Retro Fandom Friday: Fans Have Always Fought

Friday , 6, May 2016 4 Comments

Planet Stories LogoShort Reviews will wrap up the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories next week with Chester Whitehorn’s Coming of the Gods.

Again it’s time to look at the letters to the editor sections of SF mags from the days of yore in search of juicy tidbits and glimpses of what was relevant and interesting to fans at the time.  I’ll give you a hint: it starts with D and rhymes with ‘aims’.

While some fans have complained about the pulps resorting to cheap tricks like scantily clad ladies, there are plenty who will rise to their defense.

Now, a woid to those who scream against the sexy damsels on the covers.  Sure, I tire of BEMs* and Bums. But Beauties… never!  Keep em there… why not have a cover showing a curvy dame all by herself, in a fragment or two of lace, against a black starry background.  Oh, for [Virgil] Finlay, [George] Rozen, or one other whose name escapes me!  And [Damon Knight] Demon Damon’s sarcastic remarks on De Pina’s ideas of Ideal Disguises for Female Forms… ha, I’m laughing yet!  Incidentally, Demon, you wouldn’t have to be more explicit… sometimes a hint is more revealing than bare statements.  Therein lies the appeal in black lace over bare fl… well, maybe we’d better not go into that.

[in reply to questions in a previous issue from a Mrs. Currier]

What are the filmy drapes for, because they hide nothing…?!!! That my lady is the idea…  No, the covers never agree with the stories.  No the Bum and the BEM are affronts to artwork, even when done well.   They are useless and outmoded.

But Take Not From Us Our Dames in Filmy Drapes, Tight Bras, And Panties, Scanty Underwear, And The Likes!!!

 – Tom Pace

Apparently there had been an ongoing letter feud between Damon Knight, fans of his letters, and other letter writers to the Vizigraph in previous issues which editorial staff put a clamp on; unfortunately, I don’t have enough context to really sort through the commentary on its aftermath and numerous references to it in this and other letters.  If I ever round up the issues from 1944 and the first half of 1945 I may revisit this in detail.  I REALLY want to find the issue before this one, not for the feud, but for the double bill of Leigh Brackett and Albert De Pina!

One letter writer who has clearly read the works of millions of non sf authors thinks SF will never stack up to the ‘greats’.

I don’t think Science fiction is worth all the trouble or bother to even critic the stories.  Science fiction is merely good as a pastime – to stimulate the imagination.  No sf classic, no matter how great, can ever hope to compete with Shakespeare’s work, or Kipling, or a million others.

-Al Weinstein

Hey, guys, I think we might be wasting our time!

A C. Richard Daniels writes in to complain:

I confess to buying several issues of Planet Stories, but this is only because of Leigh Brackett’s superb fantasies.

You call Planet Stories a science fiction magazine, yet I have never found any genuine science in your mag.

[Daniels goes to on to list supposed science errors in previous stories; bodies should explode in a vacuum, solar rays should incinerate flesh, and solar gravity should directly pull a corpse in space into it]

You too, must realize the poor quality of P.S. to find it necessary to resort to half nude girls on the cover in an effort to sell your magazines.

In his reply, Editor Wilbur Peacock points out that Daniels’ supposed science is wrong:

For our money, after reading your letter, we have the impression that your scientific knowledge does not extend beyond your opinions.

We’re betting ten books against a pack of Kools that you can find no claim in our book that we publish only scientific stories.  Want to put up or shut up?  And while we’re at it, let’s have a look at your scientific background.  Wanna play?

Lewis Sherlock has a more reasonable complaint about the science:

“Pet Peeve Dept. – STF writers who insist on having instantaneous radio or television communication over interplanetary or even interstellar distances.  This is pure nonsense and scientifically impossible.”

Nobody tell this guy about ansibles!

Folks continue to kvetch about Parkhurst’s mediocre artwork, but there’s praise all around for Leigh Brackett and Albert DePina.

“Cover: get rid of this Parkhurst guy.” – A. Yeager Jr.

“Cover artist Parkhurst has a rather distinctive style. (I didn’t say it was good.)” – Bill Terrio

“Brackett and DePina both came through with tales that rank up there with the best ever written. – James R. Gray

Probably my favorite letter of the bunch came from Nora Loughren.

I am not one of your youthful readers.  I am a grandmother of fifty-five, and fed up with ordinary occurrences, so your magazine takes me away on exciting tours through space, just as fairy stories changed me fifty years ago.

SF Fandom 70 years ago was much like SF Fandom is today: diverse, enthusiastic and willing to complain loudly to anyone who will listen.

*:BEM – shorthand for Bug Eyed Monster.

  • T. Everett says:

    Huh, I always thought it meant Bug Eyed Monster.

  • Carrington Dixon says:

    I always heard Bug Eyed Monster, too.

    One of the fun things to do with the letter columns of the old stf pulps is to look for all the names that would later appear as by-lines in later magazines and books.

    • Alex says:

      It was amusing to not only see a young Lin Carter writing in to the letters section but others writing in saying Lin Carter’s letters were not worth the print space. Also, in between seeing their stories in print, contributors would frequently write in to the letters sections as fans, so you ended up with a pretty active little fan community that included both the readers and the writers. A frequent (and frequently lambasted) practice in the letters section was reader and would be contributors writing SF flash fiction accounts of picking up the latest issue; Miss Loughren prefaced her comments with short sci-fi piece which I did not republish here, so you’ll have to take my word that hers was one of the better ones.

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