[April 8, 1961] Variety pack (May 1961 IF)

The nice thing about a science fiction magazine (or anthology) as opposed to a novel is if you don’t like one story, you might like the next.  Once you start a bad novel, your only options are to drag yourself through it or give it up unfinished.  And you can’t very well review an unfinished novel, can you?

Galaxy’s sister magazine, IF, is not as good, on the average, as the other members of the Big Four (including F&SF and Analog).  But because it is a digest, occasional stories surprise and delight.  There’s one gem in this month’s issue of IF, and a few other diverting tales.

Not the first one, though.  J.T. McIntosh tends to save his dreck for the lesser mags, and his That’s the Way it Goes is a thinly redressed pioneer story grafted onto a Malthusian future.  Science fiction has to be at least a little visionary if not progressive.  Way fails at both, though to its credit, it’s not unreadable; just unimpressive.  Two stars.

William Stuart’s Out of Mind has an interesting concept: a planet of telepaths who present to you the experience you most want to have.  As one might expect, it is a dangerous world, indeed, for those who ever want to return home.  It’s done in a droll satirical fashion that I didn’t care for, but you might.  Two stars.

I think Frank Banta must be new, as I haven’t encountered his name before.  The Connoisseur is a sad, humorous story about an off-course colony ship.  It doesn’t tread new ground, but it is pleasant and short.  Three stars.

Seven Doors to Education is the jewel of this issue.  It is the third story by newcomer Fred Saberhagen, and I think it’s my favorite thus far.  A young postal worker with no particular talents or prospects is abducted by unknown forces and presented with a series of increasingly difficult puzzles.  Why him?  And to what end?  A genuinely engaging story with a satisfying conclusion.  Four stars.

The Useless Bugbreeders may be James Stamers’ best story to date.  That’s not necessarily high praise given his track record of two and three star submissions, but this particular story, about an attorney attempting to spare a planet in the way of interstellar freeway construction, is silly fun.  Three stories.

Cinderella Story, the second story I’ve read by Allen Kim Lang, retains his breezy style.  It works in this tale, of a young woman federal agent who is sent to investigate a most peculiar bank.  It scores points for featuring a strong female lead, and for spotlighting the sexism women have to endure in the workplace (though I can’t be certain if Lang did so deliberately or unconsciously).  Three stars.

Ending with a whimper, the last story is Jack Sharkey’s The Flying Tuskies of K’niik K’naak — basically, about the comeuppance of an upper class big-game hunter by his mistreated servant.  Again, it’s a science fiction story with no science fiction.  I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s just not that good.  Two stars.

That puts us at 2.75 for the whole book, but if you start on page 50 and quit around page 124, you’re actually in for a fine read.  And that’s 75 more pages of good fiction than I’ve published this month!

10 thoughts on “[April 8, 1961] Variety pack (May 1961 IF)”

  1. You won’t be surprised to hear my favourite is one of the fluff pieces, Stamers’ The Useless Bugbreeders. There’s even a couple of not so fluffy points in it; with the defense lawyer hoping the viruses or whatever were not fatal to humans, and sorcery being outdone by engineering.

    I agree about Saberhagen being promising; in fact, delivering. His human character is more solid and rooted than most writers’ would have been.

  2. Thoughts on the first part of this issue:

    “That’s the Way it Goes” — The bland title goes along with the author’s bland style.  As you say, it’s not bad; it’s just not memorable.  The SF trappings aren’t needed; this could be a Western or a story about the settling of Australia.  I appreciate the author’s attempt to do a sweeping saga , and he does seem to have a point to make about the characteristics needed in pioneers, but the style could be more interesting.

    “Out of Mind” — I found this comedy silly and predictable.  I probably liked it even less than you did.

    “The Connoisseur” — On the other hand, I really liked this clever, if minor, piece.  This reminded me of Sheckley in its biting wit.

  3. “Seven Doors to Education” — A good, imaginative, compelling story. 

    “The Useless Bugbreeders” — A bit silly for my taste, but I have to admit that it has a certain whimsical tone which is not entirely without charm.

  4. I haven’t made it through the last two stories yet, but I find myself in general agreement with you thus far. Though I did like “The Connoisseur” a little less than you did.

    My general impression was that there was a lot of humor done not very well. Much of it felt rather forced and rather than leaving me amused left me thinking, “Oh, look. He’s trying to be funny.” Admittedly, science fiction humor can be difficult to pull off, but there are plenty of successful practitioners, from the occasionally dry wit of Dr. Asimov to the awful puns of Grendel Briarton. Ron Goulart seems to have a hand for it and if the serial that just wrapped up in Fantastic is any sign, then Keith Laumer may have it as well. The practitioners on offer here seem less skilled.

    The Saberhagen story was great, though. I’m looking forward to more from him.

  5. “Cinderella Story” — A madcap romp, with enough imagination to keep it interesting.  Nice spunky heroine.

    I’m not going to type the title of the Jack Sharkey story.  Anyway, this spoof of Great White Hunter stories didn’t need the science fiction elements, and laid it on pretty thick.

    As DemetriosX noted, this issue is very heavy on comedy, from whimsical to satiric to slapstick.  Five out of seven stories!  I’m not sure that’s a good way for “If” to go.  A little light relief from the serious stuff, sure; but I think the pendulum has swung a little too far the other way.

    So, general agreement that the Saberhagen is by far the best story in the issue.  It’s not that easy to pick the worst.  For my money, it was “Out of Mind,” the tone of which really annoyed me for some reason.

  6. Finally finished the last two stories. I really enjoyed “Cinderella Story” a lot (and note that it, too, was rather light in tone). Mr. Wanji rather annoyed me at first (made me think of that hepcat werewolf from a few months ago), but fortunately he was only a minor character. By the way, the first book that Orison has to read, The Hobbit, is an actual book, though not terribly well-known in the US. It’s a children’s book, but quite good .

    The Sharkey was fairly forgettable.

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