Friday, May 3, 2013

FFB: Some anthologies from WEIRD TALES, a quick survey:

What's good about it: It's a typically entertaining (for editor Peter Haining) slice through the history of the original magazine, and features facsimile pages reprints, and an attempt to give the flavor of what reading the magazine itself was like.

What's less good: A weakness or a strength or both, depending on how one looks at it (and also typical of Haining anthologies): it avoids the chestnuts for less-often reprinted work from the magazine, and thus is less representative than it could and perhaps should be.

(all indices, except where noted, from ISFDB:)

5 •  Weird Tales (masthead) • (1941) • interior artwork by Hannes Bok
7 • Introduction (Weird Tales) • (1976) • essay by Peter Haining
20 •  Weird Tales • (1936) • interior artwork by Margaret Brundage (variant of Cover: Weird Tales, March 1936)

What's good about it: Another fine anthology mining mostly  (but by no means entirely) under-reprinted and overlooked work from the magazine. Not quite facsimile reprinting, but the original illustrations are often included. The average quality of the fiction here perhaps just a skosh better than in the Haining.

What's less good: The same problem applies...not as representative of the magazine as it could be, by avoiding the popular classics as much as possible. Though that is definitely less of a problem here.

What's good about it (and less so): Bang for your buck, certainly, even though if by its nature emphasizes the shorter stories from the magazine. As a result, of course, it slights a Lot of the best work from the magazine, but is part of a series of short short story and vignette anthologies from its editors and publisher, and is (if I remember correctly) the only one where all the contents were taken from one magazine (including some reprints that magazine offered in its issues). Rather bad cover.

  • What's good about it: The earliest of the WT retrospectives to make an effort to include examples from the various revivals of the title, post-1954; a nice, fat collection of (as with most) a preponderance of less-well-known work.
What's less good: Avoiding the classics does tend to misrepresent the magazine, or in this case magazines (and a periodical book series). 
What's good about it: One of the co-founders of the 1990s revival checks in with another anthology which covers the range of the magazine's revivals...

What's less so: ...but does so mostly by slighting the earlier versions of the magazine in favor of the 1990s revival. Again, an attempt to collect less familiar work, or in this case sweeten the pot of a best-of the most recent revival (a little less than half the book is from the most recent version), leaves a rather incomplete picture of the magazine and its legacy.

...and, from a 2009 FFB review:

The Contento Index of this anthology:

The Unexpected ed. Leo Margulies (Pyramid G590, Feb ’61, 35¢, 160pp, pb) 
6 · Introduction · Leo Margulies · in 
7 · The Professor’s Teddy-Bear · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48 
17 · Legal Rites [Pohl as James MacCreigh] · Isaac Asimov & Frederik Pohl · nv Weird Tales Sep ’50 
42 · The Strange Island of Dr. Nork · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Mar ’49 
60 · Mrs. Hawk · Margaret St. Clair · ss Weird Tales Jul ’50 
67 · The Handler · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales Jan ’47 
76 · The Automatic Pistol · Fritz Leiber · ss Weird Tales May ’40 
91 · The Unwanted · Mary Elizabeth Counselman · ss Weird Tales Jan ’51 
102 · The Valley Was Still · Manly Wade Wellman · ss Weird Tales Aug ’39 
115 · The Scrawny One · Anthony Boucher · vi Weird Tales May ’49 
119 · Come and Go Mad · Fredric Brown · nv Weird Tales Jul ’49 
154 · The Big Shot · Eric Frank Russell · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49 

Of all the anthologies drawn from the fiction published in Weird Tales, this might be the only one (certainly the only one I've seen) which draws entirely from the Dorothy McIlwraith years of the magazine, 1940-1954. Given how often Farnsworth Wright, her predecessor (editor from 1924, after the magazine's weathervaning first year, to 1939), is often credited for all the Important and Creative work WT published, this was a pretty extraordinary idea for 1960 (published in early '61)...albeit most of the writers collected here were at least as potent commercial forces at mid-century as Lovecraft, Howard, or, certainly, Clark Ashton Smith or Seabury Quinn. (As well as being generally better artists, but that's my opinion, if one shared by any number of other not merely contrarian observers.)

This is a nice mix of classics (the Wellman, the Brown, to some extent the Sturgeon--a collection of Sturgeon's horror and suspense fiction is overdue, perhaps particularly as the Complete Stories project comes to a close--and the Leiber) and relatively obscure stories (most of the rest...nearly all of whose authors had written better-known fiction for WT, aside from Pohl and Asimov, whose minor but not-bad story was their only WT appearance--and only formal collaboration, I think, till their nonfiction book Our Angry Earth shortly before Asimov's death). That odd quality makes me wonder if Sam Moskowitz ghost-edited this one, as he did the other WT anthos attributed to Margulies and published by Pyramid at about the same time...Weird Tales and Worlds of Weird (the latter cited some months back by James Reasoner as his forgotten book). Then again, D.R. Bensen, who edited for that excellent paperback house Pyramid, and who was solely responsible for two fine anthologies from Unknown, might've done more than shepherd this one through the process (Pyramid did an impressive set of Harlan Ellison reissues in the mid 1970s, among much else, before being eaten up and spat out by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the latest '70s as the Jove Books line...the elegant packaging of most 1970s Pyramid Books, at least the ones I remember, abandoned for some real insults to the eye). (Late bulletin: I'll have to admit the 1972 Pyramid edition of Robert Heinlein's The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, retitled for that issue 6xH, as in "Six by Heinlein," has a quite unappealing attempt at psychedelic cover illustration, as well as an awkward new title...I happened to pull this one out of a box this morning while looking for something else.)

Margulies, of course, had purchased the WT inventory and rights from Short Stories, Inc., after the latter's 1954 collapse, and briefly published a Weird Tales magazine revival in 1973-74, with Moskowitz as editor (Margulies had more sustained success with Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, which he published from 1956 up till his death in the latter 1970s (it lasted for several more years in other hands), and his other projects in the post-pulp era included Satellite Science Fiction in the latter '50s, The Man from U*N*C*L*E Magazine[and The Girl...] during the TV series' runs, a revival of Zane Grey Western Magazine around the turn of the 1970s, and Charlie Chan Mystery Magazine in the early '70s). 

Mary Elizabeth Counselman and particularly Margaret St. Clair have been entirely too overlooked in recent years, as have, to a lesser extent, Eric Frank Russell and Anthony Boucher, though at least as a critic and fan of crime fiction, Boucher is in print and memorialized by the annual world convention. Of the four, Counselman didn't publish much fiction outside of WT...while St. Clair was able to get almost naked horror into Galaxy magazine at its early '50s first peak. John Campbell used the excuse of a Russell novella to found his fantasy magazine, Unknown, which had a fruitful interplay with McIlwraith's WT. And, of course, Bloch and Bradbury were the hottest stars of McIlwraith's WT, here represented by insufficiently representative stories, but they'll do.

See if you can find a copy, perhaps without the shillings and pence shouldn't be be too hard.

Find more Friday Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog

...and more to come with this post, as well...


J F Norris said...

I have a copy of that last paperback book. Came in a lot of books I purchased for two other titles. Turned out this one had a load of good and hard to find stories. I was especially glad to read the Margaret St. Clair tale "Mrs. Hawk" having recently seen the "Thriller" TV adpatation with the magnificent Jo Van Fleet in the title role and Bruce Dern turning in in a cameo as one of her first victims.

What's so wrong about anthologies that reprint the lesser known works? I tire of finding collections with so many oft reprinted stories. Sometiems when the balance is too heavy on the "far too familiar" side I won't buy the collection even if it has two or three stories I've never heard of.

Todd Mason said...

Well, as I note, it's an arguable strength, avoiding the overfamiliar, as well as flaw--if what one hopes to do, at least in part, is to present what WEIRD TALES was and/or is. Leaving out the most important, influential and/or popular stories from almost all these books does tend to weaken their representational qualities. You don't see Too many other magazines treated thus so frequently. There simply hasn't yet been a definitive WEIRD TALES antho, in the way that many of its peers have been represented.