[Nov. 26, 1961] End of the Line (December 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

It’s the end of the year!  “What?” you exclaim, “but it’s only November!”  True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years.  Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy.  Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place?  Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no.  I’m afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat.  That said, it’s still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past.  So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

Damon Knight seems have gotten a gig as editor Mills’ favored French translator.  Perhaps the job was in compensation for Knight’s having been laid off as book editor for his scathing (unpublished) review of Judith Merril’s The Tomorrow People.  Claude Veillot’s The First Days of May is a grim story of a Parisian survivor after the devastating invasion of the bug people from outer space.  Beautifully told, but there are no happy endings here.  Four stars.

My friend, Herbert Gold, returns with The Mirror and Mr. Sneeves.  Well, I shouldn’t say returns given that this rather unremarkable story, about a frigid husband who swaps bodies with more vivacious men, was first published in 1953.  Notable mainly for its literary gimmicks and copious sexual teases, I was first inclined to give it just two stars.  However, I found myself remembering the story long after I’d finished it, and that’s usually a sign of quality.  Three stars.

You’ll definitely remember Anne Walker’s The Oversight of Dirty-Jets Ryan for its almost impenetrable future slang (which reads a lot like current slang with a few space-related words thrown in).  Well, it’s also a good story, this tale of a none-too-legal trading expedition from Callisto to an alien world.  I’d expect nothing less from the lady who brought us the high point of the August 1959 Astounding.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Will Stanton’s You Are with It! is pretty lousy.  Something about a game show in which persons become thoroughly absorbed in the role they play.  Two stars.

The Fiesta at Managuay is an excellent piece by John Anthony West, a metaphor for the destruction of native culture by more “civilized” societies.  If you find yourself in the tourists of Managuay, be justifiably concerned.  And if you do not, look harder.  Four stars.

Isaac Asimov’s science fact piece this month, The Trojan Hearse, is an interesting article on Lagrange Points, those points of relative gravitational stability one finds between a big world and an orbiting companion.  For instance, the Sun and Jupiter, or the Earth and the Moon.  The timing is fortunate given that I plan to write about Jupiter (and its “Trojan Points”) next month!  Four stars.

I can’t quite tell you why I loved Hal Draper’s Ms Fnd in a Lbry: or, the Day Civilization Collapsed so much.  Perhaps for its frightening, if satirical, plausibility.  Or maybe because I’m an archivist as well as someone who went through a graduate program where the professors were more interested in the cataloging of knowledge than knowledge itself.  Read it and tell me if it strikes you as it struck me.  Five stars.

Last up is the conclusion to Brian Aldiss’ “Hothouse” series (soon to be a fix-up book), Evergreen.  Sadly, what started out so imaginative and interesting has degenerated to near unreadability.  The more said about this future, sun-blasted Earth, the less plausible it gets, and the strained dialogue makes this apocalyptic travelogue a slog(ue).  Two stars. 

And so ends the year for F&SF, and with that, the magazines for all of 1961.  At last, I can dig out my graph paper and copious notes and start compiling data for this year’s Galactic Stars awards!  I hope you’ll look forward to them as much as I do!

9 thoughts on “[Nov. 26, 1961] End of the Line (December 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. Certainly I admire Veillot’s story the most. And admiration for Draper’s craft, too, which is a bit too close to home for me to appreciate the humour as I should.

    Unsurprisingly, I like Walker’s most. Space Runyon is a nice idea, and she does it well. The aliens are a fun extra, and so is that Runyoning of Scott.

    A year well finished, Mills.

    1. Why unsurprisingly?  And yes, if you take out the Aldiss (which makes up a third of the book), it’s the best issue in a very long time.

      If you account for the Aldiss, well, it’s still an above-average issue.

  2. Well, this issue is certainly an improvement over most of what F&SF has given us this year, but I fear that’s a bit of faint praise for me. Frankly, I’m just glad to see the last of Hothouse. I like Aldiss, but this series has just not worked for me at all.

    Most of the other stories were readable, but nothing really stood out for me. The Draper was decent, but you could see where it was going by the second page and he took too long after that to get to the point.

    I want to thank Stephanie for pointing out the voice that Walker was using. Definitely Damon Runyon and it works. I couldn’t quite pin it down and got stuck on Jack Kerouac, which I knew wasn’t quite right.

    I’m looking forward to the year-end wrap-up. Galaxy is probably the clear winner. The real question is where the other 3 will wind up. Will Analog and F&SF duke it out to stay out of last place, while If coasts into second? Or will If and F&SF battle for second, while Analog sinks like a stone?

    1. Exciting times, no?  The nice thing is I put all my scores down as I go, so if you’re a superfan, you won’t be overly surprised.  On the other hand, the way I tally issue averages is not entirely intuitive.

      (Once Vic and I calibrate our rating systems, I can include Fantastic, too.  Now we just need to find someone to review Amazing for us…)

  3. For me, that gem of the issue was the West.  It’s one of those not-quite-fantasy stories at which F&SF excels. 

    The French translation was quite good.  I liked “You Are With It!” better than you did, and didn’t care much for the Runyon pastiche, but otherwise we’re on the same page, more or less.

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