[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Science fiction fans are a cantankerous lot, and it seems perhaps they always have been. Or maybe Peacock & Payne simply enjoyed publishing some of the grousier letters they received. But one thing is certain: even the perplexed and frustrated who’d write in to complain just how far science fiction had gone downhill by the mid-40s still loved their Planet Stories enough to plop down 2 bits for the current issue, drag out their typewriter to fill up a page or two, mail it off in hopes of being published in the Vizigraph (Planet Stories’ letters section) and possibly win a coveted piece of interior art-work by being voted best fan-writer of the issue.
The Fall 1945 Vizigraph opens with a reminder from the editor to buy war bonds (“A bond is a bazooka; help blow the hell out those Nazis and Nips.”) before the delightful parade of those coming to either praise or bury the previous issue. Summer 1945 is next on my list, so I can’t wait to find out just how much I agree or disagree with the various commenters.
A Sgt. M.P. Adams, a first time Planet Stories reader, writes in to complain that the stories were a bit samey, that
“[it was like] you [Planet Stories] were fostering off on me ten stories, all the work of a single hand and only slightly disguised by ‘bylines’ and term changes.”
He confesses that most probably the impression comes from several of the stories in the issue he’s read revolving around a similar theme (telepathic/telekinetic powers). He also asks
“Why clutter up a story with strange-sounding guns, rockets and other death dealing instruments unless they improve or make more efficient?”
…to which Editor Wilbur Peacock replies
“A gun is a gun… A .45 is no more fatal than an aquebus or a blunderbuss, nor no more fatal than a disgun will be in the future.”
The Happy Cynic points out that in some cases readers are “fooled by a cover containing a curvaceous gal and a big-chested he-guy” only to find “instead of crashing, bursting action that his soul craves, lilting little stories of human interest.” I could swear that I’ve heard this before somewhere… While he thinks they may be slipping lately, Cynic writes “Planet Stories has come closest of all other stfiction* magazines to hitting the spot.”
Algis Budrys, then 14, writes “I want more [Albert] De Pina, less of [Henry] Kiemle in the illustrations, and more [Allen] Anderson.” I agree, and little Algy soon got his wish; by 1947 Anderson had taken over as the main cover artist for Planet until the end of its run. De Pina, however, would sadly only have one more story published in Planet Stories in the 40s, followed by two collaborations with Henry Hasse published elsewhere in the 50s.
The slightly older Gerry Williams, Age 17, wants his sci-fi with scantily clad gals:
“Can’t you just imagine how dry and dull a science story would become without a curvaceous heroine dashing in dressed in something she could safely hide in a compact?”
He too would probably be thrilled at the prospect of more art by Anderson.
Virginia L. Shawl hopes “Red Witch of Mercury” will be made into a series. She may not have gotten her wish, but after this debut Emmett McDowell would go on to write nearly 2 dozen more stories for various Fiction House publications.
Frank Clark asks for “Stories by Henry Hasse, Ross Rocklynne, millions of stories by Leigh Brackett and oodles of Henry Kuttner and bushel baskets full of Ray Bradbury!”
E.E. Greenleaf Jr’s letter shows Lovecraft was not passe to 40s fandom.
“If you’re an stf* fan, you praise Cthulhu, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth, not Saints Patrick, Michael, Francis, and Peter.”
One of the most interesting letters comes from a Dr. Thomas S. Gardner, a fan of science and science fiction. His letter touches upon a number of subjects, including the Planet Stories / Astounding rivalry in fandom.
“I must say the quality of [Planet Stories] has steadily risen until, at present time, it rates next to Astounding with the extant magazines. As you probably know technical men who read science fiction prefer Astounding, but that should not bother you as Campbell and Planet are publishing a different type of story. Therefore, in its class each rates well. Planet’s stories are excellent adventure laid in the future with interplanetary travel an accepted fact, while Astounding’s stories are really problems in sociology, economics, politics and psychology. They should not be compared, as each is different, just as an apple is different from a peach. The one that one would prefer to read would depend upon the emotions and feelings of the moment, so I hope you will not feel badly if I rate Astounding as being above, and also quite different from Planet. I like your selections quite well.”
Gardner goes on to discuss some of the science of the supersonic weaponry referenced in Spider Men of Gharr from his own research done at MIT, concluding that supersonic weaponry is cool but “bombs would be a lot cheaper,” and he doubts “their being developed on a practical scale.”
*:Although rarely if ever seen these days, “STF” and “stfiction” were common parlance in fandom at one time. The Sgt. in his letter also asks what the heck STF meant. STF was a catchall neologism for ScienTiFiction or fantasy with Science elements.