A place for new ideas to settle.

14 December 2016

REVIEW: "Analog" February 1969 -- Dimension X-Mas, part 2

The Christmas story involves outer space, so in the spirit of the season I'm going to review as many of my vintage science fiction magazines as I can before the new year!

With my single Galaxy copy out of the way, we move into Analog territory. Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, originally known as Astounding Stories and one of the other guiding lights of science fiction in its early years, was edited by John W. Campbell from the late 1930s until his death in 1971. Campbell was responsible for cultivating some truly prodigious sf talent and tried holding sf to at least some standards of quality... but he was also, to put it mildly, a crank. In particular to science-fiction concepts, he was a big believer in the theory of ESP or psi phenomena, as well as a fan of L. Ron Hubbard's pre-Scientology theory of the mind, dianetics.

This particular issue is from 1969, which is to say, right when things were getting real weird (again, putting it mildly!) in both science fiction and real life. It was fun to compare the change in style and tropes of 1969 Analog from 1954 Galaxy.

A Womanly Talent
Anne McCaffrey

McCaffrey is, like George R. R. Martin, a writer whom I knew from full novels long before I read any of their short stories. (I hadn't really understood the tight connection science fiction has with the short-story form until well into my sf-reading career.) And, again sort of like Martin, she wrote a lengthy series of novels that play with fantasy tropes and include dragons. The Dragonriders of Pern series was actually one of the first non-YA science fiction series I read as a kid, and I remember really enjoying the way McCaffrey gradually and plausibly shifts the world from a fantastic to a science-fictional setting.

This story, on the other hand, has nothing to do with Pern. It's about psi-enabled people (ding ding ding!) trying to gain legal protection from the U.S. Government, and one woman's heretofore unknown Talent manifesting in connection to the birth of her daughter. There are some interesting ideas presented here; in particular, the presentation of precognition as something like a mental earthquake is pretty cool, and the "X-Men" style politics of superpowers is always fun (in my opinion).

However, some of the other social aspects feel really dated―isn't it telling how speculative stories sometimes get the technology of the future more or less correct but almost always whiff on social changes? Ruth Horvath, the aforementioned woman with an unknown Talent, is an extremely stereotypical Mother. Full stop. Another character, a telepath, even comments that her thoughts are dominated by love and desire to provide for her husband and child. In a longer novel with more and varied characters it might not be so weird, but as one of the small handful of characters in a novella it's sort of eyebrow-raising. Still, I'd put this in the "good" bin.

You'll Love the Past
John R. Pierce

I remembered vaguely liking this story the first time I read it, but on subsequent reading I think I had just been glossing it. Unless Pierce was going for some (very bungled) satire, this story is really kind of racist.

The setup is interesting enough: a guy time-travels a few centuries into the future but it turns out he just stole the machine when its original owner was detained by the police. And the future society is a sort of Eloi-style "utopia" with cult elements. So far so good...

Except that the higher-ups, the "Heians" (which I think I originally thought were extraterrestrials) are pretty clearly described as Asian... and "Heian" spelled 平安 means "peace" in Japanese. At that point a lot of stuff started looking rather ugly: technologically advanced, sexless Asians keeping the mostly-nonwhite survivors of World War III as livestock? Ew. Now, as I said, it could be trying for satire: the main character is an unscrupulous asshole, and he might pull a "Sound of Thunder" and bring about the future by his own arrogance and ignorance... but... I doubt it. There's probably a reason it wasn't reprinted anywhere but this issue of Analog, according to the ISFDB.

Avoid it.

Extortion, Inc.
Mack Reynolds

In the harrowing far future of 2000 A.D., one of the last private investigators is hired by the government on a case of extortions and literal football-sized nukes!

Yeah, this is cheesy retro-future noir. I like that sort of thing. And I like how the main character solves the (not really too obscure) mystery because he's smart AND lazy. It's fun.

Wolfling (serialized; part 2 of 3)
Gordon R. Dickson

Skipped. I'm not reading serials from the middle or end.

A Chair of Comparative Leisure
Robert Scott Wilson

A mildly amusing but forgettable story about university department politics and psi powers (ding ding ding!)... but the concept ("What if a professor was a bad public speaker but also telepathic and could force the audience to daydream about the lecture?") is also all you really need to know. This story also wasn't reprinted anywhere else.


Overall this issue of Analog wasn't as surprising as the older issues of Galaxy, but I know that later issues (once Ben Bova took over as editor in the 1970s and 1980s) improve dramatically.

No comments:

Post a Comment