Friday, June 29, 2018

FFB: THE UNEXPECTED edited by Leo Margulies (Pyramid 1961); THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION 9th Series (aka FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON AND OTHER STORIES) edited by Robert P. Mills (Doubleday 1960)

In English, and probably in any language, the most consequential and certainly the most sustained fantasy-fiction magazines have been Weird Tales (or WT), running for 31 years in its first form and revived multiply since (the most recent revival having run for 26 years, if some of them very lean indeed) and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF), soon to enter its 7oth year of continuous publication. In the earliest 1960s, Robert P. Mills was editing F&SF (and therefore the annual best-of anthologies drawn from it), which had absorbed his magazine Venture Science Fiction shortly beforehand, and while publisher Joseph W. Ferman was the credited editor of Bestseller Mystery Magazine, the last remaining crime-fiction magazine at publisher Mercury Press after they sold Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (where Mills had been Managing Editor since 1948) and Mercury Mystery had been folded, I suspect Mills had an editorial  hand in there, as well. Leo Margulies had purchased the assets of Short Stories, Inc., the publishers of Short Stories and the folded Weird Tales...Margulies continued to publish Short Stories for a while, and though his one consistent title in the last couple decades of his life was Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine,  he hoped to revive Weird Tales...and did so, for four issues in 1973-74. But in 1961, Margulies published two
anthologies drawn from Weird Tales, the first such to be published explicitly as anthologies from Weird Tales,  though they didn't advertise that fact on their covers: The Unexpected and The Ghoul Keepers, both almost exclusively drawn from the issues edited by Dorothy McIlwraith, who had edited both Short Stories and Weird Tales in the 1940s and '50s.  And so, today's books...the first of three  Robert Mills annual volumes from F&SF, and the first McIlwraith-issues volume (aside from Wellman's story) Margulies put together from WT...two impressive sets of contributors, and not a few notable stories between them...

In a sense, Mills and McIlwraith were both "third editors" of their respective groundbreaking magazines ...Mills followed the four-year solo editorship of Anthony Boucher (legally William White, but known even to friends mostly as "Tony") and Boucher and J. Francis "Mick" McComas's founding stint as co-editors of the magazine for its first five years of publication (and several years of development before that). Mills had been managing editor since the launch in 1949, as well, but even with that and his excellent work at Venture, there was a certain amount of pressure in the new gig. If not nearly the audience resistance that Dororthy McIlwraith faced at Weird Tales, when she succeeded long-term second editor Farnsworth Wright (first editor Edwin Baird did little of note beyond get the magazine out for the first year, and publish WT's first "scandalous" and always most notorious story, "The Loved Dead" by C. M. Eddy, and first contributions by H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith). Wright's magazine had been a receptive market to Lovecraft, Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, the magazine's most popular contributor Seabury Quinn, and such younger writers as Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Catherine L. Moore, Henry Kuttner (these last two would soon marry and collaborate heavily and constantly), Carl Jacobi and Mary Elizabeth Counselman; he also favored purple prose and exoticism, and had some peculiar crotchets...he consistently rejected Leiber's "Fafhrd and Gray Mouser" sword and sorcery fantasies, which found their early home with Unknown Fantasy Fiction instead, as did "Smoke Ghost", Leiber's best early horror story. McIlwraith brought a greater modernism and broader appeal to the magazine, and published Ray Bradbury, Margaret St. Clair, Richard Matheson, Joseph Payne Brennan, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Jim Kjelgaard (best remembered now as the author of Big Red and its sequels) and all the previously-mentioned contributors who were still willing and able to contribute, and reprinted some of the others' work...and was roundly condemned by such staunch fans of the Wright magazine as Donald Wollheim, who founded The Avon Fantasy Reader in part to publish something more reminiscent of what Wright's WT had been.
    The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Ninth Series ed. Robert P. Mills (Doubleday LCC# 52-5510, 1960, $3.95, 264pp, hc)
    Also as Flowers for Algernon and Other Stories (Ace, 1966); British editions omit Feghoots [pun vignettes], Ace pb editions omit Feghoots and the poetry by Schenck, Buck, Belkin and Brode; retained are the Lewis, Aldiss and McClintic poems; Mills's headnotes also removed.
    • 7 · Introduction · Robert P. Mills · in
    • 9 · Flowers for Algernon · Daniel Keyes · nv F&SF Apr 1959
    • 41 · Me · Hilbert Schenck, Jr. · pm F&SF Aug 1959
    • 42 · A Different Purpose · Kem Bennett · ss F&SF Nov 1958
    • 62 · A Vampire’s Saga · Norman Belkin · pm F&SF May 1959
    • 63 · Ralph Wollstonecraft Hedge: A Memoir · Ron Goulart · vi F&SF May 1959
    • 67 · Sportsman’s Difficulity · Doris Pitkin Buck · pm F&SF Mar 1959
    • 68 · “All You Zombies—” · Robert A. Heinlein · ss F&SF Mar 1959
    • 81 · An Expostulation · C. S. Lewis · pm F&SF Jun 1959
    • 82 · Casey Agonistes · Richard M. McKenna · ss F&SF Sep 1958
    • 94 · Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XI · Grendel Briarton · vi F&SF Feb 1959
    • 95 · Eastward Ho! · William Tenn · ss F&SF Oct 1958
    • 113 · Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XIV · Grendel Briarton · vi F&SF May 1959
    • 114 · Soul Mate · Lee Sutton · ss F&SF Jun 1959
    • 130 · Call Me Mister · Anthony Brode · pm F&SF Feb 1959
    • 131 · What Rough Beast? · Damon Knight · nv F&SF Feb 1959
    • 156 · Classical Query Composed While Shampooing · Doris Pitkin Buck · pm F&SF Jul 1959
    • 157 · Far from Home · Walter S. Tevis · ss F&SF Dec 1958
    • 161 · Space Burial · Brian W. Aldiss · pm F&SF Jul 1959
    • 162 · Invasion of the Planet of Love · George P. Elliott · ss F&SF Jan 1959
    • 173 · Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: X · Grendel Briarton · vi F&SF Jan 1959
    • 174 · Dagon · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF Oct 1959
    • 184 · Pact · Winston P. Sanders (Poul Anderson) · ss F&SF Aug 1959
    • 200 · To Give Them Beauty for Ashes · Winona McClintic · pm F&SF Sep 1959
    • 201 · No Matter Where You Go · Joel Townsley Rogers · nv F&SF Feb 1959
    • 222 · Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XII · Grendel Briarton · vi F&SF Mar 1959
    • 223 · The Willow Tree · Jane Rice · ss F&SF Feb 1959
    • 233 · Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XIII · Grendel Briarton · vi F&SF Apr 1959
    • 234 · The Pi Man · Alfred Bester · ss F&SF Oct 1959
    • 252 · The Man Who Lost the Sea · Theodore Sturgeon · ss F&SF Oct 1959
    • 264 · Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XV · Grendel Briarton · vi F&SF Jun 1959
The Ace paperback edition contents, as a result, under both titles:
The offerings in both books are impressive--check out these sets of contributors, and the most key stories in each, even in the pointlessly dressed-down Ace and UK editions of the Mills (though the Ace movie tie-in edition pictured at the top has the amusing distinction of seeming to have three titles). The WT volume surveys eleven stories from a dozen years of the magazine, with only the Wellman and Leiber stories likely to have been the purchases of Wright rather than McIlwraith; the F&SF volume surveys issues from 1958 and '59, with a number of stories almost certainly purchased by Boucher as editor. Margulies dedicates his book to Donald R. Bensen, the publisher's editor at Pyramid, and quite likely all but a collaborator in the editorial selections as well as clerical/rights work Margulies definitely credits him with: "To Don Bensen, without whom these stories were written, but without whom they would not be in this book"; on the first edition, back cover, "H. H. Holmes" (Boucher as book reviewer for The New York Herald-Tribune, while also reviewing as Boucher for the NY Times) has a praiseful pull-quote (in a sense praising his own work in part); Margulies would dedicated his next WT anthology (reviewed here soon) to Holmes/Boucher, "who asked for more"...Mills dedicates his volume to Boucher and McComas, "who are truly responsible for this book's existence...and to Anne, Alison and Freddie, who contribute so much to the editor's."

The first story in the Margulies, and the last (non-joke story) in the Mills are both by Theodore Sturgeon, the only writer shared by both books, and, till now not having read them within more than several years of each other, I'm struck by how even more similar they are than might be expected...yet the later story, "The Man Who Lost the Sea", is not in any way a retread (and is Sturgeon's one story included by Martha Foley in her annual Best American Short Stories volumes), a science fiction story that nonetheless does in its more non-linear way recapitulates several of the key aspects of the far more unnerving horror story "The Professor's Teddy-Bear".  Both stories deal rather directly with the notion of the boy being the father of the man, and of how the man, coming to understand the full import of his experience in the present, comes to a fuller understanding of the strangeness of his earlier experiences...whether in the context of dealing with a literal psychic vampire creature in the form of a young child's teddy bear, or in the understanding of the full import of early experiences of near-death in exploring new and dangerous environments, in the ocean and elsewhere. Sturgeon's literary grace and deftness in putting across sensory experience in fiction is on full display, as is his fascination with bits of arcane knowledge that he will use as another anchor, along with his exploration of the emotional states of his characters, and their legacies of trauma, in their usually extreme or at least very strange circumstances, to build his stories around. He wants to show you several kinds of wonders simultaneously, and in his many best stories, the integration of these desires is utterly effective. There's a reason he was Ray Bradbury's chiefest literary model, and such an inspiration and goad to writers ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Judith Merril to Isaac Asimov. 

And Daniel Keyes. "Flowers for Algernon" is, rather obviously, the most famous story in the F&SF volume as things were in 1966, and still, along with Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and Stephen King's "The Gunslinger", still among the more famous stories the magazine has published so far. It, and Robert Heinlein's "'All You Zombies-'" and perhaps still Richard McKenna's first story, "Casey Agonistes", are probably the most widely-read stories in Mills's anthology ...the Heinlein a key late short story in his career, and also a further mining of a key trope for him, notably less emotionally explored in his earlier story "By His Bootstraps", involving a very peculiar sort of time paradox and its results, and the McKenna a very powerful yet gentle sort of horror/fantasy, though McKenna's early death didn't allow him to capitalize much on the enormous popular success of his first and only fully-finished novel The Sand Pebbles, an autobiographical recent-historical story dealing in part with his experiences in East Asia as a seaman in the years before WW2.  Likewise, Walter Tevis, more widely known (or at least his novels are, as sources for films) for The Hustler and its sequel The Color of Money (you might think of Paul Newman), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (and David Bowie), has a particularly charming and resonant vignette, "Far From Home", for which he also titled his one powerful collection of short fiction. But "Flowers for Algernon," the tale of a mentally challenged man who undergoes an experimental medical procedure which makes of him a genius, and the joys and dangers this offers him emotionally and otherwise, is a story which has a visceral appeal particularly to the kind of person drawn to science fiction, but which also has almost as strong a hold on less sf-prone readers, particularly as delicately but straightforwardly told, in the form of diary entries by the protagonist Charly, about his experiences and those of the lab mouse Algernon who has also undergone an earlier test of the procedure.

Among the familiar stories (at least since their early reprint in the Margulies book)  in The Unexpected are Fredric Brown's "Come and Go Mad", Fritz Leiber's "The Automatic Pistol" and Manly Wade Wellman's "The Valley Was Still", an historical fantasy set during the waning days of the US Civil War, later adapted, with a slightly heavy hand but still effectively, for an episode of  the first version of the tv series The Twilight Zone, "Still Valley"; such stories as Margaret St. Clair's "Mrs. Hawk" and Ray Bradbury's "The Handler" (not to be confused with Damon Knight story of the same title) in the WT book, and Alfred Bester's "The Pi Man", "William Tenn"'s "Eastward Ho!", Knight's "What Rough Beast" and Avram Davidson's "Dagon" in the Mills book are all very good examples of what their authors could do, if not the first stories one might think of from them or the magazines, and the other stories in the books are at least more than simply worth preserving, in 1960 and '61 when these books were first issued, and today--and the openness of Dorothy McIlwraith and Robert Mills to writers whom one might not think of as "typical" for their magazines, such as Frederik Pohl and Isaac Asimov in WT, or George P. Elliott (who was, like John Ciardi and others, a lifelong enthusiast of and occasional contributor to fantastic literature, as well as Barry Malzberg's mentor of sorts in the latter's university career) and Joel Townsley Rogers in F&SF, are on display here as well. I suspect I'll have more to say about them, soon.

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

Below, earlier-edition covers for the Mills volumes--Doubleday rarely did better than providing merely functional at best covers for the hardcover editions of the series over the decades, and the UK reprint isn't notably better in this case--and the full view of the second-edition package of the Margulies...Pyramid had adopted a sort of semi-uniform "look" for its anthologies drawn from fantasy magazines that the newer covers was certainly easier to read while browsing a paperback rack, if less splashily colorful.

Photo by Bill Crider


George said...

I actually read these books long, long ago. Pyramid Book published some excellent SF and Fantasy. I have a number of THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION anthologies that I haven't read yet. THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION was the leading SF digest during the Fifties and Sixties.

Todd Mason said...

And '70s, and arguably since...if by SF you mean Speculative Fiction, to include, as the title does, science fiction and fantasy (including horror)...and F&SF has, as I've mentioned on the blog before, published the occasional story that isn't sf or fantasy at all.

Donald Bensen did an excellent job at Pyramid, as their book editor, and editor (and probably ghost editor) of a number of their anthologies.