[Feb. 10, 1962] Here is the News (March 1962 IF)


by Gideon Marcus

If “no news is good news,” then this has been a very good week, indeed!  The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th.  The Congo is no more restive than usual.  Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war.  The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power.  John Glenn hasn’t gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians. 

And while this month’s IF science fiction magazine contains nothing of earth-shattering quality, there’s not a clunker in the mix – and quite a bit to enjoy!  Get a load of these headlines:

SURE THING

Poul Anderson’s Kings who Die leads the issue.  Anderson has been writing a blue streak over the past decade, and I don’t think I’ve disliked any of his work since this decade started.  One of my readers has noted Anderson’s tendency toward the somber (A Bicycle Built for Brew and The High Crusade not withstanding), but I like a bit of gravitas in my stories. 

Kings who Die tells the moving tale of a shipwrecked astro-soldier picked up by The Enemy in the depths of space.  The captive is induced to join his foes, who have developed a super-weapon.  But in the end, it turns out that the prisoner has a weapon of his own, one hidden deep inside of him.

Told by most others, this would be a throwaway gimmick piece.  Anderson puts flesh on the bones of this story, despite it being rather short.  Four stars.

NO SUPRISES

I don’t think Jim Harmon has missed an issue of IF in good long time.  This is generally to the reader’s favor as Harmon oscillates between fair and superior (if never great or awful).  Dangerous Quarry has a cute title, but this tale of a town and its bad-luck mine of luxury granite feeles dashed off, metering in at around sin of π (or three stars).

AUTHOR KICKS SELF

I usually don’t review Ted Sturgeon’s nonfiction pieces, but this month’s was long enough, and about an interesting-enough topic (Murray Leinster’s myriad of nifty scientific inventions – real, not literary), that I felt it worth a rating: Three stars.

LOST CAT

I normally associate Stephen Barr’s surreal stylings with Fantasy and Science Fiction, in whose pages I usually find him.  His latest story, Tybalt, thus, is an odd (but not unwelcome) addition to this month’s IFTybalt has the distinction of being the first story I’ve read to feature time travel by aid of chemicals (as opposed to using a machine), and its feline-tinged middle section is excellent.  Too bad about the rather rough ending, though.  Three stars, though I am reasonably certain this will be a favorite of some of my readers.


by Burns

TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE

Frank Banta is back again with The Happy Homicide, a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on circumstantial evidence, particularly when the jury is sympathetic to the circumstances.  Never rely on a computer, at least so long as Perry Mason is around!  Three stars.

IT DOESN’T MATTER

James Stamers continues his upward trend with E Being.  The premise is fantastic: a pilot on the first Faster Than Light flight is converted into energy, fundamentally changing his nature but not his soul.  Upon this transformation, he finds himself in a community of radiation-eating, incorporeal creatures with a rather unique perspective on life (or perhaps it is we, the comparatively rare beings made up of…stuff…that are the oddballs).

I would have liked a serious exploration of these concepts, something philosophical and profound (e.g. The Star Dwellers, by James Blish).  Instead, Stamers plays the story for horror and laughs (an odd combination, but it works) and E Being ends up a fun tale, if a lost opportunity.  Three stars.

RETIEF STRIKES AGAIN!

The best-known interstellar diplomat is back, this time attempting to solve the mystery of the misplaced heavy cruiser.  Laumer’s The Madman from Earth plays Retief a bit straighter than I’m used to, which I think is to the story’s ultimate benefit.  However, Laumer commits the whodunnit writer’s cardinal sin: he never explains just how Retief gains the critical piece of information on which his success hinges.  Three stars.

NOW YOU SEE IT…

Wrapping things up is a charming piece of whimsy by R.A. Lafferty (who else?) called Seven-Day Terror, which involves a thieving brat, who absconds with necessary items, and the precocious little girl who sets things to rights.  Four stars, making this issue a worthy palindrome. 

Read all about it!


by Emsh

11 thoughts on “[Feb. 10, 1962] Here is the News (March 1962 IF)”

  1. Retief would just naturally fall in with whatever the Groaci equivalent of a wino is, who would babble of other non-green aliens. I’d have liked more about the Groaci planet, if only a couple of views.

    In the Stamer, society surviving such ecological devastation is one stretch too far.

    Good laugh at Banta’s punchline! Let’s hope trials never do get this absurd.

    Harmon’s a good idea, but I don’t think well handled. One original touch is how women in this future are treated more as in Oriental or at least Mediterranean societies; where normally the genders are less differentiated.

    Another classic from Lafferty. I especially like the three year-old’s repartee.

    Thanks for sharing these good reads.

    1. Re: Retief, that wasn’t the mystery — I couldn’t figure out how he knew the orbit of the cruiser… I did love how Laumer described the Gloaci without spending a single expositional paragraph on it.

      Re: Stamer, I agree.

      If you get a chance to read the Anderson (and the Barr), do let me know what you think!

  2. Ah , Poul Anderson. This was a good month for me. While watching Twilight Zone last year with my friend Tom Reamy, we were talking about fantasy and I complained that had never read any good sword and sorcery. He put me onto Lord of the Rings. So I read that and liked it. Asked him anything else that good?  He said , well more adult , but more unusual, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword. Got it last month. Gee, never read anything like that! This was Old Norse told ‘realism-mode’ with a mature twist that Tolkien would have never touched. An amazing fantasy

      1. I very much enjoy Anderson in the Three Hearts mode. I also greatly enjoyed The Broken Sword. When he applies his considerable talents to tales of the mythic North, he’s arguably the finest heroic fantasy writer currently working (Fritz Leiber is to be considered as well, though Anderson’s work possess none of the idiosyncratic humor in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series).

  3. I’ve made my way through about half of this issue so far.

    “Kings Who Die” was excellent.  Vivid and deeply characterized, and with a sophisticated moral complexity.  I noted that the first sentence in the story is the same as the last sentence, which made for an interesting change in the reader’s response.

    “Dangerous Quarry” was OK.  It amused me at times.

    I have to agree that the middle section of “Tybalt” was fine, but the rest rather weak.

    “The Happy Homicide” was all silliness (if of a rather gruesome kind) and was so-so for that kind of thing.

    More later!

  4. A pretty good issue and we’re largely in agreement.

    I feel like we’ve seen the general concept of the Anderson a few times in the last couple of years. This story, however, is head and shoulders over all of them. Anderson is in top form.

    “Dangerous Quarry” was readable, but I’m not sure Harmon is the right author for this one. Sturgeon, Davidson, or Lafferty could have turned this concept into something really special. Harmon’s effort was decent, but fell a little short of the mark.

    I’m an ailurophile, possibly to the point that I make Heinlein seem a bit indifferent to the species. But “Tybalt” just left me cold. The whole story felt completely disjointed and not even the middle section offered me much. This is the one story where we really part ways this time out. I couldn’t give this one more than 2 stars.

    “The Happy Homicide” was another strange one. Quite readable, but I’m not sure what the point was. I liked it less well than you did, but can round up to 3. Much the same goes for “E Being”.

    I felt like the underplaying of the humor weakened the Retief. For me, the lack made Retief’s infallibility more problematic. If we’re playing the whole thing for laughs, then his superhuman strength and brain are fun, but in a straight story they hurt credibility. It’s the one thing you’ve really complained about in the previous stories. I also found myself constantly wondering how to pronounce Groaci. Grow-acky? Grossy? Grow-atchy? I will say that I assumed that Retief got the information on the orbit of the ship when he broke into the Ministry of Defense. It was all off-screen, as it were, but seemed likely to me.

    The Lafferty was a story that only Lafferty could have written, though Bradbury might have come close. A lot of fun and might make a decent Twilight Zone episode.

    1. “I’m an ailurophile, possibly to the point that I make Heinlein seem a bit indifferent to the species.”

      You and I will get along just fine!

      And I don’t think a 2 for Tybalt constitutes a large digression.  If I think something is a 5, and you think it a 1, that’s a digression!

  5. Finishing up:

    “E/Being” was an outrageous black comedy.  Certainly different, and held my interest.

    “The Madman From Earth” was so-so.  The Retief stories just don’t grab me, although there’s nothing in particular wrong with them.  (As to how he found out about the missing ship, I assumed that was one of the things he found out when he raided the archives, just like the way he found out about what the aliens were doing on their moon.  Poor security on the part of the aliens, but then Retief makes a bad mistake when he fails to prevent his assistant from opening the door!)

    “Seven-Day Terror” was pure Lafferty.  A charming bit of eccentric whimsy.  Since it is so light, I have to rate it just a tiny bit below “Kings Who Die,” which is the gem of the issue.

    1. Retief got the information by burgling the Groaci Foreign Office. There are two sequential scenes; with Miss Meuhl, and then a conversation with Fith, related to it.

      The actual burglage happened offstage of the main storyline, but it was there.  It’s a short story, not a novel. Some stuff gets telescoped to keep the story moving.

      Also, I think some of you are missing a major point of the Retief stories.  Retief isn’t some James Bond superhero; he’s just a decent man trying to do his job, opposed nearly equally by both his superiors and their enemies, who are mostly swivel-chair managers far more concerned about their usually-trivial personal goals than those of their nations. Other than being physically fit and conscientious, he’s bringing nothing to the table; no chopsocky martial arts, no detailed knowledge of exotic languages and cultures, no military or espionage skills.

      I’m always astonished when I see people jeer at Retief instead of his CDT superiors, who are the ones Laumer is making fun of.

      1. I agree that Retief is pretty plausible, particularly in this story.  And it makes sense that he got the info from the ministry.  Just was a little abrupt.

        But yes, the bullheadedness of the superiors is frustratingly real.  I’m impressed that Retief doesn’t hold grudges.

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