World Without Children • novella by Damon Knight ♥
A Pail of Air • short story by Fritz Leiber ♥♥♥+
With These Hands • novelette by C. M. Kornbluth ♥♥♥
Winner Lose All • short story by Jack Vance ♥♥
Not a Creature Was Stirring • short story by Dean Evans ♥
Pillar to Post • novelette by John Wyndham ♥
Season’s Greetings To Our Readers • cover by Ed Emshwiller
Interior artwork • Ed Emshwiller, Karl Rogers, Thorne, David Stone, Richard Powers
Fore and Aft • editorial by H. L. Gold
Galaxy’s 5 Star Shelf • book reviews by Groff Conklin and Robert A. Heinlein
Next Month’s Contents Page
This issue of Galaxy was published several months after the last one I read (the April issue) and, on the face of it, looks promising. First of all it has a stellar line up of writers which includes only one name that I don’t recognise (Dean Evans). Secondly, this self-contained issue of Galaxy was published between Heinlein’s serial The Puppet Masters and Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Finally, it is that rarest of things, an SF magazine with a Xmas cover.
I don’t know if you have ever searched through Galactic Central or ISFDB for these covers but it may surprise you to find there are actually very few of them.1 Why this is I am not sure—it seems like an editorial no-brainer to slap a Xmas cover on your seasonal issue and include a suitably festive (or unfestive) story.2
This SF Xmas cover is the earliest example I could find. Season’s Greetings To Our Readers was the first of eight that Emsh would do featuring a four-armed Santa, the start of a Galaxy tradition that would persist through most of the fifties and early-sixties.
The first story is World Without Children by Damon Knight, which was his fourth piece for Galaxy that year. It is set in a future where humanity has a considerably extended life span but:
The last recorded birth had been two hundred years ago.
That child—who had also been the last to wear a snowsuit, the last to cut his finger playing with knives, and the last to learn about women—had now reached he physiological age of twenty-five years, and looked even younger owing to his excellent condition. His name was George Miller; he had been a great curiosity in his day and a good many people still referred to him as The Child. p.6
At a party he gets together with three others, one of whom tells them that the human race is now nine-tenths sterile and the situation is deteriorating. As the government’s prohibition against new births will take too long to overturn, the four agree to continue illegally and in secret.
The rest of the story is a rather formulaic resistance vs. Government adventure although it does have some interesting touches: it is mostly set in Venice, and the sexual mores of this future society are quite permissive. These latter include mention of ‘G-string parties’ and the like, and there is also this when George and one of the other characters hide out in ‘vice house’:
The suite was eminently comfortable: three bedrooms, two baths, living room, game room, and even a tiny gymnasium; but Art grumbled. “Dammit, George, I suppose I shouldn’t complain when you’ve just saved my neck, but I can’t see your sense of humor. Anyway, what are these people going to think when I keep staying here but don’t have any women up?”
“Probably think we’re queer,” George suggested. Then, as Art seemed about to explode, he added hastily. “It’ll be good for you, Art—teach you humility and not condemning your fellow man and so forth. Anyhow, you’ve got to admit it’s safe.” p.26
Overall this would have probably been an OK effort if it wasn’t fatally undermined by a deux ex machina ending (albeit one with its roots planted at the start of the story in the character of Joe, a young man who supposedly has three hundred years’ worth of amnesia).3 An interesting result of this ending is that (spoiler) George finds out that an older woman he has had the hots for throughout the story is a mother, at which point his ardour cools to almost glacial levels….
A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber was a story that I vaguely remembered liking in The Best of Fritz Leiber (Sphere, 1974) where I first read it in the late seventies, and it didn’t disappoint.4 It starts with this:
Pa had sent me out to get an extra pail of air. I’d just about scooped it full and most of the warmth had leaked from my fingers when I saw the thing.
You know, at first I thought it was a young lady. Yes, a beautiful young lady’s face all glowing in the dark and looking at me from the fifth floor of the opposite apartment, which hereabouts is the floor just above the white blanket of frozen air. I’d never seen a live young lady before, except in the old magazines—Sis is just a kid and Ma is pretty sick and miserable—and it gave me such a start that I dropped the pail. Who wouldn’t, knowing everyone on Earth was dead except Pa and Ma and Sis and you? p.57
This science fictional tall tale goes on to tell about a family that have survived the capture of the Earth by a ‘dark star’ that has dragged the planet out of the solar system. Away from the sun the planet has frozen, including the atmosphere.
While their methods of survival are scientifically unlikely, the combination of folksy recollection and catastrophic events works quite well, and it is definitely a different kind of story than that normally found in the SF magazines of the time.
With These Hands by C. M. Kornbluth is about a sculptor called Halvorsen in a future where artists like him have been largely replaced by the Esthetikon, a machine that cheaply produces algorithmically adjusted sculptures out of plastic.
Halvorsen manages to make ends meet by obtaining the odd commission from rich sponsors and by running art classes. This is where a young woman called Lucy enters his life. During their initial conversation he collapses from malnutrition and she fetches a doctor, and later food. At a subsequent art class she brings an astronaut called Malone to look at his work, and the rivalry and differing world views between the two men are laid bare:
“There’s some art, Malone. My students—a couple of them in the still-life class—are quite good. There are more across the country. Art for occupational therapy, or a hobby, or something to do with the hands. There’s trade in their work. They sell them to each other, they give them to their friends, they hang them on their walls. There are even some sculptors like that. Sculpture is prescribed by doctors. The occupational therapists say it’s even better than drawing and painting, so some of these people work in plasticene and soft stone, and some of them get to be good.”
“Maybe so. I’m an engineer, Halvorsen. We glory in doing things the easy way. Doing things the easy way got me to Mars and Venus and it’s going to get me to Ganymede. You’re doing things the hard way, and your inefficiency has no place in this world. Look at you! You’ve lost a fingertip— some accident, I suppose.”
“I never noticed—” said Lucy, and then let out a faint, “Oh!”
Halvorsen curled the middle finger of his left hand into the palm, where he usually carried it to hide the missing first joint.
“Yes,” he said softly. “An accident.” ‘
“Accidents are a sign of inadequate mastery of material and equipment,” said Malone sententiously. “While you stick to your methods and I stick to mine, you can’t compete with me.”
His tone made it clear that he was talking about more than engineering. p.84
At this point I was expecting a relationship to start between Halvorsen and Lucy, but (spoiler) Kornbluth subverts this expectation with, as I commented in his story The Mindworm (Worlds Beyond, December 1950), an apparent knowledge of relationships beyond his years:
The farce was beginning again. But this time he dreaded it.
It would not be the first time that a lonesome, discontented girl chose to see him as a combination of romantic rebel and lost pup, with the consequences you’d expect.
He knew from books, experience and Labuerre’s conversation in the old days that there was nothing novel about the comedy—that there had even been artists, lots of them, who had counted on endless repetitions of it for their livelihood.
The girl drops in with groceries and the artist is pleasantly surprised; the girl admires this little thing or that after payday and buys it and the artist is pleasantly surprised; the girl brings her friends to take lessons
or make little purchases and the artist is pleasantly surprised. The girl may be seduced by the artist or vice versa, which shortens the comedy, or they get married, which lengthens it somewhat.
It had been three years since Halvorsen had last played out the farce with a manic-depressive divorcee from Elmira: three years during which he had crossed the mid-point between thirty and forty; three more years to get beaten down by being unwanted and working too much and eating too little. p.86
He rebuffs Lucy’s help and instead enters a radiation zone in Copenhagen, risking his life to view a piece of sculpture. After this the story proceeds to a rather pat ending but is otherwise a convincing and rather well done story about the threat of artistic extinction in a world of ever more capable technology.
I note in passing that there was an extended section involving a potter at the start of Kornbluth’s The Marching Morons.
Winner Lose All by Jack Vance is an account of a spaceship that arrives at an undiscovered planet at the same time as an alien life-form:
The unigen was an intelligent organism, though its characteristics included neither form nor structure. Its components were mobile nodes of a luminous substance which was neither matter nor yet energy. There were millions of nodes and each was connected with every other node by tendrils similar to the lines of force in macroid space.
The unigen might be compared to a great brain, the nodes corresponding to the gray cells, the lines of force to the nerve tissue. It might appear as a bright sphere, or it might disperse its nodes at light speed to all corners of the universe. p.95
The conflict between human and alien plays out to the point that (spoiler) both the humans and the visiting alien life-form concede and leave the planet. They leave behind another alien spieces that completes its life-cycle.
It is hard to believe this flat (the human characters are two-dimensional at best) piece is by the same author who produced The Loom of Darkness a.k.a. Liane the Wayfarer in the previous year’s Worlds Beyond (December 1950).
Not a Creature Was Stirring by Dean Evans is the first SF story of around a dozen that Evans (real name George Kull) would publish over the next couple of years.5 It is a particularly bleak story that occurs shortly before Xmas, and concerns a miner in Nevada who comes up from an extended period underground. He goes into town where, unbeknownst to him, the Reds have used a secret weapon that has killed everyone in the town and probably the country. They are frozen in position but show no signs of decay since the attack three weeks previously. He variously proceeds to get drunk, play roulette with the dead guests, etc.
This has a particularly clumsy info dump at the beginning and goes on for far too long, but one or two of the scenes involving the miner interacting with the dead invoke a glimmer of interest and the last few paragraphs provide a cheeringly bleak and seasonal ending.
The final story in this issue is the tedious Pillar to Post by John Wyndham. This involves a man called Terence Molton, who is a double foot/leg amputee as a result of standing on a mine. After overdoing his painkilling ‘dope’ he finds himself in another person’s body in the future. While he is there he is looked after by a woman called Clytassamine and is told that he will return to his own body once the original occupant, Hymorell, builds another transference machine in his time.
Until that happens Molton is taught the language and he and Clytassamine talk. A lot. Unfortunately these endless conversations are that pretentious, cod-philosophical drivel you get in too many SF stories when people in the far future discuss the human race:
There was so much I wanted to know. “What happened to my world?” I asked her later. “It seemed pretty well headed for disaster, as I saw it. I suppose it nearly wiped itself out in some vast and destructive global war?”
“It just died, the same as all the early civilizations. Nothing spectacular.”
I thought of my world, its intricacies and complexities, the mastery of distance and speed, the progress of science.
“Just died?” I repeated. “It can’t have. There must have been something that broke it up.”
“Oh, no. The passion for order is a manifestation of the deep desire for security. The desire is natural, but the attainment is fatal. There was the means to produce a static world, which was achieved. When the need for adaptation arose, it found itself unable to adapt. It inertly died of discouragement. That happened to many primitive peoples before.”
She had no reason to lie, but it was hard to believe.
“We hoped for so much,” I protested. “Everything was opening before us. We were learning. We were going to reach out to other planets and beyond.”
“Ingenious you certainly were, but each new discovery was a toy. You never considered its true worth. And you were a greedy, childishly aggressive people. You developed science without developing philosophy. Philosophy without science is fruitless speculation, likely to degenerate into superstition and ignorant quibbling. But science without philosophy is equally fruitless research that leads to pedantry, stasis, dogma.” p.148
The final section finds Molton back in his own body in front of a primitive version of the transference machine, and there follows half a dozen pages or so where the story perks up as he and Hymorell engage in a duel of wits as they swap back and forth between each other’s bodies.
Emsh contributes the best of Interior artwork (and also contributes under the pseudonym Ed Alexander for the Leiber story) although David Stone runs him a close second.6 Powers’ work was surprisingly disappointing, looking a bit smudged to be honest.
Horace Gold’s editorial, Fore and Aft, contains the news that Galaxy is under new ownership and makes reassuring noises about profitability, standards only being changed in the direction of improvement, etc., before going on to tout Knight’s novella, next issue’s serial The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, and a new science column by Willy Ley.7 He then goes on to provide six months’ worth of story ratings. If these are in order of preference Cyril Korntbluth’s The Marching Morons was the least liked story in the April issue, and Isaac Asimov’s Tyrann the least liked serial. (A better man than me would be able to restrain himself from saying, ‘I told you so.’) Gold also mentions that he was apprehensive about the response that Edgar Pangborn’s Angel’s Egg and Wyman Guin’s Beyond Bedlam would receive, and concludes by boasting about the fact that 95% of the first year’s contents will shortly be reprinted in hard covers.
Galaxy’s 5 Star Shelf is by Groff Conklin and Robert A. Heinlein this issue, the latter reviewing one of the three books covered, Space Medicine: The Human Factor in Flights Beyond the Earth by John P. Marbarger.
An OK issue, but not as good as I had been expecting.
- Galactic Central put together a few pages of fiction magazine Xmas covers. As you can see there are very few SF ones amongst them. There are a few more he could have added (my list includes Astounding, January 1954, ’55, ’56, ’58, ’59 and ’77; Galaxy, December 1951, ’53, 54, 59 and ’60, January 1956, ’57, and ’58, and November/December 1994; F&SF, January 1960, ’62, ’81 and ’91; Science Fiction Monthly, November 1974, ’75. There is also a Xmas cover on the news magazine SF Chronicle 1998).
- If an atheist like me can cope with this Christian/mercantile festival I’m sure others can.
- I don’t think I’m being overly hard on Knight’s story. It was only reprinted by Gold and also took some time to come out in one of the writer’s own collections. Its publication history is on ISFDB.
- I remember reading somewhere that the cover for The Best of Fritz Leiber was actually produced for The Best of A. E. van Vogt (illustrating the story The Cataaaaa) but that they were swapped. The Leiber and van Vogt books at ISFDB.
- ‘Dean Evans’ ISFDB page. George Kull is mentioned in the Chapter 20 footnotes (#8) of C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary by Mark Rich. This is from Pohl’s account (in an interview with Damon Knight) of the financial troubles he got into when running his agency (by paying writers for their work before selling it to a publisher): “There was as fellow named George Kull in California…who wrote pretty good light mysteries, but he wrote them in enormous volume, and I couldn’t sell them as fast as he wrote them. He was starving to death, and he was into me for like three thousand dollars when I wrote him off.” p.408
Kull is identified as Evans just after this passage.
- One of Emsh’s illustrations for Damon Knight’s World Without Children:David Stone’s illustrations for Dean Evan’s Not a Creature Was Stirring:
- The publisher had changed on the November issue contents page to Galaxy Publishing Corporation from World Editions Inc.