February, 1934 – Focus on fiction

FF-Feb34-coverThe emphasis on publishing fiction was evident in the February issue, where more than half of the 32 non-Cosmos pages were taken by stories from Ray Palmer and Ralph Milne Farley.

The regular columns also continued, featuring a self-written biography by Peter Schuyler Miller and the usual commentary and gossip entries.  Cosmos was favored with a satirical mention in Mortimer Weisinger’s usually newsy “The Ether Vibrates”:

Nihil, the mysterious creator of “Alicia”, intended to grace authors of COSMOS with appropriate Xmas gifts, i.e. packages of COSMOS seed… But Alicia wouldn’t let him go in for seed-uction…FM-Feb33-The Ether Vibrates

Alicia in Blunderland was a serial satire of science fiction written under a pseudonym by the very same Peter Schuyler Miller.  It appeared in issues of SFD/FM beginning in June, 1933.  A collection of the chapters was published by Oswald Train in 1983.

In “The Editor Broadcasts,” the physics and astronomy debate begun in the letters column in December continues:

Milton Kaletsky, in reply to Ralph Milne Farley:
“All of Mr. Farley’s statements in reply to my first criticism were correct, but the gentleman failed to explain away the error in both logic and physics with which my letter was concerned.  Nor can that error be explained.  As for Alpha Centauri, a member of the astronomy faculty  at the College of the City of New York informs me that the discovery of this star being ternary was made about a dozen years ago, the third star being Proxima Centauri.  Surely then, Prof. Arnaud should have known of this at time of the writing of Chapter One of COSMOS.”

Jack Winks, to Mr. Kaletsky’s aid:
“I just received the December issue today.  In your The Editor Broadcasts, I notice a bit of repartee in which I feel inclined to take a hand.  It is a criticism by Milton Kaletsky of Ralph Milne Farley.  I am sorry to say I did not read the chapter to which Mr. Kaletsky refers, but I know from my own reading that he is right about the star Alpha Centauri.  I quote from Harlow Shapley’s ‘Flights from Chaos:’ ‘Alpha Centauri is a triple system, the third a pronounced dwarf, called “Proxima”.’  Perhaps Mr. Farley should not depend upon his Brittancia in matters which are changing rapidly.

“As regards velocities exceeding that of light, I’m afraid neither of our eminent friends has secured any empirical data proving either side to be right.  Theories hold good only so long as they are not at variance with observed facts.  Then it is time to build a new theory, and waste no time bewailing the old one.

“It is my conviction that fiction writers should at least remain within known facts – especially when they are established by mathematics.  Witness: In his Pellucidar stories, Burroughs calmly ignores the well-known mathematical proff that there could be no attraction (no resultant attractions, perhaps I should say) within a hollow sphere.  At any point the resultant attraction is zero, and as a consequence, there would be no gravitation.  Apparently this bothers few readers, for I have yet to read a verbal protest – no doubt they realize the impossibility of the whole fantasy, and its improbability as well!

“To return the Mr. Kaletsky and Mr. Farley:

“According to present theories, the mass of any material body moving at the speed of light would be infinite – hence no material body could be accelerated to that speed.  Again I quote, this time from Sir James Jeans:

“The mass of an electrified body can be changed by setting it in motion: the faster it moves, the greater its mass.  The Mauretania (50,000 tons) traveling at 25 knots increases its mass by only one millionth of an ounce.”

“Whether or not our authors should allow their styles to be cramped by current theories is open to argument.  However, as an example, look what whopping good yarn Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie made of “When Worlds Collide” by sticking strictly to known facts and established theories.

“On the whole, my leaning is certainly in this direction.  Otherwise our stuff would be indistinguishable from wildest fairy tales.  Facts and scientific theories woven into our so called science fiction stories are their only justification for being read by thoughtful, well-informed man.  Not very many can lay claim to literary excellence as a substitute.”

Ouch!  Well met, Mr. Winks, and a nice articulation of the tension regarding “fact” that the science fiction and fantasy communities were wrestling with at the time.

To show that the editors weren’t afraid to publish critical feedback:

Frank K. Kelly sends us some bouquets, and ends up by slamming two favorites of the rest of our readers:
“Recent issues of the Digest have been unusually good, and the trend has shown continued improvement and progressiveness.  Therefore I want to continue as one of your readers, so I am renewing my subscription with this letter…

“The Science Fiction Eye continues to see all, know all, and tell all.  Julius Schwartz has become a sort of Walter Winchell of science fiction.

“Your short stories and serials from been uniformly poor.  ‘Scroll of Armageddon’ is without doubt the rottenest yarn ever turned out by that amazing fiction factory, A.J. Burks.  COSMOS continues as it began: unadulterated bilge.  I still think you should leave the fiction out, your readers can get plenty of it elsewhere, now that Astounding Stories, Unusual Stories, The Fantasy Fan, etc. have widened the market.

“Here’s luck to you anyway.”

Maybe I’m wrong.  I have been wrong very, very often.  But judging from the letters I received (what else can I judge reader’s reactions by?) “Scroll of Armageddon” and COSMOS, and our other fiction, were well liked, and enjoyed, by the vast majority of our readers.  But, maybe I’m wrong.

Not all the reader were snarky:

Allis Villette, of Canada, praises:
“FANTASY Magazine, you’ve got everything!

“…These COSMOS chapters are everyone of them swell, and I did like Miss Winters’ so much.  Good for her, too, for being such a good sport and working so hard on the assignment when Dr. Breuer was taken ill.”

Read Chapter Nine of Cosmos.
Read about the March, 1934 issue.

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