Robert F. Young –

Poet Laureate

of the Spaceways


 Welcome to the third volume in our series of new collections by the masters of science fiction and fantasy. The author of the stories in this volume never won a Hugo, never won a Nebula, was never named a Grand Master or Author Emeritus by SFWA and sadly may not even be a familiar name to many modern readers . . .

However, what Robert F. Young did do was compile an extremely impressive body of work in a career that spanned some thirty-four years and produced around one hundred and eighty stories, most of which were of an exceptionally high quality. During his lifetime, Young compiled two excellent collections, The Worlds of Robert F. Young and A Glass of Stars; a third collection, an e-book, was released posthumously. All three books are recommended without reservation.

To really appreciate what Robert F. Young meant to the field, one needs to look at the digest magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. Those decades saw the field sharply divided between the few authors who were able to turn out novels for the major publishing houses (Asimov, Heinlein, & Clarke, to name the “Big Three”), and those who still worked producing the field’s classic form, the short story or novelette . . . While there weren’t quite as many markets as there had been in the glory days of the pulps, the 1950s had a plethora of markets ranging from pulps reborn as digests such as Astounding & Amazing to newcomers such as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy, If, Imagination and many others . . .

When the decade of the 1960s rolled around a third group was added, those who could reliably produce novellas or novels for publication as paperback originals. However, it is with the authors of the short story for the digest magazines that we are primarily concerned with here, as Robert F. Young never attempted to make the transition to grinding out novellas for the ACE Doubles or their competitors. Until very late in life he stuck with what he did best, short fiction for the magazine markets.

To give you an idea of just how omnipresent Young was in the 1950s, consider this . . . The contents of this volume are from just one magazine and selected from the period of August 1958 to October 1963 and exempting stories that previously appeared in either A Glass of Stars or The Worlds of Robert F. Young.  Generally speaking, when I prepare a collection of this type I try and show as wide a range of an author’s work as possible, covering all stages of the subject’s career and as many of their markets as possible. In this case, I’ve done just the opposite, as there’s a particular flavor to the tales Young wrote for editor Cele Goldsmith at Fantastic that sets this body of work apart in tone if nothing else.

Young was prolific enough that if sales warrant additional collections (and I have every reason to believe that they will), I will likely continue this approach as his work for Galaxy and If strikes a different note than his stories for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and his tales from Fantastic Universe are quite different from those in his first regular market, Startling Stories. All told, it would be easy to see an additional five to six volumes of Young’s short fiction collected.

I’ve been a fan of Young’s work for many, many years (this was a relatively easy volume to assemble, as in my collection there are several authors whose magazine appearances I collect, and my RFY collection takes up two very large boxes. It was primarily a matter of deciding how to tackle the project thematically as opposed to having to chase down material. Out of the 180 stories, I probably have 160 or more close to hand; the only other authors that I’m that complete on are Jack Vance, Harlan Ellison, Richard Wilson, Cleve Cartmill, Malcolm Jameson, Clifford D. Simak, and Daniel F. Galouye.) Oddly enough, I never got to meet the author.

Young lived on the east coast and while I have traveled to conventions on the east coast a few times, I never happened to attend a convention where Young was present. He would certainly have been someone I’d have been very interested in talking to . . . If for nothing else, an answer to the question as to how he came to be included in Joseph Payne Brennan’s little magazine Macabre back in 1958. For those unfamiliar with the publication, Macabre was Brennan’s heroic effort to keep the spirit of Weird Tales alive and maintained a tiny circulation with the number of contributors other than Mr. Brennan himself a select group that could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Mr. Young’s piece is certainly not one of his major works, but is definitely a pleasant addition to Brennan’s magazine and is curious by its very presence there. The story appears at a curious point in time in Young’s career. Throughout most the 1950s he averaged at least seven stories a year, 1958 saw the publication of only three. By the next year he was back in form with eleven stories published.

Why the downturn in activity and the sudden rebound? Two questions that I’ll never get to ask . . . We do know that Robert F. Young never counted on writing as his primary source of income. Even with his prodigious output in the 1950s, one couldn’t feed a family on the income garnered from even two-dozen stories a year. To my knowledge, Young had a regular if unglamorous job as a janitor, which paid the bills and allowed him plenty of time in his off hours to focus on writing.

Perhaps the most intriguing question about Robert F. Young as a writer is why he was so seemingly well loved by editors and seemingly overlooked by fandom in general. The answers seem to be pretty straightforward when one considers the timeframe and the type of material Young specialized in. While the stories in this volume are all from one source, they are not atypical of Young’s work in that even those pieces that utilize all the tropes of science fiction are more aligned with what we would characterize as “fantasies”. If one is looking for hard science fiction, the stories of Robert F. Young are not going to yield much . . .

During his most active decades, the stories that were nominated for or won Hugos or Nebulas were almost without exception from the hard sf side of things. In fact, when Robert Bloch copped the Hugo for “That Hell-bound Train”, there was a pretty loud outcry from fans that felt that the Hugo was permanently tarnished by a fantasy winning the award. During the time-frame that Young was at his most active, stories that could be characterized as “science fantasies” or outright fantasies just simply did not win the genre’s major awards. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s and the advent of the “New Wave” that the awards began to reflect a wider acceptance of all types of imaginative fiction. I can’t point to a specific Young story and say “This should have won the Hugo!”, but I can (and will) suggest that had Young come along two decades later he would have been a perennial contender and certainly would have figured on regular inclusion in the various “Year’s Best” anthologies.

There’s also the matter of not having a major (or any) novel to his credit until late in his career. An examination of the Hugo winners during the 1950s certainly shows a predilection to bestowing the award on authors who also wrote in the long form. Perhaps it’s the name familiarity attached to the novel writers, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and the one-man explosion of talent named Harlan Ellison that authors who specialized in the short form and eschewed writing longer fiction really began to get recognized. In short, Robert F. Young wrote the sort of fiction that the editors were glad to purchase and (sadly) wrote the sort of fiction that the fans of the time tended to ignore. 

What Robert F. Young did best (as this collection should serve to demonstrate) was to author a type of fantasy that more than anything else was the author’s own attempt at myth-making, myth-making with the voice of a poet. Magazine fiction within the genre of imaginative literature has had numerous bright spots over the years . . . We can look to John W. Campbell’s Unknown as perhaps the best pure fantasy magazine on an issue-by-issue basis with H.L. Gold’s Beyond not being far behind . . . For longevity and consistent excellence, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has been remarkable both in terms of longevity and quality . . .

And for me, the Cele Goldsmith issues of Fantastic were always something special . . . You knew that you were getting a magazine that would be predominantly fantasy fiction, but there was always something surprising . . . To me that’s really the hallmark of a great fiction magazine, the editor knowing the readership well enough to find stories that will be enjoyed, but even more importantly, the ability to surprise the same readers by finding a story that would not only fit the basic parameters of the magazine, but a story that would genuinely surprise the reader. A story that would make you realize that the magazine you had in your hand was something special and that the story that you had just read would likely have not appeared anywhere else . . . During the years from 1958 to 1963 often as not that story was by Robert F. Young . . . Here are nine such tales that struck me as special many years ago; hopefully you’ll find the same magic in them as I did. 



John Pelan

Somewhere Close to Area 51

August 2011