“…listen to your Alpha and Theta brainwaves!” said the Analog ad.
Listening to my brainwaves, I realize that one of the most unexpected things about reading these ancient Analogs from the year before my birth is how much they speak to today. I don’t mean how some of the stories fit into my own reading history (such as the section of Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR in its original publication as a serial novella). No, I mean how the politics embedded in the magazines leap out to yell, “Hey, you! This was going on even then! What’s changed? Tell me, man, what has actually changed?”
Because in this issue we have the regular editorial replaced with an essay debate between F. Paul Wilson and Alan E. Nourse (both SFF writers and doctors) about National Health Insurance. And forty years later we are fighting about the same thing, with almost the same talking points. The government should stay out of health care, just like it should’ve stayed out of Vietnam! The purpose of a government is to take care of its citizens, and it will do so whether there is insurance or not, so let’s make sure the government has a system in place to manage health and control costs! Government should stay out of people’s affairs! Government, by definition, IS the affair of the people!
There is no conclusion to the debate, though both lay out their points solidly. Just as there is no real solution to the other facticle in the magazine, that of robot workers replacing their human counterparts. Well, James S. Albus proposes a solution, but doesn’t seem hopeful it’ll take: mainly, that governments should provide standard incomes for their citizens, because the wealth of a government should be, at its base, owned by the citizens that make up the government–and in a situation where labor is divided from capital, how else does one make sense of capital?
To be fair, my understanding of economics is…poor.
Another thing that’s poor: my knowledge of older SFF writers. I assume that if I haven’t heard of a writer (like Wilson or Nourse) then they couldn’t have been that successful or good (even though I know that popularity has nothing innately to do with longevity). But Wilson has written a ton, published bestsellers, and is still writing. Nourse wrote both YA and adult fiction, and one of his books donated its title to Blade Runner.
Those bits are perhaps the most interesting things about this issue. There’s a story by Brenda Pearce called “Crazy Oil” where the twist is not a twist and the only female character is pretty much set decoration. “To Be or Knot to Be” by Alecs Baird is a joke story about aliens who are pieces of rope for whom knot-tying is sex. Oh god is it a waste of space. Thomas Sullivan’s “The Sixth Face” is basically a spy-thriller with Russia/Asia as the antagonists to the West (another sad echo coming down to us today). Its worst sin is the lack of tension.
Then there’s Gregory Benford’s “Doing Lennon” and the last part of Gordon R. Dickson and Harry Harrison’s “Lifeboat.” They are both well-written, which is a plus. But Benford’s story doesn’t really do much with a man from our time freezing himself in order to pretend to be John Lennon in the future (obviously, Lennon hadn’t been killed yet, so this story is not just an alternate future but an alternate future written from an alternate past). But “Lifeboat” has grown on me, even if the first two parts of it seemed lackluster or full of problematic views of society (untreated in any way by the text). What this serial would gain by having it all sewn together into a single book is that the questioning of that society would come sooner, because it’s all here in the last part. Again, not that easy solutions are given to class issues and the inherent disparity between labor and administrators, but that there’s a path drawn to a better, fairer society.
I wonder. I’m doing these write-ups as an exercise in understanding SFF history, and how writing often reflects that history. What do you want as a reader? In-depth evaluations of the stories? More general thoughts (as with this review)? If you have an opinion, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.