Nice Girl with Five Husbands • short story by Fritz Leiber ♥
Inside Earth • novelette by Poul Anderson ♥♥
Betelgeuse Bridge • short story by William Tenn ♥♥
I, the Unspeakable • novelette by Walt Sheldon ♥♥♥
Field Study • short story by Peter Phillips ♥
The Marching Morons • novelette by C. M. Kornbluth
Inside Earth • cover by David Stone
Interior artwork • by Phil Bard, David Stone, James Vincent, Louis Marchetti, Don Sibley
Treasurer’s Report • editorial by H. L. Gold
Galaxy’s Five-Star Shelf • book reviews by Groff Conklin
Around the time this issue was published (give or take a month or two) the two new magazines on the stands, Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, had both published seven issues: Galaxy had started a year after F&SF and had been both a bigger magazine and monthly throughout; F&SF would not go monthly for another year and a half. If I had to pick a favourite at this point I think I’d say that F&SF is the more interesting magazine, although it isn’t exactly comparing like with like.1 And it may not be that way for much longer: the upcoming contents tables for Galaxy look very promising.
This issue is the first of the non-serial issues promised last month, and leads off with Nice Girl with Five Husbands by Fritz Leiber. A man is swept a hundred years into the future by ‘time-winds,’ where he meets a woman who has five husbands and a number of co-wives. He goes with her to their house to have lunch with them and their many children. He learns more about this strange future before the time-winds return him to the present. This is a rather inconsequential non-story, but perhaps it is notable for its early use of group marriage as a theme.
The first of the novelettes is Inside Earth by Poul Anderson. This gets off to an interesting start with the description of the surgical body modifications an alien spy has undergone in order to spy on Earth. Unfortunately this is then followed by a meeting with the General, which is a turgid data dump about a fairly daft idea: fomenting a revolution on Earth against the Empire so humanity is unified enough to join as a full member. This turns out to be pretty much the same combination of Planet Stories pulp, better writing, and social insight as his simultaneously published story Interloper in F&SF (April 1951).
The spy later lands on Earth and assesses people’s feelings about the Empire. Shortly afterwards he gets a job in a steel mill (no TTIP sending all those blue-collar jobs off-planet in the future then). He eventually makes contact with the resistance and after a year or so manages to get on a ship to their secret headquarters, which is on a dark and cold planet:
We were in a narrow valley between sheer, ragged cliffs that soared crazily into a murky sky. The sun was low, a smouldering disc of dull red like curdling blood; its sullen light glimmered on the undying snow and ice and seemed only to make the land darker. Stars glittered here and there in the dusky heavens, hard and bright and cruel, almost, as in space.
Dark sky, dark land, dark world, with the sheer terrible mountains climbing gauntly for the upper gloom, crags and glaciers like fangs against the dizzy cliffs, with the great shadows marching across the bloody snow toward us. p.40
After more psychological screening, and subterfuge, the story proceeds to a fairly predictable end.
I noted the following in the story, and wondered if Gold was inserting this kind of stuff to make the magazine seem more ‘adult’ or whether it came from writer:
Mentally, I shrugged. My stay in New Chicago had pretty well convinced me that all Earthling females were sluts. And what of it? p.32
William Tenn’s contribution to this issue is the first of a number of stories by this writer that would appear in Galaxy. At this point in his career Tenn (the pseudonym of Philip Klass) had published around a dozen stories in various SF magazines (including four in Astounding). This pattern would continue until 1954 when the bulk of his subsequent output would appear in Galaxy.2
Betelgeuse Bridge is about an advertising man hired to sell the arrival on Earth of two snail-like aliens to the general public. After this has been successfully managed they casually mention that they have revitalisers, machines which extend their lifespans. In due course they agree to provide these to humanity for all the radioactive material on the planet.
This is a straightforward tale but is written in a fairly light and breezy tone that perhaps, at the time, gave it the appearance of something more modern and sophisticated.
Walt Sheldon contributed A Rope for Lucifer, a tall tale that I liked, to a recent issue of F&SF (Winter-Spring 1950), so I was hopeful that I, the Unspeakable would be of an equivalent standard.
It starts with our unnamed narrator being woken by his brightening glow-light from a dream he has been having about a woman encouraging him to commit a nonconformity in his future conformist state. Once he fully wakes we get a data dump about his life: he has been allocated a new name (not stated) which has cost him his job and the opportunity to mate, and turned him into an ‘non-productive.’
The dream woman has told him how he can change his name.
He subsequently goes to Govpub and talks to the cybs and then to a human assistant called Lara. He finds out that the head of Opsych may be able to change his name for him but Lara tells him he will have to get a travel permit to get to Centre One:
“Do you think it’ll be hard to get a travel permit?”
“Not impossible. My guess is that you’ll be at Travbur all day tomorrow, maybe even the next day. But you ought to be able to swing it if you hold out long enough.”
I sighed. “I know. It’s that way everywhere in Northern. Our motto ought to be, ‘Why make it difficult when with just a little more effort you can make it impossible?’ ” p.90
Their laughter is cut off as they arrive back at her desk to find two menacing looking Deacons scowling at them.
He manages to navigate the bureaucratic process required to obtain a travel permit and then boards a flight to Centre. He sees two prisoners on the flight and has a disturbing conversation with one of the accompanying Deacons in the washroom. He finds out that the prisoners have met illegally and will be tortured to obtain information about other non-conforms.
At Centre One he is given the runaround:
The rat race was on.
I found General Administration. They sent me to Activity Control. Activity Control said they couldn’t do a thing until I was registered. I went to Registration. Registration said oh, no, I shouldn’t have been sent there—although they’d try to direct me to the proper office if I got an okay from Investigation and Security. I. & S. said the regulation I quoted had been amended and I would have to have the amendment first and I could find that in Records. Records sent me back to the first place to get a Search Permit.
And so on. p.94
At the end of day he goes to one of the parks for some fresh air and falls asleep. He is woken by shooting and sees the two prisoners from the flight, naked and running towards him pursued by the Deacons. He fights the Deacons to disrupt their pursuit, and is eventually stunned into unconsciousness. After being tortured he comes around to find the Chief of Opsych telling him he can sort everything out but needs to know who sent him on his quest to change his name. The Chief doesn’t believe the answer about the dream woman and gives him an hour to tell the truth.
The story finishes with a rather corny ending (spoiler): he is rescued by the couple he helped and ends up on a ship to Mars. He finds out the resistance had arranged for his new name hoping he would ‘infract’ (non-conform) and be exiled. The resistance plan on starting again on Mars and need his expertise to build rockets. Lara turns out to be the woman in his dreams, and his name is revealed… Love.
Notwithstanding the ending I found this a lively and interesting story about life in a totalitarian state. It is quite adult in its approach: early on he is refused his twenty minutes in the mating booths on account of his name, and there is also some explicit description in the torture scenes. This is the best story in the issue and worth having a look at.3
Field Study by Peter Phillips starts with an accountant having trouble with his wife as he spends too much time at work. This is not helped when he is given a new case to investigate about a doctor who dispenses miracle cures. The authorities are having a problem dealing with him as he makes no promises about the results and only takes money in a roundabout way. The accountant’s investigation develops to the point where the he discovers the doctor is an alien who has taken control of a human body, but is about to leave the host. Before the alien leaves he helps the accountant track down his wife to a nightclub and sort out his marital problems. These various elements don’t really cohere and the story is overlong.
Peter Phillips was the second British writer to appear in Galaxy after John Christopher.
Finally we come to the last story in the issue, The Marching Morons by C. M. Kornbluth. This tells of a future where the vast majority of the human race have an IQ of 45 and society is kept functioning by a smaller elite group who have multiple jobs. It starts with a potter in his studio:
The buyer from Marshall Fields was turning over a black-glazed one liter carafe, nodding approval with his massive, handsome head. “This is real pretty,” he told Hawkins and his own secretary, Gomez-Laplace. “This has got lots of what ya call real est’etic principles. Yeah, it is real pretty.”
“How much?” the secretary asked the potter.
“Seven-fifty each in dozen lots,” said Hawkins. “I ran up fifteen dozen last month.”
“They are real est’etic,” repeated the buyer from Fields. “I will take them all.”
“I don’t think we can do that, doctor,” said the secretary. “They’d cost us $1,350. That would leave only $532 in our quarter’s budget. And we still have to run down to East Liverpool to pick up some cheap dinner sets.”
“Dinner sets?” asked the buyer, his big face full of wonder.
“Dinner sets. The department’s been out of them for two months now. Mr. Garvy-Seabright got pretty nasty about it yesterday. Remember?” p.130
Obviously, the boss is one of the people with an IQ of 45. The secretary and Hawkins finalise the deal, briefly discussing one or two other elite matters.
The next section has Hawkins leaving the studio. He is short of metal oxides so decides to go prospecting in a nearby field that he hopes may be an abandoned cemetery full of bronze caskets that have oxidised. Following his discovery of a tomb there follows a lengthy section that has a data dump about “Honest” John Barlow, a real estate dealer who was accidentally put into suspended animation hundreds of years previously and, with the knowledge of the time, could not be revived.
Hawkins eventually breaks him into his coffin and injects Barlow with saline to bring him around:
In an hour Barlow’s chest began to pump.
In another hour, he rasped, “Did it work?”
“Did it!” muttered Hawkins.
Barlow opened his eyes and stirred, looked down, turned his hands before his eyes—“I’ll sue!” he screamed. “My clothes! My fingernails!” A horrid suspicion came over his face and he clapped his hands to his hairless scalp. “My hair!” he wailed. “I’ll sue you for every penny you’ve got! That release won’t mean a damned thing in court—I didn’t sign away my hair and clothes and fingernails!”
“They’ll grow back,” said Hawkins casually. “Also your epidermis. Those parts of you weren’t alive, you know, so they weren’t preserved like the rest of you. I’m afraid the clothes are gone, though.” p.134
This whole Rip Van Winkle section sits somewhere between the ludicrous and the surreal.
After this exhumation the story proper gets going with Hawkins calling Central and passing Barlow to the psychist Tinny-Pete. Hawkins thinks that Barlow may be able to help with ‘The Problem.’ Tinny-Pete arrives in a wild looking car with kilograms of chrome and a speedo that shows a top speed of 250 kph. Once going it makes a lot of noise and flames, and there is wind-rush even though the windows are closed. Barlow soon realises it isn’t actually going that quickly. He listens briefly to an inane radio show with odd catch-phrases like ‘Would you buy that for a quarter?’ that have the audience shrieking with laughter. Between this and the sexually explicit billboard signs beside the road he begins to form an idea of what this future is like.
Once in the city he breaks free from his handler, obtains food and drink, and looks at the strange shops and film posters for movies like Babies are Terrible and Don’t Have Children. He picks up a racing paper and cannot make any sense of the erratic performance of the horses.
At this point Tinny-Pete reappears and takes him to see a hawk-faced man, who finishes a garbled speech to Barlow with the nub of the matter:
“We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and shortsightedly having children—breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!” p.145
He goes on to tell Barlow that the average IQ is now 45 and a corporation started by three million geneticists are the ones who keep society functioning. When Barlow asks him why they didn’t just let the morons go to hell he is told that the corporation tried that once and it was quickly followed by hunger, famine, plague, anarchy and war:
“Five billion corpses mean about five hundred million tons of rotting flesh.”
Barlow had another idea. “Why don’t you sterilize them?”
“Two and one-half billion operations is a lot of operations. Because they breed continuously, the job would never be done.” p.146
Barlow tells them about lemmings in Norway jumping off cliffs, and states he has a plan for instilling that urge in the morons. For this he’ll need publicity and power, and insists on being made world dictator. He is taken to Polar headquarters, but only after exhibiting some racist behaviour to the hawk-faced man who has been explaining matters to him and whose name turns out to be Ngana. After Barlow has cowed the World Congress into agreeing to his demands, proproganda to get the morons on Venus-bound spaceships is rolled out through the media. This is ominous as the only previous spaceflight crashed on the moon.
The story then switches to a woman called Mrs Garvy, who is being indoctrinated by the media into emigrating to Venus. In this section Kornbluth takes side swipes at TV, radio, advertising and Freudian psychiatry. Garvy eventually goes on a trip to a tropical paradise that is supposedly Venus. Meanwhile, the politicians are playing the envy card and suggesting that each evacuated city be torn down and used for the steel for the spaceships to move the next city to Venus:
A forest of spaceships began to blossom in the desert. They weren’t very good space ships, but they didn’t have to be.
A team at the Pole worked at Barlow’s direction on a mail setup. There would have to be letters to and from Venus to keep the slightest taint of suspicion from arising. Luckily Barlow remembered that the problem had been solved once before—by Hitler. Relatives of persons incinerated in the furnaces of Lublin or Majdanek continued to get cheery postal cards. p.156
Needless to say (spoiler), Barlow is the last one put on a spaceship and he dies as it goes into orbit.
I didn’t like this story when I read it 45 years ago and I don’t like it any better now. Apart from mechanical considerations, such as a structure and tone that are all over the place, I think it is an object lesson in how satire can easily cross a line to become something much more mean-spirited and poisonous. The explicit eugenics theme so soon after the Holocaust is particularly unpleasant, never mind the fact that the ‘science’ it is based on is wrong. Even if the science had been correct, it is chilling the way this piece equates ‘stupid people’ with ‘bad people,’ and suggests they are only fit for liquidation.
The other thing that makes this story particularly problematical for me is the way it appears to be have been absorbed by the SF field—at best as a clear-eyed view of how stupid people hold back the human race, and at worst as some sort of manifesto. This may have been typical of the superior ‘Fans are Slans’ mindset of the time.4, 5
The artwork for this issue includes a bland cover for Inside Earth by David Stone. The internal art includes work that looks like it could have appeared in a 1930’s Amazing Stories (James Vincent) and some that is quite modern looking (Louis Marchetti).6
Treasurer’s Report, the editorial by Horace Gold, is pretty much as described. Gold mentions ‘an alarming tidal flood of rising costs’ before announcing a price rise next issue (from 25 to 35 cents, although this is from a filler advertisement later on in the magazine). He says the decision is not set in stone but that a lower price will mean lower story rates, a lower quality cover and paper stock, line rather than half-tone engraving, ‘making [Galaxy] merely another science fiction magazine.’
At the end he briefly mentions next month’s serial, Mars Child by C. M. Kornbluth & Judith Merril, which will appear under the ‘Cyril Judd’ byline which ‘was chosen for wieldiness, not secrecy.’ At least the magazine will save some money on ink….
Galaxy’s Five-Star Shelf by Groff Conklin has recommendations for John W. Campbell’s The Moon is Hell (two long stories, the title story is original), and Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (in which he highlights the, at the time, little known Robbie (Strange Playfellow) from Super Science Stories, September 1940). He is more conflicted about Martin Greenberg’s anthology Journey to Infinity:
Anyone who is familiar with the rich store of science fiction in this particular field will feel a very definite sense of dissatisfaction with this slim collection. At least ten or a dozen more tales come to mind which would have greatly enriched and varied the picture of man’s possible pasts and futures.
Where, for example, is a chapter from the greatest of all histories of tomorrow, Robert Heinlein’s? (It is possible, of course, that Heinlein would not let any be used, since his “history” is already being published in several volumes by another publisher.) Or where is the essential “Baldy” story, from Lewis Padgett’s excellent postatomic-war series? Or one of Simak’s “City” tales?
Despite too skeletal a form, Journey to Infinity is a good buy for anyone who likes top-grade science fiction. p.61
He finishes with a short mention for Arthur C. Clarke’s Galaxy-novel, Prelude to Space.7
A poor to OK issue for me but one that will rate better for those that think the Kornbluth story a ‘classic.’
- If you strip out Galaxy’s two mediocre serials then it and F&SF have published approximately the same wordage of short fiction. For me the notable short fiction in Galaxy so far has been:
The Stars Are the Styx • Theodore Sturgeon, October 1950
Coming Attraction • Fritz Leiber, November 1950
Rule of Three • Theodore Sturgeon, January 1951
The Fireman • Ray Bradbury, February 1951
Out of the remaining 32 stories I would rate 4 as ‘good.’
As for F&SF, the notable short fiction is:
The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out • by Reginald Bretnor, Winter-Spring 1950
The Exiles • (reprint) Ray Bradbury, Winter-Spring 1950
Born of Man and Woman • Richard Matheson, Summer 1950
Built Up Logically • (reprint) Howard Schoenfeld, Fall 1950
The Listening Child • Margaret St. Clair, December 1950
The Wondersmith • (reprint) Fitz-James O’Brien, December 1950
No-Sided Professor • (reprint) Martin Gardner, February 1951
Barney • Will Stanton, February 1951
The Railway Carriage • (reprint) F. Tennyson Jesse, February 1951
The Other End • (reprint) R. Ellis Roberts, February 1951
Of the remaining 71 stories I would rate 24 as ‘good.’
If you strip out the reprints from the notable F&SF stories the magazines are comparable, but there is a huge difference in the quality of the rest of the material. Part of this will be due to other reprints, and the fact that fantasy and horror does not date as badly as SF. I may also have a bias to the more literary stories in F&SF. However, I am not sure that these factors explain the huge variation. Maybe Boucher & McComas were simply producing (as of April 1951) the better magazine.
- William Tenn contributes an excellent and very quotable memoir in Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction, edited by Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander. I’ll limit myself to a specific quote about Betelgeuse Bridge:
I doubt that The Demolished Man or The Space Merchants or More Than Human would quite have come to pass without Galaxy. I know that I might never have written “Betelgeuse Bridge” if it had not been for the magazine and the milieu that Horace Gold created. It’s my kind of story and my kind of idea—it was the first conscious effort in what I call my “Here Comes Civilization” series—but it needed a context where it could fit comfortably. Horace gave me that. How, I still don’t quite know, with all of his damaging phone calls, compulsive overediting, quixotic rejections, and prying and puttering into my work.
Before Galaxy I wrote science fiction. After Galaxy I wrote only my kind of science fiction. And for that, I must admit, the responsibility lies with one of the most irritating and aggravating men I’ve ever known. From deep within his editorial cave, Horace Gold somehow changed me. I believe he changed us all. p.37
William Tenn at Galactic Central and ISFDB.
- Apart from the two titles mentioned above, every other SF story that Sheldon published appeared in magazines other than the ‘big three’ of Astounding, F&SF and Galaxy. I find it hard to believe that none of these thirty or so other stories were of an equivalent standard. There is information about this writer here and at Galactic Central and ISFDB.
- I am informed that All the Right People by D. West (Foundation #21, 1981), is a good example of an article that expresses horror at the prominence of The Marching Morons and the way it was embraced by fandom and others. I don’t have a copy of this yet but you don’t have to look that hard to find similarly exasperated critiques of the story on the internet, e.g. There are no Marching Morons, P. Z. Myers.
There are also introductions to the story like these from Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories #13, edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, 1985:
Here is the bitter, funny and tragic Cyril Kornbluth again with this fascinating and deeply flawed story. It is his most famous work, has been reprinted at least a dozen times within the genre, and was chosen by The Science Fiction Writers of America for inclusion in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1973). I’m not sure it belongs in this book because this series is dedicated to the best of the past, not the most famous. The central premise of “The Marching Morons” is that intelligence is genetically inherited. That the intelligentsia should have lots of children for this reason is at least dubious. What does the popularity of this story tell us about the attitudes of the sf community?—Martin Greenberg, p.48
My own feeling is that Cyril was venting his personal spleen against the Universe in this story. He was a child prodigy, who was always getting in trouble with other children (and with adults, too) because his quick wit and quick tongue could expose stupidity and wound in so doing. This is not very uncommon among science fiction writers and many had unhappy childhoods as a result.
As a matter of fact, I had a certain amount of trouble myself but I was luckier than most. In the first place, I enjoyed being smart and actually liked the dullards about me because they made me feel so much better about being smart.
Second, I quickly learned to make some of my funny remarks at my own expense (I owe that to Jack Benny) and found out that, in those circumstances, I would be forgiven everything else.
Cyril, however, was deeply unhappy at being in a world that was not designed for him and he never did learn to de-fang his wit. “The Marching Morons” is the way he views humanity and almost anyone with intelligence will find himself sympathizing with Cyril at odd times. Whenever Janet and I encounter some example of overweening stupidity in others that needlessly complicates our lives, we sigh and say, “It’s the marching morons” and it helps us survive.—Isaac Asimov, p.48-49
I’ve seen this glib ‘It’s the marching morons’ comment all over the place and understand why people say this when they encounter a particularly egregious form of stupidity. But don’t they realise what this really means ‘These are genetically stupid people that should be liquidated’?
- On the other side of the fence, Fred Pohl wrote this about The Marching Morons in the introduction to The Best of C. M. Kornbluth:
Once, I think while he was still in Chicago, possibly even earlier, Cyril mentioned to me that he had thought of writing a story about medical instruments of the future coming back to the present. Years later, when Horace Gold was badgering Cyril for stories for Galaxy and Cyril complained that he couldn’t think of anything he felt like writing at that moment, I reminded him of the notion. A week later he had written “The Little Black Bag” (which, as it happened, appeared in John Campbell’s Astounding instead of Horace Gold’s Galaxy anyway). I think “The Little Black Bag” is my very favorite of Cyril’s stories. It has been reprinted endlessly and adapted for TV by Rod Serling, and I think it will go on for a long time. In it there is a throwaway scene about the human population of the future, ludicrous dummies all, and I thought they were interesting enough to deserve a story of their own. I told that to Cyril. He poured himself another shot of Hiram Walker’s Imperial—or vanilla extract, or elixir of terpin hydrate or whatever we were drinking that night—and pursed his lips. He could see doing that, he said. Maybe bring a man from the present into the future for contrast; but how could he get the man from the present there? “Steal,” I advised him.
In the old, bad sf film Just Imagine the comedian, El Brendel, had gone from 1930 to 1980 simply by being hit by lightning and paralyzed for fifty years. If you’re writing farce, I said, why worry about inviting time machines? So Cyril went away, and came back with a man who had been paralyzed by a malfunction of the anesthesia systems in his dentist’s office and woke up in the future; he called the story “The Marching Morons.”
I have seen the criticism directed against “The Marching Morons,” including a quite recent article that points out it is bad genetics (the plot implies that the tendency of lower-class families to be larger than upper-class ones is selective breeding for dumbness). True. But I have also had grown men say to me, with tears in their eyes, that “The Marching Morons” was the best story of any kind they had ever read, and that it had changed their lives. What the story warns against is not the degradation of the human germ plasm, but the degradation of human life, by cheapening values and substituting what is meretricious for what is true.
- The old fashioned looking illustration by James Vincent p.76-77:
The modern looking illustration by Louis Marchetti p.80-81:The dodgy advert on the back cover:
- Galaxy printed a series of novels in magazine format, to the ire of John Campbell at Astounding/Street & Smith. See the review of the February 1951 issue of Galaxy. There is also this in Fantasy Times #129, 1st May 1951.