Friday, March 25, 2016

FFB: HARRY HARRISON! HARRY HARRISON!: A MEMOIR by Harry Harrison (Tor 2014); DAVID G. HARTWELL: IN MEMORIAM edited by Kevin J. Maroney, Kris Dikeman and Avram Grumer (NY Review of Science Fiction/ICFA 2016)

The image is of a small stainless-steel rat, a
reference to HH's most sustained fictional series
character, and his unflattering nickname...
I've mentioned Harry Harrison's memoir here some weeks back, in the course of describing his brief editorial career at the Ultimate Publishing Co., when he edited Fantastic Stories and Amazing Science Fiction Stories in 1967-68; its perhaps too adorable title is a harkening to one of the most famous novels in Harrison's career, Make Room! Make Room!, adapted poorly for film as Soylent Green. Reading it through, one is struck by how obviously it was a first draft, as it is presented here...passages are redundant or unclear, and a large part of the book, not quite the latter half, is devoted to essay drafts that Harrison had intended to more seamlessly blend into the narrative of the book, devoted to his relation with John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor essentially the most important to Harrison emotionally and, for some of his early fiction-writing career, financially (even if Damon Knight and Hans Stefan Santesson were also to play major roles for Harrison similarly), and to the circumstances around some of HH's most important books. I was also impressed by how little of the main narrative of the book is about writing or his writing process, or even his
Harrison's third novel, and first crime-
fiction (and ghosted) book.
interaction with fellow writers, editors and fans in the science fiction and related communities, even though they are touched on as events warrant, as opposed to the adventures Harrison, his wife Joan and their children (eventually) have in living abroad and coming back to the States, as well as the formative experiences of Harrison's childhood and mostly unpleasant experiences as a draftee into the World War II US Army (Harrison doesn't let us forget how much he hated his military experience and the military mindset, among other sorts of officiousness). It's definitely memoir rather than autobiography, as certain matters are elided altogether (Harrison's first wife, Evelyn, is not mentioned anywhere in the text), and others are dealt with only as much as necessary (such as Harrison's career as a comics artist and writer, and eventually packager for some of the lower-rent comics publishers of the early 1950s). We do learn a fair amount about how the Harrison family was able to make do, sometimes comfortably and sometimes less so, as voluntary expatriates in the 1950s in Mexico, Italy, Denmark and the UK, and about Harrison's partnership with Brian Aldiss in a number of projects (including the anthology Hell's Cartographers, which includes a shorter but more polished memoir by Harrison, among five other autobiographical essays by sf writers including Aldiss's).  His passions, not least his love and admiration for his second and lifelong wife, are marked, as are such enthusiasms as for Esperanto and how they might help from time to time. The similarities to such other late memoirs by Harrison's colleagues as I. Asimov and the also to-have-been-rewritten entries in Frederik Pohl's The Way the Future Blogs (named in its turn for Pohl's much earlier memoir) are there, though Harrison maintains in this book a lot of the circumspection that one finds in Pohl's The Way the Future Was and to some extent in Asimov's earlier two-volume autobiography; Pohl in his blogging and Asimov particularly in his third autobiography, written as he was going into his final months, were often more plainspoken. This was clearly not quite the book Harrison hoped to publish, but it remains valuable and engaging.

David G. Hartwell was the editor for this and other Harrison books at Tor, among the many editorial posts and valuable work Hartwell had contributed over his half-century in and around the fantastic-fiction field (as noted previously on this blog, among his projects had been The Little Magazine, a notable journal for poetry particularly and not at all restricted to the fantasticated). Hartwell fell while carrying bookshelves on a stairwell, and never regained consciousness, earlier this year, and the suddenness of his death was not a little of what one feels in the remembrances in this special issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction, made available, at least temporarily, for download without charge; NYRSF is one of the literary children of Hartwell's, which he co-founded, and -edited for almost three decades. While he wasn't the only progenitor of the more literate work published in the fields over that time, he might've been the most consistently on-hand, and his interests ranged from keeping oral traditions alive on through to keeping an editorial hand in with all the media through which fiction is offered, not least being one of the editors of the short-fiction forum It is through one of the remembrances here, for example, that one might learn why Harry Harrison doesn't mention his first wife Evelyn at all in his book; their brief marriage was marked by her acting out sexually in ways that were rather extreme even for the rather bed-hopping community that the sf community could be in the early 1950s.  What the various and impressive set of celebrants in the special issue do get across more importantly is the depth of the loss, personally and professionally and in terms of scholarship, the death of Hartwell creates in the field. This will probably not be the final form of this memorial, but it's an excellent start for the kind of task no one looks forward to taking on, except for the opportunity to say what should be said.

For more of what should be said about today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

SF magazines Head-to-head: PLANET STORIES, Summer 1949 and ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, October 1949 (FFM)

Something I wrote for the FictionMags list in 2004, dusted off in part for Paul Fraser's new project of reviewing older magazines, and providing links to others' similar reviews:

Head-to-head: PLANET STORIES, Summer 1949 and ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, October 1949.

Why? Well, since I'd never read an entire issue of either magazine (ANALOGs, yes, but never an ASTOUNDING), it seemed time. I have three pairs of PLANETs and ASFs from near contemporaneity, and this pair is the earliest, from that period wherein F&SF had finally launched, GALAXY and the Palmer/Hamling magazines were about to lead the boom, and THRILLING WONDER and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and their stablemates were beginning to pick up some artistic steam. 

Why these two magazines? One can still ruffle some feathers by suggesting that Campbell was any less than a god among editors, particularly in '40s, and PLANET is the title (perhaps deservedly in its Peacock years?) most likely to be dismissed, perhaps with a nostalgic grin. For example, from Arthur Hlavaty's June [2004] Nice Distinctions account of this year's ICFA:

A paper written by Amelia Beamer and Aimee Sutherland showed how 
Astounding's multiplicity of appeals (particularly cerebral) helped 
it survive the 50s collapse of the pulp market when Planet Stories 
didn't. [Nice Distinctions general archive]

--Note that this, as described, keeps up the party line about 
respective content without apparently taking into account the 
relative financial security of Street & Smith, and then Conde Nast and its successors as Analog publishers, vs. Fiction House...whose sole surviving publication, for a year or so before the American News [all-but-monoply magazine distributor] dismemberment, apparently was PLANET. [I'll need to double-check this...perhaps they still had a comic or two and/or crime-fiction magazine....]

And as I read these, week before last (I was fighting the flu and 
not working my usual ridiculous hours, so found some time to fit 
them in), I noted that there were odd parallels, story to story, in 
the two issues at hand.

Editors: rarely-discussed Paul L. Payne (to what extent under the 
thumb of Malcolm Reiss?--Jerome Bixby might already be on staff, as he's working at Love Romances at that point) and monument JWC, Jr (who in this issue gives his ham radio call sign under his name in the masthead...I'd 
not previously been aware that this was one of his hobbies, but it 
seems natural. Later issues I have don't offer this).

April probably would've liked this one, too.

An ugly, if suitably (and goofily) fraught Allen Anderson (the beast of burden clearly came directly from a carousel) vs. an ugly, if suitably dour and relatively subtle, Alejandro Canedo. Frank Robinson noted the homophobic reaction to a later, slightly more "in-focus" Canedo male nude ASF cover in his SF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, fan references to JWC's "girlfriend." My friend April likes the Canedo here.

Most notorious writers: PLANET: Stanley Mullen; ASF: L. Ron Hubbard. They live down to expectations. See below. (Mullen gets explicit cover mention, Hubbard much better Ed Cartier illustrations than his story deserves.)

Least well-known writers: PLANET offers the only published work I'm aware of credited to one C. J. Wedlake; it's a minor problem-story.  
E. L. Locke's ASF story-of-sorts, "The Finan-Seer," amounts to an extended "Probability Zero" entry, and not a good one; Locke mostly 
wrote nonfiction for ASF. (John R. Pierce [as JJ Coupling, clearly the ball-bearing mousetrap of ASF pseudonyms] and L. Sprague de Camp [with a pre-plate tectonics piece on continental faults] provide much better entertainment and information with straightforward 
nonfiction in ASF; the closest thing to this in the PLANET is an odd page of cheerleading for space exploration, an illustration which has a very Buck Rogers-esque spaceship leaving a planet, with "TDCUAIN" on its side--we are told that that stands for "Technical Development Committee on Upper Atmosphere and Interplanetary Navigation"--without also telling us who formed the committee or in what context.)

Lead stories: Leigh Brackett's "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (PS) is the first Eric John Stark story I've read, and a fine one; Chan 
Davis's "The Aristocrat" (ASF) is only the second or third story by 
him that I've read--he doesn't handle prose here as deftly as 
Brackett, but his points are taken. They are both intelligent and 
unsurprisingly leftist adventures involving intelligent barbarians 
showing the smug heirarchs a thing or three--clearly a plot 
structure built to appeal to the SFnal mind. In "Queen," Stark has 
been asked to infiltrate a conspiracy to overthrow the current 
Martian city-states and subjugate them to a false populist and his 
immortal puppetmasters; Davis's Aristocrat is part of a sickly race 
of thinly-spread "normal" humans, who serve as a sort of priesthood 
attempting to preserve the American culture of pre-atomic war while 
living parasitically off the healthier, if simpler, mutant humans in 
the villages which dot the countryside...and what happens when an 
intelligent, "normal"-seeming healthy mutant woman is brought to 
live with our anti-hero. Neither of these would've cut it as Popular 
Front propaganda--in both cases, agents of the ruling class 
eventually help our proletarian forces-for-good, after becoming 
suitably enlightened...then again, perhaps they would. Refreshing 
after too many post-STARSHIP TROOPERS adventure-sf experiences, 
particularly those by Pournelle. In terms of sophistication--both 
stories at about the same level.

Next up, problem stories, by steady hands. Both stories goofy. 
Raymond F. Jones's "Production Test" (ASF) doesn't convince, even in 
these post-Challenger days, that the production-design flaw in the 
spacesuit the protag manufactures would've gotten as far as it did, 
nor that the way he foolishly goes about testing it, to get him into 
the problem-predicament that he (of course) bests by the end, 
wouldn't be much harder to achieve. But, gosh there's snappy 
engineer/entrepreneur talk. Likewise in "The Madcap Metalloids" 
(PS), W. V. Athanas, who wrote little for SF magazines but a fair 
amount of fiction in magazines generally (as the FictionMags Index 
suggests), poses a problem for two spacemen and their ship 
improbably gravitationally snared by an asteroid, which happily has 
liquid metallic lifeforms on it, which are also telepathic to a degree, and willing to help an old spacer out, thanks to their amusing means of locomotion. And, gosh, there's snappy old space-dog talk. Speaking of dogs, both these stories use "dog" as a verb in a way that I take it was much more common in the late '40s than now, seeming to mean (Athanas is better at suggesting this than Jones) slowly working one's way into a sleeve or other tight-fitting space. 
The lapses in science in the Athanas are met incident for incident 
by lapses of good sense in the Jones, and the Athanas is more 
colorful, if also more improbable. A wash, though I could see 
unsophisticated engineers and their fans finding the Jones a more 
mature reading experience.

Poul Anderson's "Time Heals" (ASF) is a fine story, particularly for 
a very young lion still, which, along with Allen Kim Lang's much 
later "Thaw and Serve," is one of the grimmest of takes on the 
concept flaws of suspended animation/cryonics I've read. It's fun 
watching Anderson learn how to handle infodumping, and taking in the 
charming crudeness of conception of his posited multiculti future 
clans, here. As with Brackett's story, only perhaps more fervidly, 
the highly commercial yet also exotic naughtiness of describing 
cultures wherein women wear nothing to cover nor support their 
breasts is enjoyed by the author.

Then, the real shitpiles. Stanley Mullen's childish excuse for 
importing the Mickey Spillane idiom into space opera (PS's "S.O.S. 
Aphrodite!") is matched in awfulness by a gassy attempt at Thorne 
Smith/Damon Runyon humor from LRH ("The Auto-Magic Horse"). These 
are the second-longest stories in their respective issues; Mullen's 
past-mastery of Thoggish and Hubbard's description of a charming 
charlatan with a hidden agenda, and his remarkably loyal and adept 
but idiot-savant sidekicks--all of which sounds 
to me like a working out 
1955...the last issue...Freas/Anderson...
of a plan for the Very Near Future in 1949 by Hubbard--help keep these bad stories almost worthy of the time wasted reading them. The slavish devotion of both Mullen and Hubbard to certain retrograde notions of femininity, even for those post-Rosie the Riveter times, also help make the stories seem even more insane than 
they might otherwise.

To be continued...not to keep you in suspense, though, the two issues don't strike me as being notably different in sophistication, quality, nor often even in approach, though obviously PLANET preferred the more exotic environment when possible, ASTOUNDING the more familiar (or at very least more grounded). Don't know if these were two unusual 
...1955, Freas/Anderson...
issues for some reason...but one of my two other pairs, from 1955, make the two magazines (both prominently featuring Poul Anderson stories on Kelly Freas covers) look like they could be stablemates.

Second post, leading off with some corrections to the first:

-- In, Todd Mason wrote:

> Head-to-head: PLANET STORIES, Summer 1949 and ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, October 1949. Frank Robinson noted the homophobic reaction to a later, slightly more "in-focus" Canedo male nude ASF cover in his SF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, fan references to JWC's "girlfriend."
--Actually, the popular reference apparently was to "John's other wife."

> Next up, problem stories, by steady hands. Both stories goofy.
> Raymond F. Jones's "Production Test" (ASF) doesn't convince [...] 
But, gosh there's snappy engineer/entrepreneur talk.
--Including, or and also, gratuitous reminders of General 
Semantics...was this a JWC as well as van Vogt obsession in 
the '40s, or simply appealed to the Deep engineers or such writers 
as Jones?

> To be continued...not to keep you in suspense, though, the two
> issues don't strike me as being notably different in 
> quality, nor often even in approach, though obviously PLANET
> preferred the more exotic environment when possible, ASTOUNDING 
the more familiar. Don't know if these were two unusual
> issues for some reason...but one of my two other pairs, from 1955,
> make the two magazines (both prominently featuring Poul Anderson
> stories on Kelly Freas covers) look like they could be stablemates.
--Of course, it helps that the later issues both had sans-serif block-letter logos 
by then, as well. Perhaps attesting to the influence of JWC and his 
magazine even beyond the literary.

Kris Neville's "Cold War" (ASF) and Alfred Coppel's "The 
Starbusters" (PS) are interesting, incompletely successful stories.  
Neville's involves a US-dominated world, wherein manned arsenal 
satellites engirdle the globe, and the soldiers stationed in these 
are starting to regularly crack under the strain of being angels of 
death. Much realpolitikal jumping from one sequence to another of 
our noble President doing what he Has to do to keep the Pax 
Americana, with the author's implied support of the notion that We 
Are, after all, the Good Guys. But a precursor to those stories 
(and news reports) of our nuclear missile launch technicians 
refusing to Do Their Duty to kill a good part of the world. I 
wonder how appalled Neville actually was by the scenario; JWC 
certainly seems amusedly troubled by it, in his blurb [please see Barry Malzberg's comment, below]. The Coppel is a bit of a mess: somewhat hurriedly attempting to be a Corps story and deal with the implications of anti-matter (or contraterrene, here) as a weapon, it also features a bunch of soldiers realizing that perhaps genocide against their enemies (via 
forcing a star to go nova) may not be the most noble of victories--
and that crew is fully integrated sexually (equally important jobs 
all around), a recognition of the future probability of that kind of 
egalitarianism to a much greater degree than any other story in 
either issue by anyone. (And, keeping up with the odd parallels, 
both these stories begin with apparatus--the Neville with a 
recruiting poster, the Coppel with what amounts to a telegram--so 
not uniformly predictive!)

Margaret St. Clair has an interesting short in "Garden of Evil" 
(PS), wherein a foolhardy ethnographer goes off with a humanoid 
woman, who leads him to the doom that the reader is expecting from 
about the second column of the first page, but is also expecting to 
be baited and switched. A non-twist ending, although the guide 
woman herself seems a bit confused; just before having our protag 
killed, she implies he's to report back to the human authorities.  
But elegantly evocative, and gleefully antiromantic.

The final stories in each issue are crucially concerned with 
telepathy (much more profoundly so than the Athanas), and are about 
as good as one would expect from Katherine MacLean and Charles 
Harness, without being superb. Harness's "Stalemate in Space" (PS) 
is the best Jack Vance arguably-sf story, minus most of the 
cynicism, it's been my pleasure to read; a woman, the daughter of 
the heirarch in charge of a battle globe overrun by the forces of 
another similar globe from Earth's adversary civilization, seeks to 
infiltrate the enemy forces so that she can activate the destruction 
of both globes, currently locked together in a frontier space. A 
mixture of sympathies for the aristocratic (the telepaths, such as 
our protag, are naturally the ruling class on Earth) and the more 
plebeian (over the objectification of the enemy in war) are well-
integrated. MacLean's "Defense Mechanism" (ASF) similarly seeks a 
dichotomy, in drawing on the supposed innocence of children (and the 
ugliness of at least some adult thought) while also tracing out the 
family tensions when an infant is a full-fledged telepath capable of 
communicating in what amounts to colloquial English with his father, 
but his mother is shut out of this entirely. Rather reminiscently 
of Damon Knight's later "Special Delivery", trauma forces the child to 
lose his telepathic abilities, although before the loss, they have 
also saved the father from murder--two sorts of defense mechanism.  
MacLean's belief in the existence of actual telepathy, as noted in 
the Merril memoir and elsewhere, is perhaps telling here, though 
Harness's use of the device, and the descriptions of the attempts of 
various telepaths to block each other's abilities, are well-worked 
out and may've been influential.

It's an all-ASF-related book review column (not yet "The Reference 
Library") for this ASTOUNDING: Catherine de Camp on DARKER THAN YOU 
THINK, and P. Schuyler Miller on SKYLARK OF VALERON and de Camp's 
THE WHEELS OF IF (with Miller longing for the half-decade-or-so dead 
days when ASF would publish such work). Campbell's editorial is a 
rumination on cosmic ray particles; Payne's "Vizigraph" header is 
largely given to announcing Ray Nelson, Bob Bradley, and Bill 
Oberfield have won covers for their popular letters published in the 
previous issue. Letters indexed below, including some from Betsy 
Curtis and Alexis Gilliland in PLANET; in ASF, Arthur Jean Cox and Robert 
Moore Williams (both discussing, Cox in part, Williams's official 
dismissal as a lackey by the Soviet literary apparatus).

PLANET STORIES Vol. IV, N0. 3, Summer 1949. Edited by Paul L. Payne 
(Malcolm Reiss, Gen. Mgr.); published by the Love Romances 
Publishing Co./Fiction House. Quarterly. Pulp; 112 pp plus covers. 
20c/issue; 50c/year. 

Cover * Allen Anderson, for "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" 
2 * Paul L. Payne et alia * The Vizigraph * ed/lc
2 * John Higgins * More Sex in the Future? * lt
4 * Leigh Brackett * Queen of the Martian Catacombs * nt (illus. ?)
37 * W. V. Athanas * The Madcap Metalloids * ss (illus. ?)
45 * Stanley Mullen * S.O.S Aphrodite! * ss (illus. A. M. Williams)
59 * Anon./Paul Payne? * Attention, Readers! * poll/query as to 
whether to discontinue reader letters/"The Vizigraph"
60 * Alfred Coppel, Jr. * The Starbusters * ss (illus. Vestal)
72 * C. J. Wedlake * Peril Orbit * ss (illus. ?)
75 * Anon./TDCUAIN * Per Aspera Ad Astra * cartoon (not intended to 
be humorous)
77 * Margaret St. Clair * Garden of Evil * ss (illus. ?)
84 * Charles L. Harness * Stalemate in Space * ss (illus. A. M. 
105 * David M. Campbell * Be Not AFreud * lt
106 * David Hitchcock Green * Says Stf is Immature * lt
107 * Robert A. Rivenes * PS Lighter than Air? * lt
108 * Ray H. Ramsay * OK, No More American Heroes * lt
108 * Marvin Williams * Hotsy Dandy, with Red Eyes * lt
109 * Ed Cox * Won't Vote for Himself * lt
110 * A. A. Gilliland * Off to Grumph Alpha * lt
110 * Elizabeth Curtis * Hides Us from Hubby * lt
112 * Arthur D. Hall * What? No More Ego Boo? * lt

ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION Vol. XLIV, No. 2, October 1949. Edited by 
John W. Campbell, Jr (W2ZGU); Assistant Editor, C. Tarrant. 
Published by Street and Smith Publications. Monthly. Digest; 164 pp 
including covers. 25c/issue; $2.50/yr.

Cover * Alejandro Canedo (perhaps relating to "The Aristocrat")
4 * John W. Campbell, Jr. * High Energy * ed
6 * Chan Davis * The Aristocrat * nt (illus. by Brush, who misspells 
the protagonist's name)
39 * Raymond F. Jones * Production Test * ss (illus. Paul Orban)
57 * John W. Campbell, Jr. * The Analytical Laboratory * poll
58 * Poul Anderson * Time Heals * ss (illus. Brush)
75 * L. Ron Hubbard * The Auto-Magic Horse * nt (illus. Ed Cartier)
104 * J. J. Coupling (John R. Pierce) * Chance Remarks * ar
112 * L. Sprage de Camp * The Great Floods * ar
121 * Kris Neville * Cold War * ss (illus. Brush)
132 * E. L. Locke * The Finan-Seer * ss (illus. Ed Cartier)
141 * Catherine de Camp * DARKER THAN YOU THINK by Jack Williamson 
(Fantasy Press 1949) * br
141 * P. Schuyler Miller * SKYLARK OF VALERON by Edward E. Smith 
(Fantasy Press 1949) * br
142 * P. Schuyler Miller * THE WHEELS OF IF by L. Sprague de Camp 
(Shasta Publishing 1949) * br
143 * JWC et al. * Brass Tacks * lc
143 * Warren Carroll * lt
145 * R. J. Raven-Hart * lt
146 * Owen R. Loveless * lt
148 * Arthur Jean Cox * lt
150 * W. M. Keese, Jr. * lt
154 * Robert Moore Williams * lt
155 * Katherine MacLean * Defense Mechanism * ss (illus. Brush)

For more of today's books (and perhaps other magazines), please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, March 11, 2016

FFB: UNKNOWN WORLDS: TALES FROM BEYOND edited by Stanley Schmidt and Martin Harry Greenberg (Galahad 1989; Bristol Park 1993)

It's remarkable, as I've noted here some time back, that there's never been an anthology taken from even the original run of the magazine Weird Tales (1923-1954), much less its revivals additionally, that can said to have been definitive...though there have been some game tries, and any large anthology from the magazine tends to be impressive at very least in parts, even if the thin paperbacks ghost-edited by Sam Moskowitz and credited Leo Margulies are less so (with the rather good exception of The Unexpected, not packaged as a WT antho and possibly not edited by Moskowitz).  But contrast this with the fate of the legacy of the most fondly-remembered US fantasy magazine of the pulp era after or perhaps even alongside Weird Tales, Unknown, in later issues Unknown Worlds. D. R. Bensen, editor at Pyramid Books in the early '60s (the publisher's editor and publishers of the Margulies/Moskowitz WT volumes), published two widely-read anthologies, The Unknown (1963) and The Unknown 5 (1964), and in the UK George Hay had as his first published fantastic-fiction anthology a similar draw from the magazine entitled Hell Hath Fury (1963), after Cleve Cartmill's included story. Today's book, published as an "instant remainder" in two separate editions by different discount publishers, was the second attempt at mining the thirty-nine issues of the magazine to be edited by Stanley Schmidt, after his slimmer anthology called simply Unknown, for Baen Books, published at nearly the same time, in 1988, and perhaps a better and certainly a complementary selection. And for selections exclusively from one of the most influential of magazines devoted to fantasy, that appears to be all published so far, unless we count From Unknown Worlds, almost a special issue and best-of which Unknown publisher Street & Smith released in 1948 to see if a revival of the magazine, which been folded in the face of WWII paper shortages, would be fiscally viable (S&S, as Walker Martin reminds us in the essay linked to in comments, was already about to dump all their fiction magazines by the next year anyway, in favor of focusing on such women's "slick" magazines as Charm and Mademoiselle and other nonfiction titles; I suspect they kept Astounding SF exclusively because they wanted to have a reason to retain John Campbell, whom they might've wanted to edit another potential relaunch of Air Trails and Science Frontiers, albeit his first stint at that project was short-lived [1946-48]; Frederik Pohl notes as much here) . This despite such survey anthologies as Terry Carr and M.H. Greenberg's A Treasury of Modern Fantasy and, even more. a volume called The Rivals of Weird Tales being also in large part, though by no means exclusively, devoted to collecting Unknown's fiction. Considering that there has been only one anthology drawn exclusively from its rather impressive 1950s imitator, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising, this relative neglect, but given the towering reputation of the magazine, it remains a bit odd. 

Unknown Fantasy Fiction was launched in 1939 as a second magazine edited for Street & Smith by John W. Campbell, Jr., who had been editor of Astounding Science Fiction since 1937 and was just beginning to come into his own as an editor; some of the best and most influential writers to work closely with Campbell, including Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov (who was always quick to note that he wasn't all that prominent in his earliest career), Lester del Rey, A. E. van Vogt, Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore (soon to be collaborative on all their work), and others had either been introduced or first started publishing with Campbell in 1939; Campbell, like some of his key contributors (such as Sturgeon, Leiber, Alfred Bester, L. Ron
Hubbard in his less controversial years and such now relatively obscure writers  as Jane Rice), often seemed to enjoy offering, even more than their sf, the kind of rationalized contemporary (or "low" or latterly "urban") fantasy--fiction with only a few intentional deviations or even only one fantasticated element in an otherwise realistic context--that the magazine specialized in, particularly in its horror and Thorne Smith-style less-grim content (reminiscent of H.G. Wells's prescription for only one miracle per story). Though the magazine also published some "high" or epic/sword & sorcery fantasy, particularly in some of the contributions from Leiber, whose hugely influential Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories were first published there, and in historical or folkloric fantasy by the likes of de Camp  and Fletcher Pratt (both notable for their historical fiction and nonfiction in other contexts), and to some extent Hubbard, with his "Slaves of Sleep".  

Of the handful of Unknown anthologies, this one might be the closest to definitive, though in part because it features perhaps too many of the same stories that particularly Bensen had selected for his books...and overlooks some of the most key stories published by the magazine, such as Fritz Leiber's "Smoke Ghost" (which Algis Budrys wasn't alone in crediting with essentially inventing the urban fantasy mode)...perhaps because Schmidt had included that story in his earlier anthology. A number of the stories included here are (deservedly) chestnuts of fantasy-fiction anthologies, such as de Camp's "The Gnarly Man" (which just Barely could qualify as science fiction, if one squints, and thus might justify the cover banner on both editions of this book claiming that it features "classic science fiction and fantasy") and Sturgeon's "It" and H. L. Gold's "Trouble with Water". This anthology, even more than the others from the magazine, also demonstrates how many of the writers at the heart of Unknown were also contributors to Weird Tales, even if some of them, like Sturgeon and Anthony Boucher (and once, notably, Heinlein) began contributing to WT after Unknown's folding, and new WT editor Dorothy McIlwraith's openness to this kind of story. But this anthology features notable stories by Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, C. L. Moore, F. B. Long and such widely-publishing writers as Fredric Brown, Robert Arthur and Jack Williamson. 

This is, at least, a fine introduction to the fiction from the magazine, but the lack of a substantial introduction or headnotes to the stories (a rare lack in a Greenberg anthology) make it less useful for new readers to orient themselves or understand the context in which the magazine was published, something that Bensen's anthologies do remarkably well. And, for good or ill, it won't take as long to gather and read through all the books drawn from Unknown as it does for Weird Tales, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or even Whispers...

from the Contento/Locus index:

Unknown Worlds: Tales from Beyond ed. Stanley Schmidt & Martin H. Greenberg (Galahad Books 0-88365-728-7, 1988 [Jun ’89], $9.98, 517pp, hc) Anthology of 25 stories originally published in Unknown/Unknown Worlds. An instant remainder book, this has a 1988 copyright date but was not seen until 1989.
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, March 4, 2016

FFB: THE INVESTIGATIONS OF AVRAM DAVIDSON: Collected Mysteries, edited by Grania Davis and Richard A. Lupoff (St Martin's Press, 1999)

My default choice for my favorite writer, and yet I've only done up a few of his books so far, even given the excellence of the knot of Davidson collections his old friend and collaborator (in life as ex-wife as well as in literature) Grania Davis was responsible for, often in partnership with another admirer of Davidson and his work, at the turn of the last century. So, let's start to remedy that...

Davidson was a brilliant fantasist and a brilliant writer in nearly any field he turned his hand to, and crime fiction seems to have been at worst his second love among literary modes, whether it was in the sleek, pointedly effective historical fiction "The Necessity of His Condition" (where the rationalizations for chattel slavery catch up with a slaveholder), or the discursive, just this side of surreal contemporary fiction "The Lord of Central Park" (about the conduct of river pirates in modern-day Manhattan, and much else); "'Thou Still Unravished Bride'" is anticipatory of the likes of Gone Girl in its short focus, while also drawing in poetic allusion to a deft procedural approach--this was one of two stories by Davidson adapted for episodes of Alfred Hitchcock's television series; the other (and Davidson's first story in a crime-fiction magazine) "The Ikon of Elijah" had also previously been the source of an episode of the CBC-TV anthology The Unforeseen. This book is by no means a comprehensive collection of Davidson's best crime fiction (perhaps more's the pity) so much as a nice sampling of the range of what he wrote in the criminous field...most of the stories from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, where he was one of Frederic Dannay's great favorites (and, as a result, eventually ghost-writer of two "Ellery Queen" novels), augmented by one each from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, The Saint Mystery Magazine and the 1980s horror-fiction digest Night Cry, all among the many receptive markets for Davidson's work; he is one of the few to
"Ellery Queen" novels by Davidson
from Dannay outlines.
have received the Hugo Award (from the World SF Convention), the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award and also the soon to be renamed Howard Award from the World Fantasy Convention, among other honors. It's difficult for me not to simply rattle off a string of superlatives when considering Davidson's short fiction, which almost always has an energy to match the imagination and erudition, the elegance and wit on display that his novels, usually written under less than the best financial circumstances, can lack; as ambitious as the short work can be, as well, it also has a certain completeness that the same insecure circumstances denied some of his best work in novel form (where sequels that were clearly planned were either never written or didn't quite reach finished form by the time of Davidson's death); such books as Masters of the Maze, Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty (in collaboration with Davis), or 

Joyleg (with Ward Moore) are everything they should be, and wonderful, while others, such as The Phoenix and the Mirror, are perhaps even more impressive in their ambition, and not quite as thoroughly realized.  Davis and collaborators are readying another knot of collections and completed works for publication now, and you should watch out for them, and you could do worse than to dip into this, with its excellent introduction by Dick Lupoff and good story-note introductions by Lupoff and Davis, or the broad-spectrum The Avram Davidson Treasury, the collection of his stories published in the Jewish press, his explorations of myth and historical legend in "unhistory", or the collections devoted to such recurrent characters as Doctor Eszterhazy (my own favorites among his work) and Jack Limekiller, or others while waiting for the new books to appear; an e-book edition of this volume was published by Minotaur in 2015.

The contents, courtesy ISFDB:
For more of today's books, with a special emphasis on Ruth Rendell this week, please see Patti Abbott's blog.