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[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.




[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

It’s a hot, doldrumy summer.  My wife and I are hard at work.  Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation.  There’s hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you’ve been living under a rock this whole year, he’s the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson). 

About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence.  I visited the place before the War.  I don’t remember much but lush beauty and friendly people.  The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).

So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines.  One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest.  This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows.  But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise.  See if you agree:

The Snowbank Orbit, by Fritz Leiber

A famous author and actor, Leiber’s works often approach sublimity.  This is one of them, combining both beautiful prose and cutting edge science fiction.  Plot in brief: a Mercurian mining vessel, one of Earth’s last remaining spaceworthy ships, is fleeing from an alien armada.  Its only hope for survival is to thrust at maximum acceleration toward the seventh planet, Uranus, and then use the giant planet’s gravity and atmosphere to slow it down and send it back in the direction of Earth.

There are so many interesting components in this tale: a demographically diverse and well-characterized crew, some truly bizarre aliens, a gripping set-up.  The scientific concepts, from the “International Meteor Guard” to the communication via visual light lasers, are both plausible and fresh.  Leiber’s use of color and texture makes for a literary experience yet does not get too self-indulgent.

Orbit is an almost great story.  I’m not sure what keeps it from hitting five stars save for its reminding me a little too much of Heinlein’s Sky Lift.  Nevertheless, it is vivid, it packs a lot into a small space, and the hero is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.  Four stars, and you may rate it higher.

One Million Four Hundred Ninety Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty Three Marlon Brandos, by Vance Aandahl

Aandahl has accomplished the fannish dream, to be published in one’s teen years.  His work runs to the literary side.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his first published piece, not of his stories break the three-star mark – including this one, about a bored teen girl whose desire to be wooed by the great mumbler momentarily subverts the will of a town’s menfolk.  It’s one of those “cute but doesn’t go anywhere” pieces.  Two stories.

The Winning of the Moon, by Kris Neville

Neville was a brief shining star at the turn of the last decade, right as stf was undergoing its post-War boom.  But the field proved too limiting for the young author’s vision, and now Kris mostly makes a living doing technical writing.  He still dabbles, though.  Moon is a Murphy’s Law tinged tale of lunar colonization, a satire that is grounded just enough in reality to be effective.  Three stars.

And Then There Was Peace, by Gordon R. Dickson

No matter how mechanized war gets, the burden of fighting will always rest on the shoulders of the beleaguered infantryman.  Peace explores the sad fate of a futuristic soldier after the conclusion of hostilities.  Dickson’s explored pacifistic themes before, particularly in his latest novel, Naked to the StarsPeace is mostly a gimmick story though, and if you can’t guess the wallop, then you’re very new to this business.  Two stars.

The Big Headache, by Jim Harmon

I never know what to expect from Jim; he wobbles in quality like a Cepheid Variable…but without the regularity.  In Headache, a pair of scientists develop an anti-migraine drug only to have it turn out to have lobotomizing side effects.  It’s played for laughs, but I only opened my mouth to grimace.  What might have been an effective horror story or cautionary tale Headache is, instead, neither fish nor fowl, and only succeeds in delivering what’s on the tin.  Two stars.

Transient, by William Harris

This is a ghost story, except the haunter is an alien, and the place of haunting is a computer.  It’s a frivolous piece one might expect as one of the lesser entries in any given issue of F&SF, but you may like it more than me.  Two stars.

Once Around Arcturus, by Joseph Green

A futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta, the woman who would only be wooed by the suitor who could beat her in competition.  Green, a brand-new writer and employee at NASA, pens a pretty clunky tale.  He almost manages to make it work in the end, though…but then he flubs it.  I suppose if you took out the last paragraph and gave the piece a downer ending, it might be a whole lot better.  Instead, Green cops out with a literary Picardy Third.  Two stars.

World in a Mirror, by Albert Teichner

The universe is full of dangerous symmetry: anti-matter will violently destroy matter with which it comes in contact; a southpaw fencer or pitcher often makes mincemeat of her/his opponent.  And what will our stomachs make of left-handed DNA?  Teichner expects the worst. 

It’s a worthy topic to explore (and, in fact, I’ve speculated on the subject in one of my recent works), but the set-up in World is heavy-handed and doesn’t serve Teichner’s intent.  Two stars.

Just Westing, by Theodore Sturgeon

Writing science articles for the general public, even for an intelligent subsection thereof, is hard.  You have to distill complicated subjects in a way that folks can I understand, and then you have to explain to the readers why they should be interested in what you’re telling them.  Asimov does it effortlessly; Ley did and often still does.  I like to think I’ve gotten consistently good at it.

Sturgeon, brilliant author that he might be, has not.  His summary of the recent Westinghouse catalog of advancements is neither interesting nor particularly comprehensible.  Two stars.

Cultural Exchange, by Keith Laumer

Retief, the much aggrieved Jack of All Trades diplomat/secret agent must thwart a war between Imperial worlds covered up in a cloak of harmless-seeming personnel and equipment transfers.  Retief stories run from the overly broad to the gritty.  This one strikes a nice balance and delightfully plays up the interplay of bureaucracies, something with which Laumer has more than a passing acquaintance.  Four stars, and thank goodness after the string of mediocrity that precedes it.

Taken as a whole, this is a pretty lousy issue – just 2.4 stars.  Plus it’s yet another “stag” mag: no woman authors, virtually no woman characters.  But, if you take just the 35 pages comprising the first and last stories, you’ve got some excellent reading.  Whether that’s worth a penny a page…well, it’s your wallet.

Next up: The Travelers hit the drive-in for The Underwater City!




[June 10, 1962] A star shall rise (July 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve said before that IF Worlds of Science Fiction is sort of a poor sister to Galaxy Science Fiction.  Since 1959, they’ve been owned and run by the same team; IF pays its writers less; the quality used to be markedly lower on average (with occasional stand-outs).

We seem to be entering a new era.  The July 1962 IF was a cracking read once I got past the first story, which was short anyway.  Not only were the stories fairly original, but even where they weren’t, the writing was a cut above.  And not in that arty, self-indulgent way that F&SF deems “literary,” but in a real way that emphasizes characterization.  It’s a departure from the mode of the 50s, particularly the lesser mags, where the focus was on the gimmick, with the actors playing second-fiddle to the plot.  Plus, Ted Sturgeon has made a permanent home here, which is always a good sign.

So read on – I think you’ll enjoy the trip.

Aide Memoire, by Keith Laumer

This latest story in the Retief saga is definitely the weak point of the ish.  Our omnipotent, long-suffering interstellar diplomat is sent to resolve a violent generational gap amongst a race of turtles.  It seems that members of this long-lived race grow shells as they age.  The agile young ones have been whipped to an irreverent fervor by humanity’s enemy, the Groaci.  It’s paint-by-numbers satire, and the Retief shtick, when unsupported by an interesting plot, wears thin.  Two stars.

From Gustible’s Planet, by Cordwainer Smith

Gluttonous, nigh-invulnerable ducks from another planet invade the Earth.  The result is not so much oppression as incessant annoyance.  I’m not sure where, or even if, it really fits into his “Instrumentality” universe, though it ostensibly is set there.  Anyway, the normally sublime Smith is reduced to offering us what is essentially a one-joke story, but it’s Smith, so it’s still worth reading.  Three stars.

The Chemically Pure Warriors, by Allen Kim Lang

A caste of humans have been bred to be septically pure, as clean of and as vulnerable to bacteria and viruses as any bubble baby.  Yet, they have also been trained for generations as humanity’s space troopers.  Such is their indoctrination that a movement has risen amongst them that they are the superior race, and the “Stinkers” or baseline humans, must ultimately be exterminated.

Warriors takes place on the colony world of Kansas where a battalion of these sterilized soldiers are based in the midst of a Japanese-extracted group of pastoral “Indigenous Humanoids.”  When one of the troopers attempts to go native, this proves the catalyst for a short-lived but terrible conflict between the two groups. 

IF experiments not only with writers and concepts, but with story lengths.  The novella just isn’t that common a format, but it works nicely here.  There is enough time to portray the spit-and-polish roboticism of the soldiers, the gentle Buddhism of the Japanese (the culture and language of whom is reasonably accurately portrayed – I have to wonder if Mr. Lang has spent some time overseas).  Warriors owes much to Dickson’s Naked to the Stars, or perhaps the time is simply due for a pacifistic sf movement.  My favorite passage:

“The ultimate breakdown in communication is silencing one side of the dialogue…  That’s why killing a man is the ultimate sin; it removes forever the hope of understanding him.”

Four stars.

Uncle Sam’s Time Machine, by Theodore Sturgeon

Seems old Ted was hosting a bunch of Scouts at his house, and their clocks had run down.  All were agog when he dialed into 2500 Khz on his radio and the ticking of the time station, WWV, filled the house.  Within 60 seconds, they knew exactly what time it was – to the billionth of a second!  Sturgeon was so pleased with the reaction of the boys that he decided to write in to the government to find more about the broadcaster.  The goldmine of information they sent him astounded and delighted him, so he passed it onto us.

Now you may feel differently about this article, but I loved it.  It doesn’t hurt that I am a Ham Radio fanatic, Morse-code fluent, and I tune into WWV (and its Hawaiian counterpart, WWVH) at least weekly.  But anyone can appreciate the sheer volume of information the Bureau of Weights and Measures squeezes into those clicks, tones, and messages you can hear if you tune in.  And they’re improving on the signal all the time.  A fine example of our taxpayer dollars at work, and a fun Sturgeon piece to boot.  Five stars.

The Recruit, by Bryce Walton

In the near future, a young punk is drafted into a government police force.  He swaggers through his role until the time comes to conclude his mission, a mission which is not clearly spelled out until the end.  The “teener’s” duty is a tantalizing mystery, and the conclusion is well set up.  It’s a brutal, vivid story by a fellow best known for his decades of pulp tales.  Recruit feels kind of like Sheckley on a dark day.  Four stars.

All That Earthly Remains, by C. C. MacApp

Amid the turmoil of a recent right-wing revolution in an Andean nation, a half-Hispanic American scientist is dispatched to the mountains to investigate a mysterious explosion.  The blast has exposed an underground complex, home to fantastic technologies.  Are its builders demons?  Aliens?  Or something more?

Ten years ago, this would have been a simple “gotcha” tale.  In MacApp’s hands, it’s a carrier wave for the interpersonal drama of a handful of the opposing personalities sent to explore the tunnels.  The enduring question they are presented – if there is concrete proof of God, will that make us all Atheists?  Four stars.

A Bad Town for Spacemen, by Robert Scott

A short, effective piece whose only failing is the rather clumsy expositional bit near the end.  But I like the sentiment, the double-meaning, and the otherwise strong implementation.  Four stars.

***

So there you have it.  An excellent 3.7 star issue, which is only really marred by the truly awful illos, which I suspect are mostly padding for length.  Definitely worth subscribing, as Editor Fred Pohl exhorts you to do at the magazine’s conclusion.  What are you waiting for?

(And don’t miss your chance to see the Traveler LIVE via visi-phone, June 17 at 11 AM!  A virtual panel, with Q&A, show and tell, and prizes!)

[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The measure of a story’s quality, good or bad, is how well it sticks in your memory.  The sublime and the stinkers are told and retold, the mediocre just fades away.  If you ever wonder how I rate the science fiction I read, memorability is a big component. 

This month’s IF has some real winners, and even the three-star stories have something to recommend them.  For the first time, I see a glimpse of the greatness that almost was under Damon Knight’s tenure back in 1959.  Read on, and perhaps you’ll agree.

Retief of the Red-Tape Mountain, by Keith Laumer

Laumer continues to improve in his tales of the omni-capable diplomat hamstrung by the flounderings of a sub-capable bureaucracy.  In this story, Retief is dispatched to make peace between the settlers of a new colony, and a band of aliens that has recently popped onto the scene.  Comedy is hard to write, and it’s harder (but more rewarding) to anchor humor to a serious backbone.  There are some genuinely funny moments in Mountain, and it’s also a good story.  Four stars.

The Spy, by Theodore L. Thomas

An extraterrestrial (but human) reincarnation of Nathan Hale is captured by musket-bearing folk and tried for espionage.  I enjoyed it well-enough at the time, but the ending sat poorly.  There’s just not enough to this piece.  Two stars.

Death and Taxes, by H. A. Hartzell

I really enjoyed this fanciful tale of a beneficent sea-captain’s ghost, the impoverished artist he comes to haunt (or perhaps, “with whom he cohabitates” is more appropriate, and the lady who is the object of the artist’s affections.  It’s Lafferty-esque, a little bit disjointed but a lot of fun.  I’ve never heard of Hartzell before, so s/he is either a promising novice or a slumming veteran.  Four stars.


by DYAS

Misrule, by Robert Scott

Politics is a chaotic game.  Strikes, protests, riots – these can really throw a wrench into the workings of government.  What if you could do away with all that?  Subvert all the anti-government feelings into one quadrennial orgy of rapine and destruction, a blowing off a steam that keeps things quiet for another four years?  Scott’s tale isn’t particularly plausible, but it is vivid.  Three stars.

Deadly Game, by Edward Wellen

This is a weird Isle of Dr. Moreau-type tale about a park ranger who engineers his charges to be vicious guerrillas, making the animals sentient masters of their own fate.  Another well-told story that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Three stars.

The Hoplite, by Richard Sheridan

In the far future, flesh is not enough to withstand the rigors of war.  One solution is to surround the warriors in an exo-skeleton of metal, the other…well, you’ll have to read to find out what can resist a steel humanoid goliath.  Evocative but somehow hollow.  Three stars.

The 64-Square Madhouse, by Fritz Leiber

Some science fiction stories are so imaginative yet so plausible that you can be convinced that you are seeing the future.  Leiber’s tale depicts a chess tournament that takes place on the eve of the time when computers become good enough at the game to beat the best Grandmasters.  This is not some staid Robot vs. Man tale, but a cunning extrapolation of the current state of the art in cybernetic chess to a few decades into the future.  Add to it a cast of well-drawn characters and a multi-peak story arc, and you’ve got a story that will likely be referenced by name the day fiction becomes reality.  Five stars, and bravo.


by BURNS

Gramp, by Charles. V. DeVet

The gift of telepathy is a double-edged sword, as one boy soon discovers.  DeVet does a good job of capturing a youth’s voice, and he’s no stranger to sensitive stories.  Would make a decent The Twilight Zone episode, perhaps.  Three stars.

The Other IF, by Theodore Sturgeon

Ted Sturgeon’s non-fiction piece is about an IF magazine that never was.  Apparently, Sturgeon has wanted to have his own magazine since the War Years.  The digest he conceived, which he planned to call IF, would have exclusively published “If this goes on” stories: short-term predictions turned into plausible stories.  He concludes his non-fiction account of the IF that never was with a few guesses of his own – since he wrote the article in December, their accuracy is already a matter of record.  He then invites you, the reader, to make your own and send them in. 

Do you have any hunches on what’s in store for this Summer?

(Three stars)

The Expendables, by Jim Harmon

Harmon can always be counted on to provide readable fiction.  In this case, we have a droll story about the man who invents the perfect garbage disposal…but can the Laws of Thermodynamics be so easily beaten?  Or the Mafia?  The FBI?  My favorite line, “My opinion as to the type of person who followed the pages of science-fiction magazines with fluttering lips and tracing finger were upheld.”  Three stars.

***

Added up, that puts us at 3.4 for the month, a respectable score for what used to be one of the lesser mags, and it was worth it just for the Leiber.  A host of interesting, implausible stories, and one humdinger of a plausible one.  I guess I’ll just have to renew my subscription to this promising digest.  Good on you, Editor Fred Pohl!

[Dec. 5, 1961] IF I didn’t care… (January 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

There is an interesting rhythm to my science fiction reading schedule.  Every other month, I get to look forward to a bumper crop of magazines: Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and the King-Sized Galaxy.  Every other month, I get F&SF, Analog, and IF (owned by the same fellow who owns Galaxy). 

IF is definitely the lesser mag.  Not only is it shorter, but it clearly gets second choice of submissions to it and its sister, Galaxy.  The stories tend to be by newer authors, or the lesser works of established ones.  This makes sense — Galaxy offers the standard rate of three cents an article while IF‘s pay is a bare one cent per word.

That isn’t to say IF isn’t worth reading.  Pohl’s a good editor, and he manages to make decent (if not extraordinary) issues every month.  The latest one, the January 1962 IF, is a good example. 

For instance, the lead novelette is another cute installment in Keith Laumer’s “Retief” series, The Yillian Way.  I’ve tended not to enjoy the stories of Retief, a member of the Terran Interstellar Diplomatic Corps.  Laumer writes him a bit too omnipotent, and omnipotent heroes are boring, as they have no obstacles to overcome.  The challenges presented in Way, however, both by the baffling alien Yills and Retief’s own consular mission, are all too plausible…and charmingly met.  I am also pleased to find that Retief is Black (or, perhaps, Indian).  Four stars.

There’s not much to James Schmitz’s An Incident on Route Twelve.  In fact, if not for the engaging manner in which it’s written, this rather archaic story of alien abduction would be completely skippable.  As presented, it reads like a fair episode of The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

If there is a signature author for IF, it’s Jim Harmon.  This prolific author seems to be in every other issue of the mag (and quite a few Galaxy issues, too).  Harmon is to Pohl what Randy Garrett is to John Campbell at Analog: a reliable workhorse.  Thankfully for Pohl, Harmon is better than Garrett (not a high bar).  The Last Place on Earth is not the best thing Harmon has ever written.  In fact, the ending seems rushed, and the plot doesn’t quite make sense.  That said, this tale of a fellow being hounded by a malevolent alien presence, is powerfully told.  Another three-star piece.

Usually, alien possession a la Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters is portrayed in a negative light.  But what if the society taken over is an intolerant dictatorship, and the foreign entity promotes love and brotherhood?  The Talkative Tree by H.B. Fyfe won’t knock your socks off, but it is a pleasant little read.  Three stars.

Last of the short stories is 2BR02B (the zero pronounced “naught”) by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  Like his latest in F&SF, Harrison Bergeron, it is a cautionary tale written at a grade-school level.  This time, the subject is the ever-popular crisis of overpopulation. With Vonnegut, I vacillate between admiring his simplistic prose and rolling my eyes at it.  Three stars.

That’s the last of the short stories.  Not too bad, right?  A solid couple of hours of reading pleasure there.  But then you run headlong into the second half of the serial, Masters of Space, and that’s where the wheels come off of this issue.  E.E. Evans was a prolific writer for the lesser mags between the late ’40s and his death in 1958.  I know of him, but I haven’t read a single thing by him.  There is another, more famous “E.E.”  That’s E.E. Smith, the leading light of pulpish space opera from the 20s and 30s.  He had largely stayed hidden under the radar for the past couple of decades, but he resurfaced not to long ago.

Some time between his passing and this year, “Doc” Smith got a hold of a half-finished Evans work and decided to complete it.  The result is a almost skeletal, decidedly old-fashioned novel, something about humans who once straddled the stars but were coddled to senescence by the android servants they created.  Millennia later, the descendants of the old Masters pushed out into the galaxy again, only to face the indescribably sinister Stretts.  Masters isn’t bad, exactly.  It’s just not very good.  Smith’s writing holds no appeal for me.  I recognize Smith’s importance to the field of science fiction, but time has not been kind to his work, nor have Doc’s skills improved much over the years.  I made it about 60% through this short novel, but ultimately, I simply have better things to do with my time.  Two stars (and I revised my opinion of the previous installment, too).

In many ways, IF is the anti-Analog.  That magazine usually has great serials and mediocre short stories.  Oh well.  At least they both have something to offer. 

Next up: the next installment in an ongoing series.  Don’t miss this Galactic Journey exclusive!

[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…

[August 5, 1961] In the good old Summertime! (September 1961 IF science fiction)


Gideon Marcus


by Ron Church

Summer is here!  It’s that lazy, hot stretch of time when the wisest thing to do is lie in the shade with a glass of lemonade and a good book.  Perhaps if Khruschev did the same thing, he wouldn’t be making things so miserable for the folks of West Berlin.  Well, there’s still time for Nikita to take a restful trip to the Black Sea shore.

As for me, I may not have a dacha, but I do have a beach.  Moreover, this month’s IF science fiction proved a reasonably pleasant companion during my relax time.  If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, I recommend it.  Here’s what’s inside:

Keith Laumer has made a big splash in just the last few years.  He wrote a fine three-part alternate Earth novel that came out in Fantastic earlier this year.  I look forward to covering it when it’s novelized in a few months.  Meanwhile, this month he offers us a prequel to Diplomat-at-Arms, starring his interstellar man of mystery, Retief.  It’s called The Frozen Planet, and while the setting is interesting (a quartet of frozen human worlds on the edge of the evil Soetti empire), I found it a bit too smug.  When the secret agent is too powerful, where’s the drama?  Two stars.

Mirror Image is a Daniel Galouye’s story, about a raving (but not necessarily mad) man who claims to have built a bridge to the parallel universe behind every looking glass.  It’s a B-grade plot, something you might find in the lesser annals of The Twilight Zone, but I found it engaging, nonetheless.  Three stars.

It looks like Lester del Rey has returned from vacation.  His story in August’s Galaxy, was his first in a few years.  Now, hot on its heels, is Spawning Ground, about a startling discovery made by a colonial group upon planetfall.  The set-up is good, and I greatly appreciated the inclusion of a mixed-gender crew, but the ending was too mawkish and abrupt.  Three stars.

H.B. Fyfe, whose byline can be found all over the magazines of the pulp era, has been a consistent Analog and IF contributor for the past couple of years.  None of his stories have been strong stand-outs, and this month’s Tolliver’s Orbit is no exception.  It’s a thriller set on the wastes of Ganymede featuring a pair of an interesting characters: an honest space pilot who wants no part of the graft rife in the local commercial concern, and a woman vice president of said business, sent to investigate wrong-doing.  In the hands of an expert, it could have easily garnered four or five stars.  Sadly, Fyfe phoned this one in, telling rather than showing at too many critical junctures.  Two stars.


by Ritter

On the other hand, the succeeding novella, by newcomer Charles Minor Blackford, is solid entertainment.  The Valley of the Masters depicts a space colony generations after establishment.  Its people have forgotten their technological past, and the automatic machines are beginning to fail.  Without them, the community will be swallowed by a hostile environment.  Is an enterprising young couple the only hope?  If Valley has any faults, it is that it is too short.  Four stars.

Robert Young’s The Girls from Fieu Dayol presents us with a cautionary tale: be careful when eavesdropping on a note-passing conversation — You just might end up embroiled in an interstellar husband hunt!  Cute.  Three stars.

Full disclosure: Any story with my daughter’s namesake is subject to extraordinary scrutiny.  Thankfully, Charles de Vet’s Lorelei, featuring a seductive shape-changer who haunts the stranded crew of the first Jovian expedition, is good stuff.  Three stars.

Wrapping up the issue is Donald Westlake’s novella, Call him Nemesis.  If you’re a fan of child superheroes, you’ll like it; it’s a simple story, but the execution is charming.  Three stars.

All told, the September 1961 IF clocks in at 2.9 stars out of 5.  That’s pretty respectable for this magazine, and certainly good enough for a couple of hours of summer lolling. 

[June 9, 1961] Common denominator (July 1961 IF)

Science fiction digests, those monthly magazines filled with s-f short stories, are often like little anthologies.  Editors will let their “slush pile” stack up, and when they have enough of a kind of piece, they publish them in a themed issue.

I don’t know whether the theme of the July 1961 IF science fiction was intentional or not, but it definitely focuses on the issues of over-population and over-mechanization.  That is, in the future, there will be too many of us, and we won’t have a whole lot to do. 

I’m not particularly concerned about the former.  We live on a big planet, and although our presence on it definitely has an impact, I don’t think living space is going to be an issue for a long time, if ever.  On the other hand, the latter topic holds a strong fascination for me. 

We’ve already seen a precipitous drop in the percentage of people employed in agriculture.  Industry looks like it will shed workers soon, too, as the use of robots increases.  That leaves the nebulous “service” sector, whose added value to our lives seems rather arbitrary.  Eventually, I foresee a world where no one has to grow or build anything…and then what will work mean to us?

It’s a worthy topic for discussion.  Sadly, the writing in the July 1961 IF fails to impress and often downright disappoints.  Here’s what we’ve got:

Jim Harmon is an often lackluster IF perennial.  His novelette The Planet with no Nightmare, involves an insomniac space explorer and the strange planetoid he and his two crewmates discover.  On said world, the animals play dead when startled, but when no one’s watching, they disappear.  It has a promising opening, but the end is no great shakes.  Three stars.

Then there’s William Stuart, who started with a bang and hasn’t quite recreated his initial spark.  The Real Hard Sell tells of a salesman in a world where selling is the only human profession remaining.  Like many of the stories in this issue, it is frightfully conventional except for its premise.  Still, as a satire of our current commercial practices, it’s not bad.  Three stars.

Now brace yourself – those were the good stories of the issue.

The Stainless Steel Knight is John Rackham’s attempt at humor featuring a hapless Terran agent, a faithful alien companion, and colonies that adhere to storybook milieus.  In this case, the planet the agent visits is modeled on England of the Middle Ages.  As to following the issue’s theme, the story is all about the agent’s mission to slay a “dragon”, a leftover automated tractor/combine that threatens to put the colonists’ serfs out of work.  Well, the Arthurian hijinx was better in Edward Eager’s Half Magic, the Middle English better in Anderson’s The High Crusade, and the medieval satire better in Pratt and De Camp’s The Incomplete Enchanter.  Two stars.

Once again, James T. McIntosh saves his dreck for IF.  He often can write so well, but Doormat World, about a returned colonist taking advantage of Earth’s spate of super-pacifism, is a poor, disgusting little piece.  One star.

A Taste of Tenure is a surprisingly clumsy piece by Gordon Dickson in which a businessman, promoted to the executive level, finds himself unable to discharge his predecessor’s secretary, protected as she is by the government’s strict “right to work” laws.  Again – interesting premise, but utterly conventional despite taking place two centuries from now, and the ending is a confused muddle.  Two stars.

Finally, we have The Junkmakers, by IF newcomer Albert Teichner.  It has a great concept: planned obsolescence taken to an absurd extreme: enormous communal potlaches are held at five year intervals and given an almost religious significance.  If there were any characters in this story, or much of a plot, it’d be a real winner.  As it is, it’s the outline of a piece for someone more skilled (Cordwainer Smith?) to develop into a masterpiece.  Two stars.

So there you have it.  A collection of stories by IF‘s reliable stable on an interesting theme that barely breaks the two-star barrier.  This is easily the worst issue of IF I’ve read.  Editor Fred Pohl better start enforcing some higher standards, or I predict this magazine will end up following the path trod smooth by Infinity, Venture, Imagination, and thirty other digests born in the 50s.

[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.

[Dec. 13, 1960] Ringing In a bit Early (January 1961 IF)

1961 began on November 10, 1960.

I see some of you are scratching your heads in confusion; others are nodding sagely.  It’s a long-held tradition in the publishing industry that the date printed on magazines is the date through which they are expected to be on the bookstands, not the date they are first displayed.  IF Science Fiction, a bi-monthly, comes out a full two months before it’s “expiration date.”  Thus, I picked up a copy with a January 1961 stamp well before Thanksgiving 1960!

Since IF was acquired by the folks who bring us Galaxy Science Fiction, it has been something of a weak sister to that elder magazine.  This month’s issue may turn all that around.

First, though, we have to get through the lead novella, Absolute Power, by the wildly inconsistent J.T. McIntosh.  I imagine he got top billing because he is the most famous of the crop appearing in this issue, but what a stinker.  Power features a smug man dispatched by a wealthy magnate to a backward planet in order to improve the consistency of production of a luxury foodstuff.  The aboriginal inhabitants never time their deliveries with the arrivals of the freighters, you see, and the stuff perishes quickly.  That part of the set-up is fine.  But said smug person is also tasked with making docile the magnate’s intolerable daughter, who is sent to the planet, too.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed The Taming of the Shrew, but as I’ve matured, I’ve found it increasingly offensive and decreasingly humorous.  McIntosh’s version is no improvement on the formula, and by the end, you’ll want to give that supercilious “hero” a sock in the jaw just to wipe the smile off his puss.  One star.

Now, observe the smile on my puss.  Once you get past that kidney stone of a story, it’s all good-to-amazing. 

Take Assassin by Bascom Jones, Jr., for instance.  A man is sent to wipe out the entire population of Earth, relying on subtlety and spycraft.  While not a brilliant story, Jones (who has only written one other story, for Galaxy) does an excellent job of dropping hints of the story’s context rather than dumping it on the reader in a heap of exposition.  Three stars.

The off-beat R.A.Lafferty is back with The Polite People of Pudibundia.  Why is it that the humanoid Pudibundians are so incredibly polite, to the point of shielding their eyes with tinted goggles so as never to affront each other with direct gaze?  And why has every Terran who ever visited Pudibundia died shortly thereafter?  You’ll have to read it to find out!  Three stars.

Then we have Vassi, by Art Lewis.  I’ve never heard of this fellow before, but if this novelette is any indication of what we can expect, good God, man, keep writing!  It is really the intersection of two tales, one of personal grief and tragedy, the other of exploration with a tinge of desperation.  Uniquely crafted and very poignant, the last pages are something of a difficult read, but I promise it’s worth it.  Five stars.

Jack Sharkey is an author whose work has increasingly attracted my admiration.  His The Contact Point is an interesting tale of the first meeting between alien races.  Can you guess the kicker?  Three stars.

On to a pair of woman-penned short stories.  The first is Gingerbread Boy, by Phyllis Gotlieb (who has, hitherto, stayed in Cele Goldsmith’s magazines), an excellent tale about the troubles faced by a race of androids, created as offspring substitutes, when they are superseded by “real” children.  Four stars. 

Number two is the fun The House in Bel Aire by the expert Margaret St. Clair.  Be careful whose house you break into—you may offend the Mistress of the Palace.  Reminiscent of the third Oz book (for Baum-o-philes).  Four stars.

Finally, Joseph Wesley (whom you may know by his pen-name, L.J. Stecher) has an engaging story, A Matter of Taste, wherein an invulnerable interstellar insurance adjuster is called in to avert imminent conquest and enslavement by a powerful race of mentalist aliens.  Nicely done, though the ending is a bit pat.  Three stars.

That leaves us with a book that scores a touch over three stars (and if you skip the opening novelette, a solid 3.5).  Moreover, there were none of the editing errors that have come to plague even the best of the scentificition digests these days.  Fred Pohl is definitely shaping IF into something to look forward to six times a year!