Short Reviews – Final Command, by A.E. van Vogt

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Final Command by A.E. van Vogt appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Different brains for different thinks…

Councilman Barr, Director of the Council, has been given a burdensome task: find out what the response would be from robots if the Council decided to shut down and destroy all robots.

::record scratch::

Humans have built and developed robots that have evolved to a point where they’re nearly their own species. Humans have used them for everything from fighting interstellar wars to directing traffic to even replacing actors—people go to the movies to watch robots pantomime human drama and romance.

Robots are like people; they think and reason, even if they don’t necessarily feel. They have some intrinsic desire for self-preservation, but they are able to rationalize their own extermination unless significantly prodded to “think” about it. And Councilman Barr must prod to find what they “think”.

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Submission Status Update -Getting Close to the Home Stretch

Okay, things aren’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped–I was moved to a Window 10 box last week, which wrecked my workflow. Worse, I lost access to my printer briefly; it’s fixed now, but it means I lost a weekend of working on manuscripts.

But, I’ve at least caught up on sending out rejection letters.

I’ve sent an update to everyone who’s still under consideration or whose stories we haven’t read yet.

We’ve more or less got the Spring issue set, but we’re waiting on some confirmation/payments to clear before we officially announce it, and it may expand as we’re able to fit in more content.

Current numbers:

Offers Made: 13

Under Consideration: 39

Rejections: 82

Withdrawn: 3

Unread: 88

I hate to say it, but MOST of the unread stories are gonna have a tough time breaking in, because there have been some heartbreakingly good stories that have ALREADY been knocked off the bubble by something better. But we still intend to give everything as fair a shake as we’re able.

We hope to have everything “done” by early December.

Short Reviews – Gulf (Part 1 of 2), by Robert Heinlein

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The first installment of Gulf, by Robert Heinlein, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding. It can be found here at Archive.org.

Gulf is a slow-burn sci-fi spy thriller. It’s very dark and atmospheric, and while the hook, some of the window dressing, and the MacGuffin are science-fiction, Gulf stands up as a fairly standard, if well-written, example of the spy-pulp genre. If the sci-fi elements weren’t there, it would still hold up as a spy story, as it doesn’t really rely on those tropes to make its narrative work.

An agent has three tubes of micro-film: two decoys, and one with top secret plans for something. He’s got to get them to the post office so they can be transferred with cold mechanical efficiency to the dead drop address. There’s a game of cat and mouse as those who want to get their hands on the film interfere with the agent as he tries to make the drop, and after he gets the tube off, he’s taken to a private jail on trumped up charges of passing a forged note to a waitress [his wallet had been stolen by a porter urchin and swapped with an almost identical fake].

His enemies try to no avail to discover the contents and destination of the tube, and the agent is “rescued” by an interested 3rd party [a fabulously wealthy helicopter salesman] who got himself captured to make contact and plan the break. The agent escapes only to find that he’s been burned by a double, the tube either went missing or never made it to the dead drop, and his agency thinks he’s the one who stole it.

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Short Reviews – Over the Top, by Lester del Rey

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Over the Top, by Lester del Rey, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding. You can’t read it at Archive.org, because John Betancourt had it scrubbed. A little birdie told me it can be found as a .cbr here, though.

After that Asimov stinker, this issue of Astounding makes a fabulous 180 with not one, but two good stories in a row! (The second one, which I’ll talk about next week, was the first half of a Heinlein spy thriller.) Thanks, guy in the comments who said this was a good issue—you may actually be right!

A midget has been launched into space to make a manned landing on Mars; being an adventure SF story, something goes wrong and he gets stranded and unable to contact earth. While he has food for months, he’ll run out of air because of the damage to the filtration system that was going to suck oxygen out of Mars’ atmosphere and pump it into his ship. Why a midget? Because of economy of scale; smaller astronaut, smaller ship, fewer resource considerations.

The Mars of Over the Top is the Mars that still supports life but has expectations scaled back drastically. The vegetation appears homogeneous, is scant, and isn’t very good to eat. The one Martian animal lifeform the astronaut comes into contact with is a weird anemone-like thing that behaves a bit like a cat.

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Round 1 Notices Plus an Some Pulp Economics

Still making my way through the submissions pile. I’m nowhere near done, but I’m making progress.

I didn’t expect this many submissions to read, but we need to actually get the ball rolling on filling our Spring issue.

So, the first few offers have been going out, as have several of the first round rejections.

Even with just fewer than 100 stories left, at the high-end we’re looking at 250k words of fiction, which will cost us a little over $3k.

We’ve made offers on 10 stories, there are just under 50 that are still competing for slots. There are ~40 rejection letters we still need to write, but haven’t gotten to [the ~40 we’ve already written have taken up most my time devoted to it this week so far]. We need to read 95 stories still.

I meant it when I said that all stories will get a fair shake, but be aware that every new story we consider is something that will have to knock something else off the bubble.

Also, recently Something is Going to Happen posted an article that quoted a few of folks in the contemporary pulp scene about the economics of indie zines. You guys know me, I’m pretty cynical and know what I’ve gotten myself into, but Cirsova Publishing came close to turning a profit for the year. Before we started making offers, we were around $1800 in the black for the year. Now, all of that and then some will probably go towards making next year happen, but we came close to showing that IT IS POSSIBLE to make a little money at this. [you don’t want to know what the overall numbers across all 4 years are, though]

Short Reviews – …And Now You Don’t (Part 1 of 3), by Isaac Asimov

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

…And Now You Don’t, by Isaac Asimov, was serialized in three parts beginning with the November 1949 issue of Astounding. It was later anthologized as the second half of the book “Second Foundation”. It can be read here at Archive.org.

It is exactly as exciting as it looks.

This is it, guys! One of the touchstone sagas of Campbell’s Astounding and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. A hallmark series of one of the Big Three of Science Fiction: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation!

And, oh my god, this is boring as crap!

40-odd pages of the first installment of “…And Now You Don’t”, and nothing happens!

Chapter 1: A girl writes a term paper on the Seldon Plan.

Chapter 2: Two telepathic egg-heads from the Second Foundation have a conversation about the Seldon Plan.

Chapter 3: Five non-telepathic egg-heads have a conversation about the Seldon Plan and the possible existence of and interference by a Second Foundation.

Chapter 4: Having done some math during chapter 3 when the First Foundation egg-heads were talking, the Second Foundation egg-heads have a conversation about the results of the aforementioned equations and their bearing on the Seldon Plan.

Chapter 5: After further discussion, it is determined that the stuttering Stanley of First Foundation egg-heads will go off to the Mule’s world and look into possible Second Foundation interference with the First Foundation under false pretenses. The girl from chapter one, however, had been spying in on daddy’s plans to save the once-and-future galactic empire and stowed away on the dork’s space-ship.

To be continued!

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Short Reviews – Defense Mechanism, by Katherine MacLean

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Defense Mechanism by Katherine MacLean appeared in the October 1949 issue of Astounding. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Defense Mechanism was tucked behind the book reviews and letters to the editor, so I almost missed it! Considering how influential its writer would go on to be, it’s ironic that her debut could go so easily unnoticed. And as far as stories in Astounding go, this certainly wasn’t the worst.

A writer has an infant/toddler son with empathic telepathy. The father is able to hear his own thoughts and the thoughts of others reflected back from his son. Mother is a bit concerned, particularly since the child is developing slowly, but dad, a bit of an empath himself, went through a similar phase as a late bloomer.

There are quite a lot of literal thinks being thought both at and around characters in this thinky-story. There is, however, an action-packed climax to this thinky-story of many thinks, so it has one-up on at least a couple stories from Astounding I’ve reviewed recently.

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