Yesterday's Tomorrows

by Martin Lock

Famous Detective Stories, June 1956

As well as Future, (The Original) Science Fiction Stories, and Science Fiction Quarterly, Columbia Publications published a wide range of other pulps, featuring western tales, crime, romance, and sports - the pulp field was pretty big in the days before television came along.  They started in 1937, and were the last publisher of fiction magazines in the "pulp" format - the end came in 1960, when their distributor decided there just wasn't a big enough market.

So why am I spotlighting this issue, a slightly tatty copy of which is the only one I have?  Well, the name "Eric Frank Russell" on the cover is a bit of a clue.  He provided the "featured novel" - and the five short stories include some names which would have been familiar to readers in the fifties.  Dennis Wiegand may only have had three sf stories published, and I can't find an entry on the sf database for Alan Ritner Anderson, but Arthur Porges, Basil Wells, and Edward D. Hoch were all sf magazine regulars.  After all, Robert A. W. Lowndes was the editor here, as well as on the sf titles Columbia produced...

Anyway, let me quote the editorial blurb for "Run, Little Men!" - which ran for 47 of the magazine's 96 pages. "The memory of murder was buried deep, deep as the body of the slain.  But one day a skeleton came to light... and Bransome remembered..."  That is Richard Bransome, the main character of the sf novel "With a Strange Device," known in the USA as "The Mindwarpers," which does give away the plot a little.  My copy, the 1965 160-page Penguin paperback, has a 1964 copyright, for the Denis Dobson hardback... but makes no mention of the earlier, shorter version of the tale.  Strange that it didn't appear in a science fiction magazine, but hey, Lowndes had pages to fill in a variety of fiction titles, and a tale that mixed detective-type mystery and mind-warping science fiction could have gone in either kind of slot.  It's also strange that there's an eight-year gap between the magazine appearance and book publication, but that just shows that this is an earlier telling of the tale, rather than a cut-down version of a completed novel.

"The keep-walls of a modern nation are manned by scientists.  And if they desert their posts...?  In this uncanny 'reconstruction' of the all-too-possible, Eric Frank Russell, one of the leading SF writers, follows the fortunes of a metallurgist working on defence.  Richard Bransome suddenly learns that a vicious crime he committed twenty years ago has come to light.  he must get at the truth.  What do the police know?  Is he a suspect?  Or... Could some pervasive, hostile force gain control of rational minds?"  That is what the paperback's back cover has to say - insert your own comment about Facebook and Twitter here...

Astounding Science Fiction, August 1955

Staying with Eric Frank Russell, his new serial is cover-featured here - "Call Him Dead," which came out in book form as "Three to Conquer."  My 1963 Penguin paperback does mention the 1955 Astounding appearance, plus the UK 1957 hardback edition from Dobson.  The cover is by the ever-reliable Kelly Freas, who also did the interior illustrations for the serial, while the symbol is for a "Nuclear reactor structure."  That is the novel's hero on the cover, by the way.

"Wade Harper was a forger - his business card said so - which made the police a little suspicious when they found him with a murdered state policeman in his arms!  But that, really, was the least confusing part of the whole thing..."

The rest of the issue is pretty classy, too - a novelette by Lester del Rey, "Victory," and short stories by L. Sprague de Camp, Algis Budrys, James Blish, and James E. Gunn.  Looking at The Analytical Laboratory, I see that, although it won the 1955 Hugo for best short story, Russell's "Allamagoosa" came second to part two of "The Long Way Home" by Poul Anderson.  Editor Campbell commented "that short stories very seldom win high places, largely because they don't hold the reader long enough to make a deep impression - but the quite-short "Allamagoosa" won second place.  And any issue in which Isaac Asimov and Algis Budrys tied for fourth place - must have been good!"

P. Schuyler Miller held court in "The Reference Library," of course, headlined "The Good Old Days" as he reminisced about earlier sf writing, prompted by a collection of tales by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach.  The first official review is, wouldn't you know it, of the "Deep Space" collection by some guy called Eric Frank Russell, "one of the most satisfying one-author collections of the past year" - and, looking back, '55 was quite a year.  A review of "Lucky Star and the Oceans of Venus" lets drop that author Paul French was "an off-hours name for Isaac Asimov," and says that it was "pushing right up into the Heinlein class" for juvenile-oriented sf.  Other books reviewed include "Northwest of Earth" by C. L. Moore, "Assignment in Tomorrow" edited by Frederik Pohl, "The Big Ball of Wax" by Shepherd Mead, and "Operation: Outer Space" by Murray Leinster.  And in the "Brass Tacks" letters column, there is a letter from Edward E. Smith, complimenting "Sky" Miller on his reviews - particularly of Smith's own Lensman series.

Startling Stories, November 1951

Resisting the temptation to get out my copy of the first issue of Unknown, let us instead home in on November 1951's issue of the thriving pulp, Startling Stories, edited by Samuel Mines.  It didn't do serials - instead it had room for complete novels, and this time it presented "The Star Watchers," published in book form in 1953 as "Sentinels From Space."  The description on the contents page says "Posted on every life-bearing planet are these oddly selfless guardians - amiable, but vengeful and merciless in striking down any who menace man's long agonizing climb to the stars."  The cover here is by Alex Schomburg; there are no signatures on the art accompanying the novel, though the main illustration seems very much in the style of Virgil Finlay.

"The Ether Vibrates" as usual starts as an editorial, before moving on to the letters from readers.  New editor Sam Mines introduces himself, mentioning that the stories in this issue, and many to come, were selected by his predecessor, with only a slight assist from him.  "The impress of Merwin remains; like footsteps on the sands of time, only gradual erosion will wear them away," he says.  "The only things immediately different, therefore, are the departments, in which you may detect a certain wary fumbling, like unto a spaceman stepping out upon a new world and testing the atmosphere, meanwhile keeping a weather eye out for concealed mines, booby traps and BEMS."  The letters lead off with Wallace West, confounded by an editorial confusion of Browning's "Childe Roland" and Byron's Childe Harolde." in the introduction to a recent story of his.

The fanzine review section (okay, "Review of the Current Science Fiction Fan Publications") quotes a paragraph from a zine called Orgasm, entitled "Bradburyana:"  "What do you think of Bradbury?  Do you think he is the greatest stf writer of our times?  My idea of a typical Bradbury yarn is this: a group of earthmen land on Mars and go around knocking down buildings and throwing beer cans about.  When they get ready to leave, they find the Martians have sold their space ship for scrap.  'This is it,' says Joe.  'Yes, it is,' says Bill.  'I'm getting out of here,' says Hemmingway."  Books reviewed here are "Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel" by Willy Ley, "Rogue Queen" by L. Sprague de Camp, "Beyond Infinity" by Robert Spencer Carr, "Dragon's Island" by Jack Williamson, and "Renaissance" by Raymond F. Jones... and there's a movie review too, of "When Worlds Collide."  The verdict is that "you can't afford to miss it," which seems fair.

As mentioned on the cover, the novelet this time is "The Gamblers" by Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown.  Reynolds was only one year into his sf writing career then, while Brown had been contributing to the magazines for a decade; checking isfdb, I see this wasn't their only collaboration.  "Bob Thayer was no card sharp, but he managed to get into a poker game on the Moon - with the fate of the Earth at stake!"

The main novel took up 91 pages of the issue, and the novelet filled 16 pages, so there was only room for two short stories: "Grease in the Pan" by the previous editor, Sam Merwin Jr, and "The Cupids of Venus" by William Morrison.  Still, with a novel like "The Star Watchers" as its lead, this was certainly a memorable issue.  As Brian Aldiss once wrote, in a review quoted frequently on the back covers of Eric Frank Russell paperbacks, "For twenty years, nobody has rivalled Russell at his best."