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Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1953: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction September 1953-small Galaxy Science Fiction September 1953-back-small

The September, 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction opens with Editor H. L. Gold weighing in on vocabulary guessing for future science fiction. He writes that

Objects and methods must be named so the reader will recognize them. All the author can do is apply logic, which sometimes works, as in the case of several commonly used terms invented by science fiction, but more often does not, as in terms that are born naturally, not synthesized.

He describes how some words, like nylon and Kleenex, are trade names. The word jeep came from how soldiers abbreviated “General Purpose Car” (listed as “G.P.” in stock lists). He concludes his remarks by writing:

If we were trying to predict instead of entertain, you’d be right in objecting to our inevitable bloopers (origin unknown). But would you rather wait for the correct lingo (lingua, tongue) or enjoy our guessing right now?

My answer: bring on the bloopers!

[Click for bigger images.]

Galaxy Science Fiction September 1953-contents-small

“The Touch of Your Hand” by Theodore Sturgeon — Osser forces people from the village to build a tower. He’s the largest person around, and he wants to use his strength to drag everyone into an age of growth. Jubilith doesn’t understand his motives, but she loves him. Eventually, he shows her why he’s determined to change — taking her to the ruins of a former civilization. He believes they can rebuild, if there’s a strong leader to guide them.

The plot of the story is interesting, but as with many Sturgeon stories I’ve read, the characters carry the weight. Even when a character seems flat on the surface, there are layers that emerge over time. I think readers who also write would have an additional appreciation for Sturgeon, though I’m afraid I don’t know of a definite way of capturing his talent.

Galaxy Science Fiction September 1953 The Touch of Your Hand-small

“Worrywart” by Clifford D. Simak — Charley Porter is a newspaper copyreader who begins to see a pattern of impossible stories. An airplane crashed into a mountain, but everyone survives. A horse with 64-1 odds wins the derby. A little girl who was deathly ill unexpectedly recovers. He pores over old stories until he comes across one about an invalid named Cooper Johnson who claims to have an ability to create a reality simply by thinking of it the evening before. Charley isn’t a reporter, but he wants to find out if the article about Cooper is real and if he could be involved with the impossible stories.

I loved the immediate description of Charley’s profession (and character): “He is a comma watcher and a word butcher and a mighty tide of judgment set against the news.” The story progresses well and ends with uncertainty, though it’s a menacing uncertainty.

“Problem on Balak” by Roger Dee — A small crew arrives on the planet of Balak to collect samples of life — the first people to ever reach the planet, as far as they know. A Balakian greets them with two humans who appear to be twins. Each man claims to be Ira Haslop, marooned on the planet for the past 22 years. The Balakian says that one of the men is authentic while the other is a Balakian whom they surgically altered to look like the man. The Balakians are trying to decide whether to join the Terran Realm or not. They offer the crew a test: if they can identify the true Ira Haslop, they will join the Realm, but if they cannot, the crew must remain on Balak in order to keep their existence a secret.

Logic puzzles are intriguing, but this is a game I’ve never played. It was fun to see the various attempts by the crew to unravel the truth. This story was reprinted the next year in The Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction (1954), a 508-page Galaxy anthology published in hardcover by Crown Publishers, with a cover by Mel Hunter.

The Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction

“Far From the Warming Sun” by R. D. Nicholson — Wolseley Clemmenceton, President of the Triplanetary Republic flees for his life with his mistress, Dagmar Educe, and Major Grenville. They travel to the distant moon of Titan to join a small colony who have no ties to the inner planets. Asylum isn’t easy; their wealth and status are greatly diminished. But Wolseley’s experience doesn’t go unnoticed.

Nicholson’s story feels realistic, even down to the type of relationship between Wolseley and Dagmar. Even at points when she seems to melt into stereotypes, Wolseley tells another character (and readers) that she’s not as she appears. “If you attempt to evaluate her on the evidence of temper, temperament, and flirtation during a short twenty-four hours, you will only mislead yourself. The wilfulness (sic) you’ve seen; her strength of character and intelligence, you have not.”

Forerunner 1 Forerunner 2

Nicholson was also the editor of a two-issue fanzine in Australia named Forerunner.

“New Hire” by Dave Dryfoos — Rather than working until a retirement age later in life, retirement begins immediately and lasts until age 40. Bozzy dreads entering the work force, but he spent two years as an understudy for Mr. Kojak, who is 75.

It’s a short story, and I don’t want to describe more for fear of ruining the plot. If you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, you might track down an online version and amuse yourself rather than clicking through all those pictures of abandoned amusement parks. Or maybe take the time to do both because pictures of abandoned amusement parks are amazing.

“Half Past Alligator” by Donald Colvin — Bill Bradley and other explorers assess a distant planet and its most intelligent life form – smaller humanoids named Quxas who have an appearance similar to 20th century American clowns. The Quxas lack cooperation, so predators hunting in packs easily overwhelm them, which will eventually lead to the end of all Quxas. So Bill and his team work with them – by teaching them to play baseball.

Colvin’s story is lighthearted and fun. Other than “The Celestial Hammerlock” from Galaxy’s October, 1951 issue, I’m not sure Colvin had anything else published.

“Delayed Action” by Charles DeVet — Donald Johnson pursues a man through the Mobius Strip on Marlock. The journey wipes most of Johnson’s memory and sends him about twenty years into the future. Forgetting his mission and purpose, he takes up work with one of the few humans on the planet and eventually becomes a manager. The man he once pursued returns one day, along with enough logical clues for him to reconstruct the pieces of his past, if he can do so before the other man kills him.

If this story had more grittiness, I think it would be amazing. As it stands, I find it interesting but lacking.


Matthew Wuertz’s last retro review for us was the August 1953 issue of Galaxy.

10 Comments »

  1. “Worrywort”!

    Another of those Simak stories with unappealing titles.

    I posted this to a forum recently:

    As much enjoyment as Simak’s writing has been giving me since I started seeking it out in 2008, I’m thinking that one thing that dulled my interest for so long was the titles of quite a few of his short stories. See if you can imagine a time when you weren’t a dedicated Simak fan, and suppose you ran across these titles in an anthology of stories that you’d checked out from the library. You like the sense of wonder, you like clever plots and engaging characters… and then you see titles like these:

    Carbon Copy
    Green Thumb
    Immigrant
    Neighbor
    Good Night, Mr. James
    The Sitters
    The Fence
    The Answers
    Installment Plan
    Conditions of Employment

    Those are drab titles!

    I’m not saying that Simak was wrong to use these titles. There’s something to be said for deliberately choosing an unassuming title so that the reader doesn’t feel that he or she knows what to expect. And I can well understand why editors, wanting to disassociate their magazines from the bug-eyed monster/brass brassiere/blazing ray gun image of sf, would appreciate titles pointedly free of pulpishness. Stories by other authors too had drab titles. Take these titles of Asimov stories: Trends, History, Reason, Evidence, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Hostess, Youth, Kid Stuff, Question, Franchise, Someday, Profession, Anniversary, etc., etc.

    But — wow!

    Really characteristic of many sf story titles at the time.

    Comment by Major Wootton - March 9, 2017 10:35 am

  2. Major,

    Good point!

    This was the era when editors would frequently change the titles of stories… not sure how much editorial interference Simak had with his titles, but I agree that’s a pretty dull list!

    It’s funny, since Simak began as a newspaper journalist (a career he followed his entire adult life, I believe), and that’s certainly a profession where you learn the value of a good headline.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 9, 2017 12:07 pm

  3. Major Wootton,

    Interesting observation on titles. I wonder if this is why Gold also added a short preface at the beginning of each story to entice readers. But I’m not a fan of those prefaces because at least one of them spoiled a story’s ending for me; now I don’t read them until after I’ve read the story.

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - March 9, 2017 1:01 pm

  4. Thanks, John and Matthew.

    A bunch of questions suggest themselves.

    1.If one were going to study the matter of titles, would it be possible to articulate criteria by which different people could make the call, as to whether the title was “drab” or not?

    2.Was the “drab title” movement begun by a particular editor/magazine? (Maybe Campbell’s Astounding?)

    3.Did the fan community notice this type of story title, discuss it, and tend to like or not like it?

    4.Were there interesting cases of authors proposing one title and editors another, for the sake of “drabness”?

    5.Was the development paralleled by, anticipated by, or followed by the mystery magazines? Prediction (as a non-reader of mystery mags): The magazines aiming at “sophistication” (Ellery Queene’s?) would go in for “drab” titles, while mags aiming more for the rough stuff-swell dame readership (Micky Spillane?) wouldn’t.

    6.When does the trend become noticeable, and how long does it last, where?

    A related topic is other sorts of titles. I imagine at least three types.

    1.Pulpish titles — “Vine Men of Venus” or whatever.
    2.Titles drawn from poetry — e.g. “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” from John Donne.
    3.Punning titles.

    At least #2 might be an interesting topic for research.

    One might be able to make correlations between probable audience and whether or not the drab title or the poetic title was common vs. the pulpish title, etc. Audience indications could include the magazine’s advertisers, etc. Thus I would guess that the “drab” title” thing was common with Galaxy, as “Worrywart” here suggests, and that Galaxy’s advertisers were different from those of some of the more pulp-adventure-type magazines whose stories would have corresponding titles.

    But, as I said, I suppose the “drab” title move was part of a bid for relative respectability.

    I suppose the veteran editors and authors who might have comments on the matter are no longer with us…

    Comment by Major Wootton - March 9, 2017 4:31 pm

  5. Ok – tell me quick! Where can I read “Vine Men of Venus?”

    Comment by Thomas Parker - March 9, 2017 5:49 pm

  6. Rich Horton may know for certain, but I think Vine Men of Venus appeared in an issue of Interplanetary Monthly around 1948. The author was Q. Sotherby, a pseudonym, more than likely. That same issue included other memorable titles… Yikes – the Ants are Eating my Brains, Exploding Super Monkeys, and Lunar Explorers of 1986.

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - March 9, 2017 8:27 pm

  7. Many years ago, when there was hair on my head, I would look at certain titles and say “No! I don’t want to read that! It’s just too bizarre!!!” One such title was “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. What kind of weird character would come up with such a strange title and what kind of book would it be? With a title like that, surely it would be a load of rubbish. Vine Men of Venus, on the other hand, now there’s a title I can relate to. Then I started to read Dick, loved his work and took the plunge. Strange, arresting and asking the kind of question that only a genius like Dick could come up with. Also, apposite. The book is about electric sheep. I love that title, now. Then along comes the film with a dreary title. Clearly, the powers that be in movie land hold the same fears I had when I refused to read the book. Neil

    Comment by NeilH - March 10, 2017 11:38 am

  8. I admit I’ve never heard of “Vine Men of Venus”. I think Ross Rocklynne’s terrible story “Slave Ship to Andrigo” (not quite such a bad title) does feature vine men, or plant men at any rate. (Planet Stories, July 1951, but I can’t recommend the story.)

    It does seem to me that title fashions switch from a preference for short titles (“Profession” etc.) to long titles (the classic example is D. G. Compton’s novel CHRONOCULES, originally published as Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, the Sandpaper Sides of Used Matchboxes, and Something that Might have been Castor Oil.)

    I like titles from poems. I assembled a list once of SF stories with titles taken from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”.

    Comment by Rich Horton - March 10, 2017 11:46 am

  9. Thanks, Rich — your citation reminds me of a fourth category of titles that I should have mentioned, New Wave-type titles, of which “Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, the Sandpaper Sides of Used Matchboxes, and Something that Might have been Castor Oil” seems like a good specimen.

    I seem to have set loose a bibliographic phantom. Alas, “Vine Men of Venus” was an ad hoc improvisation.

    Comment by Major Wootton - March 10, 2017 12:41 pm

  10. It’s all in good fun, Major Wootton.

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - March 10, 2017 4:08 pm


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