[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]

by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.

6 thoughts on “[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)”

  1. Thanks for sharing an issue which is certainly above IF-average.

    The Pohl is good. I think it gets a little weak and tenth-photocopy toward the end – to me, not so much rushed as tired – but there’s a good twist.

    Though war stories aren’t to my taste (and the Kali do strike me as just looking too human), Gary Wright is very impressive for a beginner, indeed anyone.  People who do like them will join me in hoping Mr Wright has a long career.

    A story which could have been poor, but is so well written to deserve a few reprints is Mason’s Road Stop.

    Let’s hope If continues like this through 1963.

  2. Skipping the serial as I usually do . . .

    “The Five Hells of Orion” — Pretty good story with a great deal of imagination.  As you said, it ends suddenly — maybe because the author painted himself into a corner when the protagonist develops god-like abilities, Where do you go from there?

    “The Shipshape Miracle” — Not bad, but I expect more from Simak.  This was like minor Sheckley.

    “This Way to the Egress” — My favorite story in the issue.  Subtle and haunting.  (But that makes three stories in a row with lousy titles!)

    “Road Stop” — I liked this one, too.  It has the feeling of a tall tale of the future.  Like the previous story, its just long enough to have the right effect, with no padding.

    “Fortress Ship” — Cleverly done, although the premise is maybe just a little too contrived.

    “Captain of the Kali” — Nicely written, with some good psychological depth.  Very professional for a first sale.

    “When Whirlybirds Call” — Well, you can win ’em all.  I thought this was very bad, sophomoric and with a poor punch line.

  3. Either the season has you in a generous mood or it’s put me in a cynical one. I’d knock a star off of all your fiction ratings prior to Podkayne as well as the last story.

    The Pohl certainly started off well, but grew increasingly too bizarre for my tastes. It might have worked better with a little more room to work, but even at length, I’m not sure I could accept an almost literal apotheosis.

    Simak didn’t work for me either. It was both too slow and too abrupt. I think this definitely would have worked better in somebody else’s hands. Sheckley as Victoria suggested? I’m not sure.

    The Fetler was simply too obscure for my tastes. I don’t really understand the significance or symbolism of the children’s voices. There’s a bit of unsuccessful Philip K. Dick paranoia here, too.

    Sturgeon’s piece on lasers was interesting. He did have a tendency to be a little too clever and fond of his own wordplay.  From things I’ve read, he may be overestimating the power potential of the things, too. Still, interesting and informative.

    Heinlein remains Heinlein. I suspect a lot of the problems you’re seeing in this story are the result of the serialization. If this was all between two covers, you’d just keep turning the pages, because he’s very good at making readers do that.  Between Planets has a fair amount of this sort of travelogue at the beginning. I suspect we’ll get plenty of action in the final part. Uncle Tom’s mission is important and I don’t quite trust Poddy’s new beau.

    I liked “Road Stop”. It probably lacks enough menace to have made a good Twilight Zone episode, but it does work as a tall tale.

    The Saberhagen story was the best in the issue for me. The resolution was a bit old-fashioned (I’d think Campbell would have bought this story in a heartbeat), but the premise is intriguing and Saberhagen’s writing is excellent. These berserkers and Laumer’s BOLOs are fine warnings against making our weapons of war too autonomous. I hope we listen.

    “Captain of the Kali” was very good, especially for a first sale. Of course, I like Age of Sail stories when they’re set in their own time, too. I do agree that it might have worked better a greater length. There might even be enough for a novel, with the main action here as the centerpiece.

    The Banta was just awful. Pohl seems to like his stuff, but I really don’t. The nicest thing I can say about this is that it was better than his last story about the living pen.

    So what did you think about the use of color? From Pohl’s comments in the letter col, they were looking for a new printer (with cause) and I suspect the new one offered them color to sweeten the deal for a major contract. I don’t think much of its use in the titles, but the color washes in some of the illustrations was interesting.

    1. I thought the use of color was very spiffy, and if it’s true that the new printer allows a 25% increase of content, then I’m doubly impressed.

      D, I don’t know what to tell you about my scores.  I’m usually the one that’s hard to impress….

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