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October/November 1999
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

The History of Snivelization

Ed Ferman
143 Cream Hill Road
West Cornwall, CT 06796

April 1, 1999

    Dear Gordon,
    Recently I was clearing the detritus of years out of one of my six untenanted stables here, in preparation for receiving my newly purchased herd of Mongolian Steppe Ponies. The musty old building contained a lot of boxed miscellaneous materials connected with The Magazine, and I probably spent as much time rummaging through heaps of correspondence and piles of old contracts (the unique clauses Harlan inserted into several of his were most entertaining, including the codicil that obligated F&SF to release a ton of jellybeans at the 1966 Worldcon if "Repent, Harlequin . . . " won the Hugo--even though the story had been published in Galaxy!) as I did supervising hordes of forelock- tugging Cornwallian handymen as they scrubbed stalls and laid in Italian-tile oat-troughs. Only frequent deliveries by Audrey of champagne and caviar snacks kept my energies up for the task.
    Surely the most interesting item I discovered during this nostalgia- provoking chore was "The Smith File," and I've enclosed it with this letter, since traditionally "The Smith File" has become the property of every F&SF editor since The Magazine began. (Upon my stepping down from the editorship of The Magazine in June of 1991, I could not at all lay my forgetful hands upon "The Smith File," which is why Kris R. never saw it. Just as well, for its contents might have been too strong for her trusting sensibilities.)
    I well recall my own acceptance of "The Smith File" from Avram Davidson when he reluctantly relinquished the editorship. (He in turn had of course received it from Bob Mills, who for his part had taken it from the hands of Tony Boucher. My dad, Joseph, being editor for a year between me and Avram should have been the custodian for that interval, but because of the circumstances I'm about to relate, Dad never fulfilled that role.)
    Avram was living in La Gordita, Belize, at the time of his stepping-down, and I had to make a special trip there in 1965 to retrieve "The Smith File," a trip my father was unwilling to venture on. Wisely so, as events proved. I nearly lost my life several times in the hideous jungle as I made my way (with the help of only several dozen porters and guides equipped with the best Abercrombie & Fitch could provide) to Avram's palm-roofed shack, there to encounter the fever-wracked, hallucinating Davidson who could not resist muttering, as the folder slipped from his weak fingers, "The horror, the horror . . . "
    In any case, here's a little background on the contents of "The Smith File".
    When F&SF began publication in the Fall of 1949, The Magazine was of course immediately deluged with submissions from all the famous professionals of the time. One of those would-be contributors was none other than Edward Elmer "Doc" Smith, Ph.D. Of course, Smith's antiquated type of story represented exactly the opposite of what Boucher and Mick McComas intended to publish, and all of Smith's first trunk-cleaning manuscripts sent over the first couple of years were quickly rejected. In no way daunted, Smith began to write fresh stories, all slanted toward this prestigious new market. Every time F&SF printed a praise-garnering story, Smith would swiftly attempt to capitalize on the other author's ground-breaking work, with consistently ludicrous results. So wildly awful were these submissions that Boucher took to photostatting and saving them in a special folder. Thus was "The Smith File" born, and all during the fifties it fattened.
    Then in 1960 came Smith's bitchy, semi-public comment in issue No. 134 of The Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies, Ted Cogswell's famous fanzine aimed at his professional peers: "F&SF does not publish what I call science fiction at all." (I don't expect a young gentleman like yourself, Gordon, to be familiar with this ancient history, but you can check page 77 of the Advent reprinting of PITFCS.) In reality, Smith's words were the ultimate sour-grapes jab, as he had been trying to place with The Magazine for more than a decade. Bob Mills thought Smith's comment signalled the end of Smith's zany submissions, and closed "The Smith File" with a sigh of relief. But such was not the case; Smith could not control his desire to be a part of The Magazine, and continued to deluge us with his awkward pastiches-- many of them under transparent pseudonyms--right up until his death in 1965. Why, once when he heard that The Good Doctor was temporarily incapacitated from a bad case of the flu, he even dared offer us a substitute Science column! That move nearly caused Isaac to resign from First Fandom!
    Entrusting this folder to you, Gordon, I caution you never to let its contents become public--not so much as excerpts! Even at this late date, if the field learned how one of its most revered writers spent his final fifteen years, it might rock the very foundations of the genre!

Yours in leisure,


Ed Ferman

"The Gnurrs Come from Eddore Out"
Reginald "Doc" Bretnor, Ph.D. (1950)

    When Papa Seatonhorn heard about the war with Bobovia, he bought a box- lunch, wrapped his secret weapon in brown paper, and took the first bus straight to Washington. What the old Karfedix carried, straight to the Secret Weapons Bureau, was an Osnomian beam projector powered by the instantaneous release of kilowatt-hours of energy derived from immense copper bars driven nearly to the point of disruption by subatomic force generators. . . .

"Of Time and Tellus, Third Planet of Sol"
E. E. Bester, Ph.D. (1951)

    What Macy hated about the man was the fact that he squeaked. With an irresistible and impetuous lunge, Macy ripped the lifelike India rubber mask from the squeaking man's face, revealing--an Overlord from the Hell-Hole of Space!

"Quit Zoomin' Those Mile-long Battlecruisers Through the Air"
Elmer Finney, Ph.D. (1952)

    Hey, quit zoomin' your hands through the air, boy--I know you was a crewmember on the Skylark of Valeron! You flew good against Blackie DuQuesne, course you did. . . .

"Three Hearts and Three Arisians"
Poul Smith, Ph.D. (1953)

    By chance, I happened to be workiing for the outfit which hire Holger Carlsen on his graduation, and got to know him quite well in the year or two that followed. Right off, I could tell he'd make a swell Lensman. . . .

"My Boyfriend's Name Is Boskone"
Avram Smith, Ph.D. (1954)

    Fashion, nothing but fashion. Virus X, latest insidious plague unleashed by the cowardly Boskonians, had not even half-run its course of ravaging Rigel Four when Virgil Samms arrived. . . .

"Call Me from the Valley of Nucleonics"
Manly E. E. Wellman, Ph.D. (1954)

    . . . The storekeeper hung a lantern to the porch rafters as it got dark. . . . "Friend," he said to me, "did I ask your name?"
    "Neal Cloud," I named myself, and added, "I'm here to blast your vortex."

"The [Widget], the [Wadget] and Worsel"
Edward E. Sturgeon, Ph.D. (1955)

    Throughout the continuum as we know it (and a good deal more, as we don't know it) there are cultures that fly and cultures that swim. . . . And then there are those cultures that breed scaly yet lovable creatures like Worsel the Velantian. . . .

"Second Stage Tweener"
Leigh "Doctoress" Brackett, Lady Ph.D. (1955)

    A taxicab turned the corner and came slowly down the street.
    "Here he is!" shrieked the Children of the Lens. "Uncle Kimball!"

"Wilderness of Interpenetrating Galaxies"
Zenna Smith, Ph.D. (1957)

    . . . "What canyon?" I asked.
    "The canyon where The People live now--my People. The canyon where they located after the shields of their starship, the Z9M9Z, were overwhelmed in incandescent coruscating waves of offensive power and their multi-million- plugged boards were blown!"

"MS. Found in a Nth-Space Fortune Cookie"
E. E. Kornbluth, Ph.D. (1957)

    They say I am mad, but I am not mad--angry, sure, but not mad! Damn it, I've written and sold two million words of fiction, and not a single one has placed at this big-headed, fancy-pants, not-even-a-real-pulp, New-York-literary- type digest! And it's dollars to doughnuts (and I know my doughnuts!) that they won't take this one either, even though I've tarted it up like an Aldebaranian hell-cat!

"Flowers for Lensmen"
"Doc" Edward Daniel Elmer Keyes, Ph.D. (1959)

    progris report 1 martch 3
    Doctor Smith says I should rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happens to me from now on while I am still suffrin from the stuperfying ray of the Fenachrone. . . . "The Quest for Saint Kinnison"
E. Elmer Boucher, Ph.D. (1959)

    The Bishop of Rome, the head of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Vicar of Christ on Earth--in short, the Pope--brushed a cockroach from the filth-encrusted wooden table, took another sip of the raw red wine, and resumed his discourse.
    Every word the Pope uttered was picked up by Eddorian spy rays from light- years away. . . .

"Rogue Moon of Radelix"
Algis Smith, Ph.D. (1960)

    Late on a day in 1959, Edward Hawks, Doctor of Science, cradled his long jaw in his outsized hands and hunched forward with his sharp elbows on his desk.
    His own wife, a thionite-sniffer! And all because of him! What a zwilnik he was!

"Science: Secrets of the Kettle"
Isaac Smithimov, Ph.D. (1963)

    In 1915, when I was working for the Bureau of Standards, helping to establish tolerance standards for the weight of commercially sold butter, I often pondered the mysteries of efficient packing moduli. But the mathematical rigors of this field were beyond me until I obtained my doctorate. Then, in 1936, while employed by Dawn Doughnuts in Jackson, Michigan, I was splattered by some hot oil from a sizzling batch of Boston Kremes. The ensuing hospital stay allowed me to focus my mind on this never-forgotten riddle, and I soon was the proud papa of Patent No. 17349128, which detailed the famous "Thirteenth Doughnut in a Dozen Box" algorithm. . . .

"Cantata 140 to the Tenth Power"
E. E. K. Dick, Ph.D. (1964)

    The young couple, black-haired, dark-skinned, probably Mexican or Puerto Rican, stood nervously in front of the Arisians, and the boy, the husband, said in a low voice, "Sir, we want to become Lensmen."

"The Lonely Overworld"
E. E. Vance, Ph.D. (1965)

    On the heights above the river Xzan, at the site of certain ancient ruins, Smithcounu the Beloved Pulpster had built a manse stocked with fiction to his private taste: an eccentric structure housing gee-whiz heroics, interstellar battles, instant paradigm-shattering inventions, and sensawunda. But lately, despite all his spells, he could never entice anyone to visit. . . .

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