I’m not spending any time on the non-stories in these old Analogs, but that’s not because what’s there isn’t interesting. In fact, reading those reviews and editorials and science articles are a large part of the fun of this cultural archaeology–it’s just that they’re harder to summarize. This issue contains a prediction as to the future of moon exploration, a paean to P. Schuyler Miller (the long-standard book review who died a few months previous), letters to the editor regarding a fight between Asimov and Velikovsky, and mail-order ads involving pseudo-science. Fascinating artifacts, but what I’m concerned with here is the state of the SFF story (according to one magazine) during a single year.
On we go.
“Lifeboat” (part 1 of 3) by Gordon R. Dickson and Harry Harrison: Harry Harrison wrote a series of books about Deathworlds, a Stainless Steel Rat, and Bill, the Galactic Hero. Gordon R. Dickson you might remember from the dragon poem of last issue. Together they write a story about an unpleasant and, frankly, a little abhorrent hero (he pats a grown woman on the head as encouragement) whose space-liner explodes, leaving him and his slaves (essentially, though they are given a different name) on a lifeboat run by the last two crew remaining from the ship. The lifeboat is in bad shape, however, so there is the danger that the survivors are just dragging out their unavoidable end.
There is some interesting world-building here. The crew of the ship are aliens whose culture prioritizes death in space (somewhat akin to the glory of dying in battle other cultures have prized) and are resentful both of the loss of the ship–it was clearly sabotaged–and the fact that they weren’t allowed to die with the ship. The main character, Giles, is a Adelman who is one of the elite of Earth while the others are arbites, people bred to serve specific functions.
I suspect over the course of the story, Giles will learn that arbites are people, too. Maybe. But there is very little that is pleasant about this story setting us firmly in the mind of a paternalistic, misogynistic slave owner.
“The Hunters of Tharsis” by Bob Buckley: A strange story about human colonists on Mars being devoured by a native creature that essentially remakes them using its own flesh as a basis around the devoured one’s brain. A number of the colonists become part of this creature, creating a new society at odds with the old one, the struggle of the story centered around whether the two different groups can live in peace. In some way, it is a tale about belonging to a group, and how your perspective on life changes when the group you belong to changes (because of race, class, disability, etc.) because suddenly your needs or the way you are treated is different.
The writing here is good, though I am again presented with no likeable/relatable characters. Is this a problem? Or a result of having a focus on plot/situation rather than people? Or my own myopia at work?
“Equinocturne” by Bob Chuck Wilson: “Equinocturne” is a beautiful story about a spaceship captain trying to settle down before the radiation of space permanently damages his DNA. His lover/partner/promised-wife lives on a planet he only visits once a year, so much of what Wilson focuses on is the simple difficulty of two people who knew each other coming to know each other once again.
Of course, that’s not the main plot of the story (though it would’ve been enough for me) (and it is the main plot, as far as I read it, except that it has no adventure to it, and adventure/science/twists are key to the stories here) which instead revolves around recent mysterious deaths of some colonists. That thread is interesting, too, but almost only as it highlights the relationship dance at play. This is well worth reading, if you can find it.
Sidenote: What are the chances of two Bobs being in the same issue?
“The Tax Man” by Stephen Robinett: A joke story that actually has heart and drive to it. The premise is sort of an extreme Libertarian nightmare where the vast majority of the U.S. has a 98% tax rate but is also provided with all their basic needs (the rich and famous and political are, of course, exempt from this burden). If you choose not to pay your taxes, then a Tax Man comes to collect by killing you and taking all of your possessions as forfeit. Our main character is one such tax shirker who then runs for his life to Mexico.
The absurdity here appeals to me greatly, the story becoming a phantasmagoric dream as entertaining as a Beckett or Ionesco play. Are any of the characters relatable or even believable? No, but the end result is engaging writing all the same.
“The Negotiators” by Keith Laumer: Laumer is perhaps best known for his Retief stories about a galactic ambassador dealing with the idiocies of rampant bureaucracy with characters who are named things like Colonel Betterparts and Sloonge. The main plot of this story involves making a deal with meat-eating, quickly reproducing, violent aliens for ownership of Earth’s oceans. It’s absurd. You’d think after “The Tax Man” that I’d be completely into this story.
But Robinett, even in the midst of his absurdity, makes us care about the characters, even if they are jerks or careless or sinister. We can’t help but see their sides and be interested in the outcome. Laumer’s characters, on the other hand, are all the most cardboard of cardboard. The cardboardiest. They’re not meant to be much more than names and a transparent, single-minded attitude. They are representations. The humor of the story is crude and angry, the most bitter kind of satire without warmth or hope.
Laumer’s books have been very popular, so I know there’s a market for this writing. That market is not me.
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.