and how it was made” (Alexei and Cory Panshin, Heinlein and the Golden Age (excerpt of The World Beyond the Hill), https://www.panshin.com/critics/Golden/goldenage3.html). I suggest you all read the whole article.
Then there’s an ad for the Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook of 1941. As a guy who got into sabermetric research in the late 80s, I think this is awesome. It’s the forerunner of Bill James and those who followed him.
That’s a young Bob Feller on the cover, by the way. He would play the summer of ’41, and do well, though not as well as in 1940. Then, of course, he loses 1942-44 and most of 1945 for the war, serving part of that as a Chief Petty Officer on the USS Alabama. I hadn’t actually caught that before, and it makes my time roaming around the Alabama a bunch of times as a kid even that more awesome.
These magazines are like traveling in time.
Anyway, I suppose we should actually turn to the fiction. The first story is Universe by Heinlein. Not surprisingly, given Campbell’s editorial, we see some of Heinlein’s most intricate world-building in this story.
The story is about a generational ship on its way to the stars. One fascinating little touch Heinlein used was the standard greeting, “Good eating.” With just that little bit, we learn a ton about the time and place. He’s so deft.
And the story is really good. What happens to humanity if they’re on a generational ship and many generations pass? What happens to their understanding of science? To their society?
It would change, undoubtedly. Our hero is someone who has grown from that society, raised by exiled muties, and learns the truth of their ship. His is now the job of tilting at the windmill of those generations’ evolution to get them, perhaps, finally, to Centaurus.
Oh, look. We move from Heinlein to Isaac Asimov. What a darn shame, having to read these two hacks. Such a bummer. Anyway, the story is another early Robot one starring Susan Calvin called Liar.
You’ve probably read this story as it was reprinted a bunch of times, but here’s a synopsis anyway. A brand new robot has the astounding ability to read minds, though how its positronic brain gained this talent is unknown and is completely not repeatable until they learn just how it happened.
RB-34, Herbie, is programmed with early versions of the Three Laws of Robotics, so this ability is a real problem for it. When it talks to people, it knows what they want, so telling them the truth might actually hurt them. So, it supplies the answer that the person talking to them wants.
Of course, this leads to conflict as Calvin desires the love of one of the other scientists and another character hopes to be the next director. After they realize Herbie is providing different answers to each person, they confront him. Now, Herbie is in an insoluble situation. No matter what he says, he will hurt at least one of the humans. In the end, he collapses in positronic insanity.
I love Asimov’s Robot stories because he’s so good at creating logic puzzles. Reading these stories in original form is incredibly fascinating because the laws of Robotics aren’t actually specified until 1942. In some ways, this is Asimov fumbling towards something amazing.
And yes, its a great story. Shocking, I know.
So we move to a story called Solution Unsatisfactory by Anson MacDonald. There’s a goodly amount to unpack in the author here, because that’s a pseudonym for Heinlein. Yes, he’s got two stories in this issue. What a fascinating time that was for science fiction.
And dates are really important when unpacking this story. This issue was released in May of 1941. The story is, essentially, about Mutually Assured Destruction. He’s asking the same questions that Truman would have to answer in 1945 and in the years following.
MAD was, and is, an unsatisfactory solution. Heinlein proposed another, that of a world-wide dictatorship which has a monopoly on the superweapon, but even he points out that will never work. Campbell has a follow-up to this story where he asks for any better suggestion. The request is almost pleading.
Moving on we get In Times toCome, the preview of the next issue. It promises a neat murder mystery, a “whodunit-to,” if you will, that helps deal with the challenge of writing a murder mystery in science fiction. The story is Ross Rocklyne’sTime Wants a Skeleton. I’m looking forward to reading that when I find that issue.
Also on that page is the scores from the ratings of the previous issue. Yeah, Heinlein might be good and really prolific at this time. The April issue also has one by him and one by him as Anson MacDonald. They were, by a large margin, the best-rated stories of that issue.
The next story is Eric Frank Russell’s Jay Score. This wasn’t a bad story, but I’ve had the twist before. It’s about a freighter that is blown off course by a micro-meteorite. It’s headed directly to the sun with broken rockets. They get the rockets going, but even so a slingshot around the sun will be difficult.
They only manage it because of Jay Score, the assistant pilot. He’s a larger than life figure. Six foot nine or so, laconic, immensely capable, and so good at chess that he’s actually able to be the Martians on occasion. He is, of course, a robot names J.20.
As I said, it’s a twist I’ve seen before and done better. It’s the kind of deus ex machina that bothers me. Surviving only because he’s a robot means that there’s no real heroism involved. Robots can be heros, just look at Asimov’s examples. But here we’re expecting to see a hero and instead we see something superhuman. It lessens the story for me.
Next is a cute little entry called Fish Story by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts. Basically, it’s about a an old colonel telling tall tales in a bar. This particular story is about catching highly poisonous giant frog-like creatures on Venus. He succeeds by the use of creative chemistry.
As I said, it’s a cute piece of fluff, but highlights one of the few drawbacks of this exercise. I often wallow in the history of these stories, like I did in Solution Unsatisfactory. However, that’s a two-edged sword. So many of these are set on Venus or Mars as if they’re teeming with life, which we now know isn’t true. It’s a case of knowing too much sometimes.
We move on to Subcruiser by Harry Walton. This is ripping yarn of a ship captain drugged by his executive officer so he can steal their subspace cruiser and take it to their enemies. The captain thinks the drugs are simply part of alcoholic fits brought on by depression from a previous battle.
In the end, he manages to defeat his XO and save his ship, and in the process regain the trust of his crew. Great story. To bad Walton didn’t write more.
This story is a mashup of a number of different threads. A bit of Ivanhoe. A heaping helping of Romeo and Juliet. Some Purloined Letter. However, there are a ton of loose threads. The heroes survive and live happily ever after, so that’s fine, but I feel like the ending was rushed and condensed. De Camp almost built too much depth into this world, and I didn’t think all of it was explored enough.
If you go to the story’s Wikipedia page, it has a number of comments from a variety of different perspective and I think that’s part of my frustration. So much is going on, it’s written well, and it’s full of action, so it’s a good novella. It’d be a better better novel, though.
That’s it for this issue. It was another great issue, but it’s hard to go wrong with two Heinleins and an Asimov.
I’ll probably not have a chance to do a review next week, so I’ll plan on getting one out Halloween day. That being the case, I’ll review the Imagination of October, 1950. This is actually the first issue of this magazine. I’m curious what I’ll find in a debut.
This week’s magazine won’t be the first I’ve reviewed published in my lifetime, but it’s the first one published after I’d learned how to read. It’s the Fantastic, Vol. 23, No. 2, published in March, 1974.
This month’s cover is disappointing. Not the artwork, because the art is a great example of this genre, but rather it’s the arrangement. The art is secondary to the text, as you can see. That’s a mistake, in my opinion.
However, there’s another treasure on the inside cover. It’s an ad for a book that will teach you about ESP. Better yet, it’s from the Rosicrucians. The AMORC is the kind of thing Dan Brown writes about. His stuff is a guilty pleasure, but I wish he would learn to write conclusions better.
Back to the cover, briefly. This issue’s cover price is $0.60 cents. In today’s dollars that’s about $3.20. Yeah, it’s smaller than a regular book, but that seems like a great price, especially since most people probably got this via a subscription at the corresponding reduced price.
Enough of me meandering. First is an editorial by Ted White. White’s name is not entirely unfamiliar to me, but if you had asked I could not have named a single place where I had read anything of his. He’s had a fun career, though. He’s also a jazz musician and critic. He’s written a Captain America novel. Where I might have seen him, though, is as an editor and writer for Heavy Metal. I read some of the magazines after the film came out. The soundtrack is still one of my favorites, by the way. OK, so maybe I’m not done meandering.
Anyway, in it White discusses why this issue bears no resemblance to any of the previous ads. He also talks about changes in typesetting and the challenges of an editor dealing with print companies. Interesting how the particulars change but the overall challenges do not.
White also discussed Alexei and Cory Panshin, Brian Stableford, and their respective works on science fiction and its place in society. Since I have not read the Panshins’ The World Beyond the Hill nor Stableford’s The Sociology of Science Fiction I am generally lost, though I will undoubtedly look all that up at some point, especially since we get a hint of what’s going on in Stableford’s essay later in the issue.
The big story in this issue is Part 1 of Brian Aldiss’sFrankenstein Unbound. This story, shockingly enough, is the basis for the movie titled Frankenstein Unbound. I know, I know. You wouldn’t have guessed if I hadn’t told you, but it’s true nonetheless.
Much of this story will be familiar to you, of course. The main character, however, is someone who gets sent back in time because the use of nuclear weapons in space has damaged the space-time infrastructure. Nevertheless, the story, at least the first part of it, asks similar questions of what makes humanity human. It’s also about whether progress is really progress.
Overall, I haven’t liked this story much, to be honest. There are a number of good scenes, like a discussion including both Shelleys, Byron, and the main character. However, I struggle with time travel stories because I can’t suspend my disbelief as much. They have to be precise and consistent, or I get knocked out of the story. This one has a number of jerky time movements that mess things up.
Also, there are a couple of scenes that threw me out of the story, including a weird thing with the main character’s children that seemed gratuitous. I suppose it could play a prominent role in Part 2, but I don’t know what that could be. Overall, I will hold off on final judgment until I finish the story, but thus far it’s not my favorite thing that Brian Aldiss wrote.
However, there’s a great line in Part 1 that I really liked: “…[H]ell hath no fury like a reformer who wishes to remake the world and finds the world perfers (sic) its irredeemable self” (p. 37). This especially resonated with me.
This story is pretty good. It’s about a Roman who tries to cure his impotence by buying a slave girl in Egypt. Unfortunately, this girl is already married to Sebek, the Egyptian crocodile god. It turns out Sebek isn’t jealous, but he does care that the protagonist doesn’t mistreat her. So he watches the couple and leaves crocodile tracks all around, even though where they are has no crocodiles.
However, the hero is tricked into thinking that the governor of the province has sent him a letter directing him to get rid of the girl. He doesn’t want to leave her, and the only solution he can think of is to marry the slave girl and then kill her, telling her “Ave atque vale.”
Sebek still isn’t enraged, but he is miffed and he and the slave girl start harassing the main character. Eventually, the main character confesses to the authorities, hoping to be put into jail for his own safety. Of course, he’s to be put to death… in a battle against crocodiles. Yet there’s another twist. Sebek intervenes and saves his life. At the end, he thinks he hears the slave girl whisper “Ave atque vale” to him.
This story apparently got him complaints from Robert E. Howard fans and I can understand why. The main hero, Cirnon the Barbarian, returns home after gaining his throne. He meets a girl and they sleep together, but he soon finds out she is his daughter kept looking young by her mother, who has only slept with one man: Cirnon when he left his homeland. Now he wonders what he has always been.
While I can understand why some Howard fans got mad over this story, I kind of think that Howard himself might very well have liked it. Conan was a deeper character than is often portrayed, and while he is the bad guy in this story, he was not always the good guy.
All in all, a well-done homage, in my mind, with a bitter twist at the end. Stories do not have to end on a happy note to be good.
Barry N. Malzberg is the next author with At the Institute. This is a grim story about a murderer getting treatment at the clinic. The treatment consists of putting him into a dream world where he has the choice of killing, or not. In the last dream, he kills himself for his own good.
It’s got all of Malzberg’s cynicism with a dash of cruelty. In general, his style is not my cup of tea and this story is in some ways merely another example. However, it’s a good story. It’s paced well and it brings the reader in. Those who like that style may love this story.
Images by Jerry Meredith comes next. I can find very little about Meredith, at least, I don’t know if I’m finding stuff about the same Meredith. He didn’t write much with only one other ISFDB listing, and I can see why. It’s a mediocre story about what reality is or isn’t. It could have been interesting, but misses some beats and lacks some information that might have made it better. I don’t usually want more exposition, but maybe I would have liked this story more with some.
However, there’s little I can think of that would make The State of Ultimate Peace by William Nabors any better. It is, by far, the worst story I’ve read so far in this sojourn through SF magazines. It’s message fiction about how war is bad. OK, fair enough, except the story is incoherent, rambling, an awful protagonist, and has no real plot. It’s like he threw a collection of words together that will offend people just to offend people. Bleah.
David Bunch is next with Short Time at the Pearly Gates. It’s about a guy hit by a truck who ends up near the entrance of Heaven. While there, he meets a strange fellow who first offers him a job and then cleans him of his sins in a bath of lye soap, pebbles, and later harsher materials. I may be dumb, but I didn’t find a narrative here, really, just a few things happening. At best, it’s a mediocre story, though the premise could have been fun.
Let’s see if F.M. Busby can get us out of this rut with I’m Going to Get You. He can’t, though this is a much better story. The main character is out to get God. He knows God exists because of all the bad stuff that has happened to him. His family dead, he’s paralyzed, his child dead at birth, and his wife dies. Now he is committing suicide in order to get back at God.
As I said, it’s a decent story, but really, not one that I’m glad I read.
Next is some of Brian Stableford’s sociological discussion that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Stableford is trying to get a handle on SF’s role in society. Since this is but a part of what went into his monograph, I won’t talk about it much, since there’s only a tidbit of what Stableford is researching here.
Next are some movie reviews by Fritz Lieber. Lieber’s dad, also named Fritz, was a notable actor in early movies, so the younger Fritz grew up around theater and screen.
In this column, he shows how Ingmar Bergman was a fantasy writer, though many of his movies are set in modern day and don’t, at first blush, appear to be fantasies. Then he lists his dozen favorite in three categories: SF, Horror, and Fantasy. His top in each category: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Phantom of theOpera (I’m guessing he meant this version which included Fritz, Sr.), and The Seventh Seal.
Now we get to According to You, the letters to the editor. These were disappointing too, though there’s quite a bit of space devoted to them. They were generally frustrated with something that was published before based on the messages in the fiction. One, however, was fun, because it wanted more fantasy and less SF. I won’t argue with that.
Another pointed out that in an earlier edition it’s the Gray Mouser in places and the Grey Mouser in others. You know, this sort of type doesn’t bother me a ton. However, I’m not surprised that it showed up. There are a *bunch* of typos in here. I’d guess a minimum of 2 per page, so around 250. Sheesh. Kicked me out of a number of stories.
Overall this was a drab, dreary issue with a bunch of stories that left you either wanting more, or wanting way less. It is especially disappointing as I had high hopes, but the depressing cynicism of awfulness that runs throughout this issue really brought me down. I said that a story doesn’t have to end happily to be good, but a happy ending can save a bad story.
There are no happy endings in this issue, except, perhaps a little fun with the ads in the back. I wonder if my dad ever ordered a .38 Snub Nose from one of these ads. He might have at $24.95. It also has a couple of ads seeking poems for songs and and records. Hmmm, I wonder if my drottkvaett or Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse is what they’re looking for.
I think it’s time to get back to something I know I’ll like, and that’s an early Astounding from my mom’s birth month.
This week I’m reviewing the If (Volume 7, No. 4) from June, 1957. I guessed I was going to like this one, given that it has an Asimov and a Biggle, but if I had any doubt, the rocket rotorship Mars lander by Mel Hunter that’s on the cover with the diagram on the inside front cover.
This issue starts with the Editor’s Report by James L. Quinn. It’s a bunch of short, interesting things he’s found in the previous month. He had a good eye and in this day and age he would probably be a well-followed blogger.
In this case, much of what he included relates to this issue of If, including small biographies of a couple authors in the issue. I wish more editors had done this, actually, as it’s quite interesting to see what the editor thought at the moment, especially before I read the stories.
He also talked about the Industrial Bulletin, which was a small sheet of interesting, fact-filled information. 1957 Clickbait! I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, and now I’m putting A Scientific Sampler, which has the best predictions, facts, and notes in my Amazon wishlist.
And if you need help with math you can get the IBM 709. The stats are amazing. 42,000 additions or subtractions per second. Multiplication and division at 5,000 per second. 327,000 decimal digits can be stored in it’s magnetic core, and any word in the core can be found in 12 millionths of a second. And then the piece de resistance, “You can get a typical system for about $3,000,000, or rent one for $56,000 per month! (p. 3)”
So, I suppose I should actually talk about the stories in this issue. First is Pretty Quadroon by Charles Fontenay. It’s a fascinating story about a number of different timelines related to whether there’s a second Civil War. Basically, if Beauregard Courtney meets and loves Piquette, then there will be a second war of varying results. In one, the South wins, in another the North wins, in a third the Russians nuke New York and other cities. If he doesn’t meet her, the second war does not happen.
This story is both well-written and fascinating, given that it’s written by a Tennessee man during the beginning of integration in the south. Not only that, it has the backdrop of the Cold War and fears of nuclear war. The story is thoughtful, challenging, and yet smooth to read. It is no wonder it was republished in Jim Baen’s Universe of October, 2008.
The story is a fun one about the US Army trying to build a tunnel through the Appalachians for a monorail track. They have a converter which easily cuts through the stone and creates a perfect tunnel, but suddenly it stops, having hit on a large gold brick. They try a pick, otherwise known as a manual converter, but that doesn’t work.
Then the Army tries a variety of increasingly absurd ideas. They convert the *entire* mountain, but all they manage to do is end up with a gold brick sitting in the air about four feet off the ground. A physicist comes in and says this is the point, the fulcrum point, of Earth’s orbit. Ultimately, with a super bomb, they manage to move it, which sends the Earth on an orbit which will fall into the sun.
As a side note, this is message fiction done right. The story is humorous, catchy, and the reader keeps wanting to know more. In some ways it is a short story version of Dr. Strangelove. This story makes me wonder if Peter George, who wrote Red Alert, the basis of Dr. Strangelove, had read it, because it has the same sort of humor and message.
Next is an essay by Robert S. Richardson entitled the Face of Mars. You might have read his science fiction under the name Philip Latham. This essay talks about telescope images he worked with when Mars approached very close to the Earth in 1956. Reading the science articles in these magazines is odd to me.
I am no scientist, though I’ve read quite a bit about various scientific topics (and more now that I’m a writer, shout-out to my monitors at the FBI and NSA). However, I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I know more about Mars than Richardson did, yet he was widely recognized as an expert. He even helped as a technical assistant for Destination Moon. It’s a weird thought that’s hard to avoid as he’s describing specific aspects of astronomy and it all seems fairly basic. Amazing what’s transpired in 62 years.
Aldo Giunta’sJingle in the Jungle is the next story. I had never heard of Giunta before, and it’s no surprise. This is the only speculative fiction he ever published. He was a playwright and a cabinet maker, as you can see from the linked obituary.
This story is about a future where boxing is much like it was in the 1930s, especially with all the corruption and fixing, except with robots.
This was another great story. A trainer, Charlie Jingle, has been working with an old boxing robot, Tanker Bell, for fourteen years. It’s way out of date and they can hardly get any fights. Then they stumble into a fight and beat the contender robot made by the shiny, big fighting-robot corporation.
But it’s a fix. It’s all a fix. The goal is to build up an outsider and suggest it has a chance. Then the champ wins big and looks even better and better. But Charlie has another idea and he tricks the Tanker into thinking he hasn’t got a chance and gets the robot mad and tricky. Ultimately Tanker Bell wins, and it is only then that he realizes his trainer has tricked him and gotten him to fight better than his best. Rocky before Rocky and with robots.
This issue’s entry is Does a Bee Care? If you click on the title links of most stories, you’ll find that the links almost always go to the bare ISFDB page. There’s rarely much on those pages, and I link to them as much to highlight the title as I do to give you places to find more information. In this case, though, the story is so powerful that it has its own Wikipedia page.
The story goes like this. An ovum was placed on Earth. The ovum grew to a creature that looked like it was human, though it was not. For 8,000 years it influenced civilization to help humanity achieve spaceflight. In the story, it has ensured that in one of the first rockets to the moon there’s space enough for it to fit inside. When the rocket reaches space the creature achieves full maturity. It is, finally, able to return to its home.
The twist is that while we see the creature manipulating things, Asimov guides us along the path of focusing on its point of view. Then at the end, asks if the bee cares what has happened to the flower after it has gotten the pollen. What a neat take on things.
Lloyd Biggle, Jr. is next with …On the Dotted Line. The story is about a car salesman getting transported to the year 2337. He’s a great salesman, but in 2337 salesmen are hypnotists, and all he’s got is psychology.
But that’s what he is, a salesman and he’s got to figure out how to make his way. Fortunately for him, after a couple of years the hypnotists are discovered and Congress passes laws outlawing hypnotism in sales. This is the salesman’s chance.
And he does pretty well, for a time. However, with his sales comes publicity, and after people have seen his pitch, they don’t buy and he loses his sales job. He’s a smart man and he succeeds in the field of space mining. He finally, however, figures out how to sell one more thing, essentially the moon Callisto, and retires, confident in his ability. At the end, though, the compulsion is still there, and he’s looking about for something else to sell.
It’s a good story, which doesn’t surprise me. Biggles had a neat way of looking at things, I’ve found, and this is an example. He made a *salesman* into a sympathetic figure.
Dan Galouye is another new writer to me. His story here is Shuffle Board. This is the first average story in this issue. Earth in a century or so will be filled with various radioactive waste. The main character is tasked with preventing the radioactivity from contaminating as much as possible. In the end, the increased radioactivity changes humanity so we’re not as susceptible to its affects.
I think this story didn’t catch me because it seemed a little obvious to me, but that’s in part because of my perspective in 2018 as opposed to 1957. I sort of expect humanity to adjust, if needed. More importantly, I felt the underlying causes see farfetched now. This is unfortunate, because the story is well-written. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from Galouye, and maybe the twist at the end will surprise me.
As a side note. Dear Editor of any magazine, please avoid, “Continued on page X” for any story, especially for the last 3 paragraphs. Ah, well.
Anyway, the next story is called The Human Element by Leo Kelley. It’s a fun story that connected to me because our protagonist hearkens back to an earlier time. Unfortunately, in his era, living in the past would get you sent to the Psych center.
However, our hero has expressed his rebellion by putting on a clown suit and running onto stage in a modern day circus. The circus is nothing like we would think, and no one there had seen a clown before. He’s a hit, and the circus owners hire him. In many ways, this story is nothing but the cotton candy the hero reminisces about. But I am someone who lives in the past quite often, and I do wonder about today’s society.
Next is a fun little game, a science quiz. I’ve included the image. Have fun.
Then we have a series of science briefs. More little notes and tidbits from science. The most interesting one to me was the idea that we’d have nuclear-powered aircraft in the early 1960s.
Finally, we get to Hue and Cry, the letters to the editor. I always enjoy reading these, and this one had several focused on the idea of humanity and humanism as discussed in a previous If. Oddly, as I type this, I happen to be listening to the album Hemispheres by Rush. The title song is about humanity’s challenge to balance thought and emotion, which apparently the earlier If issue talked about. Odd timing, there.
But it’s an excuse to include this wonderful Rush quote:
“Let the truth of Love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Armed with sense and liberty
With the Heart and Mind united
In a single perfect sphere”
– Cygnus X-1, Book 2: Hemispheres, Rush
Overall, this was one of the better magazines I’ve seen so far. It didn’t sell well, though, and is one of the shorter-lived SF mags of the time. It’s a shame, though, because I’m looking forward to reading more of them.
Sorry I’m a bit late with this. I caught a bit of con crud at TopCon and was not terribly energetic earlier in the week. Anyway, this week I’ll look at Galaxy, Vol. 20, No. 6 (August, 1962). It’s got quite a few interesting names on the front like Jack Vance and Frederik Pohl and an armored knight charging into battle on odd insect-looking dragons. Right up my alley.
This issue starts with an editorial attempting to define progress. It is, not surprisingly, a moving target, and the conclusion is that we need science fiction so we can look at ourselves from the outside. I agree that we need to look at ourselves from the outside, but I’m not sure we needed a 750-word or so editorial to tell us that.
Ah, well. Deadlines make for hurried editorials, as well I remember from my newspaper days way back when.
First is Jack Vance’s novel The Dragon Masterswhich won the Hugo in 1963 for Best Short Fiction. This is a story consisting of four main foes. Joaz, the protagonist of the story and leader of one faction of humans on Aerlith. Elvis, the leader of the other humans. Then there are the sacerdotes, who view themselves as overmen. Finally there are the Basics, a race of intelligent lizard/insects who live on a different planet that only visit Aerlith when their stars approach each other.
It is from genetically adapted Basic captured in a previous visit that the humans on Aerlith develop a variety of dragons. These dragons are armed with maces on the end of tails and axes on arms. These weapons all go along with the normal spikes, horns, and claws. In return, the Basic developed their own army from genetically altered humans. The sacerdotes have genetically altered themselves and set themselves to a regimen of contemplation and learning.
Humanity as a species is nearly extinct, yet none of the human groups are willing to work with Joaz, though he seeks their help. His desire for assistance is pushed by the approach of the Basic planet. In the end Joaz wins, after a chaotic four-way fight.
One moment that struck me is when a character interacts with a sacerdote. It reminded me of the Readers in my world of Shijuren. People who gather knowledge but stay out of the fray. I did not get the idea from Vance, rather the Readers are a combination of Asimov’s Foundation, Gandalf, and a few other tidbits here and there. It’s fun to see other authors have similar ideas.
However, I did not particularly like this story. Maybe it was the artwork, which was sharp, and odd as you can see from the cover. Jack Gaughan did the artwork and he drew just about every kind of creature involved. The image on the cover was fun and creepy, but by the end of the story had a wrongness.
And that mirrors my view of the story. It was long, almost 90 pages, and I never really got caught up in it. I can see why it won the Hugo, as there are a lot of elements that I suspect many other readers will like, but for me it was a slog. It was perhaps too complex in some ways yet too simplistic in others. I don’t know. In any case, while I normally like Vance, this story didn’t suit me.
Next was Handyman by Frank Banta. I don’t know much about Banta but I liked this story. Unlike The Dragon Masters, Handyman was very short, only three pages. However, that worked for the story. Our hero, James, is constantly chopping up wooden doors so he can burn them for heat. The building’s carpenter cheerily comes to replace it every time. James keeps asking to help with the heating plant, as the carpenter doesn’t have the skills to fix it. However, James is a prisoner and prisoners aren’t allowed to work on things.
Throughout the story, James tries to find solutions to his various problems, but certain things aren’t proper, like him working on the plant. He tries to dig a tunnel, but the foundations of the prison go too deep. He can’t even call for help because he and the carpenter were left behind when all other humans left Earth.
And the carpenter is a robot.
Next comes a science article by Willy Ley. This particular article discusses the odd nautical phenomena of big, bright pinwheels. He goes through all the logged entries of this phenomena, maps them, and then goes through a few ideas of what might cause them.
Humorously, the ISFDB page on our next author, Jack Sharkey, only lists his Danish Wikipedia page. The only Jack Sharkey in the English Wikipedia is a boxer from the 1920s, and he’s an interesting guy too being the only person to fight both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.
But I digress. Shocking I know. Anyway, his story is A Matter of Protocol. The story is about making first contact. Humans have developed a system to allow alien zoologists to meld with the minds of creatures on a planet. in this case, the planet is a green jungle where it turns out there are only a few species. These species work in a close symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately, simply landing on the planet ending up damaging some of the trees, and in two months the planet is a lifeless ball.
I have mixed feeling about this story. On the one hand, it’s got a couple of plot holes that I don’t like. The planet only has a few species, and and find that difficult to accept. Two, I grew up in Kansas, where the Flint Hills are routinely control burned because the prairie grass evolved to get hit by lightning and then burn, uncontrolled, so it can refresh itself. I find it challenging to think that the creatures on this planet are so simple to destroy when crazy, accidental stuff is just going to happen.
On the other hand, the story is well-written, innovative, and talks about the tough question of first contact. I’m glad I read it, and I’d like to read more of Sharkey, but this story fought me.
Before I get to the next story, I have to mention the ad on page after Sharkey’s story. For $2.00, you can order a copy of The Complete Guide to Orbiting Satellites. It’s actually loose-leaf, and promises consistent updates. I don’t actually know how many satellites were in orbit in 1962, but it goes over the communication, weather, navigation, and reconnaissance satellites at the time. Even in 1962, I’d have paid $2.00 for that.
But this isn’t his best story. Basically, a dying genius physicist gives an evil billionaire enough knowledge to become dictator, but eventually manages to kill him. This story could have been great, because Pohl’s prose is excellent, but there are two problems. One, it’s message fiction. Knowledge should be free, among other things. Message fiction is not necessarily bad, but the story has to be better, in my opinion. Unfortunately, all the action happens off screen. Our narrator is the genius’s doctor and all we see is what he sees and much of the story is his opinion. I want to see the action, not what someone else knows and thinks of the action.
And I liked this story too, though it’s a bit confusing. A crew mutinies and maroons its captain on a planet occupied by Quronos. These are androids developed by someone in the past. They will “geoplanct” and “xenogut” every day on a schedule. The tagline is, “You too can be a Qurono. All you need do is geoplanct. All you need know is when to stop!” The captain emulates the Qurono and they revere him as a master, but then he continues and they realize he’s not actually anything special and they send him into space.
The crew that mutinied had tried to escape, but the Qurono forced them back and they rescue the captain. Then he imposes a new regimen on the crew, forcing them to geoplanct. Reluctantly, the crew obeys.
My confusion is that I simply don’t know what geoplanct or xenogut exactly mean, nor can find them any definition. I suspect Harmon hid some extra punch in those words, but I just don’t know. Still, Harmon is clearly a skilled writer as you are following intently what is going on.
So we move on to the essay The Luck of Magnitudes by George O. Smith. It discusses just how lucky we are that Earth is at the convenient place that it is, not simply for life but also for humanity’s ability to look at space around them, especially the moon. It’s a neat article, more interesting than I expected when I started it, because it involves how ancient astronomers looked at the sky.
The last story in this issue is One Race Show by John Jakes. John Jakes? Yep, the same guy known for historical fiction. I had no idea he wrote SF/F and now I see a lot of stuff I want to read like the Brak the Barbarian series.
Anyway, this is perhaps the perfect story for this issue. It’s about the owner of a gallery jealous because another gallery got amazing pictures from an unknown artist. They discover that the artist is so powerful because he draws what he sees in people’s heads.
It’s the perfect story for this issue because it’s well-written but not enjoyable. At least to me. Other people may find this issue really good, but I’ve found much better.