Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, September 1951

This is a pulp that I once owned, and it has a nice cover by Earle Bergey. I read it about eight years ago, and here are a couple of excerpts from blog posts I wrote about it at the time. First, from September 7, 2004:

"Meanwhile, I've been reading that issue of STARTLING STORIES I mentioned last night and thoroughly enjoying it. There's quite a line-up of authors in it: Jack Vance, John D. McDonald, William Campbell Gault, and a full-length novel by Sam Merwin Jr., "House of Many Worlds" (I also have the Galaxy Novel version of this book and a later Curtis Books PB reprint; there's an Ace omnibus edition of it and the sequel, THREE WORLDS OF TIME, but I don't have it). Merwin was my first editor, back when I started selling short stories to MSMM in the Seventies, so I have a real soft spot for him and his work. The Vance story and the JDM story could have been published now with only minor changes. The Gault story hasn't aged as well, but it was still fun. I think the Forties and Fifties are my favorite decades for science fiction."

And from a couple of days later:

"I finished Merwin's "House of Many Worlds", which also finished off that issue of STARTLING STORIES. This is a pretty good parallel universe/alternate history novel, written long before such things were as popular as they seem to be now. (Although alternate history seems to have faded a bit in the past year or so.) It's a little slow at times, especially for a pulp novel, but the characters are good and the set-up interesting. There are also a couple of things that are pretty daring for 1951, such as an offhand mention that the heroine is bisexual and an interracial romance. Nothing is done with the former and the latter doesn't go anywhere, but still, just the fact that they're there at all took me a little by surprise. After all these years, Sam Merwin is still one of my favorite editors. He bounced a lot of my early stories when I sent them to MSMM, but he never sent me a printed rejection slip. Instead, he would scrawl a personal note on any scrap of paper he could find or tear off of something else and tell me why he was rejecting the story. I learned a lot from Sam about keeping my stories believable and not letting the plots get away from me. And after he'd bought a few stories from me, he asked me to try my hand at a Mike Shayne novella. That led to my first regular writing job. I wouldn't go so far as to say that if not for Sam Merwin Jr. I wouldn't be a writer today, but he sure helped me get started."

I still feel the same way about Sam, too.


Lastyear said...

It seems the stories hold up better than those hairstyles.

Walker Martin said...

I wish someone would do a biography about Sam Merwin. Not only was he a writer but he was behind the changing of STARTLING and THRILLING WONDER from a sort of juvenile quality to a more mature and adult magazine, 1945-1951. Then he served a period as assistant editor on GALAXY and later was involved with MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

I'd like to know more details about his life.

Ed Gorman said...

What a great post, James. He never did take a story of mine but he sent me very encouraging scribbled notes. I really enjoyed his various versions of that alternate worlds story.

James Reasoner said...

I made a mistake on the cover attribution on this issue, it's actually by Earle Bergey, as a reader pointed out to me. I've corrected the post.

Walker, I don't know anything about Merwin's life beyond his pulp, digest, and paperback work. He sure had his fingerprints all over those fields for a few decades, though.

Ed, weren't those notes great? I always got the sense that Merwin really enjoyed being an editor.

Todd Mason said...

Richard Geis used to write about Merwin and his work for SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW and his other magazines...I got the impression that Merwin never seemed to have the confidence in his own fiction to (perhaps) do all he was capable of...HOUSE OF MANY WORLDS remains, iinm, his best-known novel (and that certainly is a handsome cover, reasonably subdued in a way that I suspect Samuel Mines and Bergey probably knew Merwin would appreciate). You might recall Damon Knight's note on Gault, that his sf was always somewhat weak tea, but that Knight was always willing to read his sports fiction (certainly, by the time I'd read that passage in IN SEARCH OF WONDER, I'd read both YA and adult sports fiction by Gault and only a bit of his crime fiction, and certainly concurred with his glowing assessment of the former).

Gordon Van Gelder gets points for this kind of approach among today's editors.