All Our Yesterdays 10
by Harry Warner Jr.

Golden Atom

Larry B. Farsaci of Rochester, New York, was as close as they come to being the unalloyed, all-out collector. He wasn’t simply a fellow with pack-rat instincts, attempting to see how big a pile of fantasy magazines he could build in the attic. Nor did he go for profiteering on his hobby; when he offered something for sale, his prices were usually around the cover cost for a magazine and possibly one third of the original cost for a book. He was a creative collector, if that isn't a contradiction in terms – he actually read the stories in the publications that he acquired, compared them, traced their history, found out things about the authors, got the opinions of other people on the same yarn.

Larry didn’t have the best tastes in literature. He had an appalling love of sentimental platitudes in poetry, and published some fanzines devoted to the worst verse I've seen in my fan experience. He also had a few extra-favourite fantasy stories that couldn't be called very good from accepted literary standards. But he liked them tremendously, probably for personal quirks in his make-up that corresponded to some thing in these stories, or because they were among the first examples of science fiction that he encountered. One of these stories was Ray Cummings’ “The Girl in the Golden Atom”. It disillusioned a whole generation of fantasy lovers, as a fabulously rare yarn for many years, which turned out to be unexceptional melodrama when we finally got around to reading it in the first issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. But Larry was never disillusioned by it. He named his fanzine after it, and Golden Atom, the fanzine, developed into one of the nicest collector's magazines ever published.

Golden Atom's nine issues are still fun to skim through, even if you no longer like to collect prozines, and have forgotten many of the authors who are topics for dissertations. It's so pleasant to see the obvious sincerity with which Farsaci and his helpers wrote that you can forgive the obsession with Ray Cummings. Obsession it was. The fanzine published a six-part series on this story and the Cumnings tales which used similar plots. Several fans described other angles of this original Golden Atom story. Poems were written to it. Artwork based on it. The cover of the magazine was always a golden red-yellow in honour of the tale. Typical is the panegyric with which Larry opened the first instalment of his long series: “The Girl in the Golden Atom appeared first as the novelette of the issue in All-Story for March 15, 1919, It enjoyed a huge success. A success, which the editor, Bob Davis, (also the discoverer of George Allan England and A. Merritt) was able to foresee; he introduced Ray Cummings in a way quite unusual in the introduction of new writers.

“In this first story, the author has not only revealed a power of vivid imagery and weird conception worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, himself, but has also woven through it a delicate and fascinating romance — a thing Poe was never able to achieve. Mr Cummings’ connections with the Edison Company may be said also to give his scientific deductions an authority that will add materially to the interest of the story.”

Larry even compared the original published version and the reprint in FFM word for word, and discovered that FFM changed “Don't be an ass” to “Don't be silly”.

Golden Atom’s first appearance was in late 1939, and the ninth and final issue was dated December, 1940. Collecting ran through all nine issues like an unbroken thread — which assures the magazine a universal appeal, because almost every fan can look back on the years when he went through the collecting stage. Fred Fischer wrote about his early days with fantasy stories in the ninth issue. His experiences are different from yours, no doubt, but something of this sort has happened to us all:

“...From that moment on, I began to dream about the Argosy. I would go to bed at night and have the wildest nightmares about Argosies, the dreams exemplifying wish-fulfilment with a vengeance, for I would invariably find myself groping around in some dusty attic where all of a sudden I would find pile after pile of ancient Argosies. Unhappily, I always woke just as I reached out to pick up the closest one, or just as I turned the cover to read the name of the first story. Some kids dreamed of candy and became conscious just before the first, delicious bite. Some kids dreamed of money and felt it slipping from their grasp with their awakening. I always dreamed of Argosies.

“...When I was twelve, I met a gentleman, a friend of my grandmother, who had a complete collection of Munsey magazines back to 1905. I need not mention the ecstasy with which I literally wallowed in his magazines from that moment on, until – alas! he left town. He did, however, will me his collection, but it was no benefit to me, because I had become impatient and in 1930 bought from him as many magazines as remained in his once perfect collection. His wife I will always consider the most understanding of women, because years and years ago when I would visit their home and luxuriate in thousands of magazines — as a miser would count pieces of gold – she would thereafter leave me strictly alone, except for occasional sandwiches which she would bring in to me, to prevent a death from starvation right there on the premises.”

Larry loved to think up departments and continued features for Golden Atom, stuffing them in at the end of articles or in special supplements. “The Fantasy Record” consisted of synopses of weird Tales, from the first issue onwards. Summarising the plot of each story is something like a one-man effort to count the Chinese. They get born faster that you can count. He listed in one spot all the results of Astounding's Analytical Laboratory to date, the favourite stories of this or that fan, a check-list of fanzines published in Rochester, huge quantities of pen names from prozines and fanzines. Much of this material appeared in a special magazine-within-the-magazine, on a different coloured paper, called The Fantasy Record. He published comparative lists of titles used by authors which were changed for publication, and there was an amusing, little department entitled “Squawks!” which provided a free chance for anyone to air grievances. Examples: “Isn't there something you said about replacing “The Polyphemes”? Or better yet, some word from you before the usual 6 months.” “My five cents for ‘Fantasia’ and while you're at it, you might as well return Alex Osheroff's too.”

Sam Moskowitz devoted an article in the fifth issue to showing what a difficult job it was to build up a complete fanzine collection, because of the bewildering array of hectographed and even carbon-copied publications that appeared in the late 1930's. Speaking of those years, he wrote:

“Promags were none too good; fan magazines, while profuse, were not very dependable, and published in exceedingly limited editions. Fans used to hold onto those fan magazines with unbelievable tenacity. Few fans were ever reduced to the position of poverty where they were willing to dispose of their fan-magazine collection.

“Every fan magazine, even such items as never-to-be-included pages, postal announcements, etc. were avidly sought after. Those were the days when you strove to have a larger number of fan magazines than anyone else.

“In a delirium of delight you would dash over to Jim's house and with a superior expression carefully withdraw from cellophane protectors, a rare issue of the 'Science Fiction Digest'.....”

Particularly rare items were the lone issue of ‘Astonishing Stories’, a small, hectographed mag published by Shepherd and Wollheim; the first five issues of ‘The Science Fiction Critic’; the early, carbon-copied numbers of McPhail’s ‘Science Fiction News’ and ‘Imaginative Fiction’; ‘Curious Stories’ and ‘Curious Stories Quarterly’which Ackcrman was prepared to pay ridiculous prices for (they are only tiny, four-page carbon-copied sheets with pencilled covers). Even then, incidentally, Moskowitz was bewailing the manner in which fanzine collecting was losing its popularity. I read just the same complaint in a fanzine a couple of months ago.

Larry Farsaci even liked the stories of Edmond Hamilton. He was as happy as a kitten in catnip when he discovered that for four straight years, Hamilton had had stories listed in the honourable mentions of O’Brien’s Year Book of the American Short Story. The eighth issue of Golden Atom contained a mild protest from Hamilton at those who bewailed his continual world-saving:

“If you’ll scrutinise my yarns published since 1931, and check those of them with a world-saving motif – I mean yarns in which the hero saves earth from physical destruction – I believe you'll be surprised. You’ll find about six or seven stories of that kind out of a hundred and twenty (that includes a number of detective stories). Nearly every other SF writer has used that plot as often or oftener, in those eight years. How did it get pinned on me then? Well, when I started writing, I began with weird yarns like ‘The Monster God of Mamurth’. Then I wrote a story in which the hero saved the world. Readers liked it and editors asked for more. For four or five years editors bought every story based on that plot, and when I tried to send in something different they complained of the lack of “punch”.

I don’t know where Larry is now. He gave up Golden Atom because of the lack of time, went into the services and dropped out of fandom. His is probably one of the largest collections of fantasy material in the nation, unless he has quietly disposed of it in recent years.

Last revised: 3 March, 2006

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