Yesterday's Tomorrows

by Martin Lock

Planet Stories 1947

Other science fiction magazines of the time may have had better authors and better stories, but there is something special about Planet Stories, which published 71 issues between 1939 and 1955, mainly on a quarterly schedule.  Perhaps it is slightly linked to the fact that it had a comics companion, Planet Comics, but its sheer dedication to exotic adventure is what makes it stand out from the crowd.  My copy of the Spring 1947 issue (December '46 to February '47) is a bit tatty, but Allen Anderson's cover here is surely worth sharing.

The 128 pages include two fascinating novels of other worlds, a novelette of terror on Venus, and six thrilling space-tales, as well as the departments, P.S.'s Feature Flash and The Vizigraph - what more could you ask for, for twenty cents?  The inside front cover advertises Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, whose adventures appeared in every issue of Jumbo Comics, from the same publisher; the inside back cover has details of a different imprint, offering "intimate tales of women as you like them by men who know them best."

The first novel, running 33 pages, is "Beyond the Yellow Fog" by Emmett McDowell.  "'It is the little death,' they whispered.  Murdock, hardened manhunter, coldly eyed the evil miasma rising through the mystery space-ship and braced himself for unguessable horror..."  Gardner F. Fox's novel "Sword of the Seven Suns" takes up 25 pages.  "Their machine-god was dead, their world dark, their cities raided by emboldened savages.  And Flame dawdled in the desert, with a wrecked space-ship and a strangely-carved sword!"

"Princess of Chaos" by Bryce Walton is the 18-page novelette, and again I can't resist typing in the contents page's description. "The howling, slavering mob in the blood-spattered arena prayed gibberingly for the half-breed's death.  But Moljar would not die while the she-witch Alhone still lived!"  On the short story front, we have "Distress Signal" by Ross Rocklynne, "Planet of Creation" by Chester S. Geier, "Scrambled World" by Basil Wells, "Final Glory" by Henry Hasse, "Atavism" by Erik Fennel... not to mention "Rocket Summer" by some guy called Ray Bradbury.  "The first great rocket flight into space!  The world's ecstasy flared into red mob-hate when President Stanley cancelled the flight.  How dare he?"

P.S.'s Feature Flash invited two of the contributors to tell us a little about themselves, and luckily, along with Henry Hasse, Ray Bradbury was featured.  Ray didn't take the assignment too seriously, assuring readers that he didn't write his stories.  "I merely lounge about, sucking languidly on my water-pipe, occasionally flicking Miss [Leigh] Brackett lightly across her curvesome spine with my riding-crop, and letting her worry about whether in the next scene of the story we shall have the hero or heroine wrestling upon a polar bear rug or a leopard skin."  He ends the piece by saying "Oh, yes. I was born in Waukeegan, Illinois in 1920.  [Henry] Kuttner was only seven at the time, so I doubt if he had anything to do with it.  Though there is some talk of [Edmond] Hamilton, who was a more mature lad of fourteen at the time. Eh?"

Page 119 has a vertical half-page drawn and lettered by Walter Galli, "In Memoriam: Herbert George Wells, 1866 - 1946."  "Planet Stories mourns the passing of the first and greatest science-fiction writer of our time.  He was famous for many things - but those who read The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds will remember him best as the one who opened for us the doors of the future."

"The Vizigraph" begins with a few paragraphs by "Planet's Lugubrious Polyp," alias editor Paul L. Payne.  "People keep asking us to go bi-monthly.  Listen, if we had the paper, we'd go monthly!"  The letters from readers followed, with Chad Oliver leading off, followed by Lin Carter and other less well-remembered names... though, while he doesn't have his own Wikipedia page, I see that superfan Rick Sneary is credited with the first usage in print of "egoboo."  That has to count for something, right?



Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1947

Approaching seventy years ago, TWS was offering just 112 pages plus covers for your 15 cents, but, as ever, editor Sam Merwin Jr was managing to fit plenty of good stuff in, behind a cover painted by the noble Earle Bergey.  There is a little hint of the future decline for the pulps visible in some of the ads, however, with a couple of full-page advertisements for those new-fangled paperback books - "A Best Seller at $2.50, now, Popular Library Edition only 25c!"

A complete Bud Gregory novelet led off the issue, by William Fitzgerald - or Murray "Will F. Jenkins" Leinster; the third of four such tales from around this time, which were followed by a novel a decade later which was, isfdb notes, a "fixup" of the first three, and used the Leinster name.  "When Geiger counters all over America went into too-high gear, Dr. David Murfree knew that there was only one man to see - Bud Gregory, the hillbilly genius of the atom!"

The cover, however, featured the second novelet, "Atomic!" by Henry Kuttner.  "What nuclear war may do to the world we know is a closed book to mankind - but here's what coming eras may possibly bring!"  George O. Smith supplied the third novelet, "In the Cards" - at this stage he was also still contributing to Astounding, as it wasn't until 1949 that editor Campbell's wife left him and married Smith.  "When Jim Forrest stole the block of zonium from Ellen Haynes he almost upset the entire system - but he had a compelling motive!"

There were five short stories, as well.  "Noon" by Hudson Hastings and "Dark Dawn" by Keith Hammond both actually came from Henry Kuttner, probably with some help from Mrs K, C.L. Moore.  "The Jet Jockeys" was by R.W. Stockheker, "The Stroller" was by Margaret St. Clair, her third published sf story, and Sam Merwin Jr's successor, Sam Mines, gave us "Donkeys to Bald Pate," a title that seems a bit puzzling unless one knows of a play, by George M. Cohan, based on a novel by Earl Derr Biggers, adapted into a movie numerous times between 1916 and 1947, called "Seven Keys to Baldpate."  The editorial blurb here reads "When Professor Weedlemeyer gave a pair of mules some human intelligence, it almost made a jackass of him!"

As ever, the features are well worth diving into.  The editorial at the start of "The Reader Speaks" begins with details of a contest for stories and articles published in fanzines, before moving on to commenting on "The current appearance of numerous fantastic and science fiction stories in the so-called 'slick' magazines" - and seguing into a letter from "well-known author Carter Sprague" which, while agreeing that the Heinlein tales were a well-deserved success, lamented the way that highly distinguished 'name' authors were using sf themes in ways that any decent sf magazine would reject.  We can safely assume that our editor here agreed with the letter-writer, as Carter Sprague was a pen-name of his.

The first genuine letter was given the title "Ship's Chandler," since it was from A. Bertram Chandler, who had been a published sf author since 1944; he approved of TWS's recent 'clean-up.'  Other familiar names writing in included Chad Oliver, Rick Sneary, and Lin Carter.  The letters section, taking ads into account, ran to around twelve pages. "Science Fiction Book Review" was described as "A New Department," and in just under one page the editor managed to cover a quartet of books.  "Find My Killer" by Manly Wade Wellman was mentioned only in passing, as, while Wellman was an sf and fantasy regular, this was a mystery story - "a swell, spine-chilling job."  While Sam had his reservations about the complexity of A.E. van Vogt's "The Weapon Makers" it was still "a darned good book;" "a real old-school interplanetary thriller-diller" was the verdict on Dr. Edward E. Smith's "Spacehounds of IPC;" "Puzzle Box" by Anthony More, however, was, with its six short horror stories, a mixed bag - "with the exception of the title story, which has considerable merit, the general level is of an upper-case fanzine rather than of the usual published book," was the conclusion.




Fantastic Adventures, July 1947

The rather striking H.W. McCauley cover here came first, and William P. McGivern was given the task of writing a story to go with it – a 27,500 word short novel, in this case.  ”Deep in the Himalayas was a cavern, and in the cavern a golden flame goddess…”  There was room for three novelettes as well, starting with “Toffee Takes a Trip” by Charles F. Myers, the first of eight or so stories in the “Toffee” series, featuring a “dream girl” inspired by Thorne Smith and “Topper”, with perhaps a dash of P.G. Wodehouse too.  ”Peter Packs a Punch” was by C.A. Baldwin, and “Secret of the Yomar” was by Elroy Arno, a pen-name for Leroy Yerxa, who also contributed a short story, using the Richard Casey name.

The main short story of note, however, would be “Largo” by Theodore Sturgeon, nicely illustrated by Henry Sharp.  ”The piece of music was called a largo, but the man who composed it knew differently…”  Add the usual short features and a page of letters, and you have an interesting issue, all in all, from almost seven decades years ago.  Charles F. Myers may be slightly better known under his pen name Henry Farrell, which he used for the novel "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?," and many other novels and screenplays.  His “Toffee” tales are rather fun, I find...





Startling Stories, November 1948 



Let us move on a year to TWS's companion magazine. “Against the Fall of Night” was the 60-page complete novel leading off this issue, with this cover illustration by that aristocrat of pulp sf art, Earle Bergey.  It’s a science fiction novel that has reverberated down the decades. Gnome Press published the hardback in 1954; Perma Star did a paperback the following year, and from 1960 Pyramid issued it many times.  It was teamed up as "The Lion of Comarre and Against the Fall of Night"… and an expanded and revised version, "The City and The Stars", appeared in 1956, and, while it has got through many more editions, it has not stopped the original version from continuing in print.  In 1990, a sequel, "Beyond the Fall of Night", by Arthur C. Clarke and Gregory Benford, appeared, and now "Against the Fall of Night" and "Beyond the Fall of Night" are available together.  But it all began here – though Clarke had been working on a number of drafts for over a decade, after the opening scene had mysteriously come to him in 1935.  ”From the Lotosland prison of a dying world an atavistic youth strikes out for the stars and the glory that all mankind has long forsaken,” was how the contents page here described it.

“The Isotope Men” by Festus Pragnell, another English writer, was the Hall of Fame novelet, reprinted from Wonder Stories, August 1933; and the line-up of short stories is pretty impressive.  ”The Stubborn Men” by Robert Moore Williams, “Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall” by Frank Belknap Long, “Dormant” by A.E. Van Vogt, “Ring Around the Redhead” by John D. MacDonald, “The Visitor” by Ray Bradbury, Magnus Ridolph in “The Unspeakable McInch” by Jack Vance – they’ve all been reprinted, some of them many times.

Editor Sam Merwin Jr kept busy, with half-page features “Unmerciful Heavens” as by Carter Sprague and “Olympic Gadgetry” as by Matt Lee, as well as his “Review of the Science Fiction Fan Publications” spotlighting a fanzine called "The Moon Puddle", and the new “Science Fiction Bookshelf” feature, which reviewed "Strange Ports of Call, 20 Masterpieces of Science-Fiction", edited by August Derleth (“A must for fandom”), and "Triplanetary" by Edward E. Smith, PhD. (“a very good bet.”).  The editorial mentioned that “we take considerable pride in the first appearance in the pages of Startling Stories of A. E. van Vogt, perhaps the most celebrated of living stf authors,” and the lengthy (“the longest The Ether Vibrates in history”) letters space included one from “Marion Eleanor ‘Astra’ Add-a-Pearl Zimmer” (she married Robert Alden Bradley the following year), and many, many more.



Once again, my copy is in less than perfect condition... which is perhaps unsurprising, after two-thirds of a century.  When L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter joined forces to revise and expand the available Conan stories for the Lancer paperback series, one fairly obvious pen-name for the duo had been already taken - somehow, "Camp de Lin" wouldn't have sounded as good, would it...?  Just as well they kept to their normal names...