Thursday, July 23, 2015

US newsstand speculative fiction magazines at the time of the debut of GALAXY: part 3

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5/conclusion
Cover by Edd Cartier
Street and Smith Publications; 
John W. Campbell, Jr., editor
As Robert Silverberg's note in Part 1 suggests, readers and aspiring writers like himself were flabbergasted by the first year or so of Galaxy, not least by the new work by many of the writers who had written for Astounding SF who were able to take up new modes and topics unwelcome at the older magazine, as Campbell began to show signs of restlessness as editor of his magazine, in the lucky 13th year...he'd begun to start pushing fringe-science (at best) ideas on his more receptive writers, despite the "hard science" reputation and theoretical hard-sf aspirations of ASF. Writers such as Isaac Asimov and Alfred Bester wrote far less for Campbell in the 1950s, Bester particularly put off by JWC's advocacy for Dianetics, which gets its second ASF article in this issue. Theodore Sturgeon and Fritz Leiber, stars of both ASF and Campbell's long-folded fantasy magazine Unknown, also found other markets more receptive, not least Galaxy, F&SF, Weird Tales and Howard Browne at Fantastic Adventures and the other Ziff-Davis magazines. Barry Malzberg and Bill Pronzini, with their anthology The End of Summer, made a case that ASF was still a potent force in sf in the '50s (not least because of contributors such as Hal Clement, Mark Clifton, Poul Anderson and Campbell protege Algis Budrys, one of whose stories provided the title for the anthology, but even receptive writers such as former Futurian James Blish started to feel the strain of keeping Campbell happy through indulging his fascination with "psi" powers (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.--eventually even dowsing) and perpetual-motion machines and the like. Campbell had really loved his fantasy magazine, and there was an increasing amount of science fantasy running through ASF about that time, and reaching perhaps its most blatant expression in Randall Garrett's often excellent Lord D'Arcy stories in later years.  Meanwhile, stalwart ASF writers such as L. Sprague de Camp were also finding other markets as well in the '50s, but were still regular contributors to JWC's magazine...particularly if they didn't run afoul of another of Campbell's crotchets, that in any encounter, humans had to be played up as the most intelligent or otherwise superior species; this along with JWC's increasingly right-wing views...which didn't stop him from publishing radical leftists such as Mack Reynolds, but such classic ASF stories as Clifford Simak's "Desertion" and T. L. Sherred's "E for Effort" apparently started sticking in his craw after publication (and Reynolds would often publish his most explicitly political and economics-related stories in F&SF and elsewhere).

Cover by Milton Luros
Columbia Publications; 
Robert W. Lowndes, editor
Of all the former Futurian editors to take the desk at fiction magazines up through 1950 (including Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Damon Knight and, at romance magazines, "Leslie Perri"), Robert Lowndes was the only one to have his magazines last more than a handful of years, albeit publisher Louis Silberkleit, aka Louie the Lug in Futurian "in-house" fanzines, would suspend or combine titles readily, then spin them off again or revive them when circumstances looked more promising. Co-founder of Archie Comics (which made him a lot more money than the Columbia fiction magazines did), Silberkleit never wanted to pay more than a cent per word for the fiction and features in the sf/fantasy, crime-fiction, western, sports-fiction and other pulps and eventually digests Lowndes and a very few others would edit for him; Lowndes had become Science Fiction Stories and Future editor in 1941, when founding editor Charles Hornig was imprisoned for conscientious objection during WW2, and Lowndes would soon be editing most of the titles at Columbia, till the chain's folding altogether in 1960. In fact, I suspect that Lowndes might've eventually edited more fiction magazine titles than nearly anyone else, as he began to edit another slew of titles in the 1960s, beginning with the Magazine of Horror in 1963. In 1950, Columbia had just revived their sole sf title (they would have four by 1952, including the revived Science Fiction and Science Fiction Quarterly), and even with a paltry budget, Lowndes was receiving at least good stories from de Camp (the previous issue of Future includes another story from the same series as the October ASF cover story), along with stories from other ASF regulars. The time-honored tradition of tapping the other ex-Futurians for (at least) good (enough) copy continues here, with stories from Damon Knight and James Blish, Isaac Asimov, Walter Kubilius; future skin-magazine publisher Milton Luros does much of the illustration, including the cover, while former Astounding star George O. Smith contributes a novella; Smith and Campbell's first wife had fallen for each other,  and a divorce and marriage soon followed, putting serious strain on relations between Smith and JWC. Blish's commonly quoted metaphor about Lowndes's editorial work is that he was a master at "making bricks without straw." Lowndes's magazines were often home to experimental work, or stories that were problematic for other magazines (Lowndes published Philip "William Tenn" Klass's "The Liberation of Earth" after Galaxy had rejected it, fearing McCarthyite Red-baiting might follow its publication); Lowndes "discovered" at least two major writers in his 1950s magazines: Edward D. Hoch and Carol Emshwiller. 

Stadium Publishing Co.; 
Robert O. Erisman, editor 
(Daniel Keyes, assistant editor)
It would probably be too much to say that publisher Martin Goodman was a protege of Louis Silberkleit (of Columbia, above), but Silberkleit did hire Goodman for his first job in the magazine industry, and with his help Goodman went on to found his own pulp and comics lines. 1938 saw the first issue of Marvel Science Stories, edited throughout its long-gap-ridden history by Erisman, with the assistance of the future author of "Flowers for Algernon" in the 1950 revival, which began almost simultaneously with Galaxy's appearance (possibly not a coincidence). Back in 1939, Goodman tried his first comic, which borrowed the pulp's title and was issued as Marvel Comics, the first expression of an eventual line of books now utterly obscure and totally forgotten, except when one contemplates a notable fraction of current US television drama and a rather larger proportion of the most popular films of the last decade. Given its graphic cousin's rather remarkable career, Marvel Science Stories had a rather marginal run in comparison, although it was notable as the first sf magazine to try to be mildly "spicy" (Henry Kuttner wrote a number of the contributions for those issues), and slightly later went full-bore "shudder pulp" for two issues, the only newsstand sf magazine to do so, so far (with the arguable exception of devolution of the late 1950s digest Saturn, with founding editor Donald Wollheim leaving when the publisher changed its title and nature into a minor hardboiled crime-fiction magazine, [briefly SaturnWeb Detective Stories, and then onto a revival of s&m "shudder" as Web Terror Stories). The 1950s revival didn't have quite so colorful a history; good contributors, usually, but not too much in the way of memorable fiction.

Cover by "R. Crowl"
Avon Publications; 
Donald A. Wollheim, editor 
And now back to Donald Wollheim, my review of whose collection of short stories led (along with my finally citing the Galaxy: 30 Years anthology) to this little survey series. Among Wollheim's tendencies as a book editor (the Avon Fantasy Reader and the eventual SF Reader companion were arguably digest-sized paperbacks) was his utter delight in coming up with lurid "commercial" titles, hence the name change on the Robert Howard story in this issue. The Fantasy Reader was in many ways Wollheim's attempt to continue (as well as reprint from) Weird Tales as it had been edited by Farnsworth Wright, rather than by his more modernizing successor Dorothy McIlwraith, and it was Wollheim's first (arguable) magazine with a fully professional budget. The Bradbury story was seeing its first US magazine/anthology appearance here, though it had already been published in Bradbury's collection The Martian Chronicles earlier that year (its first appearance, also earlier that year, had been in the Canadian magazine Maclean's). As this magazine (or book) was mostly but not entirely a reprint title, somewhat less ex-Futurian material appeared here than in most of the old gang's magazines, though some certainly did in other issues/volumes. 

This one, conversely, was not only a no-bones-about-it magazine, it was also the first (among English-language newsstand fantasy/sf magazines, in any case) to try incorporating full-color comics into a pulp magazine format. This was the first of only two issues; despite the heavy overlap between the pulp and comics publishers, apparently there wasn't quite as much overlap between the various kinds of magazines' readers, or at least not enough to make this title a success. (You can read this issue online at The notable ex-Futurian contribution here is the comics script by John Michel, who had a relatively short and troubled life and career; that the comics center-section had at least been planned as a standalone comic book is indicated by the presence of a prose vignette by Wollheim himself in its center, placed there as in most comics of its time and for many years after so as to get periodical mailing rates that comics without such text-only features were denied, for some reason. 
Indices and cover images courtesy of ISFDB and Galactic Central

...More to come...


Walker Martin said...

They really had some eye catching cover art in 1950. Really nicely done but as the fifties progressed, the cover art became more conservative. I've always had a weakness for Bergey and his babes, bums, and bug eyed monsters.

Todd Mason said...

He certainly got more qualified (barely "obscured" by sheer clothing) nudity onto the covers of STARTLING STORIES and its companions (coming up in this roundelay) than PLAYBOY almost has ever dared.

I do like the less garish art, usually, but there is a certain charm to cheesecake (and for others, beefcake) done cleverly and well.

Unknown said...

I'm with Walker on the covers. Maybe you had to be there (and I was) to understand what an impact they had on a kid in the '50s, and I'm not talking about only the ones with BEMs and near nudity. There were some real sense-of-wonder covers, too. Or they were for me. Even seeing them today gives me a little thrill.

Todd Mason said...

Well, you know, the 1970s covers (as well as some of the older ones as i'd see them) had the same effect on young me...

Todd Mason said...

Though the sedate EQMM or clumsier AHMM covers maybe not so much...