Tag Archives: James Schmitz

Mag Review: Analog (August, 1962)

Greetings all

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.

Analog (August, 1962)
Analog (August, 1962)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56739

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 issue begins with an essay by John W. Campbell called How to Get More Than Your Share. It’s a quick discussion of basic economics and how they apply to us all.

The first story in the issue is Christopher Anvil’s The 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.

Next up is Randall Garrett’s The Bramble Bush. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a fission/fusion adaptation of There Was a Man in Our Town nursery rhyme.

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.

Next we come up to a pictorial essay about building the Cambridge MIT particle accelerator called The Big Job of Moving Little Things by John W. Campbell. It also discusses its capabilities and goals.

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.

Next is P. Schuyler Miller’s review section. Included was a fun review of Schmitz’s first Trigger Argee novel, A Tale of Two Clocks. He also reviews Poul Anderson’s After Doomsday and Philip Jose Farmer’s The Alley God, which is actually on my “to be read” list.

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.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58679


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.