Friday, December 7, 2018

FFM: some 1963 and 1973 fantasy magazines: GAMMA, July 1963, edited by Charles Fritch; MAGAZINE OF HORROR, August 1963, edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes; FANTASTIC, September 1973, edited by Ted White; THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, August 1973, edited by Edward Ferman; THE HAUNT OF HORROR, August 1973, edited by Gerard F. Conway

We start with two magazines which offered their first issues in the summer of 1963; both were on newsstands in July. Both would offer a mix of fantasy (very much including horror), some sf and (as has often been the case with fantasy-fiction magazines over the decades) some stories that were more fantastic-adjacent than departures from consensus reality.

Both were produced on modest budgets, but Gamma featured a full-color cover and relatively good paper, if a saddle-stapled binding; the first issue of Magazine of Horror (the lack of article in the title has always seemed awkward to me) was on a lower grade of paper, but the first issue, at least, was perfect-bound (glued, with a spine), though not long after, the MOH would also go to staple-binding. 

And, in their mix of new and reprinted content, the two magazines come off rather more similarly than one might expect, particularly as the Magazine of Horror was both economically but also by intent delving largely into public domain reprints from the pulps, most importantly Weird Tales, and earlier fiction from other sources, featuring reprints from Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Robert Chambers and H.G. Wells along with the WT crew, while Gamma (with some, if limited, visual art within) was devoted to showcasing the "Little Bradburys" of the Los Angeles area, many of whom were screenwriters and not a few in Rod Serling's stable of contributors to The Twilight Zone...hence the prominence, aside from commercial good sense, in highlighting Bradbury's (reprinted) contributions, the Serling interview, and a piece of juvenilia by Tennessee Williams first published in Weird Tales (and also conveniently in the public domain); the other reprints in Gamma include decade-old stories from other fantasy/sf magazines and one of the most prominent fanzines of the time, a poem from a regional magazine and one of a number of vignettes commissioned for an advertising series that ran in Scientific American. Chatty headnotes to the stories and other expressions of strong editorial presence are hard to miss in both issues. 

Gamma [v1 #1, #1, 1963] (50¢, 128pp+, digest, cover by Morris Scott DollensEditors: Charles E. Fritch, Editor; Jack Matcha, Executive Editor; William F. Nolan, Managing Editor

Magazine of Horror and Strange Stories [v1 #1, #1, August 1963] ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes (Health Knowledge Inc., 50¢, 132pp, digest) 
Both magazines lead off with stories by the kind of writers who would predominate throughout their runs; unfortunately neither is a first-rate story. Frank Belknap Long's "The Man with a Thousand Legs" is a remarkably tone-deaf attempt to emulate Lovecraftian overstatement (which Lovecraft himself wasn't so good at), clunking along through one clumsy turn of phrase after another (and exactly one good one, when it's suggested a shell game con-man will look upon a potential source of income as his oyster); Charles Beaumont, probably the most widely-respected of the group of writers dismissively tagged "little Bradburys" by some, but who notably could dig a bit deeper in his best work than Bradbury usually was able to, provides something very much like a Bradbury version of a Manly Wade Wellman story, set among rural folk coping with a very old and eyeless man, replete with pet raven and guitar, who serves as a harbinger (agent?) of death when he comes down the hill and plays and sings his "Mourning Song" in front of the houses of the soon-dead...for however many days till the death actually occurs. By 1963, Beaumont was probably already dependent on his friends to finish when not completely ghost his work for him, as the early-onset Alzheimer's which would kill him a few years later was already making its presence known. Long's story is among his earliest work, though he did make some judicious rewrites at Lowndes's request (presumably excising some though not all the racist language in the original)...but not nearly enough of them. 

Wallace West is next up in the MOH, with "A Thing of Beauty," a Weird Tales reject that presumably sat in a drawer for three decades, and perhaps deservedly, though it's certainly a better story than the Long; a hunchbacked functionary at a medical school becomes obsessed with the corpse of a young woman, a suicide-by-gas, one of those he's charged with preserving for purposes of med student dissection. His rhapsodies over her nude form allow West to have him recite no little Romantic poetry, the caretaker's other obsession. WT editor Farnsworth Wright supposedly rejected the story as too distasteful, though its frankness is one of its few strengths. In the Gamma issue, Fritz Leiber's "Crimes Against Passion" is a playlet, one of his surprisingly few explorations of that form (given his theatrical background and love of the work of Shakespeare and John Webster, among others). It's also an excuse to rummage about mostly in Shakespeare's plays and to a lesser extent those of Aeschylus, while making easy jokes at the expense of modern psychiatry...this piece is one of the weaker Leiber fictions I've read, and feels like the kind of thing that instead would've gone to one of the more literate fanzines normally. Leiber is a better artist than West, but neither is swinging for the fences in these, beyond the indulgence in hat-tipping to their literary favorites. The West isn' t horror fiction or at least is non-fantasticated; the Leiber is so much a stage jape or sketch that it barely registers as fantasy. 

The next (reprinted) stories in the issues are Robert W. Chambers's "The Yellow Sign" (from his collection of linked stories The King in Yellow, so much with us in the popular culture a few years back when the first season of the HBO series True Crime tied the murders portrayed in its narrative to a psychopath's devotion to the book)...this is the best-written story so far in the issue, by some distance, far more deft and fresh in the telling than the West and vastly better and less clumsily dated than the Long, for all that it hails from the 1890s; I suspect it suffers a little from being excerpted from the book, but it can stand, if probably less effectively, on its own as the story of a sort of haunting; Ray Bradbury's "Time in Thy Flight' had been his contribution  to the first issue of Fantastic Universe a decade before, cover dated June-July 1953 (edited by Samuel Merwin, Jr., who had been one of Bradbury's editors at Thrilling Wonder Stories and who would, as would Charles Fritch after him, eventually edit Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine), and it's as ham-handed and precious as Bradbury at his worst ever was, with 11yo children, on a time-travel field trip to 1928 holidays from a highly-regulated and antiseptic future, choosing to stay where fun is to be had...because 1928 orphanages were piles of fun. 

"The Vengeance of Nitocris" is also an early Weird Tales story, the first publication of a teenaged Thomas Williams not yet signing himself "Tennessee", and a narrative which is determined to not simply foreshadow but clumsily reiterate what was about to happen as an Egyptian pharaoh takes revenge on priests responsible for the death of  her brother, the previous pharaoh. The 1920s were a good time for working Ancient Egyptian settings into the ground, particularly in WT. While in the MOH "The Maze and the Monster" is a bit of throwing-back romp for Edward Hoch, harkening to "The Lady or the Tiger" and "The Most Dangerous Game" (and even the similarly retro "The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths" by Borges, which Hoch might've been able to read) as well as grim adventure fiction of an even older vintage. Hoch had been one of Lowndes's "discoveries" at the Columbia crime fiction and other magazines he'd edited from the early '40s to the folding of the chain in 1960, and perhaps his most literarily significant new writer along with Carol Emshwiller; Hoch, as I didn't know previously, also contributed to the (ostensibly) nonfiction magazine Lowndes was already editing for Health Knowledge, Exploring the Unknown.  The reprinted A. E. van Vogt vignette, "Itself!", is slight, easy to take in, and indicative of how well he can put across paralogical moods and rather singleminded predation. Also, as isn't uncommon in his work, it's a bit goofy.

The new Silverberg and Wollheim stories in the MOH are good examples of what these writers can do, and I'm looking forward to the Ray Russell original and Kris Neville reprint in Gamma particularly, while holding out less hope for the Ackerman collaboration, never published with recognition of that collaborative authorship, and supposedly rewritten from a 1953 appearance in the literate fanzine Inside. The Wells story and Twain tall tale are good work, from my memory of them, decades ago...this review will be updated over the next day or so...

The two established fantasy and sf magazines in the US had solid issues out in theoretical competition with these startups...
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction [v25 #1, #146, July 1963] (40¢, 132pp, digest, cover by Ed Emsh)

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction [v25 #2, #147, August 1963] (40¢, 132pp, digest, cover by Ed Emsh)
While the only other fully professional fantasy/sf magazine in English, the British Science Fantasy, also had a pretty impressive issue:

Science Fantasy [v20, #60, (August) 1963] (2/6d, 112pp+, digest, cover by Gerard Quinn)

And continue with three issues from the shank of each magazine's run under these editors...of course, editor (and eventual tv producer) Gerard F. "Gerry" Conway wouldn't get too much chance to do more with his prose magazine than this second issue of  The Haunt of Horror, which would be folded before the prepared third issue could be printed (Marvel soon offered a large-format black and white comic book with that title, to join a series they'd already started and advertise in the Haunt digest issues). Rather sobering to realize that of these three magazines, Haunt almost certainly had the largest budget...while not a lavish one by any means...contemporary issues of Analog (from Conde Nast) and Vertex (from Mankind Publishing, also publishing slick magazines. if lower-budget ones) and even the slowly cheapening Galaxy/If group of magazines at paperback publisher UPD were somewhat more impressively produced than any of these three, as the two more durable magazines were already, or about to become, literal cottage industry, put together on home-office tables. 

Though the fiction they were publishing was about as good as that in any other fiction magazine in 1973.  Of course, when we look at the more talented contributors to these issues, that isn't too surprising...including knowing that "John K. Diomede" in two of the issues is a pseudonym for George Alec Effinger. The F&SF leads off with "Peregrine: Alflandia" as a fragment, not quite as free-standing as advertised by Edward Ferman's blurb, of the Secundus 
sequel to Peregrine: Primus by Avram Davidson. Essentially as the first chapter, it's a great teaser, even if Davidson was having so much fun with his more rustic characters' accents and idiosyncratic syntax, that it can be a little daunting at first, if clearly Davidson enjoying himself and sharing much of that joy. Basically, though, it's expert setting development and introduction of the first important characters, but the story is just starting to happen when the chapter ends. Set as it is in an alternate Mitteleuropa/collapsing Roman Empire of perhaps the 600s or a century or more later, it has some of the feel of the (even better) Eszterhazy stories, which would begin appearing not much later.  

Even better as well is the first of the too-short series of Arcana stories by Janet Fox, in the Fantastic issue, "A Witch in Time," where she demonstrates how much she's learned from the best of the sword and sorcery writers before her, and matches all but the very best of their work. Fox had published her first professionally-published fiction only a few years before, with the Magazine of Horror in 1970, and was already writing impressive fiction, even if her hand would grow a bit surer over the next several years. I can only wish she had published more. Meanwhile, one of her models, Fritz Leiber, reviews as his only book in this issue's column Henry Mazzeo's fine anthology of horror fiction Hauntings, illustrated by Edward Gorey, and notes something I'd failed to fully perceive over the years (probably in part because I first read the book when I was nine years old), that taken together, as they are presented on the dust jacket, the Gorey illustrations present their own narrative.

And Leiber is of course present in the Haunt of Horror issue as well, with the second half of his first novel, Conjure Wife, reprinted justly as a classic. I will have more to say about all three issues (as you might well guess, given the bare bones on display here) with more time to devote to the task, but I will note the most annoying ads in all three issues are the stiff cigaret center inserts in all three, put in these and not a few paperbacks of the era (Dell Books, particularly, stick in my memory thus) by their printer/binders in collaboration with the publishers, as tobacco companies began to cope with losing access to tv and radio advertising in the U.S. True brand in the F&SF, Kent in the other two...even more enervating than the $20 astrological chart ads in the Fantastic (particularly considering how far $2o went in 1973) or the "anti-gravity device" or the "ESP laboratory" offered among the less savory classified ads in the F&SF (the pitches in the Fantastic tended toward witchcraft and related Hidden Knowledge, usually less expensively).


Jerry House said...

I have very pleasant memories of all but one of these, Todd. GAMMA was so spunky trying to keep up with the big guys despite spotty distribution (as an LA-based magazine it was very difficult to find in New England). MOH is a shiny example of what Doc Lowndes could do with a budget of 37 cents. In those pre-internet days a number of the reprinted chestnuts may not have been readily available to some of his readers. FANTASTIC was my go-to magazine back then. Ted White worked very hard to give the mag a personality. F&SF has always been top-shelf. THE HAUNT OF HORROR, another spunky magazine, coulda been a contender if not for a lack of corporate support. SCIENCE FANTASY was just not available to me back then, but as I catch up with old issues I am very impressed.

Ah, to be young again, starry-eyed, and not too critical...

Todd Mason said...

I would agree...I was able to find a very few back issues via mail order at prices I could afford of SCIENCE FANTASY when I began collecting, mostly new magazines, in 1978, but they were fun to go through. And the inaccessibility of the pulp reprints in MAGAZINE OF HORROR and its eventual stablemates was pretty near total, unless the readers had access to pulp back issues, already a rather specialized trade by the early '60s. Though most of what I loved about what I'd read from the Lowndes magazines, reprinted elsewhere or in the back issues as I found them, was the original fiction he published. Yes, Marvel gave Very little support to HAUNT OF HORROR the fiction magazine, vs. the comics magazine that got a slightly longer run later on.

I dunno...I was pretty critical even when young. One of the first F&SF back issues I picked up was the GLORY ROAD issue, and that Heinlein novel starts well, but sure bogs down quickly...the rest of the issue was better...but F&SF and FANTASTIC and WHISPERS were definitely my favorite new magazines in 1978, even as I really liked nearly all the fiction magazines I could find to one degree or another, and such magazines with one or two short stories per issue such as THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.