Yesterday’s Tomorrows

By Martin Lock

While the pulps were still going strong in the 1940s, despite wartime paper shortages, they were starting to get competition from the "digest" format - named after Reader's Digest, which actually started back in 1922.  Street & Smith changed Astounding over in 1943, and some other fiction magazines too - but it was only in the early to mid fifties that titles like Thrilling Wonder Stories faded away, replaced by magazines like Galaxy.  Publishers were experimenting with new digest titles in the late forties, some more successful than others; they might be smaller and generally more expensive than a pulp, but the convenient size, better paper, and trimmed edges made them attractive.  Let us look at some issues, with a bent towards fantasy rather than hard science fiction...

Avon Fantasy Reader #2, April 1947

This was the second of the eighteen issues of Avon Fantasy Reader, edited by Donald A. Wollheim. Compared to the pulps of the time, 35 cents for a 128-page all-reprint digest magazine may seem a little expensive, but at least you got shiny laminated covers.  The inside back cover lists issues of companion magazine Avon Modern Short Story Monthly, and apologises for its price increase to the new 35c price, after absorbing increasing costs for as long as Avon could.

The two short stories here are "Stenographer's Hands" (Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1928) by David H. Keller, MD and "The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune" (Weird Tales, September 1929, featuring Kull of Valusia) by Robert E. Howard; the five novelettes are "The Strange Case of Lemuel Jenkins" (All-Story Weekly, July 26th 1919) by Philip M. Fisher, Jr, "The Day of the Dragon" (Blue Book Magazine, June 1934) by Guy Endore, "The Yellow Sign" (1895, in 'The King in Yellow') by Robert W. Chambers, "Automata" (Weird Tales, September 1929) by S. Fowler Wright, and "The City of the Living Dead" (Science Wonder Stories, May 1930) by Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt. 

In his editorial, Wollheim mentions that "Use of the imagination in creation of far-fetched fantasy is merely an extension of the natural talents of men.  It is part of all of us to create fantasies, to be able to enjoy fantasies."

Avon Fantasy Reader #17, November 1951

After the second issue, we move on to the seventeenth and penultimate issue of Avon Fantasy Reader, with a cover by Harry Barton.  Gone is the laminated cover, and the magazine has moved from the flat-spined 'perfect' binding to two staples worth of saddle-stitch, which was presumably a cheaper way of putting together a magazine.

In a description on the inside front cover, Donald A. Wollheim calls 'The Sapphire Siren' by Nictzin Dyalhis "an unusual and colourful novel of two parallel worlds and the woman whose spell bridged the gap between them."  The tale was called 'The Sapphire Goddess' when it first appeared in the February 1934 issue of Weird Tales.  "Jack-in-the-Box" by Ray Bradbury had first been seen in his 1947 collection 'Dark Carnival'; "The Noticeable Conduct of Professor Chadd" by G. K. Chesterton first appeared in the June 25th 1904 issue of Harper's Weekly; "The Pink Caterpillar" by Anthony Boucher, a Fergus O'Breen story, was from the February 1945 Adventure; "The Phantom Dictator" by Wallace West was from the August 1935 Astounding Stories; "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" by H. P. Lovecraft & E. Hoffman Price, featuring Randolph Carter, came from the July 1934 Weird Tales; "The Bookshop" by Nelson Bond was first seen in Blue Book Magazine, October 1941; "One-Man God" by Frank Owen was a first-timer; and "The Mystery of the Sargasso" by William Hope Hodgson, originally "The Mystery of the Derelict," came from the July 1907 issue of The Storyteller.

So, rather a heady brew.  And only one more issue to go before Avon decided that their talents were best concentrated on paperback novels...

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction  just gets as far back as the forties, with its first issue appearing, as just The Magazine of Fantasy, in the fall of 1949.  The second issue added the Science Fiction to the title, and combined winter and spring, with a five-month gap before number three - but it soon went bimonthly, and moved to a monthly schedule starting with the August 1952 number.  Anyway, here's that second issue, which was the first issue with the full title - cover by George Salter, the magazine's art director.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, winter-spring 1950

At this time the Magazine was a mix of new stories and reprints; there were six new stories here, leading off with R. Bretnor's "The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out," his first Schimmelhorn story.  "Gavagan's Bar" is an early tale in that series, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt; we also have "Every Work Into Judgment" by Kris Neville, "A Rope for Lucifer" by Walt Sheldon, "World of Arlesia" by Margaret St. Clair - and we finish with "Not With a Bang" by Damon Knight, appropriately enough.

The reprints were an eclectic mix.  Taking them in chronological order, we'd start with an 1803 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Time, Real and Imaginary," then 1895's "My Astral Body" by Anthony "Prisoner of Zenda" Hope, "The Volcanic Valve" from 1897 by W. L. Alden, 1940's "Postpaid to Paradise" by Robert Arthur, 1946's "The Last Generation?" by Miriam Allen deFord, 1948's "The Return of the Gods" by Robert M. Coates, and "The Exiles" by Ray Bradbury, which had originally been published in the 15th September 1949 issue of Maclean's as "The Mad Wizards of Mars."

As ever, it's interesting to see what books were up for review at that time: the stars here are 'What Mad Universe' by Fredric Brown, 'Without Sorcery' by Theodore Sturgeon, and  'The Conquest of Space' by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley.  It might be a few months to wait for the next issue, but, going by this line-up, readers would know it would be worth waiting for.

So, the digest revolution was starting to pick up speed... and of course F&SF is still appearing, after almost seven decades.  As for Avon, well, "As of 2010, it is an imprint of HarperCollins, publishing primarily romance novels," Wikipedia tells us...

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