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Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1952: A Retro-Review

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction August 1952-smallThis is an issue I had looked forward to for a long time. One of my first steps toward reading Galaxy was listening to an X-Minus One radio broadcast titled “Surface Tension,” based on the story with the same title by James Blish in Galaxy’s August, 1952 issue. My wife had gotten this one for me early on, but I hadn’t made my way to it until now.

“Surface Tension” by James Blish — Humans explore the galaxy, seeding adaptations of themselves on any Earth-like planets. Hydrot is all water and marshes, and the crew of La Ventura has only a short time before they die, stranded because their ship wrecked. So they create microscopic versions of themselves (but not with their memories) that can survive in water, hoping they can compete for survival without dominating the other lifeforms on the planet.

This was considerably different from what I remember of the radio broadcast. But it’s a well-told story that’s highly inventive.

“Proof of the Pudding” by Robert Sheckley — One man survives the final war on Earth by taking a ship into space. He returns to the desolate planet and discovers he has the power to create anything he imagines.

I had difficulty relating to the protagonist. Not to spoil too much, but the story picked up considerably with the introduction of a second character.

“Yesterday House” by Fritz Leiber — Jack Berry is a biology student working in Maine for Professor Kesserich.  Jack takes a boat past where he was told to go, and he discovers an island. As he explores it, he comes to a fence and climbs over. He meets a young woman who lives in a house, but she’s convinced it’s 1933 rather than 1951. Her aunts keep her on the island throughout the year, never allowing her to go to the mainland. He wants to prove the truth to her, if he can, without arousing her aunts’ suspicion.

I loved this story. This was my favorite from the issue. It was reprinted in The Book of Fritz Leiber in 1974.

The Book of Fritz Leiber-small“Education of a Martian” by Joseph Shallit — Joyce finally reveals to her parents that she fell in love with a Martian. They’ve corresponded for months, and now she’s leaving Earth to marry him. Her father fumes; her mother wilts.  They know the stigma of marrying a Martian, but she won’t listen to reason. She leaves without their consent, excited to start a new life with Gregrill. But how much does she really know him?

This is a good piece for denouncing racism, and I think its message is still very topical. And as I type that sentence, I’m a bit saddened by that fact.

Gravy Planet (Part 3) by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth — Mitchell Courtenay finds his wife on the moon, and she’s deeply involved in the conservationist group. She was the person responsible for changing Mitch’s identity and sending him to work in the Chlorella plantations, hoping it would change him from his consumer mindset.  Mitch tells her to get out of his life and rejoins Fowler Shocken, renewing his efforts on the Venus project.

Though Fowler Shocken doesn’t believe all of the threats against Mitch’s life or the sabotage, he agrees to keep a security team around them both, at least for a while. When he tires of what he thinks is a game, he dismisses his personal guards. Later that night, he’s murdered, but his will gives the majority of the company’s stocks to Mitch.

Now at the helm of the massive advertising agency, Mitch has everything he’s dreamed of except his wife.  And there’s that nagging feeling he has when he considers what he’s learned from the conservationists — the true plight of consumers and the hope offered by a new planet, unsoiled by Earth’s present society.

Mitch sends teams of people in search of his wife, hoping to talk to her again, both to understand her and himself. But to make things right with her, he’ll need to leave all of his dreams in the past and sever ties to everything he once held as important.

This novel is a great ride. Again, you have to let go of true facts about Venus, but that’s not the authors’ fault. And when I think of so many modern movie plots that have glaring holes in them that we all let go for the sake of the fun, I simply ask for a similar treatment here. This is just a fun novel to read; it’s as simple as that.

Gravy Planet was published as a novel under the title The Space Merchants in 1953. The first two installments appeared in the June and July issues.


Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the July 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.

9 Comments »

  1. […] Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1952: A Retro-Review – Black Gate […]

    Pingback by Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1952: A Retro-Review – Black Gate - SciFi Picks - April 4, 2015 2:34 am

  2. Another good review, Matthew. I’ve read a great deal of Fritz Leiber’s fiction, and he’s a favorite of mine, but I don’t remember “Yesterday’s House”. I’ll have to seek it out.

    In the fixup novel THE SEEDLING STARS, James Blish combines “Surface Tension” with a much earlier novella, “Sunken Universe”, which tells of a later generation of the modified humans in “Surface Tension”. There is also a prologue in the book telling about the spaceship crashing on a planet of Tau Ceti. That prologue is included in the SF HALL OF FAME reprint of “Surface Tension” … is it also in the original Galaxy appearance?

    (Interestingly, “Sunken Universe” was originally published in Super Science Stories in 1942 under the name “Arhur Merlyn” (I bet nobody guessed that was a pseudonym! :)) Blish revised it mainly to improve the prose for the eventual book publication.)

    Comment by Rich Horton - April 4, 2015 11:15 am

  3. Rich, in the prologue, the ship “la Ventura” has crashed on a planet named Hydrot, which is lit by the star Tau Ceti: “The red light of the star Tau Ceti, glinting upon thousands of small lakes, pools, ponds, and puddles, made the watery plain look like a mosaic of onyx and ruby.”

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - April 4, 2015 1:30 pm

  4. Always enjoy reading Vintage Treasures. Keep up the good work.
    More Mack Reynolds!

    Comment by CJN - April 5, 2015 2:15 am

  5. CJN, Thanks!

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - April 5, 2015 3:36 pm

  6. Another great issue! Why aren’t people lining up to buy and read these old sci fi magazines, while instead crap like “Fifty Shades of Grey” makes millions? Humanity frightens and saddens me.

    “Surface Tension” was amazing. James Blish sets us up with the sad ending to a failed (sort of) exploratory mission, and follows up with a story of hope and a rather different exploration. There is enough science here to earn the genre name, and enough emotion (yearning, fear, hope) to allow us to feel empathy towards the characters. There is enough material here for a novel, so as a short story it makes quite an impact. This story is good enough for first place in most issues of Galaxy, but not this one.

    “Proof of the Pudding” reads mostly like a male fantasy to me. The beginning intrigued me with the stone etchings and the protagonist with the foresight to survive the war. From there it became another girlfriend fantasy. Yes, she adds to the story, but the storyline was already played out by the time we met her.

    “Yesterday House” was stunning. Mr. Leiber gives us adventure, romance, dysfunctional family dynamics, and some seriously messed up romantic notions. I don’t want to spoil any of it. Anyone who is looking at these reviews should read this story if you can only spare time for one!

    The ending…well…no spoilers, but I wouldn’t mind some opinions. I wasn’t sure that was how I wanted it to end. I have been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately, so maybe everything else seems too light and happy by comparison.

    The message in “Education of a Martian” (racism=bad) is so very tired, but only because people still don’t get it and we have to keep repeating it. Why is this so difficult? The ironic ending was a perfect way to illustrate how racism (intolerance, discrimination, whatever) spreads so easily, even where you would not expect it.

    I saw a live, outdoor, performance of Crosby, Stills, and Nash a year ago. After singing one of their songs about social harmony, Stephen Stills told the sizeable audience that it “sucks” that a song written forty years ago still needs singing today.

    Wow, “Gravy Planet” was quite a ride. All of the characters and locations kept me on my toes. The business intrigue was not that interesting to me, and, in my mind, Mitch ended up with the wrong girl. The lovable secretary, Hester, is killed with hardly a second thought, while the shrewd and scheming Kathy wins (maintains) Mitch’s heart in the end. Besides that, I did enjoy the serial and the crazy journey it took me on. Mr. Gold hints that another serial is about to begin in the “forecast” blurb.

    I haven’t made my mind up about serials in general. “Gravy Planet” is hard to pick up again after a month off, because of the complexity of the business deals and the character interactions and movements. I had the same problem with “The Demolished Man.” Both are obviously good stories, but I probably would have enjoyed them more under one cover.

    See you next month!

    Comment by GusG - April 7, 2015 1:09 am

  7. > Another great issue! Why aren’t people lining up to buy and read these old sci fi magazines, while instead crap like “Fifty
    > Shades of Grey” makes millions? Humanity frightens and saddens me.

    Gus,

    Great question!

    A few years ago I got an e-mail from an enthusiastic reader of Black Gate magazine. She’d read the latest issue, and wanted to know when we’d be publishing more Morlock stories by James Enge.

    I was very happy to tell her that we had published several in older issues of Black Gate, and they were still available at cover price.

    I’ll never forget the note I got back from her. She was totally mystified at my suggestions to buy “old magazines.” Why would she want to buy something that was old and out of date? She only wanted the new stuff.

    At the time, the back issue I’d suggested was scarcely 8 months old.

    Comment by John ONeill - April 7, 2015 1:19 am

  8. Gus,

    Yes, I think John’s right about the perception of “old” magazines – that they’re not relevant or out of date, clichéd, perhaps. I think there’s also a slant against Galaxy because the demographics of the authors wasn’t as diverse as today’s field. But as we know, there’s treasure in those old pages, but it’s treasure I wish more people would share; there’s plenty to go around.

    Gus, as to the ending of Yesterday House, I won’t spoil it either, but I actually liked it. I thought it was going to turn out differently, and I was like, “Ho ho!” at the end. If it had ended in the way I thought it was going to go, I don’t think I would have liked the story as much.

    I get what you’re saying about the serials. It jolts me a bit as well. To some degree, I’m getting used to reading novels like this now, I guess, having gone through several in Galaxy. But yeah, I think I would also prefer to just sit down and read one start to finish.

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - April 7, 2015 6:44 am

  9. I am not sure I was disappointed in the ending, but I was certainly surprised. Sad endings have a way of making a story seem more serious and profound. One of my other vices is Italian opera, which rejoices in profoundly sad endings. Seriously, read a synopsis of “Rigoletto” or “La Traviata.”

    Movies have a similar effect on me. “Apocalypse Now” and “Black Swan” left me stunned and amazed. It takes a lot of guts to leave your audience saddened or shocked, instead of happy or relieved. I appreciate the maturity and the boldness of those films (sorry, I have a habit of laying out adjectives in pairs…an annoying and frustrating habit). Anyone can make a happy, uplifting ending that makes the audience leave the theater skipping and smiling and waiting to pay for the next sequel. I enjoy those films too but I forget them a lot more quickly.

    I will be thinking about “Yesterday House” for quite a while.

    John, I have no answers for why an eight-month old magazine is not worth reading, even if it has a story someone requested. Why is “new” automatically better, even to the point of being exclusive? Discovering a new author and searching for his or her older stories is such a great joy.

    Somewhat related…I found my first issue of Black Gate in a random lot on ebay, and soon knew I had to have all of them. I am now the proud owner of a mint set, a reader set, and some extras beyond those. I have now read and enjoyed all of them. It’s not just the great reading, but the quest to find them too! Everyone should experience that.

    Now rambling…John, I loved the story of your doctoral defense with your mother in the room. I was alone with five professors for my master’s defense, and now I wish mom had been there with me. They might have laid off some of the music history questions sooner.

    Thank you both for your responses. See you next month.

    Comment by GusG - April 8, 2015 1:01 am


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