Friday, February 10, 2017

FFB: THE EUREKA YEARS: Boucher and McComas's MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION 1949-1954, edited by Annette Peltz McComas (Bantam 1982)

This remarkable book was barely published by Bantam Books, in 1982 probably still the most successful paperback house in the world, haphazardly distributed, the only printing of the only edition lacking page numbers on its table of contents, the handsome if somewhat generic astronomical art on the cover uncredited.  Nonetheless, it's a treasure trove, an historical as well as literary feast, as well as a tribute not only to the magazine whose birth and first half-decade it documents well, and to its founding editors and the Mercury Press staff who worked with them to get the magazine off the ground, and to the writers who contributed, but also a memorial, an act of devotion by the ex-wife, presumably not legally widow, of cofounder J. Francis McComas, who had died relatively young in 1978, and longtime friend of the other cofounder, William A. P. White (better known as Anthony Boucher), who'd died even younger in 1968. Boucher had had the more ridiculously busy and accomplished career, but "Mick" McComas had achieved notable things with and without Boucher, as well, most famously co-editing (with Raymond Healey) the anthology Adventures in Time and Space, a hugely influential early assembly of science fiction stories (and some related material) that had been sustained in print by Random House, including through their Modern Library and Ballantine/Del Rey imprints, for decades.
William "Anthony Boucher" White and feline.

In 1945, the old college friends, and associates of Fredric Dannay (Boucher had already sold his translation of Jorge Luis Borges's "The Garden of the Forking Paths" to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the first publication of Borges in English), began to inquire if Dannay might lend his EQ "name" to a fantasy and horror fiction magazine in the same mode as EQMM; Dannay begged off, but suggested that the men directly contact his publisher, Lawrence Spivak, at Mercury Press, and Dannay would certainly put in a good word for them. Spivak and his publications manager Joseph Ferman were interested, but cautious...Mercury Press was doing OK with American Mercury, the H. L. Mencken-founded magazine of politics and culture, in part because of the association with the NBC radio series Meet the Press Spivak was now producing, though not yet hosting, and better with EQMM, and the Mercury Mystery and Bestseller Mystery lines of books, published in digest-sized magazine format and given essentially magazine-style distribution (even more so than the mass-market paperbacks that Pocket Books and Bantam and their direct competitors were issuing, including those such as Fawcett and Ace who previously had been magazine publishers primarily), were getting by, albeit it was a crowded post-war marketplace facing uncertain economic times.  Already publishing in digest format, Donald Wollheim's The Avon Fantasy Reader was Spivak and Ferman's model for how they figured their potential new magazine might do, and reports were mixed there, as well...certainly Weird Tales, which had inspired the Avon title, had been a marginal commercial property for its long run, as well...so the proposed Fantasy and Horror, then Fantasy and Terror, seemed like a bit of a gamble. We read some of the correspondence between Ferman and the prospective editors from the period between 1946 and 1949, and finally the issuance of the first issue of what emerges as The Magazine of Fantasy...and with a slightly expanded title, publishes a second issue (and continues to publish today). 
Jesse Francis "Mick" McComas

The book sapiently and engagingly alternates correspondence between the editors and the contributors with examples of their stories for the new magazine, so one gets to see how the new writers introduced by F&SF, such as Richard Matheson, Mildred Clingerman and Zenna Henderson, as well as young lions such as Theodore Sturgeon and his student Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester and Isaac Asimov and the rapidly evolving Damon Knight and Poul Anderson, and the even newer Chad Oliver and Evelyn Smith, and the relative veterans such as L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, and Manly Wade Wellman, had their work shaped and sharpened, or new directions encouraged, through their interactions with the editors, whose intense discussions and list-making (some examples provided in entries also interspersed here) had served them well in the years of preparation for their new responsibilities. That and the kind of salon that took place particularly in the Boucher/White Berkeley home, where such young locals as Philip K. Dick and Ron Goulart were likely to be found. 

The book doesn't include every major contributor to the first issues (Avram Davidson's first story outside the Jewish press, the brilliant "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello", Shirley Jackson's first F&SF story, and several Margaret St. Clair and Fritz Leiber stories are overlooked--for lack of surviving correspondence with the editors?; oddly enough, given they originally planned to buy reprint rights to a Robert Bloch story for the first issue, they didn't publish any Bloch fiction nor nonfiction in the first five years of the magazine), but it gives a fair sense of them, and mostly avoids the more obvious choices of short story, if not always (the Knight, his first published story he was satisfied with, and the Sturgeon story from the first issue, don't quite compel themselves as choices, but are more than reasonable ones). A book that goes well beyond the typical best-0f volume or even the fine historical surveys that the Frederik Pohl & co. retrospectives of Galaxy and If were, particularly given its focus on the crucial early years of what has been our most reliably good magazine devoted to fantastic fiction. 

And among the questions raised by the early correspondence...supposedly Raymond Chandler had a number of fantasy manuscripts awaiting a market such as F&SF to arrive...one such, eventually having been published in a little magazine, was reprinted in the first issue of Fantastic in 1952, but what might've happened to any others that might've existed outside a casual mention by Chandler or the aspiring editors?

The contents: 
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. Index and photos courtesy ISFDB and Open Library. Below, the first and second issues of F&SF, and the contemporary issues of EQMM and The American Mercury from The Magazine of Fantasy's launch. George Salter was the art director at Mercury Press in those years, and designed the logos for F&SF and TAM.















































































































16 comments:

Bill Crider said...

A wonderful book. Should be in every SF fan's collection.

Walker Martin said...

This is a great book and a must read for anyone who reads and collects F&SF. I wish there other volumes covering the years beyond 1949-1954.

Todd Mason said...

Agree vehemently (I do everything vehemently some days). I'm glad to finally have it back out of a storage box, and probably would've bought another copy and reviewed it earlier if not for your fine review a few years back, and I believe Jeff Segal and a few others might've done so in other fora. I should've bought and reviewed it for FFB anyway.

And good on Bantam for publishing it (probably a Frederik Pohl selection as he was on his way out the door), and shame on them for how they treated it.

Todd Mason said...

In a sense, Walker, the retrospective volumes that Gordon Van Gelder has published in the last decade, keeping in the tradition that Edward Ferman, with Robert Mills at first, established for decade retrospectives to supplement the "regular" best-ofs, have done a Little of this...but nobody has again done this this well for any of the fiction magazines, I think. The SMART SET coffee-table book comes close.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Sounds wonderful Todd, really does. Off I go a-hunting again :)

Todd Mason said...

You, as frequently, can do worse, Sergio...

Richard Moore said...

Wow, I really want this book which I barely noticed when it was published. Only one copy on ABE but it is signed by the editor and several key contributors and goes for $300.00. Sigh.

Jerry House said...

Add my voice to those who love this book, Todd.

Todd said...

Richard, try again--I'm seeing inexpensive copies on Alibris, Amazon and ABE, though the last's cheapest, at a sawbuck, is the most expensive.

It is a wonderful book...even if it does leave out some key folks!

George said...

I might have a copy of THE EUREKA YEARS or I might not. So I simply ordered a copy from AMAZON just to be sure. I don't remember seeing it or reading it. But, I might own it. Thanks for the fine review!

Todd Mason said...

Not at all, George. That you might've missed it (I think you'd remember this one), and Richard didn't know he needed one, is indicative of poorly Bantam supported the book...

Rich Horton said...

How did I miss this when it came out? You give some reasons, but I know the real one -- 1982, the year after I graduated college, was part of a curious interregnum in my active reading/bookbuying career -- not that I didn't read anything, just less ... Too involved with establishing a social life etc. in a new town, and getting myself established in my job.

I'll need to get a copy soonest!

Mathew Paust said...

What a collection! And I'm embarrassed to admit until now I did not know "Anthony Boucher" was a pseudonym.

Todd Mason said...

As Ms. McComas recalls, William White was an aspiring playwright, and not a very successful one, who decided to segregate his fiction writing from that persona...another person I've read recalled that White had found entirely too many William Whites among published writers, though I suspect there haven't been That many.

Of course, as Boucher he became a notable radio playwright (on the SHERLOCK HOLMES series in collaboration with Dennis Green) and later on script consultant for the tv anthology KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER. (Aka SUSPENSE THEATER and ESCAPE, in network and syndicated repeats.)

Todd said...

"Boucher" was legally William Anthony Parker White (old friends such as Annette McComas called him A.P.) and Boucher, Anglicized as rhyming with voucher, was a family surname on his mother's side.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I frequently do do worse Todd, no question :)