October 14, 2012


Castles in Space : Much more than mere escape (Michael Dirda, American Scholar)

The other day, while roaming through the book-sale room at a local library, I spotted eight or nine issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. All of them were from the early 1960s, with the muted, matte covers of that era, most of them with illustrations by the late Ed Emsh (whose wife, Carol Emshwiller, is one of the greatest living writers of fantasy and sf). Each digest originally cost 40 cents, but now--50 years later--they were only a quarter apiece, and I bought them all.

For me, such magazines resemble Proust's madeleines: they are vehicles of sweet memory, bibliophilic time machines. An old joke goes: What is the golden age of science fiction? Answer: 12. Back in 1960, when the earliest of these newly acquired issues of F&SF first appeared, I would have been 12.

The early 1960s weren't just the heyday of science fiction digests. Corner drugstore racks were crowded with weekly or monthly issues of Life, True, Mad, 16, The Saturday Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Modern Romance, True Confessions, Reader's Digest, Popular Mechanics, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, among many others. People read a lot of periodicals in those days. Not anymore. For genre fiction these are especially tough times, even though the short story has always been its best showcase.

Presented for your consideration, as Rod Serling used to say in his introduction to that era's The Twilight Zone, these eight issues of F&SF. I count at least four modern classics: Theodore Sturgeon's novella "When You Care, When You Love," Avram Davidson's "The Sources of the Nile," Ray Bradbury's "Death and the Maiden," and Joanna Russ's "My Dear Emily." The incomparable John Collier--best known for his collection Fancies and Goodnights, currently available as a New York Review Books paperback--is represented by a novelette "Man Overboard" and Robert Sheckley--whose funniest and most imaginative stories are also available in a volume from NYRB--contributes "The Girls and Nugent Miller."

There are also science articles by Dr. Isaac Asimov, book reviews from Damon Knight and Alfred Bester (author of that most seminal of modern sf novels, The Stars My Destination), even some examples of light verse by Brian Aldiss, not to overlook the silly punning stories of "Ferdinand Feghoot." Yet there are lots of real surprises here too. In the September 1960 issue appears "Goodbye," described as the first published story of Burton Raffel. Raffel would make his name not as a pulp fictioneer but as one of the most versatile and admired translators in the world, with a special interest in epic works such as The Nibelungenlied, The Divine Comedy, and Don Quixote.
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Posted by at October 14, 2012 8:09 AM

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