"TEN" BEST LIST. At risk of somehow bringing the same bad luck upon Spacewarp that descended when I brought out my previous list, I am going to pick another File 13 "Ten Best Stories of the Year" selection. Last year, if you remember, the column containing the list for 1948 did not appear till April 1949 for reasons succinctly outlined in the Spacewarp Index. Incidentally, I did not receive a copy of the issue containing that particular installment of File 13 till December 1949 when, through the good offices of Richard Elsberry, who is rapidly becoming the Twin Cities' most active fan, I finally laid hands on a copy. FooFoo bless Richard!
Defying the Furies then, here is File 13's second annual Ten Best Stories choice. According to tradition there are 13 stories on this "ten best" list, and also I've ignored reprints of any sort in compiling my all-star roster. "... And Now You Don't" -- a cinch choice otherwise, for I think it is the best of the Foundation series -- isn't listed because it is a serial ending in 1950.
1. "Eternity Lost" (Clifford D. Simak)
2. "Needle" (Hal Clement)
3. "Opening Doors" (Wilmar H. Shiras)
4. "The Portal in the Picture" (Henry Kuttner)
5. "The Double-dyed Villains" (Poul Anderson)
6. "Flight Into Yesterday" (Charles L. Harness)
7. "I, Mars" (Ray Bradbury)
8. "Gulf" (Robert A. Heinlein)
9. "Fire in the Heavens" (George O. Smith)
10. "The Weapon Shops of Isher" (A. E. van Vogt)
11. "Manna" (Peter Philips)
12. "The Box" (James Blish)
13. "The Automagic Horse" (L. Ron Hubbard)
I suspect the surprise of the bunch is the penultimate one, Jim Blish's somewhat obscure little short, "The Box". It appeared, in case you don't recall, in the April 1949 TWS. Maybe I'm overboard for this one because I've fond recollections of R. F. Starzl's "The King of the Black Bowl," a yarn with a somewhat similar idea, which was printed in Wonder Stories, September 1930. The Starzl story is such a dog by now that it isn't worth reprinting as a Hall of Fame selection, but I still like the gimmick in it. Therefore, it was nice to see Blish using a similar situation in "The Box" -- and writing an incomparably better story. I enjoyed "The Box" very much. (Blish, by the way, never to his recollection read "The King of the Black Bowl", but did pattern "The Box" a little after Arthur Lee Zagat's "The Lanson Screen").
Ray Bradbury placed four stories on last year's list, but in 1949 "I, Mars" from the first (revived) Super Science was the only Bradburyarn that struck my fancy. Most of the others, except "Kaleidoscope" and "A Blade of Grass" (which is probably in a 1950-dated issue), were rehashes of his wearisome "first-men-on-Mars" theme. Of course "I, Mars" was one of them, but it was different, too, and the best of that type since "And the Moon Be Still As Bright".
Another interesting point was that the best stories (in my opinion) of such aSF regulars as van Vogt, Geosmith, and Henry Kuttner appeared in the Merwinzines in 1949.
WHY DO PUBLISHERS PUBLISH? I caught myself musing the other day after browsing through the fantasy books at the bookstore and reading some of the ads the book-publishers have sent me. "What are these poor goops trying to do?" I asked myself in some disgust.
In its catalog Arkham House announces a full armload of forthcoming books, a few of which are worthwhile but most of them directly the opposite. Frederick Fell, in establishing its Science Fiction Library has issued several titles not at all distinguished for their literary quality. The Merlin Press has published From Off This World, an anthology of "Hall of Fame" yarns which has four fine yarns (three of them currently available in other collections) and 14 stinkers. Other presses have scheduled material almost as bad.
Somehow, I cannot believe this tide of slop is meant to sell to the fantasy specialist. The well-read fantasite will either have read these stories long since or else know enough about them not to buy and read them now.
If these books are calculated to appeal to the newcomer -- "the vast group of discriminating readers who have always loved fine stories and will welcome this new type of imaginative literature" -- then the publishers assuredly are doing themselves and fantasy fiction no favor in their campaign. One who is introduced to science fiction by reading such reeking examples as John Carstairs: Space Detective can scarcely be counted upon to remain in the field and support future releases from the publisher.
But the answer, after all, is crystal clear. These books are published for fantasy collectors -- the completists who would simply weep if they didn't own every one of these new titles which, despite their cruddy contents, are indubitably true science fiction. I cannot imagine anyone buying Planets of Adventure, or From Off This World, or Rim of the Unknown for any reason other than to put them on his sagging bookshelves to look pretty.
Surely no one really buys then to read!
TEN-SECOND QUIZ. What famous stf serial copped the cover with its second installment, but not with its first? Answer later in this department.
NOTES THAT MISSED MY WASTEBASKET. While in Cincinnati did anyone try to contact Jack Clements, otherwise known as JaClem, the lady killer? He mysteriously disappeared from the fan scene about two years ago and has never been heard from since. I seem to recall desultorily glancing through the phone book for his name, but I don't believe it was in there. Incidentally, though, there were 27 Boggses in the Cincy book -- quite a clan of them. This reminds me of looking in the London telephone book for Boggses. There were two or three, the most interesting of which was listed as a Major, retired. # And speaking of Cincinnati, the road the Greyhound bus took into the city, which wended around the hills above the river, was a dead ringer for the road into Chateau Thierry, which meanders along the Marne River in the same pleasant fashion. # Side by side at a local newsstand recently were two pocketbooks of stf interest: Tucker's Chinese Doll and Rog Phillips' Time Trap. Both are "must buy" items, of course, and prove very diverting both to look at and to read. The cover for the Tucker mystery is very effective indeed, and Malcolm Smith painted quite a supermammary tomato for the cover of RPG's book. The Chinese Doll is too well known to review, but Time Trap is an interesting "intrigue-in-the-future" yarn, obviously pounded out at top speed but capable of retaining interest through the competent style of writing and occasional evidences of Rog's fertile imagination. # I'd like to add my own feeble applause to the reception of another recent book: the Bonestell-Ley book from Viking, The Conquest of Space. If you can resist it after glancing over it, you're better than I am. I thumbed through it and was hooked instantly. It's a book you don't wince at paying $3.95 for. Verily, it is worth it!
FOO TO THE PROPHETS! The only way to debunk astrologers and other phony "prophets" is to record and later check up on their predictions. With this in mind I preserved a clipping from the local paper which contains the predictions for 1949 of one Jeron Criswell, a "psychic" of Hollywood. Let's look at what heesh predicted:
"The Duchess of Kent will try for a screen career, over the protests of the royal family; Stalin will be seen less and less by his public because of failing health; "Hamlet," "Johnny Belinda" and Jane Wyman will win Oscars; Harold Stassen will write his biography; and Ford will have soil-proof glass on its 1950 models."
Well, I do not follow the affairs of the royal family very closely but I do not recall any mention in the papers of the Duchess becoming a Samuel Goldwyn star. Also, far as I know, the 1950 Ford advertises no "soil-proof" glass on the new models. Stassen did not write his biography (sic!) in 1949, for, after all, he wrote one in 1948 -- Where I Stand, which is about as autobiographical as he will probably get till he's 65 or 70 years of age. The item on Stalin is hard to evaluate because Uncle Joe supposedly hasn't appeared much in public for several years and how much is "less and less" than seldom? His health has been reported by various sources as good, however.
All the candidates tabbed for Oscars came through, but it should be pointed out that "Hamlet" and "Johnny Belinda" were leadpipe cinches for some sort of Oscars and since Jeron didn't say which they'd win heesh was on pretty firm ground. Jeron's only bullseye was the prediction about Jane Wyman.
When I see a professional faker -- er, fakir -- fouling up on hiser prophecies like that, I feel a little better about my own fiasco in the prophecy department. Some of you may recall (I hope not!) that last year's end I predicted that Campbell would not be aSF editor come 1950 ...
ADS THROUGH THE EONS. An article by Joe Kennedy in Dawn #4 and Spaceteer #3 (it appeared in both places for some reason) set me to thinking the other day. Occasionally I do think, though some will dispute this. At any rate, Joe's article called "Send no Money! Just Clip the Coupon!" discussed advertising in the promags, and the outcome of my thought session thereon was to reject Joe's thesis that advertising has been instrumental in making the stf mags "what they are today". Satevepost, The New Yorker, Collier's, etc., could not exist without advertising, of course, and it is well known that the Luce Life nearly folded in the first year because of its unexpectedly quick success -- their low advertising rates were inadequate to pay the cost of their rapidly-mounting circulation.
But surely advertising rates in the pulps are too modest to pay more than a fraction of the magazine's expenses. For one thing a pulp's circulation is so small -- usually smaller than a metropolitan newspaper's by many thousands -- though pulps do sell nationally, that they could not afford to charge very steep rates. Furthermore, pulps circulate to low income groups generally, a great many selling mostly to kids. I would guess that a pulp's income is based primarily on its circulation.
Joe's article set me to wondering just how much of a response a quack medicine ad in a pulp receives. Of course no true fan would desecrate a stf mag by clipping a coupon out of the reverse of a page containing a Basil Wells epic, but I have often glanced through Western and detective pulps at secondhand stores and seldom have I seen places where coupons have been clipped out. (Of course most coupons are too small to use anyhow. Why this is so, I don't know, but it is usually the case.)
Still, pulp mag advertisers must receive some response to their ads or they would cease advertising there. And think of the advertisers who have advertised year after year in the pulps: the International Correspondence Schools; Charles ("Dynamic Tension") Atlas; the Rosicrucians; the Coyne Electrical and Radio School; the Franklin Institute; LaSalle Extension University; the Institute of Applied Science; the National Radio Institute; the U. S. School of Music (a music course "as easy as ABC"); the Audel's Carpenters and Builders Guide; etc.
Why, most of these are fixtures in the pulp field, as familiar to any longtime reader of stf magazines as Ray Cummings, Jack Williamson, or Edmond Hamilton. Many of these advertisers have used the same or very similar ads for 15 years or more.
A recent TWS, for example, contains the very same photo of Mr. J. E. Smith in the National Radio Institute ad that appears in Astounding for April 1936, Amazing for August 1928, and FooFoo knows how many other mags before and since. And the ad is very similar otherwise, though -- alas -- the comic-strip story which depicts our hero "Jim" deciding to take NRI training (though his friends laughed) and thereby getting a well-paying job and winning his girl "Mary" has been removed. The Institute of Applied Science still sports the same cut of a man in topper, white gloves, and carrying a cane, labeled "Follow This Man!" that I remember from 15 or more years ago. In fact, one of the earliest stories I remember writing as a sprout was a terrific crime epic starring the Institute's famed "Operator 38" (the guy given the assignment to "Follow This Man!") and the dastardly crime he solved.
The ICS, which carries on one of the most intensive advertising campaigns of all, changes its ads frequently, but that black-topped coupon is familiar always, despite the addition of many courses over the years.
Now that JoKe has reminded me of it, I confess a certain nostalgia for ads that have disappeared or changed beyond recognition after all these years. Where is the Tarbell System, Inc., ad, for instance, that used to say, "IF You Pledge Yourself To Secrecy -- I'll teach you Secrets of Magic! At Home -- By Mail"? And the Chemical Institute of New York ad in the old Amazing which featured a picture of good old T. O'Conor Sloane, A.B., A.M., LL.D., Ph.D.?
And do you remember the antebellum ads of the U.S. School of Music, especially the ones of 1930 or so, headed "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano" -- a gagline that still survives. Their ads still appear but no longer do they feature lengthy stories, with subheads, that told in detail how many a wallflower became the life of the party by sitting down at the piano and calmly ripping off "Yes, We Have No Bananas". And where is "I Talked With God (Yes I Did, Actually and Literally)"? That had a mild boom after the war, with a tie-in with atomic power, but seems to have disappeared now.
Actually, these ads constitute a unique part of our culture as a nation and the microcosm thereof we call fandom. An interesting article could be written about some of the ads that have graced, or disgraced, the pages of our favorite pulps down the years.
My favorite ad series at present is the one appearing in Fantastic Novels, TWS. etc., that plugs Thin Gilettes. It is a comic strip ad feature that usually appears on the page opposite the first page of the lead novel. You will recognize these bits of dialog: "What a swell blade! Two days' stubble gone like magic!" ... "Just the chap to head our Atomic Security Force." ... "M-m-m-m! He's handsome!"
With me, this pleasantly lowbrow series which fecklessly champions (along with Thin Gilettes) the American system of free enterprise and our tradition of Yankee ingenuity, is rapidly becoming a Way Of Life. These ads have the charming naivete of Tom Swift and Horatio Alger and the Rover Boys. Long may they continue!
QUIZ ANSWER. "Slan" by A. E. van Vogt.
THE ANNUAL MESSAGE. As I write this, Christmas is still six days away, so it is fitting at this time that I wish all of you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, though this greeting will be a trifle late by the time Arthur Hookah Rapp gets this into mimeoprint. The season's best to all!
With that, I hasten out to empty File 13 into the trash truck and close the books on another year. But there will be another accumulation of news and notes sooner than you hope.
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Text versions and page scans Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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