Saturday, April 10, 2010

Astounding Science Fiction November 1954

This is issue seems to confirm my suspicion that Astoundings from this time period are pretty unreadable. Apparently Dianetics and other pseudosciences had turned Campbell's mind to mush. Or most of the real writers had stopped submitting anything to him – most of authors (with exception of Algis Budrys) from this issue did write very little else than these stinkers. Luckily.

The End of Summer • novelette by Algis Budrys
An immortal man returns to earth and to hos home after long time away. The world is very static, nothing has changed in the years (or decades, centuries?) he has bee away. As people live so long they can't remember everything, and are using external device for memory storage. The premise is very good but unfortunately the story decays toward the end. It seems the author devised very interesting world but really didn't invent good enough plot to happen in it. The explanations for the premise were also fairly disappointing. Still, easily best story in the magazine. ***+
The Dip Stick • shortstory by William E. Bentley
A patrol spaceship apparently filled by total idiots meet an alien space ship. It takes some time for them to realize it is the first alien ship encountered by humans. It only has totally unfamiliar configuration, and is using totally unknown nuclear engines. After the elite crew has decided that the ship probably isn't a space pirate they start to think up reasons to blow up the ship. They have standing orders what to if any alien ship is encountered. They not to initiate any contact with it, and if the another ship doesn't initiate friendly contact, they are to destroy it. One wonders what happens if the another ship has similar instructions? Eventually the idiots board the alien ship, poke around with unknown technology, surprisingly manage to stay alive, and then blow the ship. I even wondered if the story was meant as irony, or as a humor piece, but it was so seriously written that that it apparently was meant seriously. Mind-bafflingly stupid behavior, pretty bad writing. *½
 Pilot's License • novelette by William T. Powers
An insecure guy is applying to training for space pilots. In spite of being badly over-age (and being an accountant, as that apparently automatically means you are stupid, cowardly weakling) he gets in. He is trying to live up for his father, who was a famous pilot until he made some mistake and crash-landed on a suburb. He is very neurotic, and really wants to succeed. He has spent ten years to learn everything about piloting spaceships that is possible from theoretic point of view. That is hard task as the ships apparently are designed by a bunch of lunatics, and controls are badly labeled with no fool-proofing whatsoever, and a single small mistake can, and likely will, destroy the ship. Most over the story is taken by mind-numbingly boring description of training, where an instructor who apparently (or more likely the author hasn't) ever taken part to any advanced physics lesson in the school, trains the extremely neurotic “hero”. (shouldn't there have been some kind of psychiatric evaluation?). Finally the guy proves to be excellent pilot, and baffles the instructor as he apparently is able the pilot the spaceship by instruments only (well, would there be any other possibilities in the real life?).The final twist is revealed in the end: apparently the “hero” is so presbyopic that he can't really even see the instruments, so he is doing “real” flying after all. (If he had so bad eyesight, how was he able to use ten years learning all piloting manuals by heart?) And he has lived to over thirty without ever noticing his bad eye sight, and the irresponsible doctor not only didn't prescribe glasses for him, or didn't tell him about it, but gave him clearance for piloting. The story would surpass all limits of stupidity, but the earlier one set them SO high that it is impossible task. *½
A Matter of Monsters • shortstory by Manly Banister
A group of “monsters” (humans suffering strange and unlikely medical conditions) are drafted to pilot the first space ship which travels to a nearby star. One guy suffering from bad green skin condition is magically cured from his condition by cosmic rays. He is starting to have second thought about leaving for the journey. And when they reach their destinations, there already are humans there as spaceship design has improved considerable during the years they have spent on their journey. The cured guy thinks about returning to earth with the more modern ship, but his comradeship with other monsters wins him over. Blah. Boring, forgettable story. **
Helper • shortstory by Irving Reich
A old professor of chemistry tries to teach the old science, when modern youth are not interested in that, as they are able to do everything they want through psionics. Could there be a combination of those two practices? Another proof that Campbell's mind really was mush at this time. Not as stupid as some of the other stories in this issue, but probably only because the story is so short there is less room for stupidities. **-

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