The Year’s Best Short Science Fiction: 1950

The Years Best Short Science Fiction - 1950

1950 was a great year for SF short stories. Along with 1966 and 1982, they tie for having the most stories in one year on the updated Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories. Four memorable stories in one year is outstanding since many years have none, and only 1-2 is common. Also, before I read the two anthologies pictured above I was already familiar with 7 of the stories. That’s the most since I started this reading project of systematically reading through the best-SF-of-the-year anthologies starting with 1939.

1950 represents an evolution in mature science fiction writing. It also reflects the influence of magazines besides Astounding Science Fiction. The old timers in my youth considered the 1940s the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but for my generation, the 1950s is our Golden Age. I’m very excited to finally arrive in 1950 and look forward to reading through the decade.

In 1951 Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty selected the following 1950 science fiction short stories for The Best Science Fiction Stories 1951:

  • “The Santa Claus Planet” by Frank M. Robinson (original)
  • “The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out” by Reginald Bretnor (F&SF)
  • The Mindworm” by C. M. Kornbluth (Worlds Beyond)
  • “The Star Ducks” by Bill Brown (F&SF)
  • “Not to Be Opened” by Peter Grainger (as Roger Flint Young) (Astounding)
  • Process” by A. E. van Vogt (F&SF)
  • “Forget-Me-Not” by William F. Temple (Other Worlds)
  • “Contagion” by Katherine MacLean (Galaxy)
  • “Trespass!” by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson (Fantastic Story Quarterly)
  • Oddy and Id” by Alfred Bester (Astounding)
  • To Serve Man” by Damon Knight (Galaxy)
  • “Summer Wear” by L. Sprague de Camp (Startling Stories)
  • “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson (F&SF)
  • “The Fox and the Forest” by Ray Bradbury (The Illustrated Man)
  • “The Last Martian” by Fredric Brown (Galaxy)
  • The New Reality” by Charles L. Harness (Thrilling Wonder)
  • “Two Face” by Frank Belknap Long (Weird Tales)
  • Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy)

In 1984 Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg picked these stories for The Great SF Stories 12 (1950):

  • “Not with a Bang” by Damon Knight (F&SF)
  • “Spectator Sport” by John D. MacDonald (Thrilling Wonder)
  • “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury (Collier’s)
  • “Dear Devil” by Eric Frank Russell (Other Worlds)
  • “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith (Fantasy Book)
  • “The Little Black Bag” by C. M. Kornbluth (Astounding)
  • “Enchanted Village” by A. E. van Vogt (Other Worlds)
  • Oddly and Id” by Alfred Bester (Astounding)
  • “The Sack” by William Morrison (Astounding)
  • “The Silly Season” by C. M. Kornbluth (F&SF)
  • “Misbegotten Missionary” by Isaac Asimov (Galaxy)
  • To Serve Man” by Damon Knight (Galaxy)
  • Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy)
  • “A Subway Named Mobius” by A. J. Deutsch (Astounding)
  • Process” by A. E. van Vogt (F&SF)
  • The Mindworm” by C. M. Kornbluth (Worlds Beyond)
  • The New Reality” by Charles L. Harness (Thrilling Wonder)

I’ve bolded the overlap. I’ve often wondered when Asimov and Greenberg made up their anthology did they consider what Bleiler and Dikty had done in the past? The Bleiler/Dikty books would have been rare even back in 1984, so I assume they didn’t. Or did they imagine that one day readers would judge the two books together for what they collectively say about the short science fiction of 1950?

And why did Bleiler and Dikty miss “There Will Come Soft Rains,” “Scanners Live in Vain,” “The Little Black Bag,” and  “The Silly Season” which all have become classics since then? Or do later readers discover value in stories that readers back in 1950 missed? “There Will Come Soft Rains” was included in The Martian Chronicles so it was being widely read as Bleiler and Dikty were assembling the volume. “The Little Black Bag” and “Scanners Live in Vain” were included in the first volume of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1970, selected by the popular vote of science fiction writers, so it seems odd they weren’t recognized as instant classics. I think “The Silly Season” is an important miss, but they did include Kornbluth’s “The Mindworm.” Maybe Bleiler/Dikty didn’t want to use two of his stories?

If you look at the 60 short stories from 1950 that’s in our database order by total citations you’ll see both anthologies got most of the most remembered stories. But each anthology also recognized a few classics the other missed. I think the story they both missed which stands out the most is Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt.” It’s always remembered on fan polls but that’s probably because schools teach it.

Here are the stories that made it to the Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list:

CSF-SF-1950

Notice that the top three stories won Retro Hugo Award for 1951. The only short stories/novelettes the fans voting for the retro Hugo that the two anthologies missed were “The Helping Hand” by Poul Anderson and “Okie” by James Blish. Neither anthology included any of the novella nominations. If you study the citation sources for the above stories you’ll see how each has remained popular in fan polls.

For these four stories, this was at least my fourth reading for each of them since the 1960s. Each time they get better and I notice more details. These stories should be read by any would-be writers wanting models to study. They are rich in ideas, dense with details, yet very told dramatically. These four stories are so obvious and famous that there’s little reason to discuss them. And I think the voters for the 1951 Retro Hugo Award also picked the obvious novella choice: “The Man Who Sold the Moon” by Robert A. Heinlein.

The fun question to ask now: What is the best of the forgotten stories? I’m partial to “Contagion” by Katherine MacLean which I’ve already reviewed separately. I thought it a standout story for the time because MacLean was poking fun at male SF fans and gender issues.

Dear Devil by Eric Frank Russell - cover storyDear Devil” is my favorite Eric Frank Russell story so far in this reading project. It’s about another Martian invasion, but this time a very positive one. Don’t you miss Martians? Sure the story is sentimental and unrealistic, but if you loved the movie E.T. you’ll probably love “Dear Devel.”

“The New Reality” by Charles L. Harness reminds me somewhat of Greg Egan’s novel Quarantine because it’s about how our ideas of reality shape reality. The story is a gnarly philosophical fantasy about ontology. The story itself is a kind of a mess, lacking in structure and realistic dramatic action, but it’s filled with the kind of ideas that mess with your head, the kind that pot smokers and science fiction fans love.

The Sack” by William Morrison is not a great story, but it is a fun read. Explorers find an intelligent creature on an asteroid. It is the last of its kind, and it looks like a sack of potatoes. However, the Sack is so smart and willing to answer questions, that humans sell time with it like we do scheduling a supercomputer. The Sack is so effective at answering questions that nations and criminals want to kidnap it. The Sack claims it is always honest, but warns the human questioners that its knowledge might not always be beneficial.

“Misbegotten Missionary” by Isaac Asimov was later renamed “Green Patches” but I like the original name better. Asimov later realized that this story is similar to “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, his mentor. Space explorers visit a planet where all life is part of a single unified consciousness and this lifeform thinks humans are tragically incomplete since they are isolated individuals. The gestalt organism has a way of possessing humans to make them part of their whole. When the Captain of the first space ship lands on this planet and discovers his crew has been infected he blows his ship up. The story is about the second ship returning from the planet with a very clever hitchhiker. Because this tale has more story and less lecture, it’s one of Asimov’s more entertaining tales.

That’s one of the big problems of older science fiction, authors are inspired by far out ideas, but they don’t know how to present them dramatically. Many of these stories in these two anthologies are often interrupted by mini-lectures. That’s why “Scanners Live in Vain” and “Coming Attractions” were such standouts. Each is dense with ideas, but throw off their dazzling concepts as part of the action. They are dramatic and emotional.

Most of the stories in these two anthologies are still entertaining, but I believe most modern readers will find most of the second-string stories slight, clunky, outdated, or primitive. Aficionados of old SF will probably get a kick out of them.

Galaxy Oct Nov 1950

The first two issues of Galaxy, October and November 1950 contains
“Contagion,” “The Last Martian,” “Misbegotten Missionary,” “Coming Attraction,” and “To Serve Man” –  four stories for Bleiler/Dikty and three for Asimov/Greenberg. That’s a pretty impressive debut.

The impact of the new magazines F&SF and Galaxy is particularly impressive when you realize they were competing with Astounding’s 12 issues with just 4 and 3 issues respectively.

Off to read 1951 – the year I was born.

James Wallace Harris

 

“Alien Earth” by Edmond Hamilton

Alien-Earth-by-Edmond-Hamilton

“Alien Earth” by Edmond Hamilton first appeared in the April 1949 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. It has seldom been reprinted. I just discovered it in an old copy of The Great SF Stories 11 (1949) which came out in 1984. In other words, this story is mostly forgotten. You can read it online at the Internet Archive.

Edmond Hamilton got his start in Weird Tales in the 1920s but eventually wrote extensively for many kinds of pulps and comics. Today he is mainly remembered, if he’s remembered at all, for his space opera, especially as the primary author of Captain Future. Because of this, when I turned the page of this anthology and saw it was by Edmond Hamilton I groaned inwardly. I wasn’t in the mood for a silly space opera. Instead, I got a contemporary adventure tale that grabbed me and I grabbed back.

I don’t know why “Alien Earth” is not better remembered because I found it very readable and compelling. Within a few paragraphs, I was thinking what a great writer Hamilton was, and impressed he could do something so different. The opening line was just right, “The dead man was standing in a little moonlit clearing in the jungle when Farris found him.” The dead man, described as a typical Laos tribesman, wasn’t entirely dead. I don’t know my 1949 geography, but I’m guessing this is French Indochina. So the story starts out as a jungle adventure in a science fiction magazine. It was both realistic and fantastic, and ultimately, wonderfully speculative.

I can’t describe much of the story without creating spoilers, but let’s say it reminds me of the stories of Carlos Castenada I read back in my New Age phase in the late 1970s. It deals with states of consciousness and could easily have been popular during the New Wave period of science fiction back in the 1960s, something J. G. Ballard could have written.

I have an ongoing fantasy about editing an anthology of forgotten science fiction stories. “Alien Earth” is a story I’d want to include. Read it, and let me know what you think. I fear I might love stories that few others would love too since so often the stories I’d want for my imaginary anthology are not ones many remember. Maybe I should call my anthology Forgotten Science Fiction for Readers Like Me. It might sell 17 copies.

Thrilling Wonder Stories April 1949

James Wallace Harris

“Living Fossil” by L. Sprague de Camp

 

Reprinted from Worlds Without End.

Read it now: Astounding Science-Fiction February 1939

You might own “Living Fossil” already in one these anthologies:

Warning: This column contains spoilers.

Let’s imagine we’re a science fiction writer back in the late 1930s. We don’t make much money, so we probably live in a cheap tenement house. There’s no air conditioning, so the windows are open, and the street sounds are pouring in. We have no computer or smartphone, no internet or television. We carefully read the morning and afternoon newspapers, listen to the radio and subscribe to Astounding Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Popular Science, and Scientific American. We often walk to the library in the evening. This is our world of information in 1939.

We’re sitting at the typewriter, smoking a cigarette, planning a story we hope to sell to Astounding Science-Fiction. We want an idea that will wow them and get us the cover. We want to produce the thought variant story. We have a solid knowledge of science fiction published in the pulps back to 1926, and we know the classics like Verne and Wells. Plus, we like to think we’re scientific and visionary.

If you’ve read science fiction short stories from this era you know the variety of wild ideas pitched to science fiction editors. Coming up with something different was essential. Science fiction was mostly idea driven until after the New Wave of the 1960s. Science fiction writers were expected to be as original as research scientists testing a new hypothesis.

“Living Fossil” by L. Sprague de Camp has not been reprinted very often, and I find that surprising. Anyone seeing the interior illustration above will exclaim, “Oh my god, that’s Planet of the Apes!” But it’s 1939, not 1963 when Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes first appeared in English. How did de Camp get that idea? Was it astoundingly original in 1939, or are there older versions of the same idea in pulps I haven’t read?

Anyone who has read The Time Machine (1995) by H. G. Wells already knows about possible evolutionary descendants of Homo Sapiens. That novella also gave us the meme that death will one day come to both to our species and the Earth. And if you’ve read the brilliant Last and First Men (1930) by Olaf Stapledon then you’ve already entertained that 17 possible future species of humans could exist after us.

Is it so hard to imagine that L. Sprague de Camp asked himself, “What if humans became extinct, how long before another species would become intelligent?” This is one of my favorite science fiction themes: Who comes after us? Clifford Simak imagined intelligent dogs and robots in his lovely fix-up novel, City. Today we assume AI machines will replace us. But have you read the wonderful The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, or seen the television documentaries that were inspired by it? I wrote about them back in 2012. What if self-aware intelligence doesn’t rise up again?

Who comes after humans? “Living Fossil” speculates they could be capuchin monkeys from South America after 10 million years. The story opens with Nawputta, a zoologist and his guide Chujee riding their agoutis exploring northeast North America near Pittsburgh. Ten million years have made a lot of smaller species much larger in their world, and now the agoutis are as large as mules.

This is a pleasing idea, at least to me. I love to think if humans go extinct life on Earth will go on. De Camp even has his Jmu (the capuchin word equal to human) complain that humans used up all the metals and other resources. As Nawputta and Chujee cross the country looking for new specimens for their museum back home, they speculate about the dead civilization of man. After finding what remains of a large stone with a partial inscription on it, they start speculating:

Notice the part where they wish they could meet a live human? Well, that comes true, but not for a couple days. First, they meet another one of their kind by a campfire, Nguchoy tus Chaw, and he’s none too friendly. This part of the story reminds me of James Fenimore Cooper and his tales about the French and English using the Native Americas. Like Cooper’s stories, there’s all kind of dishonest shenanigans going on by ambitious colonists wanting to exploit the wilderness.

Nguchoy is a timber scout who is doing something shady. Our guys get suspicious of him. After he leaves they head further into the unknown country. Eventually, they find three dead humans, not fossils, with bullet holes in them. They figured Nguchoy shot them. For some reason, the zoologist decides he wants to find and kill a fresh human for a specimen. My friend Mike thought this ruined the story because earlier they had been wishing to find a human to talk to. I assumed they meant city dwelling humans, not humans who had to devolve back to living in caves. Here’s what happens:

This is where de Camp differs from Pierre Boulle. For the rest of the story, which is mainly an adventure narrative about Nawputta and Chujee fleeing for their lives in a territory of hostiles humans who weren’t afraid of their guns. Our sympathy is with the Capuchins. De Camp portrays humans like Native Americans in old westerns. They are fearless, ferocious, and treacherous. I don’t know if this is ironic or straight. I don’t know if de Camp was being satirical by having monkeys colonize the new world and then treat humans the same way Europeans treated the Native Americans. Or, if the story was to parallel how Cro Magnon killed off the Neanderthal. Or both. In either case, it’s accepted within this story for the monkeys to kill the humans.

In the Planet of the Apes, our perspective is on the side of the humans, and we want them to fight their way back to the top of the evolutionary heap. Boulle plays to our vanity so we want his humans to outwit the evolved apes. In “Living Fossil” de Camp doesn’t take sides but assumes a kind of naturalism where an intellectually advanced species will overcome a less advanced species.

But I have yet another theory. Maybe de Camp wanted to say humans aren’t the divinely chosen, the crown of God’s creation. Science, evolution, and the Enlightenment offer a view of reality where God isn’t needed or wanted. Readers who feel humans are special will object to this story. In fact, the faithful shouldn’t like this story at all, because it says humans aren’t the center of existence, won’t live forever, and are no different from the other animal species. In that sense, I think de Camp is sticking it to our collective egos.

That’s what I love about these old pulp magazine stories. An ordinary writer could have big ideas and get paid a 1/2 cent a word by the top science fiction magazine of the day. Science fiction allows anyone the chance to defy the common belief, the accepted orthodoxy, or even speculate beyond proven scientific knowledge.

Science fiction allowed every writer to become a Darwin, explaining reality in fiction by using their own observations, speculations, and extrapolations. Sure, most science fiction writers came up with craptastic ideas, but so what, some of them were brilliantly imaginative, and often inspired a sense of wonder, at least in adolescent geeky boys of the times.

How would you answer this question today: “Who comes after humans?” Has science fiction already explored all the obvious possibilities? Already, science fiction has suggested endless variations on Superman and mutations. We’ve imagined countless evolved animals and machines taking over. We’ve imagined aliens moving in and kicking us out. But I’m positive, if I keep reading these old pulp magazines, I will find stories that will surprise me.

[I’m surprised “Living Fossil” didn’t get the cover for February 1939.]

James Wallace Harris

Writers Aiming to Get Into Print are Aiming Too Low

 

Whatever-Counts-by-Frederik-Pohl-Galaxy-June-1959-edited

When writers sit down to write a short story they have several goals to accomplish. The first is to finish the first draft. Many would-be writers can do this much, but it involves many subgoals, like creating a hook, developing a plot, fleshing out characters, coming up with a satisfying ending, as well as technical goals of grammar, spelling, readability, and factuality.  The next step is to produce a polished draft. This is much harder because you want to give the story voice, style, and art. Then there’s the big hurdle of selling the story. To do that requires many sub-goals too. You have to find the right market that’s open and you have to impress the editors that the story is worth buying. Even if your story gets into print you still have many goals left depending on your ambition. A check might be all you want, or you might dream of writing a story that gets an award or anthologized. That means your goals while writing the story increase. And some writers have the goal of being remembered. They hope their stories will bring them a tiny sliver of immortality. To achieve that goal means thinking differently when starting the story.

In my review of the best short science fiction stories of 1959 I came across one story that hasn’t been well remembered but I thought was pretty darn good. It was “Whatever Counts” by Frederik Pohl in the June 1959 issue of Galaxy. (You can read it online if you follow the link.) My guess is Pohl’s primary goal was a paycheck, but I believe there’s internal evidence to suggest he was aiming much higher. However, I’m not sure how hard he worked at these higher goals. Back then science fiction writers had to crank out a steady stream of stories to pay the bills. I doubt Pohl was thinking much about winning a Hugo award or getting Judith Merril to anthologize his story. However, I feel “Whatever Counts” has several ideas that Pohl wanted to explore and spread. The question is, were those ideas innovative enough to still think about them sixty years later?

If your writing goal is just to get published then you can’t expect to achieve any of the higher goals. Most SF magazines are filled with stories that work, but few stand out. Average stories often make readers feel like they are wasting their reading time. I’ve talked to a lot of people about reading the SF magazines, and most feel lucky if they find one standout story in an issue.

Why do we still remember “All You Zombies—” and “Flowers for Algernon” from 1959 but not “Whatever Counts?” Both of those stories were made into movies, and they have been anthologized frequently over the years. Pohl did include “Whatever Counts” in his collection Abominable Earthman in 1963, but even that’s been forgotten. But then Pohl never had any classic collections like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Robert A. Heinlein’s The Green Hills of Earth. “Whatever Counts” wasn’t even included in The Best of Frederik Pohl. So why am I writing about it now?

Evidently, Gideon Marcus and I are among “Whatever Counts” few fans. We both felt it was an exceptional story for the June 1959 Galaxy. Why didn’t it achieve any of the greater successes for an SF short story? Can I make a case that it should be remembered? I’ve been thinking about that, and I have an analogy as to why we remember short stories. We remember those personal memories that were peak experiences. My theory is the best short fiction has to work like our peak experiences to be memorable.

I can recall just three memories from the first grade. I was still five when I started the first grade, and wouldn’t turn six for three months. One memory is walking to school for the first time on my own. I guess being new and scary made it memorable. I also remember being embarrassed when the teacher asked us if we knew our alphabet and I didn’t. Another memory-etching experience. And the last memory was of walking home one day and finding the doors locked. I couldn’t get in, and no one was home to let me in. I calmly went to sleep on the front porch but evidently, I was traumatized enough to record that memory.

In other words, we remember intense emotional experiences. Both “Flowers for Algernon” and “All You Zombies—” are emotionally charged. While “Whatever Counts” did have several moving scenes that I thought were vivid the story isn’t memorable. “Whatever Counts” opens with colonists in a spaceship floating in freefall trying to get a baby to burp. The baby is choking because it can’t easily spit up in weightlessness. The adults swing it to give it some gravity. This made me wonder if Fred Pohl’s wife had just had a child. But I also wondered if Pohl asked himself: Can babies survive space travel? “Whatever Counts” has a very realistic take on space travel for 1959. It was written before readers were familiar with seeing astronauts floating in freefall. While I read the story I realized Pohl did quite a lot of thinking about the real issues of space travel and first contact. The story is more than its plot.

In “Whatever Counts” fifty-eight humans arrive at a planet with an extinct civilization. They plan to start a colony in an abandoned alien city, but before they can set up base, they are captured by other aliens visiting the planet. The humans knew about the other aliens but didn’t expect them on this planet. They called them Gormen. There are enough ideas in this novelette to fill out a whole novel.

The story, once it gets down to business after an interesting setup unrelated to the plot, is about the mission psychologist, Howard Brabant, apparently aiding the enemy. The crew slowly comes to hate Brabant even though Brabant explains he’s trying to figure out how the Gormen think. Pohl is trying to get across the idea that humans are hindered by their conscious mind, something that is much talked about today, but not in 1959. Just read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Exploring how other intelligent creatures could think differently than humans is the main course of this story, and I believe Pohl did it well enough to make “Whatever Counts” worth reading today. However, he appears to digress in different directions, including one apparently gratuitous sex scene that was illustrated by Wally Wood. But even here, I’m guessing Pohl was trying to say something serious. Science fiction had a reputation of putting scantily clad women attacked by bug-eyed monsters on covers of its magazines. I think Pohl wanted to explore this meme realistically. And Pohl didn’t know in 1959 that soon UFO nuts would worry about little gray big-eyed aliens wanting to give humans medical exams.

Gormen-web

The “sex scene” is an unsettling situation for the characters, where the Gormen grab a female colonist and undress her in front of the other humans. Readers will find this scene distasteful wondering if Pohl is being gratuitous. To the human crew, they felt it was a sexual assault. But the psychologist knows it not. He knows the Gormen think of us as animals. (That made me wonder if animals think vets and researchers are sexually assaulting them at times.) One of the emotional impacts of the story is being helpless in the hands of a superior being. The Gormen treat humans like we do animals in a laboratory.

In a way, this relates to when Charlie Gordan in “Flowers for Algernon” realized he wasn’t smart and his “friends” were making him the butt of their jokes. Charlie realizes there are beings smarter than he, but later on when he becomes smarter than his “friends.” That’s two unique perspectives. As readers we see Charlie being dumber than us, but also smarter. Pohl is trying to convey how the Gormen are smarter than us.

I believe most people remember “Flowers for Algernon” because Charlies loses the intelligence he gained from the experiment. We fear that for ourselves. It hits us as highly tragic. But we don’t remember how Charlie felt being dumb among the smart people. That’s what Pohl was trying to do in “Whatever Counts.” We always assume that were just as good as any alien species, and will always find a way to beat them in a conflict. Pohl supports this belief, but for a while in his story, he was showing a way the Gormen were superior to us. The science fictional insight was Gormen didn’t know we had a subconscious mind that could think as fast as they did. That was an interesting insight for Pohl to have in 1959. Pohl should get more credit for his theory in a sixty-year-old science fiction story.

We have to give Pohl other credit for this story too. In a time when most science fiction writers had their characters cruising around the galaxy traveling faster-than-light from planet to planet taking as much travel time as we jet from city to city on Earth, Pohl had his colonist traveling at half the speed of light taking seven years to get to their destination. Most SF writers back then ignored weightlessness, but Pohl dealt with it. He also included women, smart women, but he didn’t have the foresight to give them equality of jobs. They weren’t crew, but passengers.

We remember “All You Zombies—” because every character is the same person. Heinlein used time travel to cleverly explain how it could happen. We remember “Flowers for Algernon” because a low IQ person gets transformed into a high IQ person. In each story, the gimmick is well plotted out as a series of emotional experiences of the main character. Ultimately, we remember the Heinlein story for its plotting dazzle, but we remember the Keyes story because it made us cry. Pohl leaves us with a few ideas to contemplate but his plot is patchy, and the emotional experiences aren’t focused. Most readers will remember Charlie Gordon, but not Howard Brabant.

How could Pohl have improved his story? First, he goes through three digressions before getting down to the main plot, including one on how people smoke in space. Second, he hides Brabant’s intention from the other characters and readers. This does make Brabant feel like he’s a toady for the Gormen, and I’m not sure readers like that. Being revealed as a hero at the last moment isn’t that redeeming for Brabant.

The setup of “Whatever Counts” is similar to the 1955 noir classic The Desperate Hours where a family is imprisoned in their home by three escaped convicts. The humans were imprisoned by the Gormen. The story should have begun right away by letting us readers know the plot is about escaping. Whether or not we think Brabant is a traitor is another issue. It worked well with the William Holden character in the 1953 film Stalag 17, but having such a dual plot is harder to finesse.

I wonder if Pohl started out thinking “Whatever Counts” could be a novel because of his various digressions. I got to spend a few hours with Pohl back in the 1970s, and I wish I had known then what I know now so I could have asked him. I checked Pohl’s memoir, The Way the Future Was but couldn’t find anything on this story, although Pohl said he got paid 4 cents a word from Galaxy in the 1950s. Those digressions meant more dollars in his paycheck.

Even though I really like “Whatever Counts” I think it’s seriously flawed and Pohl only had the goal of paying the bills in writing it. Which is a shame, because it could have been so much better. I think this story shows that ideas are great in science fiction stories, but storytelling counts even more in the long run. “Whatever Counts” had enough compelling enough ideas to make it the standout story of the June 1959 issue of Galaxy, but the structure of the story kept it from being memorable over time. Judith Merril didn’t even give “Whatever Counts” an honorable mention that year in her best-of-the-year anthology in 1960, and it’s never been anthologized in a retrospective anthology.

Whatever Counts illustrated by Wally Wood Galaxy June 1959 2

Thinking about this story has made me think about the writing of short stories in general. It’s depressing to read so many blah stories in the new issues of my favorite SF magazines. I now see the reason why. The goal of getting into print is aiming too low. Pohl was also an editor and agent, so he knew story construction. My guess is he knew “Whatever Counts” to be good enough to stand out as a better story in a magazine, and not much more. The check on acceptance outweighed anything he might have gotten in the future.

That’s too bad. Looking at Pohl’s long list of publications shows that most of them aren’t remembered today. If he had written far fewer with more ambitious things would have been different. Gateway, his 1977 novel is well remembered. I think I need to go study it. Oddly, its main character was named Broadhead, which is somewhat like Brabant.

James Wallace Harris, May 10, 2019

 

The Year’s Best Short Science Fiction: 1959

1959-SF-Magazines

Few people think about 1959 today – at least not consciously. Yet, 1959 hangs around. If you hear “So What” by Miles Davis or “Take Five” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, that year creeps back into your mind. And if you play “Moanin’” by Art Blakey – now that’s 1959 down and dirty! 59′ also returns if you throw on the Blu-ray of Some Like it Hot, Ben-Hur, Anatomy of a Murder, or catch a rerun of The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, Bonanza, or The Untouchables. Three novels dominated The New York Times bestsellers list in 1959 were Doctor Zhivago, Exodus, and Advise and Consent, although it might be more common to be reading A Separate Peace, A Canticle for Leibowitz, or Starship Troopers today.

I’ve become an aficionado of short science fiction, a particularly minor aspect of pop culture, but even here 1959 still matters. I’ve always wanted to pick a year and read all the science fiction magazines that came out that year. But I’m lazy. However, back in 2014, Gideon Marcus did just that for his blog Galactic Journey. This week I read all his columns covering 1959.

I’ve always wondered if anthologists have missed great stories. Are there a few classics still to be unearthed? In 1960 Judith Merril told us which stories she liked from 1959. Bold ones are the titles Marcus also liked.

  • “No Fire Burns” by Avram Davidson (Playboy)
  • No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (If)
  • “The Shoreline at Sunset” by Ray Bradbury (F&SF)
  • “The Dreamsman” by Gordon R. Dickson (Star Science Fiction No. 6)
  • “Multum in Parvo” by Jack Sharkey (The Gent)
  • Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (F&SF)
  • A Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy)
  • “Mariana” by Fritz Leiber (Fantastic)
  • Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF)
  • “Plenitude” by Will Mohler (F&SF)
  • The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “Make a Prison” by Lawrence Block (Science Fiction Stories)
  • What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (F&SF)

Why did Merril miss “All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein that year? It was on her honorable mention list. I’ve read in later years Heinlein wanted too much to reprint his stories so it might have been true in 1960 too. Gideon Marcus didn’t read Fantastic, the 1959 men’s magazines, or original anthologies, so he gave no opinion on those stories.

Also, in 1960, fans voted the Hugo award for Best Short Fiction:

Winner:

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (F&SF)

Runner-ups:

  • “The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (F&SF)
  • “The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (F&SF)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams (Astounding)

Why wasn’t “All You Zombies—” among the top stories nominated for a Hugo? Fans loved three stories that Merril overlooked – “The Alley Man,” “The Pi Man” and “Cat and Mouse.” All three were on her honorable mention list, but it included over a hundred stories. Those three weren’t popular with Gideon Marcus either.

We never know if the stories anthologists published as the best of the year are their exact best of the year, or the stories they could get the rights to publish.

In 1990 Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg told us their favorite in The Great SF Stories 21 (1959). Stories in bold are those that Merril didn’t pick in 1960.

  • Make a Prison” by Lawrence Block (Science Fiction Stories)
  • The Wind People” by Marion Zimmer Bradley (If)
  • “No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (If)
  • What Rough Beast?” by Damon Knight (F&SF)
  • The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (F&SF)
  • “Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF)
  • The Malted Milk Monster” by William Tenn (Galaxy)
  • The World of Heart’s Desire” by Robert Sheckley (Playboy)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “A Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy)
  • The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (F&SF)
  • “Multum in Parvo” by Jack Sharkey (The Gent)
  • “What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (F&SF)
  • Adrift on the Policy Level” by Chan Davis (The Expert Dreamers)

Asimov and Greenberg added 8 stories that Merril didn’t anthologize, while still ignoring “Cat and Mouse” but remembered “The Pi Man.” In the early years of their series, Asimov and Greenberg would give the Heinlein stories they wanted to include a placeholder page in their anthologies. It told readers they couldn’t get the rights to publish Heinlein’s story, but they would have included it as one of the best of the year stories. They stopped even that recognition after a while. I assumed “didn’t get the rights” meant they didn’t want to pay Heinlein’s price.

In 2014 Gideon Marcus identified his favorites at Galactic Journey. His is a longer list than the others. The stories below are Gideon’s 5-stars or highly recommended, or his Galactic Stars Awards recommendations. I’ve cobbled this list together from my reading notes, and they are in no order. I’ve bolded stories the others didn’t recognize.

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (F&SF)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “What Rough Beast” by Damon Knight (F&SF)
  • This Earth of Hours” by James Blish (F&SF)
  • To Fell a Tree” by Robert F. Young (F&SF)
  • The Good Work” by Theodore L. Thomas (If)
  • The City of Force” by Daniel Galouye (Galaxy)
  • The Sky People” by Poul Anderson (F&SF)
  • Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams (Astounding)
  • Seeling” by Katherine MacLean (Astounding)
  • Whatever Counts” by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy)
  • Return to Prodigal” by J. T. McIntosh (If)
  • “Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy)
  • The Aliens” by Murray Leinster (Astounding)
  • Someone to Watch Over Me” by Christopher Grimm (Galaxy)
  • Operation Incubus” by Poul Anderson (F&SF)
  • “What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (F&SF)

Marcus finally confirms the Hugo nominated “Cat and Mouse.” Most of the previously unremembered stories that Marcus rediscovered were not on anybody else’s list. “The Aliens” was reprinted in The World Turned Upside Down, ed. Drake, Baen, and Flint, 2004, and “The Sky People” were on a list of all-time favorite stories by Gardner Dozois. My guess is these stories need to be reread and reevaluated, but they might be like Pohl’s “Whatever Counts” – just standout stories for the issue, and not all-time classics. I thought “Whatever Counts” was quite innovative – it opens with a dramatic scene of parents trying to burp a baby in freefall and eventually explores different states of consciousness. If I was doing an anthology of Forgotten 1950s SF Stories, I’d include it. But I can’t say it’s a classic like “So What” or “Take Five” are for 1959 jazz. SF’s version of those jazz classics would be “Flowers for Algernon” and “All You Zombies—”

Marcus didn’t say much about “All You Zombies—” but he did rate the March F&SF issue at 4 to 4.5 stars, meaning there must have been some 5-star stories in that issue. He never said which ones, and he did say that F&SF had eleven 5-star stories for 1959. I can only identify eight by reading the columns. Maybe “All You Zombies—” was one. Because Marcus didn’t gush over the obvious classics, maybe he was specifically trying to promote overlooked stories.

In 2018 we created The Classics of Short Science Fiction that identified just four stories from 1959. They each had five or more citations – the requirement to make the list. They were:

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (12)
  • “All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein (11)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon (7)
  • “The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (5)

If Merril and Asimov/Greenberg anthologies had included “All You Zombies—” it would have gotten 14 citations, making it the most remembered SF story of 1959. It’s interesting that both “All You Zombies—” and “Flowers for Algernon” have been made into movies.

If you add in stories that got at least three citations the list would expand to:

  • “The Wind People” by Marion Zimmer Bradley (4)
  • “The Store of the Worlds” by Robert Sheckley (3)
  • “No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (3)
  • “The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (3)

When we do version 2.0 of The Classics of Short Science Fiction these four stories might get more citations, especially if I use Gideon’s picks as a citation source – that would at least put “The Wind People” on The Classics of Short Fiction list (unless I up the minimum citation requirement – now at 5).

If someone in 2019 created a new anthology series for the best short SF of the year, what should it contain? After 60 years have the classic short SF finally been identified? And if an anthologist in 2059 collected The Best Short SF of 1959 would they see the same classics we do today? Are there still SF stories from 1959 that haven’t revealed their genius yet?

And as Paul Fraser pointed out the stories above are mostly American and that Marcus didn’t read the British SF magazines New Worlds, Science Fantasy or Science Fiction Adventures. And the above lists ignore the rest of the world. We know Merril knew about Russian science fiction because she edited an anthology of Russian SF. Hopefully, by 2059 we’ll know more about the best 1959 SF short stories from around the world.

You can play with our database to create lists of best stories of the year lists.

James Wallace Harris, May 4, 2019

“The Purple Death” by W. L. Alden

The Purple Death by W. L. Alden

“The Purple Death” by W. L. Auden first appeared in the January 1895 issue of Cassell’s Family Magazine. I read it in my copy of Science Fiction by the Rivals of H. G. Wells edited by Alan K. Russell, but I also own The Wordsworth Collection of Science Fiction edited by David Stuart Davies, the other anthology that ISFDB.org says contains the story. However, it is also available to read online.

In the last decade, I’ve come to admire science fiction from the 19th-century and collected a number of anthologies that mine that era for early tales of sense-of-wonder. I dip into these volumes now and then, often to discover ideas I thought original to the golden age of pulp SF magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. It makes me wonder if anthologists shouldn’t scout the 18th-century for even earlier examples of common science fiction themes.

“The Purple Death” is a quiet story about an Englishman vacationing in Italy who meets Professor Schwartz, a mad scientist from Germany living the cottage next door. Schwartz wants to help the poor and downtrodden by reducing their numbers. He believes overpopulation is the source of the planet’s problems. His has a solution, one we’d call terrorism today. In fact, the description of his bioweapons of mass destruction and how he would deploy them sounds exactly like possibilities we regularly hear on the nightly news.

Wikipedia has little to say about Alden, other than he was Consul General in Rome, Italy from 1885-1890, appointed by Grover Cleveland. He brought the sport of canoeing to the United States and was the founding member of the American Canoe Association. That I thought strange since I assumed native Americans invented the canoe.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is a bit more revealing, with a concise rundown of his other SF/F tales. Their themes support my idea that many of the famous science fictional ideas of the 20th-century had earlier versions in the 19th. To quote SFE:

Alden's sf and fantasy seems to date only from around 1890 or so, his first title of genuine genre interest seeming to be A Lost Soul: Being the Confession and Defence of Charles Lindsay (1892), narrated by a physician who re-animates the frozen body of an Italian countess (see Sleeper Awakes), only to find that she has retained the amoral ways (see Sex) that caused her husband to immolate her in the first place. Most of the stories in Among the Freaks (coll of linked stories 1896) are tall tales, narrated by the owner of a freak show (but see Monsters); The Mystery of Elias G Roebuck and Other Stories (coll 1896) includes several fantasies and sf tales, including an interesting Apes as Human tale, "A Darwinian Schooner" (August 1893 Pall Mall Magazine) and several tales involving Inventions, a topic more intensely (and humorously) deployed in the stories assembled as Van Wagener's Ways (coll of linked stories 1898), in which the eponymous professor's inventions, all of which go wrong but which are not hoaxes, end with his death in something like a nuclear explosion. Drewitt's Dream (1902) is partially set on an Island Utopia. Alden was prolific and fluent, and further exploration of his works may uncover more material of interest.

I think I’d like to give A Lost Soul (1892) a try. In his bibliography, SFE also mentions A New Robinson Crusoe (1888), which also intrigues me.

By the way, I highly recommend Science Fiction Rivals of H. G. Wells if you can find a copy. They are getting expensive on the used market. I only snagged a copy of one without its dust jacket, so in some ways, I hate to make this recommendation, because I’d still like to find a cheap copy in its wrapper. However, it’s a cool volume, reprinting Victorian era SF from the magazines and including their original illustrations. It’s a shame there is no ebook or audiobook edition.

James Wallace Harris, April 2, 2019

 

The Winston Science Fiction Series

 

Winston-Science-Fiction-series

There are pleasures of the past you can buy — if you’re willing to pay the price. For some bookworms who got hooked on science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, the Winston Science Fiction series aimed at children trigger an intense sense of nostalgia. However, I don’t believe it was the words in those 37 volumes that are burned into our memories, but the cover and endpaper art. Finding one of these stories reprinted without the art doesn’t set off those same intense emotions about the past, at least for me. I often wonder if nostalgia isn’t predominantly a visual thing. I’m in a number of Facebook groups where people are crazy about posting images of the past.

I never owned any of the Winston books as a kid, but got them from my school library, the Miami-Dade County Public Library, or from the Homestead Air Force Base library in the mid-1960s. There were three kinds of science fiction novels aimed at children that I remember from back then. The twelve Heinlein juveniles from Scribners, books by Andre Norton, and the Winston Science Fiction series. When I got my first job I ordered all the Heinlein books in hardback from the publisher. I wish I had ordered the Winston books at the time too. Those Winston books today in VG to Fine condition run hundreds of dollars each if they have the original dust jackets.

Mists of Dawn by Chad Oliver Another important visual bond with these books was the endpaper art that was part of most of the first editions by Alex Schomburg. In fact, this artwork can set off a flurry of comments on the Facebook groups Space Opera Pulp and Science Fiction Book Club. It seems to capture the essence of 1950s science fiction. And it’s a shame that all hardback books don’t all have endpaper art. The Heinlein juveniles did have beautiful endpapers, but just a star pattern, not like the sense-of-wonder artwork below.

Winston_Endpaper For many years I’d keep an eye out for the Winston Science Fiction books when I shopped at used bookstores. I never saw any. I eventually assume they were all owned by collectors. A few years ago my friend Mike found The Ant Men by Eric North at a library book sale in good condition but without a dust jacket. I was envious of him for his luck. We then found WinstonSciFi that sells reproductions of the dust jackets at very reasonable prices. Now his copy of The Ant Men looks like this one:

The Ant Men by Eric North

The other day Mike and I were shopping at a used bookstore and found a Dover reprint of The Ant Men by Eric North. It had a stylised version of the cover that was okay, but what really shouted at me to buy the book was the original Schomburg endpaper art. I didn’t buy it because the book’s cover looked wrong. I’m still tempted to go back to get it because of the endpaper art.

Last year I discovered that many titles in the Winston Science Fiction series were being sold on Amazon as ebook and trade paperback reprints and they used the original cover art (but not the endpaper art). I ordered one just to check it out, Rockets to Nowhere by Lester del Rey. The publisher of these reprints is Dan Thompson of Thunderchild Publishing from Huntsville, Alabama. He also offers a reprint of The Ant Men with the original cover. You can read about how Dan got into reprinting vintage science fiction here. Like me, Dan also read the Heinlein and Andre Norton books growing up. He discovered that most of the Winston books were out-of-print and thought that was a shame, so he got into the publishing business. A few were in the public domain, but for most, he had to track down the copyright holders to arrange contracts for reprinting. He’s been able to reprint many but not all of the series in both ebook and trade paper editions.

Even though I’d love to own a mint condition original copy of Rockets to Nowhere, having Dan’s trade paperback reprint visually fulfills my nostalgic needs.

Rockets-to-Nowhere---both-editions

Of course, I would prefer to own the 1st-edition, but I don’t want to spend $200. $7.99 is a great compromise between my eyes and my bank account.

If you’d like to see what the other covers look like for the entire series, check out Worlds Without End. Publication history and other details can be found at ISFDB.org.

The-Year-When-Stardust-FellSome of these books have never been reprinted, and for some, Thunderchild is the first publisher since Winston to publish them. Which makes me wonder just how good are these stories? I decided to give one a read, but the one I picked wasn’t from Thunderchild. I’ve been wanting to read some Raymond F. Jones, but I now prefer to listen to books. The Year When Stardust Fell was the first one I could find on audio. I got it for $2.99 at Audible.com because I bought the 99 cent ebook edition at Amazon. Thunderchild also sells an ebook and trade paper of this title, and I might get it too because of the cover.

These stories were aimed at children, sometimes even targeted to elementary school kids, but mostly to junior and senior high. I found this story far more adult than I remembered. I don’t think I read The Year When Stardust Fell as a kid, but I had a couple of Deja vu experiences while listening to it. The story is about when Earth passes through a comet’s tail and its dust affects metals, so eventually, all machinery breaks down. Civilization slowly collapses. The story is told from the point of view of Ken Maddox who lives in Mayfield in an unspecified state. Ken’s father is a chemistry professor at a local university. Because of Mayfield being isolated, it’s citizens are able to survive with rationing while in larger cities millions die. As the story progresses the people of Mayfield must learn to live with less and less, and even deal with the moral problem of lifeboat ethics.

Ken and his science club buddies run a ham radio rig that stays in touch with other research sites who are trying to solve the problem of the dust affecting metals. Ken and his buddies also help his father in the lab. This allows the story to emphasize the workings of science. I found the tale thoroughly engaging. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. To me, it holds up well with other 1950s science fiction stories. In fact, I was always anxious to get back to the story. But then, after-the-collapse stories are among my favorite kind of science fiction story.

Winston-Science-Fiction-at-eBay

To be honest, I can’t remember any of the details from the books I think I read. Of course, I read these stories 55 years ago. I’ll have to read several more to see if I think the series deserves to be remembered for its fiction. What I’m discovering is I want these books because of their physical artistic appeal that trigger my nostalgia. I saw a group of 8 of them on sale at eBay today for $300. The idea of holding those old books again is very tempting, even though $300 could probably get me “reading copies” of the entire series if I shopped carefully. A reading copy in used book terminology meaning its beat to hell but you can still read it. I could get most of them as ebooks for less than $100, and all of Thunderchild trade paper editions for under $300.

Dan says these books aren’t big sellers. It’s probably hard to market books for kids in the 1950s to kids or nostalgic adults in the 2010s. I wonder what will happen to these stories when the baby boomers all die off. I doubt any of them will ever be considered classics of the genre. It’s a shame that Thunderchild doesn’t have the right to publish the entire series again as one uniform set so they might have collector appeal.

Here the complete list of titles with cover artists. My favorites tend to be the ones with Alex Schomburg cover paintings. Links are to Thunderbird trade editions at Amazon.

  1. EarthboundMilton Lesser, cover by Peter Poulton (1952)
  2. Find the Feathered Serpent, Evan Hunter, cover Henry Sharp (1952)
  3. Five Against Venus, Philip Latham (Robert S. Richardson), cover Virgil Finlay (1952)
  4. Islands in the Sky, Arthur C. Clarke, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  5. Marooned on Mars, Lester del Rey, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  6. Mists of Dawn, Chad Oliver, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  7. Rocket Jockey, Philip St. John (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  8. Son of the Stars, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  9. Sons of the Ocean Deeps, Bryce Walton, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  10. Vault of the Ages, Poul Anderson, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  11. Attack from Atlantis, Lester del Rey, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  12. Battle on Mercury, Erik Van Lhin (Lester del Rey), cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  13. Danger: Dinosaurs!, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  14. Missing Men of Saturn, Philip Latham, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  15. The Mysterious Planet, Kenneth Wright (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  16. Mystery of the Third Mine, Robert W. Lowndes, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  17. Planet of Light, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  18. Rocket to Luna, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover by Alex Schomburg (1953)
  19. The Star Seekers, Milton Lesser, cover Paul Calle (1953)
  20. Vandals of the Void, Jack Vance, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  21. Rockets to Nowhere, Philip St. John (Lester Del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  22. The Secret of Saturn’s Rings, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  23. Step to the Stars, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  24. Trouble on Titan, Alan E. Nourse, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  25. The World at Bay, Paul Capon, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  26. The Year After Tomorrow, eds. Lester del Rey, Cecile Matschat, and Carl Carmer cover and interior illus. Mel Hunter (1954) – an anthology of nine short stories
  27. The Ant Men, Eric North, cover Paul Blaisdell (1955)
  28. The Secret of the Martian Moons, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1955)
  29. The Lost Planet, Paul Dallas, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
  30. Mission to the Moon, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
  31. Rockets Through Space, Lester del Rey, cover and interior illus. James Heugh (1957) – Special Companion Book (nonfiction)
  32. The Year When Stardust Fell, Raymond F. Jones, cover James Heugh (1958)
  33. The Secret of the Ninth Planet, Donald A. Wollheim, cover James Heugh (1959)
  34. The Star Conquerors, Ben Bova, cover Mel Hunter (1959)
  35. Stadium Beyond the Stars, Milton Lesser, cover Mel Hunter (1960)
  36. Moon of Mutiny, Lester del Rey, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)
  37. Spacemen, Go Home, Milton Lesser, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)

JWH

Fantastic Universe (1953-1960)

FANTUNIVAPR1955

I think it’s time we recognize some other science fiction magazines besides Astounding Science Fiction. So I’ve picked Fantastic Universe on a whim. Below, I’m going to list all the issues of Fantastic Universe available to read online at the Internet Archive, but before that, I thought I might explain why. If this column works out, I might do additional magazines.

I’ve recently read four books about Astounding Science Fiction and its editor John W. Campbell, Jr. (Requiem for Astounding by Alva Rogers, The World Beyond the Hill by Alexei and Cory Panshin, Astounding Days by Arthur C. Clarke, and Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee). Quite often when I read the history of science fiction magazines Hugo Gernsback gets credit for starting Amazing Stories, and John W. Campbell seemingly gets credit for almost everything else. Of course, that’s not true. Time and time again, writers want to write about Campbell and Astounding. I’d like to know about the other editors and their magazines.

fantastic_universe_195310-11Most historians of the science fiction magazines do admit that Campbell’s influence waned in the 1950s as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction came on the scene. David L. Roshelm did write Galaxy Magazine: The Dark and the Light Years (1986), but as far as I know, no one has written a history of F&SF. There have been dozens of other science fiction magazines published in the 20th-century, and I have to wonder if their editors didn’t discover new writers, give new artists a gallery on their covers, provide letter columns for fans fighting their tempests in a teacup, and book reviewers a place to begin publishing.

I collect anthologies of science fiction short stories. Most of the stories anthologized from the 1930s and 1940s have come from Astounding Science Fiction. And Astounding, F&SF, and Galaxy seem to dominate when looking at stories collected from the 1950s. Of course, these markets paid more, so their editors got the first look at work from the top writers. Yet, I’ve got to wonder about all those forgotten science fiction magazines, editors, and writers. Did their editors discover new writers? Have anthologists missed story gems from those forgotten magazines?

FANTUNIVNOV1955The four books about Astounding break into two kinds. Rogers and Clarke were fans from the start and go back and review old issues story-by-story they fondly remember. The Panshins and Nevala-Lee were too young to have read Astounding growing up. The Panshins focused on analyzing the impact of stories, while Nevala-Lee focused on the biographies Campbell and his famous writers: Heinlein, Asimov, and Hubbard.

Thus, historians of magazines can choose to write about the stories, writers, or editors, an sometimes about the cover artists, interior illustrators, and book reviewers. Alva Rogers had a collection of Astounding to work with, and Clarke was given a microfilm set of Astounding. Nevala-Lee had digital scans. Having access to old magazines makes writing about them easier.

Because of sites like the Internet Archive, researchers can now read many more old science fiction magazines. It’s a great time for genre scholars to pour through long forgotten issues looking for undiscovered discoveries regarding SF in the 1950s. Fantastic Universe got the reputation for supporting the UFO craze. Whether it’s editor and writers believed in flying saucers, or were trying to make a buck of the craze, is another issue.  Ray Palmer at Amazing Stories and John W. Campbell, Jr. at Astounding both have piles of embarrassing editorials to defend too. And if you lived through the 1950s you’ll know people believed a lot of crazy ideas back then. Just read Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick, which I think is PKD’s best novel.

FANTUNIVAUG1957I thought it would be fun to research a lesser known science fiction magazine and picked Fantastic Universe, which ran from 1953-1960. I did find Leo Margulies: Giant of the Pulps (2017) by Philip Sherman. Supposedly, in the 1930s Leo Margulies edited 46 different pulp titles, but he’s most famous among SF fans for editing Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Sam Merwin, Jr. also worked on those two pulps and others, but I could not find a biography devoted to him. Hans Stefan Santesson seems to have gotten his start with Fantastic Universe and then went on to edit The Saint Mystery Magazine from 1959-1967.

Issue Lists (69)

Volume/Number links to ISFDB to see table of contents.

[IA] links to Internet Archive to read a scanned copy

1953Sam Merwin, Jr.

1954 – editor Beatrice Jones

1954 – editor Leo Margulies

1955 – editor Leo Margulies

1956 – editor Leo Margulies

1956 – editor Hans Stefan Santesson

1957 – editor Hans Stefan Santesson

1958 – editor Hans Stefan Santesson

1959 – editor Hans Stefan Santesson

1960 – editor Hans Stefan Santesson

The Internet Archive is becoming the Library of Congress for the web. It’s only missing 12 of the 69 issues of Fantastic Universe, and I’m pretty sure those issues will show up soon. I used to work in a periodicals department at a university and one of my jobs was tracking down and ordering missing issues. This was back in the 1980s and I had to snail-mail publishers all over the world. As our library ran out of space, we sometimes discarded whole runs of magazines, including a complete bound run of F&SF. That really killed my soul. I wanted them, but state law forbade the library from giving them to people, so they were shipped off to state surplus.

Now that libraries routinely discard items that seldom get used, it’s great that the Internet Archive is collecting everything it can as digital scans. Old pulp and digest magazines are aging badly, disintegrating and disappearing. So, scanning saves them for the future. And by being on the internet, people from all over the world can use them to write about the history of science fiction.

In the future, I’m hoping to see more books like Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee about other areas of science fiction history. I was surprised by how many prominent general interest magazines reviewed it. I assume there are many more old fans like me who want to read about the evolution of science in magazines.

Additional Reading:

James Wallace Harris, 2/1/19

FantUnivNov54

 

 

 

Not All Great Stories Are Remembered

A Logic Named Joe by Murray Leinster March 1946 Astounding.PNG

Our goal here at the Classics of Science Fiction is to discover analytical ways to remember science fiction. We describe our methods in “Remembering Science Fiction.” The trouble is, our methods don’t always work. For short stories, we collect annual anthologies, retrospective anthologies, textbook anthologies about science fiction, fan polls, awards, and a few recommendation lists from authors. We call each source of recognition a “citation” and we have over a 100 citation sources for short science fiction. To get on our final list of Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories a story had to have a minimum of 5 citations.

“A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster from the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction is a definite classic in my mind, yet it only got 1 citation. It was collected in The Great SF Stories 8 (1946) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martina H. Greenberg. But if you look at the entry for “A Logic Named Joe” at ISFDB.org, you’ll see it’s never been collected in a major retrospective anthology of the science fiction genre. Yet, if you go read “A Logic Named Joe” online at Baen Book you’ll discover this 1946 story is very prescience about today’s computers, networking, and social media problems. For example, the illustration above shows kids looking at a film unsuitable for kids. In the story itself, kids are watching a film cannibals and their fertility dances. Leinster even imagined Nanny apps to keep kids from seeing what they shouldn’t, but in this case, Joe overrode that code.

The reason why people should read “A Logic Named Joe” today is for the same reason they should read “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster from 1909. Both are stories where the author has predicted our world and time to a fascinating degree. Science fiction was never meant to be a crystal ball, but sometimes it’s speculations about the future are eerily right. Both of these stories would just seem like nice stories if read before the internet era, but after that, we go, “Wait a minute! How could E. M. Forster in 1909 or Murray Leinster in 1946 imagine what’s happening now?”

“A Logic Named Joe” was written when the term “computer” meant a human that worked all day at a desk doing mathematics. Leinster used the word “logic” to mean what we call computers. I bet future retrospective anthologies will reprint “A Logic Named Joe.”

They will if the editors read it. How do keep short stories alive so readers will remember them? I’d say a majority of modern science fiction readers will never read even one of the anthologies we used to create our system for identifying the best short science fiction from the past. Sure, a few folks might take a science fiction course as an elective and have to read one of the textbook anthologies for their class. Or a small percentage might consume a current anthology like The Big Book Of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, but these readers are few and far between.

We’re hoping people will read our lists and track down the stories. We’ve even put all our research into a database that you can generate your own custom lists. But using our system you probably won’t notice “A Logic Named Joe.” Our system fails to recognize it. There have been no 1947 Retro Hugo Award for 1946 publications so far. This could happen in 2022. In 2018 the Retro Hugo Award voted for the 1943 Hugo awards that covered 1942 stories. In 2019 they’ll vote the 1944 awards. But even if “A Logic Named Joe” gets a Retro Hugo Award, will that be enough to make it into a classic story young readers will remember?

Murray Leinster is not very well remembered today, but he was once called the Dean of Science Fiction. Readers mostly remember him today for “First Contact” which was anthologized in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

If you use our database and set the min and max year to 1946, check the Story radio button, and put citations to 1, you’ll get all the stories our system found for 1946:

1946 Science Fiction Short Stories

The ones checked with a red mark are those collected by Asimov and Greenberg for The Great SF Stories 8 (1946). All the others came from other anthologies. 13 of the 22 stories are only remembered by one anthology. Using our cutoff of 5 citation minimum, these are the stories our system deems are the classics of 1946:

The Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories 1946

Few modern science fiction readers will even read these three stories, but because they’ve been anthologized so many times, their chances are better for being remembered as classics of the genre.

I believe “A Logic Named Joe” should be on that list, but how do we come up with a system that recognizes its worth? We could add Modern Masterpieces of Science Fiction (1965) edited by Sam Moskowitz. It’s a major retrospective anthology we missed. That would give “A Logic Named Joe” 2 citations. It would also reinforce the standing of the other stories in the anthology give giving them an additional citation.

We could also add the best theme anthologies. We aimed to pick major anthologies, either recognized as such or because they were large and definitive. Machines That Think (1984) edited by Asimov, Greenberg, and Warrick would be one such anthology. It collected 621 pages of great stories about thinking machines. That would bring “A Logic Named Joe” up to 3 citations. Of course, it’s given Asimov and Greenberg two votes.

I could assemble a committee of well-read specialists in short science fiction and give them each a vote. I’d give it my vote. That brings it up to 4 citations, still under the cutoff.

Are there any other sources of citations that recognize short science fiction? Being made into a television show or movie is a great form of recognition that helps keep a work of fiction in our pop culture memory. Unfortunately, “A Logic Named Joe” will never be filmed.

The gold standard for remembering short stories is being published in a major anthology. But how often do major anthologies get published? And when a large retrospective anthology is assembled, editors tend to look over the field and find exceptional stories that haven’t been well-anthologized before to now compete with the recognized classics. Would they now see “A Logic Named Joe” as one? The large genre remembering anthologies come out every few years, but they have page limits, and always more new stories to remember, and thus older stories that were once classics get left out.

Even among short stories, there’s a survival of the fittest. The question I always ask people, “How many short stories do you remember from the 19th-century?” The competition to become a classic is brutal.

“A Logic Named Joe” is a standout story because of how it anticipated the internet. But is that enough to make it a classic story worth remembering? It lacks the emotional depth to make it a literary classic. And it doesn’t have the beauty of “Vintage Season.” Maybe our system is working. Maybe “A Logic Named Joe” is a story I especially like, but not necessarily loved by others?

“A Logic Named Joe” by Will F. Jenkins (Murray Leinster’s real name because he had another story in the same issue) came in first place in The Analytical Laboratory. Readers liked it best, but it only got a 2.80 average rating, meaning it wasn’t that popular. A rating of 1.00 meant every reader picked it as their #1 story. A few rare stories back in the day managed that feat. So in 1946, “A Logic Named Joe” was only a slightly better than average story.

If you look at the list above of the 22 stories for 1946, only “Vintage Season” is a real classic. It had 10 citations. If we used a cutoff of 10, there are only 38 classic science fiction short stories that make the list. And even many of these are being forgotten. It’s hard to come up with a system that remembers everything that the average reader will encounter, or should read.

Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories 10 Citations

James Wallace Harris, December 25, 2018

Audible Has A Fantastic Collection of Baby Boomer Science Fiction

The Fourth R by George O. Smith

For several years now (2017, 2016, 2015), I’ve created wish-lists of wanted audiobook editions of classic science fiction stories. My hope is publishers would see my lists and produce those titles on audio. I doubt they ever have, but every year a few more classic science fiction books show up at Audible.com. They have done a fantastic job. Almost any title I read as a kid is now available to read with my ears. Nearly every book on The Classics of Science Fiction and Worlds Without End Top-Listed Books of All-Time lists are available on audio. And I think that validates those stories.

Starting in 2002 when I joined Audible.com I’d scan the new releases daily always hoping to find my favorite science fiction stories from my Golden Age years, the books Baby Boomers now consider the classic of the genre.  Each year it gets harder to find titles that haven’t gotten the audiobook treatment. Here are some of the older science fiction titles that have shown up at Audible this past year:

  • Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan
  • Sleeping Planet (1965) by William R. Burkett, Jr.
  • The Troublemakers by George O. Smith
  • The Snail on the Slope by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
  • Triplanetary (1934) by Edward E. Smith (magazine version)
  • This World is Taboo by Murray Leinster
  • The Sensitive Man by Poul Anderson
  • Masters of Space by Edward E. Smith & E. Everett Evans
  • The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg
  • Mercenary by Mack Reynolds
  • Catseye by Andre Norton
  • Storm by George R. Stewart
  • The Land of Always Night (Doc Savage) by Kenneth Robeson
  • The Golden Man (Doc Savage) by Kenneth Robeson
  • Planet Stories – March 1953 (magazine)
  • Planet Stories – Fall 1941 (magazine)
  • Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Scarlett Plague by Jack London
  • With the Night Mail by Rudyard Kipling
  • As Easy as ABC by Rudyard Kipling
  • 2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Sci-Fi Shorts volumes 1-6 (public domain)
  • Future Eves: Classic Science Fiction About Women by Women edited by Jean Marie Stine
  • Pink Winds, Green Cats, Radiant Rocks & Other Classics by the Forgotten Woman of Science Fiction’s Golden Age by Frances Deegan

As any diehard mid-century Sci-Fi fan knows, Audible is scraping the bottom of the barrel. They did (accidentally I’m sure) grant a few of my wishes from last year:

  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • Rogue Moon By Algis Budrys
  • The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
  • Grass by Sherri Tepper

Not very many, but they were heavy hitters that were overlooked. I realize now that many of my wishes were unrealistic because reprinting old anthologies on audio probably involve significant copyright problems. And I’m starting to doubt there’s a market for short fiction SF on audio anyway, but even then, I got to listen to the three-volume The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. That made 2018 a great year for science fiction on audio. The first volume is probably the most popular science fiction anthology of all-time.

The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker

I’ve decided to make this the last year for wishing for old science fiction on audio. I’m going to make one last roundup of what I’d love to hear and then go off to listen to all the great SF books already sitting in my Audible library. I’ve purchased more than I can listen to in my expected remaining lifetime. This year I’m going to mostly aim for books that publishers should have an easier time acquiring the rights, either novels or single author collections.

I love hearing science fiction read to me by great narrators. And because I study the history of science fiction, there are many rare titles on I want to hear. But I doubt many others do. Sure, there a bunch of us old SF fans rereading our favorite science fiction from our formative years by listening to their audiobook editions, but I don’t know how big that market is, and in any case, we’re a dying audience. I believe Audible and its allied publishers have found pretty much all the old science fiction that was once popular before the year 2000.

Still, there are books I want to hear, and there are science fiction authors from the past that never had anything reprinted in audio, such as Zenna Henderson or William Tenn, or other writers that have had little of their work represented. I still yearn to hear classic science fiction short stories, but I know copyright issues probably make them difficult to reprint. However, I still love to hear three SF anthologies that I believe would significantly cover the history of the science fiction short story if they were produced for audio: Adventures in Time and Space (1946) edited by Raymond J. Healy & J. Francis McComas, Dangerous Visions (1967) edited by Harlan Ellison, and The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Links are to ISFDB.org to show their table of contents. But I doubt they will ever get an audio production now.

67 Books I Want to Hear In My 67th Year

  1. A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay
  2. The World of Null-A (1948) by A. E. Van Vogt
  3. The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) by A. E. Van Vogt
  4. The Legion of Time (1952) by Jack Williamson
  5. The Long Loud Silence (1952) by Wilson Tucker
  6. Marooned on Mars (1952) by Lester del Rey
  7. Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore
  8. Children of the Atom (1953) Wilma H. Shiras
  9. A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn
  10. Mission of Gravity (1954) by Hal Clement
  11. Cities in Flight (1955) by James Blish
  12. Citizen in Space (1955) by Robert Sheckley
  13. Rocket to Limbo (1957) by Alan E. Nourse
  14. Wasp (1957) by Eric Frank Russell
  15. The Enemy Stars (1958) Poul Anderson
  16. The Lincoln Hunters (1958) by Wilson Tucker
  17. The Fourth “R” (1959) by George O. Smith
  18. The High Crusade (1960) by Poul Anderson
  19. Hothouse (1962) by Brian W. Aldiss
  20. Second Ending (1962) by James White
  21. Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
  22. Simulacron-3 (1964) by Daniel Galouye
  23. Earthblood (1966) by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown
  24. Empire Star (1966)
  25. The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz
  26. Lords of the Starship (1967) by Mark S. Geston
  27. Camp Concentration (1968) by Thomas Disch
  28. Of Men and Monsters (1968) William Tenn
  29. Omnivore (1968) Piers Anthony
  30. Past Master (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  31. Space Chanty (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  32. The Last Starship from Earth (1968) by John Boyd
  33. The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets (1968) by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
  34. Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock
  35. Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad
  36. Macroscope (1969) by Piers Anthony
  37. And Chaos Died (1970) by Joanna Russ
  38. The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) by Wilson Tucker
  39. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (1971) by Roger Zelazny
  40. The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe
  41. The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn
  42. The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (The Unsleeping Eye) (1973) by D. G. Compton
  43. The Centauri Device (1974) by M. John Harrison
  44. Orbitsville (1975) by Bob Shaw
  45. The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ
  46. The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner
  47. Trouble on Triton (1976) by Samuel R. Delany
  48. On Wings of a Song (1979) by Thomas M. Disch
  49. Ridley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban
  50. No Enemy But Time (1982) by Michael Bishop
  51. Native Tongue (1984) by Suzette Haden Elgin
  52. Ancient of Days (1985) by Michael Bishop
  53. The Falling Woman (1986) by Pat Murphy
  54. Mindplayers (1988) by Pat Cadigan
  55. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990) by James Tiptree, Jr.
  56. A Woman of the Iron People (1991) by Eleanor Arnason
  57. Sarah Canary (1991) – Karen Joy Fowler
  58. Synners (1991) by Pat Cadigan
  59. China Mountain Zhang (1992) by Maureen F. McHugh
  60. Ammonite (1993) by Nicola Griffith
  61. Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers
  62. Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson (1995)
  63. Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling
  64. The Book of the Long Sun (1993-96) by Gene Wolfe
  65. Aye, and Gomorrah (2003) by Samuel R. Delany
  66. Store of the Worlds (2012) by Robert Sheckley
  67. The Future is Female (2018) edited by Lisa Yaszek

The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd
— James Wallace Harris 11/15/18