Tyrann (Part 1 of 3) • serial by Isaac Asimov ♥♥
Dark Interlude • short story by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds ♥
Rule of Three • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon ♥♥♥+
Made to Measure • novelette by William Campbell Gault ♥♥
Susceptibility • short story by John D. MacDonald ♥♥
The Reluctant Heroes • novelette by Frank M. Robinson ♥♥
Tyrann • cover by John Bunch
Interior artwork • John Bunch, David Maus, Karl Rogers, L. Woromay, James Vincent, Don Sibley
Old Business and New • editorial by H. L. Gold
Galaxy’s 5 Star Shelf • book reviews by Groff Conklin
Next Month’s Contents Page
The issue leads off with the first part of a serial, Tyrann by Isaac Asimov, which was later issued in book form as The Stars Like Dust. This must have been a major coup for Galaxy at the time as Isaac Asimov was by now the author of Nightfall, a string of ‘Robot’ stories, and had just finished his ‘Foundation’ series with …And Now You Don’t a year earlier in Astounding. Unfortunately, what he provides here is, at best, a very average 1940’s potboiler.
This story feels almost Van Vogtian to start: the main character Brion wakes up in his room on a far-future Earth to find the lights and ventilation inoperative and a door that won’t open. He then finds a radiation bomb in the closet. A colleague called Jonti and the college superintendent manage to break open the door before the bomb explodes. Jonti then takes Biron aside to tell him that his father, The Rancher of Widemos, has been taken prisoner and executed by the rulers of the Nebular worlds, the Tyranni. He cautions him not to go home but to go to see Hinrik of Rhodia, the governor of his home planet, to intercede on his behalf.
Brion then travels incognito on a ship home but is arrested on arrival. Subsequently he is interrogated by the Tyranni Commissioner Aratap, who later releases him to make his way to Hinrik. While at the governor’s house he also meets his daughter Artemisia and her uncle Gillbret. After some more plot development, these two enlist Brion to help them escape from Rhodia by piloting a spaceship for them.
As well as this narrative there is also a sub-plot that involves Jonti, another character called Rizzett, and an ancient Earth document that will supposedly enable the Nebular worlds to free themselves from the yoke of Tyranni rule.
As you can probably tell from the synopsis above, there is lots of SF furniture here but no redeeming central concept like the psychohistory of Foundation or the three laws of robotics. What we are left with is a mundane plot and a lot of Asimov’s weaknesses, like his clunky hard to remember names, leaden prose and one dimensional characters: Hinrik the governor is a bit of a wimp, Uncle Gillbret is slightly effete and finds everything ‘amusing’; Brion and Artemisia, meanwhile, carry on like two hormonally poisoned teenagers.
All that said, this first part moves along well enough and there is enough going on to keep your attention but I’m not sure this level of writing will keep me interested over the length of a novel.
The first item of the short fiction is Dark Interlude, a collaboration by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds. This starts with a man speaking to the local sheriff about a time traveller that has arrived from the future and who has married his sister. The narrative then alternates between the brother’s account of what has occurred and sections describing the time-traveller meeting the sister. This is unexceptional stuff until (spoiler) the most ghastly ending. The brother explains to the sheriff:
“I got to asking him some questions about things in his time and after a while I asked him how they got along on race problems and he acted puzzled and then said he remembered something about races from history he’d studied, but that there weren’t any races then.“
“He said that by his time—starting after the war of something-or-other, I forget its name—all the races had blended into one. That the whites and the yellows had mostly killed one another off and that Africa had dominated the world for a while, and then all the races had begun to blend into one by colonization and intermarriage and that by his time the process was complete. I just stared at him and asked him, ‘You mean you got nigger blood in you?’ and he said, just like it didn’t mean anything, ‘At least one-fourth.’ “ p.73
The brother then gets his gun and kills the time-traveller for defiling his sister, and the sheriff’s equally racist response is followed by the statement that he’ll manage to hush it up.
I thought this a rather crude attempt to examine an unpleasant subject because all it does is shove your nose in it. Presumably this was published by Gold to signal that Galaxy would be willing to use fiction that examined the most difficult of social issues.
The first of the three novelettes is, fittingly, Rule of Three, Theodore Sturgeon’s second appearance in four issues. This starts with three aliens investigating Earth and finding humanity infected with the Pa’ak virus. This causes mental instability, and may spill out into the Galaxy as humanity starts travelling in space. Each of the aliens is a triad and they subsequently break into three threes to investigate humanity and work out a way of curing it of the virus.
From there it becomes a story of the fragments trying desperately to regroup after their investigation.1 In the course of this the life stories of several humans are told: a psychologist meets his ex-wife; a bass-player refuses to work with an admiring piano-playing colleague due to the suicide of a childhood friend caused by gossip about homosexuality; one of the alien fragments saves the psychologist’s female co-worker from being raped by a man she meets at a party.
The story is a little messy to be honest, but the impressive aspects of this are the well realised characters—compare these to the ones in Asimov’s serial for instance—and the inclusion of previously taboo subjects. To that latter point, the attempted rape scene must have come as something of a shock for 1950’s readers (and it was a bit of a shock for me as I hadn’t been expecting it):
She leaned away from him with her head averted, swung her handbag back and up at his face. He caught her wrist deftly and turned it behind her.
“Don’t,” she gasped. “Don’t . . .”
“You’ve made your little protest like a real lady, honey, so it’s on the record. Now save us some time and trouble. Let’s get to it.”
She kicked him. He gasped but stood solidly. There was a sharp click behind her. “Hear that?” he said. “That’s my switch-blade. Push a button and zip!— seven inches of nice sharp steel. Now don’t you move or make a sound, sweetheart, and this’ll be fun for both of us.”
Locking her against him with his left arm, he reached slowly up under the hem of her short jacket. She felt the knife against her back. It slipped coldly between her skin and the back of her low-cut dress. “Don’t you move,” he said again. The knife turned, sawed a little, and the back strap of her brassiere parted. The knife was removed; she heard it click again. He dropped it into his jacket pocket. “Now,” he breathed, “doesn’t that feel better, lamb-pie?”
She filled her lungs to scream, and instantly his hard hand was clamped over her mouth. It was a big hand, and the palm was artfully placed so that she couldn’t get her mouth open wide enough to use her teeth on it. “Let’s not wrestle,” he said, his voice really gentle, pleading. “It just doesn’t make sense. I’d as soon kill you as not—you know that.” She stood trembling violently, her eyes rolled up almost out of sight. Her mouth sagged open when he kissed it. p.88-89
I wouldn’t rate this quite as highly as The Stars Are the Styx but is the best story in the issue.
After these two stories I approached the next with some trepidation, wondering if Gold had put together a proto-Dangerous Visions taboo-busting issue. However, Made to Measure by William Campbell Gault is more conventional stuff. This novelette is a rather ridiculous story about a scientist who decides he can build himself a better wife than the one he has and so he takes the current one back to the ‘Domestic Center’:
He took the superpike almost all the way to the Center. There were bright cards on posts every few hundred feet:
IT’S NOT TOO LATE
TO GET A MATE
THE GIRLS ARE GREAT
AT THE DOMESTIC CENTER
He pulled into the sweeping circular drive at the huge group of buildings. A troupe of singing girls came out, dressed in majorette costumes, opened the door, helped him out, parked the car, escorted him into the lavish reception room. Music came from somewhere, soft and moody. There were murals all over the walls, every one romantic. A dispensing machine held engagement and wedding rings with a series of finger-holes on the left side for matching sizes. p.125-126
I should add that this quote is actually from the end of the story and it is one of the few occasions I thought that this may be satirical. I don’t think it is—the actual story appears to be far more straightforward.
After having returned his wife our driven young man proceeds to build his cybernetic wife. Needless to say, after she starts accompanying him into social situations she needs to be tweaked away from perfection after a couple of encounters where she is too tactless, too intelligent, etc. Ultimately, he gives her self-volition, and then the obvious happens. Despite how all this sounds it is as readable and well executed as you would expect from a future Edgar winner.2
The next story is by John D. MacDonald, the writer who would later be best known for his ‘Travis McGee’ mystery novels which started appearing in the sixties. Before then he produced a fair amount of SF, including three novels. Susceptibility is about a Praecursor sent to a colony planet where they do not seem to be using the facilities that have been provided. He soon finds the colonists have gone back to a more simple lifestyle. The woman temporarily in charge of administration takes him to the one centre that is being used. There they see obese people who want for nothing: he later finds it is their penal centre/prison. He ends up staying with her. A minor but quite well done piece.
The Reluctant Heroes by Frank M. Robinson is the third of the novelettes. This one is about a moon base crew coming up to their rotation day, when everyone apart from one crew member heads back to Earth. Chapman was the stopover from the first team who stayed on to show the second the ropes so, having spent twice as long on the Moon as the others in the base, he can’t wait to get home. He has rebuffed advances from those in charge to stay beyond his three years for yet another eighteen month tour. However Dahl, the proposed stopover, tells him he doesn’t want to stay….
These events are bookended by the interview of a young man who has been selected to go to Venus.
There is less non-fiction this month than previously. Horace Gold’s editorial Old Business and New discusses the changes the readers have voted for: 50% more illustrations, shorter book reviews, articles skipped every other month, short editorials discussing matters germane to the magazine (presumably a backlash against Campbell’s editorials in Astounding), the next month’s contents page. It also has some puffery:
This issue, for example, is better, in my opinion, than any of the previous three . . . better in editorial balance, art, and layout, a direct result of close and sympathetic collaboration between editor and reader.
The maintenance of this level is not easy, of course. Any number of usable stories come in that don’t have the strong characterization, the human conflict, the psychological suspense that are coming to be identified with Galaxy Science Fiction, and must thus be rejected. Others have those qualities and not freshness of theme. The right blend was a rarity to begin with, but it is becoming less so as authors with integrity recognize the objective—stories with believable characters, human motivations against a background of shrewd speculation. Appearing in Galaxy, in other words, is a distinction that authors are willing to work hard to achieve. The result is progressively better issues.
It finishes by mentioning a major 25,000 word novella by Ray Bradbury, The Fireman, appearing in the next issue.
The cover for this issue is better than previous efforts but a bit grey looking. The increase in interior illustrations is noticeable: there are a dozen and a half illustrations in this issue of which two-thirds are spread over two pages; they are competent if unexceptionable stuff.
The final items of non-fiction are a short Galaxy’s 5 Star Shelf by Groff Conklin, and Next Month’s Contents Page, which turned out to be only partially correct (although Gold does say ‘all bets are off’ about the short fiction and articles due to the length of the Asimov serial and the Bradbury novella).
Overall, an interesting issue if not a particularly good one.
- The reunification of the three aliens is a precursor to Baby is Three, which would appear in Galaxy’s October 1952 issue. By the way, I had vaguely thought that Sturgeon’s work was, by this time, appearing more or less exclusively in Astounding and Galaxy but between The Rule of Three and Baby is Three there were eight stories that appeared in secondary markets: “Shadow, Shadow, on the Wall …” (Imagination, February 1951), Special Aptitude (Other Worlds, March 1951), Make Room for Me! (Fantastic Adventures, May 1951), The Traveling Crag (Fantastic Adventures, July 1951), Excalibur and the Atom (Fantastic Adventures, August 1951), The Incubi of Parallel X (Planet Stories, September 1951), Never Underestimate… (If, March 1952), The Sex Opposite (Fantastic, Fall 1952).
According to the story notes for Rule of Three in the North Atlantic Books collection Baby is Three, edited by Paul Williams, Sturgeon wrote this about Make Room for Me in an unposted letter: “Horace liked [Rule of Three] but wants a rewrite. He’s right, damn him. He’s also very impressed with the other one [Make Room for Me] I told you about—the one I wrote with someone else—particularly since it has a New Year’s Eve sequence and is ideal for his December issue. So I’ve got to rewrite that one too. The way I hope to handle it is this: Tomorrow I’ll stay home and work all day, finishing the 9000-worder. (Tonight, by the way, I’m lecturing at CCNY.) Friday evening I’ve got a dianetic emergency to handle—his third session, which I think will straighten him out. Saturday I’ll work on the 13,000-word one. After that I hope to be able to see you, if I can’t snatch a couple of hours between times.” Presumably Gold later passed on Make Room for Me.
- Gault produced around two dozen SF stories, mostly for the pulps. His Wikipedia entry indicates that he was a writer who was much better known for his sports and crime stories, particularly for the former where he was considered ‘one of the best in the field.’ There is a Wikipedia quote from Damon Knight that partially sums up how I feel about his story in this issue: ‘I liked the characterization in those stories; I liked the description; I liked the fist fights; I liked the love interest. I like everything about them, except what they were all about.’