Yesterday's Tomorrows

by Martin Lock

This time, let us remember the early years of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Still running today, it started life seventy years ago, in 1949, edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas; McComas left in 1954, with Boucher leaving four years later... so let us have a look at a few issues from Anthony Boucher's solo years.

The cover on the May 1955 issue of F&SF is by Stanley Meltzoff, entitled "flight from the prison planet" - and doesn't seem involved with any of the (all new) stories inside.  "Time Patrol" by Poul Anderson leads off the issue, and is the first of the ten stories in what I hope is still a well-remembered series.  As Anthony Boucher's editorial introduction to the tale says, "Space operas are all very well; but for real honest swashbuckling adventure, spiced with intellectual paradoxes and startling historical contrasts, give me that rarer art form, the time opera."

Next comes "With Malice to Come" by James Blish.  "James Blish is ordinarily one of the most sober and serious of science fiction writers.  But he is also a critic, with quite a literary reputation outside of our field; and here he employs his critical skill to produce an astute and hilarious triptych of three familiar (far too familiar) types of science fiction."  The individual titles are "A Feast of Reason," "The Billion-Year Binge," and "A Matter of Energy," all in five pages.  I don't see any mention of them having been reprinted anywhere, except that the third one did appear in the fifth of F&SF's "Best Of" anthologies.

"Free Dirt" is on offer from Charles Beaumont next, a "curious and terrible little episode" as Boucher describes it, followed by "a pleasingly mad little caprice" by Gordon R. Dickson, entitled "James."  "Mary Celestial" starts on page 54, with this editorial introduction: "More often than readers suspect, a story carrying a solo by-line has been so extensively replotted and even rewritten by the editor that it is actually a collaboration.  (In F&SF any such revisions are always undertaken only with the approval of the author; in one of our leading rivals, I am told, the printed form of a story is often a complete surprise to its nominal creator.)  I know, for instance, that many of my own stories anthologized from Astounding should, if I were a wholly scrupulous man, bear the credit-line 'by Anthony Boucher and John W. Campbell, Jr.'  Miriam Allen deFord  is, I have discovered, a singularly scrupulous woman; after this story passed back and forth between us a number of times, she decided that it should carry a collaborative by-line.  I hope you like the result."

That takes us on to the book reviews, or "Recommended Reading."  Anthony Boucher asks if there really is a science fiction publishing boom.  "For my New York Times column on mysteries, I've received 37 new hardcover novels... Know how many hardcover s.f. novels I've received? Exactly 3; and of these, one is a group of magazine novelets loosely assembled into a quasi-novel, another is  a British import adapted from a radio play.... In short, after more than five years of experiment and promotion, science fiction is not a significant part of book publishing."  The "quasi-novel" is 'Earthman, Come Home' by James Blish, while the unmentioned third, "so exceedingly good as to compensate for any number of duller items," is 'Earthlight' by Arthur C. Clarke.

Moving on, "Pattern for Survival" by Richard Matheson comes next - collected in 'The Shores of Space,' and anthologised in 'The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fifth Series.'  "Do you want to know what type of man stands the best chance of surviving  the holocaust of his world?  You'll learn the answer in this brief and pointed item which is, like most Mathesons, not quite like any other story you've read."

A novelet by J. T. McIntosh, "Eleventh Commandment," follows, and then the 2-page "Who's Counting" by Rodger Lowe, his only sfnal appearance... and  then "John Novotny, the bright nova of Thorne Smith madness, offers a cautionary tale with a simple moral: Never hire a redheaded secretary unless you intend to take full advantage of all her services."  That is "The Tin Halo"... and we finish with almost a page of "Imagine" by Fredric Brown.  Which seems a good item to end an issue on, yes?

The July 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has a cover by Nicholas Solovioff, one of five he did for F&SF around this time, for the novella "Father" by Philip Jose Farmer, one of his stories featuring Father Carmody - so that was the first 60 pages of the magazine filled.  "Remember Father John Carmody, the plump, bustling, humorous, shrewd interplanetary priest of Philip Jose Farmer's 'Attitudes' (F&SF, October, 1953)?  Here he returns in a longer story to face a new and terrible problem, in which error on his part can mean death, physical and spiritual, to all the passengers and crew of a spaceship... and possibly to the Galaxy itself.  For no other planet offers such subtle and tempting dangers as Abatos, not does any other world acknowledge such a ruler as that awe-inspiring being known as Father, who may be a superman, a charlatan - or a god."  The story features in Farmer's 1960 collection, 'Strange Relations.'

Dedicating half the issue to a single story meant that the other tales this time tend to be a bit on the short side.  After a brief poem by Herman W. Mudgett (a name editor Anthony Boucher used occasionally) in praise of Gina Lollobrigida, we have a four-page "horror-ballad" by Ogden Nash, "A Tale of the Thirteenth Floor," which seems to be making its debut here, followed by a 1929 story by G. B. Stern, and then "The Wind's Will" by Thomas A. Meehan.  Zenna Henderson comes next with "Walking Aunt Daid," described as "an eerie glimpse of mingled horror and beauty which may disturb your mind for some time to come."

Anthony Boucher has just four pages for "Recommended Reading," but he fits 17 books in, including 'The Golden Apples of the Sun' by Ray Bradbury ("A mixed lot ranging from Bradbury's impressive best to his equally impressive worst") and 'Timeliner' by Charles Eric Maine (dubbed "a mere cliché-museum."  Boucher went on, "As McComas said of the Maine novel in the Times, the recent Beaumont-Oliver spoof  in F&SF included very nearly as many outworn devices in much briefer compass, and was MEANT to be funny.")

"Psychotomy" by German sf pioneer Kurd Lasswitz comes next, translated by Willy Ley; then there is "The All-Purpose Ghost Story" by Charles W. Morton, with blanks left for the reader to fill in, reprinted from a 1953 issue of Atlantic Monthly.  A story without a title follows, or "?" if you prefer, by Arthur C. Clarke... a reader could win $200.00 by coming up with the best title.  The isfdb lists it as "Refugee," presumably the winning suggestion, though New Worlds reprinted it in Britain as "Royal Prerogative" and it has subsequently been called by its author "This Earth of Majesty."  And this just leaves three pages for "The Sealman" by John Masefield, "who proves in this 40-year-old and almost forgotten story that folk-fantasy can be pure beauty."  And so it ends...

Moving on to the following year, this December 1956 issue of F&SF has the concluding part of 'The Door Into Summer' by Robert A. Heinlein - the "story so far" synopsis runs to over four pages, followed by 34 pages of the serial.  The contents page says "cover painting and interior illustrations by Kelly Freas" illustrating the novel, and there are indeed three illustrations inside, each about a third of a page high, which is a bit unusual for this magazine.

The lead novelet is "Stranger Station" by Damon Knight.  "I have read few stories this year, in manuscript or in print, that so vividly evoke the sense of awe and wonder as this Knight novelet of alien contact in space, extraordinary in conception and compelling in execution," the editorial introduction by Anthony Boucher concludes.  The story got into Judith Merril's 1957 "Year's Greatest" anthology, and indeed her "Best of the Best" a decade later, and has had numerous other appearances, including Knight's 'In Deep' collection.

Other stand-outs this time are the first two "Venture to the Moon" short stories by Arthur C. Clarke, originally commissioned by London's 'Evening Standard' newspaper, "And Now the News" by Theodore Sturgeon, and a Fergus O'Breen story "Gandolphus" by Anthony Boucher: "When Damon Knight reviewed the Ballantine collection of my short stories, 'Far and Away,' he particularly regretted the absence of this attempt at blending science fiction and detection.  Since it originally appeared in a magazine of small circulation and has not been reprinted, Mr. Knight's enthusiasm emboldens me to revive it here, in a slightly expanded form."  Mildred Clingerman, Jane Roberts, and Miriam Allen DeFord are also on board, while Charles Beaumont in "The Science Screen" tells us of a meeting he had with Bela Lugosi, after the actor had read one of his stories, before reviewing "Satellite in the Sky" ("incredibly bad"), "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" ("very palatable corn"), "The Werewolf" ("descends to depths of idiocy undreamed of"), and "The Black Sleep" ("a horror in every sense of the word")… so not the best month for sf, horror, and fantasy movies. 

Meanwhile, the editor has just two pages for book reviews; after a recent convention, he is able to report that Al Capp was a genuine, authentic science fiction fan, and commend to us 'Al Capp's Bald Iggle,' as well as Walt Kelly's 'The Pogo Sunday Book,' plus 'A Century of Punch Cartoons' and Shel Silverstein's 'Grab Your Socks.'  Actual sf was represented by mentions of reprints of 'Not This August' by C. M. Kornbluth, 'World Out of Mind' by J. T. McIntosh, 'Operation: Outer Space' by Murray Leinster, 'The Moon Pool' by A. Merritt, 'The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath' by H. P. Lovecraft, 'Tomorrow!' by Philip Wylie, and 'Star Bridge' by Jack Williamson and James E. Gunn - a "good socio-historical space opera if you haven't read it often under other titles."

So, three classic issues of a much-loved magazine, featuring work by some of the all-time great science fiction and fantasy writers.  Prices of vintage science fiction magazines do tend to vary widely, but the odds are, if you have access to someone selling such things, that a fifties copy of F&SF could be yours for less than the cover price of the latest issue.  Or if you like to read on a Kindle or similar device, well, the trusty Internet Archive does have a lot of issues of this magazine, and many others, freely available to download, or indeed flip through online.