Friday, February 14, 2014

FFB: Amazing Stories, June, 1958

Growing up in the 1950s, I loved the SF digest magazines.  As I'm sure I've said before, I liked them all, even those that others looked down on, like Imagination, Imaginative Tales, Fantastic, and Amazing Stories.  Sure, I read and liked Galaxy, F&SF, and Astounding, and I enjoyed them.  F&SF was probably my favorite of them all.  But I still loved the others, including Amazing.  I'm not alone here.  Ed Gorman was another fan, and so was Roger Ebert.  If you look through the letter columns of the back issues of the magazines I mentioned above, you can read some of the letters they wrote to them.  Anyway, when I was feeling nostalgic the other day, I pulled down this magazine from the shelves and settled down to read a few stories.  

Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that one of the stories was a Johnny Mayhem adventure!   This one was published as by C. H. Thames, but the author was really Milton Lesser, better known as Stephen Marlowe.  I really loved the Mayhem stories when I was a kid, and for just a second or two I was transported back to 1958 when stories like this could be printed and read without irony.  I've written about Johnny Mayhem before, so let me just quote what I said then. He began life as Johnny Marlow, "a pariah, a criminal, . . . who had been mortally wounded on a wild planet deep within the Saggitarian Swarm, whose life had been saved, after a fashion, by the white magic of that planet. Mayhem, doomed now to possible immortality as a bodiless sentience, an elan, which could occupy and activate a corpse if it had been frozen properly." Being an elan has reformed Marlow/Mayhem, "who had dedicated his life to the service of the Galactic League because a normal life and normal social relationships were not possible for him." See, that's because an elan can't "remain in one body for more than a month without body and elan perishing." Since you never know when you'll need a guy (or an elan) like Johnny Mayhem, "Every world which had an Earthman population and a Galactic League post, however small, had a body waiting in cold storage, waiting for Johnny Mayhem if his services were required." How could any teenager living in a little East Texas town resist a story with a hook like that?

The title of the story in this issue of Amazing is "Mayhem Enslaved," and Mayhem's elan is put into a body that's sent to kidnap a man from a planet where humans are enslaved by creatures that look like lobsters.  With the help of some incredible coincidences and any number of instances when things go exactly right for him, Mayhem grabs the guy, aids the overthrow of the lobster creatures, and completes his mission.  It's hard to believe that anybody could cram so much plot into so few pages, and it's all highly unlikely and even unbelievable, though in 1958 I believed it all.  And there's a part of me that still does.

Robert Bloch's "Red Moon Rising" is clearly a reaction to the big event of 1957: Sputnik.  In Bloch's story a gigantic satellite (estimated weight: 50 tons) appears in the sky, and American panics.  I figured out where this one was going in the first couple of pages, or maybe I just remembered it.  Who can say?  It was still fun.

"Daddy Fix" by Al Sevcik is SF only because it's set in the future.  It could've been set in any era.  The editor says "you'll remember it for a long, long time."  I don't know if I remembered it or not, but I knew exactly what the shocker ending was, so maybe I did remember it.  Just for fun, I looked up Sevcik on the Internet.  Apparently he lives in League City, Texas, only a few miles from Alvin.  Maybe I'll give him a call.

The other big Sputnik-related item in the magazine is noted on the cover: "Science Courses open in 50 Uncrowded Colleges."  Sadly, this is a misleading title, as the actual article shows that many of the colleges listed can't accept any more students into most of their science programs.  There's a related item, too.  It's "Class of 2008: A Prediction of Things to Come in the Educational Pattern."  It's hilariously off the mark.

I haven't read the other stuff in the magazine yet, but what I did read was great fun.  Not for everyone, I'm sure, but highly enjoyable for me.

19 comments:

Jerry House said...

The old digests were just plain fun.

Anonymous said...

Great review, especially the Johnny Mayhem stuff. I don't suppose those stories were ever collected?

Galloping nostalgia!

Jeff

Bill Crider said...

No collection that I know of.

George said...

I read AMAZING STORIES, June 1958 when one of my Junior High teachers gave me a shopping bag full of SF magazines. It ignited a collecting gene for fiction digest magazines of all genres.

Tom Johnson said...

Although I started collecting the pulp sf magazines, I eventually concentrated on the digest sf magazines. I've almost completed all of the series, just missing an issue here and there. Like most collectors I picked up everything I found, whether I needed it or not, and ended up with a couple thousand duplicates. I am always in the market to swap them for issues I need. Unfortunately, there seem to be few collectors looking for them any more.

Bill Crider said...

Dealers on another list I'm on say they hardly bother to take them to conventions anymore because nobody wants them.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Bill, it's interesting that you should mention C.H. Thames for I nearly read and reviewed his short story "Prison of a Billion Years" featuring Adam Slade. Of course, I didn't know Thames was a pseudonym.

Bill Crider said...

Lesser/Marlowe used "C. H. Thames" in the digests, and he also used it for a couple of mystery novels.

Todd Mason said...

Of course, every convention I attend I buy and often make gifts of them to other fans who often have only the faintest inkling of what the magazines are about. Dunno if I've made any converts. I did explain a little bit of what WEIRDBOOK was about to Michael Dirda while W. Paul Ganley was busy with another customer, the other year.

Todd Mason said...

(And one of the more gregarious of the faanish young women was a fan of similar writers, so I gave her one of the copies of the October 1978 FANTASTIC with Janet Fox's "Demon and Demoiselle" I had bought from Ganley.)(Missionary work is never done.)

Todd Mason said...

And, of course, by 1958, Fairman has just about given up, and Cele Goldsmith was getting more into the magazine, before becoming editor next year...

Bill Crider said...

If your missionary work pays off like that of George's teacher, it'll have quite a lasting effect.

Richard said...

1. Who did the cover on that one, Bill?

2. If nobody wants the old digests, why do the things cost so much when one goes looking? If they were cheap enough, say $50 a year in good condition I'd buy 1949 - 1966 ASTOUNDING.

Richard said...

Oh, and I want a Johnny Mayhem collection. Da sooner da better.

Bill Crider said...

That's a Valigursky cover, Richard. He did most, if not all, the covers for Amazing back in those days.

If you watch eBay, you might pick up some of those Astounding volumes pretty cheaply. Usually they're sold as single issues, though.

Cap'n Bob said...

The closest I came to being a skiffy fan was having a subscription to Amazing in the early 1970s. I enjoyed most of the stories and loved Ted White's editorials.

Kelly Robinson said...

So cool. Some great names there.

Anonymous said...

Reportedly the complete Johnny Mayhem series has been reprinted in one tp by Pulp Tales Press, though I've not seen a copy. Description here:

http://tinyurl.com/mtympct

and here

http://tinyurl.com/mjyta8j


Denny Lien

Bill Crider said...

Thanks, Denny!