With a colorful, 4th of July holiday-appropriate cover, the July issue of Galaxy hit newsstands (or arrived in your mailbox if you were a subscriber), much to the delight of its readers (or so I imagine). The issue felt very full — as though H. L. Gold used some undetectable device to cram extra fiction into the folds. Or perhaps it was the anticipated conclusion of “Mars Child” and the absence of any science article. At any rate, I think this was one of the better issues.
“Venus is a Man’s World” by William Tenn — Ferdinand is the only boy on a rocket filled mostly with young women on a journey to Venus. That world offers a better opportunity of finding a suitable husband than Earth, where the population is mostly made up of women. Not that Ferdinand cares about any of that. He just wants something to do, so he explores the ship, including restricted areas, like one of the lifeboats. Except that someone’s already in the lifeboat — a stowaway who calls himself Butt. And Butt knows all kinds of things that Ferdinand’s sister never talks about. If only he’d let Ferdinand hold his gun…
I absolutely loved this story, and it was easily my favorite of the issue. The narration is told in first-person from Ferdinand’s point of view, and it is hilarious and engaging. Butt’s character is outstanding. This is also a piece that stands the test of time. It was eventually collected in William Tenn’s third collection, The Square Root of Man (1968).
“Common Denominator” by John D. MacDonald — As humanity begins to study another advanced race in the galaxy, they discover that the aliens have a crime rate and insanity rate of nearly zero. Charting the past millennia reveal that it all improved eight thousand years in the past. Lambert, Chief of the Bureaus of Racial Maturity, has the chance to speak with one of them and to try to understand how such a change was possible.
While the story itself is written well, I found the premises simplistic and absurd. But I’m not going to reveal the reason for the alien race’s rise in peace and safety because that is part of the bite of the story. I’m starting to see more of this trend in some of Galaxy’s fiction, though, where an author will envision what humanity (or a variety of humanity) might look like if X or Y was subtracted or added. And that utopia is but one tweak away.
“Syndrome Johnny” by Charles Dye — New plagues strike the Earth’s population like deadly waves that level each generation. Rumors circulate of a single man who triggers each onslaught. Dr. Alcala doesn’t believe such rumors, but a federal investigator thinks otherwise, even to the point of accusing one of Alcala’s associates of being the culprit.
“Mars Child” (Part 3) by Cyril Judd — Tony and the other colonists continue their search for the stolen Marcaine. They’re also banking on a journalist from Earth named Graham who came to their colony to learn about their lives. But Graham turns against the colony, reporting them as a hive of drunkenness, narcotics and other crimes. Without anyone on their side, the colony will soon face eviction, not only from the colony, but from the planet.
The conclusion has some surprises, and I felt satisfied by the ending. Tony showed some warmth that wasn’t in the previous sections, and there was also some nice action in the plot. This is an interesting, nostalgic novel overall, and if you have a few hours to spend on science-fiction from the fifties, you might consider this one.
“Pen Pal” by Milton Lesser — Aging spinster Matilda Penshaws patiently awaits the perfect man. She diligently checks the pen pal columns for eligible bachelors, and one day, she thinks she’s found someone special. When she tracks him down to his home, she discovers he’s not at all what she actually wanted, though he is exactly what he advertised.
It felt a little odd reading this, knowing how technology has changed, simply in how she uses a “pen pal column” and then has to ask several people in town about where the man lives. Today, it would be dating sites and emails, etc. But I could look past that and just smile with the author at the items he meant to be funny.
“Appointment in Tomorrow” by Fritz Leiber — The Thinkers guide society now, and why shouldn’t they? Where other leaders have failed, they have produced amazing results, such as a computer so unimaginably powerful it’s almost as if God Himself is among them. Or is it all an illusion?
This was a creative tale from Leiber. The details around the Thinkers and their rise in power seems so plausible, which makes the humor almost sad.
Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the June issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.