How nice to know that The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has been around long enough to get a 60th anniversary anthology in its honor. How weird to look at the table of contents and realize I’ve been around long enough to have read most of the stories already as they appeared in the magazine. And how wonderful to be reminded of the pleasure those stories gave at the time, and continue to give.
F&SF was the second genre magazine I started buying regularly at the newsstand. The first was Analog: Science Fiction, Science Fact, a few years before editor John W. Campbell’s death, when the magazine was pretty much moribund — a fact my teenage loyalty would only recognize after I’d read the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies and looked at the publication dates of the Astounding/Analog stories in the books. Campbell’s impact on the SF field was undeniable, but the major authors he’d nurtured had all left the bullpen, leaving gimmicky hacks like Jack Wodhams who were willing to write to Campbell’s increasingly cranky specifications.
Moribundity was not a problem with F&SF. The first issue I bought featured the initial novel in Jack Vance’s Durdane cycle, and that’s the kind of reading milestone you don’t quickly forget. A few months later came one of F&SF’s tribute issues to selected authors — Poul Anderson, in this case, which introduced me to another fine genre writer. Though come to think of it, I doubt I ever read a single issue of F&SF that didn’t introduce me to at least two authors worth following, along with others I already followed.
Let’s see. I first encountered Michael Bishop through a deeply creepy short story called “Darktree, Darktide,” and later a novella called “The White Otters of Childhood” that shares more than a few affinities with A Canticle for Leibowitz, my personal gold standard for science fiction. The book reviews by Joanna Russ, James Sallis, and James Blish (and later, Algis Budrys) were several levels better and more sophisticated than anything in Analog. When Frederik Pohl completed some short stories started with his late partner Cyril Kornbluth, F&SF was the only place for them. I still have the issue that featured Harlan Ellison’s “The Deathbird,” the novella that marked a turning point in his writing, and I remember the thrill of figuring out what he was up to. (The bright wrap-around cover painting by the Dillons was pretty spiffy, too.) The magazine’s literary standards have always been high enough to command respect even outside the genre. In fact, I would say F&SF was second only to New American Review in its impact on my young reading brain.
As Michael Swanwick has pointed out, genre magazines aren’t exactly thriving in the current market, and if the thought of F&SF not making it to another big anniversary strikes you as a pity, then the best thing to do is buy a subscription.