Entry updated 18 February 2021. Tagged: Publication.
US Digest-size magazine. 175 issues March 1952 to November/December 1974. It was founded by James L Quinn's Quinn Publishing Co. with Paul W Fairman as editor, but Fairman, who had been writing profusely for the Ziff-Davis Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures developed If as a copy of those magazines. Sales were poor and Quinn sacked Fairman and took over the editorial chair himself, in November 1952. Apart from the period May 1953 to March 1954 when Larry Shaw served as editor, Quinn remained editor until Damon Knight took over from October 1958 to February 1959. There were no issues February to July 1959 because the title was sold during that year to Digest Productions and became a companion to Galaxy Science Fiction under Galaxy's editor H L Gold. Frederik Pohl assumed the editorship November 1961. From July 1963 the publisher operated as Galaxy Publishing Corporation. Galaxy and If were both sold in 1969 to the Universal Publishing and Distributing Co, and Ejler Jakobsson took over as editor of both in July 1969. James Baen became editor with the March/April issue in 1974, shortly before the magazine folded. For most of its life it was bimonthly, but March 1954 to June 1955, and again July 1964 to May 1970, it was monthly. The latter period was its heyday; it won Hugos for Best Magazine in 1966, 1967 and 1968. If was at first merely subtitled Worlds of Science Fiction, but in November 1961 the cover logo – though not the spine – was altered to Worlds of If Science Fiction. If absorbed its bimonthly companion, Worlds of Tomorrow, in 1967.
The most notable story appearing in If during the Quinn period, when Shaw was associate editor, was James Blish's classic A Case of Conscience (September 1953; exp 1958). Also of interest in this period was a bleak portrayal of a drug-culture future, "Malice in Wonderland" (January 1954) by Evan Hunter, later expanded as Tomorrow's World (exp 1956; vt Tomorrow and Tomorrow 1956) as by Hunt Collins. During Damon Knight's brief term as editor he developed the writer Richard McKenna starting with "The Fishdollar Affair" (October 1958).
Artwork was quite good from early on. Ed Valigursky was the first art editor – replaced by Mel Hunter in 1955 – and introduced Kelly Freas's and Kenneth Fagg's work to the magazine. Later artists included Jack Gaughan, Gray Morrow and Wally Wood. During the 1960s, though, despite decent cover artwork, both If and Galaxy looked cheap. They were poorly printed, scruffily illustrated and often badly cut and bound. So, despite the quality of the fiction, the magazines were never a joy to behold.
Under Pohl If took on its own identity. Initially it had played second fiddle to Galaxy, but whereas Pohl kept the more select sf for that magazine, he turned If into a magazine for more adventurous and exciting sf: before long it was If that proved the more popular. This may have been because If serialized three novels by Robert A Heinlein, Podkayne of Mars (November 1962-March 1963; 1963), Farnham's Freehold (July-October 1964; 1964) and the Hugo-award-winning The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (December 1965-April 1966; 1966). It may have been because If ran a number of popular series including the humorous Retief stories by Keith Laumer, the Gree stories of alien domination by C C MacApp and most memorably the Berserker series by Fred Saberhagen, all of which appeared regularly in its magazine. Again, it may have been because it was in If that A E van Vogt made his return to sf with "The Expendables" (September 1963). E E Smith also returned to the sf scene with the first of his Family d'Alembert series (May 1964) and then with the latest in the Skylark series, Skylark DuQuesne (June-October 1965; 1966) These stories gave readers a strong emotional attachment to the magazine because of the familiarity with the stories and authors.
Pohl also drew in new blood establishing a feature which became known simply as the "If first", developing new writers. The most famous If first is almost certainly Larry Niven who debuted with "The Coldest Place" (December 1964), but others include Joseph Green, Bruce McAllister and Alexei Panshin. Larry Niven would soon win a Hugo Award with "Neutron Star" (October 1966), and it was If that ran Harlan Ellison's famous, award-winning "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" (March 1967). Other stories of interest included Gene Wolfe's "Mountains Like Mice" (May 1966), Samuel R Delany's "Driftglass" (June 1967), and Jacqueline Lichtenberg's "Operation High Time" (January 1969), her first story and the first of the Sime/Gen series.
Under Jakobsson's editorship the magazine resumed playing second fiddle to Galaxy and gradually declined. Of the few stories that stand out during his tenure, the most remarkable is Michael Bishop's "Death and Designation Among the Asadi" (February 1973) a disturbing but genuinely original attempt to study an alien society. Baen, as final editor of If's first incarnation, had little chance to redevelop the magazine before it was merged with Galaxy as of January 1975. It was a sad end to what had been one of the more distinguished and certainly more exciting sf magazines.
The title Worlds of If was revived for one digest-sized issue, September/November 1986, edited and published by Clifford R Hong (1959- ), publishing as The STF Corporation, Hicksville, New York, issue #176, volume 23, no 1. This included "Samurai Fugue" by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (1950- ), interior art by Vincent Di Fate, and a book review column by Orson Scott Card.
The history of If's UK editions is inordinately complex. Strato Publications reprinted fifteen numbered issues from the 1953-1954 period, and a further eighteen (beginning again at #1) in 1959-1962. Gold Star Publications marketed a UK edition January-November 1967 whose issues were dated 10 months later than the otherwise identical US editions. Copies of the UPD version were imported 1972-1974 and renumbered for UK release, the numbers running #1-#9 and then, astonishingly, #11, #1, #13, #3, #4 and #5. The last issue of If was never distributed in the UK.
Two Anthologies of stories from If, in magazine format, were released as The First World of If (anth 1957) and The Second World of If (anth 1958), both edited by James L Quinn. The first issue of the short-lived magazine The Best Science Fiction (1964), edited by Frederik Pohl, likewise comprised reprints from If. Also drawn exclusively from If though not billed as such were The 6 Fingers of Time and 5 Other Science Fiction Novelets (anth 1965; vt The 6 Fingers of Time and Other Stories 1969) and The Frozen Planet and Other Stories (anth 1966), both edited anonymously by Samuel H Post. There followed The If Reader of Science Fiction (anth 1966) and The Second If Reader of Science Fiction (anth 1968), both edited by Frederik Pohl. More recent collections have been The Best from If (anth 1973) edited anonymously, The Best from If Vol II (anth 1974) edited by The Editors of If Magazine, The Best from If Vol III (anth 1976) edited by James Baen, and Worlds of If: A Retrospective Anthology (anth 1986) edited by Martin H Greenberg, Frederik Pohl and Joseph D Olander. [BS/MA/PN]
- Paul W Fairman, March-September 1952
- James L Quinn, November 1952-August 1958, with Larry T Shaw associate editor, May 1953-March 1954
- Damon Knight, October 1958-February 1959
- H L Gold, July 1959-September 1961
- Frederik Pohl, November 1961-May 1969
- Ejler Jakobsson, July 1969-January/February 1974
- James Baen, March/April 1974-November/December 1974
- Clifford R Hong, September/November 1986
Awards for fiction
- December 1965-April 1966: Robert A Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) – novel Hugo
- October 1966: Larry Niven, "Neutron Star" – short story Hugo
- March 1967: Harlan Ellison, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" – short story Hugo
- March/April 1972: Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves (1972) (central instalment only, other two in Galaxy) – novel Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award
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