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.
Greetings all. This week I’m reviewing the Analog of July 1962. The cover story in this is John Brunner’sListen! The Stars! and I love the cover art designed for it. It includes a good essay by John W. Campbell and a work by James H. Schmitz. Side note, I’ve already reviewed the issue immediately after this one. You can find that review here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579. This will be especially relevant since Mack Reynolds had a two-part story, with part one in this one and the second over there.
The first article in this episode is What’s Wrong With Science by John W. Campbell. This is a distressing article, as it details things that are currently wrong in the scientific process, which means those problems are at least nearly sixty years in the making. Basically, he says that scientists are hamstrung by the process, which forces them to come up with answers that often fit the existing models that most scientists accept. Given that new research often radically changes or even replaces existing models, this means that such new research isn’t even allowed to be tried, because if it succeeds, it means that all the previous investment was wrong. Now, it’s as if instead of religious reactionaries wanting to execute Galileo, established scientists would execute him.
Sadly, I fear that this problem is even worse now, given examples I have seen.
The cover story Listen! The Stars! by John Brunner was fantastic. We discover a gadget that lets us listen to electromagnetic energy from other stars. In general these noises are not intelligible but there’s enough of a hint of something more, like hearing alien languages, that people keep listening. They’re hoping that they can understand that half-heard word they’re so tantalizingly close to comprehending.
This causes a number of societal issues, because that hope acts much like a drug. Addicts and acolytes, thieves and thespians. Worse, however, are the unexplained disappearances that seemed to be caused by “stardropping,” or eavesdropping on stars.
Dan Cross is a member of the UN Special Agency tasked to discover threats to peace. Basically, they’re trying to prevent the US and Russia from tossing their nukes at each other. The stardropping craze has finally come to their attention and he’s delving through the possibilities.
However, he and his agency are too late. Others have actually comprehended the science within what they find stardropping, science based essentially Einstein’s spooky action at a distance idea. This leads to both teleportation and telekinesis.
In the end, those who have discovered the potential from stardropping have generally unified together across the world. When the crisis happens, they reveal themselves with the intent to start the very war that Cross is tasked to protect. However, with their use of teleportation and telekinesis, they are easily able to distribute the atoms and particles of all the nuclear warheads and biological/chemical agents into the vastnesses of interstellar space.
The hint is that this will free humanity from its parochial differences and chase the stars, which are now within reach from their teleportative abilities.
It’s idealistic message fiction, promising a utopia that seems impossible for humanity. However, it’s also a fantastic story, filled with action and suspense. It’s also got enough hard science that it seems plausible.
Next is their announcement of things to come in the next issue. I won’t relate it here, but instead give you that link to my review again: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579.
Then comes a single page on a scientific discussion of laser development by GE. As is often the case reading these magazines, it’s fascinating to read these sort of discussions. They provide a snapshot, in this case, of the development of lasers 57 years ago. I suspect anyone actually in the field, would find it very interesting.
Next is Junior Achievement by William Lee. I can’t find much about him. It is entirely possible that’s a pseudonym. One of his stories, A Message for Charity, was well-received. It has been republished a number of time and was turned into a Twilight Zone episode. However, very little else was published under this name.
Which is too bad. I rather enjoyed Junior Achievement, especially since at one time I was heavily involved in the organization. However, I didn’t have five geniuses to work with. In this case, they all come up with some new invention and the local science teacher, who is smart but not a genius, cannot quite keep up with them.
The only problem with this story is that it was more a narrative than a story. There wasn’t much of a buildup. No real crisis/climax. Instead, it went off at a rollicking pace of the kids involved making things happen and always succeeding. It was set in a town that had needed to be moved after some unexplained nuclear accident, so there’s some hint of genetic mutation, but not much, and that aspect only seems to be in the story to explain why the teacher is so poor. He has to pay two mortgages, one for the old house that’s in the fallout zone, and one for the new house. It’s an enjoyable story, but leaves you wanting more, like an ephemeral treat.
I was not disappointed. It starts with a scientist getting an alert. Then we discover he’s not just a scientist, but a member of a secret plot against humanity’s Federation involving 1200 people. These people are, in fact, aliens who were experts in genetics. They genetically raised these 1200 to be indistinguishable from humans. That would allow them to come into the Federation and create a bio-weapon that would devastate it, allowing their alien species to take over.
The scientist escapes with his three closest allies. At least, they think they escape. However, the Federation has set an elaborate trap for these 1200. They know them all because those 1200 have only 3 brain wave patterns, and are thus identified. Once captured, the 1200 are subjected to detailed scrutiny, most while they’re unconscious.
At this point, I was disappointed in the story. The initial start, with its evasion and capture, was really good, but immediately after that comes a disembodied voice explaining the plot. A series of exposition that would do Hercule Poirot proud, but in the context of a short story, takes too long.
But every once in a while, exposition can be the story, and this is the case here. Schmitz set us up to create espionage feel fighting the evil government bad guy, but the exposition reveals the truth at the very end.
The alien species was too successful. The beings it genetically created to be humans, were, in fact, human. None of the 1200 are actually going through with the bioweapon plan, instead doing something else that actually benefits humanity. The final line, which is spoken by the supposed government bad guy is fantastic: “You’ve regarded yourselves as human beings, and believed that your place among us. And we can only agree.”
It’s interesting how a really good writer can make something that shouldn’t work actually do so.
This is one of his essays about understanding the brain. There’s a lot in here that I don’t know enough to appreciate. It does talk about some of the imagined possibilities, which are not dissimilar to ideas talked about today. It’s fascinating in it’s own right that 57 years ago people were talking about implanted electrodes to increase communication between brains, tracking health status, and so on. Basically, he’s talking about implants here which even then promised “unexpected marvels and possible horrors.”
I actually skipped the next story Border, Breed Nor Birth by Mack Reynolds. I tried to read it, but I have already read Part II of this story. Worse, I really didn’t like the way the story ends. Again, you can find that in the review here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579. It’s hard to connect with characters when you already know your not going to like the story, especially the ending. It was like watching a horror movie, knowing the kids are all going to do stupid stuff that makes it more likely the slasher’s going to get them. I don’t like watching them, either.
Anyway, I’m going to move on to the Analytical Library. I find this fascinating as it’s an attempt to objectively quantify what the readers want. It’s essentially much like a modern Amazon/Goodreads rating system. There’s also a bonus attached of an extra cent per word to the winning author, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
What I learned in this version of the AnalyticalLibrary is that I really need to read the March, 1962 issue. Poul Anderson’sEpilogue beat Randall Garrett’sHis Master’s Voice. I really like His Master’s Voice, so it’ll be fun to see the first version, but it’ll also be fun to read a story the readers thought was better.
And when I review that issue, I’ll talk about a number of interesting side notes involving Garrett and Anderson.
Anyway, next is The Rescuer by Arthur Porges. Porges was a prolific writer and a mathematician. i suspect my dad, who was a prolific reader and a mathematician, loved his stuff. I know I really liked this one. It’s very short, but also very powerful.
The story starts with a description of the greatest machine ever made, requiring multiple city blocks of space, fusion power, and computer power which might seem laughable now, but which was incredible then.
Then two scientists destroy it.
The story then turns to the preliminary hearing discussing the events that led to the destruction. In this, one of the scientists who destroyed the machine explained himself.
The machine was a time machine and one of the technicians involved in it commandeered the machine for his own purposes. However, he left a note, and the scientists, upon reading that note, decided that it was best to destroy the machine safely than allow the technician to succeed.
And this is where it gets thought-provoking. We’ve all wondered about changing the currents of time, but what if it changed so much more?
The technician is going back in time with a modern weapon and ammunition to prevent Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and execution. If Jesus had to die to save humans from their sins and that doesn’t happen, what next? Basically, it asks the question of all of us: Would you save Jesus of Nazareth? What would that do to all of history and to our souls? What a fascinating philosophical question and, as mentioned in the story, the kind of question we all have to answer for ourselves.
The last section, as usual in Analogs, is P. Schuyler Miller’s review section entitled The Reference Library. In this issue, he begins with a scathing discussion of the double-standard applied by publishing companies with respect to writers of SF and “literary” writers who happen to write an SF novel.
He nails something I talk about quite often at conventions. If you’re going to write in another genre you have to have read enough of the genre to understand the existing tropes and methods. In this case, the books in question didn’t get the hard science right, not even close to right. You also have to respect the genre, even if you’re writing a parody of it. Perhaps especially a parody, because if you despise it, your story comes out mean-spirited instead of humorous.
I have to say, this was a darn good issue. It rises in my mind because I didn’t actually read through the Reynolds story, of course, but there’s quite a bit here I’m pleased to have read.
Next week, I’ll read the Fantastic Universe from July, 1957. It has works by August Derleth, Manly Wade Wellman, and Robert Sheckley. Wellman is a familiar name to me not simply because of his speculative fiction, by the way, which I’ll explain next week.
Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89841
Thanks for reading. I’m off to finish a short story for James L. Young.
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: email@example.com.
I decided I wanted to spend time with the family last week instead of reviewing a magazine. I suspect I’ll do that again around Christmas as I had a great Thanksgiving.
Anyway, this week’s magazine review is the Analog of August, 1962. It promises to be an excellent issue with a cover story by , plus other works by James Schmitz, Mack Reynolds, and one of my favorite authors, Randall Garrett. It also has a hilarious ad on the inside cover.
The hilarious ad inside the front cover is for the Remington Rand Microfilm Camera. It talks about how its unfair to SF, because it doesn’t have have enough knobs, doesn’t hum, has no green light, nor does it have an oscilloscope. Plus it weighs in at a svelte 155 pounds.
The first story in the issue is Christopher Anvil’sThe Toughest Opponent. This is an excellent story pitting a solver of problems against a tough test. He is on a planet where the natives can eat virtually anything, meaning they really can’t run out of food. Their population explodes, but they never need to organize past the individual. As individuals, the natives are intelligent. However, he has to face them as an amorphous mob.
What I loved about this story was the solution. He found a native insect that terrified the natives during the day, but which was quiescent at night when the natives hunted them. He could, and did, use the insects as a defense to protect various enclaves around the planet. This worked, but left the situation back where they started.
So he set up these insects in defensive positions that required two or more natives to defeat. Eventually, this forced the natives to start working together, which then began the creation of tribes and larger units.
Someone mentioned that this was their toughest opponent yet, but the hero looks in the mirror and says, that’s our toughest opponent. We forget to think, and that lack of thinking is the root of all our problems. There’s a lot to that.
There was another striking quote. “The trouble with life, Towers, is that it presents an endless selection of choices between undesirable alternatives. For instance, if a man wishes to act sensibly, he should first understand the situation thoroughly. But, if he waits till he understand the situation thoroughly, the opportunity for action passes (p 12.)” I love that truism.
Our main character is a nuke plant technician in a plant on the Moon. He wakes up to find that two of his co-workers are unconscious and one of their reactors is having real problems. The only other co-worker around is ineffectual and panics easily. So, he goes in to do what needs to be done.
He saves the unconscious guys and slows the reactor, but does not solve the problem. However, in the process, he forgets the chemistry of the situation and his protective suit gets covered in radioactive mercury. He needs to be able to get out of the suit in order to go back to the control center to put an end to the problem, however, a shower won’t remove the mercury from his suit, and he can only reach a small fraction of the mercury to scrub it off. If he takes the suit off, he’ll die, and if he doesn’t, the reactor will blow.
But Mercury-203 mixed with Helium-4 in a fusion reactor fuses to Lead-207, which is a stable element. So his solution is to go back into the reactor and wait until the process is completed, even though it becomes a bit uncomfortable at 350 or so Celsius. Then he simply leaves the reactor, takes off the heavy, but non-radioactive suit and goes into the control panel to set everything back to normal.
One of Garrett’s greatest skills is ending short stories, and this is a great example. During the process of solving the problem, the hero ruefully laughs that he’s a knight in shining armor. When the rescue crew arrives to find him dozing, our hero mutters, “I am a knight in dull armor” (p. 67), which is humorous enough, but then Garrett adds this brilliant bit: “Hi yo, Quicksilver, away” (p. 67).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but if you can get your hands on The Best of Randall Garrett, do it. It’s some of the best short story writing you will ever find.
Next we get to Watch the Sky by James H. Schmitz. In this story, our protagonist and other plotters arrange a hoax to further their careers. Humans have been in a war with the Geest for decades and hundreds of millions on each side have perished.
The hoax is the duplication of a Geest weapon war relic owned by the protagonist’s great grand-uncle and the subsequent “discovery” of that duplicate on his planet. It’s a backwater planet that at one point had another intelligent species on it, but is now on the other side of human space from the existing front of the war. The problem is that the duplication machine does not have access to certain Geest materials so a molecular scan proves it must be a forgery.
That puts the plotters in a bad place. This is, essentially, treason during a war, and as such is a capital crime. That isn’t all, however, as the main character discovers that the only place his ancestor could have found the weapon was on this planet, so his hoax is not actually a hoax. Worse, there’s evidence that this planet will become the focus of a new attack by the Geest.
Can’t prove it though, and they have no credibility because of their actual hoax attempt. However, in the conclusion, the government hears their theories, agrees with them, and then sets a trap. In the end, the plotters all become heroes and the Geest are slaughtered when they attack.
I’m telling this story abruptly in this blog post, but that abruptness mirrors the story. I like this story, but I would have liked it a lot more with some subtle hints of what was coming.
When I write my mysteries, once I figure out the bad guy and the ending, I always make sure there’s a subtle line of bread crumbs that, when the book is read again, make sure the reader knows the evidence was there all along and that the reader had a chance to figure it out.
I’m reading some Nero Wolfe stories and while I am enjoying them, we are not always presented with all the information we need to solve the story. That’s the case here. I would have liked more hints at the provenance of the MacGuffin.
Also, the transition from bad guy to good guy at the conclusion was too fast. All of the twists happen in only two pages and the plotters need to be hammered a bit before getting their reprieve in my opinion.
It’s still a good story, though, and I wonder if Jack McDevitt has read it. It reminds me a bit of his A Talent for War, which is a fantastic book.
That is followed by another science fact essay on The Color of Space, also by Campbell. Here, he discusses some of the particulars in taking pictures of space.
We get to another story, this one by Mack Reynolds called Border, Breed nor Birth. This is part 2 of 2, so we miss much of the story. What I did read was reasonably well-constructed, but this is one of the worst stories I’ve read since starting this exercise. If I run across part 1, my opinion might change, but I don’t think so. The lack of the first half is not the problem with it, it’s the conclusion.
The story is basically of a Westerner claiming the name al-Hassan who creates a new country in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s more of a thriller than SF, as the SF aspects only appear in terms of a few technological items. It could be a good story, especially given the context Reynolds wrote in. The world powers are all jostling for their best outcome. There’s spying, assassination attempts, and a guerilla war, so there are building blocks to make a good story.
But the story’s conclusion is awful. One character says, “You know, Isobel, in history there is no happy ending ever. There is no ending at all. It goes from one crisis to another, but there is no ending” (p. 156). This is absolutely true of history. In this case, the story ends with the al-Hassan learning there’s a new challenge to face, a new warleader arrayed against him. Yeah, sure, that’s historically the way things often happen, but I want the story to have some sort of conclusion.
This doesn’t have one. At all. It literally spends more time on the grammar of Esperanto than on having a conclusion. It is simply pages and pages of rambling events whose final words are “…there is no ending.” Really? That’s it? My reaction when I got to it was unprintable as it frustrated me immensely.
All in all, this was a fun issue. Two very good stories and another solid one well outweigh the clunker. Plus, you have plenty of contribution from Campbell, who I wish I could have argued with over beers for hours on end.
Oddly, the issue I randomly grabbed has a direct tie in to this issue. It’s the Galaxy of December, 1961, and its cover story is The Day After Doomsday by Poul Anderson. Should be fun.