Country of first publication: Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
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MY FIRST conscious memory of Science Fiction as such was a series of stories about Moon-Man which appeared in 1928 or thereabouts in "Adventure" or "Wizard". From then on I read such S.F. as came to hand, or could be found. The best-remembered was "Scoops", appearing on Feb 10th 1934 [ Read online at comicbookplus.com] This copy is before me as I write, as are all the remaining issues, and some of the stories will always be memorable to me. "Voice from the Void", "Cataclysm", and other stories seemed to have an appeal lacking in so much present-day S.F. Other stories, such as Conan Doyle's "Poison Belt" linger in my mind. However, "Scoops" is long defunct and this complete edition actually belongs to E.R.James, a cousin.
In those days I hunted libraries through for H.G.Wells's stories, though some of them were stiff going and others seemed rather pedestrian. Later, I found Olaf Stapledon. Many of his stories remain unbeatable. "Last and First Men", "The Starmaker", and others have such an imaginative breadth that they surpass any dozen copies of any S.F. magazine published in this country or USA. But unfortunately his narrative style does not attract those who were more accustomed to minute paragraphs and endless (and often pointless) action. I remember, however, the pleasure with which I received Olaf Stapledon's most high and gnerous praise of the Ms. of my novel "Tomorrow Sometimes Comes". But now these men are gone and we must look to the present and future.
The present trend of S.F. has several admirable traits and several that are deplorable. Unfortunately a writer can do very little to influence such trends -- the onus rests on editorial shoulders. If the editor does not like what the writer sends in, then he does not publish it. Accordingly the writer is usually committed to write, from time to time, stories which he deduces the editor will like. These are published. The others fill the W.P.B. Hence the choice, in turn, is governed by what he supposes the readers want. Deplorable traits, in my view, include: women dragged into stories for the sake of the feminine or romantic interest; pictures of the latter undressed yet frozen in space etc; stories based on series of "clever" incidents which do not really intergrate. Admired traits are: real originality; fully reasoned and logical development; scientific premises which will stand pondering upon, and lack of superficial emotion. (In a recent issue of a USA mag every hero was so terrified that sweat was running down his body --- in one case it squelched in his boots!).
It is so asy to be fantastic -- and it can be interesting. "The doorknob opened an eye and blinked". Mars in no place for Earthmen the wall whispered in the dead man's ear..." Very well, very interesting -- but all too often a mere trick to catch attention, having no real place in a logically intergrated story.
I have found such things to be particularly disliked by intelligent readers who have newly come to S.F. to see what it is about. If they look for an explanation and find none, or search for a reason and find it absent, they are inclined to dismiss S.F. like any adult dismisses a donkey who floats to the moon with a two penny balloon tied to him. This may be doing S.F. a disservice, accordingly. Readers of detective stories require a logical solution, feasible development. S.F. should have no less a standard.
These feelings, strong as they are, may have arisen from the large amount of work I do on electronic equipment; here, there is always a reason, though sometimes complex deduction is required to discover it. I should like to see some of the electronic devices of the future. At present, should the Editor see a mobile device come along the road, halt, survey him with an electronic eye, then withdraw, he will know that one of my radio-controlled models is on reconnaissance. (Similar mechanical infiltrators into Ireland have been prevented by the maximum range of pocketable equipment being only about eighty miles.).
My hobbies and interests seem so numerous and confused that I can scarcely distinguish or list them. Photography, Growing succulents (cacti), fishing, poetry, drawings, and other things. I have spent over four years on a pianoforte concerto which has now reached a vast length but still does not express all I had in mind. I find that I have over five hundred stories and articles published in various periodicals, plus ten books in whole or part (the latter including two horribly ponderous encyclopaedias, one listed to appear in 1954, anticipated price £5/5/-.) Before returning to S.F., I should mention a further hobby -- the writing of stories exactly as I like them! (Most of these are never sent to any editors or elsewhere.)
Authors I most like and remember include Ray Bradbury; stories I most dislike but still remember include "The World of Null-A". A lot of good shorts are still appearing, here and in the USA, as readers will know. People's tastes differ; the more variety the better, I think.
It is notable how magazines seem to prosper or fail largely in accordance with the rates they pay writers! A few moments' thought suggests why this is so. If the magazine or publisher "A" only pays £1 a thousand words (shameful rate) for Copyright, and magazine or publisher "B" pays 21/6d a thousand words (equally shameful), then immediately writers have noted this they will send their Mss to "B" (especially if he only buys first rights). This means that the stuff published by "A" consists almost wholly of "B"'s leavings. Hence "A" is likely to lose thousands of readers for the sake of a few shillings. And a publisher who does not insist on taking Copyright (usually for no clear reason) will in general receive the best stories. (Was it £35 in all that "King Soloman's Mines" brought its author?). Good stories are frequently published again and again. It is not wise to rely on the generosity of the publisher --- he may not feel generous, but instead be eager to make money for himself. I have before me a letter from a publisher who shall be nameless, in which he refuses me permission to quote from one of my own stories, Copyright of which I have sold to him! I hope writers who may be among the readers of "Space Diversions" will never do anything thay afterwards regret.
It is saddening to recall the S.F. magazines which have appeared and faded away; or which have failed to appear. Among the former let us remember Walter H Gillings's "Fantasy", which appeared at a time when conditions were terribly difficult. Among the latter Hulton's project, the paper for which was absorbed in "Girl". Let us hope that "New Worlds" and "Science-Fantasy" will continue until the Editor's beard tangles with the clips (no disrespect meant, E.J.C.) as the ten thousandth issue is prepared. Those deserve support. A lot of the stories in them are better than a lot of the stories seen in a lot of the USA magazines.
All fans have a duty! It is to write briefly to editors saying what stories they like, and, perhaps, why. (Not lengthy screeds which require sifting, however.) If they do this, then eventually more and more stories of the type which are most generally liked will appear, and more readers will be better satisfied.
Francis G. Rayer.
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