[February 6, 1963] Up and Coming (March 1963 IF Science Fiction)

[If you live in Southern California, you can see the Journey LIVE at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, 2 p.m. on February 17!]

by Gideon Marcus

I’ve complained from time to time about the general decline in quality of some of the science fiction digests, namely Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction.  On the other hand, Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Amazing and (particularly) Fantastic have become pretty good reads.  And IF is often a delight.  Witness the March 1963 issue.  Not only does it have a lot of excellent stories, but the new color titles and illustrations really pop. 

Speaking of which, Virgil Finlay provides most of the pictures in this issue.  While I think he’s one of the most talented artists in our genre (I gave him a Galactic Star last year), I find his subject matter increasingly dated.  His pieces would better fit a magazine from the 40s. 

The Time-Tombs, by J. G. Ballard

The Egyptians entombed their notables such that they might enjoy a rich and comfortable afterlife.  But what if they had preserved them with the intention of eventual resurrection?  Ballard’s tale features a trio of grave robbers — pirate-archaeologists who plunder tombs containing the digitized remains of the long-dead.  Each has their own motivations: scholarship, profit, romance.  Taken too far, they lead to ruin.  Ballard’s tales tend to be heavy, even plodding.  There’s no question but that he’s popular these days, and his stuff is worth reading.  It’s just not strictly to my taste.  Three stars.

Saline Solution, by Keith Laumer

My correspondence with the Laumer clan (currently based in London) continues, but I’d enjoy his work regardless.  The cleverly titled Saline Solution is one of my favorite stories involving Retief, that incredibly talented yet much put-upon diplomat/superspy of the future.  It’s also the first one that takes place in the Solar System.  Four stars.

The Abandoned of Yan, by Donald F. Daley

Daley’s first publication stars an abandoned wife on an autocratic world.  It’s a bleak situation in a dark setting, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it when I was done.  But it stayed with me, and that’s worth something.  Three stars.

The Wishbooks, by Theodore Sturgeon

Sturgeon’s non-fiction piece this month is essentially a better, shorter version of the article on technical ads in last month’s Analog.  Three stars.

The Ten-Point Princess, by J. T. McIntosh

A conquered people deprived of their weapons still find clever ways to resist.  When a Terran soldier kills his superior over an indigenous girl, is it justifiable homicide?  Self defense?  Or something much more subtle?  It’s up to an Earthborn military lawyer to find the truth.  This is a script right out of Perry Mason with lots of twists and turns.  Four stars (and I could see someone giving it five).

Countdown, by Julian F. Grow

Someday, our nuclear arsenals will be refined to computerized precision and hair-trigger accuracy.  When that happens, will our humanity be sufficient to stop worldwide destruction?  The beauty of this story is in the presentation.  I read it twice.  Four stars.

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

At last, Heinlein’s serial has come to an end.  It only took five months and three issues.  Sadly, the plot was saved for the last third, and it wasn’t worth waiting for.  Turns out Poddy’s trip to Venus wasn’t a pleasure cruise, but rather served as cover for her Uncle’s ambassadorial trip.  Two unnamed factions don’t want this trip to happen, and they pull out all the stops to foil his mission.  Overwritten, somewhat unpleasant, and just not particularly interesting.  Two stars for this segment, and 2.67 for the aggregate. 

Between this and Stranger in a Strange Land, has the master stumbled?

I, Executioner, by Ted White and Terry Carr

Last up is a haunting piece involving a mass…but intensely personal execution.  Justice in the future combines juror and deathdealer into one role.  Excellent development in this short tale.  Four stars (and, again, perhaps worthy of five).

That comes out to eight pieces, one of which is kind of a dud, and four of which are fine.  I know I plan to keep my subscription up.

Speaking of subscriptions, drift your eyes to the upper right of this article and note that KGJ is now broadcasting.  Playing the latest pop, rock, mo-town, country, jazz, folk, and surf — and with not a single advertisement — I expect it to be a big hit from Coast to Coast… and beyond.  Tune in!

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Your ballot should have arrived by now…]

6 thoughts on “[February 6, 1963] Up and Coming (March 1963 IF Science Fiction)”

  1. J. T. McIntosh reminds me , a bit, of A.E. van Vogt a better short story writer than novelist. McIntosh did write a very passable apocalypse survival novel: The Fittest 1955 [ also issued with the rather awkward title The Rule of the Pagbeasts, 1956]. More edgy and even slightly ’R-rated’ compared to John Christopher’s very good No Blade of Grass. , 1956. Unlike van Vogt the filigree of pulp framing is held at lower level in McIntosh’s novels. However McIntosh is not a first string novelist.

  2. Perhaps I’m just feeling grumpy, but I didn’t much care for this issue.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Ballard simply isn’t my cup of tea. I can see why some might like his stuff, but it just doesn’t work for me. I did come closest to liking his story in the current Fantastic, but we’ll get to that.

    The Retief was all right, I suppose. I kept getting the two asteroids confused, which made following the plot a little difficult. My reaction is probably the best evidence that I’m in a foul mood.

    The Daley was interesting, but awfully dark. I’m less sure than you if I liked it or not, and it didn’t stay with me as it did you.

    I see you agreed with my assessment of the Sturgeon piece in my letter regarding the last Analog. He certainly does a good job of communicating the pleasure he finds in those catalogues.

    “The Ten-Point Princess” (a title I still don’t understand) was certainly an enjoyable read. I had a hard time immersing myself, though, because of “the aliens almost identical to humans” business.

    I had completely forgotten what “Countdown” was about between reading it and your review (perhaps exacerbated by the Zelazny story in Fantastic. It was trying too hard to be poetic and literary.

    “Podkayne”. Hmm, well, I liked it better than you did, but not much. It probably suffers somewhat from being stretched out over such a long period. The ending seemed a bit “off”, too. Taking the voice away from Poddy doesn’t really work, and while I see Tom’s point about the kids’ parents, he expresses it rather poorly. Gather up the three parts and put them in the hands of the Little Traveler. See what she thinks. She is, after all, closer to the intended audience.

    The final story was interesting. This is White’s second collaboration with someone a little more established. I’d like to see what he can do on his own.

    1. I do a lot of my reading at night.  If a story compels me to read past my bedtime, I know it’s good.  If it puts me to sleep, it’s not so good.  The four-star tales in this issue were all in the former category.  Podkayne was in the latter.

      I had the impression that the Leontans were former colonists.

      I thought Countdown succeeded in being poetic and literary…

  3. I’m generally a Heinlein fan… but this Podkayne thing seriously needed an editor.  There’s the quick beginning on Mars, then the endless “babies in spaaace” which seems to be the main chunk, and then the Venus part, which might as well be from an entirely different book.

    I know it’s a juvenile, but that’s no excuse for bad writing.  It’s hard to make an absolute statement, but I’m pretty sure I would have disliked this story at 15, or even 12.  Before that, I might not have finished it at all.

    On the other hand, the issue had another Retief story, so all was not lost.

    1. Heinlein went from Have Space Suit will Travel to Starship Troopers , seemed the hand writing was on the wall, he didn’t really want to do ‘juvies’ anymore … this installment of Podkayne seems to be proving that and not in a good way.

  4. My general impression is that “If” is where oddball stories wind up, although some are more normal.

    “The Time-Tombs” — Not the best Ballard story I’ve ever read, but that’s a high standard.  It falls apart a bit when he tries to write an action scene, but the imagery is brilliant.

    “Saline Solution” — I can’t get into the Retief stories.  This one is just a simple story of a cheater out-cheated.

    “The Abandoned of Yan” — Has a haunting sense of strangeness, although it’s really just an allegory of the trauma of divorce.

    “The Ten-Point Princess” — Didn’t do much for me, and the plot seemed contrived.  (By the way, I believe there’s an early line in the story which implies that “ten point” means “fully human.”)

    “Countdown” — More “If” eccentricity in this offbeat prose poem.  Somewhat overwritten.

    “I, Executioner” — The sudden shift in point of view (which, of course, is one of the points of the story) threw me off for a bit, but otherwise this is probably the best piece in the issue.

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