[March 2, 1961] Presenting… and Concluding (ConDor and March 1961 IF)

At ConDor, a local gathering of science fiction fans, my wife and I led a panel on the state of the genre, particularly how our s-f digests are doing.  Their boom began in 1949 and peaked in 1953, when there were nearly 40 in publication.  That number is down to less than 10, and many are (as usual) predicting the end of the fun. 

While it is true that the volume of production is down, I argued that the quality is up…or at least evolving.  I used Galaxy’s sister magazine IF as an example.  IF pays its writers less than Galaxy, and it is a sort of training ground for new blood.  Fred Pohl, the magazine’s shadow editor, also prints more unusual stories there.  As a result, the magazine’s quality is highly variable, but the peaks tend to be interesting.

Sadly, this month’s IF is chock full of valleys.  You win some, you lose some.  Still, for the sake of completeness, here’s my review; as always, your mileage may vary!

IF has a tradition of leading the magazine with its best stories, but IOU, by Edward Wellen, is an exception.  The premise is promising: it’s about a future in which people can buy custom experiences, to be lived out upon dying to simulate the appearance of going to Heaven.  It’s dull as dirt, however, and I ended up skimming the last 10 pages or so.  That automatically makes it a one-star story.  Perhaps you can tell me what I’m missing.

Then there’s Jim Harmon’s February Strawberries.  When a man brings his wife (most of the way) back to life, is it a technological horror or a paranoid delusion?  Macabre and second-rate, it reads like an inferior episode of The Twilight Zone.  Two stars.

Minotaur, by Gordy Dickson, is pretty effective.  A one-man scout ship happens upon a ghost cruiser in the vastness of space.  Its crew is missing, as is its cargo of zoological specimens.  I liked the spooky atmosphere, and I’m a sucker for spaceship stories, but the end is a little pat.  Three stars.

Sylvia Jacobs is back, but her second IF effort isn’t much better than her first.  Strike that.  Young Man from Elsewhen, about a crippled, bitter old man, and the deal he makes with a time traveling dandy, is very well written; it’s just that there are no twists or turns from Point A to Point B.  Two stars.

The first tale from Julian F. Grow, The Fastest Gun Dead, is a good one.  Westerns are still popular on the airwaves, and this story, featuring a sawbones, an unsavory shopkeeper, and an alien supergun, shows that the milieu has legs in our genre, too.  Gun is also marred by a too-cute ending, but I think Grow has a real shot at growing into a fine author.  Three stars.

Max Williams’ The Seeder, is almost too short, and certainly too hackneyed to describe.  R.A. Lafferty’s pleasantly whimsical In the Garden, about a starship crew that stumbles upon the second Garden of Eden, almost garnered four stars…until the last line.  Le sigh.

The issue closes with The Well of the Deep Wish by Lloyd Biggle Jr.  It is the best of the bunch, a thoughtful piece showing us the world of television production in a post-apocalyptic, subterranean future.  Three stars.

Thus, the March 1961 IF meters in at a disappointing 2.25 stars.  This explains why it took me so long to get through it!

Crunching the numbers on the Star-o-Meter 2000, we have a surprising winner for March 1961: Analog!  F&SF was just a sliver behind, however, and both were head and shoulders over IF.  All told, there were 21 stories, two of which were written by women, one of those being my favorite of the month: Zenna Henderson’s Return

Stay tuned for a new batch of magazines, a new Frederic Brown novel, and a whole lot more…and a hearty wave to a few new fan friends that I met over the weekend: David Gerrold, John and Bjo Trimble, and Dorothy Fontana.

11 thoughts on “[March 2, 1961] Presenting… and Concluding (ConDor and March 1961 IF)”

  1. I liked “IOU” a tiny bit better than you did, but not much. Just enough to get it up to two stars. As you said, an interesting premise (though one that really starts to fall apart if you think about it too long), but overly long and too episodic. And I’m not entirely sure what the point was.

    Even though I just read them a couple of days ago, I’d actually forgotten what both “February Strawberries” and “The Seeder” were about. The latter story was clearly trying to intimate that the planet where Pop was arrested was Earth. With that in mind, it made a good lead-in to the Lafferty, but that’s all it had going for it.

    The viewpoint character in the Jacobs was thoroughly detestable. I found myself hoping that the titular young man lied to him about how much time he had to spend that money.

    The Lafferty annoyed me at first, because I hate Adam and Eve stories. But then he flipped things a couple of times and I really enjoyed it. Up until that last line.

    The Dickson and the Biggle were both fine tales. I might rate “Minotaur” the higher of the two, but that’s a close call and probably mostly a matter of personal taste.

    1. I felt the same way about the Lafferty.  I enjoyed his light touches (halfway through, I realized it was by him and thought, “of course”!) But such a lousy slammer.

      Re: the Jacobs, detestable, perhaps, but that actually is a back-handed praise of the writing.  Your suggestion would have made a nice twist, though.

  2. Of the Jacobs fic: Once you’re not expecting a twist, I think it sound, perhaps even a classic. Everything just right; I admired how she gave just the right amount of informtion about the later era. I didn’t really dislike the protagonist, either; though I probably wouldn’t like him much in person. I admire how he makes his choice and doesn’t regret it.

    I did enjoy the Williams, and both its characters. It wouldn’t have done for a longer story, but I found it good fluff, and a logical, if not convincing, answer to Where Is Everybody?

    I belive the Harmon is meant to be mainly humorous. Not to my taste, but some would like it. More for European tastes, perhaps.

    In their different ways, both the Wellen and the Grow have good ideas and good writing, but do need editing. I hope both writers continue.

  3. One thing I forgot to mention about the Grow. I really liked the setting in the Old West. There’s no reason these stories always have to be set today or hundreds of years in the future. Poul Anderson has played with this some in The High Crusade and… oh, what was that story a few months ago that was based on Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe? Anyway, I’d love to see more stories with that sort of setting.

  4. “IOU” was rather a mess.  I didn’t buy the premise, and the future seems weirdly inconsistent.  (We’ve got starships that make contact with multiple alien species but we’re just starting to colonize Venus?) Seeing the various ways that people might imagine the afterlife was somewhat interesting.  The story wandered around all over the place, almost like snippets from a novel.  Just about everything that happened seemed arbitrary.  (Poor Doris!  Assuming I’m interpreting the ending correctly, what did she do to deserve such a fate?)

    It’s a bad story, yet I found something about it haunting.  Maybe because it was so mixed up and confusing.

  5. “February Strawberries” wasn’t bad.  Grim and disturbing, yes.  At least this form of “resurrection” was made to seem plausible.

    “Minotaur” was a good suspense story.  It reminds me more than a little of the better-than-average monster movie from a couple of years ago, “It!  The Terror From Beyond Space.”

  6. “Young Man from Elsewhen” — This was the one that reminded me of something I might see on “Twilight Zone.”  But you’re right; there’s no real ending.  Not necessarily a “twist,” but there should have been more to it.  (Maybe the old man finds out that being young and healthy and rich wasn’t as great as he thought it was; a difficult thing to convey plausibly to the reader, but possible.) For the record, I had a rather grudging admiration for the cantankerous old fellow.

    “The Fastest Gun Dead” — A bit silly for my taste, but not bad.

    “The Seeder” — Short enough for something this trivial, and a mildly amusing appetizer for the next story.

    “In the Garden” — Well, let’s pretend that the stupid last line doesn’t exist.  Without that, it’s a fairly clever twist on a familiar theme The way in which the priest figures things out was interesting.

    “The Well of the Deep Wish” — I agree that this is the gem of the issue.  Maybe a bit talky and preachy to be absolutely perfect, but an effective satire on some trends in our own society.

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