Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Asimov on Weird Tales and Other Topics

Forty years have gone by since Doubleday published Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s, edited by Isaac Asimov. Fans of Weird Tales might not care very much for what Asimov had to say about "The Unique Magazine":
During the 1930s, there were fantasy magazines of a kind on the market. One was Weird Tales, which was actually older by a couple of years than Amazing Stories itself. Its stories were reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe and were fearfully overwritten. The author most typical of Weird Tales was H.P. Lovecraft, whose style revolted me. [p. 675]
Nevertheless, in collaboration with Frederik Pohl (writing as James MacCreigh), Isaac Asimov contributed to Weird Tales in September 1950. Their story was called "Legal Rites."

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Asimov didn't care much for Charles Fort either. Here are his comments on Fort's work:
You see, every once in a while a science fiction magazine would run a non-fiction piece that dealt with some subject the editor conceived to be of interest to science fiction readers [. . . .] Astounding Stories, for instance, published Lo! a book by Charles Fort, in eight installments beginning with the April 1934 issue. It irritated the devil out of me, since to me it seemed to be an incoherent mass of quotations from newspapers out of which ridiculous conclusions were drawn. [p. 815]
Asimov would have been just fourteen years old when Astounding Stories ran those installments in 1934, but he was already leaning towards a career in science. Fort was of course a gadfly of science and scientists--and a favorite of Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright and his stable of authors.

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Presumably, Isaac Asimov drew a line between science fiction and fantasy. August Derleth erased that line in his introduction to Portals of Tomorrow: The Best Tales of Science Fiction and Other Fantasy (Rinehart and Company, 1954) when he wrote:
The development toward more orthodox fantasy in what is called science fiction only demonstrates what every intelligent reader, whose awareness goes beyond the limited field of fantasy, has always known: that science fiction is only another form of fantasy, and not a genre in its own right. [p. x]
August Derleth was an disciple of H.P. Lovecraft and a very prolific contributor to Weird Tales. I wonder what Asimov might have said had he observed the good comte sticking his knife in with this: "science fiction is only another form of fantasy," and twisting it with this: "[science fiction] is not a genre in its own right." By the way, Asimov is not included in Derleth's anthology, though Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, and Murray Leinster--all contributors to Weird Tales--are.

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Speaking of Ray Bradbury, Derleth, in his introduction, quoted from a review of a collection by Bradbury. The quote is by Graham Hough of the London Listener:
Some [of Bradbury's] stories are of magic, some are not supernatural, some of the stories are sociological parables . . . but their morals are always on the side of life and humanity. [The ellipses are as printed in Derleth's introduction, p. x.]
That's a clumsy sentence; my point here is to emphasize that last clause: "but their morals are always on the side of life and humanity." Contrast that with so much in our culture, more specifically in our science fiction, that is against life and humanity.

Portals of Tomorrow (1954) with a cover design by Fiorello and Marmaras.

Original text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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