I do declare, the February 1959 IF really is something else. Not a stinker in the book, and some truly excellent stuff. If if had always been like this, I think it would have dislodged Astounding and jostled its way into the top tier of science fiction digests.
Without further ado…
The other day, I read in the newspaper that Andrei Gromyko (the Soviet foreign minister) lauded the strength of the Communist Bloc, stating that the counterbalance of the two superpowers actually insured against an atomic apocalypse. Be that as it may, I don’t see how we can live persistently at two minutes to midnight without snapping some taut nerves. The Last Days of L.A., by George H. Smith, is a brutal second-person piece about cracking up under the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. I’d be very interested to see statistics on this phenomenon, because I bet it is happening quite often.
I advise you not to read this piece right before going to sleep.
Have you heard of Rosel George Brown? She’s an up-and-comer, and Virgin Ground is her third published story. It is a spin on the “pioneer spouse” trope: in this case, it’s brides for Mars. This is another dark story with an unhappy ending, but there’s no question but that it’s well-written.
I found Discipline, by Katherine St. Clair, to be excellent. It is a tale of archaeological rivalry, but with a setting in space. One has to wonder how often it happens that scientific integrity is squandered to preserve an attractive thesis. In this story, one man’s pride spells another’s doom, but the ending is pleasantly unexpected.
Another newcomer is David R. Bunch. His In the Jag-Whiffing Service is good, funny stuff, but it is so short that to tell you anything about it would spoil the whole thing. Take my word for it. Better yet, read it yourself.
Star of Rebirth, by Bernard Wall (of whom I’ve never heard; perhaps he is an incognito Damon Knight), is one of the few rays of light in this rather dark set of stories. Set far in the future after a devastating nuclear war, it is a convincing and touching piece following the leader of a tribe of primitive survivors. I liked it a lot.
Finally, you’ve probably all heard of Cordwainer Smith. His No, No, not Rogov! is a piece of present-day scientifiction (yes, that word is still in vogue) about a husband-and-wife science team working in the Soviet Union; their super-secret work into the field of electric clairvoyance yields unexpected results. Of all of the stories in this magazine, I predict this one may go down in history as a classic.
I think I can see a trend in Damon Knight’s editorial choice. Most of these tales are bleak things, though they are of indubitably good quality. However, there is just enough hope leavening the mix to make the book palatable. In any event, it is clear that Mr. Knight was a solid choice to navigate IF out of the sales doldrums.
Except I did promise you bad news, didn’t I?
Just after I’d picked up this magazine, I learned that publisher James L. Quinn is throwing in the towel. IF is for sale, and there’s no telling when (or if) the magazine will resume publication. It’s really a shame. Mr. Knight really hadn’t had a chance to bring the magazine back from the brink, and I’m sure that he could have.
On the other hand, I don’t think his stable of authors will quit writing. Maybe Galaxy will get enough material to go back to a monthly format. Fingers crossed!
Stay tuned day-after-tomorrow for…. I’m not sure yet. I’m playing this one by ear!
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