1950s, 1956, Alfred Bester, Dick Francis, E.C. Tubb, Ed Emshwiller, Frederik Pohl, Galaxy Science Fiction, Lester del Rey, magazine, Robert Silverberg, science fiction, short fiction, Virgil Finlay, Willy Ley
Another issue of Galaxy, from an earlier decade—the later half of Galaxy‘s heyday in the 1950s. Horace L. Gold is still full-time editor; all of his attention was poured into Galaxy since he had yet to acquire the magazine If. Gold’s agoraphobia was becoming increasingly problematic, and within a few years Frederik Pohl would step up as an “associate” editor who would do the lion’s share of the editorial work. But now, Gold was in control. He would communicate at length with his writers, such as spending hours at a time on the phone with Alfred Bester to manipulate the direction and suggest elements for Bester to include in his serialized novels—of which this issue has part two of The Stars My Destination.
Besides Bester’s Stars, the cover advertizes the lead Pohl novelette—it’s hard to imagine an issue of Galaxy from Gold’s era without a social satire, and that was Pohl’s bread and butter in the ’50s. The third item gracing the cover? Willy Ley’s science article. No disrespect to Ley, but I find it interesting that the science article takes valuable cover space; granted, it’s a longer article, and the issue is rather bereft of stories since the Stars serial takes up around 60 pages. Tastes have since changed, and while science fiction readers may enjoy science, most of their magazines only publish fiction. The age of the SF magazine with a science article has long passed.
Galaxy went for a clean, classy design for most of its career; the staple of the early years was an inverted-L border above the cover art, for things like the date, major stories, and logo floating in crisp white space. The art is by Emsh, one of the hardest-working cover artists in the era. Titled “Strange Nestlings,” it has nothing to do with any of the stories in the issue, but is quite evocative—pterodactyl-like aliens carrying intrepid space explorers off to their nest. Emsh also did the interior art for The Stars My Destination; Dick Francis, Virgil Finlay, and Irv Docktor provide art for other stories.
- Cost: 35 cents
- Length: 144 pages
- Editor: H. L. Gold
- Fiction: Three short-stories, a novelette, and a serial installment.
- Columns: Editorial, book reviews, and a 12-page Willy Ley science article.
Editorial: BA + 2NA – Horace L. Gold
From the beginning, Gold wasn’t keen on writing editorials; early issues of Galaxy used editorial space to print letters and the results of the ongoing shape-the-magazine poll. Gold himself argued against an editorial, saying it would last only as long as the poll would… until he kept on writing them.
This editorial shows he’s not bad at it, though his anecdotes lack any semblance of cohesion. Gold starts with the popular problem of “how to group space explorers to keep them sane:” an individual, a group, all men, all women, mixed genders, etc. He then goes off on a tangent—the point of the article, as it turns out—by saying that giving each crew-member a monkey would keep them too busy to worry about infighting. See, Gold himself had a monkey in the Pacific Theater, whereupon it turns into a story about the monkey getting sick from bananas, the explanation from his Filipino scout being “you’re feeding him male bananas.” Years later, he poses the question to Willy Ley, who explains the history of banana cultivation, and the editorial becomes a bite-sized Willy Ley science article.
If you haven’t guessed already, the title is an atrocious pun/math equation to spell banana sent to Gold by a reader. It is the best and worst thing about this editorial.
The Man Who Ate the World – Frederik Pohl – Novelette
It is the Era of Plenty, when robotic factories churn out such an overabundance of product that it is each citizen’s duty to consume.
Young Sonny’s family is too impoverished and has a hard time keeping up their consumption, so the ration boards keep forcing more and more upon them. He lives in a world reminiscent of the Victorian era, his parents too busy consuming to bother interacting with their children. Instead, Sonny’s foisted off on an array of sentient robotic pals that would make a ’50s child green with envy: Davy Crockett, Long John Silver, Tarzan, and an impressive toy train set. But what Sonny really wants is his old teddy bear (cough Rosebud cough). When he tries to make off with his little sister’s teddy, he’s caught and punished with additional birthday parties. Flash forward several decades; the Era of Plenty has finally ended, but Sonny is still out there, crazed and using the robot factories to build an army of robots to consume the world. It’s up to one daring “psychist” with a risky plan to stop him…
There are a few glaring problems with this story. One would be the Mammy robot who shows up very early and speaks in such hackneyed stereotypese that I almost stopped reading. Then there’s the fact that this story is comically over-the-top; my synopsis left out points such as when Sonny is ordering his robots to build battleships, but the only battleships around (and are the only ones the robots know to build) are children’s bath toys. Lastly, I have some serious issues with the plot. Now I actually like the idea of over-production and a time of plenty, but I liked this story a helluva lot better when Pohl called it “The Midas Plague” (which was only two years old at the time, first published in 1954). According to Pohl’s afterward in The Best of Frederik Pohl, the over-consumption idea came from Horace Gold, who kept recommending to his authors until Pohl used it for “Midas Plague.” I didn’t know Pohl re-used it, but so it goes.
Part of me really wants to like this story. My favorite of Pohl’s works were his ’50s social satires and criticisms of consumerism, such as “Tunnel Under the World,” “Midas Plague,” and The Space Merchants. But, in all honesty “Man Who Ate the World” is a weaker version of “The Midas Plague,” so over-the-top as to be comically absurd and grotesque. Though, I have to say: as commentary on consumerism, that is fitting. And still relevant today.
The story is well-anthologized, reprinted in Science Fiction Showcase, In The Problem Pit, The Man Who Ate the World, and Midas World.
Dead Ringer – Lester del Rey – Short
Dane Phillips keeps trying to be a journalist, but every time he comes close to revealing a major scoop, he gets drummed out of the paper, forced to flee to another city. His scoop is that of doppelganger aliens among us. He discovered their presence in the Pacific Theater, when one of his friends was blown apart by a shell. Dane fled it fear through the jungle, but when he re-joined his unit, he found his friend alive and perfectly fit—obviously, an alien with regenerative powers! Dane’s on his trail, now, having found him back in the States under another name, and Dane wants to exhume the “dead” man’s coffin as proof. Dane’s wealthy wife has sicced a psychoanalyst after her husband, so he now has the reputation of a crackpot, burdened by neuroses of paranoia and conspiracies from seeing his father commit suicide as a child. But Dane will show them all when he unearths the empty coffin…
As with “Man Who Ate,” the plot has been done before. I liked this story better when Henry Kuttner wrote it—he did several in the same vein; “Don’t Look Now” springs to mind—and I think Kuttner did the better job. Both writers are very workmanlike in their prose, del Rey’s is a bit rougher (from an abundance of telling, not showing) but more expansive, while Kuttner’s was more a straightforward conversation leading to a twist punchline. del Rey’s “Dead Ringer” isn’t bad, but it is a common story theme with a common twist ending, and doesn’t do anything to stand apart from the crowd.
You can read this one yourself at Project Gutenberg; also reprinted in The Third Galaxy Reader, Mortals and Monsters, and a few other del Rey collections.
No Longer Imaginary – Willy Ley – Article
Willy Ley was one of the few major scientists in the 1950s who popularized science fiction; growing up as an avid reader of SF, and you can see its influence on his professional career. This article more than most sees Ley’s SF fandom revealed in the form of anecdotes, pointing out popular authors and illustrators who Ley had read years ago, and how their imagination influenced engineers and scientists. As the title says, these are concepts that are “no longer imaginary”—starting off with Verne’s quote to his father that “anything one man is capable of imagining, another man is capable of realizing.”
Ley’s argument isn’t so much about science fiction authors who imagined the future—that kind of prophetic prediction is few and far between; instead, Ley points out authors who saw new developments and designs, then used their imagination to expand them, giving those inventions a realistic if fictional application. His examples run the range of submarines, tanks, atomic weapons, radar, repeating anti-aircraft guns, and other war machinery, as well as radio, television, embedded journalists, waldoes and a few other peaceful science fiction inventions. It’s a long article, possibly because it’s also profusely illustrated.
Ley’s writing can be dry and awkward at times, but he writes well considering English is not his native language; he relays information in a way that’s understandable by the layman and bolstered by his fascination with science both fact and fiction.
Vigil – E.C. Tubb – Short
Edwin Charles Tubb was a prolific British SF writer, of whom Michael Moorcock wrote: “His reputation for fast-moving and colourful SF writing is unmatched by anyone in Britain.” Moorcock is spot on; “Vigil” has an evocative, gritty power behind its capable prose. Every time star-freighter crewman Frank lands on the Moon for some much-needed R&R, he passes by old Thorne, keeping an endless vigil. Thorne waits in the Moon landing’s Reception for his lost son, Tony, who ran away from home and stole the wealth needed to get to space. Thorne wants to apologize to his son, and queries Frank for any sighting or word of Tony when he arrives. There’s more to it than that, but it’s a memorable story of loss and savage emotion that happens to be set in space. I rather enjoyed it.
Sad to say, this story is not well anthologized, only appearing in Ten From Tomorrow and the newer Best Science Fiction of E. C. Tubb by Wildside Press.
Galaxy’s Five Star Self – Floyd C. Gale – Article
Floyd C. Gale was, in reality, Gold’s brother using a modified surname; he wrote a few short paragraphs of summary for each review. Compared to other book reporters of the era, Gale is less “critic” and more “book suggester.” On the bright side, he reviews more books that way; on the downside, he doesn’t tell you that much about them. And, like most magazines of the era, most of the reviews are of non-fiction:
- Machine Translation of Language by William N. Locke and Donald Booth (a “book for engineers or serious students of linguistics” about machines designed to translate language)
- 1999 Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn (a future history based on drawing-board developments; I’d love to see what it predicted)
- Atlantis – The Mystery Unraveled by Jürgen Spanuth (ah, the ’50s and their love of fringe pseudoscience)
- Between the Planets by Fletcher G. Watson (revision of a 1941 astronomy text)
- Man Under the Sea by James Dugan & Man and the Underwater World by Pierre de Lati and Jean Rivoire (cutting-edge deep-sea exploration!)
- Flying Saucers and Common Sense by Waveney Girvan (speaking of ’50s fringe science, nothing like a flying saucers book)
Of the “real” books—fiction—there are two. Forbidden Area by Pat Frank is one of those Cold War thrillers about Soviets who have all but completed the destruction of America from within, without Americans knowing. Gale gives it the glowing comment “If you have any experience with the military chain of command, you’ll find yourself shackled to this book right to the end.” (Ok?) The other novel is Harold Mead’s The Bright Phoenix, featuring a regulated “perfect” state utopia, of control therein and escape from. I own it but haven’t read it; fellow blogger Joachim Boaz reviewed it. Says Gale, “The conflict between the Reconditioneds, the Colonists, and the Islanders is presented with a savage power that is unusual in a first novel.”
Suffice to say, I prefer Boucher, Knight, or Budrys with their razor wit and savage praise than Gale’s capsule reviews.
Double Dare – Robert Silverberg – Short
A visiting aliens from Domerang V makes a passing comment about Earth’s “second-rate technology” in a bar, and a dangerous wager is formed. Two Domerangi engineers will go to Earth, while two Earthmen go to Domerang V; each pair must solve a set of three challenges to prove their technical know-how is superior. Of course, the third tests show the challengers have something tricky up their sleeve…
The story is one of those that simply can’t be written any more: it follows the two plucky Earthmen engineers as they surmount obstacles and overcome challenges. I also wonder if Galaxy was its original market, since the “Go Humanity!” superiority of our Terran super scientists would fit right in to Campbell’s Astounding. Regardless, it’s a pretty good story even elements are charmingly quaint; a breezy tale that’s well-written and entertaining.
It was reprinted in The Fifth Galaxy Reader, so obviously I’m not the only one who thought it wasn’t bad, along with the Silverberg collections To Worlds Beyond and The Songs of Summer.
The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester – Serial (2 of 4)
Normally, I would save up serial bits and review their book presentations, but I have to step in and say that The Stars My Destination is an amazing book that feels new and impressive almost sixty years after first publication, and is one of the best SF novels of the 1950s. Granted, the novel is essentially a future retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, replacing Edmond Dantès with Gully Foyle, sole survivor of a space-wreck who swears revenge on the starship Vorga that spots him but leaves him stranded in space.
The serialization contains chapters five, six, seven, and eight of the novel; for those who’ve read the novel, this starts with Foyle’s imprisonment in the subterranean Gouffre Martel prison and ends with the arrival of Geoffrey Fourmyle (of the Four-Mile Circus) establishing an uneasy pact with the telesend, Robin. I did a quick comparison between the serial and my book copy. It wasn’t an extensive search, and most of the changes I found were minor: em-dashes to ellipses, one “he said” to “Foyle said,” several expanded contractions (e.g. “what’s” to “what is”), etc.
The Bottom Line
The Stars My Destination is one of my top-five favorite science fiction novels, and I think it is mandatory reading for everyone interested in science fiction, being one of the greatest novels in the genre. That said, there are easier ways to acquire it than collecting the serial in Galaxy, and so far I’m not seeing a great reason to collect the issues for the other stories.
The stories in this issue aren’t awful, which I’m grateful for; what they are is unexceptional. Frederik Pohl’s “Man Who Ate the World” is one of his weaker social satires of the decade, and pales in comparison to his similar works. It’s also too over-the-top for me to take seriously. Lester del Rey’s “Dead Ringer” is a neat story about aliens among us, but as I said, a common plot theme with a common plot twist without any distinguishing qualifications. Robert Silverberg’s “Double Dare” is a good, breezy story of super scientists attempting the impossible—pure, unadulterated 1950s vintage sci-fi. E.C. Tubb’s “Vigil” was the standout here; I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more of his works, such as his sprawling Dumarest space opera saga.
They make for good reading, but I’m not sure I’d seek most of these stories out… though, most of them are found in decent collections and the Galaxy Reader anthologies, which are worth picking up. The exception was Tubb’s “Vigil,” which is an under-appreciated story by an under-appreciated author, but since it’s the least-anthologized story in this issue it’s also the hardest to find. I’m glad E.C. Tubb has went from an odd name to a writer to keep an eye out for, and that I re-affirmed my opinion of The Stars My Destination by re-reading four of its chapters, but otherwise I need to be more careful when selecting which Galaxy issues to read. It’s the best SF magazine of its era, and I haven’t been giving a good representation of its strengths yet.