[Oct. 5, 1961] Half Full (November 1961 IF Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

A long time ago, back in the hoary old days of the 1950s, there was a science fiction magazine called Satellite.  It was unusual in that contained full short novels, and maybe a vignette or two.  Satellite was a fine magazine, and I was sorry to see it die at the end of the last decade. 

Novels still come out in magazines, but they do so in a serialized format.  This can be awkward as they generally extend across three or four magazines.  Several magazines have started publishing stories in two parts, a compromise between Satellite and the usual digests.  Fantasy and Science Fiction does that, but it also hacks the novels to bits, and they suffer for it. 

IF, which is Galaxy’s sister magazine, had not flirted with this format until this month’s, the November 1961 issue.  This means a novella-sized chunk of a story and a handful of shorter ones.  That makes for a briefer article than normal this time around, but I think you’ll still find it worth your time.  Let’s take a look!

Masters of Space, the aforementioned two-part novel, is an interesting throwback, stylistically.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise given its provenance: E.E. “Doc” Smith, possibly the brightest light in space opera of the 20s and 30s, is one of its two authors; the other is E. E. Evans, another old hand who passed away in 1958.  Masters stars a crew of Terran colonist/scientists that encounters a race of androids, immortal servants of a prior offshoot of humanity that had once conquered the stars.  The novel is told in a flippant sort of shorthand, a bunch of banter reminiscent of 1940s film dialogue.  The colonists are evenly divided by sex, and much of the book is devoted to their romantic escapades.  It’s weird and anachronistic writing, which I enjoyed for the first forty pages, but which is increasingly wearing thin.  Two stars.

Albert Teichner brings us Sweet Their Blood and Sticky, a subtle mood piece about an atomically razed Earth and its one remaining monument to humanity: an automated taffy-making machine.  It’s just long enough to make its point, and it’s a good sophomore effort for this new writer.  Three stars.

At The End of the Orbit is the latest by Hugo-winning Arthur C. Clarke, who has been writing quite a lot lately.  Orbit starts out like an episode of Michener’s TV show, Adventures in Paradise, featuring a South Seas pearl diver.  Things go in a decidedly dark direction when said aquanaut discovers a Soviet capsule at the bottom of the ocean.  Four stars, but it’s not a happy piece.

by Gaughan

Patrick Fahy, like Teichner, turns in his second story (at least to my knowledge), The Mightiest Man.  Alien race conquers humanity and, as in Wells’ classic, is laid low by microbes.  But not before empowering one traitorous man with immortality and the ability to control minds.  His fate, and that of those he encounters, comprise another unpleasant (but not unworthy) tale.  Three stars.

Fortunately, for those who like happy stories, like me, the next story is Keith Laumer’s Gambler’s World.  It’s another installment in the adventures of Retief, the Galaxy’s most irreverent and capable diplomat/super spy.  Can Retief foil a coup attempt on a provincial planet?  Can he best the most fiendish games of chance ever devised?  Can he make you laugh with his antics?  I think you can guess the answer.  This is my favorite Retief story to date.  Four stars.

The issue wraps up on a lame note with Kevin Scott’s brief Quiet, Please which I, frankly, did understand or particularly enjoy.  Two stars.

All told, that’s 3.11 on the Star-o-meter, which is pretty good for IF these days.  Pretty good for anyone, really, and good enough to remain among my subscriptions.

Stay tuned for an unusual super-powered article in just a couple of days…

11 thoughts on “[Oct. 5, 1961] Half Full (November 1961 IF Science Fiction)”

  1. I was a bit surprised how like the rest of his stuff the Smith was.

    The Teichner strikes me as good for anyone. The solidity of the aliens’ characters make it far better than the sort of idea+twist normally is.

    The Clarke certainly isn’t to my taste, but I think it might be an award winner. But in crime, not science, fiction. I didn’t give the Fahy a fair chance; and I intend to continue not to.

    The Retief isn’t one of my favourites; but it is better to Retief than not to Retief, and it certainly is a plus for the magazine.

    Thank you. And also for the photo and the cartoon, both excellent.

  2. I find “Doc” Smith to be literally unreadable, so I’ll skip the serial.

    “Sweet Their Blood and Sticky” was interestingly weird.  It reminded me of a less whimsical Lafferty, and certainly held my attention.

    “At the End of the Orbit” was very powerful.  I was able to guess that story’s main twist, but that didn’t make it any less effective.

    “The Mightiest Man” reads like an extremely dark joke, and works well enough in those terms.

    “Gambler’s World” was refreshingly light after all this issue’s grimness.  I have to admit, however, that there’s something about the Retief stories that just doesn’t grab me.

    “Quiet, Please” was very minor.  I wouldn’t try to see much deeper than the surface.

    So, for me, the Clarke was the highlight of the issue.

  3. I’m with Victoria when it comes to Doc Smith, even though I grew up with his stuff. Sometimes I can hack my way through it, but this wasn’t one of those times. I made it to within about two paragraphs of the end of the first chapter and gave up in boredom.

    The Teichner was interesting, though not the story I expected from the title. (But he’s also had a couple of stories in Amazing, so he’s not quite as new as you thought.)

    The Clarke was excellent, but a touch long I felt. I’m not sure where he could have cut anything. Maybe it’s because the main character was such an unpleasant person.

    The Fahy was very dark, but readable. At times, I thought he was in conversation with some Dickson or Garrett stories.

    This was certainly the best Retief story since “Diplomat-at-Arms” (the very first one) and might even be better than that. I enjoyed it a lot, and the growing familiarity with Retief and Magnan adds to that. I look forward to more in this series, especially as Laumer becomes more comfortable with writing both humor and in general.

    The last story was utterly forgettable.

    For me, this issue is neck and neck between Clarke and Laumer. I’m going to give the decision to Laumer, since I seem to be in the mood for something lighter at the moment, and that Clarke was really grim, unusually so for him.

  4. Laumer!  Retief!  What more could I want?  More…  I suspect some people don’t read below the superficial humor to see Laumer’s more subtle lampooning of social issues.

    I think I had “Masters of Space” confused with “The Galaxy Primes,” which was… not very good.  I’m aware of how styles have changed since the prewar days, and I like the Skylark books, and even the Lensman stories… but “The Galaxy Primes” very nearly turned me off Smith.  I’ll have to dig my copy of “Masters of Space” out now, if it survived the last cleaning.

      1. How have I disappeared? You even replied to me right above this.

        And Retief is, in many ways, Campbell’s “Competent Man” writ satirically large. It also helps if you’ve read some of Ian Fleming’s spy books.

  5. I’m about halfway through “Masters of Space” now.  It’s *very* different from Smith’s earlier style.  It has the supermen-as-mates trope from “Galaxy Primes”, but it seems to be more “romance” than SF so far.

    If it weren’t for Smith’s name on the cover I would have put it down long ago.  Like most of Smith’s work, the Fascist “might makes right” underpins the story, and I’m getting a bit allergic to that nowadays.  The story also makes some odd skips and jumps like parts have been scissored out.  I understand that happens at both the editor’s desk and the print shop, but they could have made a better effort at plastering over the seams.  And mostly, I’m having a hard time caring enough to keep pressing on.

    1. About two thirds of the way through… I bailed out.  It might have got better at the end, but there were other things on the stack to read.

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