December 13th, 2010

Galaxy, September 1956

Galaxy, September 1956

I haven't done an old SF magazine review in a while ... reading too many new ones, I guess. But here's a look at an old Galaxy.

The cover is by Jack Coggins, illustrating "Hauling in an Asteroid" -- showing a group of spacemen literally tethering a (very very small) asteroid to a ship, preparing to bring it into the hold, it would seem! The interiors are by Gaughan, Cal, Dick Francis, and Doktor. Not sure why Dick Francis (presumably not the mystery writer) got full name credit.

The nonfiction includes Willy Ley's For Your Information, about Project Vanguard (the earliest US satellite program) and about a proposed Martian calendar; and Floyd C. Gale's book review column. Gale covers The Search for Bridey Murphy, Clarke's Reach for Tomorrow, Heinlein's Double Star, W. J. Stuart's novelization of Forbidden Planet, Robert de la Croix's Mysteries of the North Pole, and "Paul French"'s Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury. No mention that "French" was actually Isaac Asimov -- I don't know if that was as yet an acknowledged pseudonym. His judgement of Double Star seems at this remove rather off base: "This book does not measure up to the standards of Sixth Column or The Puppet Masters". One rather gasps ... especially as regards Sixth Column, famously based on a Campbell treatment. The "Forecast", for the next issue, notes the serialization of The Stars My Destination, calling it "a serial that joins the brilliant company of science fiction masterpieces" -- a biased source, of course, but an obviously correct statement in retrospect.

There were very few ads -- two inhouse ads (back cover soliciting subscriptions, last page pushing back issues), one almost inhouse ad, for NBC radio's X-1, touting the use of Galaxy stories in that program, and one ad for a record club, the Musical Masterpiece Society.

The Table of Contents lists one novella, two novelets, and three short stories. The novella is Theodore Sturgeon's "The Other Man", and it's a real novella at some 18,000 words. The "novelets" are "Verbal Agreement" by Arthur Sellings (6100 words) and "Chain Reaction" by Boyd Ellanby (4600 words!). The short stories are "Nothing but the Best", by Alan Cogan (3600 words), Robert Sheckley's "Human Man's Burden" (5300 words), and Daniel F. Galouye's "Seeing-Eye Dog" (5100 words).

Galaxy under Gold (and later editors, really!) had a habit of making its TOC look more impressive by calling shortish stories "novelets", but usually the lower limit was about 6000 words (and after all there was no particular accepted definition of novelet at that time), but I think calling the Ellanby story, shorter even than a couple other "short stories" in the same issue, a novelet is a bit too much.

Anyway, the stories. Sturgeon's "The Other Man" is the clear prize of the issue, hardly a shock. It's not one of Sturgeon's best known stories, though Judith Merril did choose it for her second Best of the Year book. It was included in two Sturgeon collections (prior to the collected stories): The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon and The Stars are the Styx. I have the latter, and I read it all, but I didn't really remember "The Other Man". For all that, while it's not Sturgeon at his best, it's pretty good. Though as with some other Sturgeon (most obviously, to me, "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff") a strong beginning and middle is weakened by an only OK ending.

The title is of course a pun. It opens with a psychiatrist encountering his ex-wife, who wants him to treat her new husband, "the other man" who had stolen her from him. Richard Newell, "the other man", is a cad, and he treats his wife terribly, and doesn't provide well either. She knows he needs help, and asks the Doctor, who it seems it very famous, to treat him. It turns out that the treatment -- the primary SFnal element of the tale -- involves hypnotizing the patient and separating his personality into its components. Then the components can be strengthened or suppressed (but never eliminated) as required. The Doctor's ethics compel him to never destroy a personality. Not even the heel who stole his wife, and who now abuses her. But when he isolates the various aspects of Newell's personality, he (and his two female assistants) discover something unexpected: a fully formed personality, quite different from Newell's. This new personality, named (significantly!) Anson, is very sweet and innocent. He, the second "other man" of the story, is almost purely "good", while Newell is almost purely "evil". And the Doctor's task is to "cure" Newell without either destroying his personality, or destroying Anson, or even combining the two, which he feels would destroy both (as his assistants, who feel like mothers to Anson, agree). And his further problem is to save for his ex-wife that curious small piece of Newell that she loves.

It's a neat setup, and nicely handled to a point, but the ending didn't really convince me.

I immediately noticed the name given to Newell's other personality, "Anson". That was of course the first name of Heinlein's pseudonym "Anson MacDonald". Heinlein famously gave Sturgeon a number of story ideas when Sturgeon was fighting writer's block. The most famous Sturgeon story inspired by Heinlein's list of ideas is "And Now the News..." -- which main character was named "MacLyle", from Heinlein's pseudonyms MacDonald and "Lyle Monroe". So I wondered, was "The Other Man" also based on a Heinlein idea? And it seems, it was -- indeed, it and "And Now the News ..." are the only two stories Sturgeon wrote from Heinlein's list.

Arthur Sellings was the pseudonym of Englishman Robert Ley, who wrote a half-dozen novels and a few dozen short stories from the early 50s until his death in 1968. He was never famous, but for some time was a fairly dependable producer of middle range stuff -- lots and lots for Galaxy, and a fair amount for the Carnell magazines. "Verbal Agreement" is a rather pure example of certain type of '50s story -- unpromising man goes to alien planet and succeeds where better qualified people have failed. In this case our hero is a poet who finds out what humans can sell to a telepathic species. Very minor stuff, but OK in its way.

Boyd Ellanby is another pseudonym, for a husband and wife team, Lyle and William Boyd, who published about a dozen stories in the 50s. William Boyd was a fellow professor of Isaac Asimov's at Boston University, also in the Biochemistry department. "Chain Reaction" is this issue's atomic holocaust story -- every 1950s issue of an SF magazine was required to have at least one, I think it was a law -- though a bit different. In the story a group of scientists come to visit a former colleague in an insane asylum, where he's been confined for claiming that the latest weapon, which will achieve total conversion of matter to energy, will set off a chain reaction and destroy the entire Earth. As the story unfolds they await the results of the test, happening just then. The ending is a mild surprise, but not really that interesting.

Alan Cogan is this issue's Little Known Writer. According to the ISFDB, he published three SF short stories, all for Galaxy, in 1955 and 1956. (They also credit a "chapterbook" from 2010, but I rather doubt that's from the same Alan Cogan.) "Nothing But the Best" is a decent enough idea story, taking on an idea that been used elsewhere, notably in the well received fairly recent Paul Melko novella (later a novel), "The Walls of the Universe". That is, traveling between alternate worlds to meet yourself, and compare how your lives differed based on different decisions. In this case, Charles Mead is unhappy in his marriage, and he goes and meets Chuck Mead, who is also unhappy, having chosen the other potential mate -- and he tries to convince him to join him in a search for the "perfect" Charles Mead. Nothing really ends up happening, but Cogan does at least attempt to explore the ramifications of this version of the many worlds theory.

"Human Man's Burden" is fairly typical Sheckley, if perhaps a bit sweeter than normal for him. It's quite fun, though not really Sheckley at top form. A young man homesteads an asteroid, and is persuaded by his robot overseer that he needs a wife, so he goes the mail order route, but ends up with a pampered beauty who was supposed to join a harem. Or so he thinks.

Finally, Daniel F. Galouye's "Seeing-Eye Dog" starts with an OK idea -- the "seeing-eye dog" telepathically transmits what he sees to his owner, but doesn't do much with it. The problems with that idea (like parallax -- i.e. what the dog sees is not from the same place a man's eyes are) are ignored, and the plot is a tired and predictable jealousy plot -- the blind man's "friend" want to steal his fiance and business, so tries to sabotage his chances of getting a dog.

In sum, a fairly typical issue of H. L. Gold's Galaxy -- more or less in the middle range, I'd say.