REVIEW: "Galaxy" June 1954 -- Dimension X-Mas, part 1

Now is the winter of our discontent. But I don't want to blog about all that (yet). Therefore, and in anticipation of hopefully starting up a literary-review podcast about science fiction, I think it's a good time to read and review my small collection of sf magazines!

The first one up is also the oldest: the June 1954 edition of Galaxy magazine (scans of which are available on the Internet Archive; here's the particular edition). Galaxy was one of the premiere American sf monthlies during the golden age of sf magazines, alongside Astounding (later Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact). The radio program X Minus One drew heavily on Galaxy for its adaptations, and it published stories by many of the great sf authors of the time.

This particular issue was a random pull at an antique mall in Bellingham, if I remember correctly, so going in there was no guarantee that any of the stories would be particularly good. I mean, we're talking the 1950s here: a lot of the sf of the period, if it didn't remain famous up to the modern day (or maybe even then), is clunky or jarring to modern sensibilities.

As it turns out, I got lucky! Here are my brief thoughts on each story, in order of appearance:

Gladiator at Law (serialized; part 1 of 3)
Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

I'm familiar with several of Pohl's stories as adapted by X Minus One and its earlier incarnation, Dimension X―in particular, "The Map Makers" and "Tunnel Under the World," both excellent. "Tunnel Under the World" was a particularly good satire on corporate control of personal life in the service of market research; that satirical spirit is similarly present in "Gladiator at Law." Only in this one, it's construction companies and corporate lawyers that rule everything thanks to "bubble-house" technology that makes the suburban sprawl of The Future(TM) a neglected wasteland.

The setup: One down-on-his-luck criminal attorney is approached by a woman and her brother who claim to be heirs to the biggest corporate fortune in the world... but is it true? And can he even begin to take on the megacorp?

This was quite an interesting first act, almost pre-cyberpunk in its setting. Pohl and Kornbluth's style holds up very well, with the occasional use of Fifties' phrases (for example, the particular way people used to use "sure"... you'd have to listen to lots of media from the time to understand, but I swear it's different).

Something for Nothing
Robert Sheckley

I love me some Sheckley: he does great, funny sfnal satire. X Minus One did an incredible and hilarious adaptation of "Early Model" which I absolutely recommend.

This particular story is a clever little parable: a regular Joe finds a "magic" box that gives him whatever he asks for when he presses its shiny red button. (Uh, did the Rick and Morty writers know about this story...? The people who pop in and out of existence when he asks for help reminded me a lot of Mr. Meeseeks... except that they were human.) But what could be the catch?

Overall, solid and a nice half-twist at the end. There are better Sheckley stories, but I thought this was still quite good.

High Man
Jay Clarke

I don't know anything about Jay Clarke; going by the ISFDB he was a very minor writer with two short stories to his name. This one is fairly predictable, but amusing on first read because of the epistolatory format―increasingly snarky letters between an emerging love/scam triangle.

Down Among the Dead Men
William Tenn

I didn't know much about William Tenn before reading this―he had a few stories adapted for Dimension X and X Minus One and I might have listened to one, but it didn't make an impression―but this ended up being a very interesting story and I want to read more from him.

The setup is that humanity is fighting a losing battle against technologically-superior bug aliens in the outer Solar System, and the chief weapon is actually sheer manpower (since the aliens reproduce massively, like insects). So the military starts recycling corpses to clone new soldiers. But how do those "soldier surrogates" feel about the whole situation?

The actual crisis of the story has almost a "Twelve Angry Men" feel to it, except that it's "Four Angry Clones and Their Commanding Officer." This could easily be read as a commentary on the status of non-white soldiers in the U.S. military, and I wouldn't be shocked to learn that that was Tenn's exact point.

Edward G. Robles, Jr.

The setup: Four hobos stop an alien invasion of Earth. The details make for amusing reading. (The method of invasion, and why a hobo is the ideal defender against it, is really a clever use of what isn't an entirely original sf trope.)

Forget Me Nearly
F. L. Wallace

A murder mystery where the murder victim is still alive: but if you're the victim of induced amnesia and mental retrogression, isn't that basically murder? The actual twist reveal of who's who wasn't all that surprising, but the concept was still competently presented. A fun puzzle-box type story.