Tag Archives: Mack Reynolds

Mag Review: Imaginative Tales (September, 1955)

Greetings all

I’m looking forward to this week’s magazine review, unlike last week’s. This one is not filled with any classic stories and there’s no Asimov, Heinlein, or Clarke, but all the stories were solid and filled with action. There’s one exception. It isn’t a classic, but the last story should be.

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?183245

Imaginative Tales (9/55) Cover
Imaginative Tales (9/55) Cover

I suspected I was going to enjoy this issue when I read the first words of the editorial by William L. Hamling. “An action story is more popular than any other type” (4). Previously, Imaginative Tales had focused on humorous stories, but they shifted their editorial focus starting in this one on action.

I like it, especially since it’s how I try to write.

By the way, Hamling had an interesting career. As an editor, he kept buying a poor artist’s fantasy cartoons. The cartoons weren’t very good and so Hamling never published them, but the artist needed the money. In 1953, the artist came to Hamling with a magazine idea. Hamling replied, “You can’t sell sex to the American public.” That artist was Hugh Hefner. Safe to say Hamling was wrong and Hefner stopped being poor.

Last week, I mentioned that this issue did something I wish they all did. It’s a simple Introducing the Author essay. Basically, they asked Dwight V. Swain to tell us about himself. It’s much like my weekly interviews, and I really enjoy getting to know the authors as people, especially ones I’m not terribly familiar with. In this case, it’s located inside the front and back covers, but I don’t really care where they would have placed it, given that inside the covers is such prime advertising territory, but I would have loved to have seen this sort of thing done routinely.

Swain’s story Terror Station is the cover story. I’d never read anything by him before, but I’ll remember the name. Terror Station is about a secret project in the desert. Stone, the project’s security officer, is returning to the facility when he sees a woman in the night running toward his car followed by some strange monster. He kills the monster, but the woman is dead. Guards from the lab rush up and immediately arrest him for killing her, much to his frustration.

Fury comes later when his expectations of the whole thing getting cleared up get squashed by everyone in the base thinking he’s guilty. None of these people, who were all friends and colleagues would give him any benefit of the doubt. To Stone it’s like they’re all filled with paranoia and fear which hadn’t been there when he left.

They send him to Reva, the psychologist, who happens to be one of Stone’s exes. She, at least, tries to help. In so doing, she discovers that he had once had encephalitis. In turn, he discovers why she’s there. The project wouldn’t have had a psychologist except she had her own work.

Stone discovers that her portion of the project is creating that fear and paranoia. He disables the device and all is back to normal, except they wonder at the source of the technology. Stone discovers that it comes from aliens who have landed near the base.

The manager of the project, MacDougal, it turns out, has been in league with these aliens. His project was going nowhere until they arrived, and he was afraid his career was about to crash and burn. He took bits of their technology to show his superiors that he was making progress while in turn helping the aliens.

What the aliens want is for us to capture all the krypton out of the air (about 1ppm) and give it to them as they use it for their technology. According to the story, though, what they want is for humanity to kill itself because krypton’s job is to keep our atmosphere intact. If we gave it to them, they could come back later to a dead planet, which to them would be a great joke.

Stone thwarts the aliens, figures out MacDougal’s part, and confronts him. MacDougal, however, has the drop on him and is about to kill him when Reva shoots him with Stone’s gun which she had picked up in an earlier fight. They then walk off, hand in hand.

A good, rip-roaring yarn, exactly like Hamling said he wanted.

Next is Coffin for Two by Winston K. Marks. Marks is another author I’d never read before, but I liked this story. A man returns from three years off Earth mining on Venus. Upon his return, he sees marked changes.

First, most people are walking around with a star on their forehead. Also, he finds his girl now making time with one of their friends. They get into a bit of a scuffle and his friend, who had never been much of an athlete, beats the heck out of the miner. Then the crew decides to go party to celebrate his return. On the way, the lead cab gets destroyed by a passing driver. His friends agree its too bad, because they would have enjoyed the party.

Too bad! The miner thinks two friends have just been killed and it’s “too bad?” It turns out that in the time he’s been gone, they’ve figured out a way to let people rest in a life support chamber (called coffins) and have their brain implant an automaton (called proxies) marked with a red star. His friends haven’t died, but they’ll take a bit of time to get another proxy.

At first, he is completely against the idea of getting his own proxy, but the friend who was now dating his old flame beats him up again. So he goes and gets fitted out. He hides the fact he’s using a proxy and confronts the old friend. Once the friend tries to kill him, he reveals he’s using a proxy and tells the friend to scram.

Now the old flame, who preferred the miner anyway, is waiting for an offer of marriage. However, he hesitates. He wanted to marry her three years ago, but how do proxies get married? Why, the share a coffin for two.

Following that is The Invisible Enemy by Jerry Sohl. Sohl is yet another write I hadn’t read before in this issue. This story is about a rescue attempt on another planet. The planet is a desert planet, out on the frontier, and the exploration vessel that came to it never left. Its crew vanished without a trace. A second ship came to look and the same thing happened to it.

Now comes a third ship. This one has a much larger crew and also includes a brand new computer with its own operator. Unfortunately, the commander of the ship despises the new equipment and scorn the operator as a mere civilian.

At first, his scorn is partially justified. The computer provides no answers, merely saying it has insufficient data. The crew starts exploring. And then they start disappearing, much like the crews of the previous ships. However, there’s nothing left behind. No shred of evidence.

Then, one of the crew is saved, briefly, from one of the attacks. He dies in the ship’s medical bay, raving of monsters. The commander insists that he give the boy a proper burial.

The computer now has sufficient data and says this is not advised. The tech goes to the commander and urges him not to follow through on the burial, but the commander ignores him and scorns the computer’s “advice.” He confines the tech to his quarters and continues with the burial.

However, the burial is a massacre. There are creatures swimming in the sand who are incredibly sensitive to the smell of blood. They scent the body and eat all the rest of the crew while the tech watches in horror. Then his horror is all the greater as he wonders if he can leave his quarters or is trapped here until he dies. Fortunately, the executive officer had believed him and left the door unlocked so he can flee the planet.

De-sert shark, do do, d-doo d-doo…

Henry Slesar’s The Brat is next. Really good story, with one of Slesar’s common twist endings. I become more and more a fan of Slesar with every story.

In this one, an alien is brought back to Earth for study. When the doctor examining alien died, the alien fled. They eventually found him in Nebraska, happily married with children.

Not everyone is happy about this, especially a hate group led by a man named Turesco. He is obsessed with finding all of these offspring before the alien, who can clearly interbreed with humans, corrupts our blood. They track down two, one who has mostly alien characteristics and a brat, who mostly looks human. They kill one and take one away.

However, the only way they can do this is with help from the government. A protector first class named Ward is assigned to the case and it is his suggestion that finally brings the two boys to bay. He does everything he can to save them, but Turesco and his men are just too much.

Then, at the least, we see that Ward also has those alien characteristics, albeit weaker. Turesco and his vision of “purity” is long past any hope of success.

What a great way to turn a crappy ending into a “villain gets his comeuppance” ending.

Last is Buck and the Space War by Mack Reynolds. I loved this story. When I saw it in the table of contents I immediately wondered if it was a Buck Rogers story, so I was excited to check it out. It’s not, but it might even be better.

It’s about a guy named Buck to whom the strangest things happen. If he goes fishing and doesn’t catch anything, it’s because a sea serpent swamp up the St. Johns River. That sort of thing.

Buck lives in Dupont, Florida, north of Orlando, south of Jacksonville. He’s a complete hick and he decides one day to go to Lake Dexter get him a mess of squirrels.

I’m going to stop here and say that Reynolds’ use of language in this story is fantastic. The story is light-hearted in many ways, and the specific words he chooses adds to the humor. Like “mess of squirrels.” Had Buck just wanted a few squirrels he could have stayed close to home, but he wanted a “mess.”

Anyway, squirrel hunting involves sitting and waiting until squirrels come to the hunter. Buck, being Buck, never gets a chance at a squirrel. Instead a damaged spaceship crashes on one side of the clearing where he waited. A small alien pops out and runs to a depression. A second spaceship lands and another alien, also small, pops out and the two start firing at each other.

Buck’s had enough of this, especially since he was sort of in the middle anyway. He picks up one of the aliens and carries him over to the other. He sets them down and asks what’s going on. One is a Martian, the other a Venusian, and the two have been battling for millennia. He  tells them to stop with all this foolishness. He talks about treating people as you’d wish to be treated and overrides their protests about the other guy.

The two take notes and he sends them off back to Mars and Venus. There they take his words of wisdom, leaving him with the title of Holy One. The presumption at the end is that he ends the ancient war because the two take his backwoods common sense back to their planets as the root of a new religion.

It’s silly and impractical. There’s no way these events could actually end a war spanning thousands of years. But who cares? It’s a fun story and you really like Buck.

Again, this isn’t a great issue. There’s no Foundation story or anything like that. It is, however, exactly what Hamling aimed for. A magazine with lots of action, good stories that you want to find out what’s going on, and heroes you can root for.

Good stuff.

Next week I’ll review the Fantastic Universe from July, 1955. I’m excited because there’s stories by a number of good writers including Philip K. Dick and Murray Leinster. See you next week!

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89716


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 (April, 1963)

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.

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58435

Galaxy (4/63) Cover
Galaxy (4/63) Cover

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.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?183245


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 (July, 1962)

Greetings all. This week I’m reviewing the Analog of July 1962. The cover story in this is John Brunner’s Listen! 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.

Analog (July, 1962)
Analog (July, 1962)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56754

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.

Now we get to James H. Schmitz, who I’ve grown to like much more because of the stories of his I’ve read doing these reviews. The story here is The Other Likeness, which is part of his series The Hub.

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.

Next is an article that Dr. Robb Hampson should read, because I’ve no doubt he’d find it interesting. It’s Brain Waves and Though Patterns by Eric Holmes, MD. Holmes wrote a number of SF/F works, including the novel The Maze of Peril, but also contributed a number of essays on brain science.

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 Analytical Library is that I really need to read the March, 1962 issue. Poul Anderson’s Epilogue beat Randall Garrett’s His 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.

Anyway, Schuyler moves on to some more fun reviews. Imagine getting paid to review H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Andre Norton, and a bunch of others. I’d take that job in a heartbeat.

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: 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 (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