Wednesday, March 17, 2021

FFB/SSW: THE SEVENTH GALAXY READER edited by Frederik Pohl (Doubleday 1964); THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, 14th Series, edited by Avram Davidson (Doubleday 1965); SWORD & SORCERY ANNUAL edited by Sol Cohen (and Cele Goldsmith Lalli) (Ultimate Publications 1975); PERCHANCE TO WAKE: YET MORE SELECTED STORIES FROM SCIENCE FANTASY edited by John Boston and Damien Broderick (Surinam Turtle Press 2016)

the final cover painting by Hannes Bok

Lee Brown Coye

Agosta Morol
The Shock of the New...

Fantasy and sf in the fiction magazines devoted to them trended ever more sophisticated from their introduction in the US and UK in the 1920s and '30s, and in other English-language countries (though most other Anglophone countries usually featured simply local editions of the US or UK magazines), till by the 1950s the good ones averaged on par with the run of more sophisticated 
Virgil Finlay
commercial and little magazines. Hugo Gernsback reprinted the likes of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe in his early issues of his pioneering (in 1926) Amazing Stories, which was otherwise largely built, at first, on a tradition of notional technology anecdotes in his early electronics magazines.  (But Gernsback was also happy to feature an Edgar Rice Burroughs "John Carter of Mars" story for the only 
issue of his Amazing Stories Annual). F. Orlin Tremaine innovated as successor to Harry Bates and the latter's Astounding Stories of Super Science; John W. Campbell Jr. refined and continued those advances away from standard pulp adventure, and had the title changed from Tremaine's Astounding Stories to Astounding Science-Fiction, and then eventually to Analog (which it remains today);  Sam Merwin, Jr. likewise in the latter '40s  into the '50s improved on the efforts of his predecessors (at Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, the latter-day versions of Gernsback's second set of sf magazines), Dorothy McIlwraith's Weird Tales (where she widened that magazine's remit beyond the kind of neo-gothic horror and purple overstatement that her predecessors favored, even as impressive as Farnsworth Wright's best editorial work had been), and even the young Frederik Pohl, at his promising magazines Astonishing Stories and Super-Science Stories, demonstrating their initially 19-year-old editor's  quick learning curve but also his openness to  the larger literary world, and as the most financially sound and widely-read of the magazines edited by the young lions of the Futurian Society of New York, a fan/ aspiring pro group of writers, editors, artists, agents and more who included a large number of the most notable conscious artists in fantastic fiction, albeit all still very young in the 1930s and '40s. Judith Merril, freelancing anthologies and establishing the second, and often controversial, sf and fantasy best-of-the-year annual, Donald Wollheim, at Avon Books, then Ace Books, then DAW Books, Robert Lowndes, at Columbia Publications and other low-budget publishers, and Larry Shaw in magazines and at Lancer Books, were among the other most prominent editors among the Futurians.

And so, as the new magazines of the 1950s entered the scene, including the four magazines represented in this review essay, the bend toward increasing literary excellence and ambition was already established ...the best of the new magazines, and the best work in the field published in the 1950s, was able to match the standards of fiction published in any other forum on a consistent basis, even given there was still a fair amount of relatively trivial and weak fiction also made available, as in every other field of fiction as well. By the early/mid '60s, the groundwork laid by the increasing urbanity and prose facility of fiction published in magazines such as Galaxy, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fantastic: Stories of Imagination, and Science Fantasy had been building steadily on the good work of and in the previous issues of the same magazines, and not a few other allied periodical titles and anthologies of new work, and book publishers open to novels of ambition, at least fitfully... was resulting in some of what is collected in the books, and one special retrospective magazine issue, we consider here.

The four editors, or the three editors and a small cluster of editors at Science Fantasy in the early/mid-'60s the fiction collected here springs from, were doing, under some stressful limitations and not always fully successfully, some of the most important editorial work in fantastic fiction of their time. Frederik Pohl, officially the editor of Galaxy and its recently-acquired sibling If from 1962, had been responsible for an increasing amount of the editorial work behind the scenes since the late '50s, as Pohl's literary agency and Galaxy founding editor H. L. Gold were both facing extreme difficulty. Pohl had been a key supporter of Gold, as agent and as a contributor of fiction, from the magazine's founding in 1950, and was unsurprisingly tapped to serve.  Galaxy and If under his initial official editorship faced tough times; one strategy he took to help the magazines weather slowing sales was to buy a certain amount of acceptable-to-good fiction at a new low rate of payment for stories, 1c/word, then immediately afterward begin editing more selectively, seeking better work at Galaxy's initial 1950 rate of three cents per word...and mix the better work in with the readable till reader support could be, he hoped, regained.

At The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, or F&SF, increasingly frequent contributor Avram Davidson was asked in 1962 to become its fourth editor, and third solo editor, the first in that position to not have been either a co-founder or an old hand around the magazine. Davidson as editor was often seen as willing to explore eccentricity even more than had predecessors Robert P. Mills and founding editors "Anthony Boucher" and J. Francis McComas, but he managed to publish a considerable amount of pathbreaking fiction; he remains my favorite of the editors of the magazine, in a very impressive field. 

Similarly, Cele Goldsmith (later married and signing herself Cele Lalli, and later yet Cele Goldsmith Lalli) had joined the magazine staff at Ziff-Davis in the mid '50s with the primary task of editing a short-lived magazine called Pen Pals which was devoted to just that, facilitating new mail correspondents. She was also tasked with assisting the ever-more nonchalant fiction magazine editor on staff, Howard Browne, who had been founding editor of Fantastic, but whom increasingly spent his on-the-clock time at the offices writing his own fiction for publication elsewhere. Goldsmith didn't know very much about fantasy or sf as fields, but was the conscientious presence on the staff, as Browne was succeeded by an old writing colleague of his, and founding editor of  If, Paul W. Fairman, if anything even more oblivious to the quality of the magazine he was barely editing. Goldsmith would comb through the "slush pile" of unsolicited manuscripts, and found as a result, among other work, what would be Kate Wilhelm's first published story, which Fairman disinterestedly published along with the fiction he bought unread from his five "regulars": Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Milton Lesser (before he legally changed his name to Stephen Marlowe), Randall Garrett and Henry Slesar, a very talented quintet who were not usually offering their best work to an editor who wanted manuscripts on-time and unproblematic much more than he wanted them good. Others, including Fairman himself, would also contribute, particularly for some special issues devoted to wish-fulfillment fantasy that led up to a short-lived spinoff magazine called Dream World. Goldsmith learned a lot about what to do and more of what not to.

All of these items have been packaged on the cheap--standard practice at Doubleday in the '60s when not dealing with their "lead titles", and Ultimate and Surinam Turtle Press were and are all but one-person shops, Ultimate a retirement job for publisher Sol Cohen and STP kind of an avocational project of Richard Lupoff's.

Introduction · Frederik Pohl · in
For Love · Algis Budrys · nv Galaxy Jun 1962
Come Into My Cellar · Ray Bradbury · ss Galaxy Oct 1962
The Tail-Tied Kings · Avram Davidson · ss Galaxy Apr 1962
Crime Machine · Robert Bloch · ss Galaxy Oct 1961
Return Engagement · Lester del Rey · ss Galaxy Aug 1961
Earthmen Bearing Gifts · Fredric Brown · vi Galaxy Jun 1960
Rainbird · R. A. Lafferty · ss Galaxy Dec 1961
Three Portraits and a Prayer · Frederik Pohl · ss Galaxy Aug 1962
Something Bright · Zenna Henderson · ss Galaxy Feb 1960
On the Gem Planet [Casher O’Neill] · Cordwainer Smith · nv Galaxy Oct 1963
The Deep Down Dragon · Judith Merril · ss Galaxy Aug 1961
The King of the City · Keith Laumer · nv Galaxy Aug 1961
The Beat Cluster · Fritz Leiber · ss Galaxy Oct 1961
An Old-Fashioned Bird Christmas · Margaret St. Clair · nv Galaxy Dec 1961
The Big Pat Boom · Damon Knight · ss Galaxy Dec 1963

--More to come...

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

SHORT STORY WEDNESDAY: HANGING BY A THREAD edited by Joan Kahn (Houghton Mifflin 1969)

index from ISFDB, slightly augmented

Even at this late date, it's difficult to label the anthologies of Joan Kahn as obscure, given her importance throughout her career as an editor of crime fiction, most famously at Harper and Row, and not trivially at the end of her career at St. Martins. But it might well be that the significance of her career as a novel and otherwise publisher's editor has tended to overshadow her double-handful of anthologies aimed at adult and YA readers, as good and eclectic as they could be--she was one of the few who regularly mixed in not only historical fiction and classics of formerly contemporary mimetic and adventure fiction with the more straightforward crime and horror fiction in her suspense-oriented anthologies, but would also include true-crime and some other historical accounts...not too many other anthologists of her day would include Tacitus in translation cheek by jowl with Helen Eustis and John D. MacDonald. Nor any of these mixed in with an excerpt from Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki. In some ways, what we have here is a very fat, well-bound magazine issue, sans ads or illustration. 

I liked, thus, the Kahn anthologies I read when in my second decade, but not as much as I loved somewhat similarly eclectic (but usually fiction-only, aside from introductions, afterwords, notes on the texts and contributors) anthologies from the likes of Robert Arthur or Harold Q. Masur (often ghosting their work for Alfred Hitchcock-branding), Bill Pronzini, Barry Malzberg, the early years of Martin H. Greenberg, and such prolific editors of anthologies mostly for young readers as Helen Hoke, Betty M. Owen, Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, and the energetic (and relatively uneven, perhaps as a result) editor for adults and younger readers Peter Haining and, also published in the US by Taplinger ahead of other imprints, the less prolific and perhaps thereby more consistent Hugh Lamb...but there were always reasons to be glad one had a Kahn anthology in one's hands or at least on a convenient shelf. 

And yet this one escaped me altogether in those years, despite my snapping up any anthology likely to contain actual horror fiction (as opposed to all those annoying, ill-written John Canning and similar "true weird tales" volumes of enjoyable an early, sleazy read as Emile Schurmacher's Strange Unsolved Mysteries was). It's just arrived today, and in it is only the second short story I've managed to stumble across from Henry Cecil [Leon, his apparent full legal name, used in his primary career as a judge]...after reading his "Proof" when I was 8yo in Kathleen Lines's The House of the Nightmare and Other Eerie Tales (itself including a slightly annoying short set of "true" supernatural tales among its pages, but forgiven)...if I like this crime story, as I take it to be, nearly as much as the matter-of-fact horror story that is "Proof", I shall be forced to finally make a serious effort to find his own books all these decades later. 

The familiar stories here, such excellences and happy memories as Jorge Luis Borges's "El fin"/"The End", James Thurber's "A Sort of Genius", the Hammett and even the more endlessly reprinted than actually good Bulwer-Lytton (Lines titled her next YA horror anthology for it) are mixed in with the promise of Algis Budrys's early sf story, from Astounding Science Fiction during his years in John Campbell's stable and his first volume of short stories, The Unexpected Dimension (which I belatedly read half of before it went into a storage box for the changing of one apartment for another), the very dimly familiar Wells and Crane stories (skimmed? seen/heard adapted? had to return the library book before I got to them? did I simply miss, say, the Bowen or the McCoy in not seeking out their collections?) and all the others...

It's an odd telescopic trip through some of my earliest and latest reading. I'm glad to have it.