Thursday, June 02, 2011

If -- Worlds of Science Fiction January 1954

I won this issue of If on eBay the other day. If was probably never thought of as one of the major SF magazines of the '50s, but it was a favorite of mine. After reading this issue, I can't see why it wasn't more highly regarded. The lead "short novel" is "Malice in Wonderland" by Evan Hunter, and it's a dilly. It's almost as if Hunter had been been reading Alfred Bester. The ending is weak, but maybe Hunter fixed that when he expanded the story into a novel called Tomorrow and Tomorrow, published under the Hunt Collins name. I have two or three copies of the novel, but I've never read it. The narrator of the story is a literary agent, which made it interesting right off the bat. His society is divided between the Vikes and the Rees, and the Vikes are required to shoot up with dope on a regular schedule, wear as little clothing as possible, and avoid marriage and having children. The Rees are opposed to the Vike way of life. It's a fast-moving, interesting story, and I guess I'll have to read the novel.

The issue also contains Damon Knight's "Anachron," which has become something of a classic time-travel story. I'd almost be willing to bet that no SF magazine that appeared in January 1954 had two stories of equal quality.

Admittedly, however, the Mack Reynolds story, "Off Course," is minor. Very minor. It's one of those stories that you read and say, "I could write a better story than that." Maybe you couldn't, but you'd like to think you could. It's supposed to be humorous, but it's only trite.

James E. Gunn's "A Word for Freedom" is a little preachy, and it has a basic idea very similar to "Malice in Wonderland." It suffers a little by comparison, but it's still not bad.

Harry Harrison contributed a very short story called "Navy Day," which is not much more than a shaggy dog story. The best thing about it is that it's funnier and better written that the one by Reynolds.

Richard Wilson's "Double Take" is another story that reminded me a little of "Malice in Wonderland." Maybe it's just me. It also reminded me of a far superior story, "Spectator Sport," by John D. MacDonald. It has a twist ending that you might not see coming if you've never read an SF story before.

Alan E. Nourse has the third-best story, "Letter of the Law," which reads like a story written for, and rejected by, John W. Campbell. It's about a trader on an alien world where all the natives are accomplished liars. The trader has violated their laws and is on trial for his life. He can survive only by astounding them with a bigger lie than they've ever heard before. He does, of course, but there are consequences.

The cover is by Ken Fagg (I'm not making that up).

All in all, this issue of If was a lot of fun to read. I miss the days when I could go to the Corner Bookstore in Mexia, Texas, and find a new batch of SF digests every month. Those were the days.


Anonymous said...

Geezer Alert! Get Bill on the bus, quick.



Ed Gorman said...

misimIf was one of my favorites too. Lots of good stories and I liked the paper they used. The magazine had a slightly different heft than others. I saw them as mid-point between the adventure sf mags and Astounding. And you're right, the Evan Hunter novel did show the influence of Alfred Bester who was, at that moment, God in the sf field.

Anonymous said...

OK, you got me to order the Hunter/Collins book, which somehow I'd neglected to do in the past.


Richard Prosch said...

My dad had a subscription to Worlds of IF. When I was five or six, I found stacks of them in a closet --hidden treasure! I always thought it was a great mag. And I LOVE that wraparound cover.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have a few issues of "IF." Always had such interesting covers.

William RainCrow said...

I can't really pin down why, but "If" was always my favorite of all the SF mags available at the time. The overall tone seemed more relaxed and fun, at least to me.

Todd Mason said...

Was that the 1950s IF RainCrow recalls fondly, or the '60s IF, I wonder.

I found it difficult to get into "Malice in Wonderland"...there's just something that puts me off about Hunter stories. Even when I don't know they're Hunter stories.

You'll recall, perhaps, that Damon Knight noted that James Quinn loved, loved, loved sfnal satire, no matter how trite, and your experience of this issue helps support that. No wonder it seemed like a good bet as a companion for GALAXY when Quinn tired of publishing it...and buying all those GALAXY rejects along with the odd ASTOUNDING reject.

One does wonder how much hassle poor Ken Fagg got as a kid.

Todd Mason said...

I certainly miss the days when there were more digests awaiting me at Book and Card than do anywhere, these days. Hell, I can get nostalgic about big box magazine racks two years ago, these days.