[June 19, 1960] Half Measures (July 1960 IF Science Fiction)

I’m glad science fiction digests haven’t gone the way of the dodo.  There’s something pleasant about getting a myriad of possible futures in a little package every month.  You can read as much or as little as you like at a time.  The short story format allows the presentation of an idea without too much belaboring.

Every month, I get several magazines in the mail: Astounding and Fantasy and Science Fiction are monthlies; Galaxy and IF are bi-monthlies, but since they’re owned and edited by the same folks, they essentially comprise a single monthly.  I don’t have subscriptions to the other two digests of note, Amazing and Fantastic (again, both run by the same people); they just aren’t worth it, even if they occasionally publish worthy stuff.

This month, IF showed up last; hence, it is the last to be reviewed.  As usual, it consists mostly of moderately entertaining stories that weren’t quite good enough to make it into Galaxy.  Let’s take a look:

In a Body is the lead novella by J.T. McIntosh, and it’s frustrating as all get out.  I often like McIntosh, though others find him competently forgettable.  This particular story has all the makings of a great one: shape-changing alien is shipwrecked on Earth and must find a soulmate to survive.  She adopts human form and chooses a man afflicted with leukemia to be her husband–but he’s already betrothed to another.  In the hands of Theodore Sturgeon, this could have been a classic.  Even had McIntosh just given it a good rewrite, showing more and telling less, it would have easily garnered four of five stars.  As is, it is readable, even compelling, but it could have been much more.

Psycho writer Robert Bloch’s Talent, on the other hand, is perfect as is.  Featuring a boy with an extraordinary talent for mimicry, Talent is one of those stories that starts intriguingly and descends slowly into greater horror.  The style is nicely innovative, too.  This piece is easily the highlight of the issue.

It is followed by one of the lesser lights: Time Payment by Sylvia Jacobs, a rather incoherent tale about a device that allows one to time travel to the future.. sort of.  Really, one just lives one’s life normally, but with no lasting memory of living, until the destination time is reached.  Then, the recollections all flood in.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The prolific and not-untalented Jim Harmon offers us The Last Trespasser, a 3-star tale about the humanity’s encounter with a race of beneficial symbiotes and the one fellow who finds himself unable to take on an alien “Rider.”  It’s a little uneven, and the reveal doesn’t quite make sense, but I liked his creative prediction of future slang.

Usually reliable Fred Pohl has an uninspired entry called The Martian in the Attic, about a rather nebbishy would-be blackmailer who discovers that the inventor behind many of the wonders of the Modern Age actually had help from a pet alien.  It feels archaic. 

The Non-Electronic Bug, by newcomer E. Mittleman, is a bog-standard psi-endowed card sharking tale better suited to the pages of mid-1950’s Astounding than a modern magazine.  It is in English, however, and perhaps Mr. Mittleman will improve with time.

Capping off this issue is Hayden Howard’s Murder beneath the Polar Ice, a talky, technical thriller involving an American Navy frogman and the Soviet listening post he investigates in the Bering Strait.  Howard has been in hibernation as a writer for seven years after a short stint penning tales for the defunct Planet Stories, and Murder doesn’t herald an auspicious re-awakening. 

And that brings us to the end of our journey through July 1960’s magazines.  F&SF is the clear winner, at 3.5 stars to IF‘s and Astounding‘s 2.5s.  It’s hard to award a “best story”–it may well be Bloch’s Talent, but it might also be It is not My Fault from F&SF.  I think I’ll give the nod to the former.

Finally, out of the 20 stories that appeared in the Big Three, just three were penned by women.  Unless it turns out “Mr.” Mittleman is a woman.  That’s actually a number we haven’t seen since February.  Here’s hoping we break 15% in the months to come!

13 thoughts on “[June 19, 1960] Half Measures (July 1960 IF Science Fiction)”

  1. My sweet tooth does like Harmon’s ‘Last Trespasser’, except perhaps for the schizoid twist.  The grammar is a particularly nice touch. Gotta keep a thumb on those editors!

  2. You hit the nail on the head about “In a Body.”  McIntosh just doesn’t have the writing style or the gift for characterization of a Sturgeon to carry off an ambitious story like this.  I never quite believed in any of the characters.  (The first conversation between the dying man and the doctor, in particular, came across as unbelievable.  Vee’s sudden transformation from cold scientist to seductress also didn’t convince me.)

    However, there are good things about this story, too.  I liked the fact that Vee got all her ideas about human women from television.  (The line about women’s bodies, and not men’s, being displayed on TV was sharply observed, almost worthy of a Sheckley.)

    I was almost ready to completely forgive the author for the last scene, where the characters suddenly came to life.  It’s hard to pull off a potentially overly sentimental ending like this, and McIntosh did a good job.

    1. McIntosh could have done it.  It just would have taken more time.  He may well not have had it–he’s pretty prolific.

      It makes me want to just take it and rewrite it good.  That’s probably not cricket, though.

  3. “Talent” — It’s the dry, formal, matter-of-fact tone of this story that makes it worthy.  Without that, it would just be a rather dark joke.  (Of course, this story has special appeal to those of us who enjoy both the Marx Brothers and the old horror classics.)

    “Time Payment” — I liked this one a little better than you did, I think.  To work at all, the plot requires the criminal to be rather stupid about the “time machine.” (This gizmo really seems to be just an artificially induced form of that terrible syndrome some people who have suffered brain damage have, of being unable to form new memories, with the added twist that all those memories come back after a certain length of time.) Actually, I don’t think anybody, even the media, would call this thing a “time machine,” but then we wouldn’t have a story at all.  Anyway, I liked the author’s vision of the world of 1983.  We’ll see how accurate it turns out to be.

    “The Last Trespasser” — An interesting, very “Galaxy”-ish psychological science fiction concept.  The culture of the Jockeys (future beatniks?) was intriguing as well.  The story kind of lost me when it became an action/adventure yarn.  (I also have a pet peeve about confusing schizophrenia [unfortunatley called “split personality” by some] and multiple personality disorder, which are not at all the same thing.)

  4. Not much to say about the last three.

    “The Martian in the Attic” — I suppose Pohl took this one out of his trunk.  Pretty obvious ending.

    “The Non-Electronic Bug” — No surprises here.  The ending was rather silly.

    “Murder Beneath the Polar Ice” — Hardly science fiction at all, except for some technology that might be real, for all I know.  At least it made its grim point about humanity’s ability to destroy itself clear enough.

  5. I haven’t had a chance to dip into If yet, but there is some other news from the world of SF publishing. It appears that Great American Publications have shut their doors for good. This probably explains why Fantastic Universe hasn’t come out since March (and we’ll probably never see the rest of Fred Brown’s The Mind Thing). GAP was also issuing the US edition of the British mag New Worlds. I understand the British editor wasn’t exactly thrilled with the experiment anyway.

  6. It is in English, however, and perhaps Mr. Mittleman will improve with time.

    Mee-ow! Would you like a saucer of cream with that?  :-)

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