Saturday, October 30, 2010

Richard Matheson - The Original Stories: The Sci-Fi Digests Part 1

by John Scoleri

In the first five parts of this ongoing series, I looked at Richard Matheson's short fiction appearances in Playboy, the Sci-Fi Pulps, the Mystery Digests, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Gauntlet Chapbooks. We turn now to the rest of the Science Fiction digests Matheson contributed to, which will make up the next four installments of this ongoing series.

The Original Stories - Part 6: Amazing Stories, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Fantastic Universe

The bulk of Matheson's short stories originally appeared in science fiction digests like those featured in this installment.

"The Last Day"
Amazing Stories
April-May 1953, Vol. 27 No. 4

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shores of Space, Duel: Terror Stories, Collected Stories TP v1

Editorial Comment: This, we might as well warn you, is what Hollywood calls a downbeat ending. Not that we're especially fond of them ourselves; but every so often such a yarn will point out a truth too often overlooked. 

Also, they are tricky to write. Too much accent on pure despair and the reader walks out long before the end. There must be in the people of such a story an undistorted reflection of us all: a common denominator anyone can recognize within himself.

Waxing philosophical is like waxing a floor; it is powerful easy to fall on your face while trying it. But we have an abiding faith in Man's ability to rise to greatness in the shadow of destruction. Evidently Dick Matheson feels much the same way, for his handling of character in "The Last Day" is masterful in its sympathetic portrayal of the best and worst in all of us.
Illustration by Robert Kay
Notes: This issue also features stories by Robert Heinlein ("Project Nightmare") and Theodore Sturgeon ("The Way Home"). "The Last Day" was subsequently reprinted in the November 1968 issue of Amazing Stories, which also contains stories by Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany ("The Power of the Nail") and Ray Bradbury ("The Dwarf").

"Little Girl Lost"
Amazing Stories
October-November 1953, Vol. 27 No.7
Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shores of Space, Duel: Terror Stories, Collected Stories TP v1

Editorial Comment:A nice domestic arrangement. Once which—sooner or later—most "enlightened" husbands grow amenable to after that first child arrives. But if number one just happens to be a girl named Tine and if your own name also just happens to be Chris, then we hope that—unlike the hapless protagonist in the following nightmare for parents of all ages—you won't have to learn, the hard way, that sometimes parallel lines can make a difference between a good or a bad night's sleep!
Illustration by Ray Houlihan

Notes: "Little Girl Lost" was famously adapted by Matheson for the third season of The Twilight Zone. This issue also features stories by Robert Sheckley ("Beside Still Waters") and Theodore Sturgeon ("A Way of Thinking"). "Little Girl Lost" was subsequently reprinted in the April 1967 issue of Amazing Stories, which also contains stories by Philip K. Dick ("Small Town") and Frank Herbert ("The Heaven Makers, Part 1").

"The Wedding"
Beyond Fantasy Fiction
July 1953, Vol. 1 No. 1

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Born of Man and Woman, Third From the Sun, Collected Stories TP v2

Editorial Comment: It's easy to lock the stable once the horse is stolen—or close a door behind a demon.

Illustration by John Fay
Notes: A unique aspect of Beyond Fantasy Fiction was the inclusion of each author's facsimile signature at the close of their story. In his interview with Stanley Wiater in Collected Stories TP v2, Matheson notes that he adapted "The Wedding" for Stephen Spielberg's Amazing Stories. The episode was unproduced.

"Sorry, Right Number"
Beyond Fantasy Fiction
November 1953, Vol. 1 No. 3

Subsequent appearances (as "Long Distance Call"): Collected Stories HC, Shock!, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories, Collected Stories TP v1

Editorial Comment: Certainly a phone is a comfort for a little old lady... as long as there are people on the other end!

Illustration by Sussman
Notes: This issue also contains Matheon's facsimile signature. "Sorry, Right Number" (later collected as "Long Distance Call") was adapted by Matheson under the title "Night Call" for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. The episode was directed by Jacques Tourneur.

"Full Circle"
Fantastic Universe
August-September 1953, Vol. 1 No. 2

Subsequent appearances: Born of Man and Woman, Collected Stories HC, Shock III, Collected Stories TP v1

Story Comment: Growing up promises to be as disillusioning a process in times to come as it is today—unless his author is wrong. We hope he is.

Editorial Comment: In a recently published study of Man and the distant future, Sir Charles Galton Darwin, grandson of the old Species Originator, insists that it will take the human being at leas a million years to develop an improved model. In the meanwhile, suggests Sir Charles, all that matters for mankind is an efficient urge for survival. Which is all very well if you aren't too fussy about what sort of folk survive.

Notes: While unrelated to the focus of this series, the cover of this issue is worth briefly discussing. 15 years before audiences would experience what's considered by many to be the most exciting reveal in motion picture history, there's the good ol' Statue of Liberty sticking halfway out of the sand, with nary an Ape in sight. As the ending to Planet of the Apes has always been associated with Rod Serling (as detailed by Gordon C. Webb on, one has to wonder if somewhere along the way he  (and/or the film's production designers) may have come across this issue of Fantastic Universe.

"When Day is Dun"
Fantastic Universe
May 1954, Vol. 1 No. 6

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shores of Space, Collected Stories TP v2

Story Comment: What manner of sonnet would be a fitting epilogue at Earth's curfew?

Editorial Comment: Plumber turned author, courtesy of Smith-Corona, Dick Matheson sold his first story or eight cents. No, not to us. We're sorry we didn't discover him. His first sale was to his mother, and here is his latest sale. 
Notes: This issue also features stories by Philip Jose Farmer ("Rastignac the Devil"), Philip K. Dick ("Survey Team"), Evan Hunter ("Moon Mad"), and Robert Bloch ("The Goddess of Wisdom").

"The Doll That Does Everything" 
Fantastic Universe
December 1954, Vol. 2 No. 5

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shores of Space, Collected Stories TP v2

Story Comment: It's a mistake to buy a problem child a scientific wonder toy—unless you're a parent with a wicked bent for infanticide!

Editorial Comment: Richard Matheson is a writer of unusual brilliance, persuasiveness and charm. Last summer Gold Medal books published his I Am Legend, the first science-fiction title to be listed by that company. It won high acclaim from the experts in both the science fiction and fantasy fields, prize-winning mystery novelist William Campbell Gault calling it "The most terrifying book you'll ever read." Into this little story Mr. Richard Matheson has instilled a terror quite as breathless, acidulously barbed with wit.

Notes: This issue also contains stories by John Wyndham ("Compassion Circuit") John Christopher ("Talent for the Future") and Poul Anderson ("The Stranger Was Himself").

There's more to come! Stay tuned for future installments of Richard Matheson - The Original Stories.



Todd Mason said...

I don't suppose I could bribe you into not using the Skiffy term?

It might be noted that some of the fiction in those Ultimate Publications AMAZINGS from the '60s, such as "The Power of the Nail" by Delany and Ellison, were new...while most were (controversial) reprints, since Sol Cohen bought the All Rights AMAZING and FANTASTIC had to its inventory when Ziff-Davis sold the magazines to them. Dunno if Matheson was actively involved in any of the boycotts and actions against Cohen for that policy.

John Scoleri said...

You're in luck, Todd! I'm quite open to bribes.

Help me put my hands on the last few Matheson original appearances I need and I'll swear off the $@!-#! for good! ;)

Seriously, thanks for the info on the post Z-D incarnations of the mags. I didn't realize there was a controversy surrounding those, but I can certainly understand why there would be.