Science Fiction Monthly Vol. 1, No. 2

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I’ve chosen the second issue of the 70s British SF magazine Science Fiction Monthly because that’s the one that started it all off for me in 1974. I was on holiday in Filey with my parents, on the North Yorkshire coast. There’s a great song by Morrisey called ‘Every day is like Sunday’, which pretty well sums up off-season destinations like this, especially for 13 year boys on vacation with their parents. There was the grey beach and Jimmy Corrigan’s Amusement Arcade, and that was it.

Science Fiction Monthly No. 2 was in a newsagents on the Promenade and it stuck out like a sore thumb. It was a bright mustard yellow with a thunderingly huge Chris Foss spaceship on the cover. It spoke of distant, wondrous realms and other worlds about as far removed as you could get from a rainy day in Filey. So instead of pushing 25p into the Penny Falls, I handed it over and walked off with the magazine. It was one of those epiphany’s that James Joyce writes about, marking a rite of passage from the world of Marvel Comics and plastic model kits into a very strange adulthood.

Science Fiction Monthly was published by New English Library, a spin-off from New American Library. They produced cheap paperback series about Hells Angels and Skinheads (and, to ensure completeness in their catalogue of hair length, Suedeheads), Horror, Westerns and Science Fiction and Fantasy. Most of their catalogue was hack work sex and violence for teenagers, apart from the SF  line-up which included works by (among others) A.E. Van Vogt, Asimov and Frank Herbert. I’ve already written about one of their main artists, Bruce Pennington, who featured in issue 1 of the mag. NEL hit on the idea of printing the artwork from their books in a bedsheet format magazine (the same size as a newspaper like The Times) so teenage boys could pull it apart and stick the pictures on their walls. Not wanting to do that, I obsessively kept mine pristine and flat in my sock drawer. As a result I have that issue and the 27 others next to me on my study desk in great big Potassium Permanganate coloured binders.

As a science fiction magazine SFM wasn’t so great, but it was the only one on offer in 70s Britain. The editors didn’t have much of a clue about the genre and the magazine catered neither for teenage boys (too many words) or science fiction fans, who sneered at its often juvenile contents (Vol 2 saw the advent of one of the most godawful comic strips ever drawn, The Size of Things to Come, which is best described as the Eye of Argon in lurid crayon). To be fair SFM was following in the wake of New Worlds, a sophisticated, ground-breaking magazine that was the focus for the New Wave movement and published experimental works of genius by J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock (among others). In comparison SFM was a bit of a mess.

Step away from the crayons…

So what’s in issue 2? Well, it’s pretty representative of the magazine as a whole. Apart from a poem by John Brunner, and an extract from Frank Herbert’s The Godmakers  (which NEL had just released) the stories are forgettable. The artist feature looks at Chris Foss, and his jaw-dropping paintings are scattered throughout the magazine. The article on Science Fiction cinema is interesting for the films it holds up as representative of the best in the genre. It’s hard to remember the celluloid wilderness before Star Wars and Alien made the studios realise they could make money out of the future. The three films covered in the article are Westworld, the embarrasing The Final Programme, and Tarkovksy’s Solaris. Later on the magazine would do a feature on that famous Science Fiction film director Jack Arnold (yes, I know, if you’re scratching your head, think Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man). Issue 2 also mentioned fanzines, prompting me to start my own. I cadged an original short story from the writer Brain Stableford for the inaugural copy of Procyon, and duly illustrated it in crayon and felt pen. There was also an advert for the Leeds bookshop Books, which had a massive SF collection on the first floor. What it didn’t say was that it shared the room with a huge collection of 1970s Danish porn, and the guy who ran the shop looked like the mad brother of the one with the eyepatch out of Dr Hook.

Books in Leeds, famous for Science Fiction and strange Danish magazines

Science Fiction Monthly carried on for 28 issues. As circulation dropped and money grew tight the editors hit on the brilliant idea of running art competitions, which kept them stocked with free paintings to put on the pages when they could no longer afford to fill the magazine with commercial work. The second editor, Julie Davis, had a slightly better understanding of SF and towards the end the quality of the writing picked up. High spots included the serialisation of Mike Ashley’s History of the Science Fiction Magazine and the article on SF in Rock that introduced me to Hawkwind and Space Ritual. The magazine folded in 1976, to be replaced by one issue of a magazine called SF Digest. This kept the mediocre writing and none of the big cool posters. They probably sold about three copies.

And that was that until the supremely weird Vortex arrived on the scene in 1977 (I’ll talk about Vortex at a later date), followed by Penthouse’s Omni (less interesting than Penthouse). For a few months our newsagents in Bishop Monkton (population 1300) took it upon himself to stock the American edition of Analog between Farmers Weekly and The Dalesman, until he tragically saw sense and stopped. It wasn’t until I went to university that I got access to SF magazines again, and started subscribing to the wonderful Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

As an after note, NEL brought out a single issue of a magazine called Edgar Rice Burroughs in the same format as SFM. I probably did buy the only copy, but it was worth it for the huge reproductions of Bruce Pennington’s covers for NEL’s editions of his Mars and Venus series.

21 Comments

  1. Steve Williams says:

    Where can I find a transcript of the interview with Edmund Cooper which appeared in Science Fiction Monthly, in 1975 – I think it was No4 in that volume.

  2. Steve says:

    Had a major flash back when I read this.

    Went digging in my loft, and guess what! I’ve found my entire SFM collection from when I still had hair!

    What I can’t find is any idea if they’re worth anything?? I can’t find a price guide anywhere… Anyone know if they’re my pension plan or just loft lagging 🙂

    • John Guy Collick says:

      I’m not sure how much they’re worth. Complete sets are hard to come by because most issues were pulled apart to decorate bedroom walls. If you have the whole run, especially in those hideous purple binders, then they may be worth something, but not loads. I think they’re most valuable for the interest/nostalgia side of things.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Steve – I’d be interested in buying your SFM collection, do you have a price in mind?

  3. Lance Cooper says:

    I have the complete bound collection of Science Fiction Monthly for sale. It is in excellent condition. I live in Mandurah, Western Australia and freight costs may be prohibitive if you do not reside here. Anyone interested can e-mail me

    • Peter says:

      Hi Lance,
      Are the Science Fiction Monthly magazines still available. Please let me know and if they are, let me know what price you have in mind. Thanks, Peter

    • Steve Gaunt says:

      Hi Lance
      Do you still have the entire set of SFM?
      regards
      Steve

  4. Peter says:

    I also have copies of SFM. I think I have all the issue but not sure. I know the magazine by heart as I worked on the printing press that printed all the issues. As a SF fan it was great to actually set and print the magazine. We used to have all the actual original pieces of artwork on the press so we could set the colours of the print as near to the original as possible. The saddest part was that most of the art was tipped into the skip a few months later. I tried to obtain some the original but we were not allowed to take it, or else! Some did go back to London but I think that may have been trashed. Sad tale.
    Peter

  5. John says:

    HI

    I have approx. 20+ science fiction Monthly ( I live in NSW Australia) is anyone interested in buying them – great artwork

    Thanks

    John

  6. Tim Worth says:

    Hello,

    I have SFM series 1 – numbers 1 -12
    SFM series 2 – numbers 1 – 12
    SFM series 3 – numbers 1 – 4

    These are in fantastic condition, still in purple binders, dare I say mint condition.

    PM me for details and pictures

    • Peter Raack says:

      Hi Tim,
      I’m interested in the magazines. How much are you asking for the entire lot? I live in Sydney, Australia.

  7. Carl Bromwich says:

    I have the full set of SFM complete in the 3 purple binders. Also included is the follow on edition of science fiction digest which only achieved one issue. Included still intact is the SFM Iron on transfer that I can only imagine came free with one of the issues. Does anyone know which issue it was. Any offers would for the lot, please e-mail. Thank you. Carl Bromwich.

    • John Guy Collick says:

      I’d completely forgotten there was an iron-on T-Shirt transfer. Any chance you could share a photo with us?

  8. Mike Draper says:

    I have a complete set between the first issue and volume 3 no.1 inclusive. In pristine condition kept between sheets of hardboard from when they were produced. Of course the white pages are a little yellowed after all this time, but still good.

  9. Carl Bromwich says:

    Hi John

    You can see the free Iron on transfer here… https://www.flickr.com/photos/24579433@N08/32063964813/in/dateposted-public/

    I have just noticed that there is the free poster that came with science fiction digest in my binders.
    There is also an iron on transfer of The return of the Jedi, not sure where this originates from, On the instruction sheet, it says roach transfers.

  10. Carl Bromwich says:

    Sorry the transfer Is the empire strikes back…..

  11. Ed Rybicki says:

    “As a result I have that issue and the 27 others next to me on my study desk in great big Potassium Permanganate coloured binders”

    Bastard!! I stuck all mine up on my walls; consequently, I only have the Pennington cover for Vol 1 No 1 framed and on my wall now. Good while it lasted!!

  12. Ed Rybicki says:

    For proof of SFM fanaticism: my bedroom wall in Lusaka, Zambia, Xmas 1974.
    https://twitter.com/edrybicki/status/849336384561324032

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