Tag Archives: Frederik Pohl

Mag Review: Galaxy (August, 1962)

Greetings all

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.

Cover of the August, 1962 Galaxy
Cover of the August, 1962 Galaxy

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58677

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 Masters which 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 MastersHandyman 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.

Frederik Pohl is next with a story called Three Portraits and a Prayer. Pohl was actually the editor of this issue, but of course he was a fantastic writer. I loved the Heechee series.

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.

Jim Harmon is next with Always a Qurono. This is the second time I’ve run across Harmon. He had a story in the Mag Review I did for the Spaceway from June, 1954 that I really liked.

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.

There are a few more details to discuss. The last section are  Floyd C. Gale’s reviews. The most interesting of these is his review of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat, which he really likes.

There’s not many ads in this issue, so other than the ad I mentioned earlier, there’s not much to talk about.


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Analog (September, 1968)

Greetings all

This week I am reading Analog, Vol. LXXXII, No.1 (September, 1968). This, and others in this time period interest me, because I was a month or two old when it hit the stands.

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56820

Analog (September, 1968)
Analog (September, 1968)

This has been my favorite cover so far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show well online, as the colors are fairly dark. However, it has giant otters and one’s carrying a trumpet. How cool is that?

The giant otters show up in the first part of The Tuvela by James Schmitz, which starts the issue off. The two parts are later expanded to become The Demon Breed. I’ve been exposed to only a little of Schmitz before, mostly through the Telzey and Trigger republishing by Baen which you can find here: https://www.baen.com/original-edition-of-edited-schmitz-stories.html.

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’s Hi 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.

Great story.

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’s Do 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.

Next week, we’ll look at the Galaxy of August, 1962. It inlcudes Frederik Pohl, Jack Vance, and Willy Ley. It’s full table of contents is here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58677. See you then.


If you have any comments, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.