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F&SF, April 1961

Over the past year, we’ve been doing a #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) feature on the F&SF Twitter account and Facebook page. For the new year, we thought it might be good to add them here where they can be easily found under the “F&SF History” tag.

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Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 1961, cover by EmshNot every cover is a great cover, even when it’s by a great artist. #TBT to the April 1961 F&SF and this (to me) baffling untitled illo by Emsh. Maybe someone who reads this will know something more about this particular cover. Perhaps it was an April Fool’s joke by editor Robert P. Mills? He wanted something that would provide a-peel to readers?

There’s no hint of a joke with the great stories inside. This issue includes Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang,” which introduced brainships to readers and launched seven novels (so far). Although James Blish had written a brainship story in 1941, McCaffrey’s novelet popularized the idea and established many of its tropes. Although intended as hopeful stories for disabled children, society changed so much in 50 years they were later criticized by disability activists. The story was the first of several Helva stories and became Chapter 1 of The Ship Who Sang novel. It was McCaffrey’s 3rd published story. Judith Merrill cites the series as a way to trace McCaffrey’s growth as a writer.

The issue also includes the novelet “Nomansland” by Brian W. Aldiss, the second in his far future Hothouse series. “Hothouse” appeared two months earlier, in the February F&SF. Compared to other F&SF editors, Mills’s story introductions are often short and simply tease the plot, but he clearly recognized something special in Aldiss’s story, calling it “wonderfully fresh and original” and promising more to come. The Hothouse fix-up The Long Afternoon of Earth, which includes “Nomansland,” won a 1962 Hugo Award for Short Fiction.

The rest of the issue contains an interesting mix of stories. “Softly While You’re Sleeping” by Evelyn E. Smith is a polished vampire tale. “The Hills of Lodan” by Harold Calin is space opera, one of only 4 stories the author published. The other 3 appeared in Amazing. “Dead Man’s Bottles” is a clever and beautifully written story about kleptomania by English poet and I, Claudius novelist Robert Graves. “Judas Bomb” by Kit Reed is a smart piece of beatnik-flavored social sf with a twist. Merrill included it in her 1962 Year’s Best volume. For fantasy, “Daddy’s People” is the first published genre short story by Yale University PR man and children’s writer Richard Banks.

The last story in the issue is by Nils Peterson, in the form of an advice colum, “Cosmic Sex and You” written by a “Dr. Priapus.” Questions for Dr. Priapus appear in the form of limericks. As editor of both F&SF and its companion magazine Venture, Mills was interested in pushing boundaries with sexually themed stories. “Cosmic Sex and You” ends with an astonishingly terrible pun, which also seems to be a hallmark of Mills, as this issue of F&SF includes a lengthy “Super-Feghoot” (Mills’s term) by Grendel Briarton, aka Reginald Bretnor, with an even worse ending.

A poem by Doris Pitkin Buck, a science column by Isaac Asimov, and a book review column by Alfred Bester round out the issue. There’s also an editorial which advertises the brand new Lifetime Subscription option for the low price of $50! Since there are at least two contributors to the issue who are still with us 55 years later, this seems like a pretty good bargain. Keep that in mind if you invent a time machine and ever want to go back and give a gift to yourself.

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