1961 began on November 10, 1960.
I see some of you are scratching your heads in confusion; others are nodding sagely. It’s a long-held tradition in the publishing industry that the date printed on magazines is the date through which they are expected to be on the bookstands, not the date they are first displayed. IF Science Fiction, a bi-monthly, comes out a full two months before it’s “expiration date.” Thus, I picked up a copy with a January 1961 stamp well before Thanksgiving 1960!
Since IF was acquired by the folks who bring us Galaxy Science Fiction, it has been something of a weak sister to that elder magazine. This month’s issue may turn all that around.
First, though, we have to get through the lead novella, Absolute Power, by the wildly inconsistent J.T. McIntosh. I imagine he got top billing because he is the most famous of the crop appearing in this issue, but what a stinker. Power features a smug man dispatched by a wealthy magnate to a backward planet in order to improve the consistency of production of a luxury foodstuff. The aboriginal inhabitants never time their deliveries with the arrivals of the freighters, you see, and the stuff perishes quickly. That part of the set-up is fine. But said smug person is also tasked with making docile the magnate’s intolerable daughter, who is sent to the planet, too.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed The Taming of the Shrew, but as I’ve matured, I’ve found it increasingly offensive and decreasingly humorous. McIntosh’s version is no improvement on the formula, and by the end, you’ll want to give that supercilious “hero” a sock in the jaw just to wipe the smile off his puss. One star.
Now, observe the smile on my puss. Once you get past that kidney stone of a story, it’s all good-to-amazing.
Take Assassin by Bascom Jones, Jr., for instance. A man is sent to wipe out the entire population of Earth, relying on subtlety and spycraft. While not a brilliant story, Jones (who has only written one other story, for Galaxy) does an excellent job of dropping hints of the story’s context rather than dumping it on the reader in a heap of exposition. Three stars.
The off-beat R.A.Lafferty is back with The Polite People of Pudibundia. Why is it that the humanoid Pudibundians are so incredibly polite, to the point of shielding their eyes with tinted goggles so as never to affront each other with direct gaze? And why has every Terran who ever visited Pudibundia died shortly thereafter? You’ll have to read it to find out! Three stars.
Then we have Vassi, by Art Lewis. I’ve never heard of this fellow before, but if this novelette is any indication of what we can expect, good God, man, keep writing! It is really the intersection of two tales, one of personal grief and tragedy, the other of exploration with a tinge of desperation. Uniquely crafted and very poignant, the last pages are something of a difficult read, but I promise it’s worth it. Five stars.
Jack Sharkey is an author whose work has increasingly attracted my admiration. His The Contact Point is an interesting tale of the first meeting between alien races. Can you guess the kicker? Three stars.
On to a pair of woman-penned short stories. The first is Gingerbread Boy, by Phyllis Gotlieb (who has, hitherto, stayed in Cele Goldsmith’s magazines), an excellent tale about the troubles faced by a race of androids, created as offspring substitutes, when they are superseded by “real” children. Four stars.
Number two is the fun The House in Bel Aire by the expert Margaret St. Clair. Be careful whose house you break into—you may offend the Mistress of the Palace. Reminiscent of the third Oz book (for Baum-o-philes). Four stars.
Finally, Joseph Wesley (whom you may know by his pen-name, L.J. Stecher) has an engaging story, A Matter of Taste, wherein an invulnerable interstellar insurance adjuster is called in to avert imminent conquest and enslavement by a powerful race of mentalist aliens. Nicely done, though the ending is a bit pat. Three stars.
That leaves us with a book that scores a touch over three stars (and if you skip the opening novelette, a solid 3.5). Moreover, there were none of the editing errors that have come to plague even the best of the scentificition digests these days. Fred Pohl is definitely shaping IF into something to look forward to six times a year!