Friday, October 07, 2016

FFB: A digest magazine -- Fantastic Science Fiction, February, 1958

When I was a teen, I never missed an issue of Fantastic, so I'm sure I read this one.  Reading it again, I came to the bleak realization that I had terrible taste.  This is really bad stuff.

Henry Sleasar's story "Jewel of Ecstasy" gets the cover, and what a mess it is.  The story, not the cover.  The setting is pure '50s except for the interplanetery travel.  There's this jewel, see, and anybody who looks at it becomes amoral and immortal.  And it just gets goofier as it goes along.  Yikes.

Sex sold in the '50s, and "Mr. Fenbley's Nudes" is about a female mannikin that comes alive when touched by a man with the right body chemistry.  Hahahaha!  What a great concept.  The farce doesn't work in the least.

"I Married a Martian" has a guy getting a woman's bedtime and bathtime routines on his TV set.  Saucer clubs!  A real Martian wife!  She sure can cook!  Yuks galore!

"Code for Unbelievers" tells us that there's a Universal Unconscious Mind that we all share and that, well, we can become millionaires.  Or something.  

I can't go on, but the other stories are equally dire.  Yet I ate this stuff up as a youngster.  It's no wonder I'm a dunderhead.  It's embarrassing.  I should've been reading Jane Austen.  Too late for me now, though.

ToC from the invaluable Galactic Central:
6 · Jewel of Ecstasy · Henry Slesar · nv
45 · Mr. Fenbley’s Nudes · Wilson Kane · ss
52 · I Married a Martian · E. K. Jarvis · ss
66 · A Code for Unbelievers · G. L. Vandenburg · ss
84 · Earth Specimen · Gerald Vance · ss
102 · Danger, Red! · O. H. Leslie · ss
116 · Appointment with Mr. Armstrong · Doris E. Kaye · ss


Todd Mason said...

Well, this would be the depths of the reign of the most (shall we put it) casual (worst) editor FANTASTIC would have, Paul W. Fairman. He didn't want it good from his writers, he wanted it Tuesday and he wanted to be able to pass it along to the publishers for printing without having to read it. So, he didn't. Happily, Cele Goldsmith was put in charge of reading the slush pile, and she was able to pull a decent story for some issues of the Fairman years, but apparently not this one (one of several with women's legs featured the same way...or for change of pace, once or twice the legs of some Creature sexually threatening the women in the cover painting). The magazines (FANTASTIC and AMAZING STORIES, its stablemate) improved again in 1959, as Cele Goldsmith took over; it could hardly not improve. Fairman would go on to become Managing Editor of ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE for a couple/few years...and then onto primarily freelance work in the '60s.

George said...

I started reading FANTASTIC in the Sixties. Much better stories and cover artwork. I did buy any issues of FANTASTIC from the 1950s when I found them.

Todd Mason said...

ISFDB is a bit more forthcoming about some of the "credits":

Contents (view Concise Listing)

3 • Editorial: Low Man on the Asteroid (Fantastic, February 1958) • [Editorial (Fantastic)] • essay by Paul W. Fairman
6 • Jewel of Ecstasy • novella by Henry Slesar
6 •  Jewel of Ecstasy • interior artwork by Virgil Finlay
45 • Mr. Fenbley's Nudes • shortstory by unknown [as by Wilson Kane ]
45 •  Mr. Fenbley's Nudes • interior artwork by Novick
52 • I Married a Martian • shortstory by unknown [as by E. K. Jarvis ]
52 •  I Married a Martian • interior artwork by Virgil Finlay
66 • A Code for Unbelievers • shortstory by G. L. Vandenburg
67 •  A Code for Unbelievers • interior artwork by Tanner
83 •  Cartoon: no caption • interior artwork by GRB
84 • Earth Specimen • shortstory by unknown [as by Gerald Vance ]
85 •  Earth Specimen • interior artwork by Leo Summers [as by Summers ]
101 •  Cartoon: "Better cut Murray off." • interior artwork by Walkinshaw
102 • Danger, Red! • shortstory by Henry Slesar [as by O. H. Leslie ]
103 •  Danger, Red! • interior artwork by Leo Summers [as by Summers ]
116 • Appointment With Mr. Armstrong • shortstory by D. E. Kaye
121 • The Book Rack (Fantastic, February 1958) • essay by S. E. Cotts
121 •   Review: Star Girl by Henry Winterfeld • review by S. E. Cotts
121 •   Review: Solomon's Stone by L. Sprague de Camp • review by S. E. Cotts
122 •   Review: Earth Is Room Enough by Isaac Asimov • review by S. E. Cotts
123 • According to You ... (Fantastic, February 1958) • essay by uncredited
129 •  Cartoon: "I just drink to be want to make something of it?" • interior artwork by Al Kaufman

Jeff Meyerson said...

Re Todd's first comment: I recently read Robert Silverberg's new collection of his pulp stories from the '50s, and he had similar thoughts about Fairman's "talent" as an editor.

Walker Martin said...

When I started reading SF in 1956 I developed a strong dislike for FANTASTIC and AMAZING. It was only many years later that I realized the magazines improved under Cele Goldsmith and Ted White and I bought the back issues. Now I have complete runs but this year(1958) was really terrible.

Unknown said...

I read a couple of Fairman's novels. They weren't much better than the stories in the magazine.

Todd Mason said...

They sure weren't. Including the juvenile sf novels he ghosted for Lester Del Rey. The best fiction I've read from him was slickly competent.

Richard Krauss said...

Thanks for the review. Sometimes it's more fun to read about this stuff than to read the actual stuff.

PS: I'm not a robot.

Jerry House said...

Yeah, Fairman was the pits as an editor. His stint at EQMM, IMHO, lowered the magazine's standards despite the watchful eye of Fred Dannay. His writing wasn't much better, but he could produce work fast enough to fill in editorial voids that did not rely on quality. Two of his SF stories from the 50s were adapted into equally bad movies. I have some of his juvenile sports books that I have not dared read; they appear to be on the same level or below as those of Harold Sherman.

Rick Robinson said...

Makes me glad I was reading Astounding Science Fiction at the time, and not this.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Didn't start reading SF magazines until about 1961 or so. Fantastic was much better than after Cele Goldsmith became editor.

Unknown said...

Paul W. Fairman's BLACK MASK short story, "Big-Time Operator," reprinted in THE HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE, is pretty good. Maybe he was a one-hit wonder.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Fred, he wrote some competent stories...he was just in every ay a magnification of the worst aspects of his former editorial boss Howard Browne. His stamping out what good things there had been in the last Browne FANTASTIC and AMAZING, aside from what Goldsmith could slip in from the unsolicited submissions, really was of a piece with the late '50s being ASTOUNDING's worst years (Browne and John W. Campbell had burned out, the latter in part after having his fingers a bit burned by Scientology...Fairman, after his year of being founding and worst-ever editor of IF, started burnt-out when he took over at the Ziff-Davis fiction magazines. Campbell would rally a bit in the early '60s, and stop running so much Everett B. Cole fiction, but the downturn at FANTASTIC, ASTOUNDING, GALAXY losing its edge, F&SF losing some of its distinctiveness s Anthony Boucher had to give it up and Robert Mills, who had been doing interesting things with the folded VENTURE SCIENCE FICTION, was a bit more conservative at F&SF...that and the rather retreating market in the magazines generally, the shrinking of the slick magazine market and the pull-back and downsizing of most book publishing SF lines made the latter '50s the Who Killed SF? years in several ways...

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

And it's not as if Fairman didn't tap good writers for the yard-goods he didn't read before putting into the magazine...his quintet of reliables included Robert Silverberg (as Jeff Meyerson reminds us above), Harlan Ellison, Milton Lesser at about the time he was to change his name to Stephen Marlowe, Randall Garrett and Henry Slesar, all essentially at the beginning of their careers (though all already young pros), all eventually to publish no end of good work (Garrett perhaps the most uneven among them for several reasons), but at this point all willing to do mediocre at best work, mostly under pseudonyms, in continuation of what Ray Palmer and Howard Browne had been willing to accept as filler for their versions of the Ziff-Davis magazines...and not a few other 1950s magazines would similarly accept, including such Palmer-related projects as IMAGINATION and Palmer-published items as OTHER WORLDS. Palmer and Browne were always open to actually good work, even if Browne was only fitfully devoted to bringing in good work (particularly around 1950 when there was a chance that AMAZING was going to be upgraded to a semi-slick magazine--though FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, the predecessor of FANTASTIC, benefited more from that influx of better fiction, or during FANTASTIC's first year or so, when it actually was a handsomely-produced and well-budgeted magazine...