Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1951: A Retro-Review
Galaxy began its second year of publication with the October 1951 issue. With contributions from both Asimov and Heinlein, it continued to show the strength of its fiction content.
“The C-Chute” by Isaac Asimov — A disparate group of space travelers become prisoners when their ship is stormed by enemy aliens. The Kloro secure the men in a room and leave only two of their own to pilot the ship back to their territory, where it can be prepared for battle.
Not content to sit idly by and become prisoners of war for an indeterminate amount of time, the men formulate a plan. Someone could suit up and go outside the ship, walking the hull to the steam tubes, in order to re-enter the ship at the control room, hopefully surprising the enemy pilots. The only dilemma is figuring out which of the men has the wherewithal and courage to succeed.
There was a lot of point-of-view shifting throughout the story, allowing the reader to enter the mind of each character. I thought this was done well and honestly there was greater variety in these characters than what Asimov produced in his novel The Stars, Like Dust.
“Pleasant Dreams” by Ralph Robin — Chief Watcher Gniss invites a childhood friend to witness how his group uses technology to spy on criminal suspects. Through the telepathic instrument, they can witness the suspects’ dreams, allowing them to learn of co-conspirators without the need for interrogation.
I found the story curious, but it was hard to really get into it. The story itself flowed like the dreams within it, remaining a bit fuzzy in my mind.
“Ambition” by William L. Bade — Maitland awakens in the future, captive to a scientist named Swarts. Swarts wants to understand why men like Maitland have an interest in traveling to the moon – why anyone would have an interest in space exploration. Space travel (as well as time travel) in the future is such a trivial thing that scientists instead spend their time and energy toward researching humans. Maitland agrees to answer whatever questions Swarts has, if he can at least have the opportunity to travel to the moon, and Swarts accepts the proposal.
It was interesting to see the difference between Maitland and Swarts, but I had some trouble accepting that scientific curiosity pointed firmly toward mankind when space travel was so easily possible. Otherwise, the story unfolded well and the ending was unexpected (in a good way).
“Spacemen Die at Home” by Edward W. Ludwig — Ben is part of the first graduating class of the U.S. Academy of Interplanetary Flight. His friend Mickey and he have their choice of exciting and dangerous assignments, but Mickey gives up the chance to be a spaceman in order to be a cargo supervisor – a safer life that would allow him to have a family. Ben spends the weekend with his friend and meets Mickey’s sister, Laura. Against his will, Ben finds himself drawn to her and they soon begin courting. Now he finds himself unable to choose; should he chase after the stars as he always dreamed or take a dull job teaching at the academy in order to marry the young woman he’s fallen in love with?
I loved this story. It’s my favorite of the issue. I didn’t mention one of the best characters in my synopsis, but his name is Charlie — Ben’s adopted father. Charlie is a retired spaceman (if they ever really retire), and he’s lived a rough life of adventure that’s taken its toll on his body. I couldn’t predict where this story was going, either, or maybe I just didn’t want to think about it because I was enjoying the ride too much. Either way, this was a great read.
“The Celestial Hammerlock” by Donald Colvin — A series of letters are exchanged between Jed Michaels and Mr. Horrocks, his employer. Jed leads a small crew of wrestlers who entertain people on various planets as part of the Interplanetary Amusement Corporation. A miscommunication sent Jed and his wrestlers to Eros, a planetoid of philosophers who incarcerate the wrestlers. The letters from Jed ask for help, while the letters from Mr. Horrocks fume at Jed’s mistakes.
I liked reading something humorous in the issue and I think it was placed well, location-wise (between Ludwig’s “Spacemen Die at Home” and Heinlein’s continuation of The Puppet Masters). The letter-writing style allows for extra fun as you start to notice things like the varying postage demands (from First Class to Postage Due) and greetings. I wouldn’t say I was laughing out loud, but it was funny.
The Puppet Masters (Part 2) by Robert A. Heinlein — The President addresses Congress to tell them of the dangerous slugs from Titan, but they won’t believe him. Fortunately, one of them is controlled and Sam and the team expose the alien in full view of everyone. The President is granted special powers and he implements “Schedule Bareback” across the country — ordering everyone to be shirtless or wear a halter-top (for women). But the videos from the President aren’t played in the controlled areas of the U.S.
Meanwhile, the Midwest has turned into enemy territory, though they can’t be certain how bad things really are. Sam goes in alone to find out what he can and he discovers that almost everyone is controlled by a slug. He narrowly escapes and returns with the information, but there’s uncertainty on how to combat the enemy. Not only does it control key leaders, but the slugs can divide themselves through asexual reproduction so quickly that they could completely control the planet in a matter of weeks, provided they can make contact with each person.
This part of Heinlein’s novel is a thriller. There’s a lot of tension, especially when Sam heads into the Midwest alone. There’s a bit more complexity thrown into Mary’s character, but I don’t know if it was necessary. In fact, the plot itself runs well enough that I’m not sure character development matters that much. The slugs from Titan are the real character, I think: one that can’t be fully understood, other than knowing they mean to overpower humanity.
Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the September 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.
Matt…thanks again for the thorough and thoughtful reviews. As usual, I agree with most or all of your thoughts, and perhaps I can add my own perspectives here and there.
I love reading Issac Asimov’s science articles in F&SF. I have to restrain myself from skipping ahead to them when I start a new (back) issue. I have yet to obtain a March 1939 issue of Amazing Stories, which is, of course, where his first story was published. It is hard to believe that a) Ray Palmer discovered and published the first Asimov story, since Palmer’s usual pickings were crap, and b) the March ’39 Amazing is typically cheaper (ebay) than the February ’51 Galaxy, which I also have yet to obtain.
So I’ll try to reign in the ranting now and focus on the stories.
“The C-Chute” has, in addition to the nice character development mentioned above, a lot of science and even a classic space-opera-ish fight scene. To me, this story is primarily about the group dynamic among the humans and how, once again, the beta male is the one with the courage to face the cold dead of space outside of the ship and then confront the aliens who have imprisoned them. Another victory for us nerds.
Every story in this issue stayed with me, except for “Pleasant Dreams.” The characters and the story were both hard for me to follow or care about. The lame attempts at inducing wonder at technology (the floor rising in the living room, the explanation of the ancient material called silk, etc.) were a red flag right from the start. This is not up to Galaxy’s high standard.
If you are into ridiculous attempts to create wonder with stupid ideas, read Hall Annas in the early issues of Imagination. Yikes.
Why would we ever lose the urge to travel in space, especially to the point where we would kidnap someone from another time to study their urge to do so? I am not a writer, but I know one the basic mistakes writers make is to try to force an unbelievable motivation into a character. Perhaps, in the 1950s, the age of the great yearning to travel in space, the thought of any contrary opinion was so remarkable that it was worthy of a story…? Despite all of that, I enjoyed this one, the interplay in the speculative society, and the dark and mature ending.
“Spacemen Die at Home,” was a much more prescient story, in my humble opinion. Yes, Charlie is an excellent character, and I appreciated how he challenges the reader to see the physical toll that space travel might take on our physical beings. Ben’s choice between a traditional and relative easy life and a life of adventure are not as simple as a stereotypical space hero of this era. The ending was illogical, inevitable, and perfect. I loved how Mr. Ludwig slowly made Ben’s decision seem to turn towards the comfortable path, only to…well, read it if you haven’t.
I am a former professional wrestling fan. Okay, I said it. There used to be a small troupe of wrestlers that made a regular weekly tour of Northwest (mostly Oregon) cities and played to small but frightfully rowdy audiences. When Vince McMahan turned pro wrestling into a mainstream circus (instead of the understated circus it was meant to be) I lost interest. Yes, there is such a thing as a professional wrestling purist. “The Celestial Hammerlock” brought back memories of those smoke-filled mini-auditoriums at the fairgrounds on Friday nights and the wonderment (puzzlement?) of enjoying something that was so obviously fake. I have serious empathy for the aliens who were influenced by the wrestlers. This is a nice archival story of a guilty pleasure that is no more.
I did not notice the change in postage as the story progressed. What a clever touch! Thanks for pointing it out.
“The Puppet Masters” managed to avoid the middle-installment slump in a big way. I just LOVE that when authors need a large section of land to throw away, or in this case, give up as lost to aliens, they inevitable choose the midwest. Now when I say love (okay, “LOVE”), I do so with respect to our fellow Americans in the heartland, because, let’s face it, they are the butt of so many jokes. Just consider how Sheldon torments Penny about her Nebraska origins, or how the Subway restaurant chain got into trouble with it’s ad campaign for a salmon fish sandwich that reminded us that this is “Yet Another Reason We Don’t Live in Kansas.” Good stuff.
This story has a lot of action and the inevitable politics of a Heinlein story…also, the inevitable (or at least unsurprising) sexual undertones. Yes, I know, everyone has to take off their shirts so we can see if they have an alien parasite, and the women are allowed to cover themselves to some degree of modesty, but I am certain that the imagery there is deliberate.
I look forward to the final chapters. I hope we can save the square states. Really. That would be terrible to lose them permanently or to have to put up a big fence or something. Yeah.
I have discovered that in writing these review/review-responses that it is awfully easy to repeat myself. Does that mean that I have so few new ideas, or just a bad memory?
Did I say that last month too?
Thanks for adding to the discussion!
It seems like if there’s a large-scale alien attack, the targets are big cities like New York City or Los Angeles. I did find it curious that aside from the middle-of-America swath they controlled, the aliens also formed a large mass in one major city (can’t recall which one). I’m wondering how that will play into things in the coming chapters (which I haven’t read yet).
I will say that if I was a group of alien slugs, I would have started in third-world countries where communication isn’t as advanced. Then I’d hit the major countries all at once. Yeah, it wouldn’t make for as good of a reading because the aliens would win very quickly, but I think that would be more strategic. Perhaps they felt that it was better to take out the major players first and then control all the rest. Plausible either way, I suppose.
I want to say that the major city was Houston. I have probably read five digests since this one, so I don’t remember right now, and I am too lazy to look it up.
I suspect the authors direct their aliens invade the areas that have enough money to buy their stories. Your idea is more fun, though 🙂