Friday, April 8, 2016

FFM: FANTASTIC: STORIES OF IMAGINATION, April 1963, edited by Cele Goldsmith (Ziff-Davis); THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, February 1964, edited by Avram Davidson (Mercury Press)

From ISFDB (supplemented by the FictionMags Index):
Two issues, less than a year apart rather than (as is my usual practice in such things) as close to on the stands simultaneously as is practical. But these happened to be two issues which were in a convenient stack, and rather good ones of either magazine, the most consistently published US fantasy/sf magazines in the 1950s-70s, and at many times the best, even when not the only (which wasn't too uncommon, either). 

The two best stories in their respective issues (so far) are the familiar ones to me (from Leiber's collections and anthology appearance for the Johnson),  Fritz Leiber's "The Casket Demon" in Fantastic and S. S. Johnson's "The House by the Crab Apple Tree" in F&SF.  The Leiber is a sly bit of humorous horror, involving a generational curse afflicting a Prussian family whose current representative among the living is a hardbitten Hollywood sexpot, and the ways the eponymous demon can be...incompletely...foiled (also notable is how the very distinctive illustrator Lee Brown Coye chose to represent the determined actress). The Johnson is as brutal a post-apocalyptic tale as you can possibly want...recently discussed on F&SF's forum as a rather obvious anticipation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (not that that novel doesn't have dozens of literary fathers, and not a few at least as good), it's an example of the kind of controversial story editor Avram Davidson would seek out and publish even more often than most of his fellow F&SF editors over the decades. (Allen Kim Lang's "Thaw and Serve," which anticipates rather more intelligently and viscerally "Demolition Man" the film, is another which comes to mind, and Ray Nelson's work likewise pushed some envelope seams.) Johnson, 24 when the story was published (and a sports reporter for the Hartford Courant at 14, apparently), took his doctorate in English and had an academic career, submitting a short story collection and apparently a novel as his theses but never publishing them, and instead collaborating on a technical writing text as apparently his only other published work (that we've seen, so far). Johnson's rather prodigious nature is echoed by Robert Rohrer, who has a decent, notional fantasy, itself post-apocalyptic, in the earlier issue, involving the changing nature of the holy and unholy supernatural world after the nuclear culling of so much of the human population. Rohrer published a double-handful of short stories in sf and fantasy magazines between the ages of 15 and 18, and then abruptly ceased in hopes it wasn't the result of, say, military experiences that left him unwilling or unable to continue. 
back cover of the Fantastic; not Lee Brown
Coye's image of the Hollywood actress in the
story, though of an earlier curse victim

What helped distinguish the two magazines under these editors in the early '60s was their mutual openness to odd approaches, literary adventurousness, and generally furthering the expansion of the palette in newsstand sf and fantasy that had begun in earnest in the better magazines of the 1950s, and would be a little (but not Too much) more pronounced in the British magazines New Worlds and Impulse. To one degree or another such challenging work would continue to appear in Fantastic (and its stablemate Amazing) and F&SF, and also was making itself felt in the magazines Frederik Pohl was editing from the latest '50s onward through the '60s, at first as a shadow assistant to the ailing H. L. Gold, Galaxy, If, and eventually Worlds of Tomorrow and International Science Fiction. Writer/editor Michael Moorcock criticized Davidson for publishing too much jocular and slight fiction, and there was some of that, but never enough to undermine to seriousness of F&SF as a magazine; Cele Goldsmith (later to marry and sign herself Cele Lalli and later in her career as Cele Goldsmith Lalli) also could be drawn to notional stories at times to a fault, but she could also fill her magazines with stories as beautifully written as the Leiber, the two good stories in this issue by Roger Zelazny (one published as by "Harrison Denmark," his pseudonym which impishly pointed toward Harry Harrison, then resident in Denmark, as the man behind the name) and the David Bunch "Moderan" story, a series of heavily symbolic sf Bunch would contribute to throughout his career. Another decent joke story in her issue is the first published fiction by Piers Anthony, "Possible to Rue," involving a very odd sort of comeuppance to a parental fib or two. (Goldsmith Lalli was the first or practically the first to publish as professional fiction writers Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, Thomas Disch, Keith Laumer, Sonya Dorman, Ted White and Kate Wilhelm, along with Anthony and a number of others...Ben Bova's first work in sf magazines was a series of essays in her Amazing: Fact and Science Fiction). 
includes "The Casket Demon"

F&SF certainly takes the lead in contrasting the non-fiction features between the two issues; in the Fantastic, the Norman Lobsenz "editorial" is a bit meatier than his usual facile essay, though mostly in being about some of the more interesting advances in information and space technology newly arrived or on the horizon, rather than in being all that deep; the letter column is pleasant enough, and the (also often shallow) book reviewer S. E. Cotts has a rather good assessment of two horror anthologies, one mediocre, from Norman Bates-inspiration and enterprising film fan Calvin Thomas Beck and a brilliant one edited by soon-tragic, brilliant fiction and script writer (and former F&SF film columnist) Charles Beaumont (Jeff Segal has reviewed the latter here...and probably would review the latter if it was to hand). However, the Erle Stanley Gardner "introduction" letter to his reprinted story is a nice touch, and Fantastic, unlike F&SF, does feature illustration for most of its text items. The F&SF editorial, the often long headnotes to the stories, and the bulk of the book reviews are by editor Davidson, default choice for my favorite writer of any kind, when one must be named (one review is by the then just beginning to become notorious fan, and husband of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Walter Breen, whose review of a Jung text somewhat creepily touches on children as sexual archetypes). The magazine had two science columns in the early '60s, with Isaac Asimov's long-running essay series joined for several years by Theodore L. Thomas's two-page essays on a monthly basis, and this issue has one of the occasional letter columns F&SF would run (rather more infrequently since Davidson's years), featuring a number of mildly famous figures in fannish and eventually professional circles, and an essay, one of a short series Davidson would offer, of examinations of sf and fantasy fandom, this one by Wilson Tucker (next month's by Robert Bloch, the third by Terry Carr),  from a time when fandom and geek culture had not yet multiplied to take up significant amounts of space in the world.

Both issues are filled with notable writers, even if Johnson would publish so regrettably little, and Rohrer fall silent; the other example of a writer with few other credits in fantastic fiction, at least, is the Australian (Mr.) Kit Denton, whose possibly only published short story is also in the F&SF. P. M. Hubbard (a Davidson favorite) and Erle Stanley Gardner, with a "classic" reprint from Argosy All-Story Weekly (part of a series in Goldsmith's magazines), are among those better remembered for their crime fiction--Goldsmith presumably offered the classics in part to help the budget woes at her magazines, which were allowed a base rate of pay of 1c/word for their fiction and other content during her years at Ziff-Davis; the reprints would get big names into the issues and presumably could be purchased at bargain reprint rates, to allow her, as she did, to offer a higher pay rate to such favorites of hers as Fritz Leiber (F&SF has also never been the best-paying magazine in the fantastic-fiction field, though currently it's on par with most of its fellow-travelers). F&SF's Ron Goulart (his first professional publication a decade+ previous F&SF reprint of some sfnal humor from the UC Berkeley campus magazine Pelican) was just starting to get serious about his often satirical crime fiction along with his established career in fantastic fiction, and would soon become almost as much a speculative fiction/crime fiction "amphibian" as Davidson himself; his story here seems at first Just Another Comic Inferno story, but it does have a bit of Kafkaesque intensity that the more generic examples usually lacked. Evelyn E. Smith, Dean McLaughlin and Laurence Janifer (with a clever-enough joke-story) had all established themselves as at least capable talents in the fields, and while Doris Pitkin Buck was better known for her light verse in the magazine, her fiction contribution wasn't too much more unusual than Harry Harrison's amusing poem about time travel paradoxes. I still need to read the long cover story by Philip Jose Farmer (himself a writer not averse to challenging fiction at times) in the Fantastic and several of the shorts in the F&SF, but I'm glad I did dip into these for this week's column...which will be filled out soon!
the UK hardcover featuring the Johnson

For more of this week's fiction (and some nf) you should know about, please see Patti Abbott's blog; next week I'll be hosting the links, barring the flood.
Richard Powers cover for the middling anthology from the editor/publisher
Castle of Frankenstein, and Robert Bloch's model, in part, for
Norman Bates, in the novel
Psycho...from Ballantine's early '60s horror series...


George said...

Cele Goldsmith turned a pig's ear into a silk purse. Working on a shoestring budget, she managed to publish some wonderful stories in AMAZING and FANTASTIC. Once she left, those magazines fell to junk status.

Todd Mason said...

I'd say that was incompletely true, George...even Joseph "Ross" on his micro-budget was able to publish some good new material (including a short form of Davidson's THE PHOENIX AND THE MIRROR), along with the reprints, and subsequent editors Harry Harrison and Barry Malzberg pushed the magazine a little further along toward interesting new material, and Ted White and, briefly, Elinor Mavor were able to publish considerable good material...and then TSR came along to buy and threw money at the surviving merged magazine, particularly after Spielberg threw money at TSR to rent the AMAZING STORIES title for that dismal NBC-TV series, so there was no lack of budget, if not much interest in competent distribution, for some years...and more good material published.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Enjoyed reading this almost encyclopedic piece on two fascinating magazines, Todd. I haven't read sf/fantasy in more than a year. But then, I haven't read much of anything in recent months.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Prashant...the literature awaits you...treat yourself when you can.

Paul Fraser said...

I'm tempted to dig out the F&SF issue to read the Johnson. I wonder what types of stories that collection had?

Todd Mason said...

I'll hope to find out.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Lots of lovely Leiber - always a good thing :)

Todd Mason said...

The F&SF cover-dated the same as the FANTASTIC also had a Leiber short..."Kindergarten"...very vaguely recall it.

Richard Moore said...

Just catching up to this post as I was tracking back on your Avram Davidson reviews and read your speculation regarding Robert Rohrer. I met him a couple of times in an Atlanta used book store when we were both teenagers in high school and we chatted pleasantly. The fact that I didn't drop dead of jealousy over his being a published writer already still surprises me.

About a decade later after college and the army, I was at a crowded, noisy party given by a friend who was a reporter with the Atlanta newspapers. At some point, the host introduced me to Rohrer saying "he works on our news desk."

I had not recognized him by sight but as soon as I heard his name, I reached out my hand and said "Oh yes, the science fiction writer." He gave the biggest double-take I've ever seen and laughing said that was the first time that had ever happened to him. I asked him why he had stopped writing after such a fine start--I subscribed to both Ziff-Davis mags and F&SF and so read most of his stories. He said in college (he went to Emory University) his interests moved to other areas--my distant memory is those interests involved music.

I never ran into him again--I was a reporter and news editor for a state radio network so met many newspaper reporters but seldom desk editors. We had and have a good many mutual friends as I see his name pop up on Facebook. By all accounts, he's a great guy. He continued to work for the Atlanta newspapers, retiring from there a few years back. My only other contact was indirect. Mike Ashley was trying to locate him and I passed along contact information.

Todd Mason said...

Excellent information. Rohrer says something similar, and as little-detailed, in his memoir in the 1965 issue of F&SF as reprinted by Southern Illinois University Press...something I recently picked up for the first time since reading a library copy 30+ years ago. Thanks!