Sunday, January 20, 2013

FFM: some first issues of fantasy magazines

Actually, the second issue, 1950, w/expanded title...
Cover by George Salter
This week, the "forgotten" books links are being compiled by Evan Lewis (who goes by Dave Lewis in some circumstances) at his blog, Davy Crockett's Almanack of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West. I'll be hosting the links the following Friday, and then Evan, and then me, and one more pass before founder Patti Abbott can regain access to reliable blog-propagation

Meanwhile, I hope I shall be able to put my mind back together for next week's links, but it's currently blown by the ease with which I was able to find information on three or four books online which had been eluding me for years, when I cast about for substitutes for the book I intended to do this week, which I haven't had time to finish, much less think about even long enough for a slapdash entry. Managing to dig out information on such somewhat enigmatic and/or influential books on my young reading as Eric Berger's anthology For Boys Only or Emile Schurmacher's Strange Unsolved Mysteries (and further discovering that this journeyman writer had a diverse if obscure career, writing paperback originals, men's sweat magazine articles and, earlier, for Collier's, as well as for the tv series Coronado 9--and, apparently, his daughter became a sort of small-time newspaper magnate) or Nancy Faulkner's Witches Brew could've made for a decent entry...if any of these books but the Berger were actually good...and remarkable the paths this kind of engine-searching can take one down, so that coming across a Reader's Digest imitation called This Month led indirectly to Pacific, a literary magazine at Mills College, indexed by Dennis Lien at the FictionMags Index pages, that published such diversely influential people on my life as Charles Neider (he of the large Mark Twain collections from Doubleday that I plunged through when about 10), Woody Guthrie, George P. Elliott and a slew of major poets, and Iola Brubeck, already married to husband Dave who was just starting to catch fire in the SF Bay area as a jazz musician and composer. Perhaps it's notable that Fantasy Records, formed to offer recordings of Brubeck's bands, stole its first label logo from the Salter-designed title logotype of F&SF.

But, for now, what I'm going to do is steal an excellent notion Evan has been engaging in at his blog, in showing early issue covers (in all their often off-point glory) of such important magazines as Weird Tales (a magazine that in its first year was only a very poor representative of how great and important it would become--not altogether unlike Black Mask in its first year), and run some of the covers from the subsequent first issues I have read...with some bare-bones comments I hope to augment later. 

Thanks to Evan for the inspiration...and apologies for any encroachment!  One thing I note in looking at the issues below, is how often some of the same bylines appear in various first issues  (and, with some stretching, including the second for F&SF)...Manly Wade Wellman, H. L. Gold,  Kris Neville, Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight...of course, all were either major writers, even if at the time up and comers, or in Gold's case, and perhaps in Neville's as well, examples of people who could've done even better as writers if they'd allowed themselves, or if life had allowed them, to do so...

1949; cover by Bill Stone
F&SF began life with a slightly goofy-looking photo cover (stablemate EQMM's photo covers were a mixed bag as well), and an issue that featured Theodore Sturgeon's charming, funny sf story "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast" (so the immediate expansion of the title wasn't too taxing) and a slew of reprints...Perceval Landon's "Thurnley Abbey" being the one which resonated enough with Ramsey Campbell to make his Fine Frights rarities anthology...though I remember enjoying that story, I can't for the life of me remember details.

The second issue includes Ray Bradbury's revised "The Exiles" (which had in an earlier form, "The Mad Wizards of Mars," appeared in the Canadian magazine Maclean's)  and Damon Knight's first story he was proud to claim, "Not with a Bang," a solid, grim joke story in the mode of his "To Serve Man"...and a more distinctively F&SF cover, by the staff genius, George Salter. (And...the first Gavagan's Bar story by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp...and a fine Robert Arthur, in his "Murchison Morks" series...and the first and best of the Papa Schimmelhorn stories by R. Bretnor...all firmly establishing a fine tall-tale tradition of fantasy and borderline sf in the magazine. Interesting how much of the horror fiction in the first two issues comes from reprints...but there was so much more good horror fiction to reprint than either gentler fantasies or sf.)

Contents of the first two issues, courtesy ISFDb:

The Magazine of Fantasy, Fall 1949
Publisher: Mystery House, Inc. (The American Mercury, essentially, and Mercury Mystery, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and offshoots)
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Winter-Spring 1950
Publisher: Fantasy House, Inc.

1939; cover by H.W. Scott
The first issue has the cover novel by Russell, and, perhaps even more brilliant, "Trouble with Water" by H. L. Gold and "Where Angels Fear..." by Manly Wade Wellman. lets you read this issue. John W. Campbell, already well on his way to revolutionizing the sf field with his work as editor of Astounding Science Fiction, reportedly in his heart of hearts preferred fantasy fiction, or at least seized upon the excuse of the relatively paranoid premise of Russell's novel (which is sf by any reasonable measure) to launch a magazine that would specialize in the kind of one-fantasticated-element fantasy that H. G. Wells and , latterly, Thorne Smith had specialized in (Smith being a consistent bestseller before his rather early death, in the years just before this magazine's founding). Despite encouraging better-written and, famously, more realistically extrapolated (or "hard") sf in his sf magazine, JWC was also a lifelong fan of fringe science, and would also push that in both fiction and nonfictional work in the magazine...with some not altogether healthy effects, eventually. His colleague, Ray Palmer, at Ziff-Davis's fiction magazines, tended to push rather more adventure-oriented and stereotypically "pulpy" fiction, but also had some interest in fringe science and mysticism that would eventually make its mark in his magazines, and beyond...Palmer was one of the great early advocates of UFOs as alien visitors, for example. Palmer would eventually leave fiction-magazine publishing (per se) in favor of such titles as Fate, and turn his last sf magazine, Other Worlds, into Flying Saucers from Other Worlds for its last issues.

Feature Novel 
Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell, pp. 9-94 - PDF

Short Stories 
Who Wants Power? by Mona Farnsworth, pp. 95-106 - PDF
Dark Vision by Frank Belknap Long, pp. 107-116 - PDF
Trouble With Water by H.L. Gold, pp. 117-130 - PDF
"Where Angels Fear---" by Manly Wade Wellman, pp. 131-136 - PDF
Closed Doors by A.B.L. Macfadyen, Jr., pp. 137-150 - PDF
Death Sentence by Robert Moore Williams, pp. 151-164 - PDF 

Cover by H.W. Scott, - PDF

1939; cover by Rudolph Belarski

Strange Stories is my entry for this title at the PulpWiki; as noted there, it was founded in 1939, a very good year for fantasy-fiction pulp titles in the US (Unknown, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and the originally sf-oriented Fantastic Adventures were all launched that year, as well, as was Startling Stories at the same house as Strange, though Startling would last much longer and only very occasionally mix in anything more fantasy than sf). The Thrilling Group didn't seem to have much faith in this title...Mort Weisinger's editorial byline was nowhere in evidence  (and they folded the magazine as soon as he left to edit DC Comics), it didn't get house ads with the sf title Thrilling Wonder Stories nor its other stablemates, and while it wasn't a first-rate magazine to judge by the first issue, the only one I've read, it was certainly on par with their other titles under Weisinger. Even the cover of this issue is more suggestive, to me at least, of the "shudder" pulps, which emphasized fake-supernatural villains often torturing (with graphic description) their victims--S&M Scooby-Doo fiction, as it's often been referred to (and it has had some continuing influence and heirs). The Manly Wade Wellman story is the best here (and the best-remembered work the magazine would publish), though the pair each from Bloch and Kuttner are certainly pleasant enough, though not by any means either writer at the top of his game.

From ISFDb: Contents:

1952; cover by Barye Phillips and Leo Summers
Fantastic, of course, would end up serving as one of the most durable of fantasy-fiction magazines in the US, and two years after its founding in 1952 was merged with Fantastic Adventures, giving it roots going back, as noted above, to 1939. But it was launched as a departure by publishers Ziff-Davis and editor Howard Browne (also a writer who a bit of a Raymond Chandler disciple), who had been noting the falling fortunes of their pulp line (by 1952, they had folded all but FA and their sf title Amazing Stories; such once-profitable items as Mammoth Mystery and Mammoth Adventure were long gone), and they were well on their way to becoming what Ziff-Davis/ZD has been over the decades since, a publisher of large-format specialized nonfiction magazines (and their offshoots on cable television and the web)...but B.G. Davis, particularly, had an affection for fiction magazines, and Browne, who had succeeded Ray Palmer as fiction magazine editor for ZD, was never a great fan of sf, and particularly pulp sf, and more than game to attempt a semi-slick new fantasy/sf magazine that might feature crime-fiction crossover appeal...Ziff-Davis had even had aborted plans to remake Amazing thus in 1950, going as far as to produce an "ashcan" (non-distributed dummy) issue of what that might look like, but they waited till launching Fantastic to remake Amazing as its slightly less-interesting twin (Amazing's first semi-slick issue had as a cover story a sfnal joke, theoretically written by then-hot gossip-mongers Lait and Mortimer, called "Mars Confidential!" the manner of their bestselling books such as New York Confidential! and such, which presumably lent their name to the hugely successful Confidential! magazine soon thereafter). Fantastic got the big prize in its first year, a story from Mickey Spillane (easily the bestselling fiction writer in the world at the time) which had been mentioned in a Life magazine profile of Spillane...and there was part of the rub, the story Spillane submitted was apparently 1) completely "spoiled" in the Life article and 2) extremely awful, by Browne's lights, so he ghosted another (much to Spillane's apparent eventual irritation), "The Veiled Woman," and the third issue of Fantastic reportedly sold over 300,000 copies (an enormous amount for a fiction magazine at any time). The Browne is a good pastiche that only rarely ventures over into parody. But, for this first issue, Browne's relatively nonchalant attitude toward sf and perhaps editing generally was still on display...for the fiction, while paid for at a then impressive 5c/word (the other US fiction magazines in sf and fantasy were then able to pay 3c/word as their regular top rate, and most didn't pay that well), was a very mixed bag:

Contents (from ISFDb)("fep" is front endpaper, or inside the front cover..."They Write" being author blurbs attributed to the writers themselves; a reproduction of Pierre Roy's painting "Danger on the Stairs" is on the back cover, an odd attempt at "class"):
The most memorable story in the issue is the Asimov, a charming fantasy about What If a young married couple, riding on a train on a seat facing that of a man capable of showing them alternate realities, had never met. Ray Bradbury's "The Smile" is probably the best-known story from the issue, which seems to assume that 1) the Mona Lisa is painted on canvas, and 2) it was likely to have been on loan to some midwestern US gallery when armageddon struck. The Neville and the Outlaw are solid, decent fantasy stories, while the Gold and the Miller are examples of the weaker work by these writers; Gold, particularly, is better remembered as an editor (see directly below) than as a writer, despite such occasional brilliant work as "Trouble with Water" (see above).  The Hickey and the Fairman are utterly routine sf stories, from writers (like Browne) who had been part of Ray Palmer's stable of regular contributors, and while Sam Martinez's fantasy is slightly less overfamiliar, only very slightly less, in its account of a woman so annoying that Hell won't have her. This is the only story credited to Martinez in ISFDb, so I wonder idly if this is another Browne ghost job.  I must admit I have no memory of the Chandler (a "classic" reprint from a little magazine from only a year or three previous), despite reading it when I read the rest of the issue, some 35 years ago...I barely remember the Outlaw, other than thinking it was a better Bradbury than the Bradbury was.

1953; cover by Richard Powers
Of course, one of the inspirations to Ziff-Davis in attempting a "slicker" set of fiction magazines was the breakout commercial as well as artistic success of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, launched 1950, with H. L. Gold as editor. Magazines which are in the black financially within the first several issues were as rare then as they are now, and Galaxy had made every effort to have a sophisticated package of design and content, though being published on relatively lesser-grade paper hampered that a bit. Gold, like Browne, only less casually so, (and like Campbell, probably) preferred good fantasy even to good sf, and a few years into Galaxy's run was secure enough to attempt an Unknown-like companion to the sf title...the then-smashing success of Fantastic for ZD probably didn't hinder the timing of Beyond's release, in 1953, with a cover format that aped that of Galaxy (only with a black half-border around the cover illustration rather than a white one), and a first cover from Richard Powers, in his Surrealist (particurlarly Tanguy)-influenced mode. 

Contents (from ISFDb):

  • 2 • Beyond • essay by H. L. Gold
  • 4 • . . . And My Fear Is Great . . . • novella by Theodore Sturgeon
  • 4 • . . . And My Fear Is Great . . . • interior artwork by Ashman
  • 60 • All of You • short story by James V. McConnell
  • 60 • All of You • interior artwork by Balbalis
  • 69 • The Day the World Ended • short story by Frank M. Robinson
  • 69 • The Day the World Ended • interior artwork by James
  • 79 • The Springbird • short story by Roger Dee
  • 79 • The Springbird • interior artwork by Barth
  • 92 • Babel II • novelette by Damon Knight
  • 92 • Babel II • interior artwork by Ed Emshwiller [as by Emsh ]
  • 116 • Share Alike • short story by Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean
  • 116 • Share Alike • interior artwork by Kossin
  • 128 • The Wedding • short story by Richard Matheson
  • 128 • The Wedding • interior artwork by John Fay
  • 136 • Eye for Iniquity • novelette by T. L. Sherred
  • 136 • Eye for Iniquity • interior artwork by Sibley

  • I also bought and first read this issue 35 years 1978, when these relics from the early 1950s seemed ancient, in their quarter-century-old status (I was just over half as old as they, after all). My memory over the years has faded heavily in regard to the Robinson, the Dee (which I remember as wistful), the Bixby and Dean (which I remember as clever),  and the Matheson. "All of You" seemed both heavyhanded and funny, but certainly is memorable enough, as a sort of inversion of "The Lovers" by Philip Jose Farmer (published not too long before to much attention in Startling Stories); "Babel II" (which I had seen in an anthology a few years before) was deft and funny and, like Sinister Barrier, could easily slip into any sf context. Sherred's "Eye for Iniquity" remains my second-favorite story by him, sharing with his debut sf story "E for Effort" not just a title format but a healthy disrespect for authority figures. The Sturgeon was impressive to me at the time, as well, and I should reread it, dealing as it did with repressed sexuality and envy in a way that would turn out to be very common coin in Beyond, a magazine more than any other I've read (though the comic magazine Help! came close) that clearly desperately wanted to be more open about its sexual concerns than it thought it was allowed to be (similarly, there's a not quite blatantly sexualized context to the vampire story by Bixby and Dean). If fantasy fiction if often even more fraught thus than most other forms of fiction (reaching as does so openly into the subconscious), few if any magazines in the field have felt that so intensely than Beyond...edited by the very hands-on, psychologically-oriented, and, at the time, extremely afflicted (by agoraphobia and an obsessive perfectionism, most obviously) Gold.

    1973; cover by Tim Kirk
    Skipping ahead a couple of decades, in part because I never have gotten around to picking up the first issues of such 1960s magazines as the Magazine of Horror,  Worlds of Fantasy, Shock, nor Gamma, nor such important little magazines in the field as Macabre nor Space and Time nor Trumpet nor Weirdbook, it's notable to me how relatively modest the soon clangorous Whispers magazine (edited and published by Stuart David Schiff) was at the beginning of its run as probably the most important of 1970s little magazines in the fantasy and horror fields:

    -which in no way is meant to slight the contents of the first issue (including short fiction from Joseph Payne Brennan, Brian Lumley and David Riley...though I'm least fond, in Lumley's work, of his Lovecraftian pieces). But soon Whispers would be packed with fine fiction (and relatively little of the amusing verse of this first issue, that last rather a pity).

    1993, cover by David Malin
    And we then jump ahead another two decades (as I never have gotten around to picking up the first issues of even such likely titles as The Twilight Zone Magazine, its offshoot Night Cry, and such notable other little magazines as Grue or Cemetery another little magazine that impressed even more than such contemporaries as Strange Plasma and Century, the unfortunately-titled Crank! (edited and published by Bryan Cholfin, d/b/a Broken Mirrors Press in the latter capacity)...I managed to miss the first issues of these others, as well, and even of the magazine that would publish my first short story, Algis Budrys's Tomorrow Speculative was too easy to miss the first issues in those days...but Crank! was even better than the Budrys magazine, or the rather good, with bad covers, sf magazine Science Fiction Age, or its eventual fantasy companion, for a number of years filling the hole left on newstands by the folding of Fantastic (in 1980--officially, Amazing incorporated it) and Twilight Zone (in 1989), Realms of Fantasy (1994-2011)...I missed their first issues, too...


  • 3 • Clap if You Believe • short story by Robert Devereaux
  • 11 • Punctuated Evolution • short story by Garry Kilworth
  • 21 • Mortal Remains • short story by Rosaleen Love
  • 32 • Wax Me Mind • short story by A. A. Attanasio
  • 44 • His Oral History • short story by Jonathan Lethem
  • 49 • Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor • short story by Carter Scholz
  • 57 • The Thief, the Princess, and the Cartesian Circle • short story by Gwyneth Jones
  • 70 • Hymenoptera • short story by Michael Blumlein

  • It's also a sad fact of my memory that I clearly remember reading this issue, and enjoying all the stories (though future issues would be even better) but even the story by my friend A. A. Attanasio doesn't resolve clearly enough for me to say what it was about at this I could for his story "Ink from the New Moon" published a year, at least to this extent, these are indeed "forgotten" stories...very good forgotten stories (at least I thought so at the time) I should reacquaint myself with...some day! Crank! had an impressive roster of contributors throughout its run, and The Best of Crank! volume as well as its issues are highly recommended.

    Related post: Fantastic's 6th editor, Barry Malzberg, interviews its third, Cele Goldsmith/Lalli.
    Also: October 1978 issues of the four bestselling US fantasy magazines at that time...


    Walker Martin said...

    F & SF is one of my favorite magazines and I have the issues going back to 1949. I just bought the recent issue and see the circulation figures are at a new low, just around an average of 11,500. Newstands in the Trenton/Princeton area don't carry it at all. Just Barnes & Noble and that is where I get my copies since the post office ruins subscriber issues.

    UNKNOWN is such a great magazine that I have two sets, one bound and one made up of loose issues.

    Todd Mason said...

    Yes, it's worrying how far the circulations have fallen, but the magazines seem to remain viable...for now...certainly THE PARIS REVIEW has managed to stay afloat for a half-century with those kinds of numbers. And the electronic subs help, too, apparently. We will see how long they continue.

    All these magazines have had much to be proud of, even if STRANGE STORIES might've had the least in its short but entertaining run...and FANTASTIC certainly had better and worse years...

    Evan Lewis said...

    Love those covers, Todd. I have that issue of Fantastic with the Raymond Chandler story (for that reason) and probably that ish of Whispers too.

    Todd Mason said...

    You were keen on WHISPERS for Howard or Lovecraft material, Evan? I find it's interesting, as I attend to other matters but think about what I want to write here, what I do and don't remember about the stories in the various issues (I barely remember any of the stories in STRANGE STORIES clearly, despite reading the issue five years ago or so when the reprint came out...and any nostalgia for my youthful memoriousness isn't helped by the Chandler being the story that I remember most vaguely from the FANTASTIC (which I read when I was 13), much as with all the stories in FOR BOYS ONLY (which I read when I was ten), even the Asimov ("Sally"...I recall a sentient car)...another reason why this post isn't all about FOR BOYS ONLY...

    Elizabeth Twist said...

    Beautiful covers. I do hope that F&SF stays afloat.

    I just read "Thurnley Abbey" a couple of days ago in John Pelan's The Century's Best Horror Fiction anthology. Bit of a pedestrian preamble to the incident of the haunting, which involves an especially visceral ghost, and a totally hilarious and hysterical reaction to said ghost. It might not be memorable, but it's unusual.

    Todd Mason said...

    Yes, it is more than a bit sad that F&SF is the only one of these still with us, despite an attempt at reviving the FANTASTIC title a decade back.

    Pelan's self-imposed one story from one author from each year (and no more than one from each writer in the two volumes) does make for some questionable choices (such as no "Smoke Ghost" nor the better Bloch stories), but I'm glad to have another vote suggesting that there's a reason I have a fond, if vague, memory of the Landon. I look forward to reading the reviews on your blog...thanks for commenting!

    Walker Martin said...

    While at a Bordentown NJ pulp show a couple years ago, I was stunned to come across the preliminary cover painting for the first issue of STRANGE STORIES that you show above. True, it's not the finished painting which was used for the cover but it probably doesn't even exist. It was nicely framed and only cost $600, which in the pulp art market is considered a real bargain.

    I really like BEYOND FANTASY FICTION and I especially like this Richard Powers cover. Anyone who collects UNKNOWN should get the 10 issues of BEYOND.

    Todd Mason said...

    BEYOND might've averaged just a tad better than UNKNOWN, for me, albeit UNKNOWN did have nearly four times as many issues to fill, and didn't have its own previous example. It is to be regretted that neither was able to last more than a few years...though both published some minor material, their best was extraordinary. I, too, am in the Powers fan club, from early on in my attention to book and magazine covers...

    One of the odd identifiers I was able to come across in engine-searching the books I mention in my first paragraph was the original cover painting for Witches is remarkable sometimes what survives and what doesn't (though of course the painting for that paperback dated only from the 1970s).

    Prashant C. Trikannad said...

    Todd, this is a terrific post and I mean that even if it sounds cliched in this day and age. I have bookmarked this page on both my home and office computers so I can run through your list of first issues of fantasy and sf magazines whenever I am enticed by the genre which is roughly five times a week. There are times when I merely go through these magazines and comic-books even if I don't have the time for a leisurely read. Many of the names on the lists are familiar and I am beginning to feel just a bit more than a complete novice.