Future Science Fiction, July 1953: A Retro-Review

Sunday, April 12th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Future Science Fiction July 1953-smallI’ve been tracking down some less well-known Jack Vance stories, and that’s what led me to this issue of Future Science Fiction.

Future was one of two magazines (the other being Science Fiction Stories  — in its later years sometimes called The Original Science Fiction Stories, though that was never its official title) that Robert A. W. Lowdes edited for Columbia Publications, off and on, first for a couple of years in the late ’30s and early ’40s, after which the titles were revived in 1950, and continued to be published until 1960, under a set of titles and numberings that frankly make my head hurt.

I’ve written about Lowdes’ magazines before, and noted that he always had a tiny budget and still managed to produce pretty fair issues. This issue isn’t a particularly strong one, but it does have a quite distinguished list of authors, only one of whom could be called “Little Known.”

The format at this time was that of the classic pulp, about 7” by 10” with low quality paper. The cover here is by Milton Luros, illustrating Charles Dye’s “The Aeropause.” The features include “Down to Earth,” an extended letter column, this time featuring mostly letters suggesting alternate endings to Clifford Simak’s “… And the Truth Shall Make You Free,” which had appeared in the March issue.

It seems Lowndes had requested just this. I’m not familiar with the story, so I really couldn’t make head nor tail of the discussion. The only name I recognized among the letter writers was Robert Coulson, later a Hugo winner (with his wife Juanita) for the fanzine Yandro (which began appearing in this year, 1953), and also a novelist (mostly in collaboration with Gene De Weese.) Coulson was also credited as cowriter on Piers Anthony’s Laser Books novel But What of Earth?, but that was entirely against Anthony’s wishes, as Coulson made a number of changes at the behest of Laser series editor Roger Elwood, changes Anthony completely opposed. (Thanks to Ian Covell for this tidbit).

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See the Table of Contents for The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, edited by Rich Horton

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015-smallLast month Prime Books announced the Table of Contents of my favorite Year’s Best book, Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015.

This is the seventh volume, and it looks like another stellar line-up, with 34 stories from the leading print magazines (Asimov’s SF, Interzone, Analog, F&SF, and others), online publications (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and more) and anthologies (Fearsome Magics, Reach for Infinity, Rogues, and Solaris Rising 3, among others).

Authors include Kelly Link, Robert Reed, James Patrick Kelly, Alexander Jablokov, K. J. Parker, Ken Liu, Genevieve Valentine, Eleanor Arnason, Cory Doctorow, Peter Watts, and many, many others.

I was also very pleased to see two Black Gate contributors made the list: Saturday blogger Derek Künsken, with his Asimov’s tale “Schools of Clay,” and website editor emeritus C. S. E. Cooney, for her story “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale,” from Strange Horizons.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 is a fat 576 pages, and goes on sale in trade paperback from Prime Books in June.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Amazing Stories, August 1967: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories August 1967-smallI have recently covered a lot of issues of Amazing (and Fantastic) from the Cele Goldsmith/Lalli era, which extended (officially) from December 1958 through June 1965. The two magazines were then sold to Ultimate Publishing, owned by Sol Cohen. Cohen (and managing editor Joseph Ross) immediately instituted a policy of publishing mostly reprints of stories previously published in Amazing/Fantastic, which lasted until Ted White took over in 1969. (White’s issues still featured reprints for a while, but by the time I was buying the magazine (in 1974) the cover would proclaim “All Stories New – No Reprints.”)

Joseph Ross (and Cohen) were briefly succeeded as editor by Harry Harrison and then by Barry Malzberg, both of whom (as I understand) resisted Cohen’s reprint policy. To make things worse, Cohen refused to pay the authors for reprinted stories (technically legal under the terms Amazing had originally bought the stories under). The then new organization SFWA took exception, and threatened a boycott, after which, I believe, Cohen agree to pay at least a nominal fee.

After Amazing and Fantastic stopped publishing reprints (and even before), Ultimate published a variety of dreadful magazines with different titles like Great Science Fiction Stories, and Thrilling Science Fiction, that were all reprint. (Again, all from inventory owned by Ultimate.)

I remember buying one early in my reading career – I thought I had found a brand new SF magazine, and was crushed to realize it was all mostly shoddy reprints. (There was a decent John Campbell story, probably “Uncertainty,” which appeared in the July 1974 Science Fiction Adventure Classics.)

Anyway, I happened to buy one of the Cohen/Ross era Amazings, mainly because it has a rather obscure Jack Vance story that I had not read. And I figured it would be interesting to compare it to Lalli’s Amazing. What is interesting is that, viewed objectively and ignoring the fact that most of the stories are reprints, this is quite a good issue, with at least one very fine story that has been largely forgotten.

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Fantastic Universe, September 1959: A Retro-Review

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Universe September 1959-smallHere is probably one of the less-remembered digest SF magazines of the 1950s. Fantastic Universe was founded in 1953 and lasted until 1960, publishing 71 issues overall… it was a bimonthly briefly then a monthly until its demise (with a missed issue or two along the way). Thus it survived the collapse of the pulps in about 1955, and the American News Company disaster in 1957 or so, and even Sputnik. That’s not a bad run, all things considered.

But what does historian of the field Mike Ashley say of it (in Tymn/Ashley, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines):

Fantastic Universe was born at the height of the SF magazine boom in 1953, and perhaps the most surprising fact about it was that it survived the boom and appeared regularly throughout the rest of the 1950s.  Because if FU had any distinguishing feature it was its remarkable lack of memorable or meritorious fiction.


Alas, a skim through the TOCs of its run supports that notion: the most memorable stories were perhaps “Short in the Chest,” by “Idris Seabright” (Margaret St. Clair); “The Large Ant,” by Howard Fast; “Be My Guest,” by Damon Knight; and Robert Silverberg’s “Road to Nightfall.”

Add a couple of stories more famous for either their novel expansion, or the movie version: Algis Budrys’ “Who?” and Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report,” and a couple decent but minor stories each by Poul Anderson and Jack Vance, oh, and say Walter Miller’s “The Hoofer” and Avram Davidson’s “The Bounty Hunter.” There was a short Borges story in translation as well (before Borges was all that well known in the US). Not all that much to show for 71 issues: even these stories I mention are solid works but not their authors at their very best.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1951: A Retro-Review

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy June 1951-smallHere’s a review of a magazine issue that Matthew Wuertz has already covered here in his excellent ongoing traversal of Galaxy from its beginning … but I happened to read it and John O’Neill assures me that another (not necessarily dissenting) view is always welcome.

This is from the first year of Galaxy‘s existence. To me it reflects an magazine increasingly confident of its place. The cover doesn’t illustrate any story: it’s by Ed Emshwiller, titled “Relics of an Extinct Race”, and it depicts lizard-like aliens investigating rock strata containing remnants of human civilization.

The back cover advertises a book called The Education of a French Model, which was the memoirs of “Kiki de Montparnasse” (real name Alice Prin), who was somewhat famous as a nude model, and mistress of, among others, Man Ray, in the early part of the 20th Century. Her memoirs featured an introduction by Ernest Hemingway, which the ad happily trumpets. Other ads were for Saran Plastic Seat Covers, and for weight reducing chewing gum (called Kelpidine!), and other than that for books.

Interior illustrations were by Elizabeth MacIntyre, David Stone, David Maus, and “Willer” — this last a somewhat transparent (and, I would have thought, unnecessary) pseudonym for Ed Emshwiller (who usually signed his word Emsh). I note that except for Emshwiller the names are all unfamiliar, suggesting that H. L. Gold may have been looking for “new blood.” (For that matter, Emshwiller was “new blood” himself, a Gold discovery who had only begun illustrating for the SF magazines that year. It’s just that he’s the one of these illustrators who became a legend.)

Elizabeth MacIntyre is interesting as one of very few women SF illustrators in that era (the only other one I can think of offhand is the great Weird Tales artist Margaret Brundage). Todd Mason suggests, I think sensibly, that both the different set of illustrators and the unexpected advertisements can be attributed to Galaxy‘s publisher, World Editions, which had wider ambitions than just publishing SF.

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Amazing Stories, May 1964: A Retro-Review

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories May 1964-smallHere we are fairly late in Cele Lalli’s tenure, an issue with an impressive set of names on the TOC, but mildly disappointing overall content. The cover is by Ed Emshwiller, illustrating Lester Del Rey’s “Boiling Point”. The interiors are by George Schelling and Virgil Finlay.

The editorial, from Norman Lobsenz as usual, discusses with some concern the possibility of manipulation of people’s genetic material… then adds two silly Benedict Breadfruitian puns on the subject of the proper pronunciation of Lobsenz (Lobe-sense, it seems).

Ben Bova contributes a science article called “Planetary Engineering”, about prospects for building a base on the Moon. (Future articles in the series will cover more extensive “planetary engineering”, including terraforming other planets in the Solar System.)

Robert Silverberg’s book review column, The Spectroscope, covers Philip K. Dick’s The Game Players of Titan (which he judges as decent, but a disappointment relative to the best of Dick’s work), Doc Smith’s Skylark 3 (regarded by Silverberg as rather bad, though Doc is praised on personal grounds), and John Campbell’s anthology Analog 2 (he considers it very uneven, with one excellent story, a couple decent ones, and some weaker stuff). I will add that I agree with Mr. Silverberg on all points.

The stories, then.

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Astounding Science Fiction, February and March 1953: A Retro-Review

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

astounding science fiction February 1953-smallI thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at John Campbell’s Astounding, from the early ’50s, after its dominance of the market had been shaken by Galaxy and F&SF. So here are two 1953 issues.

I bought these two issues because the March issue has John Brunner’s first story for a major market, “Thou Good and Faithful.” I noticed that that issue also has the second part of a Piper serial that I hadn’t read, so I bought the February issue to get part 1.

Details, then. The February cover, for H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire’s serial “Null-ABC,” is by H. R. Van Dongen, a pretty good one with a skull on a reddish background (flames and smoke, I think), and books and test tubes in the foreground.

The March cover, for “Thou Good and Faithful,” is less to my taste. It’s by G. Pawelka, an artist with whom I am unfamiliar, and it features a robot with a monkey-like creature on his shoulder, holding a globe of sorts — a very accurate depiction of a scene from the story, but not a picture I fancy much.

The features in each issue are the usual: Campbell’s editorial (“Redundance,” about information theory, in February; and “Unsane Behavior,” about war and the naivete of both those who think it works very well, and those who think stories of Atomic Doom will prevent it, in March); In Times to Come, The Analytical Laboratory, Brass Tacks, and P. Schuyler Miller’s review column.

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The Original Science Fiction Stories, November 1958 and May 1960: A Retro-Review

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

The-Original-Science-Fiction-Stories-November-1958-small2Recently, our esteemed editor John O’Neill blogged about having bought a set of copies of The Original Science Fiction Stories… so it occurred to me that a Retro-Review of a couple of those issues might be interesting. And here it is — something I wrote a few years ago, slightly polished.

Perhaps a long article about Robert A. W. Lowndes’s editorial career would be interesting. His career was rather odd. Off and on for some two decades, he edited two magazines in various combinations: Future, and Science Fiction Stories. For a time, they were the same magazine, called Future Combined With Science Fiction Stories.

Actually, for a couple of different times, they were the same magazine under that title. Charles Hornig was editor for the first few issues of both magazines, from 1939-1941, then Lowndes took over and, as far as I can tell, he was the only editor until the magazines finally limped to an end in 1960.

There were two main phases of publishing these titles: from 1939 through 1943, then from 1950 through 1960. I don’t think there is another example of a single editor being associated, for so long, through so many title changes and hiatuses, with the same publications. He apparently never had much of a budget to work with, either. The publisher, I suppose throughout these magazines’ history, was Columbia Publications. (In the 60s, Lowndes edited one more magazine, the Magazine of Horror.)

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Amazing Stories, July 1962: A Retro-Review

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories July 1962-smallBack to Cele Goldsmith’s tenure at Amazing/Fantastic. This is a pretty strong issue, with, notably and perhaps surprisingly, a strong “Classic Reprint” novelet, and a strong serial opener. (The shorter fiction is less impressive.)

The cover is by Lloyd Birmingham, a semi-regular at Amazing/Fantastic throughout the ’60s, who also had one cover for Analog, one for an Ace Double, and a couple more. But he was never well-known in the field. It illustrates the serial in this issue, part one of Keith Laumer’s A Trace of Memory, competently but not particularly specially. Interiors are by Birmingham again, Leo Summers, Virgil Finlay, Dan Adkins, and Austin Briggs.

Norman Lobsenz’s editorial discusses some evidence that may or may not support the Big Bang theory. (This was a couple of years before the discovery of the 3 degree background radiation of the universe.) The lettercol, “ … or So you Say”, features a long letter by Julian Reid complaining about two recent Mark Clifton stories (“Hang Head, Vandal!” and the serial Pawn of the Black Feet), following a very long defense of his work by Clifton himself.

This response may be the last thing Clifton ever published. (He died in 1963, and I am sure he published no more stories after “Hang Head, Vandal!”) I think Clifton gets the better of the argument, pointing out for one thing that Pawn of the Black Fleet (aka When They Come From Space) is a spoof, which Reid took altogether too seriously.

S. E. Cotts’s book review column, “The Spectroscope,” covers Damon Knight anthology A Century of Science Fiction, with very high praise for the stories, but some quibbling about Knight’s categorization of different aspects of the field; and J. F. Bone’s The Lani People, which Cotts considers not very original, but quite fun. There is a very brief “Benedict Breadfruit” squib by “Grandall Barretton” (Randall Garrett) … these are decidedly sub-Feghootian to begin with and this one is worse than usual. Ben Bova (or “Ben Ben Bova” as the TOC has it) contributes an article on “The Three Requirements of Life in the Solar System,” second in a four-article series on the possibilities of alien life, this one covering possibilities for life on other planets in our system.

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Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966: A Retro Review

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantasy and Science Fiction April 1966-smallI called the last magazine I covered (Fantastic for April 1960) “determinedly minor.” This issue of F&SF seems much more significant to me.

The cover is by Jack Gaughan, illustrating Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever novelet “The Sorcerer Pharesm.” The features include a Gahan Wilson cartoon, a poem by Doris Pitkin Buck, a very short science snippet by Theodore L. Thomas, Judith Merril’s Books column and Isaac Asimov’s Science column.

Asimov’s column is one of his lesser ones: little but a list of the Nobel Prize winners in the Science fields by nationality. That’s a long list, so it takes up most of his page count. He does a tiny amount of analysis of the numbers, but not much.

Merril begins by reviewing two very ’60s-ish popular science books: LSD: The Consciousness Inducing Drug (edited by David Solomon, with contributions from those you’d expect, like Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Timothy Leary), and Games People Play by Eric Berne. She recommends the LSD book, but is quite negative about Games People Play.

In the way of SF, she begins by looking at two John Brunner books, The Day of the Star Cities and The Squares of the City. She identifies the first as “up there with the best of his earlier work” and the second as a step beyond, building on his growth that started with The Whole Man. I think that jibes with the consensus view of Brunner’s career. She ends up saying, “[I]t leaves me very eager to see Brunner’s next.”

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