THE LOOK OF THE FUTURE -

FUTURE SCIENCE FICTION

Future Science Finley June 1959; art by Virgil Finley

Inevitably, some marketing genius succumbed to the irresistible impulse and titled an SF magazine Future. The first Future appeared as a pulp title in 1939, rambled along under several variant titles, got killed off by wartime paper shortages, and then was revived in 1950. Somehow 46 issues got published, albeit erratically, over the next decade under the capable editorship of Robert W. Lowndes.

 

You might think that a magazine titled Future would emphasize futureness on its covers. Not in the world of 1950s magazine rack competition. Is there anyone who would believe that George Lucas didn't have a cherished copy of the May-June 1950 cover, drawn by Earle K. Bergey? Look at that heroine  in the slideshow below, menaced by an alien candle sconce. Swirls on bra, open oval at waist, hanging cloth below. Compare that outfit with one of the ten millions images of "slave" Leia the Internet handily provides. That's sci-fi, and why so many people sigh when they hear the term. You can't isolate rocketships from the periled females and id monsters.

 

Future featured blondes, preferably scantily-clad and in peril, though a beauty striking a modeling pose sold equally effectively. A few of the covers rose above banal clichés. The "Miss Universe" drawn by Emsh on the February 1959 issue anticipates the far more famous Twilight Zone episode "Eye of the Beholder." The gun-pointing minx on the cover of May 1951 by Leo Morey is all the more imposing for being able to survive in outer space with 80% of her flesh exposed. (Spoiler: It illustrates "A is for Android.") The preternatural ability of stripshow females to survive next to men in bulky space suits made for frequent covers titillating in their implausibility. Or for other reasons, as in Earle K. Bergey's July-August 1950 cover, where the swim-suited heroine is doing some ecstasy-fueled space surfing. Alex Schomburg must have been given a giant bonus for his March 1954 cover. The beauty is bare, one of the infinitestimally tiny number of covers in the era to show nipples. Schoenberg got it past the censors by making the female a Mount Rushmore-sized sculpture.

 

The alien blonde from January 1952 - you can tell she's alien by her eyebrows - may be a hero or villainess, or may be doing interpretive dance for all the clues the cover gives us. One thing for sure: she's from the future. It's not just the crop-top revealing the underside of her breasts, a fashion-forward statement suggesting she's a pop star from 2015, but the picture illustrates a story that, après some bizarre production screw-up, would not appear until the next issue in March. "The Tinkerer" has never been reprinted, even though - perhaps because - it was the third science fiction yarn sold by young S. A. Lombino, far more famous today as Evan Hunter and Ed McBain and unknown by his given name of Salvatore Albert Lombino. That's him again in the September 1952 issue, under the name Hunt Collins. He sold three novels to the Winston juvenile SF series, one as Hunter, two as Richard Marston. And in 1953 he was Ted Taine and D. A. Addams. SF was his third-string career, after mainstream fiction and mysteries, yet with four novels and 28 stories total in the 1950s he wrote more SF than some more famous names. No good parallel course for entering fiction exists in today's world. If he had started A Song of Fire and Ice, though, it would have been finished six times over.

Future Science Fiction is a footnote in the annals of both SF and exploitation, not outstanding for either one. The continuity from 1940s covers is obvious. Schomberg himself illustrated a run of covers for Startling Comics in the late 40s that included the scanty outfits, the blondeness, and the men in space suits that Lowndes could have reused with hardly any rework. One oddly fascinating detail is that 40s covers overwhelmingly featured women in red outfits and 50s covers did not. Another is that however imperiled the women might be, they almost always got posed in more active positions than the contemporary Limp Women of the 40s and 50s sci-fi movie poster fame. The dissimilarities are more numerous and interesting than the similarities. For whatever reasons, Lowndes switched to more standard men-in-space suit covers in mid-1954. The magazine alsostopped publication for a year shortly after that. That the change affected sales would be a logical conclusion, except that when the magazine resumed occasional publication in late 1955, the covers continued to resist any shows of flesh until about 1957. One possible explanation is the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency that made Fredric Wertham a household name. Those concentrated on comic books and gore, but sex was always simmering just below the surface. Conservative America edges toward puritanism every few years; the mid-50s were one such cycle.

 

A selection of the archetypal covers are given in the thumbnails below. Mouseover for date of publication and artist's name. The one above, under the title, is a detail from the June 1959 cover reprinted on the British edition, drawn by Virgil Finley, showing just how far this trend could be taken. At least she started out with a space suit.

EK

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