Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 29, 2019


Certainly The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction isn't forgotten; it is still rolling along and approaching its 70th birthday, still publishing challenging and literate stories, still holding an important place in the literature of the genre.  Yet how many people have gone back to sample its earliest issues?

The magazine debuted  with its Fall 1949 issue under its less comprehensive title The Magazine of Fantasy.  Founding co-editors Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas had struggled to bring the magazine to fruition, hoping to provide to the fantasy field what stablemate Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine had brought to the fields of mystery and detection.  With the success of the first issue, the editors got the go-ahead to continue as (at first) a quarterly publication, adding the category of science fiction to the title, making it more inclusive.  Over the next seven decades F&SF, under the editorships of (in chronological order) Boucher and McComas, the Boucher alone, Robert P. Mills, Avram Davidson, Joseph Ferman, Edward L. Ferman, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Gordon van Gelder, and (currently) C.C. Finlay, has moved with the times, publishing many award-winning stories and discovering major new authors.

The second issue of the magazine, with its new title of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, was dated Winter-Spring 1980 and provided a comfortable mix of new (by Margret St. Clair, Damon Knight, and R. Bretnor, among others) and reprinted stories (by Robert M. Coates, Anthony Hope, Miriam Allen deFord, and others), as well as a dab of poetry from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and brief but insightful books reviews from the editors.  As with the premier issue, the cover art was by George Salter and clearly set the magazine apart from any other in the field.

The contents:
  • "The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out" by R. (Reginald) Bretnor.  The first recorded adventure of Papa Schimmlehorn.  Schimmelhorn is an octogenarian undersung geniuis, a foreman in a cuckoo clock factory, and a dirty old man.  The gnurrs are mouse-sized, wild boar-like creatures with oversized yellow eyes with three sets of very sharp teeth;they come from the voodvork out, in the millions, and hungry.  Schimmelhorn found them in what might be the fourth dimension.  You see, when today becomes tomorrow it's yesterday and for the gnurrs yesterday is their today.  Simple.  This rollicking, witty tale is one of Bretnor's best and began a series of seven (maybe eight, if you squint) short stories and one novel about the character.  (I know Todd Mason doesn't care for these stories at all but I find them enchanting.)  Bretnor went on to create the pun-filled adventures of Ferdinand Feghoot later that decade -- another Bretnor creation I couldn't get enough of.
  • "The Return of the Gods" by Robert M. Coates.  Reprinted from The New Yorker, December 11, 1948, this is a light (or, perhaps, not so light) tale of elder gods showing up in Danbury, Connecticut, and other places.  Coates was a noted art critic and author of Wisteria Cottage  and The Eater of Darkness.
  • "Every Work Into Judgment" by Kris Neville.  This was Neville's sixth published science fiction story.  Scientists create a computerized super-being that gains continuing power and awareness.  Until...  Neville, a technical writer in the plastics industry, had by this time already published two highly respected stories -- "Cold War" and (as "Henderson Stark") "Dumb Supper" -- would go on to pen the classic story "Bettyann."  Over a seven-year spurt, he published over 40 stories in the fields.  His output then tapered off.  From 1961 on, he published one or two stories most years until the late seventies.  A talented and literate writer, his sparse output denied him a higher place in the science fiction pantheon.  He coulda been a contender.
  • "Time, Real and Imaginary" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  A brief poem, also known as "Hope and Time," it was first published in 1803.
  • "A Rope for Lucifer" by Walt Sheldon is an odd combination of  Western tall tale and Eastern magic.  Lucifer here does not refer to the devil but to a cowboy of that name.  This is ono of those wry tales that helped define the magazine's early years.
  • "The Last Generation?" by Miriam Allen deFord.  Reprinted from Harper's, November 1946, this one details the consequences of a plague of world-wide sterility.  The inconclusive ending fits the story, but leaves the build-up wanting.  Probably the least successful tale in this issue.
  • "Postpaid to Paradise" by Robert Arthur.  The first of at least six stories about Morchison Murks, this is a charming Club fantasy (along the lines of Lord Dunsany's Jorkens, Arthur C. Clarke's White Hart, or L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt's Gavagan's Bar [see below] stories) and concerns a rare and improbable stamp.  Arthur was a successful radio writer and producer and went on to ghost-edit some of the very best of the "Alfred Hitchcock" anthologies.
  • "The Exiles" by Ray Bradbury.  This one was first published as The Mad Wizards of Mars" in the September 15, 1949, issue of Maclean's.  In a time centuries after Halloween and Christmas have been banned, authors of the past -- Poe, Bierce, Dickens, Shakespeare, and others -- appear in one of Bradbury's patented paeans to imagination.  This one was later incorporated into  the author's The Illustrated Man.
  • "My Astral Body" by Anthony Hope.  This light fantasy from the author of The Prisoner of Zenda was first published in his Sport Royal and other stories (1893).  It's an ironic story of a rajah who is able to project his astral body.
  • "Gavagan's Bar" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.  This first entry in the popular series of "Club" stories is actually two tales -- "Elephas Frumenti" and "The Gift of God" -- under the umbrella title.  Strange things happen to the habitues of Gavagan's.  a great start to a fantastic series.
  • "Recommended Reading" by The Editors.  Brief yet pithy reviews of  recent novels, new and reprinted (Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe, S. Fowler Wright's The World Below, Louis Golding's Honey for the Ghost, James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner), collections (Theodore Sturgeon's Without Sorcery, Henry James' The Ghostly Tales of Henry James), and anthology (Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty's The Best Science Fiction Stories:  1949), and two non-fiction books (Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley's The Conquest of Space, James Reynolds Gallery of Ghosts).  Any reader in 2019 would still find all of these books worthwhile.
  • "World of Alesia" by Margaret St. Clair.  F&SF has always been noted for nuturing and promoting female writers.  By the time she appeared in this issue, St.Clair had already published about thirty science fictions stories, mostly pulpish adventure in such magazine as Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Her long relationship with F&SF began with this story of an underwater world and continued with finely crafted, often empathetic, stories, many under her pseudonym Idris Seabright.  St. Clair was another talented and self-assured writer who should have climbed the heights of the science fiction pantheon.
  • "The Volcanic Valve" by W. L. Alden.  Sometimes titled "A Volcanic Valve," this early comic SF tale of the care and feeding of volcanoes was first published in Pall Mall Magazine (July 1897).  This is one of a series of stories featuring the mad scientist Professor Van Wagoner.
  • The issue ends on a high note with another classic tale, "Not With a Bang" by Damon Knight.  It's a twist on the last man on Earth theme and features a particularly nasty example of the Y chromosome club.

A great issue and highly recommended.  It is available online at Internet Archive.  If you have never read an early issue of F&SF you should check this one out.


  1. And, fwiw, Joseph Ferman never edited the magazine, but felt it would seem irresponsible to let his young son take on the title straight out of "fronted" for a year or so...thanks for the review!

  2. Thanks for this. I was just organizing my magazines and flipping through some of these early F&SF issues. The quality of the contributors is just amazing!

  3. A search of the Internet Archive does not turn up this issue. Do you have a link?