Tag Archives: George O. Smith

Mag Review: Astounding (December, 1945)

In my best Harry Carey voice: “Holy Cow!”

This is what a 10 out of 10 issue is like. Incredible issue for a variety of reasons. The stories were great, the ads were fun and interesting, and the science essay was, well, astounding.

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?136693

Astounding (12/45)
Astounding (12/45)

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.

The next story, again only 3-4 months after the bombs were dropped, was a story by Lewis Padgett called Beggars In Velvet. Padgett is, as some of you probably already know, is the pseudonym used by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore for their collaborations.

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.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58435

I’ll start with the Galaxy of April, 1963.It’s edited by Frederik Pohl and includes an essay by Willy Ley.

See you then.


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: 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