Oh Yeah!? Yeah! Sez You! Well Then – Write a Letter , Maybe You’ll Win Something

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Write a letter of comment to Amazing Stories and you would win a collectible lapel pin! It’s pretty simple: read our issues, write a letter of comment, email it (or mail it, old school is appreciated!) and if we think it is sufficiently pithy, inciteful, provocative and/or informative, we’ll mail you a one-of-a-kind collectible Amazing Stories lapel pins. Read on to learn more about the history of letter writing in fandom.
(Mail to: Amazing Stories, PO Box 1068, Hillsboro, NH 03244. Email

 

Whether you know it or not, letter writing and letter columns were (and kind of still are) a backbone of both science fiction literature and of fandom.

In a stroke of brilliance, Gernsback decided to emulate the success he’d had with his Radio clubs, where magazine correspondence had been used to encourage radio enthusiasts to get together and form clubs, which in turn were used as promotional vehicles for his magazines and other products.

This worked because Gernsback published the names and addresses of the individual letter writers.

Letter columns were also a cheap way to fill pages with no-cost content and an opportunity for additional editorializing space (responses) for editors (a generally loquacious lot).

Getting ‘pubbed’ in the letter column(s) was an item of fannish prestige and editors, especially those whose magazines pitched to a younger audience, got into the game, an exercise that was so common at one point that Frederic Brown devoted quite a few lines to it in his novel What Mad Universe (which, if you have not read it yet, stop reading this immediately, find a copy and do so – you won’t be disappointed).

The practice would be replicated in the fanzines and APAs which in some sense can themselves be regarded as long letters written to multiple individuals.

It has been replaced, somewhat unsatisfactorily, with bulletin boards, forums, blog post comments and social network repartee.

I say somewhat unsatisfactorily because part of the fun, the joy, was the anticipation.  Even if the magazine you wrote to was a monthly publication, it had to be mailed to the magazine, survive its mailroom encounter, get read, get selected for publication (which of course you, the letter writer would know nothing about), slotted into a future issue, survive the layout of that issue, get printed, get distributed and finally, get opened to reveal whether or not you’d made it.

If there was no letter in that issue with your name attached (dang!), there was still a (good) chance it would appear in next month’s issue. Rather than disappointment, you, the letter writer, were left with even more frustrattingly happy anticipation.

There was a certain point in my life when I wrote to all of the magazines that had letter columns, but it wasn’t until 1978 that I started reading the letter columns First, because that was when my first letter made it into print.

It was the January 1978 issue of Amazing Stories (Ted White, editor, Volume 51, No. 2.  By way of historical reference, we’re now on Volume 76, No. 2) and there, right at the top of the Or So You Say letter column was my name, confirmed by my then street address.  (I don’t live there now, nor do any of my family, so no SWATing calls to that location, please.)

For a whole host of reasons – historical commentary, personal evolution, revelations of political leanings, commentary on publication scheduling – I’m going to reprint that letter, and the one that ran in the subsequent issue, right here, right now.  Back then I was trying to tell Ted White how to do his job, and we all know how that worked out :).  I won’t be reproducing Ted’s responses – those are his words – but you can find (infringing) digital copies around the web if you so choose.

Dear Ted,

I really don’t understand you! Your remarks in the March Amazing, and the Feb, Fantastic by themselves are upsetting, but coming from you are also confusing. In the December Amazing you lauded Heinlein, calling yourself one of the minor sons of his style of writing, (which I haven’t noticed) and then you turn around an call him a robot, a man who is regressing back to the fifties and radicalism.

One thing that you mentioned, but which you may have not taken into consideration enough was the fact that Heinlein is an old, sick man. When he accepted the invitation to be guest of Honor, it may have not been the best thing for him to do, yet he made the sacrifice, and he showed up. I think rather than call Bob a simulacrum, you should blame the incompetent boobs who ran the con! And of all people, you should be the one to know that you don’t write things like that even if you think them. Wasn’t a very strong remark, and the refusal to make a retraction what got your article in Algol killed? Yea, Amazing is your magazine, but you should have more sense!

In the same issue as the above mentioned editorial, you printed a letter by Steven Duff. This man, as I will call him for lack of a better term, to begin with, confuses gays with transvestites, and secondly he fails to have noticed the fact that while bestiality and necrophilia, and mechanophilia for that matter are psychological disorders, and perversion, Homosexuality is not. Now, I am not gay, nor am I a member of the gay liberation movement, but I find Steven’s remarks as bigoted as assuming that blacks are stupid and that all Jews have big noses!

I think that Mr. Duff wrote a totally immature letter.

I reiterate something I said in a previous (unpublished) letter, that Amazing’s going quarterly was the best thing for it. I have noticed a steady uphill climb in the quality of the magazine since the September issue, not only in the artwork which has been exceptional, but in the fiction as well.

For the past few years, I would only be able to find one or two good stories an issue, and maybe one exceptional one a year; in the past three issues I have liked every story, and none of them have fallen below a 6 on a scale of 1-10.

In this issue of particular note are “Two of a Kind,” by Richard Brown, which like you said in the blurb I can’t get out of my mind, and “Shibboleth,” by Malzberg. Barry amazes me with the amount of thought he can put into a story in a literary genre which he is supposed to be leaving.

The Lupoff story was a pleasant surprise; Good Ol New Alabama is a place that many of us have wanted to revisit for quite some time, and unlike so many sequels, this one was good.
Steve Davidson
January 1978

Dear Mr. White,

I finally, (thank god) received the July issue in the mail. I almost gave up and went out to the store to buy another copy but it got here just in time to save me the extra buck.

Before analyzing any of the stories though, I want to say that since going quarterly there has been a steady up- ward climb in Amazing’s quality, I have noticed the return of some old masters and a lot of new masters-to-be. Two such people appear in the July issue, Mr. Chandler has long been absent from any publication that I know of, and not only do you have a fine story by him, but a Captain Grimes one to boot! The second is F.M. Busby, who seems to be de- veloping into a soft-hard science writer. His two stories, “Search,” which I greatly enjoyed and which vyas masterfully written, and “Nobody Home,” which was equally as good, both deal with two rather old S.F. themes, that of time dilation and its effects on space travel, and the chronicle/ travelogue story of alternate worlds. But what Mr. Busby has managed to do is that he writes about people and the problems they have with machines, and not about machines that people have problems with. Busby has turned out to be a long needed link between the hard science s.f. and the action adventure type.

Steven Utley is one of the masters-to-be that I mentioned. He has been with us just a scant two years, and Ted, you picked it when you said that it was perfect. What can you say about a perfect story? He’s only been at it two years, what’s he going to do next?

The editorial was quite pleasing, and very informative. I like to think of myself as an amateur S.F. historian, and because of this I was familiar with the subject of Tom’s essay, and well aware of the importance of such an article. You can be sure that I checked it out at the local library, and, ahh well, another fannish legend bites the dust, but that’s the fun of legends after all. Good luck Ted, hopefuilly going quarterly has given you the breathing space you needed, and we will soon be seeing Amazing six, or even twelve times a year again soon.

Steve Davidson
May, 1978

Wow, huh?  Until today, I’d not remembered that those letters were published right around the time that Amazing Stories switched over to a quarterly schedule.

The guest editorial referred to in the second letter (“Tom’s essay”) was a reexamination of the Gernsback Bankruptcy that contradicted and dismissed much of what had been written by Moskowitz previously.

(Side note:  the issues referred to in those letters are the March ’77 and July ’77 issues, respectively. Ten months between letters written and letters published.  Imagine, for just one second, what the nature of our online discourse might be like if we had to wait that long to respond to a comment….)

But that’s beside the point.

Obviously, I liked the letter columns.  And I still think they have a place with the modern science fiction magazine.

I’d like to do what I can to revive that practice and maybe liven things up a little.  Here’s my proposal:

If you have subscribed to the magazine, write me a letter about it.  (We’re going to skip right over the editorial department – you’ll be dealing directly with the publisher).  Tell me what you thought of the stories, the artwork, the layout;  do you perceive any themes?  What do you think of the quarterly schedule?  Who should we publish, and why? (If you haven’t subscribed – go here.)

If you think we suck and blow chunks – have at it.  Retch all over that page and then send it in.  If you think we’re a breath of lavender-scented fresh air, by all means, please share your praise. (If there are rainbow unicorns dancing around, by all means, share!)

Don’t just limit yourself to what’s in the magazine:  science fiction impacts everything today and a Good letter writer can always find a way to transition from one relevancy to the pet spew they want to slather all over everyone else.  Fans have made Careers out of letter writing, and I’m hoping that fans today are up to equalling those achievements. I think they are.

So much so that we’re going to hold an internal contest here at Experimenter Publishing.  Any letter we get that sufficiently piques our interest (makes us laugh, pisses us off) is going to receive an Amazing Stories lapel pin by way of recognition and thank you.

Letters will be published on this website under a special title – Or So You Say…

You can mail your letters (which shouldn’t take ten months to get into print) to Amazing Stories, PO Box 1068, Hillsboro, NH 03244.
Email them to – try to remember to put “Letter to the Publisher” in the subject.

And Good Luck! I’m really hoping I get to mail out a bunch of these lapel pins!

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