Frankly, this was probably my least favorite issue I’ve read so far. I didn’t care for any of the stories except one, none of the ads were fun, and nothing else appealed to me. Hence, I’m just going to give you a cursory review. I’ve got things to write in None Call Me Mother instead of drearily going over these stories.
The cover story is The Visitor at the Zoo by Damon Knight. You know Knight at least because of To Serve Man, a fantastic short story from 1950. Visitor was not his best effort. The cause of the conflict is never adequately explained, it ran too long, and the twist at the end was predictable.
Worse, I can’t root for the main character. He’s a moderately intelligent alien in a zoo who has his brain somehow transplanted into the mind of a passing journalist. We are meant to root for him because he’s got a chance to get out of the zoo where he had been trapped. I empathized with that aspect, but the journalist was simply an innocent tourist, who lost everything. There’s little in the story of sympathy for him, and in the end, the creature chooses not to exchange positions and return to the way it was.
I can both reject the legitimacy of the zoo and at the same time despise the selfishness of the main character. And I do. I said this wasn’t Knight’s best effort. I sure hope it was his worst, because I really disliked it.
On the Fourth Planet by J.F. Bone was the only story to be reprinted often. It was about an alien struggling for life in a desolate world with the remnants of his people. It’s a hard life, and the law doesn’t allow for much leniency. Unfortunately for this alien, he runs into an object that hasn’t been there before. It fills him with food and hope. It also returns to him the cellular memory of his people, suggesting a way they can grow out of their barbarism. As you can probably guess by the title, it’s a NASA rocket that has landed on Mars.
The best story of the lot, by far. However, it’s not a great one, just a good solid story that in a better issue would have seemed like a nice supporting piece. Here, it was drug down by the awful cover story.
I suspect I’ll really like the June 1963 issue, if I every run into it. It has stories by Clifford D. Simak, Gordon R. Dickson, Keith Laumer, and John Jakes. This issue, however, was not my cup of tea.
Next week I’ll review the Imaginative Tales from September, 1955. It has a story by Mack Reynolds and an interesting thing I wish more magazines had done.
Inside the front cover of this issue are a couple of ads, one of which has the tag line of “Making Your Wishes Come True” (1). The text begins with: “One wish has been fulfilled. Won by 3.5 years of deadly struggle.” It’s an ad to continue buying victory bonds.
If I needed a reminder when this issue was published, I got it right here. It’s the December, 1945 issue, and that matters during the rest of this issue.
The first article is the John W. Campbell’s editor column called Atoms Won’t Do Everything. This column talked about the possibilities of atomic power other than the bomb, at the point of writing this essay merely 3-4 previous. It’s got some surprising technical details, such as how to arrange the pile with either heavy water or graphite. The information is readily available now, but in 1945? I was surprised.
Beggars in Velvet is one of 6 Baldy stories about a mutation to humanity after a nuclear war. In it, a portion of humanity has mutated to have telepathic powers.
The war has splintered the remainder of humanity into a series of city-states who actively work to keep themselves separated. The concept of gathering together in large polities seems like something that caused the big war, though they regularly trade among themselves. There are also tribes called Hedgehounds, who have taken this concept of decentralization and become nomads. Add to this societal change a portion of the population that has telepathic powers and you’re guaranteed to have trouble.
The Baldies, the ones with telepathic powers, are split into two factions. One is trying to coexist and prevent any sort of pogrom. The other, the paranoids, are trying to promote a war where they can eliminate the lesser version of humanity.
This world-building has great potential for stories, and Kuttner and Moore don’t waste it. The main hero, Burkhalter, fights against Barbara Pell, a paranoid, to prevent everything from going to hell in their city-state of Sequoia. Also, the Mutes, the ruling class of the non-paranoid Baldies, are working alongside to keep the lid on the kettle.
Burkhalter is a good man and hates everything that the paranoids stand for. Desperately, he continues the fight, doing all he can to stop Barbara and her allies. However, despite their best efforts, the paranoids succeed in starting a nightmare that might end up sweeping the world in fire and terror.
In the end, with some desperate measures employed by, Hobson, the Mute leading the battle and successful long-laid plans to get the Hedgehounds on their side, the Baldies defeat the paranoids. The Hedgehounds are the ones with bows and arrows staring down the city folk on the cover, by the way.
However, the story isn’t over. You see, Burkhalter may hate and loathe what the paranoids think, but yet he still falls in love with Barbara. He doesn’t know it for much of the story, but the Mutes recognize this in his emotions. Someone who can empathize enough with a paranoid to fall in love with one must then be a latent paranoid. He is what he hates.
But he’s only a latent paranoid. If he has constant help, that transition could be avoided. That’s when we find out *all* of the Mutes are latent paranoids and they are in constant contact with each other, helping each one not to stray.
Man, what a good ending. The story lacked some zing because it’s not an uncommon type of “not-our-kind” conflicts, but the ending gives so much ooomph to the decisions of the Mutes and of Burkhalter. This is a character I want to see again. I’ll look for him in the later Baldy stories, because this is good stuff.
Next is the story Orders by Malcolm Jameson. In this story, the war across the Solar System is over. The ships are getting mothballed. Those needing repair or maintenance lack parts and money to pay for labor. Yet again, I mention how this story was published in December of 1945, but he himself died on 16 April, 1945. He is anticipating the end of the war, but I suspect he is remembering the end of World War One as well.
The treaty that ends the war has all the idealistic hopes and lack of reality built in to the Treaty of Versailles. Side note, Jameson was a naval officer and 28 or so in 1919. I don’t know if he was still in the Navy, but he certainly had some interest in the Treaty. Anyway, the treaty in this story outlaws war and in fact, outlaws any kind of threatening behavior. A ship captain couldn’t, for example, threaten any kind of force to comply a criminal to go to jail.
And that’s exactly the story here. A criminal is in the asteroids. The Terran government is asking for him to be extradited, but the government, such as it is, of the asteroids merely laugh at them. The diplomat who added the relevant clauses in the treaty drops the problem on Bullard’s lap, hoping the war hero can at least take the blame.
It’s a Retief-like problem. A bureaucrat with no idea how things actually work outside of his theoretical construct has no idea how to fix a problem when someone refuses to work within that construct. Knowing he can’t possibly be at fault, he dumps the problem, and therefore the blame, on someone else. He tells Bullard to get the criminal or else, but absolutely forbids him to use any hint of violent behavior or threats. No guns allowed. No weapons at all.
And yet, Bullard manages to pull it off.
How? Well, he sends his most capable officer with an unarmed ship and sealed orders. The officer goes to the asteroids and asks for the criminal. They say no. He goes back to the ship and waits. He’s been told to wait four hours, then open and execute the sealed orders. What’s in the orders nobody knows.
Just before the deadline, the criminal is delivered to the officer. The reputation of Bullard and the impending opening of the orders is enough to convince the other government to send the criminal over.
When the officer returns and the criminal is put away, he asks Bullard about the orders. He opens them and hands them to the officer. His orders, after waiting for four hours, were to “Return to Base” (59).
One of the joys of reading these magazines is stumbling upon something I should have read years ago but never stumbled across before. This is one of those. Orders is a story about John Bullard, in fact the last of them written. It was found among his papers after his death. This is early mil-SF and I am definitely getting the e-book collection of these stories.
At the end of this story is a Gillette ad. Gillette razors, after all, have “The swellest low-priced blade it town” (59).
The next story is a treasure. It’s part II of The Mule from Isaac Asimov. Yes, this is The Mule that’s a part of the Foundation series. I’m not going to explain the story here, because if you haven’t read the entire Foundation series, you should.
What’s exciting to me is that I have now seen the first published version. I didn’t notice any difference from the version I first read it, the 1966 Avon printing, but I suspect there might be. If there are, they’re formatting/typo changes, as it’s the same story.
As much of a treasure as it is to find the first printing of a Foundation story, the science essay immediately following is perhaps even greater. It’s a series including technical details of the creation of the atomic. It includes photos from the Trinity detonation from 16 July, 1945 and some photos from Hiroshima.
As for particular details, it covered just about everything it could that wasn’t classified. I again feel obligated to mention this was published in December of 1945, or about four years before the Soviets have their first successful detonation.
From a historiographical perspective, this is something someone researching the early atomic era would probably find riveting. I sure did. It’s also interesting to realize that this might very well have been the first time some of these details had been published. I don’t know that for sure, but it’s certainly a reminder of the speed of information dispersal then and now.
The next story is Trouble Times Two by George O. Smith. It’s about a schizophrenic with two useful personalities. One is an engineer. One is a theoretical physicist. When each is in control, they leave challenges for the other, which makes them both incredibly productive. The physicist keeps pushing boundaries and the engineer keeps making useful, profitable stuff. They also play each other a mean game of chess.
The problem is each wants to the only personality. Both despise the limitations of the other perspective. And yet, their collaboration is too profitable. The conclusion is a little open-ended, but unless the physicist can solve a series of practical issues in 24 hours, they lose their shirt, and the physicist will have to come closer to the engineer.
A tricky, intricate story with a lot of fascinating SF theories.
Side note here. Smith was a regular contributor to Astounding and worked often with Campbell until 1949. That’s when Campbell’s wife Doña left him to go off with Smith.
Anyway, moving along I have to mention an ad. It’s for Doc Savage Retires, on the newsstand. I’d really like to see Doc Savage brought back, as he’s always been one of my favorite characters. A few pages later, by the way, is an ad for the Shadow.
Next is Brass Tacks, the letter to the editor section. I often find these letters filled with fascinating nuggets and this one is especially powerful. These letters are all generally about the explosions of the atomic bombs. One reader talks about seeing the headlines from Hiroshima. Ironically, he says, “I look forward to Astounding for the first really informative article on this new secret weapon” (170). Well, this was that issue for that.
Another fascinating topic was the idea of recording video onto records. It’s an interesting think to contemplate in this day of essentially unlimited hard drive space how one could record and save things from TV. The writer suggests it might be possible to buy movies on disks and that these might replace using film. Campbell dismisses the idea of using records as they simply can’t spin fast enough, but this writer was before his time.
Finally, there’s a short commentary in Brass Tacks by Theodore Sturgeon. It’s a discussion of all the hassles people who read and write science fiction got at the time. Why? Why read it? Why write it? “Who writes this crap?” And then it concludes with the bomb on Hiroshima. Sturgeon then lists many things SF authors are dreaming up, concluding with, “But the man with the open eyes does not hear that. His looking at himself, on the other side of death. He knows – he learned on August 6, 1945, that he alone is big enough to kill himself, or to live forever” (178).
This battered copy, with fresh new cat scratches where Wynnifred demanded treats is going in my own personal special collection. Every other issue I review will be judged by the December, 1945 issue of Astounding.
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.
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.
Now, one would expect that if a serial was turned into a full-length novel, it was probably a pretty good story. And one would be correct, at least in the case of Tuvela. I really enjoyed the first part, am looking forward to finding the second part, and may just skip ahead and read The Demon Breed instead.
The story involves a race called the Parahuans, who had attacked humanity previously and been defeated. How the humans won puzzled them, as in their world view they were the most superior creatures in existence. However, they hypothesize that humanity is controlled by a greater version of humans called the Guardians or the Tuvela. They choose to test this hypothesis out on a water planet called Nandy-Cline.
This hypothesis is crap, of course, but it gives our heroes a chance to bluff the Parahuans into not attacking again. Schmitz does a fantastic job of giving us active prose when much of it is solving a puzzle.
As part of this story, our heroes are aided by otters that have quickly evolved on Nandy-Cline to be intelligent at some level. At this point, we don’t really know just how smart they are, but we can guess they are very smart indeed. I suspect there’s a twist coming related to them in the final part of the story. I look forward to reading it.
The next story is by Harry Harrison and is called The Powers of Observation. Obviously, Harrison is remembered most by the Stainless Steel Rat, which I read a long time ago and clearly need to read again.
This story, however, is actually set in a Cold War Yugoslavia. As such this lets me do one of my favorite tricks when it comes to reading books now, and that’s looking at the satellite imagery of places that are mentioned. The Powers of Observation gives me a cool one by mentioning the Maslenica Bridge. Why is this cool? Well, that bridge has its own story to tell. It was destroyed in the war, a new one was built in 1997 near it, and then a new version of the old one was built later on. I find that sort of thing fun, call me crazy, and in any case I was able to follow the chase in the story from the sky.
Chase? Oh, yeah, the story itself, I should talk about that. It’s a very Bond kind of story where the hero spots a man sinking too deep into the sand at a beach. Some kind of superman, dense bone structure or something. Anyway, the hero has to chase him down, which he eventually does and they get into a fight. He shoots the bad guy but bullets bounce off of him, and we discover he’s a robot.
Our hero manages to defeat him, and then tears him apart to get pictures of his engineering. He takes a bunch of pictures with his chest camera. Chest camera? Oh, our hero was a robot too, and Harrison lets him sneer at the difference between Russian and American design philosophies at the end. I was so caught up in the chase that I didn’t see the hints until until I went back later.
Wallace West is next with Steamer Time. I’d not heard of West prior to this. He wrote quite a few stories in the 50s and before. This particular one is an essay on the possibility of replacing internal combustion engines with steam engines in cars. I was kind of bemused by the idea, but there are advantages to steam power.
One that West focuses on is emissions, based on the Air Quality Act of 1967 in response to the smog in California at the time. There are a number of other technical topics I’m not smart enough to grasp, but it’s an interesting topic. I’ve no clue if this is practical now or not, but there were steam-powered cars built in the 1960s so there’s probably a way to do that engineering now.
The next section is John Campbell’s column on what’s coming next. The following issue includes a Poul Anderson story about the effects of a fairly close supernova’s radiation effects on Earth. Also here are the tallied ratings for the June, 1968 issue in which Poul Anderson’s Satan’s World took first place.
Back to this issue, we move on to Peter Abresch’sHi Diddle Diddle. Abresch is mostly a mystery writer, with only a couple of SF short stories to his credit. After this, I’m definitely looking up his mysteries.
The story begins when Paul Lama, an Air Force reservist, tasked with tracking down UFO reports is thrust into a press conference with hostile press trying to trick him into admitting there are aliens. So he does. He says the aliens exist but they’re actually animals that evolved to live in space. Spacecows.
Lama expects the press to double-check, in which case they find out it’s baloney. The press, of course, does not, and everyone who hears about this gets sent into a tizzy, including Senators and the like wondering why they’re hearing classified info on TV. Spacecows everywhere. I can only imagine what that would be like in today’s media.
And it’s hilarious. The President hears about it from his dog-walker (p. 107). One senator feels, “…like he had just found out the Statue of Liberty was an unwed mother” (p. 107). Russian spies find out from their doorman. “When Isvestia says we know everything, it means we know nothing, and when the Air Force says they know nothing, it means they know something” (p. 124).
Later on, there’s this hilarious sequence where Lama gets tracked down first by the reporter who’s staking his career on the actual existence of spacecows, then Russian spies come in and say, “You Lama?” to which he replies. “Me Lama, you Jane?” This gets repeated when the FBI barge in. Then we get an Air Force captain that later comes on stage and says, “You Lama?” “Me Lama, you Jane?” “Yeah, Melvin Jayne, how’d you know?”
In the chaos, Lama’s secretary Jimmi manages to help him escape, but it turns out that Lama was just about right and Jimmi is one of the spacecows. His guess has forced her species to leave one of the best pastures in the galaxy and ruined her student grant project.
The next story is Stanley Schmidt’s first story ever, called A Flash of Darkness. This story is about a Mars Rover who sees in darkness by, essentially, lidar. However, he discovers another light source that is blinding him with too much light. The robot discovers the problem and navigates to find solar cells.
This story seems incomplete. It’s the kind of thing James P. Hogan had a blast with in the Giants series, but Schmidt doesn’t go far enough. The Rover discovers something that requires intelligence to craft on Mars. Who made it? We don’t know. I wanna know.
Parasike by Michael Chandler is next. I had not heard of Chandler before and can’t find him on the internet. I don’t think he’s the Old West gunfighter reenactor writing westerns, at least.
Anyway, this story is about a new investigator for a federal Fraud agency. He’s tasked with finding fortunetellers and the like who are trying to bilk customers. What he’s actually looking for are people who have a paranormal skill. These often use such jobs as fortuneteller or magician to hide their abilities. The twist is that our hero can tell when people are telling the truth, so not only does he discover one parasike, he discovers he is one too.
The next section is the review section by P. Schuyler Miller. He starts with a discussion of a number of fun series out there including Doc Savage and Conan. He then reviews a number of books. The review I found most interesting was his review of Philip K. Dick’sDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. He sums it up by saying it might take a couple of reads to really understand what Dick was saying, but that we should “Try it” (p. 171). I agree.
Then we’re to the Brass Tacks section, which are the letters to the editors. This set of letters has a theme. Apparently Campbell asked in the April, 1968 what “widdershins” meant and what word is the reverse. Campbell got a flood of responses, all interesting to an etymology geek like me.
Overall, this was a great issue. It’s only drawback was its lack of striking advertisements. Inside the back cover is one that says we should “Discover America, it’s 3000 smiles wide.” I kind of like that.
However, that’s clearly a minor thing when you look at the great stories here.