Galaxy concluded its first year of publication with this issue. Horace (H. L.) Gold notes some interesting stats in his opening remarks. He mentions that about 60 stories were selected from submissions of about 3,000. That’s a 2% acceptance rate, which is better than Duotrope reports for some professional magazines today.
Still, if you’re an author planning to travel back to 1951 to try your chances on getting into Galaxy, bear in mind that you’re up against some of the founders of science fiction. It’s you vs. Heinlein; you vs. Damon Knight. That might prove more difficult than inventing a time machine.
The Puppet Masters (Part 1 of 3) by Robert Heinlein — Slug-like aliens attach themselves to human hosts and take control of their minds. They begin an invasion by controlling key individuals, city by city, steadily working their way toward the President of the United States.
A government agency, led by the Old Man (as he’s called), works alongside two of his best agents, code-named Sam and Mary. The three of them try to capture a live specimen in order to learn more about the threat and to convince the President to quarantine vast areas of the country. But with so many controlled government leaders assuring the President that there is no danger, it seems impossible to defeat the puppet masters.
I’m familiar with this story from one of its movie adaptations. This story set a standard for parasite-controlling creatures. It’s a frightening concept, not too far from the notion of zombies; in both cases the individual is lost, reduced to involuntary responses.
The Old Man is the best character, followed by Sam. Mary seems a little flat, but a lot of writers of these early Galaxy stories seem to only explore a female character’s physical appearance rather than spending words on who they are. For example, here’s part of Mary’s intro:
A long, slender body, but pleasingly mammalian. Good legs. Broad shoulders for a woman. Flaming, wavy hair… Her face was handsome rather than beautiful.
Granted, we can perhaps chalk this up as simply part of Sam’s character (who is narrating), but these kinds of descriptions start causing eye rolls after a while.
“The Sense of Wonder” by Milton Lesser — Rikud and his companions live in a compact world of predictable schedules and moving stars. Except that one of the stars is getting much brighter. Rikud begins to wonder if perhaps things are changing, despite the insistence from others that there is no such thing as change.
One day, the viewport reveals a garden, similar to the one they have, which makes little sense; where are the stars? Convinced that change could be real, Rikud begins exploring their small world, opening doors that have never been opened, and discovering the truth.
I enjoyed this tale because it’s one where the reader understands the situation immediately and watches the characters trying to unravel the mystery. I felt like smacking some of them at points (as Lesser no doubt intended). It’s a fun premise, nicely delivered.
“If You Was a Moklin” by Murray Leinster — Moklins are a friendly race, showing great hospitality to the humans who live on their planet. In fact, Moklins can evolve their appearance with each generation, allowing them to compliment their human visitors with children who resemble them. But could the compliments be mounting into something threatening?
I loved the narrator’s voice. The pacing was just right with a great ending. The story was adapted for the radio show “X Minus One” in 1956; I’d love to listen to that broadcast when I have some time.
“Cabin Boy” by Damon Knight — Tommy Loy is as close as we can come to pronouncing the name of the alien protagonist. Tommy is essentially shaped like a large egg and travels as part of a ship’s crew, roaming the universe. They collect metal to consume and happen to discover a human ship.
Tommy encounters the humans first-hand and realizes they are intelligent, but his commanders believe there is nothing special about their latest metallic discovery and slowly dissolve its outer shell. Though Tommy knows he may draw considerable wrath from the captain, he cannot idly watch as the ship is destroyed, killing the human occupants.
This was my favorite story of the issue. The aliens were very alien, yet I could still connect with Tommy. It was interesting to see the point of view switch between Tommy and the humans, though I preferred the narratives that were centered around Tommy’s view.
“What is POSAT?” by Phyllis Sterling Smith — A small advertisement claims that mastery of all knowledge can be yours, courtesy of The Perpetual Order of Seekers After Truth, an ancient secret society. Donald Alford, a research physicist, notices the ad and decides to follow up, hoping to expose a hoax. He’s surprised to see where each correspondence with POSAT leads, especially when he’s invited to meet its Grand Chairman in person.
The beginning of the story was really interesting, and I liked seeing several characters approaching the ad in their own manner. Ultimately, the story centers around Donald Alford, and while the story still moves along at that point, it seemed like there was something missing. Not that I disliked the story; I think I just wanted something different toward the end.
“The Biography Project” by Dudley Dell — The Biofilm Institute uses special cameras that can record the past. Teams of historians, biographers, and others record history in exact detail, focusing on well-known persons of interest. They can use such information to find out exactly why people behaved the way they did, especially those who seemed to go off the deep end for no known reason.
This was a very short tale with a nice idea wrapped up in tidy, twisting fashion. This story was apparently scheduled too late to be included on the contents page. I think I’d feel a little miffed if that was my story, but I don’t think it bothered Dell.
Wondering why? Get ready… Dell is better known as Horace Gold.
How’s that for a twist ending?
Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the August issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.