Yesterday’s Tomorrows

By Martin Lock


Galaxy, September 1954


While the science fiction "pulps," with their rough untrimmed edges and larger size, may seem more exotic, this time let us look at some of their successors, the "digests," which came into their own in the fifties - though John W. Campbell's Astounding led the way, taking to the new format with the November 1943 issue... that's almost three-quarters of a century ago.

It was in the fifties that the digest-size sf magazines really came into their own - led by Galaxy, edited by H. L. Gold.  Its first issue came out in October 1950, and it must have been a new experience for the printers, as they got the spine the wrong way up.  But let us take a typical fifties issue - from September 1954, with an eye-catching cover by Emsh entitled "Robots repaired while u wait."  Is that her other breast, bare, I see on the table...?

F. L. Wallace contributed the lead novella, "The Man Who Was Six."  The editorial introduction read "There is nothing at all like having a sound mind in a sound body, but Dan Merrol had too much of one - and also too much of the other!"  I can't say that Floyd Wallace had a huge sf career, but he made his debut in 1951 in Astounding, and was last seen in 1961 in Fantasy & Science Fiction with his 24th magazine sale; "The Man Who Was Six" was number 12.  His one novel was "Address Centauri," published initially by Gnome Press in 1955, and appearing in the Galaxy Science Fiction Novels series three years later, with a Wallace Wood cover - which was also used for a 2014 "Ace Double" style paperback from Wildside, where it was teamed up with "If These Be Gods" by Algis Budrys.  It's also on Project Gutenberg, I see.

"Dusty Zebra" by Clifford D. Simak was the first of two novelets: "Who or what the Trader was and where he came from, nobody knew - or cared - until one of his gadgets began to play dirty!"  It's appeared in a number of Simak collections. "Satan's Shrine" by Daniel F. Galouye was at the back of the issue: "No torment that had ever been inflicted on mankind was more fiendish than Satan... for he was worse than a devil... he was a man!"  As well as translations, it has been reprinted in the anthologies E. J. Gold's Guide to the Galaxy and Beyond the Unknown, Vol. I, and Terrorists of Tomorrow.

Of the short stories, Britain's Arthur Sellings contributed "A Start in Life," his third sale to Galaxy, while "Shell Game" by Philip K. Dick got its start here: "None of them had captured or killed a single enemy! Then whom were they at war with?"  Robert Sheckley's "Milk Run" was the first of his "AAA Ace" tales. "What are Smags, Firgels and Queels?  Cats in a bag... and Gregor was holding the bag!"

H. L. Gold's editorial was in praise of the typewriter, while Willy Ley's "for your information" column dealt with the Southern Cross.  Groff Conklin had five pages for "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf," reviewing "Brain Wave" by Poul Anderson, "Humans?" edited by Judith Merril, "Lost Continents" by L. Sprague de Camp, "Of All Possible Worlds" by William Tenn, "The Second Conquest" by Louis de Wohl ("unquestionably one of the most peculiar items in the whole history of science fiction"), "Gateway to Elsewhere" by Murray Leinster & "The Weapon Shops" by A. E. van Vogt, "The Mars Project" by Wernher von Braun, "Science and Sorcery" edited by Garret Ford ("All but five of the fifteen stories in this book are completely unsuitable for publication in any form"), and "A Handbook of Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Donald H. Tuck, a precursor to the three-volume encyclopaedia.  And there's just room at the end for a filler paragraph to alert us to the availability of a handsome gold-stamped binder for our copies of Galaxy.  Six issues would fit in each $1.50 binder, which sounds tempting to me.

So, quite a good selection.  Next month, the "Forecast" promised a "dazzlingly devious" novella by J.T. McIntosh, and "A World of Talent" by Philip K. Dick "...and no title ever fitted a story more exactly... in the startling novelty of its ideas, in freshness of treatment and the eye-popping ending!"

Astounding Science Fiction, October 1950

Looking along my shelves for a suitable issue of Astounding to focus on, the Edd Cartier cover here caught my eye - not exactly your average Astounding cover!  It was only a few minutes later that I realised that this was the month that Galaxy made its debut, with a slightly different approach to the market.  I decided to scan the back cover ad as well.  Is it a hoax - or the most important phenomenon of our time?  You'll have to ask Agent Mulder!

We are in the magazine's "Dianetics" phase here, and "a charitable and scientific non-profit corporation of the State of New Jersey" occupies the inside front cover space, with a special Announcement: "The Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation has been opened for training in dianetic auditing and research into the field of human thought and dianetic principles," the text begins.  Associate Membership was available for anyone interested, at $15 annually.  This issue's article was by L. Ron Hubbard himself, "The Analytical Mind" - rather longer than the average article, as it began on page 139, concluding right at the back on page 162.

Anyway, there was still plenty of room for sf, starting with the first of four parts of the serial, "The Hand of Zei," by L. Sprague de Camp - 57 pages, including the Cartier illustrations. "Igor Shtain was a corporation.  He was also a person, of course, but the person was kidnaped [sic], and the Corporation was in trouble, because Shtain was supposed to explore Vishnu.  Which was how Barnevelt got dragooned into the job!"  This was part of de Camp's "Viagens Interplanetarias" series, following on from a two-part serial the previous year, "The Queen of Zamba."

The reliable Raymond F. Jones provided the 34-page novelette (I tend to follow a magazine's version of the word - Galaxy preferred "novelet"), "Discontinuity," later seen in Groff Conklin's Seven Come Infinity anthology.  "Theoretically, the Reconstructed people should have been better off than before their death.  But it looked very much as though 'better' in this case meant 'crazier'.  And it shouldn't have..."  Illustrations were by Walt Miller.

There were only two short stories this time.  Wyman Guinn used the pen-name 'Norman Menasco' for his first sale here, "Trigger Tide," illustrated by Paul Orban - this too turned up in a Conklin anthology, Omnibus of Science Fiction, as well as, rather later, in 2005's The World Turned Upside Down.  "It was a strange planet - but there was nothing lacking in the thoroughness of the beating-up the political gang gave him.  But their really deadly weapon was the tide--"  Fritz Leiber's "The Enchanted Forest" was the second short tale, illustrated by Walt Miller; it soon got picked for an August Derleth anthology, Worlds of Tomorrow, and has been in a number of Leiber collections over the decades.  "Elven was a scientist among a scientific people.  But the Enchanted Forest was more than even his hard-headed training could stand.  For time, or space, or something seemed bent in full-circle!"

John W. Campbell's editorial turned its attention to flying saucers: "the whole question must be filed under 'maybe'" he opined, as the evidence was less than convincing.  P. Schuyler Miller was already in charge of the sf book reviews (with a final J. R. Pierce science book covered by E. L. Locke); The Port of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline ("better Burroughs than the creator of John Carter has done himself for a long time"), Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell ("No grimmer or more thoughtfully worked out picture of a society ridden by a power-hungry oligarchy has appeared in these pages"), and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart ("Science fiction magazines have often depicted this situation, but never so reasonably or so well as this") are covered this time. 

The 8 pages of "Brass Tacks" letters are an interesting bunch; I'm fairly sure that Elizabeth M. Curtis would be better known as Betsy M. Curtis, who had just begun her writing career with a story appearing in the Summer issue (the third issue) of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Maggie Thompson of Comics Buyer's Guide is her daughter.  The half-page "The Analytical Laboratory" reveals that the readers placed C. M. Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bag" first, ahead of C. L. Moore (writing as Laurence O'Donnell), Eric Frank Russell, James Gunn (writing as Edwin James), and Ford McCormack, though the article that time, on shooting "Destination Moon" by Robert A. Heinlein, was pretty popular.  As for "In Times to Come," well, next time we are promised Raymond F. Jones again, the next part of the serial, and an "Agents of Vega novelette by James H. Schmitz.  Sounds good to me...

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1957

I've moved a bit further through the fifties here, but I couldn't resist this cover painted by Mel Hunter; not the quirkiest one he ever did, here or for If, but fun.  If, this far down the line, you are wondering why Charles Van Doren's short tale is featured on the cover, well, he was no relation to Mamie, but he was kind of a TV star at the time, after an astonishing winning streak on the TV show "Twenty One," starting that January.  It was later discovered that the show's producers had given him the answers, but not until well after this F&SF issue was published.  The seven-page "S R" was his only contribution to our genre.

The lead novelet, "The Wind Blows Free," was by Chad Oliver, and focused on one man, Sam, aboard a generations ship, on its way to a new world.  "MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" by C. M. Kornbluth came next, which has been collected and anthologised a few times; he also contributed a brief poem, "The Unfortunate Topologist," under the S. D. Gottesman pen-name, though currently the isfdb site wrongly thinks the title was given here as "Unformtunate."  "Your Ghost Will Walk" by Robert F. Young came next, followed by "A Trick or Two" by John Novotny.  I don't think we are talking about playing cards here, as one of its subsequent appearances was in an anthology called Sex in the 21st Century - and the editorial introduction does give a warning that "readers who object to sex in fantasy" should skip on to the next tale...

"Life Cycle" by Poul Anderson has only been reprinted in Robert Silverberg's anthology Earthmen and Strangers (other than an appearance in French in Fiction, which translated a lot of F&SF material) - but the book did manage six appearances between 1966 and 1989.  Next along was "Summerland" by Avram Davidson, who had a relatively brief stint as F&SF editor from 1962 to 1964.  "The Literate Monster" by William Chapman White was a single-page reprint from the New York Herald Tribune in 1954, his only genre appearance other than a 1946 novel, The Pale Blonde of Sands Street.  "Eithne" was by Idris Seabright, a regular name in the magazine - probably more regular at this time than her real name, Margaret St. Clair.  "You'll Feel Better..." was by Carol Emshwiller, wife of the artist Ed "Emsh" Emshwiller.

Before Mr Van Doren's short tale, five pages were devoted to "Recommended Reading," the book review department hosted by editor Anthony Boucher.  Thirteen books were covered, including The Seedling Stars by James Blish, Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick, The Winds of Time by Chad Oliver, and Doomsday Eve by Robert Moore Williams, which was teamed in an Ace Double with a reprinting of Eric Frank Russell's Three to Conquer.  Boucher mentions that Philip K. Dick's first novel, Solar Lottery, was a very good one.  "Now, after two hasty and disappointing efforts, Dick easily tops it with his fourth book."

At the end of "S R," there's at the foot of the page "The Horror Story Shorter by One Letter Than the Shortest Horror Story Ever Written" by Ron Smith, which is a slight variation on "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room.  There was a knock on the door" - and then we reach the magazine's second novelet, "When Jack Smith Fought Old Satan" by Mary-Carter Roberts, who sold three further stories to the magazine, published in the February 1958, June 1975, and March 1976 issues.  "I hope you'll agree that Jack Smith's is the most powerful encounter with the Devil since Dan'l Webster's," Anthony Boucher finishes his introduction.  That just leaves a four-pager by Richard Matheson, "The Holiday Man," which has been in a few collections and anthologies, to finish the issue.

As usual, there is no lengthy editorial, though the introductions to the stories are generally pretty detailed.  "Coming Next Month" is able to announce a new Heinlein short novelet, "The Menace From Earth," which was very nearly his final shorter work; there were plenty of novels still to come, however.  That issue would also have a new novella by Walter M. Miller, as well as "the first F&SF appearance of Old Pro Rog Phillips," Isaac Asimov, and a collaboration between Damon Knight and Ken Bulmer.  Sounds worth coming back for...

So, the fifties were when the digest format came into its own for science fiction magazines.  And sixty years on, two out of three of these titles are still going strong!