[January 14, 1962] Horrors! (February 1962 Fantastic)

by Victoria Silverwolf

Since the demise nearly a decade ago of the fondly remembered magazine Weird Tales, there has been a dearth of markets for horror stories.  Occasionally a tale of terror will appear in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but otherwise there are few places where fiction dealing with the deepest, most irrational fears of humanity can be found.  Perhaps this is due to the burgeoning popularity of science fiction as an expression of modern anxieties in this age of space exploration and atomic energy. 

Even at the local movie theater one is more likely to find radioactive mutants and creatures from outer space than vampires, werewolves, and mummies, though the recent revival of these Gothic monsters by the British film production company Hammer hints that the tide may be changing, as does the popularity of classic horror movies on television programs such as Shock Theater.  The new publication Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by well-known science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman, also proves that there are many readers still interested in the dark side of fantasy.

A striking exception to above trend is Fantastic, which often features supernatural horror stories along with the kind of science fiction found in its sister publication Amazing.  In particular, the February issue of the magazine contains at least as much of the former as the latter.

The surrealistic cover art by Leo Summers aptly conveys the mood of Fritz Leiber’s lead novelette “A Bit of the Dark World.” The story is set in modern Southern California.  (Leiber has been a pioneer in bringing the supernatural into the Twentieth Century ever since his story The Automatic Pistol appeared in Weird Tales in 1940.) Four passengers are driving through steep hills near Los Angeles.  In the back seat are the narrator and his lover, who are in the movie business.  (In a sly nod to his roots, the author gives these characters the surnames Seabury and Quinn, Seabury Quinn having been a prolific writer of horror fiction, with hundreds of stories to his credit, many in Weird Tales.)

In the front passenger seat is their host, who is bringing them to his small but luxurious home for the night.  At the wheel is a neighbor.  On the way they share a strange vision at a peculiar rock formation.  The driver sees nothing, and this character soon vanishes from the story.  He seems intended to represent those who have no ability to sense anything beyond the physical world, and thus he is completely safe from it.

The other three are not so fortunate.  As the night progresses they experience unnerving sensations; a burning smell, a metallic flavor, the feeling of cobwebs, the sound of falling gravel.  Most of all they perceive vague shapes, shining black against an equally black night sky.  Leiber creates an effective sense of inexplicable menace which leads to a dramatic conclusion.  Four stars.

Before returning to tales of terror, Daniel F. Galouye (a likely Hugo contender for his recent novel Dark Universe) offers us a taste of his skill at creating imaginative science fiction in A Silence of Wings. Set in the far future, when humanity has made contact with many different alien species throughout the galaxy, the story takes place on a planet inhabited by flying telepaths.  Although friendly to the visiting humans, they have no interest in learning about Earth technology and are to content to remain gliding from place to place in their treetop homes.  The Terrans are not entirely altruistic in offering to bring advanced science to the flyers; a prime motivation is to enlist them in exploiting the planet’s resources.  In a foolish attempt to force the aliens to adopt machinery, one of the humans uses logic to “prove” that their wings are far too frail to allow them to fly.  Since this ability is the only thing which prevents them from being destroyed by ravenous ground-dwelling predators, a crisis ensues.

The story reads in some ways like a typical Analog story reflected in a funhouse mirror.  The self-confident humans smugly think themselves superior to the local natives.  The author is careful to avoid depicting them as one-dimensional villains, however, resulting in a believable set of characters.  Three stars.

Although also set in a future of space travel, this time confined to the limits of the Solar System, Joseph E. Kelleam’s story The Red Flowers of Tulp is really an old-fashioned horror story decked out with science fiction trappings.  It deals with three vicious space criminals who encounter the title plants at a carnival on Mars, just after reaping the benefits of their latest felony.  The flowers not only talk, but predict their futures (they really serve only as a plot gimmick, and could easily be replaced by a Gypsy fortuneteller.) They state that one of the men will die by cold, one by fire, and that one will never die.  The reader is not terribly surprised to discover that these predictions all come true.  It’s a moderately effective tale of just desserts, worthy of two stars (three if you’re more generous than I am).

Appropriately, this month’s reprint is credited, in part, to the late H. P. Lovecraft, another veteran of Weird Tales whose name is associated with stories of terror.  I suspect that “The Shadow Out of Space” is primarily the work of co-author August W. Derleth.  Derleth, along with Donald Wandrei, founded the Arkham House publishing company with the goal of preserving the work of Lovecraft in hardcover.  Derleth and other authors have expanded on Lovecraft’s concept of ancient, god-like beings far beyond human comprehension into the so-called “Cthulhu Mythos.”

Taking its title from Lovecraft’s 1936 story The Shadow Out of Time, this variation on the same theme was first published in The Survivor and Others, a 1957 Arkham House collection of Derleth’s elaborations on notes and outlines left by the deceased author.  The story is told from the point of view of a psychiatrist examining a patient who suffers from terrifying dreams.  These involve inhabiting the body of an inhuman creature in a vast library located on a distant planet.  It is eventually revealed that these aliens are able to send their minds into the bodies of others, including human beings, over vast distances of space and time.  Derleth weaves together many themes from Lovecraft in an apparent attempt to make a coherent whole.  Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will appreciate the effort, but the story itself is rather dry, and the author forgets the important rule to show and not tell.  Two stars.

We turn from cosmic terror to more mundane fears in our final story.  William W. Stuart’s What If? has something of the flavor of an introspective The Twilight Zone episode.  The protagonist is a fellow who has been so dominated by a willful mother and a bureaucratic job with the IRS that he is unable to make the simplest decisions on his own.  When he is asked to make a trivial selection between a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich, he foresees the tragic consequences of each choice.  Unwilling to hurt anyone because of his actions, he goes into a catatonic state.  Years later, in a psychiatric institute, he emerges from his trance and decides to act only in his own self-interest, disregarding how his decisions will harm others.  Although his strange ability to predict the exact consequences of all his actions allows him to become rich and powerful very quickly, the outcome is not entirely pleasant.  Three stars.

Overall, this issue provides solid entertainment, even if it may not be the best choice to read all alone in the dark…

[Then again, who reads in the dark?  Best to, at least, bring a flashlight!  Ed.]

12 thoughts on “[January 14, 1962] Horrors! (February 1962 Fantastic)”

  1. I loved this issue, too!  The first digest magazine I bought as a kid was the August 1963 issue of FANTASTIC featuring Fritz Leiber’s “The Bazaar of the Bizarre.”  What a great place to start a life-time of reading and collecting!

  2. Here is a bit of fanish obscurity. I met Daniel F. Galouye at Console-a-con in New Orleans labor day weekend. A few fans in Dallas and a few in New Orleans planned to go to Seattle for the Worldcon, alas a bridge too far. So me and three other Dallas fans piled in to a car and drove to New Orleans. I read Stanger in a Strange Land during the drive. (I didn’t like it.) We stayed at some female fan’s garage apartment. I don’t remember sleeping for three days. Drove there on Saturday, it’s 6 hr drive from Dallas, spent Saturday night and Sunday night and drove back Monday. Dan Galouye showed up Saturday afternoon, I guess the fans there knew him. He was quite rangy guy with the demeanor of a newspaper reporter , which he was. He and his wife cruised with us the French Quarter till 1am and then we all took off for the amusement park at Lake Ponchartrain, we got back to New Orleans about 4am. I remember raw oysters , jazz, and a vodka fueled fog. I remember, by that time, I had read Dark Universe and was impressed … can’t remember any specifics about the conversation but Galouye was one of those street wise smooth talking Southerners who are very charming. Very interesting man.
    Somehow someone got the Hugo Winners from Seacon by phone like 1am Monday morning. We got back in the car and drove to Dallas, seeing I10 highway hallucinations all the way. Can’t believe I lived through it!

  3. Thus far, I’ve only read the Leiber and the Lovecraft, but I’m in full agreement with Victoria. The Leiber is excellent and the Lovecraft (perhaps I should say Derleth) isn’t. One might even say that “Dark World” is more Lovecraftian than the tale with HPL’s name on it. Derleth, alas, has never quite grasped the true dread that underlies Lovecraft’s work: an indifferent cosmos. Instead, he’s come along and imposed an almost Manichean framework onto the “Cthulhu mythos” and it’s a very poor fit. Leiber was also a protege of Lovecraft (the two once wrote a pair of stories in which they gleefully slaughtered each other) and, I think, better learned the lessons of his mentor. And even in terms of style, I’ve always found Derleth rather dull and pedestrian, even if he did win a Guggenheim Fellowship.

    1. re “Leiber was also a protege of Lovecraft (the two once wrote a pair of stories in which they gleefully slaughtered each other) ” — a mental slip here?  As I’m sure you know, the pairing was of stories by HPL and Robert Bloch; not HPL and Leiber.  (But of course you are correct that Leiber was also influenced by Lovecraft.)

      1. You know, you’re absolutely right. That was Bloch (who is also a much better writer than Derleth). My brain even burped up the pointless fact that Bloch’s stand-in was called Robert Blake and didn’t make the connection. Perhaps I should actually reread these memos before I send them and not just give them a quick once-over for typos.

  4. I might have known that my pal Al Jackson would have had an encounter with Galouye! More for us to talk about over that next beer, Al. I recall this issue vividly because of the cover (can still see it on the newsstand, though by then I was subscribing), and remember being delighted to see Lovecraft within. It’s been too long for me to remember the Lovecraft tale, and I take our author’s word for it that Derleth probably wrote most of it.

    1. I should have mentioned this September 2-4 1961.  There were also New Orleans SF Fans there, tho we hung out with them mostly on Sunday. I have to do this from memory , I think, Emanuel Lashover ,Harry B. Moore, and Paul A. Ferrara were there. Interesting because these guys put on Nolacon , 1951, the 9th Worldcon in New Orleans. This was under my radar since I was not even reading SF at that time. I think also Camille Cazedessus showed up . Caz became famous publishing the fanzine ERB-dom devoted to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

  5. “The Shadow out of Space” was indeed written entirely by Derleth, based on a line in Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book. The same goes for all of the Lovecraft/Derleth “collaborations”, although a couple (“The Lamp of Alhazred” — probably the best of them — and “The Lurker at the Threshold”) contain a few meagre snippets of genuine Lovecraft text.

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