[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]
by Gideon Marcus
Trends are tricky things. They require multiple data points to become apparent, and even then, careful analysis may be required to draw a proper conclusion.
I think I can safely say, however, that one-plus year into Avram Davidson’s tenure as editor of F&SF, the magazine’s quality has trended sharply and consistently downward. Stories tend toward the obtuse, the purple, the (and this surprises me) hackneyed. It’s just not the sublime lyric beauty it used to be.
Why is this? Let’s explore some possible explanations:
1) F&SF can’t get good writers anymore.
This clearly isn’t true. The Table of Contents of any given issue reads like a who’s who of the genre.
2) Nobody is writing good sf anymore.
Demonstrably false. Just look at the other mags.
3) The good writers save their best stuff for other magazines
This could be true, but given that F&SF pays some of the best rates (for science fiction anyway – three or four cents a word), I’d can’t image F&SF is a second-resort mag.
4) Davidson’s editorial preferences are driving the direction of F&SF.
A ha. Davidson has been a writer of sf for many a year, and the trend in his writing has been toward the obscure and the prolix. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Davidson style creep into his magazine. One trend I find particularly disturbing is the disappearance of women from F&SF’s pages. This magazine used to be the stand-out leader in publishing of woman authors, and its pages were better for it. Now, female writers been conspicuously absent for two issues, and there had been fewer than normal in the months prior. Nor can one argue that women are leaving the genre — F&SF’s loss is the gain for the other digests.
The inevitable destination of this downward trend, the limit of quality as the time of Davidson’s tenure goes to infinity, as it were, appears to be zero stars. Sure, there are still stand-out issues, but they come fewer and farther between. And the January 1963 F&SF isn’t one of them…
The Golden Brick, P. M. Hubbard
The issue starts off well enough with this story of a Cornish ghost ship, imprisoned in which is a four hundred year old mad Alchemist with the Midas touch. The tale is nicely crafted and atmospheric, but stories like this have been a dime a dozen in this mag. Competent writing and imagery aren’t enough. Three stars.
Zap! and La Difference, Randall Garrett
Ugh. Go away, Randy.
Dragon Hunt, L. Sprague de Camp
De Camp’s life is the stuff of legends, as shows this essay on the globetrotting he undertook to familiarize himself with the locales of his recent historical fiction. The piece contains tidbits of genuine interest, but the presentation is somehow lackluster. Three stars.
Myths My Great-Granddaughter Taught Me, Fritz Leiber
In which the author’s precocious descendant notes the frightening parallels between the Cold War of the 1980s and Ragnarok of Norse Myth. This is the best story of the magazine, but again, we’re treading familiar ground. A minor piece from a major author. Three stars. (Happy 52nd birthday, by the way, Fritz.)
He’s Not My Type!, Isaac Asimov
The Good Doctor’s non-fiction articles always get read first, but I was disappointed this time around. Perhaps it’s because I felt Asimov explained blood types better in his recent book, The Living River, or maybe Davidson’s too-barbed introduction put me in a bad mood (I must stop reading those first). In any event, it is readable, which is the worst Asimov ever gets. Three stars.
Way-Station, Henry Slesar
Imagine Zenna Henderson wrote a The People story, but rather than have it end in poignance, instead wrote a stock “horror” ending that one could see a mile away. That’s what scriptwriter Slesar offers up. Where is Henderson, anyway? Two stars.
Punch, Frederik Pohl
Pohl is a busy boy – not only does he edit two mags (three, come early next year), but he finds time to be published in all of them and Davidson’s. In Punch, it turns out that the many technological gifts of the newly encountered galaxy-spanning aliens have a sinister motivation. It would have made a decent, if typical, episode of The Twilight Zone. Three stars.
Speakeasy, Mack Reynolds
Last up is a short novel from a fellow who is typically featured in Analog. Speakeasy depicts a future in which society has been stultified by success, a meritocracy that has calcified thanks to nepotism and inertia. Only a few revolutionaries remain to shock life into the decaying culture of the Technocracy.
Reynolds can do very good political thriller, viz. Mercenary from last year’s Analog. Unfortunately, Speakeasy is a rambling, naive mess that jumps the tracks about halfway through and runs headlong into a wall near the end. I wonder if Analog’s editor Campbell rejected it. If so, I wonder why Davidson accepted it. It doesn’t really fit F&SF, either the current or past iterations of the magazine. Two stars.
So there you have it, an issue that clocks in at a miserable 2.3 stars. Even Davidson seems to agree that his stuff hasn’t been very good – check out the scathing letter at the end of the mag (which may or may not have come from Davidson’s pen, itself). No more “purple cows,” indeed.
Ah well. That’s enough kvetching for this season. It’s Christmas Eve, as well as the fourth night of Hannukah. Go light a candle, illuminate a tree, drink some eggnog. Or as a recent fancard admonishes, let there be “Goodwill to mellow fen.”
[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]