The November 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction features cover art by Jack Coggins of an Earth satellite. This satellite is more like a space station than satellites I typically think of. But considering that the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1) wasn’t launched until about five years after this issue hit newsstands, everything was still left to the imagination at this point.
Before I jump to the fiction, I want to comment on Willy Ley’s “For Your Information.” In part of the column, he discusses Mars and its vegetation. I thought that was rather odd or presumptuous for him, but at this time, scientists were observing coloration on the planet’s surface that changed seasonally. That coloration plausibly suggested vegetation, and if there’s vegetation, what other life might be there? Then Mariner 4 did a fly-by in 1965, showing reality. Additional Mariner spacecraft confirmed more of the same — that Mars was a dead planet.
I wonder how many people were crushed by this, including authors of science fiction. There might have been some who feared Martians coming to destroy us and felt relief. But I also think that the possibility of life on Mars offered a kind of hope to some — that humanity wasn’t completely alone. With the truth of Mars revealed, that hope had to extend beyond the neighboring red planet. It will be interesting to see how science fact continues to influence science fiction, not necessarily by devestating our hopes and dreams but by helping to reshape them into new possibilities. And even without life on Mars, the planet still has an allure to it — a vacant planet that beckons to be explored and perhaps settled.
“The Martian Way” by Isaac Asimov — Mario Rioz and Ted Long work together on a small ship near Mars, tracking and scavenging the abandoned shells of Earth spacecraft. These jettisoned pieces are essentially rocket stages cast off as part of the flight, and they contain metal the humans on Mars can reuse.
A rising politician on Earth named Hilder points out that Mars doesn’t reimburse Earth for the shells, and the monetary investments will take many years to return. But worse than that, Mars can never replenish the water it takes from Earth to propel its ships. As Hilder’s voice gains more attention, other politicians begin mimicking him, which leads to new policies that prevent the scavenging of shells.
Without solid work, Ted begins to plan for Mars, to figure out how they can supply their own water and break all ties with Earth. The only probable source is to go farther out in the solar system, which would take months of travel, longer than anyone has ever endured in space before. But Martians are used to tough situations, hewing out life on a rugged planet, and he knows a few scavengers who are looking for a job.
It took me a bit of time to get into the story because there’s some info dumping. But the story is worth it. There was a gritty, real sense to the plot, and the characters had some distinctiveness to them. This novella was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B as one of the best novellas up to 1965.
“Warrior Race” by Robert Sheckley – Two men land on a planet in the Cascella system to refuel their ship. A previous exploration team left a cache of fuel in a metal spire, but the indigenous people protect the structure as a shrine. When the two men try to retrieve fuel from it, the natives start a battle, not by attacking the men but by slaying themselves.
I liked seeing a different culture in an alien race. It was also interesting seeing a story where the characters aren’t so much concerned for their own safety as they’re concerned for the safety of the aliens.
“Sugar Plum” by R. Bretnor – A neo-Victorian family purchase a planet to live on. Though they’re warned that the planet once belonged to a pirate, Charles (the head of the family) assures everyone of their safety. Beyond the danger of piracy, the family must deal with how the planet affects them over time, drawing them away from their decent and proper ways.
This is a fun story. Just picture a Victorian family in space, and that’s a sit-com by itself. The author’s full name is Reginald Bretnor, and he wrote a considerable amount of fiction over his lifetime.
“A Thought for Tomorrow” by Robert E. Gilbert – Orville Potts is in a psychiatric hospital, desperately wanting to escape. He can think deeply enough to picture himself in other places or periods of time, but they’re always lacking enough definition to take him there. If he could simply focus on the proper setting, he could go.
Gilbert wrote a good story – accurate to the experience of living in such a place (or at least written well enough to make me think it’s accurate). The characters and setting all felt real. This is another tale, however, where I would have preferred that science be left out of the explanation of what the protagonist attempts to do. Instead, I would have just attributed it to magic (or leave it unexplained) and enjoyed a slightly better tale. But this is Galaxy Science Fiction, after all.
“The Altar at Midnight” by C. M. Kornbluth – The protagonist strikes up a casual friendship with a young spacer. The young man has the appearance of long hours in space – broken veins all over his face, a result of using the Bowman Drive. It’s a troubling and isolating fate, but the spacer says it’s lucrative, so they keep going, despite what it does to them. All the protagonist can do is listen and sympothize.
It’s a moving tale with a good punch at the end. Kornbluth was a talented author, and it’s sad that he died when he was 34 (in 1958). According to wikipedia, Kornbluth was scheduled to interview for the editor position at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He had to shovel his driveway first, and that put him behind, so he raced to get to his train. On the platform of the train station, he had a heart attack.
“The Misogynist” by James E. Gunn – Harry tells humorous stories like no one else, partly because he can do so in a dry manner, rarely showing a smile. At dinner one night, he shares his thoughts with the protagonist about women – that they aren’t actually from Earth. Unfortunately, he never gets to the punchline before their wives join them, and even after the protagonist shares the joke with them to egg him on, Harry clams up. In fact, the joke might never be completed; Harry’s wife leaves a message at the office the next day that Harry had a stroke or heart attack and wouldn’t be back.
I get that the story was tongue-in-cheek, but I just didn’t find it entertaining.
“Runaway” by William Morrison – Plato lives on Venus with other pupils at his dormitory. He dreams of space adventures and decides it’s time to escape. No more schoolwork or hearing the others laugh about his name. His adventure starts now.
This was my favorite story of the issue. I could feel Plato’s thrills with each stage of his plans. I won’t say more than that, but I highly recommend reading this one if you have a chance.
“Command Performance” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. – Lisa is at home alone; her husband is traveling for work, and her children are with her mother. Everything seems to be well with her, but she feels disconnected and unhappy, and she can’t identify why. A young man comes to see her and explains that they’re not like the others — they have the ability to share each other’s thoughts. Lisa sends him away, but she can’t shake the idea that he can connect with her whenever he likes. What is it that he could want with her anyway? And is this the disconnection she’s always felt?
The story has a quick pace to it, and there’s good tension. But I was surprised that the story was sensual. First, I didn’t expect to find something like this in Galaxy (I don’t mean to suggest it wasn’t over-the-top, but for 1952 it was a bit surprising). Second, I didn’t expect to find something like this written by Walter M. Miller, Jr., but perhaps I haven’t read enough of his works to understand what he liked to write.
Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the October 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.