[Dec. 13, 1960] Ringing In a bit Early (January 1961 IF)

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!

24 thoughts on “[Dec. 13, 1960] Ringing In a bit Early (January 1961 IF)”

  1. Thanks for sharing this good issue. My pick would be the Gotleib, and Jones’ Assassin is also very good, both in the basic idea – I hope it’s as fantastic in the 21st century – and the suspense.  The Sharkey and the St. Clair are both unconvincing but fun.

    And Happy New Year to you, too!

        1. Sorry, I meant before the author wrote it.  Or at least until the author had all the troops happily asleep in strange territory, which rather telegraphed it.

  2. The trouble with Taming of the Shrew stories is that usually the “shrew” is much more interesting before she’s “tamed”. In this case, she was utterly horrible, to the point that her conversion was utterly unbelievable. She went from wanting to be Hitler, Stalin, and Simon Legree rolled into one to normal and lovable just because Mr. Smug was nice to her? I’m not buying it.

    I figured out where “Assassin” was going about halfway through. A serviceable tale, though.

    The Lafferty may be the most normal story I’ve ever read by him. Enjoyable as long as you don’t think about it too hard.

    “Vassi” is the clear winner here. Just a beautiful story. The only fault I find is with the Twilight Zone-like prologue and epilogue. Indeed, it might make a pretty good Twilight Zone episode, though Standards & Practices would never go for conclusion. I hope we see a lot more from Mr. Lewis.

    The Gottlieb was good though a little fuzzy toward the end. I think it needed to be either longer or shorter. The St. Clair was fairly typical St. Clair and reminded me a bit of the old Lovecraft story “The Terrible Old Man”. The last story was all right I suppose, though I found the protagonist even more smug than the guy in the McIntosh story. It also takes a lot for me to look past any sort of ESP-stuff and this one didn’t quite cross that threshold.

    Still, a very good issue and I hope a harbinger for things to come in the new year.

    1. Re: Vassi, I liked the prologue and epilogue.  That’s a technique that is hard to get right, something I usually try and then throw away when writing.  I thought it worked out in this one, though (or I’d have lowered the score).

      Agreed on the Gotlieb.  I wrestled with my rating there.  “Why isn’t this a five”? I asked myself.  Answer came there none.

      The protagonist of the last story is smug, though less offensive than the one in the McIntosh.

      Glad you enjoyed!  Makes my job worthwhile.

      1. To me, she does write with a very heavy hand. I think it very forgivable in this fic, but I’m not sure she could handle adults, and more complicated societies.

  3. Since I am a bit short of time today, I am starting with the shortest story and will work my way back up to the longer ones.

    “The House in Bel Aire” was an enjoyable bagatelle, and was just long enough to not overstay its welcome.  The premise was not what I expected.  It’s nice to see fantasy in the pages of the magazine.

  4. “The Polite People of Pudibundia” is rather minor for Lafferty.  It almost reads like something Robert Sheckley might toss off on an idle day.  And yet there’s something charming about Lafferty’s tall tales/shaggy dog stories that makes them worthwhile.

  5. “The Contact Point” didn’t do much for me.  Pretty much just a gimmick story, with the kind of almost-human aliens that I find hard to believe.

    (That was me above, by the way.)

  6. My reaction to “Assassin” was only lukewarm.  I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t particularly grab me.  The twist was OK. 

    I might add here that I think Pohl hit the nail right on the head with his reviews of “Venus Plus X” and “The Status Civilization.”

  7. “Gingerbread Boy” was a very powerful story, full of genuine emotions and complex characterization.  No simplistic good guys and bad guys here, but real people with whom one can empathize.  If I had any minor quibble at all, it’s only the fact that there was no good reason to set the story on another planet.

  8. About “Vassi,” what can one say except “Wow!”  The author grabs at the reader’s emotions right away, and never lets go, squeezing tighter and tighter until the very end.  I personally thought the prologue/epilogue sections worked very well, and the author has an individualistic style which never calls attention to itself, but simply does what needs to be done.

    “Vassi” is in the same category as “Flowers for Algernon” and “A Death in the House” as effective tearjerkers.  Let’s hope that at least a few stories in the new year match up to it (or, if not, that the Hugo voters remember it, ) and that Art Lewis proves to be more like Clifford Simak than Daniel Keyes when he comes to prolificness.

  9. I have to admit that I was not terribly impressed with “A Matter of Taste.”  It seemed like a slightly better than average yarn from the pages of “Astounding.”  (I guess it’s “Analog” now.) The competent hero beating the naive aliens, etc.  The revelation of the hero’s “talent” wasn’t terribly interesting, either, although I suppose it could be seen as a wry comment on all the ESP stories in JWC’s magazine.

  10. And at last I made it through “Absolute Power.”  (In addition to everything else, the title is baffling.  The “shrew” at one point claims to want absolute power, but that’s clearly just part of her tough act.) The author seems to have a real problem with many, if not all, of his female characters, from the other stories I’ve read by him. 

    In addition to the unpleasant depiction of the woman, the solution to the mystery of “por” was something of a flop.  I find it hard to believe that a species could evolve with a need to “feed” on a member of their own kind in this way.  That seems counter to survival!

  11. You know, I don’t always buy If off the stands, but if they can manage even one story of the quality of “Vassi” an issue, I will become a subscriber. Absolutely wonderful story, and from an author I’ve never heard of before. What a start! Add in bonus stories like “Assassin,” “The House in Bel Aire,” and “A Matter of Taste,” all of which ran to my tastes (even if the explanation at the end of the last ran a bit off-course)… well, sign me up.

    After your warning, I skipped the J.T. McIntosh novella; I’m not overly fond of his work – or The Taming of the Shrew – anyway. So for me, without that boat anchor weighing the issue down, this turned into very much a four-star way to finish off the year. Or to start a new one, depending upon how one looks at it.

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