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!