The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction #2, Winter-Spring 1950

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Fiction:
The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out • short story by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥♥+
The Return of the Gods • reprint short story by Robert M. Coates ♥♥
Every Work Into Judgment • short story by Kris Neville ♥♥
A Rope for Lucifer • short story by Walt Sheldon ♥♥♥
The Last Generation? • reprint short story by Miriam Allen deFord ♥♥♥
Postpaid to Paradise • reprint short story by Robert Arthur ♥♥♥
The Exiles • reprint short story by Ray Bradbury ♥♥♥♥
My Astral Body • short story by Anthony Hope ♥
Gavagan’s Bar: Elphas Frumenti • short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt ♥♥♥
Gavagan’s Bar: The Gift of God • short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt ♥
World of Arlesia • short story by Margaret St. Clair ♥♥
The Volcanic Valve • reprint short story by W. L. Alden ♥♥♥
Not With a Bang • short story by Damon Knight ♥♥♥

Non-fiction:
Time, Real and Imaginary • poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Recommended Reading • essay by The Editors

With this second issue of the magazine it changes its title from The Magazine of Fantasy to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The cover is, to me, fairly unattractive. That said, and after criticising last issue’s cover for not suiting a magazine attempting to project a more literary feel, this one suits it better. It was pointed out to me that George Salter, the cover artist and the magazine’s art director, was well respected in the field, not least for the iconic masthead shown on the title page and on the cover above.1

There are four notable and/or well-known stories in this issue by Bretnor, Bradbury, de Camp/Pratt and Knight.2
Bretnor’s The Gnurrs Come From the Woodwork Out is the first of the ‘Papa Schimmelhorn’ series in which the eccentric inventor uses his modified bassoon to summon the extra-dimensional Gnurrs, which are promptly used to defeat Bobovia, an enemy of the USA. When complications ensue, the US Cavalry saves the day. Light, witty, fun stuff. I suspect this combination of what I would presume to be the style and wit of the slick magazines with a SF plot was one of the kinds of fiction that Boucher and McComas were trying to bring to the field.3
Ray Bradbury’s The Exiles is one of five reprints (MacLeans, September 15th, 1949), and is an of old favourite of mine from a Peter Haining anthology that I read in my teens.4 A spaceship from Earth approaches a Mars that is populated by all sorts of imaginary and supernatural creatures and characters, and the story tells of the defence that is mounted against this encroaching science and rationality.

The three hags shuddered and blinked up at the Emerald City by the edge of the dry Martian sea. In its highest window, a small man held a blood-red drape aside. He watched the wastelands where the three witches fed their cauldron and shaped the waxes. Further along, ten thousand other blue fires and laurel incenses, black tobacco smokes and fir-weeds, cinnamons and bone-dusts rose soft as moths through the Martian night. The man counted the angry, magical fires. Then, as the three witches stared, he turned. The crimson drape, released, fell, causing the distant portal to wink, like a yellow eye.
Mr. Edgar Allan Poe stood in the tower window, a faint vapor of spirits upon his breath. “Hecate’s friends are busy tonight,” he said, seeing the witches, far below.
A voice behind him said, “I saw Will Shakespeare at the shore, earlier, whipping them on. All along the sea, Shakespeare’s army alone, tonight, numbers thousands: the three Witches, Oberon, Hamlet’s father, Puck, all, all of them, thousands! Good Lord, a regular sea of people.” p.77-78

What originally struck me about this story was it was the first time I could remember reading fiction that was what I would call Science Fantasy, a genuine mix of the two genres.
L.Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt’s Gavagan’s Bar is actually the first two of this series of bar-based tall tales, a sub-genre that, hitherto, I have not been overly fond (I think Spider Robinson’s ‘Callahan’s Bar’ series put me off after a while). Sure enough, the second tale, The Gift of God is weak, but I found the first, Elphas Frumenti, about miniature, airborne, whiskey-drinking elephants that nest in bars rather charming, and look forward to reading more of the series is due course.
The last of the four is Not With A Bang by Damon Knight. When I first read this last man and woman on Earth story in an anniversary issue of F&SF (October, 1979) I did not much care for it. Obviously ironic in effect, but I thought the set-up overly contrived and the ending ludicrous: as if one woman’s prudishness would prevent her rescuing the only other person alive in a post-holocaust world.
This time around, with foreknowledge of ending, I found I could appreciate the work more and rather enjoyed it. Strange that: mostly I find reread works are never as good the second time around.
Note the abusive relationship between the couple:

Afterwards, he could do with her as he liked — beat her when he pleased, use her. Then it would not be too bad, being the last man on Earth — not bad at all. She might even have a daughter… p.127

Grimmer stuff than I expected for the times.

Apart from these four there are a few other stories worth catching in this issue. A Rope for Lucifer by Walt Sheldon is a tall tale that has good local colour. It is written in the form of a letter from an American ranch-hand to an English psychic investigator about a visiting Indian fakir. Wild West meets Enchanted East you could say.
The Volcanic Valve by W. L. Alden (Pall Mall, July 1897) is an entertaining story of Van Wegener and the Colonel5 and the former’s idea to install safety valves on volcanoes after a visit to Vesuvius. Suitably funded and equipped they trial a device on Krakatoa… Entertaining, but you will have to make allowances for the casual racism of the time:

There was the noise of a tremendous explosion, followed by the rush of steam out of the mouth of the gallery…beyond that we could see the machinery and thirty-eight coolies sailing through the air at about the speed of a cannonball. p.120

Another reprint (Argosy, June 15th, 1940) is Postpaid to Paradise by Robert Arthur,6 a pleasant tale that concerns a number of stamps from a country called El Dorado, and what happens when the protagonist and friend experiment with their strange delivery properties.
The final item of note is The Last Generation, Miriam Allen DeFord’s first story and a reprint (Harpers, November 1946). This tells of an atomic accident in the desert that renders all mammals sterile, and the resulting chain of events, including the massive scientific effort undertaken to attempt to reverse the problem. Quite good, except for the graunching authorial intervention of the last two lines. I realize that this story had to be open-ended but there are better ways of doing it than this. I note from ISFDB that De Ford went on to write a number of SF stories after this which appeared in F&SF, and wonder to what extent the reprinting of this story started her career. From its original appearance four years previously to this one there were no other published stories.

The remainder of the stories includes Every Work Into Judgement by Kris Neville, a somewhat overwritten story that tells of the development of a machine AI which eventually has a religious epiphany. World of Arlesia by Margaret St. Clair, is a story about a couple visiting a future full immersion cinema which has the feel of a nightmare but, unfortunately, its remote moon tele-operator conspiracy plot has correspondingly as much logic. The Return of the Gods by Robert M. Coates is an unnecessary reprint (New Yorker, December 11th, 1948). A man disappears and on return states he has been with a mermaid. We go through this disappearance/explanation loop twice more (with the gods Mercury and Venus, and other abductees) but it is just repetition; there is no progression. The weakest story of the issue is the self-explanatory My Astral Body by Anthony Hope, which is not much developed or resolved.

There is also a reprint poem by Coleridge and a brief Recommended Reading column with capsule reviews rounding out the issue.

Overall, I would say that this is a more than worthwhile issue of F&SF, and a very high standard for a magazine only in its second number. I really enjoyed reading it (sixty-five years later!) and look forward to the next. If I have one final observation it is that the contents, for all their entertainment, style and wit, do tend to emphasize a lack of substance, excepting the DeFord, maybe. It will be interesting to see if future issues provide this or whether F&SF turns into a place that you might go for cocktails but not for dinner …as they might have said in the fifties.

  1. Salter was also a book designer.
  2. Three of these are reprinted in The Eureka Years: Boucher and McComas’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1949 to1954 by Annette Peltz McComas. Three stories from one issue in an anthology of around two dozen!
  3. Bretnor made this comment about the story in the anthology Special Wonder: The Anthony Boucher Memorial Anthology of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by J. Francis McComas, (1970), p. 35: “I had scarcely met Tony when I sold him this story, and I had not experience with his work as an editor, for he and Mick were just starting the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In its original version, “The Gnurrs . . .” has a considerably weaker, less amusing ending, which he spotted instantly. But, unlike those editors who cannot write themselves, he did no violence to it. Instead he told me what he thought should be done, and let me do it.”
    This would be a long running series. Papa Schimmelhorn made an appearance in the fourth copy of F&SF I ever bought, the October 1976 issue.
  4. The Witchcraft Reader edited by Peter Haining
  5. Another series, mostly appearing in Pall Mall and mostly collected in Van Wegener’s Ways.
  6. This is the first of the ‘Murchison Monks’ series, all of which appeared in the early 1940s Argosy apart from the sixth which appeared in F&SF in 1958. You wouldn’t know from this story that it is part of a series.

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*Revised 15/07/2017 to add the Bretnor quote from Special Wonder to note 3*