“Four in One” by Damon Knight — George Meister and his team establish a base on an alien planet and begin to explore the surroundings. The four of them fall down a ridge and are consumed by a strange, slug-like organism. The only thing remaining of the humans are their brains, eyes, and spinal columns. Amazingly, they can each influence the organism as though it’s part of their own body, which is essentially the only body any of them have. Though George, as a scientist, wants to spend time analyzing the creature, the others are divided as to the next step to take. And they begin to take more aggressive actions, such as forming appendages that might be able to kill any opposing brains.
This is such a unique story that it’s a good read just for that reason alone. But the characters and tension also work well together. There’s a bit of a gross factor involved, I suppose, but I hope that doesn’t dissuade readers.
“Protective Mimicry” by Algis Budrys — Someone is counterfeiting galactic money, but the bills are perfect duplicates, down to the serial number. The treasury’s chief inspector sends a man named Baumholtzer to investigate where they turned up – a humid, heavily-forested planet named Deneb XI. Baumholtzer heads to the only city on the planet and finds a bar that knows how to make his drink. Unfortunately for Baumholtzer, the person behind the duplicate money knows he’s coming.
It’s a nice detective story with great descriptions. I wish it had been longer, but it moves at a good pace, so maybe expanding it wouldn’t be a great idea. I just liked the feel of the narration so much that I wanted to keep going.
Budrys would become more involved with Galaxy in later years as its book critic. In 1985, a collection of all 54 of his Galaxy book reviews was published in a book titled Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf.
A quote in the book (according to a synopsis I found online) explains Budrys’ stance as a critic:
Writers of imperfect, tousled books should be made aware that standards of breeding and grooming exist. I strive to fulfill that function.
“Saucer of Lonliness” by Theodore Sturgeon — A woman encounters a small alien spacecraft in front of a crowd. The aliens talked to her, but she won’t — or can’t — tell anyone what they said. Over time, she becomes ostracized by society and isolates herself. But then someone seeks her out — someone who might actually have compassion.
Sturgeon loves his characters, and he writes them with care and compassion. I felt that there was a deeper theme within this story that I just didn’t glom onto for some reason. This story was later adapted for radio (X-Minus One) and TV (The Twilight Zone).
“Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley — Robotic probes monitor the Earth, programmed to prevent murder and to learn. Over time, their definition of murder expands to the protection of animals, plants, and themselves.
This has a classic science fiction plot and dilemma. Humans created a device that works too well or works in an unpredicted way, but the quickest option to stop it causes a different problem. It’s not a bad story, but it’s a theme that felt too familiar to me. Perhaps that’s one of the problems of looking at past works — the limitations of being able to appreciate the novel ideas at the time they were novel.
“Know Thy Neighbor” by Elisabeth R. Lewis — Ellen lives alone in her apartment building. It’s not the best side of town, but the building is safe. At least, it seemed safe until she discovers a monster in the incinerator chute.
I was surprised to find a bit of horror in the magazine. Some might argue it’s science fiction, and that’s fair. I would say the horror aspects, or even classifying it as horror, lends it more weight and accuracy. I like how the story opened (stating that there was a monster in the incinerator chute), then went back and built the plot in a suspenseful manner. I haven’t been able to find any other information on Lewis. Maybe someone can help out <ahem>Rich Horton<ahem>.
Ring Around the Sun (Part 3) by Clifford D. Simak — Vickers returns to the first Earth to help humanity and thwart the industry leaders who refuse to relinquish control. He’s also faced with the reality that his true self was placed in hibernation while his consciousness was split among three android bodies. Worse than that is the realization that one of those bodies is the woman he loves.
There’s much more happening in the third part of the novel. I realize that I’m spoiling it to some degree just in describing what happens within each section, so if you haven’t read the novel, forget what I’ve written and go read it. It’s a complex tale, exploring the evolution of mankind (somewhat similar to Stan Lee’s take in X-Men), parallel worlds, androids, and immortality.
Try it out.
Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the January 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.