Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1954: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Cover art by Mel Hunter

My apologies for an extended absence from posting reviews. Personal matters took my focus and drive, but I’m back again for another retro-review of Galaxy Science Fiction — in this case the October, 1954 issue.

Mel Hunter’s cover art is titled “The Latest in Dugout Canoes.” At least, I think that’s the title. It’s listed inside as “Lastest”, which I think is a typo, given that lastest isn’t a word. But even in a prestigious magazine like Galaxy, mistakes happen. I like finding reminders that professionals of all sorts make mistakes from time to time. I think it lets all of us relax a bit more when we make our own mistakes.

“A World of Talent” by Philip K. Dick — Tim and his parents live among a colony of people who have talents beyond normal humans, including precognition, teleportation, and telepathy. The colony watches vigilantly for attacks from the Terrans, knowing people on Earth have a persistent fear — not only because people on the colony are different but because they’re powerful.

There’s no romantic relationship between Tim’s parents; their union was solely for the benefit of the colony — to try to create a new level of powers through parents who are both precogs. But Tim lives in his own world, remaining in silence much of the time and seeing Others (as he thinks of them) that no one else perceives. What these Others represent slowly unravels the puzzle of Tim’s talent, and it could protect the colony both from Terrans and itself.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1954: A Retro-Review

Friday, November 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Art by Ed Emshwiller

I find the cover of the September, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction a bit risque for Ed Emshwiller (a piece titled “Robots Repaired While U Wait”). Editor H. L. Gold produced a magazine that you wouldn’t have to hide from people, unlike other fiction offerings that had much more salacious artwork (please don’t attach any to this article, John). But you may have to keep this issue face-down around coworkers and family.

“The Man Who Was Six” by F. L. Wallace — Dan Merrol doesn’t know who he is anymore. Ostensibly, he’s Dan Merrol, but his body is unrecognizable, even to himself. After a horrific accident, doctors used an amalgamation of human donors to heal Dan’s broken body. With legs of different lengths, arms of varying bulk, and multi-colored hair, Dan’s become a laughable caricature of humanity. But it’s not just his body; his damaged brain was also rebuilt using slivers of other brains, giving him memories of lives he never lived. He wants to return to a normal life as a pilot and try to resume his marriage, if his wife could possibly still love the creature he’s become.

I like how Wallace examines Dan’s predicament. The initial confusion, the stages of grief in dealing with who and what he’s become. It maintains a somber tone but allows for lighter moments.

“A Start in Life” by Arthur Sellings — Em and Jay are robots raising two unrelated six-year-old children (a boy and a girl). Their world is confined, and there are no other humans to interact with. The children begin asking more questions about their world, and Em is hesitant to share anything new. The truth will come out eventually, but is this the right time, she wonders?

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Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1954: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Cover by René Vidmer

The cover of the August, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction is “Hunting on Aldebaran IV” by René Vidmer. This was Vidmer’s only cover art for Galaxy. Although Vidmer had cover art on a few other magazines, the majority of his contributions were interior artwork. His art was published between 1953 and 1957 — a very brief career, which remains a mystery to me. I couldn’t find any personal information on him, unfortunately.

“Party of the Two Parts” by William Tenn — An intelligent villain from a distant planet steals a spaceship to evade capture. He lands on Earth, knowing he can’t be extradited by the Galactic Patrol unless he commits a crime against Earth. And when he does attempt a crime, it’s uncertain if it’s only a crime to his species or to humanity, leaving the Galactic Patrol in a conundrum.

Most of the characters within the story aren’t human, but they’re easy to relate to. I liked that Tenn provided part of the ending up front to set the story in place without giving away the entire plot.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1954: A Retro-Review

Thursday, April 18th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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The July, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction (cover art by Mel Hunter) opens with a note from H. L. Gold, the editor. Several authors had shared with Gold how it felt to sell a story to Galaxy. But Gold, an author himself, writes, “Do you think anybody has to tell me how that feels?” He was looking for jobs by day and writing by night in the early 1930s when jobs were scarce, and his “manuscripts seemed to be opened by a machine that slipped them unread, along with a rejection slip, into the return envelope.”

As an author myself, I couldn’t help but laugh; how often it feels that way when submitting stories and getting a form reply (by email in more recent years). One day, after being laid off from a position as a busboy, he checked the mail and found that he had sold his first story. He writes, “Don’t kid yourself that writing is a substitute for work. It requires as hard an apprenticeship as any other profession.” And as a final encouragement, he adds, “Magazines don’t have automatic remailing or story-writing machines. I just thought you might be wondering.”

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Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1954: A Retro-Review

Thursday, March 7th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Cover by Emsh

The June, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction opens with a new serialized novel (Gladiator at Law) in addition to other fiction. The cover art by Ed Emshwiller is for the novel.

Gladiator at Law by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (Part 1) — Charles Mundin is a capable, dedicated lawyer who lacks a degree from the right school to rise in his career. An associate recommends Charles as a lawyer for Norma Lavin and her brother, Don. Their father was one of the owners of G-M-L Homes, the creators of the bubble houses used across the world. When their father died, the company had his stock impounded for years. After Don finally received the stock, he hid it, but the company hired people to arrest him and gave him 50 hours of conditioning — a technique typically used on criminals to reform them. Now, Don can’t speak as to the stock’s location.

Charles realizes that he was given the case because no one thought he could get anywhere with it. But as his investigation deepens, he realizes that he’s becoming a nuisance or possibly a minor threat to those who wish to retain control of G-M-L and all of the other businesses it controls.

Gladiator at Law has a good beginning that sets the stage for later installments. I’m looking forward to them. Pohl and Kornbluth worked together on multiple novels, including Gravy Planet (The Space Merchants), in Galaxy in 1953.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1954: A Retro-Review

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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The cover of the May, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction is by Ed Emshwiller, specifically for Theodore Sturgeon’s story “Granny Won’t Knit.” I’ve only noticed a few covers in these early issues that are illustrations of the fiction within. More often, Editor H.L. Gold seemed to prefer unrelated covers for his magazine.

“Granny Won’t Knit” by Theodore Sturgeon — Roan works for his father, who runs a transportation company. Their society has strict rules around proper dress — hiding the bodies and hands of men and women. Families are organized into strict patriarchal units. Though he’s an adult, Roan hasn’t earned the right to begin his own family and remains under the guidance of his overbearing father.

Seemingly by accident, Roan transports himself into the presence of a young woman who has bare arms and hands. She teases him a bit as he flounders to leave. But in the days to follow, he can’t get her out of his mind and is determined to find her again.

Roan also draws closer to his grandmother, who remembers a culture no one speaks of. And she’s not convinced that the current technology for transportation is the best, considering its limitations to the planet Earth. Her strange views are unsettling, yet Roan sees reason in her thoughts and allows that he may be limited in knowledge.

I think this story stands the test of time. There’s not much that glaringly sticks out to make it a 1950s science-fiction story — at least nothing that comes to mind. It works well.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1954: A Retro-Review

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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The April, 1954 issue is one of the more remarkable issues of Galaxy Science Fiction, in my opinion. I’m amazed at the quality of the stories. There have been many good issues, of course, but this is one of those rare issues that jumps out at me. It’s like watching a beloved TV series where a few episodes really stand out. It’s the nature of art, I suppose. Every piece is its own and affects people differently; some may enjoy it, some may reject it, some may be confused, some may be enlightened. And the same artist might create multiple pieces that evoke different reactions from the same person. Rather than ramble on about my thoughts on art, I’ll return to the topic of this article and review the fiction.

“The Midas Plague” by Frederik Pohl — In Morey’s world, consuming is mandatory. Houses, clothes, and food must be purchased and used to meet quota. There must not be waste. Those at the high-end of society have low quotas and can live the high-life of one-room houses, perhaps without any cars. But those at the low-end of society struggle in consuming enormous mansions, luxury cars, and so much of material products and food that there aren’t enough hours to consume it all. Morey only works one day per week because the demands of consuming take the rest of his time. Robots have helped to create a world where there is an abundance of everything, forcing the quotas in order to avoid waste and support the massive production.

Morey’s wife Cherry comes from a well-off family who has very little to consume. She loves Morey, but it’s a difficult adjustment to his lower-class life of consuming so much. Morey tries to help her by consuming more, but they’re not making their quotas.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1954: A Retro-Review

Friday, June 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy March 1954-smallThe March, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction features a cover by Ed Emshwiller. I’m not certain how easy it is to see, but I like how he added EMSH to the symbols in the background.

“The Telenizer” by Don Thompson — Langston is a reporter who becomes a target of someone with a telenizer. The device, once honed to someone’s brain waves, can change a person’s perception of reality. One countermeasure is drunkenness, but Langston opts for a neutralizing device that he can carry in a briefcase.

Langston starts a story on himself, beginning with an investigation on Isaac Grogan. Langston did an expose series on Grogan years ago on bribery and corruption, which eventually led to the man’s arrest.  Now that Grogan is free, he has motive for revenge. But there could be more at play than the obvious.

I like the premise and some of the action sequences; the story has a good pace. I couldn’t find much information on Thompson, which made me think the name could be a pseudonym for another author, given that this is the longest story in the issue. But I’m not turning up anything.

Maybe someone else (e.g. Rich Horton) has more information.

“The Littlest People” by Raymond E. Banks — Space labor forces are shipped cheaply by placing people in stasis while being shrunk to just a few inches in size. John’s father is the personnel director on an asteroid and meets with Mr. Mott, who arrives with new people available for hire. As John wanders the ship, he finds one of the little people — a woman — lying on the floor.

He picks her up and means to tell Mr. Mott, but there’s a bit of chaos at that moment, and John pockets her. Later, his sister brings the tiny woman (whom she names Gleam) out of stasis by accidentally injuring her leg. So John begins caring for Gleam like a pet while she bemoans her uselessness because of her permanently injured leg.

This is a really intriguing tale by Banks, and aside from some physical violence, it’s a good coming-of-age story.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1954: A Retro-Review

Monday, April 30th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction February 1954-smallThe cover for the February, 1954 issue is titled “Spaceship Hydroponics Room” by Ed Emshwiller. We’re growing some hydroponic tomatoes at home, so the future is now!

“Beep” by James Blish — The Dirac communicator allows instantaneous communication between two devices, regardless of their distance. This gives an immense military advantage to those in the galaxy who possess it. But a shrewd reporter named Dana Lje uncovers something of much greater importance, hidden within a beep that precedes each message. And she sets her own terms for revealing her findings.

This story felt more like a science article expanded into a narrative, where characters are talking about the theoretical science. It didn’t feel much like a story to me. I found the science intriguing enough, but it makes me wonder if a concise article on the subject would have had the same effect.

“The Boys From Vespis” by Arthur Sellings — The Vespians arrive on Earth for their own purposes, and they’re all extremely attractive men. Herbert and other local guys can’t get any attention anymore because of the recent competition, and he’s had enough. He goes straight to the leader of the Vespians to demand that something be done.

It’s a pretty short tale, and it earned a light laugh from me toward the end. Arthur Sellings is a pseudonym for Arthur Gordon Ley, a British author and scientist. He had six novels and many short stories published. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at age 47 in 1968.

“Pet Farm” by Roger Dee — A three-man team explores the planet Falak — a small, arid planet that doesn’t rotate. Their job is to look for survivors from the war with the Hymenops — an insect race that attacked humans 200 years ago. The humans they find are all in their mid-twenties or younger and unable to communicate effectively in English. While there are a myriad of explanations for the absence of older humans, they hope to find the cause so that the planet can be recolonized in the future.

There’s a good, mysterious plot that unveils nicely. This story is part of his series that follows the crew of the Marco Four. I reviewed a previous story titled “Wailing Wall” that appeared in the July, 1952 issue.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1954: A Retro-Review

Monday, January 15th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Mel Hunter’s “Flight Over Mercury” is featured on the cover of the January, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. It’s much more interesting than the actual surface of Mercury, which looks a lot like our moon.

“Natural State” by Damon Knight — The major cities of the United States operate as industrial nations of their own while the rest of the country becomes agricultural. The cities repeatedly try to subjugate those in the country, but the cities’ technology can’t compete against the genetic engineering of those in the country.

Alvah is sent from New York to open trade with the outsiders — the Muckfeet — in hopes of bringing them into a civilized world and to support the needs of the city. When he meets with the Muckfeet, he finds that they consider him backwards – that those in the cities are the uncultured, uncivilized people. It’s up to a young woman named B.J. to reeducate him, if he’ll listen.

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