Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 23, 2013


The Eureka Years:  Boucher and McComas's Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 1949-1954, edited by Annette Peltz McComas* (1982)

* (Yeah, I'm pretty sure this book has already been covered as a FFB [most likely by Todd Mason, but I'm too lazy a sod to go back and check -- Update:  it was Bill Crider, another man of taste and distinction].  But it's too good a book not to cover again.)

It took four years to get it off the ground and then several issues to determine if it was viable, but the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (as it was soon to be known) remains, nearly sixty-five years later, a vital part of the SF scene.  Patented on the successful formula of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Horror (as it was first envisioned and subtitled "a magazine of weird and fantastic stories") was to be a literate and engaging publication reflecting the two erudite co-editors, Anthony Boucher and J. Francis "Mick" McComas.  The word Horror was soon replaced by Terror, then to be dropped altogether by the time the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy hit the newsstands in 1949 as a planned quarterly publication.  By the time the second issue came out it was The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and thus it remained all these many years.

The Eureka Years tells of the early times when McComas and Boucher were co-editors of the magazine, before McComas left and Boucher became the sole editor.  The two were truly equals in this venture; joint editorial decisions were mandated -- both had to approve of a story if it was to be included in the magazine.  Both strived heavily to make a story the best it could be -- making suggestions, requesting revisions, and guiding the author to improve his or her story.  They were blunt in explaining how a submission was not working; at the same time they were encouraging and supportive of the authors, both the seasoned professionals and the amateurs who dreamed of making it into print.

Here are twenty-two stories from those early year, along with samples of editorial correspondence with the authors (and others), as well as some ephemera and poems and features from the magazine.  Capping the book off is thirty-seven pages of excerpts from the magazine's Recommended Reading department, where both Boucher and McComas display their unique and sometimes playful critical vision.

And what stories!
  • The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast by Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Exiles by Ray Bradbury
  • Minister Without Portfolio by Mildred Clingerman
  • Elephas Frumenti by L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt
  • Come O, Wagon by Zenna Henderson
  • Of Time and Third Avenue by Alfred Bester
  • Dress of White Silk by Richard Matheson
  • The Boy Next Door by Chad Oliver
  • Not With a Bang by Damon Knight
  • O Ugly Bird! by Manly Wade Wellman
  • Skiametric Morphology and Behaviorism of Ganymedeus Sapiens by Kenneth R. Deardorf
  • Letters to the Editor by Ron Goulart
  • The Other Inauguration by Anthony Boucher
  • When Half-Gods Go by Poul Anderson
  • The Little Movement by Philip K. Dick
  • Flies by Isaac Asimov
  • The Devil and Simon Flagg by Arthur Porges
  • Brave New Word by J. Francis McComas
  • Mousetrap by Ande Norton
  • Cat by R. Bretnor
The Clingerman and Henderson are "first" stories and are indicative of the editors' efforts to bring female writers into the field.  The Goulart and Oliver are also first stories (although, due to the vagarities of publishing, the Oliver was not his first published story) and show the editors' keen eye for young blood.  Here also we have the first Gavagan's Bar story from de Camp and Pratt, the first Silver John story from Wellman, as well as the first People story from Henderson.

And the correspondence!  Some samples:

McComas to Bradbury (on "The Exiles"): "Bierce is completely incredible.  Can you imagine 'Bitter' Bierce saying, 'What will happen to us?  God save us?'  Rather, he would chortle gleefully over the dilemma and enjoy with complete detachment the futilities of both the invaders and the exiles...[nd later] You are, for Ray Bradbury, amazingly inaccurate about Hawthorne."

Bradbury responds: "Sorry about THE EXILES.  You're right about Bierce and Hawthorne.  Put it down to the fact that I've never been a research man in my life, preferring to manufacture my fantasies out of whole cloth."

And Boucher to Barthold "Flos" [Fles] (on Clingerman's "Minister Without Portfolio"):  " doesn't come off well as it might.  A rather slow introduction and it could be cut about in half.  And the ending doesn't seem quite right -- a little too blunt for one thing...Can't make any guarantees until we see how she handles the rewrite; but I'd say the chances were pretty good that we might turn her into beautiful but published."  [Fles had described her as a "beautiful but unpublished girl."]

Boucher to Wellman (on "O Ugly Bird!"):  "...Are silver strings practical and feasible on a guitar?  If your are positive, we'll take your word; if you have any doubts, we'd like to consult Ted Sturgeon, who knows all about guitars."

Wellman replied: "Your letter on how to do the yarn over arrived late Saturday, and I just bowed my neck and did the thing over...Answering your question about the silver strings, I went into that before  ever I wrote.  Silver strings were used before steel strings became good enough.  Silver makes a good harmonious jangle..."

Boucher to Norton (on "Mousetrap"):  "...nice idea, greatly told, but one thing bothers us.  How on earth (or Mars) does Sam know about the puffball action.. I don't see how it can be abstractly deduced...And just incidentally, how come it is Andre and not Andree or Andrea?  It's been bothering me ever since I learned your sex."

Norton to Boucher:  "...I can very easily put in a puff-ball discovery for Sam.  Think I know just where to insert it and how...As to "Andre" -- just a properly ambiguous either sex name to be worn by a female who makes a living writing male adventure stories -- it can be a problem with readers unless one works behind such a smoke screen -- especially when one writes for teen age boys."

And from a rejection letter to a would-be author:  "The trouble is you're trying to hard.  You're too intent on showing off..."

And another:  "...if this magazine has a tabu -- it's one violently against stories wherein the protagonist is dead all the time and doesn't know it!  We get about 5 such a week."

And to an agent:  "...after reading this, A.B. coined the proverb:  One man's turd is another man's turquoise.  This disgusting little piece of scatology is definitely not our turquoise.  McC"

And from the Recommended Reading department, October 1953, come this incisive review:  "Ayn Rand's ANTHEM (Caxton) is also a thesis-novel (or rather a short novelet), using the over-worked them of individual-revolt-against-future-regimented-state to advance the notion that brotherly love and social obligation are a poison and that man's only hope lies in complete selfishness.  The story was published in England in 1938, and Miss Rand implies that a sinister conspiracy of purveyors of brotherhood has prevented its American hardcover publication until now.  One can only regret that the conspiracy broke down."

The Eureka Years is a pure delight.


  1. I covered this one, but not in nearly this much detail.

  2. I can only agree with Boucher and McComas's lament about ANTHEM, and suggest it is (even as is) too kind. Meanwhile, thanks for thinking I might've done this book and I might well've, had I dug my copy out of storage as I should've, and if Bill, and a couple of years earlier my friend Jeff Segal on the Horror list at Indiana University, and now you hadn't all done fine work in celebrating this wonderful book that Bantam barely published (unpaginated table of contents and all). Ms. McComas, who published the book in part as a memorial to her husband, had every right to be proud (she left us not so very long ago, some time after JFMc).

    I don't remember but think the Goulart was only very slightly altered in F&SF reprint from its original appearance in the UC Berkeley humor magazine THE PELICAN, their correspondent to the HARVARD LAMPOON. And very funny in its brief compass, and only slightly obviously the work of a very young man/writer indeed.

    Happily for subsequent magazines, the eventual title form THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY (AND SCIENCE FICTION) allowed Health Knowledge to later offer Robert Lowndes's MAGAZINE OF HORROR and Amos Salmonson (who would later become Jessica Amanda Salmonson) to offer (THE LITERARY MAGAZINE OF) FANTASY AND TERROR...

  3. In re: your comment on my blog on F&SF for 1/64:

    Yes, Walotsky, while not the worst painter ever used by F&SF, was the worst who was regularly employed. (My favorite correspondence taking the opposite tack came from not-yet D&D guy Gary Gygax, who damned Davidson for ruining the magazine.) And, fwiw, Joseph Ferman never actually edited the magazine, so much as took the title briefly so that he would be blamed if they found his son was in over his head...the Real Pen went from Davidson's hand to Edward Ferman's. I would say that KK Rusch and then Mills were probably the least of F&SF's editors, so far, and they weren't Too shabby (for whatever reason, Mills seemed to do a better job at VENTURE before that one was folded into the elder magazine and Mills moved over--perhaps he was saddened by the passage of EQMM out of the Mercury family, and the long-term prospect of becoming editor of EQ, or for that matter the sudden disappearance of their biggest revenue engine, had him editing F&SF with one foot out the door). Ferman's F&SF was nearly as good, but not quite as risk-taking as Davidson's.