Friday, July 10, 2015

FFB/M: GALAXY: THIRTY YEARS OF INNOVATIVE SCIENCE FICTION edited by Frederik Pohl, M. H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander (Wideview/Playboy Press 1980)...and the other US sf and fantasy magazines, along with the first issue of GALAXY, October 1950

The default assumption about sf in the 1950s is that it really kicked into gear with the introduction of Galaxy magazine with the October, 1950, issue. The further insistence is that Galaxy formed a triumvirate of elite magazines with the rather new The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (founded 1949) and Astounding Science Fiction, the magazine edited by John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor who'd done the most to encourage good sf in the 1940s...the most, but not by himself, and not to the exclusive degree he's usually credited with.  And there wasn't a trio of completely superior magazines for the decade, even if those three were the most consistently good in the first half of the decade (by decade's end, Astounding was sliding into what Campbell acolyte Algis Budrys called its Tin Age, and Galaxy had passed from being the dominant sf magazine in sales and influence into a pale shadow of itself, as founding editor H. L. Gold had basically had to turn over the magazine to his most assiduous contributor, Frederik Pohl, who spent years rebuilding; even F&SF was feeling a bit less distinctive than it had, after founding co-editor Anthony Boucher stepped down; Robert P. Mills, who had edited the impressive sibling magazine Venture Science Fiction, took over F&SF in time to publish "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes, but his was not quite as pathbreaking an F&SF as his successors, particularly Avram Davidson and then Edward Ferman, would offer in the 1960s).

Back in 1937, Street & Smith editors F. Orlin Tremaine and Desmond Hall were being kicked upstairs...founding editors of Mademoiselle and inheritors of Harry Bates's Astounding Stories when it was bought by their employers from a failing pulp chain, Clayton. As they were put in charge of the magazine group, they made good choices in hiring successors: Betsey Blackwell and John Campbell. Both helped revolutionize their respective magazine genres (and both remained editors, through the Street & Smith sale to Conde Nast, and on till 1971).  For its part, Astounding was already the best-selling sf magazine shortly after founding in 1930, where Harry Bates slanted his magazine toward rococo adventure (Amazing would outsell it for a while by the late 1940s, as would Startling, Galaxy and, for at least one issue, Fantastic not long after; the corporate clout of S&S and, later, Conde Nast would help ASF in later years); Tremaine and Hall had upgraded the magazine, featuring a lot of adventure fiction as well but also offering a fair amount of pop-science articles and accompanying "thought-variant" stories, some of the most important of these written by young engineering student John Campbell, who was also writing adventure fiction and science articles under his own name, and the more quiet and speculative stories as "Don A. Stuart."  He turned out to be an inspired choice to serve as the Astounding (ASF) editor, further improving the general tenor of how sf was written in the magazines, striving even more than the Tremaine/Hall issues to feature what Campbell suggested might read like contemporary fiction of the future.  Campbell introduced some of the most important writers in the field (and helped others, such as Clifford Simak and Jack Williamson, and H. L. Gold, find new modes) and was only beginning, in 1950, to demonstrate some boredom with editing the magazine, and a desire to explore "fringe science" in ASF's fiction as well as articles that would become more pronounced over the course of the 1950s. By the late 1940s, some of the best and most innovative sf was appearing in other magazines on a more frequent basis...though the reputation and standing Campbell had achieved in the 1940s made it difficult for fans and some readers to wrap their heads around the concept that All That Was Best about sf wasn't necessarily invented at Campbell's desk. This tendency has persisted. Part of the reason Galaxy would loom so large in fandom in the early 1950s was that at first it was allowing many of the best of the ASF writers to explore themes and approaches that were no longer, or never had been, welcome at Astounding; in the annotations in the Pohl anthology, Budrys notes that his joy at working as editorial assistant at Galaxy was, at first, that it was almost--almost--like helping produce another issue of ASF every month...but when it became clear that editor Gold had different ideas of what he wanted to do with Galaxy than to simply run a more diverse ASF, young Budrys was puzzled, even hurt...and eventually dismissed from his job there. "And high time," Budrys states.

A large part of what Gold wanted to do with Galaxy was to make the magazine's fiction accessible to readers who hadn't been sf readers all their lives...he wanted to draw in Stephen Vincent Benet and Aldous Huxley and George Orwell and Philip Wylie readers, and even readers who wouldn't specifically seek out their sort of non-coterie sf, but did like the Jack Finney as well as John O'Hara or Conrad Aiken kind of writing that could be found in magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post. Campbell had made some similar noises, but his kind of sf still catered to the "insider," who either had read or was ready to read as much previous "in-group" sf as possible, and whose ideas of story construction tended to resemble those of Rudyard Kipling or H. G. Wells more than Flannery O'Connor's.  Galaxy wasn't quite as kind to self-conscious literary exploration as was F&SF (which in its turn was very much like a fantasticated version of its stablemate, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in focusing on good prose and reprints from outside the "genre" tradition mixed with new material with similar earmarks), but was certainly interested in new and different ways to offer exciting and often satirical fiction...not least with the technically sophisticated fiction Alfred Bester was publishing with them in the early 1950s. Ray Bradbury, who had never been too natural a fit at ASF, was very much so at both F&SF and, to only a slightly lesser extent, Galaxy. And Galaxy was a natural home for the ex-Futurians, whom, as I'd mentioned last week, often tried (even as young and green writers and editors) to take the innovations of John Campbell's magazine one step further in the direction of mordancy and general literary sophistication, in their own 1940s magazines...and were a natural source of fiction by 1950 even for ASF, but really started to flower in Galaxy.

Galaxy's first decade in PDF format.

Hence, much of what is most striking about the 1980 retrospective anthology, Galaxy, which saw print even as Galaxy the magazine was about to fold, after years of decreasingly adept financial management:  
    Galaxy ed. Frederik PohlMartin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander (Playboy 0-87223-568-8, 1980, $10.95, 465pp, hc, cover by Tommy Soloski) [a terrible cover, but one which does illustrate Damon Knight's "To Serve Man"...the source of the Twilight Zone episode]
    subtitle: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction .
(index courtesy the Homeville/Locus indices)

As one reads over the contents list of this anthology, those who know what Galaxy published might be surprised at how many of the most famous stories are missing; that was intentional on the part of the editors, who were hoping to highlight some of the best of the less-famous fiction the magazine offered. And there is some attempt to reflect the work of each editor of the magazine (Pohl was de facto editor from about 1958, when Gold was dealing with various health and welfare setbacks, through 1969, with help in his last years from Judy-Lynn Benjamin, later J-L Del Rey), but the last three editors by 1980, John J. Pierce, Hank Stine and Floyd Kemske, don't have any selections in the book...Galaxy was in steep decline by Pierce's editorship, though, for example, he was able to publish Pat Murphy's second story and a "lost" Cordwainer Smith novelet, as completed by his widow. Gold, Pohl, Ejler Jakobssen and the latter's second (after Benjamin/Del Rey left) assistant and successor, James Baen (later of Ace, Tor and Baen Books) are the editors whose terms are represented above.  The "Galaxy Book Shelf" essay is an abbreviated form of one of Budrys's most famous for the magazine, detailing some of his adventures in the days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and what that event, and its aftermath, meant for the world...and to what degree sf helped shape the perceptions of that event and similar ones.  Budrys notes US Rep. Gerald Ford was in a photo Budrys arranged for a trade industry group at one point in the events detailed, and certainly Ford eventually was embroiled in some of the sort of crisis Budrys was treating with here. The stories collected tend to range from the engagingly readable to the brilliant; some of the memoirs are a bit thin or even a little enigmatic without some prior knowledge, but others help provide just that background, not least the accounts of just how demanding an editor Gold was. 
edited by Jerome Bixby;
"Bradbury * Poul Anderson* St. Clair" and a
lead novella by Alfed Coppel, later notable for
mildly sfnal suspense novels such as 34 East.

But, as I hope to suggest in the balance of the essay as planned, Galaxy, and even Galaxy and F&SF and ASF together,  had nothing like a lock on the best of sf and fantasy published even in the magazines on the newsstands with them, nor even the most sophisticated...as, for example, Mary Gnaedinger featured a story by André Maurois in the October 1950 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (even as F&SF ran a different story in their Summer issue), Graham Greene's "The End of the Party" was in the first issue of Damon Knight's Worlds Beyond, and the semi-professional salvage-market magazine Fantasy Book published its best issue early in 1950, featuring the first story by Paul "Cordwainer Smith" Linebarger, "Scanners Live in Vain"...this alongside magazines all over the field featuring notable early stories by Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Margaret St. Clair, John D. MacDonald, Kris Neville and others. 

This was an impressive time for the sf and fantasy magazines, the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the new decade; even with the warning signs such as an early "Dianetics" article by L. Ron Hubbard in Campbell's Astounding, and science columnist Willy Ley forced by the publisher for his first Galaxy column to deal with "flying saucers," things would get even better before they got worse....

for more prompt and less foolhardily ambitious (than this one was meant to be, but isn't, yet) FFB entries today, please see Patti Abbott's blog

The previous FFB entry about the similar Worlds of If anthology, from a similar team, and a TriQuarterly retrospective, as well...

14 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Very enjoyable essay. The 1950s were a great time to be young and a reader of the SF digests. I think my favorite was probably F&SF, with Galaxy a close second. I liked Astounding, but a lot of the stories didn't connect with me. I even loved the lesser digests like Venture, Science Fiction Adventures, Imagination, Imaginative Tales, Amazing Stories, Fantastic, Fantastic Universe. I bought and read whatever I could get my hands on when I had 35 cents in my pocket.

Todd Mason said...

And I'd suggest that VENTURE wasn't even quite a Lesser magazine, during at least its first run...perhaps some run of the mill sf adventure fiction included, but also some of the most sophisticated and even "daring" sexual-theme sf of the time, and related matter, not least the Sturgeon, Budrys and Kornbluth stories. Also the launching point for Isaac Asimov's science column.

But these are indeed the default tags we tend to associate with the magazines. VENTURE was way the hell better a magazine in 1958 than ASTOUNDING was. And better than GALAXY.

Todd Mason said...

And, thanks, Bill! Clearly, blog minds are drawn to Pohl projects today...a fine run through STAR SCIENCE FICTION #2 at your blog for FFB today.

George Kelley said...

Like Bill, I was a huge fan of GALAXY back in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a great day when I finally was able to collect a complete run of GALAXY (it now resides at SUNY at Buffalo). As I mentioned on Bill's blog, John Campbell and Donald Wollheim are touted as great editors, but for my money Frederik Pohl is the best SF editor ever.

James Reasoner said...

My magazine SF reading didn't start until the Sixties, but when it did I read mostly GALAXY, IF, AMAZING, and FANTASTIC because they were the ones that showed up around here on the magazine racks. Very rarely saw F&SF or ASTOUNDING, but I bought them when I did. I didn't know IMAGINATION and IMAGINATIVE TALES had ever existed until I read about them on Bill's blog, same for some of the lesser-known digest magazines like SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES.

Todd Mason said...

Well, George, the ex-Futurian editors were an impressive bunch: Wollheim, Pohl, Robert Lowndes, Judth Merril, Larry Shaw, Damon Knight, James Blish, Virginia Kidd, Cyril Kornbluth, Doris Baumgardt/"Leslie Perri"; eventually Isaac Asimov became a prolific editor. (And, of course, they were often no slouches when it came to writing, as well. )

James, I was fortunate to have the mid-1970s histories of horror and sf at my disposal, which at least touched on most of the magazines of the past (while I was also fortunate in being able to find most of the extant magazines on newsstands in New Hampshire); my first adventure in collecting older magazines was one of the grab-bags of reading copies-vg condition old magazines from dealer (and art-portfolio publisher) Gerry de la Ree, which included an issue of IMAGINATION, so I was clued into Mari Wolf's fanzine reviews of the 1950s in 1978, for example. An issue of OTHER WORLDS and the first (terrible) issue of IF were also included, among such other titles as Goldsmith/Lalli AMAZINGs and such.

Bill Crider said...

Reading these comments reminds me of others that I bought when I found them: Science Fiction Quarterly and Future Science Fiction. Gee, there were a lot of them. I was lucky to have them.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, those were Robert Lowndes's magazines, for Columbia Publications, along with SCIENCE FICTION and DYNAMIC SCIENCE FICTION (and DOUBLE-ACTION DETECTIVE and other crime-fiction and western and sports-fiction magazines)...after that chain was folded in 1960, Lowndes found himself a job with the even lower-budget Health Knowledge Publications, and eventually started editing fiction magazines for them, beginning with the MAGAZINE OF HORROR in 1962, and ending with that title and several others in 1971...along the way, publishing the first stories of Janet Fox, F. Paul Wilson and Stephen King, among others...

Todd Mason said...

You anticipate part of what I might have to break into a series of posts, contrasting All the US (at least) October 1950 issues...and, startlingly, there would be Even More magazines briefly in 1953 than there were already in in 1950, as the success of the more sophisiticated STARTLING STORIES, the new GALAXY, and Ray Palmer's pandering to the lunatic fringe in AMAZING gave way to Howard Browne ghosting a story for Mickey Spillane in FANTASTIC, all suggested that there were potential goldmines in sf and fantasy magazines....

Walker Martin said...

Excellent essay and I agree that the GALAXY anthology is a must read. They did a later collection called WORLDS OF IF, A RETROSPECTIVE ANTHOLOGY, which also had several essays commenting on the stories and history of IF.

I didn't start reading SF until 1956 but I managed to buy all the SF digests and even the last SF pulp, SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY. A great period for lovers of short fiction.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Walker. I reviewed the IF anthology a few years back, along with a similar career retrospective of TRIQUARTERLY.

And there was another candidate for Last SF Pulp, as FANTASTIC UNIVERSE went to pulp-size for its last few issues in 1960, with the last issue being perhaps the only arguable pulp to feature a Jorge Luis Borges story (from THE UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY volume, a decade before the entire volume was translated and published in English).

TracyK said...

This would be a great resource for me. I did read science fiction in the late 1960s, maybe into the 70s, and some of it was stories rather than novels. But it has been years since I have read science fiction with any regularity. And it looks affordable on ABEBOOKS.com.

Walker Martin said...

I remember your article on IF and TRIQUARTERLY and thanks to google.com I found a link to it by simply typing in IF and TRIQUARTERLY by Todd Mason. I still remember the day that I read that IF was out of business. It was 1974 and I the last issue announced the bad news. I was sitting in my office and couldn't believe it. A sad day for lovers of fiction magazines.

Todd Mason said...

Tracy--it's an excellent start, and the If anthology is as well...the two magazines were stablemates for most of their run...well, about half of GALAXY's...and IF was the first magazine to bust the notion of a "big three" sf magazines by winning three Hugo Awards for best magazine in a row...

Walker--yes, really bad decision-making haunted both IF and TQ, despite their respective excellences...