[August 5, 1961] In the good old Summertime! (September 1961 IF science fiction)

Gideon Marcus

by Ron Church

Summer is here!  It’s that lazy, hot stretch of time when the wisest thing to do is lie in the shade with a glass of lemonade and a good book.  Perhaps if Khruschev did the same thing, he wouldn’t be making things so miserable for the folks of West Berlin.  Well, there’s still time for Nikita to take a restful trip to the Black Sea shore.

As for me, I may not have a dacha, but I do have a beach.  Moreover, this month’s IF science fiction proved a reasonably pleasant companion during my relax time.  If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, I recommend it.  Here’s what’s inside:

Keith Laumer has made a big splash in just the last few years.  He wrote a fine three-part alternate Earth novel that came out in Fantastic earlier this year.  I look forward to covering it when it’s novelized in a few months.  Meanwhile, this month he offers us a prequel to Diplomat-at-Arms, starring his interstellar man of mystery, Retief.  It’s called The Frozen Planet, and while the setting is interesting (a quartet of frozen human worlds on the edge of the evil Soetti empire), I found it a bit too smug.  When the secret agent is too powerful, where’s the drama?  Two stars.

Mirror Image is a Daniel Galouye’s story, about a raving (but not necessarily mad) man who claims to have built a bridge to the parallel universe behind every looking glass.  It’s a B-grade plot, something you might find in the lesser annals of The Twilight Zone, but I found it engaging, nonetheless.  Three stars.

It looks like Lester del Rey has returned from vacation.  His story in August’s Galaxy, was his first in a few years.  Now, hot on its heels, is Spawning Ground, about a startling discovery made by a colonial group upon planetfall.  The set-up is good, and I greatly appreciated the inclusion of a mixed-gender crew, but the ending was too mawkish and abrupt.  Three stars.

H.B. Fyfe, whose byline can be found all over the magazines of the pulp era, has been a consistent Analog and IF contributor for the past couple of years.  None of his stories have been strong stand-outs, and this month’s Tolliver’s Orbit is no exception.  It’s a thriller set on the wastes of Ganymede featuring a pair of an interesting characters: an honest space pilot who wants no part of the graft rife in the local commercial concern, and a woman vice president of said business, sent to investigate wrong-doing.  In the hands of an expert, it could have easily garnered four or five stars.  Sadly, Fyfe phoned this one in, telling rather than showing at too many critical junctures.  Two stars.

by Ritter

On the other hand, the succeeding novella, by newcomer Charles Minor Blackford, is solid entertainment.  The Valley of the Masters depicts a space colony generations after establishment.  Its people have forgotten their technological past, and the automatic machines are beginning to fail.  Without them, the community will be swallowed by a hostile environment.  Is an enterprising young couple the only hope?  If Valley has any faults, it is that it is too short.  Four stars.

Robert Young’s The Girls from Fieu Dayol presents us with a cautionary tale: be careful when eavesdropping on a note-passing conversation — You just might end up embroiled in an interstellar husband hunt!  Cute.  Three stars.

Full disclosure: Any story with my daughter’s namesake is subject to extraordinary scrutiny.  Thankfully, Charles de Vet’s Lorelei, featuring a seductive shape-changer who haunts the stranded crew of the first Jovian expedition, is good stuff.  Three stars.

Wrapping up the issue is Donald Westlake’s novella, Call him Nemesis.  If you’re a fan of child superheroes, you’ll like it; it’s a simple story, but the execution is charming.  Three stars.

All told, the September 1961 IF clocks in at 2.9 stars out of 5.  That’s pretty respectable for this magazine, and certainly good enough for a couple of hours of summer lolling. 

6 thoughts on “[August 5, 1961] In the good old Summertime! (September 1961 IF science fiction)”

  1. A much better issue. It takes a very good writer to pull off The Girls From Fieu Dayol, but to me Young’s good enough. Galouye, too, has the skill to pull off what most couldn’t.

    Fyfe’s set up is unoriginal but well done, though it looks as if the most interesting action came after the story. I agree with you about Laumer. I think he relies a lot on a good setting, and he dosen’t have it here.

    I do hope Westlake becomes a regular, and perhaps with these characters.

  2. I’m only about halfway through (swamped with work at the moment), but so far it’s been pretty good.

    While the Laumer story may not be as good as “Diplomat-at-Arms”, I liked it. It’s true he’s always right and a bit of a superman, but that’s true of a lot of heroes of mainstream stories like this. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is an example. You could also see it as a bit of a parody of the hyper-competent man that John Campbell loves so much. And I’d rather have this than some descendant of Bertie Wooster blundering his way from success to success. I think the draw here is more how Retief will solve the problem and the humor. Laumer also knows a bit about diplomats. I understand he worked for a couple of military attachés when he was in the Air Force. Anyway, I hope we see more of this character.

    The Galouye was okay, but closer to the stories of his that I’ve not liked than some of what he’s written lately. And I was reminded of The Twilight Zone, too.

    The del Rey was interesting, but I’m not at all sure about the ending. General agreement there.

    The Fyfe wasn’t bad, but did fall down at the end. I was particularly put off by the way Tolliver hid the fact that he’d put the ship into orbit just so he could mash on the female character.

    “Valley of the Masters” wasn’t bad. I wish it had been a little clearer on just where they were. You suggest space colony, though I’m not sure the text says so. My first thought was some sort of generation ship. It could just have easily been Earth. I thought the ending was a little too pat. Still not bad and I wouldn’t mind seeing more from Blackford.

    And that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far.

  3. I am also at the halfway point.  So far my general reaction is one of disappointment.  For the most part, these stories seem old-fashioned in one way or another.  (Contrast this with the very interesting, if brief, article by Theodore Sturgeon about entirely new kinds of electrical devices.)

    “The Frozen Planet” (whose title setting seems irrelevant to the plot) had a bit of sardonic wit to go along with the pulp action, but was otherwise just typical thud-and-blunder.  The telepathy theme came out of nowhere; was this another reject from Analog?

    “Mirror Image” was the exact opposite; no action and all talk.  Not much to it; mad scientist reveals unbelievable secret, isn’t believed, turns out to be right.  No surprises.

    “Spawning Ground” didn’t grab me either.  It also seemed pulpy, and, as has been noted, it ends way too quickly.

    “Tolliver’s Orbit” is yet another pulp adventure, and an undistinguished one.

    “The Valley of the Masters” isn’t the most original idea in the world, but at least the author seems to have attempted to make the story mean something more than just a page-turned.  I don’t know this author at all, and his style is a little naive, but it was my favorite in the first half of this issue.

    1. I think I’ve said before that IF is a bit like the old “Madge” (Imagination), but after the recent avant garde F&SFs, I guess I’m happy for staid entertainment! 

      With regard to Masters, it may not be the most original idea (though I’m darned if I can remember where it’s been done before), but it is a genre which appeals strongly to me for some reason Demetrios, I thought it was a generation ship, too, but there’s no suggestion of a vessel.

      1. No, there’s clearly an open sky above them once they get to the top of the mountains. But until then, that’s what I was expecting. I’d certainly like to know more about the setting, though.

  4. It’s interesting to note that I assumed that the setting was just Earth in the far future.

    Either I was in a better mood, or the second half of the issue was an improvement on the first.

    “The Girls From Fieu Dayol” was, of course, a very minor bagatelle, and a bit silly, but the author’s witty style made it pleasant enough, given its brevity.

    “Lorelei” was the gem of this issue, in my opinion.  A strong concept, very well-written, and with some psychological depth.  The ending may have been a bit sudden — that seems to be the theme of this issue — but that’s a minor quibble.

    “Call Him Nemesis” would probably not be particularly worthy of note without the author’s very realistic, convincing narrative style.  I understand that he has already published one or two hard-boiled crime novels, so it’s no surprise that these aspects of the story come across very well.  I suspect that he’ll become noted for that genre, if he continues to work in that vein rather than SF.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.