Home > Uncategorized > The good stuff is rarely on the shelves at the front of the store

The good stuff is rarely on the shelves at the front of the store

Occasionally in my book-hunting adventures, I come across a cache of old copies of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. If they’re in decent shape, I almost always sift through them for a copy or two that might be worth taking home and holding on to. Used, they typically go for three or four dollars, sometimes less.

The format is appealing — roughly the same as Reader’s Digest, but with a lower grade of paper, both for the cover and inside pages. It’s basically a flimsy cardboard for the cover and slightly better than newsprint inside. Also, the text is divided into two columns on each page, for ease of reading. Art and graphics are minimal. It’s a tidy little package, easy to handle, cart around, store, etc.

Looking through the old copies, it’s interesting to find all the prominent authors from the fantasy and science fiction genres. Nobody, it seemed, was too good to appear in F&SF or one of the other very similar magazines with the same format that were so popular in the ’60s and ’70s. Even the top writers couldn’t have gotten much money for their contributions, but they wrote for the magazine anyway. It was the place to see and be seen.

Today, in an antiques mall, I picked up the October 1968 issue, which contains writings by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Gahan Wilson, Larry Niven, D.F. Jones and Ron Goulart. These were/are prominent names in fantasy and science fiction. I was especially drawn to the Ellison short story, “Try a Dull Knife.” Besides being a longtime fan of Ellison, I was fascinated by the fact that he submitted this piece to the magazine at a time when he was at or near the peak of his career. In fact, the editor’s note introducing the story indicates how busy Ellison was at that time:

“Harlan Ellison’s current projects include the following: scripting an sf film, Esper, for Universal Pictures (it is projected as a film-for-TV and later a series); putting together a second volume of Dangerous Visions; completing two novels, Demon with a Glass Hand (based on his award-winning ‘Outer Limits’ television script, and Dial 9 to Get Out, a contemporary novel ‘more than slightly autobiographical.’ Ellison is presently crossing the country making TV and radio appearances to promote his new collection Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled. . . .”

I checked my shelf of Ellison books, and the story in the magazine later appeared in his collection The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. I just read the story, and it’s pretty good, an allegory about the vampiric codependence between celebrities and their fans. Classic Ellison, in that he no doubt was thinking autobiographically as he conceived this story.

Another fun piece is a column called “The Dark Corner” by the cartoonist Gahan Wilson in which he reviews new horror releases. He has an interesting take on a new edition of an Arthur Machen novel, arguing that the young people experimenting with psychedelic drugs would be wise to read the old British horror master.

“The more naive among the psychedelic set and the pot lot appear to believe that they have stumbled on a New Thing,” Wilson writes. “They style themselves Columbuses, treading an undiscovered continent, making first contact with the angels and demons which dwell therein. They are, of course, quite wrong. Those lands have been explored by previous voyagers, and we have the maps and logs of their journeys. Some of these bold cartographers left encouraging reports, others did not. Among those with less happy news stood — we can say towered — the figure of Arthur Machen. His cautionary essays on what may happen to those who meddle with that which we laughingly call reality should be required reading for those who are tempted to dip their toe into the acid pool or go out with Mary Jane.”

I haven’t read Machen, but my interest surely is piqued now. (Taking a quick look at the Wikipedia entry for Machen, I note that Stephen King, no slouch in the horror field, believes Machen’s novella The Great God Pan may be the best horror story ever.)

The October 1968 issue also includes Clarke’s response to a nonfiction piece by Asimov from a previous issue. Clarke and Asimov apparently were old friends, or at least very respectful colleagues, but the Clarke piece offers a strong disagreement with Asimov about an arcane aspect of science: whether anything is impossible. The dialogue between Asimov and Clarke happened many moons before the advent of the Internet, but F&SF at times had the feel of being an interactive experience within the tight-knit community of writers who contributed to it. It was something like a blog in which a handful of people are contributing and playing off one another’s posts.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is still publishing, bimonthly these days, in roughly the same format. I haven’t been inclined to pick up the more recent issues, in part because I don’t recognize most of the contributors. But I think I’ll get a new one sometime soon and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. The compact and unpretentious format is hard to resist.

  1. February 20, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Geoff, this is a fascinating article. It made me want to read Ellison’s “Try a Dull Knife ” and Machen’s novella, “The Great God Pan.” I’ve never followed all of the science fiction writers but I grew up on the radio shows that gave me chills: Lights Out, Innersanctum, The Shadow, etc., so I kept up with all of Stephen King’s books until he was producing them faster than I could read them. I never missed a movie that starred Boris Korloff, Lon Chaney Jr. or the neck biter guy…can’t remember his name. In any case, this article really triggers my enthusiasm for reading some of these masters of horror. Thank you for it.

    • May 24, 2012 at 4:03 PM

      I was very fortunate erleiar this year to get permission to use some lyrics from Pete Townshend in the foreword of my novel by just asking him personally through his office assistant. It cost me nothing, and I very happily forwarded him a copy of the book as a thank you. I suspect the fact that my book was inspired by one of his songs made it easier, but I was very touched by his generosity nevertheless.Does asking permission extend to using lyrics or song titles and making them your book titles? I seem to remember that titles are exempt from this, but I asked anyways and got the okay.

  2. Jon
    February 22, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    If you like Arthur Machen, you might find Algernon Blackwood interesting. Machen’s short stories appeared regularly in ghost story anthologies. I’ve got quite a few anthologies on the shelf as well as a two-volume set of Blackwood’s stories including “The Wendigo” and “The Trees.”

    Arkham House in Sauk city, WI published a lot of the genre with August Derleth at the helm. Those books, when you can find them, are rather pricey now.

  3. Desert Smurff
    February 26, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    I have never found anything to beat the Ringworld series. I read them first as a child and then recently decades later (avoiding telling how old I am)

    I have been involved in designing some advanced mechanical s and am amazed how often the constructs run into the Ringworld concepts.

    Also the “plant of life” raised the concept that we are just a preliminary stage in human development and should continue to grow into “Pak Protectors”. Interestingly we only use 3 percent of our DNA in a lifetime. Of that 3 percent only 1 percent is uniquely human. The fact that 97% of our DNA is unused and unknown as to it’s purpose (I don’t think god wasted effort here) it is very likely that there are millions of processes and cures already built into our DNA that have simply been turned off. The “plant of life root” was an obvious analogy by Niven to the “tree of life” in the Bible. Is it possible that Adam’s “death” was an event triggered by his lack of access to a plant trigger??? Just fascinating when you tie history, Bible, DNA and science fiction into the same thread!!!

    Reading Niven’s work as an adult, it sounded ill constructed as to his art but the base concepts here were amazing! The man obviously was better as a theorist than as an author!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply to Desert Smurff Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: