Horror, Fantasy and Science

Clark Ashton Smith

The Boiling Point

Only the hottest of controversies will be printed in this column—radical arguments that will bring your blood to "The Boiling Point." We start this department off by presenting one of the most blasphemous articles it has been our pleasure to read. It is by Forrest J. Ackerman, and he calls it

A Quarrel with Clark Ashton Smith

No doubt this will be the commencement of a lively discussion between the readers. It is the editor's intention to print the most interesting arguments on both sides of the case. I have this to say: it seems to me that Wonder Stories is going far afield when it takes such a horror story as Mr. Smith's "Dweller in Martian Depths" and, because it is laid on the Red Planet, prints it in a magazine of scientific fiction. Frankly, I could not find one redeeming feature about the story. Of course, everything doesn't have to have a moral. The thrilling scientifilm, "King Kong," for instance, has no moral to it—except, perhaps, to be careful of Fay Wray, if you are a great prehistoric ape—but it has a point at least: to interest. And "Dweller in Martian Depths" didn't interest me. I don't know, maybe it did others. But it disappointed me very greatly to find it in a scientifiction publication. In Weird Tales, all right. I don't like that type of story, I wouldn't read it there. I fail to find anything worth-while in an endless procession of ethereal lites, phantastic visions, ultra-mundane life, exotic paradises, airy vegetation, whispering flutes, ghastly plants, and dirge-like horrors. May the ink dry up in the pen from which they flow! Or, at least, Mr. Smith, direct those tales elsewhere—NOT to a stf publication, because I do like your science fiction like "Master of the Asteroid" and "Flight into Super Time." But "stuff" like "The Light from Beyond"

Well, let's hear from someone in favor.

Make "The Boiling Point" boil, you indignant fans. Don't let this guy Ackerman get away with it. Your replies will be published in this department. We would especially appreciate a reply from Mr. Smith himself in defense of his stories.

The Fantasy Fan, "The Boiling Point," September, 1933.

The Boiling Point

You will remember the terrific outburst Forrest J. Ackerman made upon Clark Ashton Smith's stories and weird tales in general in last month's column. Shortly after the issue went to press, we received the following postscript to his article which he requested to have printed at the beginning of this month's column.

I could as well pick on John Tame—a favorite author, mind you—for "The Time Machine" in Wonder Stories, another story considered doubtful science fiction. My only interest is to keep stf. in the stf. publications, and let fantasies and weird tales appear in the magazines featuring that type.

It is to be hoped that Mr. Smith will discover many of his admirers thru the writings of readers caring to present arguments.

It is only fair that Mr. Smith himself should have the first blow against Mr. Ackerman's argument, in defense of his own stories, lie calls (it)

Horror, Fantasy, and Science

Mr. Ackerman's fervent and ebullient denunciation of my stories, followed by Editor Hornig's invitation to join the melee, is not to be resisted.

I infer that Forrest J. Ackerman considers horror, weirdness and unearthliness beyond the bounds of science or science fiction. Since horror and weirdness are integral parts of life (as is well known to those Who have delved beneath the surface) and since, in all likelihood, the major portion of the universe is quite unearthly, I fail to understand the process of logic or syllogism by which he has arrived at this truly amazing proscription.

Let me recommend to Mr. Ackerman, and to others like him, a more scientifically open and receptive attitude of imagination. If Mr. Ackerman were transported to some alien world, I fear that he would find the reality far more incredible, bizarre, grotesque, fantastic, horrific, and impossible than any of my stories.

In regard to "The Light From Beyond," I cannot see that this tale is any more fantastic and unreal than others dealing with unknown dimensions or planes of hyper-space. Physical entry into such planes is impossible, but form an alluring theme for fictional speculation.

It is curious that Mr. Ackerman should profess to like 'Flight Into Super Time,' a story which is wilder, if anything, than the ones he has denounced. I might also add that it was written as a satire on time-travelling, and should not have been read too seriously.

Of course, it is Forrest Ackerman's privilege to dislike my stories, and to express his dislike whenever he chooses. I have merely tried to point out that he is in error when he condemns them as being inherently unsuitable for a scientifiction magazine.

At this point editor Charles Hornig printed part of a letter from H. P. Lovecraft in which Lovecraft defended CAS, saying that "Dweller in Martian Depths" was "really splendid, except for the cheap ending on which the Editor of Wonder Stories insisted."

The Fantasy Fan, "The Boiling Point," October, 1933.

Lovecraft also wrote in the November 1933 issue of Fantasy Fan ("The Boiling Point"), bitterly denouncing Forrest J. Ackerman. In the December 1933 and again in the January 1934 issues Ackerman responded, directing his attack not so much at CAS but rather at Lovecraft. Both Lovecraft's and Ackerman's letters contained rather personal attacks on each other.

In his January, 1934 letter, however, Ackerman did go so far as to say that since Weird Tales occasionally published science fiction, perhaps Wonder Stories should be allowed to publish weird tales. Also in December, 1933, was a letter from Donald Alexander in which he attacked CAS and Lovecraft for "descending to personalities" and concluded that "Smith, in my opinion, is a poor writer. his stories are all like the ravings of some fearfully diseased mind."

In the January 1934 issue Lovecraft again answered Ackerman by reminding him that his original attach on "Dweller in Martian Depths" was not based on whether or not the story was suitable for a science fiction magazine, but rather was an attack on the story itself.

Editor Hornig at this point decided the debate had gone far enough and was perhaps threatening to get out of hand; he served notice that the issue would be dropped after the February issue of FANTASY FAN. In that February issue, CAS —who had remained out of the most acrimonious part of the debate—publised a letter concerning Donald Alexander's charges.

Donald Alexander's letter caused me to reread carefully my own answer to Forrest Ackerman's epistolary critique. Since my one concern was to meet Mr. Ackerman's arguments on their own ground, I am puzzled by the assertion of Mr. Alexander that I made a fool of myself by descending to personalities. Off hand, I should have said that my letter was about as free of that sort of thing as it could conceivably have been. Perhaps there were a few mildly ironic touches; but certainly nothing of an insidious nature was implied or even intended. I do not think that any good purpose is ever served by abusive personalities. If my letter was derogatively personal, I really wonder how Mr. Alexander's should be classified.

Clark Ashton Smith

In the same issue was a brief note from August Derleth saying he was "squarely on Smith's side." The debate concluded with this note from Editor Charles Hornig:

We stated last month that the Smith-Ackerman debate would end in this issue-and so it has. Many of our readers have started to get bored with it—arid more than that, some ill—feeling has been aroused.

The Fantasy Fan is attempting to bind the lovers of science and weird fiction tighter together with friendship, and not to separate them thru dislike of each other's ideas. however, to take the place of "The Boiling Point" we are starting a new department next month entitled "Your Views." This will not contain any debates, but the opinions of you, the readers, on various subjects we will nominate.

Appendix from Planets and Dimensions Mirage Press 1973.

This long and complicated debate was carried on over a period of several months in THE FANTASY FAN in 1933-1934, a fan magazine edited by Charles B. Hornig. Other readers wrote in about the issues, but the main outlines of the argument are presented in the text. CAS's main interest was obviously the theoretical distinction between science fiction and fantasy; these aesthetic problems had preoccupied him much throughout 1933, as we have seen in his other essays immediately preceding this one.

The story that sparked the debate, "Dweller in Martian Depths," appeared in Wonder Stories in May, 1933, and was eventually collected in THE ABOMINATIONS OF YONDO (Ark- ham House, 1960). "Master of the Asteroid" appeared in the October, 1932 issue of Wonder Stories, and "Flight into Super Space" in the August, 1932 issue. The latter story was originally titled "The Letter from Mohaun Los" and appeared in LOST WORLDS (1944) under this title. "The Light From Beyond" was in Wonder Stories, April 1933, and appeared in LOST WORLDS.

After the debate had calmed down, in the April 1934 issue of THE FANTASY FAN, CAS wrote in the letters column ("Our Readers Say"): "I am sorry that the argument in 'The Boiling Point' has aroused any ill-feeling. Perhaps you are wise to discontinue the column and start one on a more abstract intellectual basis. Later on, I may have something to say on the problems broached for discussion."

Seven months later, in November 1934, Fantasy Fan published CAS's "something" in the form of the important essay, "On Fantasy."

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/nonfiction/21
Printed on: December 16, 2019