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; Mullin'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 Mullin and Hubbard to certain retrograde notions of femininity, even for those post-Rosie the Riviter 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 probabilty 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 overrrun 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 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.


Walker Martin said...

A very interesting and fascinating comparison of two completely different SF magazines. Different editorial policies, cover designs, formats, and authors. Both are excellent magazines but certainly very different.

Rich Horton said...

I have both those issues ... read them a long time ago. I liked the Brackett of course ... good point about the silly carousel-sourced beast on the cover. I remember liking the Harness as well, I'll have to reread it because I don't remember it much. I remember the Anderson story as well, and I quite agree with your take on it.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Walker, my point is that the two aren't nearly as different as they are often made out to be, by the turn of the '50s and PLANEt being edited rather more intelligently than it was under its earliest editors, so that the Brackett stories were less likely to be the only first-rate material in an issue, or even the Brackett and Bradbury stories. They were both among the best sf magazines available, as the post-GALAXY/1950 boom started...

Brackett and Harness, and young Anderson, were doing some very good work indeed for a number of magazines, and I wonder if Harness was an early example of a writer who just couldn't handle Campbell's intrusiveness, considering how so much of his work was constructed somewhat more intelligently and with more scientific literacy than van Vogt's, while the latter was still an ASF star. Harness's work tending to appear in the Thrilling sf magazines and PLANET instead.

Barry Malzberg said...

In re: "Cold War", by Kris Neville:

I think you are missing the point and it's not your fault, your failure to embrace the situational dilemma has a great deal to do with chronology. I was twelve when this story was new, you are close to 50 making with the opinionation. In 1951, though, this was another world (the title signifies that world) and it had great impact at least on your then twelve year old undersigned. Astonishingly visionary...there was a NYT story within the last fortnight about the psychic stress and breakdown which many of the drone "pilots" were at this time suffering. Press a key and incinerate. Oh, no, as you were, don't press. Little charges and shocks coming at ten an hour.

In 9/49 when this story was on the newstands the setting - in orbit circling with nuclear props - led one wiseass reader to comment in BRASS TACKS that this suspenseful, well-written work was nevertheless a hunk of cheese because, well, the cannoneers did not have to be aloft, they could be in a protected bunker on Terra so no problem. Please note the four final sentences my paragraph preceding.

Kris's first published story. Intensely promising. "Bettyann" came shortly thereafter.

Todd Mason said...

I think I do give credit to the seriousness of the situation anticipated, back when I wrote this in that Shrub re-election year and I was 36, not yet 37 (though I should recheck that posting date)...but perhaps too quickly, and too flippantly (Joseph Heller might've had something to say, as might the A-bombers, and they did so later--I'll have to revisit the story, and see how much the apparent gung-ho simply helps get the blade past the armor of the reader). Sadly, that is definitely not too surprising a point-missing in the reader response you cite. And I probably should've checked to see where in Neville's impressive and underappreciated career this story fell. Thanks, Barry.

Todd Mason said...

Certainly, Walker, the writers for the magazines weren't so very different at all...Poul Anderson was a rising star in both...for that matter, Brackett got her start as a science-fiction writer with a 1940 story in Astounding...

Todd Mason said...

Barry, now there's some early morning math for 2004 I was 39, not yet 40, when writing these reviews...Jack Benny should've told mr to cut that out...

Rick Robinson said...

First I loved - and still do - that April '55 ASF cover. I want to see the Fifties comparison... unless I missed it when I scrolled down to make this comment. No doubt you recall I subscribed to and read every ASF issue starting in the mid-Fifties, and bought back issues to Jan 1950 and loved those copies. Before they were lost...

Rick Robinson said...

As for Poul Anderson, he is and always has been (excepting his poetry) a favorite.

Todd Mason said...

Rick--I didn't yet write that 1955 head to head, though I had hoped to all those years ago. Perhaps I should! But re-reading the issues would be necessary. I see Anderson rather similarly to you, though on occasion his historical fantasies (such as Hrolf Kraki's Saga) could get a bit bogged in their own details...perhaps another form of the poetry not quite being his metier!

Rick Robinson said...