“Gravy Planet” (Part 1) by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth — Mitch Courtenay works at Fowler Shocken, the top ad agency in the world. And now, the agency has its eyes on the possibility of colonizing Venus with governmental approval to exclusively profit from the venture. Fowler Shocken chooses Mitch as chairman of the Venus Section, leaving Mitch to all the details around drawing public interest to going to Venus and actually making it hospitable.
Besides his work duties, Mitch tries to revive his failing marriage. His wife is a talented surgeon, but she’s seen Mitch try to pull her away from her career to become a housewife. With the news of his advancement, she’s willing to date him again, albeit with boundaries.
As if the stress of the campaign and a sinking love life isn’t enough, Mitch becomes a target. He narrowly survives two attempts on his life, and the private sector detectives aren’t much help. He pursues the man likely responsible for the attempts (along with sabotages to the Venus campaign), tracking him to Antarctica. Unfortunately for Mitch, he’s heading straight into an ambush.
“Gravy Planet” was published as a novel under the title The Space Merchants in 1953. It moves very well, and the futuristic world the authors seems close to modern in 2015. It doesn’t try to turn Venus into an Earth-like planet, but it’s not quite as inhospitable to life as we know it presently. (The Mariner 2 probe sent to Venus in 1962 measured surface temperature among other data, so the authors didn’t have access to all of that information.) Letting the details about Venus go, this novel (so far) is a great ride.
“The Highest Mountain” by Bryce Walton — Bruce and his team explore Mars. Their ship is stationed alongside several others that have been mysteriously abandoned. The ships all rest before an enormous mountain that stretches far above. After Bruce kills one of his teammates, rambling about wild ideas against society, the team leaves him behind to record their mission. They explore the mountain to search for the lost crew members and satisfy their own egos for scaling something so immense.
I liked the unpredictability of this story and its ending. At times, I wondered if the pro-society crew members were too extreme in their views, but that might not be out of character in oppressive societies. Walton also wrote screenplays for the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
“Orphans of the Void” by Michael Shaara — Captain Steffens and his crew explore the Tyban solar system. They find the third planet populated by millions of robots. The robots are telepathic, in the likeness of their makers, who are nowhere to be found. Yet the robots continue to await the return of their makers, for their longing to serve is their primary function.
This was a marvelous tale of first encounters. It plays out well, with a touch of sadness that leads to great hope. Besides writing science fiction stories, Shaara also wrote a novel, “The Killer Angels,” about the Battle of Gettysburg, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975.
“Shipping Clerk” by William Morrison — Ollie Keith lives on the streets, searching through refuse for anything edible. He finds a nut on the ground and tries to crack it with his teeth, only to accidentally swallow it whole. From that moment on, he finds his appetite insatiable, going so far as to ingest hundreds of eggs in an eating contest without relief to his hunger pangs.
Morrison’s story is light and entertaining. It has a nice feel of humor to it, kind of like watching Leave it to Beaver.
“The Hoaxters” by Richard Wilson — Sam and Alex are mining rock on an asteroid, searching for an elusive mineral. For months, they’ve followed a monotonous, daily routine, capped with the same report: “All well. Progress nil.” Longing for something to happen, the two concoct a story that the only life forms on the asteroid – tiny, bug-like creatures that lay dormant in the rock – begin an assault on the research station. Surely the false report will bring relief to their boredom, even if it risks their reputations.
This was my favorite story of the issue. I loved that it became a story about crying wolf, yet they reference that fable and realize their own dilemma. I hope I’m not spoiling anything by mentioning this aspect. Trust me that this is one to check out.
“The Luckiest Man in Denv” by Simon Eisner — May’s man Reuben serves his general well, trying to earn his way above the 83rd level to the more luxurious dwellings of the upper floors. But a rival general is setting Reuben up to be replaced by a double in order to discredit May. Reuben works with the general to uncover the plot, hoping to retain May’s honor and save his own life.
I understood the dystopia the author was using, and it had some interesting aspects. But I had trouble really getting attached to the plot; the world just felt too distant, in general. Toward the end, it started to feel like it might go toward something more grounded, but then that was ripped away to give more of a twist ending. Not that the twist itself was bad, but I just wish I had been more grounded in the story to begin with.
In a way, Galaxy ended this issue with its own twist, for Simon Eisner is actually a pseudonym for an author already in the issue — C. M. Kornbluth. So far, this is the first time I’ve encountered an author with two stories in the same issue of Galaxy.
I’m curious if there are other instances of this elsewhere in the magazine’s history. Does anyone have an answer for that bit of trivia?
Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the April 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.