A friend of my mom’s gifted me with a entire year’s worth of Analog from 1975. How could I turn this down? I’m fascinated with the history of speculative fiction and what better way to immerse myself in that history than reading through this time capsule from the year before I was born?
Now Analog has never been a magazine I’ve read regularly, mostly because they have always seemed to focus on Hard SF, that brand of science-fiction steeped and stewed in technology (which, frankly, would make a very strange tea or stew). Though I love science, it’s never been more than a jumping off point for me in both reading and writing stories. And so I was afraid that reading through this year’s worth of magazines would be a technophile’s dream but deadly boring for me.
And so begins this series of posts detailing the experience of going back in time. Already I’m seeing things I didn’t expect. Authors I recognize. Books printed in their original, seed-like form. Casual racism and sexism. Come with me on this exciting trip through pages past!
Be warned: probable spoilers abounding.
“The Borderland of Sol” by Larry Niven: Science, science, science, science. Have I told you about my science? It’s big, believe me. No one sciences like I science.
This story is a noir-ish mystery set in the far future of Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars universe. Ships leaving or entering the solar system are disappearing, and our MC gets involved into trying to figure out why and how this is occurring. There are characters, but they are flat. There is action, but it’s dull and uninspired. There is science, gobs and gobs of science, delivered in giant paragraphs by every character, and that is the main draw of this story. For some.
In case you were wondering, this story exemplifies everything I feared about reading this year’s worth of Analog.
“The Present State of Igneos Research” by Gordon R. Dickson: This is…a joke? A faux scientific survey of the study of dragons (the igneos of the title) that involves time travel and a (bad) faux-Middle English poem about dragons which I couldn’t even force myself to read. Bad rhymes and tortured syntax abound.
“January 1975” by Barry Malzberg: It’s not a good sign that I finished this magazine a few days ago and have no idea what this story might be.
Oh yeah. A epistolary story (I’m resisting quotation marks) with letters exchanged between Malzberg and Ben Bova (Analog‘s editor for all of these issues) which posits them writing in an alternate universe where Kennedy apparently wasn’t elected, but Malzberg puts forward his writing a story about our universe, where he was (and then was assassinated).
What happens in this story (the one we’re reading, not the one alt-Malzberg is proposing to write)? Nothing? Why is it here? Because Malzberg and Bova are friends? I have no idea.
So far, in my reading of 1975 Analog what I’ve seen are two types of stories: serious ones dealing with serious problems often pivoting around science & jokes that don’t even seem to take stories seriously.
“End Game” by Joe Haldeman: This is where my revelations began. So, although I’d heard of all the authors coming before now (Bova, Niven, Dickson, Malzberg), none of them are in my list of favorite authors. Niven is the only one whose work I’ve read, mostly with Jerry Pournelle. None of them stick burr-like in my mind. Whatever they write dissolves into the mist of my memory.
But this story is actually Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR in its first incarnation. (FYI: Science fiction novels during this time often existed both as stories and serials (the novel stretched out over several magazine issues) & then as novels so that the writer could get the most money possible out of any idea.) I’ve read the book before, but I don’t think that’s why my attention was instantly arrested by the language here. The other stories were water from the tap. This story was an ocean. Or a glacier. After forcing myself through the other stories, I was hooked again, again caught by reading, reminded why I love it, how I can drown in it.
“The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl” by Katherine MacLean: And then back to the slog. This story is crap-science and really only a classic cliche of another story dressed up as science fiction. Appalachian-style poverty abounds, as does the myth of the big city evil that seduces the innocent, as does women needing to be protected from that evil, as does the idea of the solid working-class hero of strong moral character.
Gene Wolfe would often take older non-SF stories and translate them into science fiction. His stories would be different enough from the original that you might not notice the similarities, or at least you wouldn’t care, the new story being truly its own thing.
This story is Beverly Hillbillies in space.
“The Indian Giver” (part 3 of 3) by Alfred Bester: I have not read anything by Alfred Bester before this story. This story does not make me want to read anything else he’s written.
It’s messy. It’s racist. It’s sexist. It’s a conglomeration of so many ideas and characters and plot points it simply becomes a hash of nothing, not because I couldn’t follow what was going on, but because I didn’t care. There is a four paragraph description of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, because science.
Plot: There are people who, when they die, come back as near immortals. One of the newest of this group (the group is called the Group) bonds with a super-computer that is bent on taking over the world. This bonded guy, called the Chief because he’s a Native American, also has sent three astronauts into space, and when they came back they were embryos. The MC goes to Titan to retrieve a neanderthal immortal and then uses him to destroy the computer. A woman died, and they are going to clone her to “bring her back” (as though a clone would be identical to the woman who died, personality-wise, knowledge-wise, as though cloning is simply photocopying). The immortals are susceptible to Lepcer, a blend of leprosy and cancer that somehow turns one of them into a bipedal lion. Another of the group has the ability to send people back in time. Everyone spends time wandering through the North American wilderness on various beasts of burden, including a donkey, the whole experience somehow reading as semi-religious.
In some ways, the style Bester is using here is like that of Philip K. Dick and A. E. van Vogt. It’s chaotic, deliberately wild and headlong and (trying to be) crazy and surprising. Plot-twisty. But here it seems just tired and forced and, the greatest sin of all, simply uninteresting. The characters are cardboard, collections of quirks and reductive names (the Jewish immortal is called the Jew, Hebe, etc.; the East Asian, Rajah; the drag queen, Queenie).
I don’t know if I’ve successfully given you this impression yet, but reading it was horrible. A horror. Just bad all around.
Something to note: “The Indian Giver” was published as the novel THE COMPUTER CONNECTION and ended up as a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards and was third place for the Locus award.
BONUS: If anyone would like to read this magazine, send me a note and I’ll start it on its way. Regardless of my reactions to some of the stories, reading something from another era like this is fascinating.