Friday, August 18, 2017

FFM/B: New fantasy short fiction on the US newsstands & bookshelves, late 1976: ARIEL, Autumn 1976, edited by Thomas Durwood; CHACAL, Winter 1976, edited by Arnie Fenner and Byron Roark; FANTASTIC, November 1976, edited by Ted White; THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, October, November and December 1976, edited by Edward Ferman; WHISPERS, December 1976, edited by Stuart David Schiff; FLASHING SWORDS #3: WARRIORS AND WIZARDS, edited by Lin Carter; THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY STORIES, Volume 2, edited by Lin Carter; THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES, Series 4, edited by Gerald W. Page

Short fantasy fiction on the American racks, late 1976:

There were other magazines and other books publishing new fantasy fiction (including horror and often along with crime or science fiction), but in the last months of 1976, these are the eight magazines and anthology series offering the most new fiction in the field. Two were new, three were semi-professional or "little" magazines, two theoretically best of the year anthologies featuring some new fiction, one a specialized sword & sorcery anthology series, and three were magazines which had offered special Fritz Leiber issues (Fantastic in 1959, F&SF in 1969 and Whispers in 1979)...

F&SF and Fantastic were low-budget but professional magazines, both put together in the houses of their editors, Edward Ferman's F&SF from Cornwall, Connecticut and Ted White's Fantastic, with companion Amazing Science Fiction, in Falls Church, Virginia. Ferman also published his magazine, having inherited its concern, Mercury Press, from his father, Joseph Ferman; White was working for a very modest stipend from Ultimate Publications, which amounted to a retirement job for magazine veteran Sol Cohen and a diversified holding for his junior partner Arthur Bernhard, who published other low-budget magazines on his own. A few other newsstand fantasy-fiction magazines had briefly appeared on the newsstands to join Fantastic and F&SF in the 1970s, including Coven 13, purchased, retitled and edited by Gerald W. Page as Witchcraft and Sorcery in the early 1970s, a brief run of Worlds of Fantasy magazine from the Galaxy group of magazines (where Cohen had worked just before setting up Ultimate in 1965), two issues of Gerry Conway's The Haunt of Horror (as a fiction magazine; publisher Marvel went on to relaunch the title as a large-format comic book), and the first briefly flourishing attempt to revive Weird Tales, in 1973-74 by Leo Margulies, at that point still trying to expand his line beyond the long-running Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. But Fantastic (since 1952) and F&SF (since 1949) had been the consistently-appearing magazines in the field, helped to continue in part by both usually featuring some science fiction in their mix. Even in these days of a resurgence in fantasy (Tolkien, Richard Adams, Richard Bach) and horror (Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, Stephen King) fiction as potent commercial forces in book form, fantasy including some horror wasn't necessarily going to sell copies of a fiction magazine by itself in sustainable quantity...though F&SF was the only fantastic-fiction magazine to steadily increase its circulation throughout the '7os,

and Fantastic, which had with the previous issues gone from bimonthly to quarterly publication, saw issues which included authorized pastiches of Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories, usually by Lin Carter or Carter with L. Sprague de Camp, do rather well in sales. And both Ferman and White's magazines were well-regarded, offering usually good to brilliant fiction on their modest budgets, perhaps in part due to the continuing lack of other markets that would pay more for such fiction... with rare exceptions in the cases of (sophisticated) general-interest and gendered "slick" magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Cavalier, Playboy, Redbook or Mademoiselle. There were little magazines, such as TriQuarterly, Antaeus or Ontario Review (and, in their own way, the then-relatively new
folkloric journal Parabola), which were open to some fantasy as well as part of their regular remit, and there had been a longstanding tradition of such little magazines within the fantastic-fiction community, as well...Stuart David Schiff's Whispers was becoming one of the most prominent of these, meant in its own way to be a sort of Weird Tales revival of its own, like Witchcraft and Sorcery before it devoted to a WT-like mix of horror and mostly dark fantasy.

Weirdbook, Nyctalops and Fantasy and Terror, three of the other notable US little magazines in the field, produced no issues in late '76 (in the UK, Dark Horizons did publish such an issue, and if one wishes to fault me for not including the late 1976 issue of Midnight Sun or the final, 1976 issue of Joseph Payne Brennan's long-running Macabre, I'd have to concede one had a case), but two new entries did, both in their ways hoping to demonstrate that relatively elegant, large-format packaging could be achieved on even a modest budget: Arnie Fenner's Chacal and Thomas Durwood's Ariel. Both were largely but not exclusively devoted to epic fantasy, and both would continue for several issues (nine and four, respectively) over the next several years, Chacal soon (essentially) changing its title to Shayol (and the editorship eventually passing on to Pat Cadigan) and Durwood from issue two throwing in with Betty and Ian Ballantine at their Peacock Press imprint and changing the title formally to Ariel: The Book of Fantasy

When the Ballantines had sold their paperback company, Ballantine Books, completely to Random House a few years previously, Lin Carter had lost one of his regular gigs, editing their line of Adult Fantasy reissues and infrequent new books, some of the latter anthologies he would edit of short fiction. Happily for him, he picked up two new annual projects, an anthology series devoted to publishing new sword and sorcery fiction, Flashing Swords!, published by Dell Books, and editorship of a new best-of-the-year (mostly) reprint anthology for DAW Books, joining Donald A. Wollheim's sf annual and what had become, with its fourth volume, Gerald W. Page's The Year's Best Horror Stories (the players do tend to recur in various roles in the small world of fantasy-fiction publishing in this era). And because it remained a relatively small world of fantasy and horror short-fiction publishing, both the Carter Fantasy and the Page Horror annuals were allowed, as Wollheim didn't allow himself in his series, to publish original stories in the BOTY volumes, rather than depend solely on reprints from the year's books and magazines...even given the quality of much of what those newsstand and little magazines were publishing. Page, on balance, was a better editor
of his books (including his own original-fiction anthologies Nameless Places and Heroic Fantasy), but Carter's books have their charm, as well, and draw from more than their share of notable contributors and present some very good fiction, reprinted from the other publications noted here and others beyond.  With both editors including the original stories mentioned previously, these annual series were important showcases for new as well as reprinted fantasy fiction. 

Some contents (indices courtesy the FictionMags and Contento Anthology Indexes and ISFDB) and comments on them: 
This is a very good set of months for F&SF, even if the December issue isn't quite up to the previous two, even with a fine Varley and a Jennings. The all-star issue features fine work from Bloch, Ellison, Le Guin, Wellman and Cowper...the Bretnor is one of the earlier annoying Schimmelhorn stories, where the misogyny will out rather intensely (Raylyn Moore, in the December issue, can usually be counted on for some loathing of her own gender as well).  The Damon Knight story is pretty brilliant, and it's an otherwise good issue built around him, with a very fine Joanna Russ book essay. Meanwhile, the Budrys book essay in the December issue is definitely one of the highlights there. Beware Ray Bradbury poetry. 
    Fantastic [v25 #5, November 1976] ed. Ted White (Ultimate Publishing Co., Inc., $1.00, 132pp, digest, cover by Doug Beekman)  Note: title on spine is “Fantastic Stories
Fantastic was in the midst of its several-years' experiment of explicitly labeling itself a fantasy-only magazine, with a special emphasis on sword and sorcery fiction. I've liked Brian Lumley's "Tharquest" only marginally better than Carter's "Thongor" over the years...but the Leiber and de Camp columns are fine, the other fiction mostly engaging. 
One of the last issues of Whispers before its companion Doubleday anthology series began...and one of the best of the magazine issues to be published, with the Etchison and Campton stories highly memorable. I'll need to refresh my memory of the Lafferty.
    Note a certain similarity to the Chacal contents, only with more engagement with comics, notably but not exclusively Batman comics...

    Flashing Swords! #3: Warriors and Wizards ed. Lin Carter (Dell 2579, Aug ’76, $1.25, 272pp, pb) Cover: Don Maitz
It was not possible for me to pass up a book with new fiction from Leiber and Davidson in 1978...

Note that Carter, not for the first nor last time, is kind enough to include two of his own stories (including one based on a Clark Ashton Smith fragment) among the reprinted Year's Best...the two new stories in this volume have no previous publication site specified.

While Page includes none of his own fiction, I suppose one could "fault" him for digging three times into his own anthology and magazine, and for going back an extra year for the Witchcraft and Sorcery story (but a Lafferty deserves the showcase)...but that would be foolishness, seeing the diversity of the sources tapped for this BOTY, along with the two newly-published short stories and Price's essay...

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. 


Paul Fraser said...

For once I've actually read a lot of the books and magazines you have covered here, so I found your post even more interesting than usual. A few random comments:
I agree about the Schimmelhorn misogyny, but guiltily admit I found the first half quite funny.
The Carter and Page volumes were a useful way of getting some difficult to find or expensive US material on this side of the pond (I was pleased to find the Swann story in #2).
I never thought much of Carter's Thongor stories in Fantastic but really enjoyed the two Lumleys that appeared around this time: I wonder if I would still think so? I was also a fan of the Dennis More stories and their lovely Fabian illustrations.
Talking of falling circulations, one thing I never understood about Amazing/Fantastic was why they never offered subscriptions that were at a discount to their cover price. They would have made more money per issue than they would have from newsstand copies, and provided a buffer against distribution problems. Have you got any information on this?

Walker Martin said...

I upgraded my set of FANTASTIC recently and I was wondering how the magazine managed to survive all those years. But since it lasted a little over 200 issues they must have been making some type of profit. Probably not enough though to offer any decent discount on subscriptions.

Paul Fraser said...

Walker, yes, to start with they would have probably had to take a bit of a hit on the thousand or so subscribers they had in the mid-seventies. In the UK I think the split from the cover price was one third each to the newsagent, distributor and publisher (or a 30/30/40, something like that). I just wondered if this was the same in the USA, and also how much it would have cost them to wrap, label and post a copy.

George said...

This was about the time I started tapering off buying SF magazines every month. I started buying more paperbacks and a decade later...hardcovers!

Todd Mason said...

Paul: Lumley was certainly a better writer on average than Carter chose to be, and his s&s stories were less bad than Carter' with August Derleth, I frequently liked Lumley's straightforward horror and suspense stories a lot, his version of Lovecraftian work not much at all. The earlier Bretnor stories from the 1950s had been rather funnier and much easier to take, I'd say

Newsstand distribution in the US by the '80s when I was working in the bookstore trade, and I suspect beforehand as well, ran to the distributors offering nearly all magazines to retail stores at 60% of the cover price, as you recall, and I suspect this was also true in the previous decades (how much the US distributors actually coughed up for their publishers was a continuing problem for particularly small publishers like Ultimate).

The Carter and definitely the Page, and at least as much their successors Arthur Saha (who had been assisting Wollheim and Carter with their annuals and officially took over Carter's after his death) and Karl Edward Wagner definitely gathered up fiction from magazines and other sources that I in the '70s had no idea how to find, nor certainly had seen, even as a new reader in the States... of course, by Saha and Wagner's time, there were that many more little magazines in the field to draw from, and I'd started learning about specialty bookstores and mail-order vendors, and had my first interactions with fandom and fannish publishing.

Sol Cohen apparently never wanted to make the effort to set up real subscription drives; Barry Malzberg has reported that his wife was typing up the address labels and mailing the subscription copies from their house...whether this was from sheer depressed pessimism or being old-school in magazine publishing and thinking that newsstand distribution was King, I'm not sure. But it's pretty clear that most business decisions for Cohen were made out of inertia. (And I noted the Ultimate magazines usually were the same price as most fiction magazines at the time in the US, but slightly cheaper than most US magazines in their UK prices. Don't know what was happening there.)

So, Walker, I think FANTASTIC usually at worst lost less money than it would've cost to refund even its relatively few subscriptions, and as a package FANTASTIC and AMAZING remained a sexier deal for the advertisers Cohen had for his magazines. For whatever its worth, he might even have liked FANTASTIC better than AMAZING...I think most of us did think it managed a higher standard, probably (again) because it had that much less competition for the decent and better fantasy fiction being written than AMAZING did for the sf...but if so, Cohen didn't like the magazines enough to try to invest anything much in them.

Certainly, George, the late '70s had me buying all the magazines I could find and afford as a young teen, and I had to make a few Tough Choices from time to time, while also buying no few paperbacks and what inexpensive (usually book club or secondhand) hardcovers I could find. These days, it only pains me a little not to simply buy at least one copy of every fiction magazine on a good B&N or other newsstand. Though the tug is still there. And even the ridiculously overpriced PARIS REVIEW of today isn't in the same league with most, say, Centipede Press items in how dearly they set one back.

Rich Horton said...

That was early in my active magazine reading career -- I first bought F&SF in 1974. By this time I was subscribing to both F&SF and Fantastic (along with, of course, Analog, Amazing, and the dying Galaxy -- and I was buying the new IASFM (and, around the same time, the short-lived larger-sized magazines Cosmos and Odyssey). I never did encounter Chacal, or Whispers.

"I See You" is a great story, one of Knight's best -- a true "Best of Damon Knight" collection would be an utterly magnificent book ("Four in One", "The Country of the Kind", "The Handler", "Masks", "The Earth Quarter", "I See You", "Fortyday", "Stranger Station", "The Analogues", "A for Anything" (both the last two better than the novels they became)). Doubtless a few more.

Todd Mason said...

"You're Another" is one of the underrated Knight stories...and "Babel II" a bit less so (it's more recognized as a fine story), but it and "Special Delivery" are fading from collective memory, I suspect, along with too much else by him...essentially everything else but the fine joke story, adapted and slightly dumbed down by THE TWILIGHT ZONE and thus also by THE SIMPSONS...

I was barely aware of SHAYOL, the latter-day CHACAL, by the time I started buying new magazines in 1978...and, as I've mentioned elsewhere, paying $8 for an issue of ARIEL with my young-teen allowance in 1978, as pretty as "The Book of Fantasy" was, wasn't in the cards when I got a WHISPERS in the mail for $4, most paperbacks for no more than $1.95, and the other magazines I was buying topped out at $2.50 an issue...SHORT STORY INTERNATIONAL thus cost a bit more than OMNI and ASIMOV'S SF ADVENTURE at the newsstands., FAR WEST jumping up to $1.95 not too long after the bulk of the fiction magazine field had gone to $1.25 an issue even put a crimp on my desire to collect it...and the nasty job the post office was doing to my subscription copies of ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE was discouraging me from investing in standard subs.