The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars, by Elliott Dold.
From Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, April-May 1931
I’ve written from time to time about original science fiction art delivered to us by our Friendly Neighborhood Mailman.
Among the various original black and white interior illustrations we own from the science fiction pulps, this is our earliest, appearing 90 years ago. By artist Elliott Dold, it ran as a frontispiece in the April-May 1931 issue of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. It was not for any particular story; instead it was a one page feature showing “An Incident of the Future: The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars.”
Dold was the art editor of this short-lived title; the April-May 1931 issue was the first of only two. He appears to have been the editor as well, though some sources state that Dold’s brother, Douglas, was the editor. Both Elliott and Douglas, as well as the publisher of Miracle, Harold Hersey, had worked together previously over at the Clayton pulp chain. Elliott and Douglas each had a story appear in Miracle; Douglas’ in the first issue, Elliott’s in the second, dated June-July 1931. In an interview in the October-November 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine, Elliott discusses how Miracle was his brainchild – he’d talked Hersey into publishing it, and obtained all the stories, as well as doing all the art. He blamed its cessation on an illness which made it impossible for him to work on it. Perhaps coincidentally, during this same period his brother Douglas passed away, on May 6, 1931.
Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction & Fact for May/June 2021. Cover art by Shutterstock.com
Sam Tomaino at SFRevuraves over the latest issue of Asimov’s.
The May/June 2021 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is here and it has two Hugo-worthy novelettes!
“Reclaiming the Stars” by James Gunn. This is the fourth and final story in a series that features the adventures of Harry and Lisa George, who as of the previous story, were physically long dead but survived as personalities in black boxes on an Earth… The story begins with Harry and Lisa working at recreating human life with Lisa more comfortable with that than Harry, who has nightmares about a future Adam being killed by a sea monster. He wonders if there is something wrong with him. But when Lisa has a nightmare of her own about their progeny dying. They speculate that these visions are coming from an outside source. Who or what? Could it be a “ghost” of the AI that they defeated in the first story in this series?
Harry and Lisa have one last adventure and the series concludes in a perfect way. This story will be on my shortlist for consideration for a Best Novelette Hugo Award next year.
The issue concludes with the novelette, “Flattering the Flame” by Robert Reed. The Great Ship has two possible routes, the Prudent or the Impetuous. The Impetuous takes them through a very ancient developed system inhabited by the people known as the Flame. The Flame knows of the coming of the Great Ship and plan to take it for their own, led by their captain, Fierce. But Washen, the Great Ship captain, has other ideas. Another wonderfully rich tale from one of the genre’s most unique writers.
The May/June Dell magazines also contain stories by Neal Asher, Lettie Prell, Dominica Phetteplace, Ray Nayler, David Moles, and many others. Here’s all the details.
Venture Science Fiction, November 1957. Cover by Emsh
In this series of essays I have been taking a close look at stories I find interesting, trying to figure out how they work. So far the stories (and one poem) I have discussed are pieces I find particularly good – and this is hardly surprising, as surely it’s better to know how and what good stories do than weak stories. But this time I’m taking a look at a story I enjoy, but that I also think deeply flawed. Why? Partly because it’s by Theodore Sturgeon, one of my very favorite writers. But also this story seems very Sturgeonesque – so I hope that I can understand better what Sturgeon tries to do in his most characteristic stories, and why sometimes even while he does what he wants to do the story qua story doesn’t wholly work.
My favorite Sturgeon stories are “The Man Who Lost the Sea,” “A Saucer of Loneliness,” and “And Now the News …”. There are other very good and very well-known stories by him: “Baby is Three,” “Mr. Costello, Hero,” “Bulkhead,” “Affair with a Green Monkey,” “And My Fear is Great …”. And there are early stories that seem less truly characteristic of the mature writer, though they are still well-regarded: the SF Hall of Fame story “Microcosmic God,” horror stories like “It” and “Bianca’s Hands,” the possessed bulldozer piece “Killdozer.” I love a late ‘40s sense of wonder thing, “The Sky Was Full of Ships,” but that too is not core Sturgeon. But there are a few stories from his peak period, the 1950s, that have the emotional punch, and the moments of utter beauty, of the best of his work, but that for one reason or another don’t stick the landing. “The Golden Helix” is one. “The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff” is another – a novella that for half its length bids fair to be as good as anything he ever wrote, but which can’t quite find its way to a satisfactory resolution. And there is “It Opens the Sky,” the story I mean to treat here, which has pages of sheer loveliness, passages of great power, and a message that is Sturgeon at his most tender and optimistic. It is a story that brings me to tears, and yet frustrates me.
Amazing Stories, November 1989. Cover by Janet Aulisio
An unexpected issue came up during my reading of the November, 1989 Amazing Stories. In 1979 I was 10 years old, and I barely remember being 10 years old. In 1989 I was 20, and I remember being 20; maybe not 100%, but I remember enough. In fact, I remember enough to know what 20-year-old me (20YOM) would think of the stories in the November, 1989 cadre. Sometimes, 20YOM’s views conflicts with 51-year-old-me (51YOM). So there are times I am literally of two minds!
H. Beam Piper wrote a great deal about Time. His books and stories seem split into two types: travel via mechanical means, such as in the Paratime Police stories, and consciousness travel, such as in “The Edge of a Knife.” This article will look at both.
Piper wasn’t the first to write science fiction about parallel realities. Murray Leinster was the groundbreaker for that in “Sideways in Time” (1934). In 1947, Fredric Brown brought us his delightful parallel reality story, What Mad Universe. That same year, H. Beam Piper published his first time travel story, “Time and Again.” This was not a tale about purposeful travel but accidental, through a hellacious explosion. And it wasn’t about physical time travel at all, but consciousness travel. We’ll return to this type of time travel later in the article.
Verkan Vall is the hero of most of the Paratime police stories. His official title is Special Chief’s Assistant to the chief of the Paratime Police — Tortha Karf. Through his adventures we learn about the Home timeline of the First Probability Level and get a look at the complex spider web of realities that the Paratime Police oversee.
SPI ad in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1978
I’ve been spending some time over the past few months getting my SF digests back in order. While those on the shelves were in order, I had bunches in boxes that needed to be incorporated, so it’s been a bit of work. But it’s been fun to look at them as I’m organizing them (which of course just slows that process down!)
I’d remembered that the first SF digest I subscribed to was The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but had forgotten that the first issue of my subscription was December 1976. My copy still has that helpful mailing labeled plastered over it. But on that copy at least, from the perspective of 45 years later, I don’t mind it being on there at all.
I’ve had great fun looking again at the various SF and fantasy gaming ads that were running in digests during that period. I think that the first game I ever ordered was TSR’s Lankhmar in early 1977 (being a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fan, I couldn’t resist!), while I was in eighth grade, followed later that summer by SPI’s Sorcerer and Metagaming’s Ogre. Once I’d ordered a few things, my name found its way on to many mailing lists, so I wasn’t limited anymore to what I saw advertised in the digests.
I finally got around to listening to the epic podcast produced earlier this year by the staff and contributors to Tales From the Magician’s Skull. It features the brain trust behind my favorite sword & sorcery magazine, including its illustrious publisher Joseph Goodman, mastermind behind Goodman Games; editor Howard Andrew Jones (Managing Editor emeritus of Black Gate); and authors John C (Chris) Hocking, James Enge, and S.E. (Seth) Lindberg.
The whole thing is well worth listening to, roaming free-form over topics of interest to anyone who enjoys reading or writing quality short fantasy, including horror stories from the slush pile, the rising influence of Clark Ashton Smith and Warhammer, the importance of the establishing shot in fantasy fiction, other sources of quality S&S (including Adrian Simmons’ Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Jason Ray Carney’s Whetstone, Dave Ritzlin’s DMR Books, Cirsova, and Weirdbook), Icelandic sagas, the timeline of James Enge’s Morlock tales, Hocking’s Benhus stories, Howard Hanuvar tales, and the mysterious and untimely demise of an unusual number of magazine interns.
A couple of friends tipped me off that I was name-checked about forty minutes in, so it wasn’t a surprise when I heard it, but it was certainly worth the wait. The topic under discussion was the rare and classic Fighting Fantasy board games, including The Warlock and Firetop Mountain and especially Legend of Zagor. Here’s a transcription from around the 36-minute mark.
Howard: I bet John O’Neill has all of that, probably multiple copies in shrink. S.E. Lindberg: Oh my god.
“The Conditioned Captain” illustration by Virgil Finlay
(from Startling Stories, May 1953)
In last week’s Finlay post, I told the tale of how, back in the last week of March 2005, I’d acquired 15 Virgil Finlay originals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was an incredible purchase, but within six weeks it led to my acquisition of five more Finlay originals. Needless to say, that six week period was the greatest Finlay run of my collecting career.
I’d bought the Midsummer Night’s illos from California bookseller Peter Howard of Serendipity Books. At the time I bought them, he told me that his consignor on these had a few other Finlay originals which he thought he’d be handling for him. A week later, on April Fools’ Day, I received an email from Howard offering three more Finlay originals.
I’m excited to see Apex Magazine return to a regular schedule.
Apex published its first print issue on March 16, 2005, and quickly established a reputation as one of the finest new SF magazines of the new century. It focuses on dark science fiction and fantasy, and has won several Hugo and Nebula Awards. Catherynne M. Valente was the editor for issues #15-29, Lynne M. Thomas for #30-55, and Sigrid Ellis for #56-67. Jason Sizemore has been editor issue #68. The mag took an 8-month hiatus in 2019, and returned with a bi-monthly schedule in January with issue 121.
Issue 122 is packed with great fiction by Sam J. Miller, A.C. Wise, Sheree Renée Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, and others. You can sample individual stories for free; the complete issue is for sale for $4.99.
Detective Story Magazine, December 2, 1919. Art by John Coughlin
I thought that today I’d tell the tale of a painting by the talented and prolific John Coughlin, which was used as a pulp cover not once but twice.
Its first appearance was over a century ago, as it graced the cover of the December 2, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. At that time, it illustrated “Eyes of Blue” by Arthur P. Hankins. But its more famous appearance came a dozen years later.
Street & Smith created the character of The Shadow to narrate “The Detective Story Magazine Hour” on radio. That weekly program was launched on July 31, 1930 to promote Detective Story Magazine, and dramatized a story from the current issue. The character of The Shadow was a huge hit, and listeners began asking their news dealers for copies of that Shadow magazine. Sadly for Street & Smith and their prospective customers, there was no such magazine.
Not surprisingly, they soon decided to rectify this and publish a Shadow pulp to cash in on this interest, but uncertain of its prospects, they made it a quarterly. They also didn’t want to incur the expense of buying new cover art for the first issue, dated April 1931. So they decided to recycle a painting in their inventory that featured a Chinese man – Modest Stein’s cover for the October 1, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s The Thrill Book. Author Walter Gibson was then told to set part of the first Shadow story (“The Living Shadow”) in Chinatown, and they used Stein’s old cover, adding a shadow to the cover in production.