Friday, July 24, 2015


Cover by Frank Kelly Freas

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5/conclusion
This is the fourth in a series of quick looks at the newsstand magazines devoted to fantasy and science fiction, published in the US, which shared retail space and artistic community with the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, which became almost inarguably the most influential and was inarguably the best-selling sf magazine for a period of a year or sos in the early 1950s...though the conventional wisdom, that it was in its own league (or in a league composed only of three elite magazines) when compared to the often impressive existing magazines, and a few (mostly revived) to appear along with it, is, I'd say, unwarranted...1950 was a very good year for the rather large number of such fiction magazines in the US alone, with even the weakest titles having something worth reading about them, and the commercial success of Galaxy (and Startling Stories, and some others)
Cover by Bill Wayne
was often's probably a pity it inspired such a larger glut of several less-distinguished, and several short-lived excellent, competitors by the mid '50s...a pity in the latter case only in 
that they were short-lived and helped create a glut that exceeded the available audience market...though the writers at the time were certainly happy to have the markets...

And all that said, this installment, once we're past Weird Tales, is probably the weakest set of the magazines we'll deal with, as editor Howard Browne had been part of editor and now publisher Raymond A. Palmer's fiction-factory approach to the Ziff-Davis magazines, an approach Palmer carried over to his new Clark Publications magazines...while continuing, much like John W. Campbell, to pursue some paranormal interests beyond sf or fantasy (Browne, for his part, often found it hard to care when his magazines were not budgeted to do much more than continue the bad old methods, and like his old boss Palmer and his assistant Hamling before him, Browne would leave ZD, in his case for Hollywood, in the mid 1950s).

Weird Tales, Inc.; Dorothy McIlwraith, editor
Weird Tales, founded in 1923, is the oldest of the magazines we consider in this series (and the one, at least till the founding of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, probably the most respected in at least the more adventurous corners of the larger literary world) and the first US magazine, at very least, to be established with an only-fantasy-fiction remit (with an obvious emphasis on horror). The second editor, Farnsworth Wright, had been separated from the magazine for health reasons by early 1940, and his approach to the magazine, very Gothic and devoted to, or at least very tolerant of, the most discursive sort of prose, had drawn a devoted audience, and fostered the careers of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Carl Jacobi, Manly Wade Wellman,  Frank Belknap Long and Seabury Quinn, and drawn contributions from writers such as August Derleth, H. Russell Wakefield and Algernon Blackwood who had established themselves elsewhere and sometimes in utterly different modes; as did Long (and, in many ways, Lovecraft), Edmond Hamilton wrote a fair amount of "weird-scientific" science fiction and science-fantasy for the magazine (and they would be joined in that by the young C[atherine]. L. Moore). Meanwhile, (sometimes only slightly) younger writers, some of them corresponding friends with Lovecraft and the other members of his Circle, such as Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Ray Bradbury, Alison V. Harding, Theodore Sturgeon, Margaret St. Clair and Joseph Payne Brennan, often got their eldritch start writing for Wright's WT, with others first contributing to McIlwraith's version of the magazine; but most of the second group (and some of the veterans, such as Wellman) really found their own voices in pages of the more consciously modern magazine under the new regime. McIlwraith was simultaneously editing Short Stories, the general interest pulp slanted toward men (so her editorial credit there was as "D. McIlwraith").

Since there was no October issue (a strange bit of scheduling for such a magazine), I'm cheating by featuring two issues, the September with the even more impressive set of contributors than the November, which in its turn is led off by Fritz Leiber's important early story "The Dead Man"...and has a better cover painting.

(Calvin Thos. Beck, letter-writer cited above, would become most famous in his own right as editor and publisher of Castle of Frankenstein, a fairly sophisticated if utterly fannish magazine about horror film and related matter, but would become even more famous backhandedly, as the model, in his physical appearance and in his relation with his utterly unpleasant and domineering mother, for Robert Bloch's character Norman Bates, in the novel Psycho.)

Cover by Robert Gibson Jones

Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 
editor: Howard Browne 
(assistant editor: 
William Hamling)
Fantastic Adventures, and its stablemate, the oldest theoretically all-sf magazine, Amazing Stories, had been going through quite a lively, jarring time at the turn of the 1950s. Ray Palmer, who had been editor of Amazing since it was purchased by Ziff-Davis in 1938 and founding editor of FA in 1939, had a love for sf and fantasy, but also an itch to challenge authority and otherwise prove he could do nearly anything he set out to do (perhaps in part due to an early accident that left him a very short, hunchbacked man at maturity); he'd taken his mostly adventure-oriented, youth-slanted magazines to the next level in sales by publishing a series of the supposed revelations of aliens among us, Deros who lived in the (hollow) Earth under the surface and tried to control us (the times were ripe for control conspiracies, as I suppose they always are), as somewhat rewritten from submissions by one Richard Shaver; the "Shaver Mystery" had particularly annoyed staffer Howard Browne, primarily a mystery writer but also fond of fantasy fiction, not so much of such "fringe" paranoia. Thus, when Palmer left, in 1949, to devote his time to his own magazine company (founded while still working for Ziff-Davis, Palmer's ownership hidden by pseudonyms), Browne was kicked "upstairs" to the editorial desk--and. ZD in 1950 toyed with the notion of a bigger-budgeted, more sophisticated "slick" magazine version of Amazing, but little came of that; Browne had begun buying some rather better material for the project, but instead it was parceled out in FA and Amazing issues, along with typical "filler" stories and even more trivial short articles in the magazines, business as usual...except, and particularly in what FA published in 1950, there was a fair amount of good to brilliant material. Even with a sequel to L. Ron Hubbard's well-received fantasy Slaves of Sleep and a contribution from the young Mack Reynolds, the October issue was one of the weaker in a year that had seen the magazine offer, in previous months, The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon, You're All Alone by Fritz Leiber, "The Devil with You!" and "The Girl from Mars" by Robert Bloch, Reynolds's "Isolationist" and, in the September issue, Leiber's impressive "The Ship Sails at Midnight" and good stories by August Derleth, "William Tenn" and Lester Del Rey.  And even the staff writers on the magazine, usually churning out the more ephemeral pulp stories, included at times Bloch and such other talented writers as William P. McGivern and Rog Phillips (who both also contributed some more ambitious stories) and Browne himself; Walt Sheldon and Clifford Simak had stories in these issues that rose above the level of most items published under such "house names" as "Alexander Blade". Charles Myers offered Thorne Smith-lite fantasy in his "Toffee" stories, to FA and several other magazines in the 1950s. 
Cover by Robert Gibson Jones
Browne never did like science fiction as well as fantasy, and didn't attempt to hide that fact; he was very vocal about how much he liked the work of Theodore Sturgeon, among a few others, but Sturgeon, like most of his contributors, wrote in both modes with aplomb (if Sturgeon usually better than most others). Browne's Amazing was rarely as impressive as his Fantastic Adventures, when he was trying at all, and when Ziff-Davis finally decided to try a semi-slick, well-budgeted Fantastic in 1953, Browne was almost as happy as if they'd let him revive one of the crime-fiction titles ZD had published in the latter '40s, or start a new one. Amazing in 1950, and in this issue, nonetheless did have several stories from Fredric Brown, Clifford Simak, Rog Phillips, Mack Reynolds and other notable writers.
Cover by Hannes Bok
Clark Publishing Co.; 
Raymond J. Palmer, editor

Imagination also launched with its October 1950 issue, with a gorgeous Hannes Bok cover (one of his best, in a too-short, brilliant career), if perhaps in more of a Maxfield Parrish mode than usual for Bok. The fiction content of the first issue is less well-known, and I've not yet read anything from this issue, so don't know if the often very good Kris Neville's story rises above the typical Ziff-Davis competent hackery that seems to dominate this table of contents, or if among the relatively few stories Willard Hawkins contributed to the fantastic-fiction magazines over the decades, this one is in any way notable.  There is some question as to whether this magazine was published briefly by Palmer solely as a favor to William Hamling, who might've been the real editor and publisher but not quite yet ready to leave his job at Ziff-Davis, as Palmer had the year before after a stealth campaign in founding Clark Publishing and introducing his magazine Other Worlds, and the rather more enduring "nonfiction" title, Fate magazine. In any case, Palmer formally turned "Madge" over to  Hamling in 1951, who published it for several years before getting much more focused on the rather sophisticated Playboy imitator Rogue and from there, as the '60s progressed, onto more-explicit pornography publishing.
Cover by Malcolm Smith

Other Worlds, on the other hand, was definitely Ray Palmer's magazine. The fiction wasn't too likely to impress the reader too much from issue to issue but the personality behind the editorials and blurbs was all RAP, as Palmer often signed himself, and it's notable how much of this issue was written by Rog Phillips (with apparently minor Fredric Brown and Randall Garrett stories among the others). Palmer had a partner in publishing Fate magazine, and eventually took on a partner in editing OW, Bea Mahaffey. After a couple of years, Other Worlds was actually "split" into two magazines, with a general understanding that perhaps Universe Science Fiction (going Galaxy one better) was mostly Mahaffey's project, and Science Stories (again with some impressive Bok cover illustration) was more Palmer's, but I have no idea to what degree that's accurate. It is well-known that probably the most important story Universe published, in its first issue under that title, was Theodore Sturgeon's "The World Well Lost," which is the first story in newsstand sf magazines to present a positive portrayal of a homosexual couple (of aliens in this case) and make the case against homophobic discrimination.  Eventually, the two titles were reincorporated into one, and a year or so after Palmer sold his interest in Fate, he changed the title of Other Worlds to Flying Saucers from Other Worlds and continued that title as a "non-fiction" UFOlogy title for some years. 
Concluding installment tomorrow, if the crick don't rise...dealing with some of the best magazines in the field, though unfortunately for them pulp magazines and thus doomed to fold in 1955 as that form of publishing was dying: Planet Stories, Startling Stories and their stablemates.

Images and indices from ISFDB and Galactic Central. 

For more of today's more typical Friday Books entries, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


Unknown said...

My God, you make me feel old. Well, I am OLD! How I wish I could time travel back to the era you so wonderfully showcase in your posting. Life really seemed better then, if only because of the great magazines you feature. Thanks for time travel adventure.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, RT...sorry you're getting the post so slowly as it develops, and hope that isn't too much a tease in your memory-hopping...

Walker Martin said...

You are right about this being the weakest set of magazines so far in your series. Except for WEIRD TALES of course. Though I love the 1930's issues of WT, I also think the 1940's and 1950's issues are not as bad as many say. However there is no doubt that AMAZING, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, OTHER WORLDS, and IMAGINATION, all were sub-par fiction magazines compared to GALAXY or F&SF and some of the other quality titles like STARTLING and THRILLING WONDER under Sam Merwin and Sam Mines.

As you point out, there were some exceptions as far a quality fiction even in AMAZING and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES but OTHER WORLDS and MADGE were pretty hopeless.

I'm looking forward to your comments on STARTLING, THRILLING WONDER and PLANET.

Todd Mason said...

Walker, McIlwraith's WEIRD TALES was waaaay better than Wright's. Wright's might've had a more distinctive feel, but that was often a much more boring distinctive feel. McIlwraith's magazine was popping, and it, like FANTASTIC ADVENTURES under Browne, benefited from the old UNKNOWN crew not having too many places to go with their fiction they couldn't place in F&SF.

Unknown said...

WEIRD TALES and OTHER WORLDS never showed up in my old hometown. However, as hopeless as MADGE, AMAZING, and FANTASTIC may have been, I loved 'em.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Browne's FANTASTIC was prettty good, on balance...Paul Fairman's pretty dire with exceptional stories here and there...and those exceptional stories pulled out of the slush pile by his assistant, Cele Goldsmith, who succeeded him as editor and did a pretty excellent job with both magazines (Browne's AMAZING wasn't as good as his FANTASTIC, much as it wasn't as good as his FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, even when AMAXING was upgraded in 1952...Fairman's also was a shade less interesting, and of course his term saw the spinoff of the slightly more wish-fulfillment/sex-teasing magazine DREAM WORLD for a few issues).

And Mike Ashley, another who has read a fair amount of the 1950s issues as well, always found even the weakest FANTASTICs at least somewhat engaging, in a way that AMAZING was less so.

I think IMAGINATION was a Very uneven magazine throughout its run that did indeed offer some quite good material. And a lot that was so-so. I'd say it averaged better than quite a few 1950s magazines, eventually, if never first-rate from issue to issue.

Todd Mason said...

MADGE was also strong on fannish features, even if Mari Wolf's fanzine reviews could be "controversial"...eventual stablemate IMAGINATIVE TALES was good for long stories of more Thorne Smith-esque nature initially, many by Charles Myers or Roberr Bloch.

George said...

I loved these magazines! One of my favorites was IMAGINATIVE TALES. Those Thorne Smith pastiches really resonated when I was a teenager!

Todd Mason said...

It is rather a pity that IT went over to being just another minor sf magazine after a couple of years...end ending its run with the title SPACE TRAVEL (albeit the first issue with the new title was better than most later issues).

Todd Mason said...

AsMike Ashley and Brian Stableford note about IMAGINATION in THE SCIENCE FICTION ENCYCLOPEDIA:

Tucked away within Imagination, however, are some surprising stories. Ray Bradbury's "The Fire Balloons" first appeared here under the title "In This Sign" (April 1951), one of his later Martian Chronicles stories. Robert Sheckley debuted here with "Final Examination" (May 1952). "The Lonely" (July 1955) by William F Temple turns on the idea that the last man on Earth might be gay.

Imagination never really built upon its potential and despite running some innovative material, especially the work of Daniel F Galouye, relied on the old regulars [from the fiction-factory days at Ziff-Davis].

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