From April 4, 2014 through June 15, 2014, PulpFest serialized an article written by Mike Chomko that presented a history of magazine science fiction. The essay was broken down into 21 segments that were posted every few days to the convention’s website until the entire work had appeared. The unabridged version of Mike’s article was published in The Pulpster #23, available through our Program Book page. Reproduced below is the serialized version of “Science Fiction and the Pulps: A Genre Evolves.”
To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.
The Origins of Science Fiction
Way back in 1939, a sudden blossoming of magazine science fiction and fantasy occurred. Following the introduction of Startling Stories at the end of 1938, no less than eight pulps featuring fantastic fiction debuted in the next year–Dynamic Science Stories, Strange Stories, Science Fiction, Unknown, Fantastic Adventures, Future Fiction, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and Planet Stories. Additionally, three other science-fiction pulps were in preparation during 1939–Astonishing Stories, Captain Future, and Super Science Stories–and the first World Science Fiction Convention was held in New York City, home to the World’s Fair and its “World of Tomorrow” theme.
Over at Astounding Stories, editor John Wood Campbell was publishing the first science-fiction stories of Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. Van Vogt, as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for the magazine and Hubert Rogers’ first cover. With his growing stable of writers and artists, Campbell was ushering in what would become known as the Golden Age of Science Fiction. But from whence did the genre come?
Although science fiction can trace its roots to such imaginary voyages, satires, and utopias as Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis(1626), Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634), Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638), Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and other works, most modern scholars point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, originally published in 1818, as the first science-fiction novel. In the years that followed the publication of this important work of both Gothic horror and science fiction, an increasing amount of fiction, once the province of books, found its way into magazines.
It was in periodicals that Edgar Allan Poe, best remembered for his horror and mystery tales, introduced logic and science to explain elements of the fantastic. Beginning with “Ms. Found in a Bottle” (1833), a story involving a sinking ship caught in a whirlpool leading toward the earth’s interior, Poe introduced science fiction to the short story. In the remaining sixteen years of his life, the author would periodically return to the genre in tales featuring trips to the Moon, new species, the death of the human race, the transmutation of lead into gold, and more.
When Poe died in 1849, the strength of his stories kept them fresh and alive, inspiring authors the world over. One of these was Jules Verne who introduced “precise, scientific details” into his own writing, culminating in his first great triumph, Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863). Encouraged by the novel’s great success, the story’s original publisher, Pierre Hetzel, contracted the author to produce two novels each year for the next twenty years to run in a new periodical. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869-70), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), and Off on a Comet (1877) are just some of the masterpieces of science fiction penned by this master of the genre.
As the century progressed and Europe and North America became increasingly industrialized, magazines began to reach a much wider, sometimes national, audience. Blackwood’s Magazine, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Atlantic Monthly,Scribner’s Monthly, and others emerged, publishing the fiction of Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Fitz-James O’Brien, and others. The dime novels, penny-dreadfuls, and story papers also emerged during these years, offering tales of derring-do to a growing juvenile audience. It was here that the “American Jules Verne,” Luis Senarens, developed the Frank Reade, Jr. series that featured steam-powered contraptions in exciting adventure yarns.
Still to come are H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle and The Strand Magazine, H. G. Wells and Pearson’s, Munsey’s and The Argosy and George Allan England. We’ll discuss these and more as we continue our examination of the offspring of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – the fantastic magazines of Europe and the United States where science fiction and fantasy evolved as genres.
Prelude to the Pulps
As we learned in our previous post, “Origins of Science Fiction,” magazines began to reach a much wider audience as Europe and America became more industrialized. Increasingly urban and literate societies required cheap, entertaining, and easily accessible entertainment to escape the drudgery of the mills and offices. Since magazines could be produced cheaply and in a timely fashion, the last quarter of the nineteenth century became “The Age of the Storytellers.” Beginning around 1880, when Robert Louis Stevenson started to publish his first works of fiction, the world would witness the birth of the popular fiction magazine as well as the pulp magazine.
Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” first serialized in 1881-82, helped to provide the spark for other authors to try their hand at similar fiction. Works such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines(1885), “She” (1886), and “Allan Quatermain” (1887), as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” (1887) demonstrated the need for an inexpensive, popular fiction magazine to be published on a regular basis. Shortly after Christmas in 1890, the first of these—The Strand Magazine—was launched by George Newnes. Filled with illustrations, the periodical really took off during the summer of 1891 with the start of Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” introducing one of the most successful continuing character series of all time.
With the success of The Strand Magazine came a host of imitators, among them Pearson’s Magazine. It debuted in late 1895 and soon became one of the leading publishers of magazine science fiction, featuring the future war stories of George Griffith and the scientific romances of Herbert George Wells. “The War of the Worlds” and “The Invisible Man,” both originally published in Pearson’s in 1897, are still enjoyed today, over a century after their initial appearances. Educated in the sciences as well as a literary genius, Wells’ mastery of both science and fiction was readily apparent. His later science fiction, including “The First Men in the Moon” (1900-1901) and “The Country of the Blind “1904), would run in The Strand.
In our next installment, we’ll turn our attention across the pond where an American entrepreneur named Frank A. Munsey was busy turning a struggling magazine into the first American all-fiction magazine.
A Magazine for the Common Man
We have seen that the popular British fiction magazines were modeled after the illustrated periodicals of America. However, unlike their British counterparts, Harper’s, Scribner’s, and Century — the leading American magazines of the late nineteenth century — were beyond the financial and the intellectual reach of the average U. S. citizen.
It was left to Frank A. Munsey–a man about whom it has been suggested, “contributed to the journalism of his day the talent of a meat packer, the morals of a money changer and the manner of an undertaker”–to deliver the first American periodical specifically intended for the common man. In his own words, Munsey decided to create “a magazine of the people and for the people, with pictures and art and good cheer and human interest throughout.”
Frank Munsey was born in Maine where he became interested in publishing. With minimal funds, he traveled to New York City and founded The Golden Argosy, a children’s weekly, in late 1882. Working largely on credit, he struggled for years, building his circulation through advertising and sheer determination. Deciding that the future lay in the adult market, he founded Munsey’s Weekly in 1889, soon converting it to Munsey’s Magazine. In 1893, convinced that a magazine could only be successful if the price was right, he slashed the price of Munsey’s to a dime and marketed it directly to newsdealers, essentially cutting out the middle man.
As the circulation of Munsey’s climbed to hundreds of thousands of copies, the publisher converted The Argosy to an adult magazine, similarly priced and modeled after it’s brethren. Envisioning a new kind of magazine, Frank Munsey wrote, “We want stories . . . . not dialect sketches, not washed out studies of effete human nature, not weak tales of sickly sentimentality, no ‘pretty’ writing . . . . We do want fiction in which there is a story, a force, a tale that means something–in short a story. Good writing is as common as clam shells, while good stories are as rare as statesmanship.”
In October 1896, The Argosy became the first all-fiction magazine. Two months later in a cost-cutting move, it began to be printed on the wood-pulp paper he used for his daily newspaper and the rough-paper fiction magazine, or pulp, was born.
The Munsey Magazines
Shortly after The Argosy had been converted to the first all-fiction magazine in 1896, and not long thereafter the first pulp magazine, its circulation had doubled to about 80,000 copies per issue. By 1907, the year the periodical celebrated its 25th anniversary, its circulation had reached a half million copies, earning its publisher about $300,000 per year.
From its beginning, The Argosy made a home for fantastic fiction, reprinting “Citizen 504,” a dystopian short story written by Charles H. Palmer, in the December 1896 issue. Other reprints, from a variety of sources would follow. As the century turned, original fiction of a fantastic nature began to appear in The Argosy, including works by Jared L. Fuller, Park Winthrop, and longtime dime novelist William Wallace Cook. Edgar Franklin Stearns also began to contribute his humorous fantasies concerning off-beat contraptions to the magazine.
As its readership grew, The Argosy was bound to attract some imitators. Street & Smith, the longtime publisher of dime novels and story papers, was first to meet the call, debuting The Popular Magazine with its November 1903 issue. As the circulation of the new magazine grew, it became apparent to Frank Munsey that there was room on the newsstand for more than one pulp. At the end of 1904, the publisher debuted The All-Story Magazine.
More than any other periodical prior to the introduction of the specialized science-fiction and fantasy pulps, The All-Story became the major repository for the “different” tale or the pseudo-scientific yarn. It was soon joined by other Munsey magazines–The Scrap Book and The Railroad Man’s Magazine (both 1906),The Ocean/The Live Wire (1907), andThe Cavalier (1908). All of these, The Cavalier in particular, published fantastic fiction. However, it was all but a prelude to the serial novel that would begin in the February 1912 issue of The All-Story– “Under the Moons of Mars”–credited to Norman Bean.
Bean’s novel—the first published fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs—would introduce John Carter of Mars to readers. It would soon be followed by the author’s “Tarzan of the Apes,” published in its entirety in the October 1912 issue of The All-Story. These two novels, along with the pseudo-scientific works of H. G. Wells and his American disciple, George Allan England, would serve as templates for much of the science fiction written over the next twenty-five years, generating a type of fiction best known as “the scientific romance.” The Munsey chain in particular worked to develop this school of fiction, creating a stable of writers–Ray Cummings, J. U. Geisy, Victor Rousseau, Francis Stevens, Charles B. Stilson, and the best of all, Abraham Merritt–able to contribute such stories.
Although the fiction of Burroughs and Wells and those “inspired” by their work would remain popular for some time to come, its share of the pulp market would diminish as new magazines began to arrive on the scene. Beginning with Adventure Magazine, introduced by the Ridgway Company in 1910, these specialized pulps lessened the attraction of the general fiction magazines for those who enjoyed a certain type of story–mystery, romance, western, or straight adventure. In not too many years, the fantasy and science-fiction fan would likewise be served.
The Unique Magazine
Weird Tales was the first periodical specifically devoted to the fantasy genre. Premiering in early 1923, its publishers envisioned “The Unique Magazine” as a place for a writer to be given “free rein to express his innermost feelings in a manner befitting great literature.” In reality, the early issues of the pulp were filled with ghost stories, the choice of the magazine’s editor, Edwin Baird. Far more interested in Rural’s Real Detective and Mystery Stories, Baird had little interest in fantasy.
Weird Tales came into its own in late 1924 when Farnsworth Wright was named the magazine’s editor. In the years ahead, the pulp would become known for its fantasy and supernatural fiction, publishing the work of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Later issues would feature substantial efforts by Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Carl Jacobi, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman, and others. Weird Tales would likewise become noted for its artists. Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, Lee Brown Coye, and Virgil Finlay all contributed greatly to the fantasy art field through their work for “The Unique Magazine.”
In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, Weird Tales, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages, offering tales of interplanetary expeditions, brain transference, death rays, lost races, parallel worlds, and more. Edmond Hamilton was its leading contributor of science fiction. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction in Weird Tales included work by Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Donald Wandrei, and Jack Williamson. In his later years, H. P. Lovecraft spun his own style of science fiction in his tales of cosmic horror.
Although science fiction was frequently found in its pages—particularly during its early years—Weird Tales was not the first science-fiction pulp. That was left for Hugo Gernsback, an immigrant from Luxembourg, to develop.
The original run of Weird Tales began with its March 1923 number and ran through its September 1954 issue, for a total of 279 issues. Edwin Baird, Farnsworth Wright, and Dorothy McIlwraith (beginning in May 1940) were its editors. It was revived in 1973-74 for four issues, edited by Sam Moskowitz. A paperback series lasting four more issues, edited by Lin Carter, appeared from 1981-1983. The magazine was revived in 1988 by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and John Gregory Betancourt and has, more or less, been published on a continuous basis since that time. At this writing, the 361st issue had been released. It is currently published by John Harlacher with Marvin Kaye serving as editor. For more details, visit the magazine’s website at http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/.
Science and Invention
Called “The Barnum of the Space Age” by Life magazine in 1963, Hugo Gernsback emigrated to the United States in 1904. Soon thereafter, he founded a company to import electrical equipment and began producing a catalog. By 1908, Gernsback’s catalog had evolved into his first magazine,Modern Electrics, selling for ten cents. Three years later, his magazine began to publish fiction, serializing Gernsback’s novel about one of the leading scientists of the year 2660, “Ralph 124C 41+.” Considered to be one of the worst novels published in the history of science fiction, Gernsback’s tale must have struck a cord with readers. Not long after its conclusion in the March 1912 Modern Electrics, fiction became a regular feature in the magazine’s pages and subsequent Gernsback releases.
In the spring of 1913, Gernsback began publishing a new science periodical, The Electrical Experimenter. Before long, the magazine was serializing its publisher’s “Baron Münchhausen’s New Scientific Adventures,” a series of fictitious tales set on Mars, the Moon, and elsewhere. These were soon joined by George Frederic Stratton’s stories about an entrepreneur who invested in a variety of intriguing inventions, Thomas Benson’s “Wireless Wiz” yarns, and Charles S. Wolfe’s stories about a scientific detective named Joe Fenner. With its August 1920 number, The Electrical Experimenter was renamedScience and Invention and fiction became a larger portion of its contents. The fiction that Gernsback published in his science magazines generally revolved around a scientific principle. Clement Fezandié’s Doctor Hackensaw stories forScience and Invention are prime examples of this type of story.
In early 1923, perhaps in an effort to boost circulation ofScience and Invention or to test the waters in the growing market for specialized fiction magazines, Gernsback began publishing more stories and fiction that was meant to entertain including works by H. G. Wells, George Allan England, and Ray Cummings. Later that same year, Gernsback released a “Scientific Fiction Number” of his science magazine. The August 1923 issue of Science and Invention featured six “scientifiction” stories. It would not be long before Hugo Gernsback would found the first science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories.
Modern Electrics became a magazine in April 1908. It was published by Hugo Gernsback until he sold it in 1913. The last Gernsback issue was dated March 1913.
Gernsback launched The Electrical Experimenter with its May 1913 number. Its title was changed to Science and Invention with its August 1920 issue. The last Gernsback issue was dated April 1929 when Gernsback lost control of the magazine following bankruptcy proceedings filed against his publishing company.
It was hard to miss the first issue ofAmazing Stories on the newsstand. Letter-size, larger than the typical pulp magazine, with three-dimensional block letters trailing across its masthead and a bright yellow backdrop that framed an alien landscape and a bright red, ringed planet and small moon, the magazine certainly stood out on the sales rack. Frank R. Paul was the artist.
The names on the front cover of the magazine’s early issues were also major selling points: Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Garrett P. Serviss, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and others. It was just as Gernsback wrote in his editorial for the pulp’s first issue: “By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” That is what the readers of Amazing Stories sought: “They wanted to be entertained, to escape, to experience that sense of wonder that good visionary fiction brought.” (The Time Machines).
Using stories drawn from the Munsey magazines, Blue Book,The Strand, and other sources, Gernsback offered reprints of science-fiction classics, eventually coupling these with new stories generated through contests. Using such competitions, Gernsback began to acquire a stable of new writers willing and able to write scientifiction: Miles J. Breur, Clare Winger Harris, David H. Keller, S. P. Meek, H. Hyatt Verrill, Harl Vincent, and others. Through his letter column, entitled “Discussions,” he reeled his readers into his world of wonder.
Within months, the new specialty magazine was selling over 100,000 copies of each issue. In establishing the first specialized science-fiction magazine, Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder, shared by lonely individuals prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.” Next would come Amazing Stories Annual, published in the summer of 1927 and featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Mastermind of Mars. Amazing Stories Quarterly followed in the winter of 1928. Then, in the August 1928 number of Amazing Stories, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon—2419 AD,” the first tale to feature Buck Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning it into “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”
Despite its seeming success, the Gernsback publishing empire continuously experienced cash flow problems. Plowing money into his radio interests and paying an extremely hefty salary to both himself and his brother, Gernsback offered generally low word rates for stories. Coupled with a slow payment schedule, often months after a story had been published, very few authors were interested in writing for the company. In early 1929, Gernsback’s printer and paper supplier demanded payment on past due bills, leading the publisher to file for bankruptcy. Experimenter Publishing Company, went into receivership, ending Hugo Gernsback’s involvement with the first science-fiction pulp, Amazing Stories.
Hugo Gernsback edited and published Amazing Stories from April 1926 through April 1929. Afterward, T. O’Conor Sloane, who had assisted Gernsback from the start, became the magazine’s editor until the April 1938 issue. Sloane was far from being a visionary; he thought space travel was impossible.
Sloane and Gernsback were also the editors of Amazing Stories Quarterly. The latter helmed the magazine from Winter 1928 through Spring 1929. Sloane edited the magazine from Summer 1929 through Fall 1934, its final issue. Later quarterlies, published by Ziff-Davis, were rebound issues of Amazing Stories and not a separate magazine.
Ziff-Davis took over the magazine with its April 1938 number and Ray Palmer as editor. The new editor turned Amazing Stories into a juvenile magazine, establishing a stable of authors to write fiction aimed at the youth market. Toward the end of his editorial reign, Palmer started “The Shaver Mystery,” a hoax involving an evil race that causes all of mankind’s problems from their home in underground caverns. Palmer’s last issue was dated December 1949. In later years, he became involved with UFOs and similar topics, publishing Fate magazine.
Howard Browne, a Palmer assistant, assumed the editorship in January 1950. Primarily interested in mystery fiction, Browne nevertheless turned Amazing Stories around, directing it toward an adult audience. It became a digest magazine with its April/May 1953 issue. Browne left the magazine following its August 1956 number. He was succeeded by Paul Fairman and the talented Cele Goldsmith. Ms. Goldsmith managed the magazine from March 1957 through June 1965, during which time it garnered a great deal of respect.
The Ultimate Publishing company, headed by Sol Cohen, began publishing the magazine with its August 1965 issue. Joseph Wrzos was its first editor, followed by Harry Harrison, Barry Malzberg, Ted White, and Elinor Mavor. The magazine was acquired by TSR Hobbies in March 1982, with Mavor temporarily serving as editor. George Scithers became the editor with the November 1982 issue. Later editors included Patrick Price, Kim Mohan, and Jeff Berkwits. Its last issue was published in March 2005 with Paizo Publishing in charge.
In July 2012, longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson revived Amazing Stories as an online magazine. You can find it at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/.
From 1985-1987, NBC television ran an anthology series called Amazing Stories. It was created by Steven Spielberg.
The Sense of Wonder (Stories)
Soon after losing his small publishing empire to bankruptcy, Hugo Gernsback was back in the publishing business. Within months, he had returned to the stands with a pair of science-fiction magazines–Science Wonder Storiesand Air Wonder Stories. Using stories from the Amazing Stories pipeline, Gernsback debuted his new letter-sized periodicals in the spring of 1929.
The new Gernsback magazines were edited by David Lasser. A former technical writer and graduate of MIT, Lasser believed, “If Wonder Stories was to amount to anything, we had to do better . . . . we had to lift the quality of the stories. We needed more imagination in the stories, we needed a sound scientific basis, and since these were appealing mainly to young people, there should also be a socially useful theme to inspire the readers.”
Although Hugo Gernsback had final say on the make-up of each issue, Lasser (and Charles D. Hornig after him) was largely responsible for story selection. He did not hesitate to ask for revisions or share story ideas with writers. Nevertheless, largely due to Gernsback’s reluctance to pay more than one-half cent a word and his tendency to withhold payment to his writers until legal action was threatened, both Lasser and his successor were hard-pressed to acquire exceptional works of fiction.
Despite their handicap, both Lasser and Hornig were able to publish a fair number of inventive stories, often the work of new writers who, after apprenticing with the Gernsback magazines, went elsewhere to further their reputations. Eando Binder, Raymond Z. Gallun, Laurence Manning, P. Schuyler Miller, Nat Schachner, Clifford Simak, Leslie F. Stone, Charles R. Tanner, Stanley Weinbaum, and Arthur Leo Zagat are some of the writers whose early science fiction can be found in the pages of the Wonder magazines. More established writers such as Edmond Hamilton, David H. Keller, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Williamson also appeared regularly in Gernsback’s science-fiction line.
In addition to introducing readers to the work of some of the leading practitioners of early science fiction, Wonder Storiesalso helped early science-fiction fans to realize that they were not alone in the world. Through its letter column and “Science Fiction League,” organized by Charles Hornig during his editorial reign, readers began to reach out to one another, organizing clubs and societies to foster interest in science and science fiction. Some of these groups are still functioning today.
Perhaps if it had not been introduced just a few months before the stock market crash of October 1929, Gernsback’s Wonder group would have met with larger success. The shaky economy, combined with bad distribution and Hugo Gernsback’s financial reputation, led to the cancellation of one magazine after another. The first to end was Air Wonder Stories, dropped after eleven issues. The last to go was Wonder Stories. It ran for 78 issues as a “Gernsback Publication.”
Hugo Gernsback’s “Wonder Group” featured four magazines. Science Wonder Stories was the first, debuting with its June 1929 number. Air Wonder Stories appeared one month later, lasting through its issue dated May 1930. It was then “combined” with Science Wonder to form Wonder Stories.
Scientific Detective Monthly was introduced in December 1929. Later retitled Amazing Detective Tales, it was sold to another publisher after ten issues.
Science Wonder Stories Quarterly–retitled Wonder Stories Quarterly with its Summer 1930 issue–was canceled after the Winter 1933 number. It had debuted in the fall of 1929 and ran for fourteen issues.
The final issue of Wonder Stories was dated April 1936. Sold to Standard Magazines, it returned to the stands as Thrilling Wonder Stories in July 1936. Edited by Mort Weisinger, it published pulp action-adventure stories aimed at the juvenile market. With its Winter 1945 issue, Sam Merwin became the editor and the magazine began to take on a more adult slant. He was followed by Samuel Mines in late 1951 and Alexander Samalman in the fall of 1954. The magazine was canceled following its 111th issue, dated Winter 1955. In 2007, it was revived for two additional issues published and edited by Winston Engle.
In the early fifties, Standard issued a Wonder Story Annual, a reprint magazine that ran for four issues.
Following the loss of Wonder Stories, Hugo Gernsback made two curtain calls in the world of science-fiction publishing. The first was Superworld Comics, a comic book he published in 1940. It lasted for three issues. His last bow came in 1953 when he released Science-Fiction Plus, a slick magazine that ran for seven issues. It was edited by Sam Moskowitz.
Stories of Super Science
Except for scattered stories in the general-fiction pulps, Hugo Gernsback monopolized the early science-fiction market. This came to an end in late 1929 when Clayton Magazines, publisher of All Star Detective Stories, Clues, Cowboy Stories, Five-Novels Monthly, Flyers, Ranch Romances, and other pulps, jumped into the fray with Astounding Stories of Super-Science.
The brainchild of Harry Bates, editor of Clayton’s Wide World Adventures, the new magazine was meant to entertain rather than educate. “Astounding. As a name it lacked dignity, but no matter: it was gutsy and would compel attention, and it generally resembled Amazing and could be counted on to attract the eye of that magazine’s readers while pleasantly promising others that the stories would stun them.”
Alva Rogers writes in A Requiem for Astounding: “Astounding was unabashedly an action adventure magazine and made no pretense of trying to present science in a sugar-coated form as did, to some extent, the other two magazines. The amount of science found in its pages was minimal–just enough to support the action and little more. Lessons in science could be obtained in school or in text books; driving action and heroic adventure was what the reader of Astounding wanted. Interplanetary wars and space battles, hideous and menacing Bug Eyed Monsters . . . the courage, ingenuity and brains of a sngle puny man, or small group of men, pitted against the terrible might and overwhelming scientific knowledge of extraterrestrial aliens–with defeat the inevitable fate of the invaders: that was what set the reader’s pulse pounding. That was the type of story he could identify with, become the hero of. Action was the hallmark of Astounding Stories of Super-Science.”
The Clayton Astounding would run for 34 issues, its end brought on by William Clayton’s decision to buy out his business partner. Although the continuing economic depression certainly contributed to the publisher’s demise, his inability to raise enough funds to pay off his associate proved to be the Clayton Magazines ultimate downfall. Astounding Stories was cancelled following its March 1933 number, the result of a poor business decision.
Beginning in 1931, Clayton also put out seven issues of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. Also edited by Harry Bates, Strange Tales was a direct competitor to Weird Tales. By paying its authors two cents a word, a rate that Weird Tales could not match, Bates was able to attract some of the leading contributors from “The Unique Magazine.” Although many fine stories appeared in Strange Tales, Jack Williamson’s short novel, “Wolves of Darkness,” and Hugh B. Cave’s “Murgunstrumm,” are perhaps the most notable works to run in the short-lived magazine.
Like Astounding, Clayton’s Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror was canceled in 1933. Between 2003 and 2007, it was revived for three additional issues by Wildside Press.
Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, published by former Clayton editor Harold Hersey, also appeared in 1931. Lasting just two issues, this science-fiction pulp published nothing of lasting significance.
An Astounding Resurrection
Like Hugo Gernsback had done before it, the demise of Astounding Stories was shortlived. Sold to Street & Smith, the powerhouse publisher of The Shadow, Wild West Weekly, Love Story Magazine,and other pulps, the magazine was back on the racks in September 1933. The newAstounding Stories was edited by F. Orlin Tremaine who seemed to have great faith in the future of science fiction.
Mirroring Harry Bate’s ability to offer more money to his writers and pay rapidly, Tremaine worked to improve the literary quality of the fiction that he published. He challenged his writers to think outside the box, asking them to explore new ideas through what he called “thought variant” stories. Aided by his assistant editors, Desmond Hall and, later, John W. Campbell, Tremaine hoped to diminish the literary bias against science fiction by publishing unusual works by the best science-fiction writers of the 1930s—Campbell, L. Sprague DeCamp, Raymond Z. Gallun, Murray Leinster, Frank Belknap Long, H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, Ross Rocklynne, Eric Frank Russell, Nat Schachner, E. E. Smith, Don A. Stuart, John Taine, Donald Wandrei, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, and others.
After publishing such classic works of science fiction as John W. Campbell’s “The Mightiest Machine,” Raymond Z. Gallun’s “Old Faithful,” Murray Leinster’s “Sidewise in Time,” H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Colour Out of Time,” E. E. Smith’s “The Skylark of Valeron” and “Galactic Patrol,” Don A. Stuart’s “Twilight,” ” Stanley Weinbaum’s “The Red Peri,” and Jack Williamson’s “The Legion of Space,” Tremaine became an editorial director at Street & Smith. Although the best years of the magazine were yet to come, Tremaine had transformed Astounding Stories into the leading magazine in the science-fiction field. There it would stay for at least the next three decades.
Hired by Street & Smith in 1937, John W. Campbell became the editor of Astounding Stories upon the promotion of F. Orlin Tremaine. Writing under his own name and several pseudonyms, Campbell was one of the leading science-fiction writers of the 1930s. His story “Twilight,” published in the November 1934 Astounding under the Don A. Stuart pen name, is considered a science-fiction classic.
While he worked through a backlog of stories purchased by his predecessor, Campbell began making changes to the magazine, or “mutations,” as he called them. The first major “mutation” came with the March 1938 issue when the magazine became known as Astounding Science-Fiction.
Wanting to create a science-fiction magazine for mature readers, Campbell asked his authors to provide readers with “new worlds that science might offer.” Writers, both new and old, began to respond: Lester Del Rey with “The Faithful” and “Helen O’Loy;” Jack Williamson with “The Legion of Time;” and L. Ron Hubbard with “The Tramp.” Campbell himself joined in with “Who Goes There,” as did Clifford D. Simak, who had left the field, and new writers L. Sprague de Camp and Eric Frank Russell. Seasoned professionals such as Arthur J. Burks, Raymond Z. Gallun, and Manly Wade Wellman also joined in.
But Campbell had merely been tilling the soil in 1938, preparing it for the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden Age in 1939. The stage was set when the February 1939 Astounding Science-Fiction featured the magazine’s first cover by Hubert Rogers. A free lance illustrator long associated with Adventure, Rogers would eventually paint nearly sixty covers for Campbell’s Astounding.
Although the outpouring of exceptional fiction continued in the new year with stories such as Simak’s “Cosmic Engineers” and Williamson’s “One Against the Legion,” it is the July 1939 issue that is cited most often as the start of the Golden Age ofAstounding and in turn, of science fiction. Behind a very effective cover by artist Graves Gladney, the reader would find the first prose fiction by A. E. van Vogt as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for Campbell’s magazine. August’s and September’s issues continued the trend with the first stories of Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon appearing in the magazine. October’s number began the serialization of E. E. Smith’s “Gray Lensman,” along with another tale by Heinlein.
The forties brought with them the flowering of Robert Heinlein with stories such as “The Roads Must Roll,” “Blowups Happen,” “Universe,” and “Methuselah’s Children,” all published under his own name, and “Sixth Column,” “By His Bootstraps,” and “Beyond this Horizon,” published under the his Anson McDonald pseudonym. Isaac Asimov began to be heard with works such as “Nightfall” and the first stories of his robot and “Foundation” series. A. E. van Vogt contributed “Slan” and began the “Weapon Shops” tales. And L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout,” serialized in 1940, caused a substantial stir.
As the decade wore on, World War II began to effectAstounding as Campbell’s writers were pulled away to help with the war effort. Others however, emerged to take their place. Writing as Lewis Padgett, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore contributed such tales as “The Twonky” and “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” while Jack Williamson, writing as Will Stewart, began the “Seetee” series. Lester del Rey’s “Nerves” became one of the most popular stories published in 1942 while Fritz Leiber’s “Gather Darkness” and C. L. Moore’s “Judgment Night” were two of the best to appear in 1943. Hal Clement, Raymond F. Jones, and George O. Smith all began writing for Campbell during this period and Murray Leinster returned toAstounding. The magazine itself also went through a couple of changes during this time, becoming letter-sized at the start of 1942 and a digest at the end of 1943.
Although Astounding Science-Fiction would continue to publish outstanding works of science fiction throughout the war and for many years to come, the magazine’s and science fiction’s golden luster began to diminish as the years wore on. As the fifties began, it became increasingly apparent that Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had become the leading lights of magazine science fiction. Although John Campbell would win eight Hugo Awards for best editor between 1952 and 1965, his age was past.
In 1960, Astounding was renamedAstounding/Analog Science Fact & Fiction. The “Astounding” was dropped from the title with the October 1960 number when it became known as Analog Science Fact-Fiction. It has survived into the present time using some sort of variation on that title. John Campbell continued to edit Astounding/Analoguntil his death in July 1971. He was succeeded as editor, first by Ben Bova, and later by Stanley Schmidt and Trevor Quachri. The magazine was sold to Davis Publications in 1980 and Dell Magazines in 1992, the company that publishes it today.
Science Fiction, the Marvel Way
By the summer of 1938, the science-fiction genre seemed to be flourishing.Astounding was generating a good deal of excitement by helping readers to “. . . experience the new worlds that science might offer.” Thrilling Wonder Stories was nearing a peak, publishing action-adventure stories for kids. Ray Palmer was rapidly turning Amazing Stories around following years of struggle.
Martin Goodman, who would later be the publisher of Marvel Comics, debuted Marvel Science Stories in July. Very adept at spotting trends, Goodman would, “Let someone else risk their money experimenting with different types and genres of magazines . . . Once a winner emerged, Goodman would jump in with a knockoff. Or two. Or twelve . . . .”
Noticing the growing success of the science-fiction pulps, Goodman decided to launch his own. He acquired cover art from illustrator Norman Saunders and stories by journeymen such as Arthur J. Burks, Stanton A. Coblentz, and Henry Kuttner. Later issues would feature fiction by Eando Binder, David H. Keller, Harl Vincent, Jack Williamson, and others, and covers by Frank R. Paul and Wesso.
Not content with just one science-fiction pulp, Goodman released a second in early 1939—Dynamic Science Stories. Again using covers by Paul and Saunders, Dynamic published stories by Nelson Bond, L. Sprague de Camp, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert Moore Williams, and others. A third Goodman science-fiction title, Uncanny Stories, appeared in 1941.
For Goodman, “. . . success meant . . . jumping on a successful trend and pumping multiple similar titles . . . through the pipeline as fast as possible in order to rake in as much profit as possible . . . . If any one foundered below a certain profit threshold, it was scuttled without so much as a backward glance.” Thus, Uncanny Stories lasted but a single issue while two numbers of Dynamic Science Storiesfound their way to the racks. Marvel Science Stories ran for five issues before being added to Goodman’s Red Circle weird-menace line as Marvel Tales. After two shudder pulp issues, Goodman converted it back into a science-fiction magazine entitled Marvel Stories for two more issues, the last dated April 1941. He tried another Marvel pulp during the science-fiction boom of the early fifties, but only six issues appeared.
Thrilling Science Fiction & Fantasy
Ned Pines’ Thrilling Group entered the science-fiction pulp market after purchasing Wonder Stories from Hugo Gernsback. Early in 1938, editor Mort Weisinger asked his readers for suggestions concerning a companion to the rechristened Thrilling Wonder Stories. The result of Weisinger’s poll was Startling Stories, a new pulp that debuted at the end of 1938.
Startling Stories featured a lead novel, complete in each issue, plus a number of short stories, one a reprint culled from Gernsback’s Wonder magazines. In later years, Thrilling Wonder Stories also became a reprint source for its companion magazine. Many of the novels to appear in Startling Stories were action-packed space operas, while others bordered on the science fantasies of Abraham Merritt.
When Sam Merwin became the editor of Startling in 1945, he began to mix more mature novels into the magazine. Some of the highlights of this period include Fredric Brown’s “What Mad Universe,” Arthur C. Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night,” and Edmond Hamilton’s “The City at World’s End.” There were also short stories by Ray Bradbury, C. M. Kornbluth, Fritz Leiber, Clifford Simak, and others. In the early fifties, Startlingpublished Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers,” a short novel that pioneered the intelligent use of sex in science fiction.
One month after launching Startling Stories, the Thrilling Group releasedStrange Stories, a fantasy magazine intended to compete with Weird Tales. Unfortunately, the magazine’s thirteen issues crowded so many stories into each number that there was little room to develop character, plot, or atmosphere. Most of the stories published in Strange Stories were “short weird or horror pieces with twists or unusual endings.” The magazine was cancelled following its February 1941 number.
In later years, Standard Magazines added Fantastic Story Quarterly, a pulp largely composed of fiction reprinted from Gernsback’s Wonder magazines to its line. It ran from 1950 to 1955, its last number dated Spring 1955. During the years 1952 and 1953, Standard published Space Stories. Aimed at readers who enjoyed space operas, it lasted for just five issues.
In early 1955, both Thrilling Wonder Stories and Fantastic Story Magazine were absorbed by Startling Stories. The last Standard science-fiction pulp was cancelled following its 99thissue, dated Fall 1955.
After Mort Weisinger left Standard Magazines to manage theSuperman line for DC Comics, Oscar J. Friend became the editor of Startling Stories, bringing the inane Sergeant Saturn to the magazine. Samuel Mines served as editor from late 1951 through the fall of 1954. He was followed by Alexander Samalman and Herbert D. Kastle. Between 2008 and 2012, Ron Hanna’s Wild Cat Books revived Startling Stories for eight more issues.
Unknown Worlds of John Campbell
In the February 1939 Astounding Science-Fiction, John W. Campbell announced, “. . . the second Friday of every month, a new magazine will appear.Unknown will be to fantasy whatAstounding has made itself represent to science fiction. It will offer fantasy of a quality so far different from that which has appeared in the past as to change your entire understanding of the term.”
Debuting in February 1939 and publishing a complete novel in each issue, Unknown featured many works now considered classics of the fantasy genre—Anthony Boucher’s “The Compleat Werewolf,” L. Sprague DeCamp’s “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” and the early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Norvell W. Page’s Prester John stories “Flame Wind” and “Sons of the Bear-God,” ” Theodore Sturgeon’s “It,” Jack Williamson’s “Darker Than You Think,” and many others.
Over its 39-issue run, the magazine went through a variety of permutations including the elimination of cover art beginning with the July 1940 number. “We’ve made the July cover look very dignified. We’re going to ask your news dealer to display it with magazines of general class—not with the newsprints . . . . It is unique and appeals to adult minds . . . . I feel most would enjoyUnknown if given a chance to try it.” The magazine would be enlarged to letter-size and get a new name in late 1941 as Street & Smith sought better display space. Despite the changes, the renamed Unknown Worlds would be cancelled following the issue dated October 1943. Although a letter-sized magazine reprint anthology entitled From Unknown Worlds was issued in 1948, no additional issues of the publication considered the best fantasy magazine of all time would appear.
Science Fiction & Archie Comics
Before he helped found MLJ Comics–later Archie Comics–Louis Silberkleit published pulp magazines. The mentor of Martin Goodman, Silberkleit was a follower of trends, hoping to obtain a quick profit through the magazines he published. Noting the growing science-fiction market in 1939, Silberkleit issued a pair of magazines.
First to the gate was Science Fiction, released in the second month of the year. Future Fiction came late in the year, its first issue dated November 1939. Former Gernsback editor Charles D. Hornig helmed both magazines, working on a freelance basis from his home. Produced on tight budgets, neither magazine offered much in the way of memorable fiction since most authors could find better-paying venues for their work. Both pulps became repositories for stories rejected by other publishers with real author names hidden behind pseudonyms.
During the summer of 1940, Silberkleit added a third science-fiction title—Science Fiction Quarterly—to the mix. Featuring a complete novel in each issue, the magazine reprinted a handful of Ray Cummings’ early novels as well as the lead stories from the first two issues of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Wonder Quarterly. Arthur J. Burks also contributed a pair of original novels.
In the spring of 1941, Robert W. Lowndes became editor of both Future Fiction and Science Fiction Quarterly. Soon thereafter, Science Fiction was merged with Future Fiction to become Future combined with Science Fiction. Under Lowndes, the quality of the Silberkleit science-fiction pulps improved markedly as the new editor coaxed fiction from his friends among the Futurians, a group of science-fiction fans based in New York City. However, despite Lowndes’ efforts, the publisher decided to cancel both science-fiction titles in 1943 as war-induced paper shortages took their toll on the industry.
During the 1950s science-fiction boom, Louis Silberkleit resurrected all three of his science-fiction magazines. The quarterly lasted into 1958 while Future Science Fiction and Science Fiction Stories lasted until the spring of 1960. Future would be the last of all the science-fiction magazines in the pulp format to be published. Its final issue was dated April 1960.
Ray Palmer’s Fantastic Adventure
The blossoming of the science-fiction and fantasy genres gathered more steam when Ziff-Davis premiered Fantastic Adventures in March 1939 with Ray Palmer editing. “Fantastic Adventuresgives you the best in fantasy and off-trail science fiction . . . . Everyone likes to think and ponder and wonder at times. But . . . it is a basic requirement that we entertain you.”
Within a year of its introduction,Fantastic Adventures seemed to be living on borrowed time. However, the combination of a strong story—Robert Moore Williams’ “Jongor of Lost Land,” a Tarzan-inspired adventure yarn—coupled with powerful front cover art by J. Allen St. John saved the pulp from oblivion in the fall of 1940. Within a few months, Palmer had inked a contract with Edgar Rice Burroughs for a quartet of novelettes featuring Carson of Venus. He would turn again to St. John for cover art to illustrate the stories and Fantastic Adventures was off and running.
While Burroughs, Williams, and others were thrilling readers with fantastic adventures of action and adventure, other writers began to contribute humorous tales. Stories by Nelson Bond and Ziff-Davis regulars William P. McGivern and David Wright O’Brien helped create the Fantastic Adventures school of screwball comedy. Robert Bloch, with his “Lefty Feep” stories, was the leading practitioner of this form of writing.
For most of the fiction that would appear in Fantastic Adventures during his years as editor, Palmer largely relied on a stable of writers based in Chicago. In addition to those mentioned previously, Howard Browne, Paul W. Fairman, Chester S. Geier, Roger P. Graham, Berkeley Livingston, Rog Phillips, Geoff St. Reynard, Don Wilcox, and Leroy Yerxa all contributed significantly to the magazine.
Following Palmer’s departure from Ziff-Davis in late 1949, Howard Browne became the publisher’s editor-in-chief. Given an increased budget, Browne worked to improve the quality ofFantastic Adventures, but the change came too late. With the pulps in their death throes, the magazine’s end was near. In the spring of 1953, it was merged into Fantastic, a successful digest magazine featuring science fiction and fantasy that Browne had started for Ziff-Davis in the previous year.
Although Fantastic would run into the early eighties,Fantastic Adventures would be no more following the combined May-June 1953 number.
Aristocrats of the Pulps
In a letter published in “The Readers’ Viewpoint” column in its June 1948 issue, Robert Boyer labeled Famous Fantastic Mysteries as “. . . the Aristocrat of the Pulps, the acme of stf perfection,” a title that can likewise be conferred upon the magazine’s later companions, Fantastic Novels and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. Even today, they remain prized collectibles.
Started by the Frank A. Munsey Company in the fall of 1939 and edited by Mary Gnaedinger, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was created to reprint the scientific romances originally published in The All-Story, Argosy, and The Cavalier. Welcomed by readers anxious to experience the classics found in the Munsey files, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was joined by a companion title, Fantastic Novels, in the early summer of 1940. For most of the next year, the two magazines were published in alternating months.
Unfortunately, declining profits led to a reorganization of Munsey’s pulp line and the cancellation of several titles, including Fantastic Novels after just five issues. The following year, Munsey sold a number of its pulps—including their two classic reprint magazines—to Popular Publications. Reluctant to take on a pair of fantasy titles, the new publisher opted to continue Famous Fantastic Mysteries but not its younger companion.
At this point in its history, it was Popular’s policy to run only new stories or fiction that had not previously appeared in a magazine. Given that FFM was largely a reprint magazine, it was decided to alter the pulp’s content and reprint fantastic fiction that had never been published in American magazines. Although many classics were published by the magazine during this period, few were greeted with the same acclaim as had been the case with the Munsey yarns. Perhaps this is why Popular, in early 1948, decided to revive Fantastic Novels, once again relying on the Munsey archives for its content. A third title, A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine, was added in late 1949.
Notwithstanding their elevated status on America’s newsstands, all three magazines disappeared from the racks during the early fifties as Popular withdrew from the pulp market: A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine in 1950, Fantastic Novels in 1951, and last of all, Famous Fantastic Mysteries during the spring of 1953.
Space Operas in the Sky
Although Fiction House had been around since the 1920s, it waited until 1939 to enter the science-fiction field. A year before, it had joined the comic book industry with Jumbo Comics, home to Sheena, “Queen of the Jungle.” Perhaps trying to hedge its bets, Fiction House launched a science-fiction pulp, Planet Stories, and a science-fiction comic book,Planet Comics, at the same time.
Over the years, Fiction House had developed a reputation for offering action-packed stories of adventure in its pulps. Planet Stories would prove to be no exception to this rule. Over its 71 issues, the rough-paper magazine would be home to countless science-fiction adventure stories called “space operas.”
In her introduction to The Best of Planet Stories #1, acclaimed author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett writes: “Planet, unashamedly, published “space opera” . . . . a story that has an element of adventure . . . . of great courage and daring, of battle against the forces of darkness and the unknown . . . The so-called space opera is the folk-tale, the hero-tale, of our particular niche in history . . . . These stories served to stretch our little minds, to draw us out beyond our narrow skies into the vast glooms of interstellar space, where the great suns ride in splendor and the bright nebulae fling their veils of fire parsecs-long across the universe; where the Coal-sack and the Horsehead make patterns of black mystery; where the Cepheid variables blink their evil eyes and a billion nameless planets may harbor life-forms infinitely numerous and strange.”
Running from 1939 – 1955, the early issues of Planet Storiesfeatured writers such as Eando Binder, Nelson Bond, Ray Cummings, Ed Earl Repp, and Ross Rocklynne. By the middle-forties, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury reigned supreme with the former offering seventeen “science fantasies,” while the latter introduced readers to The Martian Chronicles. They were joined by less-acclaimed authors such as Alfred Coppel, Gardner F. Fox, Henry Hasse, Emmett McDowell, and Basil Wells. The late forties and early fifties found the magazine publishing work by Poul Anderson, James Blish, Philip K. Dick, Chad Oliver, Mack Reynolds, and other greats who would go on to develop science fiction’s modern era.
Perhaps it was Planet Stories’ emphasis on cover art with a strong dose of sex—usually imagined by Allen Anderson or Frank Kelly Freas—that helped turn “space opera” into a pejorative term. Per Leigh Brackett, “It was fashionable for a while, among certain elements of science-fiction fandom, to hate Planet Stories. They hated the magazine, apparently, because it was not Astounding Stories.” For seventy-one issues, rather than aiming for the cerebrum, it aimed for the gut. Who is to say that one target is more valid than the other?
Captain Future, Man of Tomorrow
In addition to the exploding science-fiction pulp market, 1939 also witnessed the first World Science Fiction Convention. According to the gathering’s chairman Sam Moskowitz, Standard Magazines’ editors Leo Margulies and Mort Weisinger came up with “a new idea in fantasy magazines” at the convention: Captain Future, a science-fiction hero pulp that premiered at year’s end.
In actuality, Standard’s editorial staff had been batting around ideas for a science-fictional single-character magazine for months, even asking long-time pulpster Edmond Hamilton to work up something involving a “Mr. Future, Wizard of Science.” Eventually, the character evolved into Captain Future, a super-scientist headquartered on the Moon. In each issue of the pulp, Hamilton’s hero and his faithful assistants—known as the Futuremen—would save the solar system and, in later issues, the universe. Although action-packed and entertaining, the novels were juvenile space operas.
Captain Future ran until the spring of 1944, surviving for seventeen issues with Edmond Hamilton writing fifteen of the lead novels. In 1945-46, three more Captain Future adventures appeared inStartling Stories. Hamilton wrote two of them and Manly Wade Wellman one. Seven shorter works followed in 1950, all of them written by Hamilton for Startling Stories. In the late sixties, Popular Library reprinted thirteen of the Captain’s adventures in paperback. Specialty publisher Haffner Press is currently collecting the entire series in hardcover.
Captain Future has proved very popular throughout the world with an animated television series being produced in Japan and exported to other nations. Additionally, there have been hundreds of comic books featuring the characters published in both French and German. Captain Future figurines, models, board games, drinking glasses, and other merchandise have also appeared.
Frederik Pohl & Fictioneers, Inc.
In October 1939, acting on a tip that Popular Publications was starting a new pulp line, a young author and literary agent found himself trying to convince the company to hire him to start a pair of science-fiction pulps. Soon thereafter, the freshly hired editor was seated with publisher Harry Steeger, discussing the financial needs of the company’s brand new science-fiction magazines.
Frederik Pohl was a month shy of his twentieth birthday when he went to work for Fictioneers, Inc., the name given to Popular’s off-brand line of pulp magazines that paid its authors and artists cut-rate prices. Armed with six-hundred dollars to fill two magazines with science fiction stories, Pohl turned to the members of The Futurians, a science-fiction fan club he had helped to found. It included Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, Robert Lowndes, Donald Wollheim, and other fans who wanted to become professional science-fiction writers.
Published in alternating months, Astonishing Stories and its companion, Super Science Stories, also included stories cast-offs from John Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction, including work by Cleve Cartmill, L. Sprague DeCamp, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Ross Rocklynne, and Clifford Simak. There were also tales from the Thursday Afternoon Luncheon Club, a group of writing professionals that included Malcolm Jameson, Henry Kuttner, and Manly Wade Wellman. Of course, there was Pohl himself, supplementing his ten-dollar weekly paycheck from Popular by writing stories using the pseudonym of James MacCreigh, as well as work from new writers such as Ray Bradbury and Bob Tucker. Finally, Pohl found it hard to reject Ray Cummings, the old-timer who penned “The Girl in the Golden Atom” ad infinitum.
Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories continued for about three years. In 1943, Popular dropped a number of its pulps including its two Fictioneer science-fiction magazines. The paper saved was used for their better-selling titles like Adventure, Argosy, Black Mask, Dime Detective, and the love and western magazines. After World War II, Super Science Stories was revived for fifteen more issues. It helped pave the way for the new approaches to science-fiction storytelling being developed in magazines such as Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
To Infinity and Beyond
A lengthy period of contraction followed the science-fiction and fantasy pulp boom of 1939. With the United States about to enter World War II and paper rationing limiting magazine production, the only new magazines to appear before the conflict’s end were the short-livedComet, Cosmic Stories and Stirring Science Stories, plus rebound copies of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures.
A British magazine entitled New Worlds was the first newscience-fiction magazine to appear following World War II. Although it first appeared in 1946, it didn’t come into its glory until Michael Moorcock became editor in 1964. New Worldswould run for 222 issues and become the focus of science fiction’s “New Wave.” A companion magazine, Science Fantasy(later titled Impulse), premiered in 1950.
The first U. S. magazine to appear after the war was Avon Fantasy Reader. Edited by Donald A. Wollheim, it was primarily a reprint magazine. The first new fantastic magazine would wait until 1949 when The Magazine of Fantasy–the “and Science Fiction” was added later–premiered in the fall. Originally edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas and published by Lawrence Spivak, its founders sought to move away from pulp concepts, asking its writers for stylish fiction “that was up to the literary standards of the slick magazines.” Still published today, F&SF–as it has become known–has greatly helped both science fiction and fantasy to mature as genres. It is still published today.
Ray Palmer, most remembered today for his trumpeting of the Shaver Mystery in Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, began publishing a couple of fantastic magazines around 1950. Although his first, Other Worlds, would publish a number of top-notch stories by Ray Bradbury, Gordon Dickson, Wilson Tucker, and others, Palmer would eventually convert it into a magazine about flying saucers. His other magazine was Imagination. It was sold to another publisher following its second number. Lasting for over sixty issues,Imagination published hurriedly written hack fiction by Randall Garrett, John Jakes, Frank M. Robinson and Robert Silverberg, all hiding behind pseudonyms.
In the fall of 1950, World Editions introduced Galaxy Science Fiction, a digest magazine that paid its authors a minimum of three cents a word. Edited by H. L. Gold, the magazine serialized Alfred Bester’s “The Demolished Man” and Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters,” and published shorter works such as Ray Bradbury’s “The Fireman” (later expanded to become Fahrenheit 451), Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man,” and Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction,” all in its first year. In 1953, Galaxy shared the first Hugo for Best Magazine with Campbell’s Analog. Later edited by Frederik Pohl, Jim Baen, and others, Galaxy ran for a total of 254 issues with its final issue appearing in 1980. Like F&SF, Galaxy was a leader in the movement to bring a more human element to science fiction.
Given the success of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction, other publishers tried to cash in on the growing market. Most of them quickly folded. Some of the more notable magazines introduced during the fifites included If—particularly when it was edited by Frederik Pohl; Nebula Science Fiction—a Scottish magazine; Fantastic—started by Howard Browne for Ziff-Davis; Fantastic Universe—nicknamed “the poor man’s” F&SF; Beyond Fantasy Fiction—a short-lived fantasy companion to Galaxy Science Fiction; andImaginative Tales—a companion to Imagination.
At the dawn of the space race, ten new science-fiction magazines entered the market. The best was Infinity Science Fiction. Edited by Larry Shaw, it published some good stories by authors such as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Arthur C. Clarke, Damon Knight and C. M. Kornbluth. Other longer-lived magazines to premier during this time included Infinity Science Fiction, Satellite Science Fiction, and Super-Science Fiction. Although nearly fifty British and American science-fiction and fantasy magazines were introduced during the fifties, only four of the fifty–Galaxy Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, If, and Fantastic—lasted beyond 1960.
Although science fiction continued to mature after 1960, the genre increasingly turned to low-priced and portable paperback books to extend its reach. Except for the reprint digests—Magazine of Horror and Startling Mystery Stories—little of note appeared in the form of a new magazine untilIsaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine debuted in the spring of 1977. Still running today, it will soon publish its 463rd issue. Other notable magazines from the last quarter of the twentieth century are Omni—a slick companion toPenthouse that sometimes topped a million in circulation and published science articles alongside science-fiction stories; Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine—a companion to the men’s magazine Gallery, it sometimes sold more than 125,000 copies and featured a mix of traditional supernatural fiction and movie and television features; Interzone—a British magazine started in the spring of 1982 and originally modeled after Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, it continues to be published today; Aboriginal Science Fiction—a magazine that debuted in 1986 and published many new writers; and Absolute Magnitude(originally entitled Harsh Mistress)—a semiprofessional magazine that debuted in the spring of 1993 and published “hard science fiction with a strong human element.”
Today, science fiction and fantasy have, by and large, achieved the respectability they long sought. At the same time, competition from a range of media including paperback books, movies, television, video games, e-books, and the Internet, has vastly diminished the scope of magazine fantasy and science fiction. The major science-fiction and fantasy magazines in the print format–Analog Science Fiction and Fact,Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Interzone, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction–have seen their circulations shrink tremendously. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that contemporary science fiction and fantasy owe a great deal to the magazines of the past—The Strand, Pearson’s Magazine, Argosy, The All-Story, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Astounding Science-Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, and countless others. Without them, where would science fiction and fantasy be today?
The cover for Asimov’s Science Fiction is copyright © 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion of magazine science fiction. If you’d like to read the unabridged version of the article–entitled “Science Fiction and the Pulps: A Genre Evolves”–it appears in the PulpFest 2014 program book, The Pulpster, given free to all members of the convention. If copies are still available after the conclusion of the convention–quantities are limited–you can purchase one from Mike Chomko, Books. Visit our program book page to learn how to place your order.