I need to spend less time on eBay. A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a collector selling significant lots of vintage fanzines and critical journals from the 70s and 80s — things like Science Fiction Review, The Alien Critic, Fantasy Review, SF Collector, Fantasy, and others.
Hard-to-find-stuff, as I later told my wife Alice, trying to explain why the postman had delivered a 16-pound package and why we were out over two-hundred bucks.
So now I’m in the doghouse. But keeping me company are 87 beautiful magazines packed with news, reviews, artwork, and opinion on the state of fantasy three decades ago, so really, things aren’t so bad. That was probably the height of my book collecting, so there’s lots here that’s of interest. The first one I opened was Fantasy 55, from January 1983, a Locus-like genre news magazine edited by Robert A. Collins. I’d never even heard of Fantasy, so it’s a little humbling to discover it’s clearly a major magazine (which published over 60 issues, apparently). It’s professionally laid out and designed, with lots of art and photos.
Two things I notice right off the bat. First, the cover verges on pornography, with a nude woman sprawled on a bed, getting pretty worked up while some guy with horns drools saliva on her. Eeeugh. Man, the 80s. What can I tell you.
(A lot of these fanzines feature naked women on the covers. Naked women piloting starships. Naked women battling monsters. Naked women in dungeons. This was the era when a lot of young women avoided conventions due to routine sexual harassment. Think there’s a connection?)
The second thing I notice is the fabulous line-up of contributors, including Fritz Leiber, Darrell Schweitzer, Mike Ashley, John Morressy, Somtow Sucharitkul, and many others. I still haven’t read a third of the articles, but the thing that really opened my eyes was Collins’s editorial, in which he quotes contributor Karl Edward Wagner’s thoughts on the expected fantasy boom following the release of Conan the Barbarian and the genesis of his Kane collection, Night Winds:
Last month… Wagner again attacked fantasy fans, writers, and publishers for their apparent inability to evolve intellectually and/or artistically, for constantly rewarming “the same simple plots and conflicts that were boring Robert Bloch back during Conan’s heyday in 1934.” Both writers and fans, he said, eventually “turn their backs on heroic fantasy,” leaving the field to a new crowd of adolescents. “One would hope for a new sophistication among the readers, and one may grow old hoping.”
Surprised at Karl’s bitterness, I wrote him about it. Part of his response went like this:
“It is a depressing state of affairs. Just after I posted the article I caught a TV ad for Atari promoting a new video game. The ad featured a Conan type complete with dragon. The rot runs deeper than I thought. Why read a book when you can play one?
“I came into this genre via horror rather than as a Howard graduate… Kane is modeled after the Gothic hero-villain instead of just-another-barbarian. I wrote Night Winds as a group of heroic fantasy stories for people who hate heroic fantasy stories; when it was on the World Fantasy Awards ballot, one of the five judges told me at the con that he had not read the collection, he never read barbarian fantasy.
“How many psychiatrists does it take to change a genre? More than one, evidently, and the genre really has to want to change.”
Wagner was a practicing psychiatrist before he gave it up to write full-time.
This was all rather timely, as we’ve been discussing Kane recently here in the Black Gate blog — including Fletcher Vredenburgh’s splendid review of Night Winds on September 17. Glancing over Fletcher’s article with Wagner’s comments in mind, I was impressed to note Fletcher picked up on Wagner’s primary identification with horror, rather than straight S&S:
While the Kane series was written as S&S, it’s been many years now that I’ve also considered it horror fiction, and it turns out I’m not the first person to recognize this. In my research for this post, I learned that Gerald Page included “Undertow” in The Years’ Best Horror Stories: VI and “Sing a Last Song of Valdese” in Vol. V… For all the blood and thunder action in the Kane series, Wagner uses hideous monsters, gruesome violence, and unease that rises to a crescendo of terror to, indeed, invoke “fear and dread” in his reader. Decay, loss, and betrayal build the stage on which all of Kane’s exploits unfold. There are no happy endings and few happy moments anywhere in the Kane stories…
I always liked the Kane stories, but it took me a while to understand why. When a friend suggested they were really horror stories, it made sense. Karl Edward Wagner, a master of two genres I love, took them and blended them with perfection.
There are lots more delights in this issue of Fantasy, including a lengthy interview with Roger Zelazny, a marvelous report on The British Scene by Mike Ashley, and much more. So far, my favorite articles are the 1982 World Fantasy Convention report by Robert Collins, accompanied by dozens of candid shots of many of my favorite fantasy writers, and the detailed checklist of January fantasy releases (with great little thumbnail pics of dozens of paperback covers… ah, all those images take me back. It’s like visiting a bookstore, circa 1983).
In fact, the only real critique I have of the issue — other than the cover, which has me schlepping the thing around the house in a paper bag — is the title. I mean… Fantasy? Could we be more generic? I’m delighted with the magazine, and I’d love to dig up a few more (don’t tell Alice I said that)… but do you know how many hits you get if you type FANTASY into eBay? Let alone Google?
It’s ridiculous. FANTASY FANZINE and FANTASY NEWSLETTER (its original name) don’t fare much better.
There’s got to be a way to find additional issues. So far, I haven’t stumbled on it, though. Until then, I have to be content with the seven I purchased, issues #55, 62, 65-69, cover dated 1983 or 1984.
Fantasy (originally Fantasy Newsletter) was founded by Paul C. Allen and edited by Robert A. Collins after issue 41. It was published monthly. I don’t really know when it started, or when it folded, but I’m working on finding out. The issues I have are 40 pages, with a cover price of $2.50.
I purchased the seven back issues below for $25 on eBay. Click for a full-size image.