Armistice Day

Nov 6, 2017 by

The day when we honor all U. S. military veterans — November 11 — originated as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. The day became a national holiday in 1938 and was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

One hundred years ago today, the struggle for the battered village of Passchendaele — officially called the Third Battle of Ypres — was drawing to a close. The town’s remnants would be reclaimed by British and Canadian forces on November 6, but the fighting would last four more days.

Edwin Vaughan– an officer of the 1st/8th Warwickshire Regiment of the British Expeditionary Force — wrote about the carnage in his journal:

“Up the road we staggered, shells bursting around us. A man stopped dead in front of me, and exasperated I cursed him and butted him with my knee. Very gently he said, “I’m blind, Sir” and turned to show me his eyes and nose torn away by a piece of shell. “Oh God! I’m sorry, sonny,” I said. “Keep going on the hard part,” and left him staggering back in his darkness . . . A tank had churned its way slowly behind Springfield and opened fire; a moment later I looked and nothing remained of it but a crumpled heap of iron; it had been hit by a large shell. . . .

From other shell holes from the darkness on all sides came the groans and wails of wounded men; faint, long, sobbing moans of agony, and despairing shrieks. It was too horribly obvious that dozens of men with serious wounds must have crawled for safety into new shell holes, and now the water was rising about them and, powerless to move, they were slowly drowning. Horrible visions came to me with those cries, (of men) lying maimed out there trusting that their pals would find them, and now dying terribly, alone amongst the dead in the inky darkness. And we could do nothing to help them; Dunham was crying quietly beside me, and all the men were affected by the piteous cries.”

On August 25, when he awoke to take muster, Vaughan’s worst fears were realized: “Out of our happy little band of 90 men, only 15 remained.”

Such were the horrors of Passchendaele and the “War to End All Wars.” In 1914 as war was declared, there were street celebrations across Europe. No one envisaged the stalemate of the trenchs nor the appalling casualties of four years of fighting. About 8.5 million soldiers on both sides of the conflict died of wounds and disease. According to the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA“It has been estimated that the number of civilian deaths attributable to the war was higher than the military casualties, or around 13,000,000. These civilian deaths were largely caused by starvation, exposure, disease, military encounters, and massacres.”

Except for a single writer — Leonard Nason — stories about the First World War were very limited in the general fiction pulps. But as the rough paper magazines began to specialize in the teens and twenties, the first pulp devoted to tales of war would appear. Introduced by Dell Publishing in 1926, WAR STORIES would be followed by many others: BATTLE STORIES, WINGS, OVER THE TOP, DARE-DEVIL ACES, SKY FIGHTERS, and dozens more. Most disappeared by 1940 as another “Great War” was unfolding.

Beginning on Thursday evening, July 26, and running through Sunday, July 29, PulpFest 2018 will honor the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The convention’s focus will be the so-called “war pulps” of the early twentieth century as well as the depiction of war in popular culture. Please join us at the beautiful DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, just outside Pennsylvania’s Steel City. We’ll also be celebrating the century mark of Grand Master of Science Fiction Philip José Farmer. PulpFest and its associated convention — FarmerCon — will be saluting the acclaimed author of such works as ESCAPE FROM LOKITHE DARK HEART OF TIME, the classic Riverworld series, and more. Award-winning author Joe Lansdale will be PulpFest‘s guest of honor.

A soldier running along a corduroy track through Chateau Wood (photograph from the collection of the Imperial War Museum).

(H. C. Murphy painted the front cover art for the February 20, 1924 issue of ADVENTURE. Leonard H. Nason was featured on the cover for his short story, “Three Lights from a Match,” appearing in the issue.)

100 Years of Pulp Fictioneer John D. MacDonald

Jul 24, 2016 by

Dime Detective 47-02As PulpFest wraps things up for another year — the dealers’ room will be open from 10 AM until 2 PM today — the convention is looking to the future. The organizing committee is already starting to plan for PulpFest 2017. We’ll be celebrating “Hardboiled Dicks, Dangerous Dames, and a Few Psychos.” As always, expect a fantastic dealers’ room and superb programming. It will be the 46th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con!” So start making your plans to attend. You’ll have an AMAZING time!

At the same time as it’s looking ahead, PulpFest is also looking into the past. One hundred years ago on this very date, detective and thriller writer John D. MacDonald was born just east of the Ohio border in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Best known for his adventure series character Travis McGee, MacDonald was one of the last of the giants of the detective genre to emerge from the pulps. Although his first story, “G-Robot,” ran in the July 1936 DOUBLE-ACTION GANG MAGAZINE, MacDonald would have to wait another decade for his next story to appear in a pulp magazine.

“Cash on a Coffin!” from the May 1946 DETECTIVE TALES — published by Popular Publications — marks the beginning of MacDonald’s rather substantial pulp fiction career. Over the next ten years, the author placed hundreds of stories in a wide range of pulp magazines: ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, BLACK MASK, BLUE BOOK, DETECTIVE TALES, DIME DETECTIVE, DIME WESTERN, DOC SAVAGE, FBI DETECTIVE, FIFTEEN SPORTS STORIES, FIGHT STORIES, GALAXY, NEW DETECTIVE, THE SHADOW, SHOCK, SPORT FICTION, SPORTS NOVELS, STARTLING STORIES, SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, WEIRD TALES, and others. He also placed stories with COLLIER’S, COSMOPOLITAN, ESQUIRE, LIBERTY, McCALL’S, THIS WEEK, and similar magazines.

In 1950 — as it became increasingly apparent that the pulps were on their way out — John D. MacDonald placed a novel with Fawcett Gold Medal — THE BRASS CUPCAKE. From 1950 until he released his first Travis McGee novel in 1964, the author sold over forty paperback originals, becoming one of the giants of that market. “His crime novels of this period are masters of the form — spare, tight, often dark and even nasty tales of desperate men in way over their heads.”

MacDonald created McGee at the urging of his publishers. Unsure of his achievement, the author resisted publication of that first novel — THE LONG BLUE GOOD-BY — until he could complete two more titles. All three books were eventually published in three successive months in 1964 to positive commercial and even limited critical response. “Having achieved notoriety and success in the pulp magazines, and with more than forty novels already in print, MacDonald introduced a character that would eventually dwarf his previous publishing efforts. He would become the bedrock of MacDonald’s career, establishing a vast, devoted audience, and an almost sublime literary legacy. As the epitome of this legacy, the McGee series transcends genre fiction, and is rich with piercing psychological insight, social commentary, and clean, compelling prose that lapses into poetry.”

Deep Blue Good-ByJohn D. MacDonald would produce twenty-one novels in the McGee series, each with a color in its title. Often selling more than a million copies of each book, the author’s Travis McGee would become “one of the best, and most beloved private eyes of all time (even if he wasn’t licensed, and at times acted more like Robin Hood than Philip Marlowe).” Not bad for a pulp writer.

Although centered around pulp fiction and pulp magazines, PulpFest was founded on the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor pulp fiction by drawing attention to the many ways it had inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades.

We hope to see you next year at PulpFest 2017. Please bring your friends. You can expect a “Deep Blue Hello!”

(John D. MacDonald was paid from half-a-cent to three cents for each word that he produced for the pulps. From about 1946 through 1951, he placed dozens of stories each year with various pulp magazines. His output included adventure, detective, fantasy, science fiction, sports fiction, and western stories. When his story “Dead to the World” garnered the cover spot for the February 1947 issue of Popular’s DIME DETECTIVE — featuring cover art by Robert Stanley — MacDonald had become a reliable producer for the pulp market.

“I don’t know how long we’re going to keep him in the pulp magazines,” Harry Widmer, the editor at DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY said, “but we’re going to try to keep him as long as we can.”

After THE BRASS CUPCAKE — the first of his original paperbacks — was released in 1950, MacDonald increasingly turned to that market for sales. His first Travis McGee novel — THE DEEP BLUE GOOD-BY — was published by Fawcett in 1964, with front cover art by Ron Lesser.)

Our Guest of Honor — Ted White

Jun 20, 2016 by

Amazing Stories 26-04In the spring of 1926, publisher Hugo Gernsback introduced AMAZING STORIES, the first continuing science fiction magazine. Within months, the new specialty magazine was selling over 100,000 copies per issue. 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,” featuring Anthony “Buck” Rogers. These two space operas would help color science fiction for well over a decade.

Although Gernsback would lose control of his magazine in 1929, the founding of AMAZING STORIES signaled the separation of science fiction into its own category.  Before long, AMAZING was joined by other science fiction pulps, including Gernsback’s own WONDER STORIES and Clayton’s ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCEIt was in the latter magazine — retitled ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION — that the genre would enter its golden age, under the guidance of editor John W. Campbell. Decades later, AMAZING STORIES likewise attained a golden age, thanks to the heroic efforts of editor Ted White.

In his May 1969 editorial for AMAZING, White likened the development of the New Wave in science fiction to the 1960s revolution in rock music and the emergence of heavy metal and acid rock. He pointed out that this music was able to coexist beside the more melodic rhythms of the Beach Boys and others. He also recognized that heavy rock was drawing upon its roots, in rhythm and blues, to express its new voice.

White saw no reason why science fiction should not follow the same pattern. Not only could all forms of science fiction exist side by side — the traditional alongside the modern — but the modern had itself developed from science fiction’s roots. By publishing both forms of science fiction in AMAZING, White could make it possible for the old and the new to influence each other.

Ted White strove to attract good fiction and new writers to the magazines. However, because he was paying the lowest rates in the field, he knew he wouldn’t have first shot at the best fiction around, but he might have a chance at some of the best experimental fiction, which had no ready market elsewhere, and thereby attract those writers who didn’t otherwise click with the establishment. Piers Anthony, Richard A. Lupoff, Barry N. Malzberg, David R. Bunch, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Christopher Priest, James Tiptree, Jr., Avram Davidson, Philip José Farmer, Gordon Eklund, Robert Silverberg, George Alec Effinger, F. M. Busby, Jack Dann,George Zebrowski, Thomas Monteleone, John Shirley, and others all found a home in Ted White’s AMAZING. They were joined by some of science fiction’s most exciting artists: Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta, John Pederson, Jr., Joe Staton, Doug Chaffee, Vaughn Bode, Dan Adkins,  and most significantly Mike Hinge.

Fantasy & SF 2014-03-04PulpFest is very pleased to welcome as its 2016 Guest of Honor, author, editor, musician, and science-fiction and pulp fan Ted White. Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1968 and nominated as Best Professional Editor or for Best Professional Magazine throughout most of the seventies, Mr. White will speak about his career, AMAZING STORIES, science fiction fandom, the pulps, and much, much more on Saturday evening, July 23, from 7:30 to 8:15 in the Union Rooms on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency.

We look forward to seeing you at “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” from July 21 through July 24 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency and the city’s spacious convention center in the exciting Arena District of Columbus, Ohio. Please join us as editor emeritus Ted White helps PulpFest celebrate ninety years of AMAZING STORIES! Remember that the Hyatt Regency Columbus is sold out of rooms for July 21 through July 23. At www.columbusconventions.com/thearea.php, you’ll find a list of area hotels courtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Alternately, you can search for a room at tripadvisor or a similar website to find a hotel near the convention. Thanks so much to everyone who has reserved a room at our host hotel. By staying at the Hyatt Regency, you’ve helped to ensure the convention’s success.

(Our guest of honor continues to publish professionally after more than sixty years of practicing his craft. His short story, “The Uncertain Past,” appeared in the March & April 2014 number of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION — featuring front cover art by Kent Bash — while “The Philistine” can be found in the October 2015 issue of ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT.

AMAZING STORIES likewise continues to be published, ninety years after the appearance of its first issue. That number — dated April 1926 — featured front cover art by Frank R. Paul, the “grandfather of science fiction art.” Revived in 2012 by longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson as an online magazine, you can find the new AMAZING STORIES at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/. It’s also available as an ebook via Amazon.com.)

120 Years of Murray Leinster

Jun 16, 2016 by

Argosy 29-12-28Although magazines have been around since the seventeenth century, it wasn’t until the last month of 1896 that the pulp magazine was born. 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 — THE ARGOSY. 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.”

That same year, on June 16, a child was born who would become one of THE ARGOSY’s regular writers for nearly four decades — William Fitzgerald Jenkins. Best known and remembered under his pseudonym of Murray Leinster, Jenkins wrote and published more than 1,500 short stories and articles, fourteen movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays. Active as a writer for nearly seven decades, Jenkins’ writing career began in early 1916 when his work began to be featured in H. L. Mencken’s and George Jean Nathan’s THE SMART SET.

Although he wrote in a wide range of genres — western, detective, jungle adventure, horror, spicy, and even love — Jenkins is best known for his science fiction. His first story in the field, “The Runaway Skyscraper,” published in February 22, 1919 issue of ARGOSY AND RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE, is considered a science fiction classic. Other greats, including “The Mad Planet” (ARGOSY for June 12, 1920) and “The Red Dust” (ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY, April 2, 1921) soon followed.

An extremely adaptable writer, Jenkins/Leinster published some remarkably inventive stories during the late twenties and early 1930s including “The Darkness on Fifth Avenue” (ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY, November 30, 1929), “The City of the Blind” (ARGOSY, December 12, 1928), “Sidewise in Time” (ASTOUNDING STORIES, June 1934) — which introduced the concept of parallel worlds — and “Proxima Centuri” (ASTOUNDING STORIES, March 1935). He would reach his prime as a science fiction writer during the decade following the Second World War. During this period, Jenkins/Leinster penned such classics as “First Contact” (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, May 1945 and probably his most highly regarded story), “A Logic Named Joe” (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, March 1946) — which anticipated computers and the Internet — and “Exploration Team” (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, March 1956) — which won the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

Remaining active in the field until about 1970, Will Jenkins/Murray Leinster died on June 8, 1975. A longtime craftsman in the field of magazine fiction writing, Leinster is fondly remembered as “The Dean of Science Fiction.” He would be 120 years old on this very day.

(Although the fiction of Will Jenkins/Murray Leinster appeared in a wide range of magazines — ARGOSY — including the  December 12, 1928 issue with cover art by Howard V. Brown — BLACK BAT DETECTIVE MYSTERIES, BLACK MASK, BLUE BOOK, BREEZY STORIES, COLLIER’S, COWBOY STORIES, DANGER TRAILS, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESQUIRE, FRONTIER STORIES, JUNGLE STORIES, LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, MYSTERY STORIES, RANCH ROMANCES, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, SHORT STORIES, THE SMART SET, SNAPPY STORIES, THE THRILL BOOK, THRILLING DETECTIVE, TRIPLE-X WESTERN, WEIRD TALES, and WEST — he is primarily remembered for his science fiction. In that genre, he published in an equally wide range of titles, including the first continuing science fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES.

Amazing Stories 27-01The early issues of Hugo Gernsback’s magazine featured a great deal of material reprinted from other sources. Works by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and others were regularly featured in the early numbers of the magazine. Another author featured regularly was Murray Leinster. “The Runaway Skyscraper” was reprinted in the third issue, dated June 1926, while “The Mad Planet” found its way into the eighth issue, dated November 1926. Leinster’s name was featured on the cover to the January 1927 number with cover art by Frank R. Paul. “The Red Dust” appeared inside.

PulpFest 2016 will salute both ARGOSY — the first pulp fiction magazine — and AMAZING STORIES — the first continuing science fiction magazine — at this year’s convention. Please join us in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center from July 21 through July 24 for “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con!”

Please remember that the Hyatt Regency Columbus is sold out of rooms for July 21 through July 23. At www.columbusconventions.com/thearea.php, you’ll find a list of area hotels courtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention CenterAlternately, you can search for a room at tripadvisor or a similar website to find a hotel near the convention. Thanks so much to everyone who has reserved a room at our host hotel. By staying at the Hyatt Regency, you’ve helped to ensure the convention’s success.)

Please Pass the Orange Juice

Apr 4, 2016 by

So what’s this PulpFest that has so many people talking? With almost 3,000 likes on Facebook and more than 500 followers on Twitter, it certainly has been generating a lot of excitement. But what’s it all about?

All-Story 12-10PulpFest is named for pulp magazines, fiction periodicals named after the cheap paper on which they were printed. Frank A. Munsey pioneered the format in 1896 with THE ARGOSY. A decade later, pulps began to pick up steam with titles like BLUE BOOK and ADVENTURE, then exploded in 1912 when THE ALL-STORY printed a little yarn by Edgar Rice Burroughs called “Tarzan of the Apes.” Soon thereafter, genre titles began to flourish, among them DETECTIVE STORY, WESTERN STORY, and LOVE STORY. In the twenties, publishing legends such as BLACK MASK, WEIRD TALES and AMAZING STORIES debuted. The following decade saw the advent of the so-called “hero pulps” with magazines such as THE SHADOW, DOC SAVAGE, and THE SPIDER attracting new readers to the rough-paper format. Weird-menace magazines premiered around the same time with DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE, SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, and TERROR TALES scaring the wits out of readers. The late thirties saw an explosion of science fiction pulps — led by John W. Campbell’s ASTOUNDING STORIES — with other titles such as FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and PLANET STORIES thrilling readers of all ages.

By the early fifties, the pulps were gone, killed by competition from paperback books, comic books, radio, television, and movies. But the fiction and artwork that appeared in the rough-paper consumables of the early twentieth century kept them alive in the hearts and minds of countless individuals. Haunting back-issue magazine shops, flea markets, science fiction conventions, and other venues, these hearty souls gradually assembled astounding collections of genre fiction, all published in the rough and ragged magazines known as pulps. Eventually, these collectors organized a convention dedicated to the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture that reverberated through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Today, we call this convention, PulpFest.

The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor the pulps by drawing attention to the many ways these throwaway articles have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades.

The Skipper 1936-12Why not come see what it’s all about? PulpFest 2016 will be paying tribute to the history of the pulps by saluting the 150th anniversary of the birth of H. G. Wells; the 120th anniversary of the debut of the first pulp magazine, THE ARGOSY; the 100th anniversary of the genre pulps such as DETECTIVE STORY and LOVE STORY; the ninetieth anniversary of the creation of the first science fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES; the 80th anniversaries of the premieres of two exciting hero pulpsTHE SKIPPER and THE WHISPERER; and the tenth anniversary of Sanctum Books, well known for their reprints of THE SHADOW, DOC SAVAGETHE SPIDER, and other hero pulps. Our Guest of Honor will be author, editor, and pulp fan Ted White, the man who ushered in the Golden Age of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC during the 1970s and wrote the Captain America novel THE GREAT GOLD STEAL and many other books. We’ll have all this plus a dealers’ room featuring tens of thousands of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, digests, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, original art, first edition hardcovers, series books, reference books, dime novels and story papers, Big Little Books, B-Movies, serials and related paper collectibles, old-time radio shows, and Golden and Silver Age comic books, as well as newspaper adventure strips. For a look at our planned schedule, please visit http://www.pulpfest.com/2016/01/coming-soon-to-columbus-pulpfest-2016/.

The convention will take place from Thursday evening, July 21st, through Sunday afternoon, July 24th, in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. Start making your plans to join us at the “pop culture center of the universe” for PulpFest 2016.

(Published by the Frank A. Munsey Company, the October 1912 issue of THE ALL-STORY featured Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel “Tarzan of the Apes,” published in its entirety. Clinton Pettee — who illustrated many of the Munsey magazines as well as the pulp, SHORT STORIES — painted the front cover art for the magazine. THE SKIPPER, including the first issue dated December 1936, featured cover art by Lawrence Donner Toney, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

The AMAZING Story: The Eighties — Son of FANTASTIC

Mar 10, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 84-01

The FANTASTIC Elinor Mavor & the TSR Years

Amazing Stories 79-05When Sol Cohen passed full ownership of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC to his partner, Arthur Bernhard, the editorial offices of Ultimate Publishing moved to Bernhard’s home base of Scottsdale, Arizona. Ted White chose not to continue as editor, mostly because of the lack of infusion of money into the magazines, and he returned to their authors all of the manuscripts he had accumulated for upcoming issues.

Bernhard was left with no new material, and no editor. He brought in the mother-and-son team of Scott and Elinor Mavor, who ran a graphic design studio in Scottsdale. They became the editorial and production staff. Bernhard felt that a woman’s name as editor might not be well accepted by the readers, and he also wanted to boost the number of names on the magazine’s masthead, so he invented the persona of Omar Gohagen to take over the editorial reins. Considering that AMAZING had enjoyed a golden age under Cele Goldsmith, this deception was not entirely logical thinking on Bernhard’s part. And it meant that the name of AMAZING‘s eleventh editor (twelfth, if you include Hamling) was a fabrication, something that did not help to improve the magazine’s image.

Admittedly Elinor Mavor started with a significant handicap, seeking to put out a magazine in a matter of weeks with no new material. But at the outset there was no evidence that any effort was going into the magazines. The April 1979 issue of FANTASTIC and the May 1979 issue of AMAZING were dreadful. They looked cheap, contained only passable reprints and a couple of amateurish new stories, and gave every indication that the magazines were reverting to the drabness of the reprint issues of the late 1960s. It seemed as if all that White had achieved in the 1970s had been destroyed in one fell swoop. There was also created the impression that the Mavors did not understand their market. They started a reader-participation graphic story called “Mecano Sapiens,” which makes me shudder to even think of it. This kind of feature had cropped up occasionally in sf magazines over the years, and never had worked.

I recall receiving these issues with despair and writing a hasty alarm-bells letter to “Omar Gohagen,” pleading that something be done. I received a pleasant postcard from Omar, acknowledging my views but remarking that most letters the magazine was receiving showed that readers were pleased with what was happening. And indeed, so it seemed from the letters appearing in the letter column. Mind you, I was a little concerned about what some of them were saying:

“The thing about the new AMAZING that strikes me most is the look,” wrote one reader from Sweden in the February 1980 issue. “It’s beautiful!”

Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that opinion amazes me. In that same issue another reader wrote:

“I just picked up a copy of the August AMAZING and was overjoyed. ‘The Council of the Drones’ was one of the best SF stories I have read in years! Yours is the best SF magazine in the business.”

I wonder what else this fan was reading. “Council of the Drones” by W. K. Sonnemann, was a reprint from the October 1936 issue. AMAZING might have been attracting a readership, but it didn’t seem to be one totally au fait with science fiction or its magazines.

Amazing Stories 80-05The evidence of circulation figures might be a better measure of the reception of the magazine. Its newsstand sales dropped from almost 21,000 in White’s last year to around 16,400 in Mavor’s first. While some of this decline may be attributed to a lack of promotion of the magazine and the chronic distribution problems, it must also be true that the magazine just failed to make an impact on the stands, “beautiful” or otherwise.

Nevertheless, I was delighted to find that over the next few issues, both magazines improved. It became clear that Elinor Mavor was making an effort to develop them. She introduced some attractive illustrative features, such as Stephen and Chip Fabian’s graphic story “Daemon” in FANTASTIC, and brought in new artists, of whom the most stunning was Gary Freeman. In fact, within a year, with the artwork of Freeman, Fabian, and (later) Alicia Austin, AMAZING was indeed verging on “beautiful.” The fiction was also looking up. Mavor disposed of the reprints as quickly as possible, although retaining a classic reprint department in which authors provided new introductions to their old stories.

Mavor introduced some talented new writers. It would be no surprise that, having started with an empty inventory, she might have selected some poor early stories, just to get an issue together; and though it might be uncharitable to say so, I think most of the new authors discovered in the first few issues appeared because of these fortuitous circumstances. But among the rocks was the rare glitter. The August 1979 AMAZING carried “The Inevitable Conclusion,” the first published story by Michael Kube-McDowell. He became a regular contributor to the magazine over the next few years before establishing himself in the wider field. His “Antithesis” from the February 1980 AMAZING was highly regarded. It’s a clever piece of scientific double-speak in which a student finds a loophole in Einstein’s theories. The November 1979 AMAZING introduced Wayne Wightman, who would become closely linked with the magazine for some time thereafter. Wightman was a powerful writer and satirist with challenging new ideas. His stories began to set a standard for freshness in the magazine.

Gradually some of the bigger names returned to AMAZING, writers whose individual approaches to fiction suited the flexible policy of the magazine. Writers such as David R. Bunch, Barry Malzberg, Marvin Kaye, Darrell Schweitzer, Garry Kilworth, and Greg Benford were joined by new writers Brad Linaweaver, J. Ray Dettling, and Lawrence Connolly. None of these authors gave AMAZING any clear direction, but they gave the magazine a vitality that it had not seen since the early 1970s.

Amazing Stories 80-11Then a bomb was dropped. Seeking to cut costs, Bernhard decided to merge FANTASTIC with AMAZING STORIES. The last issue of FANTASTIC appeared in October 1980. That magazine had been published for 208 issues over twenty-eight years. If you include its pulp godparent, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, it had survived for 337 issues. And now, for the first time in forty-one years, AMAZING had no sister publication.

The first combined issue was dated November 1980. The magazine shifted from a quarterly schedule to bimonthly — though this meant only six issues a year compared to eight of the two magazines — and increased slightly in height, adding half an inch to its digest dimensions, presumably so that it would poke above the other magazines on the newsstand rack (a gimmick that only lasted a few issues). With this issue Elinor Mavor was revealed as the true editor, and Omar Gohagen was cast into the pit of oblivion. At last Mavor was receiving personal credit for her hard work.

There was one other change, the logic of which still escapes me. The full title of the magazine, which had reverted to AMAZING STORIES after Ted White left, became AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES again, even though it also boasted “combined with FANTASTIC.” Why the magazine should choose to promote itself as “science fiction” when, for the first time, it was publishing a fair quota of fantasy remains a mystery. This development underlies a more significant matter, which I shall return to later.

The new combined AMAZING/FANTASTIC had a buzz about it that was thrilling. It was attracting exciting writers — Harlan Ellison, Alan Ryan, Hank Stine, Somtow Sucharitkul, Lisa Tuttle, George R. R. Martin, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Roger Zelazny, Orson Scott Card, Richard A. Lupoff — all of whom were not afraid to try something new and different. By 1982 the stories in the magazine were once more turning up on the Hugo and Nebula Award ballots. George R. R. Martin’s sf-chess story “Unsound Variations” (January 1982) came in third in the Hugo voting. Brad Linaweaver’s “Moon of Ice” (March 1982), a new twist on the Nazis-won-the-War theme, was likewise highly regarded. No less a luminary than Andre Norton praised the story and urged Linaweaver to expand it into a novel. Ernest Hogan debuted with a controversial story, “The Rape of Things to Come” (March 1982), which elicited much reader reaction to its projection of commercialized rape. There was also John Steakley’s consideration of courage and human dignity in an alien-occupied world, “The Bluenose Limit” (March 1981), which Barry Malzberg commended as “a stunner.”

The fiction, the artwork, and the variety of nonfiction features (from interviews to story analyses) gave a good balance to the magazine and an indication of an editor who was thinking and experimenting. In three years with the magazine, from a standing start, Elinor Mavor had worked miracles.

Amazing Stories 81-11But as 1982 dawned, Arthur Bernhard, now seventy years old, gave notice that he wanted to sell the magazine. Although he had invested no money in promoting the publication, he cared for the venerable old title and wanted it to have a good home. Alas, an experiment in cost-cutting had proved a failure. In 1981 Bernhard had reduced the print run of AMAZING from around 66,000 to 53,000, yet the magazine maintained newsstand sales of 17,000. Thus, Bernhard saved on production costs without suffering a decrease in income. But the next time he tried the same tactic, cutting the number printed to 43,000, there was a savage drop in newsstand sales down to 10,600. AMAZING‘s survival was on the borderline.

By February 1982 Bernhard was in negotiation with a number of potential buyers — one of whom, Jonathan Post, even went so far as to advertise for submissions. The successful purchaser, though, was TSR Hobbies, Inc., the company that had established itself as the producer of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game. The trail that led to TSR began with George Scithers, who had recently stepped down as editor of the successful ISAAC ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE. Bernhard offered the magazine for sale to Scithers who, although he didn’t have the capital to go through with the purchase himself, told a friend at TSR about the availability of the magazine. During the first week of March 1982, the sale was agreed upon and Scithers was hired as the new editor.

Elinor Mavor’s last issue of AMAZING was dated September 1982. She bowed out gracefully and poignantly, remarking how much she loved the magazine. That sentiment showed. Her style and approach remained evident in the magazine for some time to come, and her love and devotion had given the magazine hope if not certainty.

TSR was already producing a successful gaming periodical, DRAGON® MAGAZINE, which carried a piece of fantasy fiction in each issue. Purchasing AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES gave the company an opportunity to expand its publishing line in a new direction.

Scithers operated out of Philadelphia, supported by a team of first readers and assistants (known colloquially as “the Zoo”) which at the start included John Ashmead, Darrell Schweitzer, John Sevcik, and Meg Phillips. Thus, AMAZING was being edited long distance (the same circumstance that had ultimately led to Scithers’s departure from ASIMOV’S), while production personnel were based at TSR’s offices in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Although Scithers was not nominally involved with production, he was in charge of the magazine’s design. In this respect, the first noticeable feature of his version of the magazine was how much it resembled ASIMOV’S. The similarities could be seen in the design of the contents page, the move to single-column text instead of the traditional two columns, and the cover art. In fact, Scithers acknowledges that the design format form ASIMOV’S as well as his incarnation of AMAZING™ SCIENCE FICTION STORIES was copied from a format that had been devised by Fred Dannay and first used for ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE — which was, like ASIMOV’S, a Davis publication.

(Editor’s note: The above change in the designation of the magazine’s name came about immediately after TSR Hobbies, Inc., purchased the title, whereupon the company filed for the right to ownership of the title “Amazing” as a trademark. Beginning with the September 1984 issue, at which time the trademark became registered, the magazine was known as AMAZING® SCIENCE FICTION STORIES.)

Less surprising was the editorial similarity between the two magazines. Scithers brought his customary urbane style to bear upon the editorial and nonfiction features. He also purchased material from many of the same authors he had encouraged at ASIMOV’S, and this was most evident in the cases of Somtow Sucharitkul and Avram Davidson. Both of these authors brought with them story series that they had started in the pages of ASIMOV’S, Sucharitkul with his stories about Aquila, set in an amusing alternate reality where the Romans had conquered North America, and Davidson with his ever-indefinable “Adventures in Unhistory.”

Amazing Stories, 82-11What was surprising was that the magazine retained its digest format. There was some speculation among fans of the magazine at the time that TSR might expand AMAZING STORIES into the slick format, matching the presentation of DRAGON® MAGAZINE. That this did not happen was seen as an indication that perhaps not as much money was going to be injected into the magazine as its followers had hoped. But TSR did put out a considerable amount of cash in the early days in paying off all the outstanding manuscript contracts (originally written as “pay on publication” agreements), raising the rates for new material to match what was being paid by ASIMOV’S and ANALOG, and commissioning a cover from Michael Whelan for the first all-Scithers issue, November 1982. (Subsequent issues were a mixture of Mavor-bought and Scithers-bought material, until all of the old inventory had been used up.)

The Scithers-era magazine was ever readable. It had lost some of that excitement that had started to bubble in Mavor’s issues, but it could always be relied upon for solid, dependable fiction. A particularly notable issue was that for November 1983. Its attractive George Barr cover illustrated “Eszterhazy and the Autogóndola-Invention,” one of a series of delightfully unconventional stories set in a world-that-really-should-have-been and featuring the exploits of Dr. Eszterhazy as recounted by Avram Davidson. In the same issue was “Homefaring” by Robert Silverberg, where, in the first time-travel experiment, a man’s mind is projected millions of years into the future. He finds himself coming to terms with the lobsterlike creatures whose society becomes reality to him. Both of these stories were nominated for Nebula Awards. Also in that issue was “Cyberpunk,” a first sale by Bruce Bethke about near-future youths in a world dominated by technology — the story that ultimately gave its title to a whole sub-movement in science fiction.

Amazing Stories, 84-01The potential for wide appeal in AMAZING STORIES was evident from the attention given to William Wu’s story, “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium,” from the May 1983 issue. This piece was nominated not only for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, but also for the World Fantasy Award. It was also converted into a screenplay and produced as an episode of THE NEW TWILIGHT ZONE television show. Two other stories by Wu set in the Emporium have also appeared in AMAZING STORIES, most recently “Missing Person” in the April 1992 issue.

The magazine was also attracting writers, both new and established. Not only were there stories by Frederik Pohl, Damon Knight, Keith Roberts, Tanith Lee, and Gardner Dozois, but also by developing writers Michael Swanwick, Paul J. McAuley, and Richard Grant. A surprise but welcome visitor was Andrew M. Greeley. This somewhat unorthodox Catholic priest, who had written such best-sellers as THE CARDINAL SINS and THY BROTHER’S WIFE, had only once before stepped into the world of legend, with THE MAGIC CUP (1979), an Irish version of the tradition of the Holy Grail. Now, for the first time, Greeley extended his talents to short fantasy fiction, starting with “The Great Secret” (September 1983), wherein a lord in a timeless world strives to discover the secret of the cosmos without realizing, as love takes control over him, that perhaps he had already found it.

One golden opportunity presented itself in 1984. Universal Studios leased the title of “Amazing Stories” from TSR to use as the name of a science-fiction anthology television series to be produced by Steven Spielberg (although the Spielberg connection was not made public at the time when Universal contacted TSR). The series, launched in the fall of 1985, featured mostly original material directed by many leading names. Yet, despite being able to proclaim “Now a TV series . . .” on the cover, the magazine gained no advantage from this series. Perhaps its only effect was to see the magazine revert to its original title, AMAZING® STORIES, with the March 1986 issue.

Amazing Stories 85-09Regardless of the quality and entertainment value in AMAZING STORIES, its newsstand sales refused to rise appreciably. At the beginning of Scithers’s tenure, newsstand circulation was at around the 11,000 mark. That was only a little behind most of the other digest-sized fiction magazines; and after a time, sales rose to the point where AMAZING STORIES was outselling ASIMOV’S on the newsstand. However, it must be noted that this period was not a good time for any fiction magazine on the newsstands — a situation that has persisted to the present day.

The main reason that the other science-fiction magazines remained far ahead of AMAZING STORIES in overall circulation was that each of them had a substantial subscription base of tens of thousands, whereas, at the time that Scithers took over, subscribers to AMAZING STORIES numbered less than a thousand. During Scithers’s editorship, subscriptions almost tripled. This did not come about through any promotion on TSR’s part (though some readers may have leaked over from DRAGON® MAGAZINE), but was probably caused by the devoted core of active science fiction fans (as distinct from passive readers) who returned to AMAZING STORIES in support of Scithers.

Nevertheless, despite this encouraging increase, the existence of the magazine was always on a knife-edge, and further rationalization took place. It was seen as no longer practical for Scithers to edit the magazine long distance, and in February 1986 he departed. He would soon establish himself as editor of the newly revived WEIRD TALES, thus giving him the unique distinction of having edited both the first fantasy magazine and the first science-fiction magazine.

Scithers’s editorial duties were taken over by Patrick L. Price, who was already experienced with the magazine after having served as an assistant editor (based in Lake Geneva) since the September 1983 issue. There were some superficial changes, including a revamped contents page of which many readers approved but which I found confusing. And there were more solid changes: Martin H. Greenberg, renowned multi-anthologist, came on as editorial consultant, and a new art feature, “On Exhibit,” was established.

Amazing Stories 86-05In the all-important area of fiction, Price wrote in his inaugural issue (September 1986) that he wanted the magazine to return to its origins: “. . . the primary focus of our story selections will be in the areas of hard and speculative science tales, militaristic science fiction, and space fantasy or opera.”

This brings us back to the issue that had surfaced earlier, and that is the extent to which fantasy had begun to dominate AMAZING STORIES. It is a quite fundamental issue. When Hugo Gernsback launched AMAZING STORIES, he was most emphatic in his statement that the magazine would carry stories based on experimental science. It would not feature anything that might not be possible some day through scientific achievement. Any other stories he regarded as “fairy tales.”

Although the science in many of the stories through the years may have been questionable, the magazine remained more or less true to this vision until the moment it was merged with FANTASTIC. In trying to retain the balance of the two magazines, fantasy became a regular feature of AMAZING and, at that point, it ceased to be AMAZING STORIES. It had, in real terms, become FANTASTIC. That latter publication had always had a wide base to its contents, and though its title suggested it was a fantasy magazine, it frequently carried science fiction, usually of a surreal or avant garde nature.

I had noticed this phenomenon at the time it occurred. Whereas my heart sank at the thought that we had lost FANTASTIC, a magazine I had always enjoyed, my mind soon told me that the magazine I was reading was no different from FANTASTIC.

It was a dilemma from which there was no escape. Despite Price’s wish to promote more science fiction in AMAZING STORIES, that turn of events never really came about. To be sure, hard sf stories did appear — Robert Silverberg’s “The Iron Star” (January 1988), John Barnes’s war story “Delicate Stuff” (July 1988), Robert Sawyer’s space adventure “Golden Fleece” (September 1988), and Greg Benford’s superb Venerian expedition “Alphas” (March 1989) — but the bulk of the fiction, and the general overall feel of the magazine, was fantastic. Much of the best fiction being written was not hard sf, which has become a rarity. Most scientific or speculative sf has merged with the fantastic, creating a form of mainstream fantasy.

AMAZING STORIES was not alone in this situation. Only ANALOG remained the one true science-fiction magazine. ASIMOV’S carried a balance of fantasy and sf, as did, most obviously, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. In fact, based on fiction alone, it was difficult to tell these magazines apart. ASIMOV’S had higher quality, as a rule, but both AMAZING STORIES and F&SF could be relied upon to produce individualistic and off-trail stories.

For instance, AMAZING STORIES published “Etchings of Her Memories” (March 1987) by Richard A. Lupoff, a quite extraordinary story treating the octopus as an intelligent creature and considering the nature of its civilization. (This was a story I’m sure Gernsback would have admired.) Then there were Paul Di Filippo’s challenging AIDS story, “Kid Charlemagne” (November 1988); Lawrence Watt-Evans’s poignant tale of a search through multiple realities, “An Infinity of Karen” (September 1988); and a whole squad of excellent stories by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

The magazine could also draw upon its glorious past, not in reprinting stories but in presenting new material by writers whose early works had been part of science fiction’s formative years. It celebrated Jack Williamson’s sixtieth anniversary as a writer with a new story, “The Mental Man” (November 1988), and also presented “Wodan’s Army” (January 1989), a new story by Lloyd A. Eshbach, who was also nearing his sixtieth writing anniversary.

Yet, despite all this potential, the magazine’s circulation failed to rise. Perhaps if TSR had undertaken a direct subscription drive the effort would have had some effect, since subscriptions were continuing to rise (albeit slowly) of their own accord. Instead, most of the company’s promotion for the magazine took indirect forms, through a series of paperback novels published under the AMAZING STORIES banner and two sets of anthologies edited by Martin H. Greenberg that reprinted stories from old issues of the magazine.

Amazing Stories 89-03The absence of a breakthrough in circulation was a source of frustration for Price. In 1988 he discontinued full-time employment with TSR, though he continued to edit the magazine on a freelance basis. Then, toward the end of 1989, a rumor surfaced that AMAZING STORIES would cease publication when the material that Price had already purchased had been used. It was galling, to this and other long-time readers, to think that after all the work that had gone into the magazine in the 1980s to make it an exciting and challenging publication, it would now be left to die.

That you are reading this article (originally published in the July 1992 AMAZING STORIES) is proof that it didn’t. In the summer of 1990, TSR quashed all the rumors by announcing that the magazine would be expanded into a new slick format under a new editor, Kim Mohan.

Price stayed on, managing production of the digest-sized issues until his inventory had been exhausted with the March 1991 magazine. He, like all of his immediate predecessors, had demonstrated a strong commitment to the magazine, producing quality issues despite the hardship of scanty distribution. His issues will be among the least known, since print runs were down to a little more than 30,000, yet they contained more quality than most of the pulp issues in total.

The magazine’s incarnation in slick format under Kim Mohan is a story for another day. It’s to be judged by the historians of the 21st century. (Including Mike Ashley who tells us that he has brought his history of AMAZING STORIES up to date as part of the fourth and fifth volumes of his THE STORY OF THE SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES, forthcoming from Liverpool University Press.)

Instead, let us pause to consider the legacy that has come down to us over the last ninety years. Almost the whole of the science-fiction genre that exists today owes its existence to Hugo Gernsback’s launching of AMAZING STORIES in 1926. He created science fiction as a distinct marketable commodity, which other publishers then developed and promoted. Gernsback’s original desire was to create a form of fiction that put entertaining frills on a core of scientific facts and speculation that would inspire its readers to engage in experimentation and invention. Little of that kind of science fiction remains today, although I suspect that most space fiction still inspires the frontier spirit in us all, the desire to explore beyond the realms of our planet.

But the world has changed. When AMAZING STORIES was born, America had not long emerged from the horse-and-buggy days. People were still ignorant of the potential of science, and Gernsback was correct in his missionary devotion to develop an understanding of science so as to build a new and better world.

Amazing Stories 91-05Today we live in a science-fiction world. Just about everything around us would have amazed a reader of 1926 if he were suddenly transplanted to today. That is not to say that science fiction has outgrown its usefulness; it can still inspire and stimulate, just as Gernsback originally intended.

But let us not forget the core of his original purpose: to create a new and better world. There are many who now believe that science is killing this planet and endangering the whole of its flora and fauna. If Gernsback were alive today, he would direct his scientific zeal toward solving that problem. AMAZING STORIES is as pertinent now as it ever was. Its durability over ninety years is a lesson in itself. Its readers are probably more aware of ecological issues than many of their contemporaries. Whereas once science fiction was created to build a new world, it can now work as a force to help save it. That will be the amazing story of the twenty-first century.

“The AMAZING Story: The Eighties — Son of FANTASTIC” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the July 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. PulpFest 2016 will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of AMAZING STORIES at this summer’s convention in Columbus, Ohio from July 21st through July 24th.

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . When Arthur Bernhard purchased Sol Cohen’s share of AMAZING STORIES,  he was forced to completely reboot the magazine.  The new owner hired Elinor Mavor to be the magazine’s editor and art director. Aside from a vignette written by Ron Lauten, every other piece of fiction in the May 1979 AMAZING was reprinted from previous issues of the magazine. The front cover was created by Scott Mavor, Elinor’s son. A freelance illustrator, it was his sole cover for AMAZING. He also contributed thirteen interior illustrations to the magazine and its companion, FANTASTIC, all published in 1979 and 1980.

Nine months after assuming the editorship of AMAZING STORIES, Elinor Mavor was publishing all new stories, including works by Michael Kube-McDowell and Wayne Wightman, two of her discoveries. The front cover art had also significantly improved, as exemplified by David Mattingly‘s illustration for the May 1980 issue. At the time a matte artist for the Walt Disney Studios, Mattingly began contributing science fiction cover art to the book industry in 1980. He was one of the dominant science fiction paperback cover artists during the eighties, contributing over 500 covers to the industry. He painted four covers for AMAZING between 1980 and 1992.

Another artist who freelanced for Mavor was Dean Ellis. A graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Boston Museum School of Fine Art, Ellis contributed a single cover to AMAZING STORIES, the November 1980 number. A commercial and advertising artist, Ellis became involved with science fiction art when Bantam Books asked him to produce cover art for their Ray Bradbury books during the 1960s. Ellis died in 2009.

Other artists who worked for Mavor during her editorship of AMAZING STORIES included Kent Bash, Stephen Fabian, Vincent DiFate, Chris Foss, Ian Miller, and Rowena Morrill, who painted the front cover for the November 1981 issue, her sole cover for the magazine. One of the first women artists to have an impact on paperback cover illustration, Morrell has become one of the best known names in the world of science fiction and fantasy illustration. She has painted hundreds of book covers, calendars, portfolios, trading cards, and magazine covers. Her work has been used by Ace, Avon, Ballantine, Berkley, Dell, Pocket, and many other publishers.

In 1982, Arthur Bernhard sold AMAZING STORIES to TSR Hobbies, Inc., the producer of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game.  Hiring George Scithers to be the magazine’s editor,  the company’s first issue was dated November 1982 and featured front cover art by Michael R. Whelan, one of the science fiction and fantasy industry’s leading artists. The winner of fifteen Hugo Awards, three World Fantasy Awards, and virtually every other award presented by the industry, Whelan is considered one of the world’s premier fantasy and science fiction artists.

A full-time illustrator since the mid-1950s, Jack Gaughan became closely associated with GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, serving as the magazine’s art editor from 1969 to 1972. He painted 38 covers for GALAXY and also did 29 covers for IF, eleven covers for THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, seven for ASIMOV’S, and many others including AMAZING STORIES for January 1984. Best known for his black-and-white interior illustrations of the 1960s, Gaughan also created many book covers for the publishing industry, most notably Ace Books.

A few years after discovering science fiction fandom, George Barr sold a pair of paintings to Cele Goldsmith. His first professional sales, they graced the covers of two 1962 issues of FANTASTIC. Unfortunately, it would be many years before he made another sale to the science fiction and fantasy industry. Most of his artwork during this period appeared in fanzines until he won the first of two Hugo Awards for Best Fan Artist in 1968. Not long thereafter, his paintings began to appear on paperbacks published by Ace, Ballantine, DAW, and other companies as well as limited editions produced by Donald A. Grant, Underwood-Miller, and others. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, Barr was particularly prolific, creating cover and interior art for books, convention programs, and magazines such as ISAAC ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY’S FANTASY MAGAZINE, WEIRD TALES, and AMAZING STORIES, including the number for September 1985.

During the early years of TSR’s ownership of AMAZING STORIES, Larry Elmore was creating and supervising their game-related art. He continued working for the company until 1987, when he turned to freelancing. Since then, Elmore has produced cover art for many publishers, including Ace, Baen Books, Bantam, Berkley, and Del Rey. He’s also created artwork for the comic book, gaming, motion picture, and toy industries. During his employment by TSR, Elmore created covers for DRAGON® MAGAZINE as well as a pair of covers for AMAZING, including the May 1986 issue.

George Scithers stepped down from editing AMAZING STORIES in early 1986. His position was filled by Patrick L. Price, an assistant editor for the magazine since the September 1983 issue. Price stayed on as the magazine’s editor for the next six years, employing Bob Eggleton as his cover artist for a handful of issues, including the March 1989 number. A commercial artist, Eggleton began working in the science fiction field in 1983. An extremely versatile artist, he has worked in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and as a landscape artist. His illustrations have been featured on magazines, books, posters, trading cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more. He’s also worked as a conceptual artist in the film and amusement park industries. Eggleton has won the Hugo Award for Best Artist eight times.

TSR converted AMAZING STORIES to a slick magazine beginning with the May 1991 number — the first of the Kim Mohan edited issues. It featured front cover art by the late Tim Hildebrandt, best known for the LORD OF THE RINGS calendar art that he created with his twin brother — Greg — in the 1970s. Tim and Greg also painted the original STAR WARS movie posters. After he and his brother decided to pursue separate careers, Tim went on to illustrate many calendars and paint science fiction and fantasy covers for DAW, NAL/Signet, Warner Books, STARLOG, and AMAZING STORIES. When the brothers reunited in later years, they collaborated on a wide array of trading card and comic book projects, film concept work, and much more. Tim Hildebrandt died in 2006.

TSR stopped publishing AMAZING following the Winter 1995 issue. After TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the magazine was relaunched — again with Mohan as editor. This version lasted for ten more issues, dated Summer 1998 through Summer 2000. The title was next acquired by Paizo Publishing which debuted a new monthly version — edited by Jeff Berkwits — in September 2004. This version lasted for only seven issues. Its final number — in PDF format — was dated March 2005. In July 2012, longtime science fiction fan Steve Davidson revived AMAZING STORIES as an online magazine. Two issues were released in July and August 2012. One additional issue — dated April 2014 and available in print or as an ebook — has also been released. For more information, please visit http://amazingstoriesmag.com/)

The AMAZING Story: The Seventies — Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Mar 7, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES 1972-07

Ted White and the Golden Age of AMAZING

Amazing Stories 70-03The title of Ian Dury’s record “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” often comes to mind when I think of science fiction from the early 1970s, especially when I think of AMAZING STORIES. Let me explain, starting with the rock and roll . . . but first, some background.

Ted White, the new editor of AMAZING STORIES and its sister title FANTASTIC, took up his duties in October 1968. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Barry Malzberg and Harry Harrison, White was at heart a science-fiction fan: he had just won the 1968 Hugo Award as Best Fan Writer. One would have to go back to Raymond Palmer in the 1940s to find another editor of the magazine who was rooted in sf fandom. White had been born in February 1938, a few months before Palmer took the helm of AMAZING, and had grown up on a diet of Palmer’s later magazine OTHER WORLDS. It was Palmer’s style of editing that most influenced White’s own. For the first time in almost thirty years, AMAZING had the chance to develop a character.

White had already gained some editing experience before taking over at AMAZING. From 1963 to 1968 he had worked as assistant editor (later associate editor) of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, initially under Avram Davidson and then under Edward Ferman. He had also served a term as associate editor at Lancer Books, under Larry Shaw. In 1966 he tried to launch his own magazine, called STELLAR, but the financial burden proved too heavy. Some of the stories he had selected for that abortive magazine now had a chance to surface in AMAZING and FANTASTIC.

In addition, White was a writer. He wrote for several music magazines and had a particular passion for jazz and rock music (we’re getting to the rock-and-roll connection, but not quite yet). He also wrote science fiction, mostly of the fantastic adventure kind. Novels such as PHOENIX PRIME (1966) and its sequel THE SORCERESS OF QAR (1968) betray a variety of pulp influences, not least those of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. But White’s style was also molded by the techniques emerging from the New Wave of the 1960s. White’s tastes were not restricted to either school of science fiction. He liked the best of both.

In his first editorial for AMAZING STORIES, in the May 1969 issue, he likened the development of the New Wave in science fiction to the 1960s revolution in rock music (now we’re there), and the emergence of heavy metal and acid rock. White pointed out that this music was able to coexist beside the more melodic rhythms of the Beach Boys and other styles of music. It was also important to recognize that heavy rock was drawing upon its roots, in rhythm and blues, to express its new voice.

Amazing Stories 70-05He saw no reason why science fiction should not follow the same pattern. Not only could all forms of science fiction exist side by side — the traditional alongside the modern — but the modern had itself developed from science fiction’s roots. By publishing both forms of sf in AMAZING, White could make it possible for the old and the new to influence each other.

As examples of this policy, White emphasized two new stories. The first was the latest Star Kings novelette by Edmond Hamilton, “The Horror from the Magellanic.” This series, wherein the mind of twentieth-century John Gordon swaps bodies with a man from two hundred millennia in the future, was highly derivative of Burroughs’s Martian novels. The first of the series, “The Star Kings,” had appeared in AMAZING back in September 1947, and while Hamilton was now writing better than ever, the story and plot line were pure unadulterated pulp adventure.

The second example started in the following issue (July 1969). Robert Silverberg’s new serial, “Up the Line,” was a lighthearted but ingenious time-travel adventure, in which a Time Courier changes the past and finds himself on the run from the Time Police. Looking back now from the vantage point of more than twenty years in the future, the story seems fairly mundane, but at the time it was a fresh treatment of an old theme. It proved very popular and was the runner-up to Ursula K. Le Guin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS for the 1970 Best Novel Hugo Award, overcoming such competition as Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, Piers Anthony’s MACROSCOPE, and Norman Spinrad’s trend-setting BUG JACK BARRON.

Although the Swinging Sixties were almost gone and flower power was fading fast, the influence of psychedelia had left its mark on Ted White, and this influence now infiltrated AMAZING STORIES. But White first had to overcome the legacy of the last few years.

When Sol Cohen purchased the magazines in 1965, he instigated a reprint policy, taking advantage of the fact that AMAZING‘s previous publishers had bought second serial rights to the stories. Cohen could thus fill the magazines with reprints and make no further payments to the authors, saving around $8,000 a year minimum. His editors, though, had insisted that each issue contain at least one or two new stories. The best of these original works were serials. The stories were often short and, as time went on, seldom significant.

Ted White sought to change that. With the November 1969 AMAZING he was able to proclaim that thereafter issues would contain only one reprint, and that as a bonus to an otherwise full issue of new stories. The use of a smaller typeface meant that the magazine contained at least 70,000 words of new material, the equivalent of any other sf magazine.

Amazing Stories 70-09Cohen had siphoned the reprints into a number of all-reprint magazines. He had already established GREAT SCIENCE FICTION, THE MOST THRILLING SCIENCE FICTION EVER TOLD, (later retitled THRILLING SF ADVENTURES, and SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS). These were now supplemented by SPACE ADVENTURES, STRANGE FANTASY, SCIENCE FANTASY, and others, all of which drew indiscriminately upon the best and worst fiction from AMAZING, FANTASTIC, and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, without payment to the writers. Even though the separateness of the reprint magazines from AMAZING and FANTASTIC allowed White to develop new fiction in those two titles, the cheap production and content of the reprint magazines gave science-fiction magazines a poor image. Most of these titles were short-lived, although SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES lasted until 1974, when it was absorbed into THRILLING SCIENCE FICTION, which survived for two more issues.

White still had to use one reprint an issue in AMAZING, until he could do away with them altogether beginning with the March 1972 issue. For the immediate future, White was also forced to use cover paintings purchased cheaply from European magazines, but he made the best of this situation by commissioning authors to write stories around them. The first was Greg Benford’s “Sons of Man” in the November 1969 issue. Set at the end of the 1990s, the story links the discovery of a wrecked spacecraft on the Moon with the fabled Bigfoot. Benford was still a relatively new writer with his reputation yet to be made, and this story is far from his best, though the ending is poignant. The same issue saw the start of Benford’s series of scientific articles under the general title of “The Science in Science Fiction,” written with fellow physicist David Book.

Of some significance in the November 1969 AMAZING was the start of Philip K. Dick’s new serial, “A. Lincoln, Simulacrum,” better known by its book title, WE CAN BUILD YOU. This isn’t one of Dick’s most notable novels, but it is a key one in the understanding of his fears about the future. Its significance is related more to the type of reader Dick was likely to attract to the magazine. At this time Dick was establishing his following among the drug culture, many of whose members had been attracted by his enigmatic classic, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH. While White was not going out of his way to pander to the growing drug culture, he did seem to have a close affinity with it. This was evident from an article, “Science Fiction and Drugs,” which White wrote pseudonymously in the June 1970 FANTASTIC. He believed we were entering the “psychedelic seventies,” in which alcohol would be out and drugs would be in. White didn’t overtly promote the free use of drugs in this article, but he did clearly favor drugs over alcohol, and suggested that science fiction needed to consider how the possible legalization of some drugs might affect the future.

White was open to a greater liberalization of science fiction, in line with what was happening to youth nationwide. He saw science fiction as a vehicle to push back the barriers of the “establishment” with no suppression of soft drugs, “healthy sex,” or free expression. Both AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC were becoming closer to “hippie” sf magazines than anything else in science fiction.

In hindsight, there may be some relationship between that fact and the work of Ursula K. Le Guin at this time. Her straightforward drug-image story, “The Good Trip,” appeared in FANTASTIC (August 1970), and AMAZING serialized her novel of dream-worlds, “The Lathe of Heaven” (March and May 1971). This book, about a patient whose dreams can alter reality, reads like a tribute to Philip K. Dick, which is further emphasis of the development of AMAZING into a magazine where the fiction challenged the very fabric of this world and beyond. The novel was both a Nebula and a Hugo Award nominee.

Amazing Stories 71-11White strove to attract good fiction and new writers to the magazines. AMAZING had been in a wilderness for the last five years, and White was having a hard time attracting writers. Because he was paying the lowest rates in the field, he knew he wouldn’t have first shot at the best fiction around, but he might have a chance at some of the best experimental fiction, which had no ready market elsewhere, and thereby attract those writers who didn’t otherwise click with the establishment. One such writer was Piers Anthony.

Today, Anthony’s name is closely associated with his humorous, pun-ridden fantasies set in the Oz-like world of Xanth, and he is regarded by some (unfairly) as a hack. Twenty years ago, Anthony was emerging as one of the more original and challenging writers of science fiction, especially with his novels CHTHON and MACROSCOPE. At this early stage in his career he was having problems finding a regular market for his material. Typical was the plight of his novel “Hasan,” a fantasy modeled on an episode in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, which had received a dozen rejections from publishers. Anthony became more entrepreneurial and had the manuscript reviewed in the amateur magazine SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW. Here it came to the attention of Ted White, who asked to see it and within three weeks had bought it for FANTASTIC (it was serialized in the December 1969 and February 1970 issues). This original way to both sell and acquire material shows how White’s proximity to fandom had its advantages.

Pleased with the reception of “Hasan,” Anthony offered White his next novel, “Orn.” This was the sequel to OMNIVORE, but Anthony had been having problems with his publisher over the novel. It was serialized in the July and September 1970 issues of AMAZING. These two novels coming out so close together brought attention to the diversity of Anthony’s work and the detail in his research and story development. I like to think they helped boost Anthony’s reputation, which was struggling to establish itself in the book market. I can certainly attest to my own feelings at that time; it was the reading of these two novels that clinched Anthony in my mind as a writer of note. I suspect these sales also boosted Anthony’s confidence in trying times. He has gone on record as regarding White as “an excellent editor.”

Other writers who refused to be categorized but who seemed at home in Ted White’s world began to appear, among them Richard A. Lupoff, Barry N. Malzberg, David R. Bunch, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Christopher Priest, James Tiptree, Jr., Avram Davidson, and Philip José Farmer. All offered their offbeat style of story, which had had a chance to mature since the experimental days of the mid-1960s when Michael Moorcock’s NEW WORLDS led the revolution in speculative fiction. Not only were these stories more acceptable to the reader by the early 1970s, but the writers had come to grips with what they were trying to do. The result was a more polished and sophisticated treatment.

No other editor gave writers this kind of opportunity on such a scale. The next closest was Ejler Jakobsson at GALAXY and IF and since those titles retained their formidable reputations from their former editors Frederik Pohl and Horace Gold, and were able to pay better word rates, they are often regarded as the leading experimental titles of the 1970s. But Jakobsson was not as proactive as White, nor did he have the same passion for the field. Neither GALAXY nor IF, for my money, was able to generate the energy that was sparking from AMAZING and FANTASTIC or the feeling that it was in their pages that things were happening.

There is a simple but original example of this fact. In the April 1970 FANTASTIC, Hank Stine wrote perceptive reviews of THE PRISONER television series and of the two novelizations from Ace Books, THE PRISONER by Thomas Disch and NUMBER TWO by David McDaniel. He considered the merits of leading writers adding other books to the series. Terry Carr, the editor at Ace, noted Stine’s views and commissioned him to do a third book in the series, A DAY IN THE LIFE. It was that kind of event that made one feel AMAZING and FANTASTIC were making things happen.

Amazing Stories 73-03The same April 1970 FANTASTIC was significant for another reason: it carried the first new cover that White was able to commission, doing away with the European reprints. The May AMAZING followed suit. Thereafter White was able to publish some striking covers by some of the field’s most exciting artists: Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta (FANTASTIC), John Pederson, Jr., Joe Staton (FANTASTIC), Doug Chaffee (FANTASTIC), Vaughn Bode, Dan Adkins,  and most significantly Mike Hinge. Hinge’s covers were bold, brash, experimental, and colorful. They were called the science-fiction field’s first psychedelic covers, and they helped confirm the image AMAZING was building. Ironically, Hinge’s style had not been adapted for the 1970s. He had submitted some of these covers to AMAZING in the early 1960s, but the art editor had rejected them. Now, ten years later, they were finding their home at last. Hinge’s work was noted and appreciated. In 1973 he was nominated for the Hugo as Best Artist, losing out to Kelly Freas.

White’s credo had been to publish the best of the new alongside the best of the traditional. The emphasis was clearly on the new, and this was in part reflected by the change in the magazine’s full name from AMAZING STORIES to AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES (in September 1970) and then to AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION (in March 1972). There was also a restyling of the cover logo, giving a sharper, more contemporary 1970s image.

While White was publishing experimental work from more challenging writers, he was also nurturing new talent and welcoming back to the fold some of the older writers.

One of the first newcomers was Gordon Eklund. He appeared with “Dear Aunt Annie” in that all-important April 1970 FANTASTIC, and that story went on to be nominated for a Nebula Award as one of the year’s best novelettes. Eklund became one of the best new writers of the 1970s, his stories frequently presenting a fresh face on old themes. White was able to publish some of Eklund’s most thought-provoking works, including “Beyond the Resurrection” (FANTASTIC, April and June 1972), “The Ascending Aye” (AMAZING, January 1973), “Moby, Too” (AMAZING, December 1973), and “Locust Descending” (FANTASTIC, February 1976).

Other new writers whom White developed and encouraged included Gerard F. Conway, Grant Carrington, George Alec Effinger, F. M. Busby (who sold his first story in 1957, then waited fifteen years before selling his second one to White), Dennis O’Neil, Rich Brown, Janet Fox, Thomas Monteleone, and John Shirley. Not too surprisingly, most of these names first appeared in FANTASTIC, since that magazine allowed for a broader range of fiction with a greater opportunity to experiment. Shirley’s work, though, to a large extent typified what was appearing in AMAZING. His ‘What He Wanted” (AMAZING, November 1975) contains it all — sex, drugs, religion, violence, uncensored language, and rock and roll.

White also published new work by some of the old-timers in the field, such as Raymond Z. Gallun and Ross Rocklynne, as well as some not seen for years, such as Wilmar Shiras, Gardner F. Fox, and Noel Loomis. Alongside these he used some of the best work by leading writers: Bob Shaw, John Brunner, Brian Aldiss, Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, Poul Anderson, Robert Silverberg, William F. Nolan, and Jack Vance.

The strength of both AMAZING and FANTASTIC was in their powerful lead novels supported by a genuine variety of exciting stories.

FANTASTIC was in the forefront of the growth of interest in fantasy fiction, and though it never seemed to benefit from this event directly in terms of increased circulation, the magazine was highly influential, as a vehicle for developing fantasy. It published, for instance, a rare sword-and-sorcery novella by Dean R. Koontz, “The Crimson Witch” (October 1970), in what should now be a highly collectible issue; it used a new Elric story by Michael Moorcock, “The Sleeping Sorceress” (February 1972); and it printed one of the finest yet most overlooked fantasy novels of the 1970s, “The Son of Black Morca” by Alexei and Cory Panshin (April, July, and September 1973, published in book form as EARTH MAGIC). It also ran several new Conan stories by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.

Amazing Stories 72-07AMAZING was typified by its novels stressing the psychological anguish of the near future, works such as Silverberg’s “The Second Trip” (July and September 1971), about the effects of rehabilitating personalities; Shaw’s slow-glass serial “Other Days, Other Eyes” (May and July 1972); and Brunner’s savage future in “The Stone That Never Came Down” (October and December 1973), which considers the effects of a drug that enhances intelligence.

Although there were also more traditional stories in AMAZING, on balance the majority emphasized the social and cultural aspects of the future rather than the scientific. They also showed a tendency toward emphasizing sex in all its forms (you were probably wondering when I would get to that part of the title). White didn’t deliberately buy sex stories for effect, though some writers may have produced work with that intent, but there was no doubt that as the 1970s progressed, and as the barriers around the free use of sex in science fiction came down, so the topic began to dominate stories, and those in AMAZING perhaps more than those in other magazines.

There are a few that stand out. White got the ball rolling (if you’ll excuse the expression) with some of his own stories, which had been rejected from Harlan Ellison’s DANGEROUS VISIONS anthology. “Growing Up Fast in the City” (May 1971) looked at the lives of students in the near future, and involved some scenes of loose sex. By today’s standards these scenes were mild, but they brought a hostile response from some readers, who regarded the story as pornographic. It was nothing compared to what lay in the future. Other offerings included several short stories by Barry Malzberg that seem to have no motive in mind other than to shock. “On Ice” (January 1973) involves a drug-induced frenzy leading to a climax of buggery and possession, while “Upping the Planet” (April 1974) concerns a man having to masturbate twenty-four times in twenty-four hours in order to save the planet from alien invasion.

But the most controversial of all was “Two of a Kind” by Rich Brown (March 1977). Set in an anarchic future where government agents hunt down blacks for meat and sport, the story is taken up in great part by the graphic rape of a black woman and the slaughter of her rapists. Apart from the futuristic setting and some of the sf trappings — laser guns and field suits — this story could easily be set in the modem day, and reads like an excuse for sex and violence.

Amazing Stories 73-12Controversy aside — though it was never far away in White’s magazines — White published much that was respectable science fiction and fantasy. For instance, “Junction” by Jack Dann (FANTASTIC, November 1973), about a small midwestern town separated from causality and surrounded by chaos. Or “The Cliometricon” (AMAZING, May 1975; reprinted in August 1991), one of George Zebrowski’s ingenious stories about a history machine. Or “His Hour Upon the Stage” (AMAZING, March 1976), a telling story about the last live actors by Grant Carrington. Or “Tin Woodman” (AMAZING, December 1976), a delightful first-contact story by Dennis Bailey and Dave Bischoff. These last two mentioned stories were finalists for the Nebula Award.

Like them or loathe them, you could never ignore the stories in AMAZING, and they made every issue an event. And let me not mislead you. I’ve concentrated on the fiction, but White also did much to make the nonfiction departments in both magazines lively and informative. Right from the start he had reinstated “The Club House,” reviewing fan publications, run by John D. Berry initially and later by Susan Wood. There was a long and lively letters section, and a wide range of perceptive book reviews. White’s editorials were always fascinating, if at times self-indulgent. And there were always interesting pieces on subjects relevant to sf, such as Greg Benford’s series of articles and Darrell Schweitzer’s author interviews.

White’s success was not ignored by the fans. AMAZING was nominated three times for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine (1970, 1971, and 1972), each time coming in third behind F&SF and ANALOG. When that category was discontinued in favor of Best Professional Editor, White was nominated every year from 1973 through 1977, though he never finished higher than third.

But this recognition was not reflected in sales. Despite all he did to make AMAZING and FANTASTIC the most exciting magazines of the 1970s, circulation continued to dwindle. AMAZING‘s sales had been around the 38,000 mark when White took over in 1968. It dropped a thousand or two per year, so that by 1978 it was down to 22,000. White grew increasingly more frustrated with this trend. Early in his editorial reign he had argued that he was seeking to make AMAZING the best magazine on the market, and only if that achievement led to no increase in circulation would he concede that he had failed.

Amazing Stories 78-01But is a rise or fall in circulation necessarily related to quality? We’ve already seen how AMAZING‘s circulation rose rapidly in the 1940s in response to the Shaver Mystery. So when AMAZING‘s quality was at its lowest ebb, circulation was at its highest. When AMAZING redeemed itself under Cele Goldsmith in the early 1960s, circulation continued to fall. Yet, when Sol Cohen purchased it and instigated his reprint policy, circulation initially rose. Now, when White had made AMAZING arguably one of the most important science-fiction magazines, circulation was dropping.

Clearly it was not White’s failure. Other science-fiction magazines were similarly suffering. IF had folded in 1974, and GALAXY would barely survive the decade. Other seemingly strong new titles, among them COSMOS and VERTEX, came and went. Who or what was to blame?

It is easy to blame the distributor. Over the years, weak distribution has caused the death of scores of magazines. AMAZING was selling only a third of the copies it printed. Two-thirds, therefore, either were languishing in the distributor’s warehouse or remaining boxed and unopened at the newsstand. Crazy though this may seem, it was probably more profitable for the distributor and dealer to act this way, since they were guaranteed money on returns. AMAZING suffered from not being big enough (like PLAYBOY or TIME) to make wholesale distribution profitable or small enough (like some of the emerging small-press magazines, such as WHISPERS) to survive solely by subscription.

There was another factor to consider: the changing shape of the science-fiction market. Magazines had been in decline since the 1950s, under threats from television, comic books, and paperbacks. Those threats had not gone away by the 1970s. However, although television had eaten into reading time (and may have totally taken away the desire to read in some people), it was not a substitute for reading. Comic books attracted the more junior element of the magazine readership, one to which AMAZING was no longer trying to appeal. So the most direct threat was from the paperback book.

The most popular paperback books were novels, and one way that magazines fought against this phenomenon was by advance serialization of novels. But with paperback novels now proliferating, this feature of magazines was becoming less of a lure to readers.

Amazing Stories 78-08The magazine’s main territory was the short story. Book publishers have always maintained that short-story collections do not sell as well as novels, yet that has not stopped their regular publication. Science-fiction anthologies have frequently sold well, but until the 1960s they contained mostly stories reprinted from magazines. Magazines retained the strength of being the place where new short stories could be seen. Then, that bastion was eroded away during the 1970s. The previous decade had seen the birth of a number of regular paperback anthologies, with NEW WRITINGS IN SF and ORBIT leading the way. The 1970s brought a proliferation of these series: NOVA, NEW DIMENSIONS, UNIVERSE, QUARK, INFINITY, plus a mass of original anthologies edited by Roger Elwood. By the mid-1970s the short-story market was saturated. The magazines, always playing second fiddle to the paperbacks, were bound to suffer.

Ironically, against this background came a successful new magazine. ISAAC ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, under the editorship of George Scithers (who steps into AMAZING‘s history in our final article), was issued in January 1977. Its circulation immediately exceeded 100,000, four times that of AMAZING and more than that of ANALOG, the former leader in the field.

Of course, the new magazine had the selling power of Asimov’s name, but it had more than that. Its publisher, Joel Davis, believed in digest fiction magazines and was solidly behind their promotion. He was able to market ASIMOV’S alongside the bestselling ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and the new periodical clearly benefited from a combined distribution package. The irony here is that Joel Davis is the son of Bernard Davis, the co-publisher of AMAZING during its Ziff-Davis days. Bernard Davis had left that firm in 1957 when it started to move away from fiction magazines. If he had taken AMAZING with him, the magazine’s fate may have been oh so different.

All these factors were affecting Ted White. He was becoming tired. His editorial work had always been a part-time job, yet it was growing increasingly more time-consuming as he took on further responsibilities not just in editing but in art design and packaging. The demands of his expanding role were dominating and sapping his writing energies. He occasionally vented his views in his editorials, and in so doing sometimes clashed with his publisher. Although Sol Cohen was the active partner in the Ultimate Publishing Company, the financing for the magazine came from Arthur Bernhard, who did not always like the political views expressed by White. More than once, White had to pull an editorial that had been vetoed by Bernhard.

Money was always tight. White introduced a controversial new policy whereby unsolicited submissions from writers with no previous sales had to be accompanied by a twenty-five-cent reading fee, which went to AMAZING‘s first readers, Grant Carrington and Rick Snead. While many people recognized the value in such a tactic, it was overall an unpopular move, since it was effectively aimed against the very writers White was seeking to encourage. It was a sign of desperation.

Several times Cohen sought a new publisher for the magazine, but Bernhard vetoed any sale. White became increasingly fatigued, and considered resigning in 1975. Then came a change in the publishing schedule. Cohen was especially concerned when a price increase from 75¢ to $1 (November 1975) caused sales to drop alarmingly. He decided to let issues stay on sale a month longer in hopes of recouping the lost market, and so both AMAZING and FANTASTIC went to a quarterly schedule. This allowed White more time to edit each issue, so he stayed on. However, this change also made it impractical to run serials. As a consequence, another of AMAZING‘s weapons against the paperback was lost.

Sales continued to drop. In September 1978, Cohen called it a day. He was sixty-eight, and he was also tired. He sold his stock to Bernhard, who took over full control of the magazines. White agreed to stay on during the transition, but six weeks later he resigned. By then it had become clear that Bernhard did not intend to invest any new money in the magazines. The stories in the inventory had not been paid for, and White returned them to their authors, suggesting they may choose to resubmit them to the new publisher.

Amazing Stories 79-02White had had enough. He had remained true to the spirit of the magazines throughout his ten years as editor, second only to Palmer in duration. (In fact, his period exceeds Palmer’s if you exclude Palmer’s final two years, when William Hamling was really editing the magazine.) The final issues lacked some of the verve of White’s early years, not surprising considering the pressures he was facing. Against the most appalling odds, White had achieved the impossible. He had rescued AMAZING from its fate in 1968, had given it a respectability and reputation that was enviable, and had furthered the evolution of science fiction during one of the genre’s most volatile decades. It was probably the right time to move on. (White eventually became editor of the fantasy graphic magazine HEAVY METAL, and thereafter developed his own music label. We end where we began, with the power of music.) But the magazine needed a good editor to take up the reins.

I was horrified when I saw the May 1979 AMAZING, the first under Bernhard’s new regime. Because of a lack of new material, the issue was mostly reprints. The production was awful. It looked cheap and uninspiring. That horrible feeling of déjà vu swept over me. I rushed off a letter to the new editor, someone called Omar Gohagen, saying, more or less, “My God. What have you done?”

Just what they had done, and how AMAZING survived into the twenty-first century, we’ll explore in the final installment of this series appearing on Thursday, March 10th.

“The AMAZING Story: The Seventies — Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the June 1992 issue of AMAZING. Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. Please visit www.pulpfest.com on Thursday, March 10th, for the seventh and final segment of the series.

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . Ted White succeeded Barry Malzberg as the editor of AMAZING STORIES in October 1968. A longtime science fiction fan, White’s first issue was dated May 1969. Except for an Edmond Hamilton novella (previously unpublished in English); a vignette by Ray Russell; and some non-fiction articles, the contents of the issue consisted of reprints from 1950s issues of AMAZING. The cover art — by an unknown artist — was also a reprint. It came from the PERRY RHODAN series and was originally published in Germany.

The first six issues of White’s AMAZING all featured cover art reprinted from the German PERRY RHODAN book series. This included the March 1970 number which featured a cover painting by an artist named “Willis.” It had originally appeared on PERRY RHODAN #201. However, aside from the cover and a Dr. David Keller story from 1933, everything else in the issue was new, including the first half of White’s own novel, “By Furies Possessed,” one of the author’s finest works.

Because Ted White was paying the lowest rates in the field, he knew he wouldn’t be able to acquire the best fiction around, but he might have a chance at some of the best experimental fiction, created by authors who had no ready market elsewhere. He did much the same with his AMAZING cover artists, publishing some striking covers by visual artists such as Tom Barber, Vaughn Bode, Don Davis, Stephen Fabian, Mike Hinge, Jeffrey Jones, Larry Todd, and John Pederson, Jr., whose front cover for the May 1970 AMAZING STORIES was the first original cover painting for White’s magazine. Pederson would paint a half dozen covers for AMAZING and its companion. He also contributed covers to GALAXY, IF, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, and WORLDS OF TOMORROW.

As editor of AMAZING, Ted White sought to publish the best of the traditional alongside the best of the new, with the emphasis clearly on the new. This was aptly demonstrated when the magazine’s name was changed to AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES in September 1970. There was also a restyling of the cover logo, making it sharper and more contemporary. It fit well with Jeffrey Jones‘s first cover painting for the magazine, one of nine he would create for AMAZING and FANTASTIC. A largely self-taught artist, Jones’ earliest professional work appeared in James Warren’s CREEPY and EERIE. Soon thereafter, he started to paint paperback covers for a wide variety of publishers including Ace, Berkley, Centaur,  Dell, Fawcett, Lancer, Pyramid, and Zebra. In later years, Jones concentrated on gallery work, prints, and portfolios.

Perhaps the artist who best reflected White’s use of the traditional alongside the modern was Mike Hinge. This idea is aptly reflected by the artist’s cover for the November 1971 AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES. Hinge’s covers were bold, brash, experimental, and colorful. They were called the science-fiction field’s first “psychedelic covers” — well demonstrated by the artist’s cover for the March 1973 AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION — and helped to identify AMAZING as the “hippie” science-fiction magazine. A native of New Zealand, Hinge emigrated to the United States in 1959, finding work as an advertising artist. A leading science fiction fan in his homeland, he renewed his relationship with fandom after moving to New York City in 1966. In addition to his work for Ted White’s magazines, he also created cover art for ALGOL, ANALOG, books and other magazines.

AMAZING was typified by its novels stressing the psychological anguish of the near future, including works such as Bob Shaw’s serial “Other Days, Other Eyes,” which ran in the May and July 1972 issues of the magazine. The latter number featured one of Larry Todd‘s covers, based on a color sketch by Vaughn Bode. Todd and Bode collaborated on three covers for AMAZING as well as one for FANTASTIC. Primarily known as underground comic book artists, Todd is best remembered for Dr. Atomic (which ran in LAST GASP COMICS) while Bode is best known for Cheech Wizard (which ran in NATIONAL LAMPOON). Todd also contributed cartoons to IMAGINATION, GALAXY, WORLDS OF TOMORROW, and other science-fiction magazines. Bode contributed a substantial number of interior illustrations to GALAXY and IF during the late sixties. He also painted covers for GALAXY, IF, and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION.

John Brunner’s “The Stone That Never Came Down” was another AMAZING novel of near future angst. It was serialized in the October and December 1973 issues. The closing segment featured front cover art by Don Davis, an illustrator who created three covers for the magazine. Primarily a space artist who worked for the United States Geological Survey and NASA, Davis also created a few covers for ALGOL, AMAZING, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, VERTEX, and Larry Niven’s RINGWORLD.

Although Ted White’s AMAZING was nominated three times for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine and White himself was nominated five times as Best Professional Editor, the magazine’s circulation continued to decline throughout White’s term editorial reign. Despite all he did to make AMAZING and FANTASTIC the most exciting magazines of the 1970s — including adding Stephen Fabian to his list of cover artists — the two digests continued to lose readers. Fabian’s exotic and dramatic covers were featured on nine issues of AMAZING — including the January and August 1978 numbers — and 11 issues of FANTASTIC.

A former associate engineer in the electronics industry, Stephen E. Fabian taught himself to illustrate by studying art books and practicing. After losing his engineering job, he began contributing illustrations and covers to AMAZING, FANTASTIC, GALAXY, IF, and other magazines; small press publications such as CRYPT OF CTHULHU, WEIRDBOOK, and WHISPERS; and independent book publishers including Donald M. Grant, Gerry De La Ree, Starmont House, Underwood-Miller, and Wildside Press. He has been nominated for numerous Hugo and World Fantasy Awards and has won the British Fantasy Award for best professional artist.

In 1975, Ted White resigned as editor of AMAZING and FANTASTIC. He explained his reasons in Richard Geis’s SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW:

I am tired of editing two magazines which limp from month to month on the inadequate budget and over-extended energies of a very few people. I have edited AMAZING and FANTASTIC for more than six years . . . my energies are depleted. I am paid a literal pittance to get these magazines out, I am perennially late with deadlines, and to a great extent they have become a minimally subsidized hobby.

When I began with the magazines I brought to them a lot of energy and enthusiasm and a great many ideas for their improvement . . . Well, I have put into effect nearly every idea which I was allowed to follow through on . . . and I have spent most of my energy and enthusiasm.

Thankfully, Sol Cohen was able to convince White to stay with the magazines for three more years, but AMAZING and FANTASTIC continued to lose readers. By 1977, they were losing money. After Cohen sold his stake in the company, Ted White resigned his position. White’s final issue of AMAZING was dated February 1979 and featured cover art by Tom Barber (who painted four covers for the magazine). Barber was active in the field during the late seventies and early eighties, painting covers for AMAZING, GALILEO, HEAVY METAL, and WEIRD TALES. He also contributed paperback covers to DAW and Zebra Books.)

The AMAZING Story: The Sixties — The Goose-Flesh Factor

Mar 3, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1960-12

Cele Goldsmith and the Ultimate AMAZING

Amazing Stories 58-12When Paul Fairman left in 1958, Ziff-Davis could easily have suspended publication of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC, or sold the magazines to the highest bidder. Since the departure of publisher Bernard Davis the year before, the company had oriented itself in favor of the slick market with POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY and CAR AND DRIVER, and had little interest in the pulp fiction field. As long as the magazines made a profit they were left alone, but were not considered worthy of further investment.

It was in this backwater scenario that Cele Goldsmith found herself. She had joined Ziff-Davis as secretary and all-around assistant to Howard Browne in 1955, and had continued to assist Fairman during his editorship. Fairman was content for Goldsmith to do most of the first selection of unsolicited manuscripts, while he dealt with the regular contributors. By the time he left, she had gained sufficient editorial experience to take over. Perhaps Ziff-Davis had some concern about her ability to work totally alone, since the company brought in Norman Lobsenz as editorial consultant. “Norm and I had a fabulous working arrangement,” Cele told me when we corresponded in 1982. “Without him I would have been in total isolation.”

Goldsmith chose all the material, edited everything, selected the title and blurb typefaces and dummied the monthly magazines by herself. Lobsenz, who arrived for an editorial conference usually once a week, penned the editorials, read her choices, and wrote the blurbs for the stories. They did cover blurbs together, and Goldsmith assigned both interior and cover art.

Goldsmith had no scientific background but had a sound judgment of story content and development, and this was the key to her success. She accepted stories on their value as fiction rather than as science fiction. “When I read something I didn’t understand, but intuitively knew was good,” she said, “I’d get ‘goose flesh’ and never doubt we had a winner.” That “goose flesh” was transmitted to the readers. I know when I encountered the Goldsmith AMAZING and FANTASTIC in the early 1960s, I got goose flesh because of the power and originality of their content. As I look now at the 150 or more total issues of those two magazines that Cele Goldsmith edited, that thrill is still there.

The change was noticeable almost immediately. For a start, all of the old house pseudonyms vanished. The authors behind the names — Silverberg, Slesar, Ellison, and Garrett — continued to appear, but with more original, non-formula stories.

Amazing Stories 59-03Goldsmith regards the March 1959 issue of AMAZING as the first to reflect the steps she wished to take. That magazine featured a new cover artist, Albert Nuetzell. Cover art was to become a distinct feature of Goldsmith’s tenure. Under Fairman and in the later days of Howard Browne’s editorship, the covers had been left chiefly to Ed Valigursky, a competent artist but one who let B-movie action and imagery override originality and artistic value. Almost all of the Goldsmith-era covers, on the other hand, are of artistic merit. Her mainstay artists were Alex Schomburg, Ed Emshwiller, George Schelling, and Lloyd Birmingham. There are also some striking covers by Robert Adragna and Gray Morrow, and even one by Virgil Finlay.

The next distinctive feature of that issue was the beginning of a new serial by E. E. (Doc) Smith, “The Galaxy Primes.” It was a delight to see Smith back in AMAZING, the magazine through which he had opened the field to the super-science revolution with “The Skylark of Space” in 1928. His new novel, which received a mixed reaction at the time, is an ebullient blend of higher mathematics, mental powers, and planetary adventure.

The presence of Smith in this issue was symbolic. It was both a link to the groundbreaking origins of AMAZING, and an announcement that the next revolution was about to take place. By providing that feeling of continuity, Goldsmith had succeeded in breaking from the old mold into the new without dispossessing readers, which is what had happened when Howard Browne had tried to upgrade AMAZING from its old pulp image in 1953.

This approach was echoed in the magazine’s third feature. Goldsmith had commissioned a new story from Isaac Asimov, “Anniversary,” to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Asimov’s first appearance in print with “Marooned Off Vesta” in the March 1939 issue of AMAZING. The two stories were published together in the March 1959 magazine.

Readers were very positive in their reaction to the changes, and Goldsmith pledged more. Her work over the next few years can best be summarized by saying that she encouraged both the old and the new writers to try something different. She was always prompt in her response to a submission, which resulted in Piers Anthony calling her “fast and good” when he wrote about her in his BIO OF AN OGRE (Ace, 1988). The result of her efforts was a magazine that developed some of the newest talent around in the field, and brought an excitement to the genre that had been missing for much of the 1950s.

Cele Goldsmith’s first major discovery was Keith Laumer, whose “Greylorn” was published in April 1959. Laumer was stationed with the U. S. diplomatic corps in India, and his brother had brought the story into the Ziff-Davis offices, requesting to see the editor and interrupting her work. She was annoyed and almost rejected the manuscript there and then, but upon reading it she was captured by Laumer’s humor and perception. Soon afterward, she bought the first of Laumer’s Retief stories, “Diplomat at Arms,” which ran in the January 1960 FANTASTIC.

April 1959 also featured the publication of a Cordwainer Smith story, “Golden the Ship Was — Oh! Oh! Oh!” Smith’s idiosyncratic style made him a unique talent, and his appearance in AMAZING was further proof of the magazine’s break with the past, and of Goldsmith’s determination to be fresh and exciting.

The May 1959 issue included “Initiative” by Boris and Arkady Strugatski, hailed in the blurb as the first Soviet sf story translated for American readers. That wasn’t quite true, since Hugo Gernsback had reprinted V. Orlovsky’s “Revolt of the Atoms” in AMAZING thirty years earlier; but nothing of the sort had happened since, so it was appropriate that it was AMAZING that started the Soviet and U. S. link again. Shortly afterward, interest began to climb in Soviet sf writing, and the Strugatski brothers became the most notable among many talented writers from the Soviet Union.

“The Stars Are Calling, Mr. Keats” (June 1959) was a poignant story of a spaceman’s relationship with an extra-terrestrial bird, which is all that stands between him and loneliness. The author, Robert F. Young, had appeared in a variety of magazines during the 1950s, but he now became a regular in AMAZING and FANTASTIC through the first half of the 1960s with a special kind of story that put the human perspective at the forefront. Other nomadic authors who now found a home in AMAZING and FANTASTIC were Arthur Porges, Daniel F. Galouye, H. Beam Piper, and Ron Goulart.

Amazing Stories 59-11Perhaps the most enigmatic was David R. Bunch, whose bizarre stories typify the uniqueness of the Goldsmith years. “The Flesh-Man from Far Wide” (November 1959) was the first of Bunch’s Moderan stories, depicting a world where man was almost machine. Bunch used this concept to contrast the human and technological interrelationship. The Bunch stories, possibly more than anyone else’s, presaged the “new wave” that was to hit science fiction in the mid-1960s.

It is difficult during this period to keep FANTASTIC separate from AMAZING. While FANTASTIC tended to publish the more surreal, off-trail stories, it also published science fiction and sometimes acted as a repository for overflow from AMAZING and as a forum to experiment. Frequently Goldsmith’s discoveries first appeared in FANTASTIC before graduating to AMAZING. One such discovery was Jack Sharkey, who had been a novice writer in New York, struggling to sell his first story, when Goldsmith bought “The Arm of Enmord” just before Christmas 1958. She was impressed with Sharkey’s work and ran two stories in the March 1959 FANTASTIC, giving him a double debut. The stories were of contrasting types — one humorous, one dramatic — and Goldsmith asked readers which they preferred. In fact they liked both, though it was humor with which Sharkey became most associated over the next six years.

One of the experiments with FANTASTIC was to devote the November 1959 issue to the work of Fritz Leiber, presenting five new stories. Leiber was making a comeback into the sf field, after a period when his descent into alcoholism had seriously endangered his writing. This special presentation gave him the boost he needed. It also gave a new lease on life to those two other-world rascals, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Starting with “Lean Times in Lankhmar,” the first piece presented in the special Leiber issue, their adventures became a regular feature of FANTASTIC over th next few years.

All of the above developments took place in Cele Goldsmith’s first year as editor. Her second year was almost as dramatic.

“Transient” by Ward Moore was the lead short novel in the February 1960 AMAZING. This story brought a large-scale response because of the casual sex in the story (mild by today’s standards) and because the story was more fantasy than sf. That didn’t matter. What was significant was that the issue could provoke such a reaction. This showed that AMAZING had harnessed a loyal and vociferous readership. One such vocal reader was F. M. Busby, then a leading fan, who subsequently has become an irreverent and irregular author of note. He found Moore’s story a “most striking piece of work,” adding “I’m not surprised that ‘Transient’ was a bit too rich for the blood of several readers; it is pretty far out.” In his letter published in the August 1960 issue, Busby went on to sum up the recent past history of AMAZING in a few caustic words: “After Palmer’s screwballisms, Browne’s well-meant ignorance of the field, and Fairman’s utter dedication to printing crud (even if he had to write it himself to avoid printing something readable) your regime still seems a bit unbelievable to the long-time reader.”

Cele Goldsmith was striking to the core.

More new writers began to appear. That same February 1960 issue offered “A Long Way Back,” Ben Bova’s first published story. Bova would later become editor of ANALOG and then editor of OMNI, and for a period became a regular contributor of scientific articles to AMAZING. The August 1960 issue contained the first appearance of Neal Barrett, Jr., with “Made in Archerius.” Curiously, Barrett’s stories, of which there were five in AMAZING and FANTASTIC at this time, made little impact, but in recent years he has started to acquire a cult status for his original and offbeat novels, and those early stories are worthy of reconsideration.

Goldsmith also established a regular nonfiction feature in AMAZING. One might measure this from “Stargazers,” a controversial attack on astronomers by Eric Frank Russell in the January 1959 issue, although this article had been an outgrowth of a series Russell had written for FANTASTIC on strange phenomena. The new series of nonfiction features really started with “The Unused Stars” by Isaac Asimov (July 1959), and thereafter noted sf writers contributed articles about topics in science and science fiction. Meanwhile, in FANTASTIC, Sam Moskowitz began his series of profiles of leading sf and fantasy writers, starting in the May 1960 issue with a study of H. P. Lovecraft. This series later switched to AMAZING with a profile of Hugo Gernsback in the September 1960 issue. Almost all of the articles that were later collected in Moskowitz’s SEEKERS OF TOMORROW (World, 1966) first appeared here.

Amazing Stories 60-10The transition from the old to the new concluded with the October 1960 AMAZING. This issue featured a new title logo, which was more vibrant than the 1950s bold type, and an enticing cover painting by Alex Schomburg illustrating Clifford Simak’s “The Trouble With Tycho.” Schomburg became a regular cover artist for AMAZING and FANTASTIC, often with bold and original concepts, and in 1962 he was nominated for a Hugo Award as Best Professional Artist. The contents of that October 1960 issue were not significantly different, but the image had changed, and the new-style AMAZING was now firmly entrenched.

In his editorial in the October 1960 AMAZING, Lobsenz bemoaned the lack of quality sf. Despite Cele’s efforts to find good new stories, they were not always there. Consequently the editors introduced a policy of classic reprints, commissioning Sam Moskowitz to select stories from AMAZING‘s archives. These were restricted to one an issue, and Moskowitz’s selections were always of high quality. They started with “The Lost Machine” by John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham], one of his best early stories. At a time when pre-Golden Age stories (pre-1938, when John W. Campbell took over at ASTOUNDING) were seldom reprinted, these came as a revelation to many. The April 1961 issue was given over entirely to reprint stories, plus a guest editorial by Hugo Gernsback, to mark the magazine’s thirty-fifth birthday. That issue also included Frank R. Paul’s last original painting for the magazine.

Amazing Stories 63-03It is difficult to single out all the stories of lasting merit that appeared in AMAZING during the golden Goldsmith years. A few by established authors of the day may provide a taste: “Before Eden” by Arthur C. Clarke (June 1961), “Tongues of the Moon” by Philip José Farmer (September 1961), “Third Stage” by Poul Anderson (February 1962), “The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista” by J. G. Ballard (March 1962), “The Stars, My Brothers” by Edmond Hamilton (May 1962), “Chocky” by John Wyndham (March 1963), “Drunkboat” by Cordwainer Smith (October 1963), and “The Days of Perky Pat” by Philip K. Dick (December 1963), which formed the basis of his novel THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH (Doubleday, 1965). AMAZING also gave first publication to a previously unprinted story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, “Savage Pellucidar” (November 1963), which became a Hugo Award nominee.

But despite the quality of these stories, it was not them that gave the goose flesh to readers. That excitement and anticipation came from the new writers who were emerging, who were bringing bold new ideas to sf and challenging old concepts. It was this aspect of her work that gave Cele the biggest thrill.

Of the authors who debuted in the middle period of Goldsmith’s editorship, four stand out: Roger Zelazny, Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Piers Anthony. There is little doubt that science fiction owes a debt to Cele Goldsmith for putting these writers on the road. All of them had already tried to sell professionally — Le Guin had submitted a story to AMAZING as far back as 1939 — but none of them had found an editor appreciative of their talents. Only Goldsmith saw through the fantastic trimmings to the creative core, and her feedback gave the authors a respectability and encouragement. Although Anthony received only $20 for his first story, “Possible to Rue” (FANTASTIC, April 1963), he summed up the feeling of all authors with their first sale when he wrote in his autobiography that “the significance extended far beyond the money. I had made it!”

Amazing Stories 63-12Zelazny sold twenty-three stories to Cele Goldsmith, of which “He Who Shapes” (January-February 1965) went on to win the first Nebula Award (presented by the newly formed Science Fiction Writers of America) for the year’s best novella. All of his stories were refreshingly different, pushing back the boundaries of sf. Among them are “The Graveyard Heart” and “The Furies,” now considered among sixties masterpieces of the outré, and his stories about Dilvish the Damned. All of these appeared in that cauldron of the bizarre, FANTASTIC.

Cele Goldsmith’s efforts were recognized by the fans voting for the annual Hugo Awards. In 1960 AMAZING was nominated for the first time in the Best Professional Magazine category (though it lost out to F&SF). It was on the ballot again in 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1965, and FANTASTIC was nominated in 1963. Unfortunately, neither magazine ever won the award, but in 1962 the committee gave a special award to Cele Goldsmith for “the continued and consistent improvement, both visually and qualitatively, in the magazines which she edits.” She was the first sf magazine editor to be specifically recognized.

Alas, all Golden Ages come to an end. Despite a further facelift in January 1964, which gave AMAZING a more strident logo, the quality of the magazine’s content started to decline. In retrospect one might argue that the lead AMAZING had taken was now being imitated by rival magazines — especially IF in the United States, under Frederik Pohl, and NEW WORLDS in England, under Michael Moorcock — and this was draining the special qualities away from AMAZING. I’m not convinced that was the case. AMAZING was still finding fresh talent, including Norman Spinrad, Walter F. Moudy, Robert H. Rohrer, and Leo P. Kelley, and there were still plenty of good stories. The sparkle only vanished in the final few issues when the fate of the magazine was known.

By 1964 Ziff-Davis had completed its plans for expansion into the slick market, and AMAZING and FANTASTIC did not figure in those plans; Z-D wanted more hi-fl than sci-fi. AMAZING‘s circulation had dropped from 52,000 in 1962 to 35,000 in 1964, and the publisher called it a day. Ziff-Davis looked around for a purchaser, and in March 1965 the titles were sold to Sol Cohen, at that time the publisher of GALAXY and IF.

Amazing Stories 65-06Cele Goldsmith Lalli (she had married in 1964) chose not to go with the magazines, and moved onto the editorial staff of MODERN BRIDE (she became its editor in 1982). Her last issue was for June 1965. There were no farewells or goodbyes. After nearly seven years as editor, and the best one AMAZING had had — indeed, one of the best magazine editors the field has seen — Cele Lalli moved on. And after twenty-seven years as AMAZING‘s publisher, Ziff-Davis parted company without a single eulogy.

In buying the magazines, Cohen established a new company called Ultimate Publishing. His partner was Arthur Bernhard; however, Bernhard had nothing to do with the production side. Cohen kept this as his specialty, though he brought in as editor Joseph Wrzos (who anglicized his name to Ross to avoid any spelling errors). Wrzos was an English teacher who had worked for a short period as an assistant at Gnome Press in the 1950s. He had met Cohen by chance when he called at the GALAXY offices in late March 1965 to pick up an advance copy of the June issue. Cohen had been impressed that anyone should come from New Jersey for that reason, and he was further impressed by Wrzos’s knowledge of the field. A few weeks later Wrzos received a phone call from Cohen offering him the editorship of Cohen’s two new magazines.

It was Cohen’s belief that the only way to make the magazines profitable was to instigate a reprint policy. With the sale, Cohen had acquired all the rights to the stories purchased by Ziff-Davis. This included second serial rights, meaning that a story could be reprinted in the magazine without further payment to the author. There was nothing untoward about this procedure in the old pulp days, when authors seldom expected a story to be reprinted and preferred the money up front. Cohen thus sought to convert both AMAZING and FANTASTIC into all-reprint magazines. Wrzos talked him out of this, arguing that to attract readers the magazines should run at least one new story per issue. This wasn’t difficult to do at the start, since Cohen had the remaining stories in the Ziff-Davis inventory. Moreover, with a free range over AMAZING‘s forty years’ worth of material, Wrzos had a huge selection of good stories to pick from.

Amazing Stories 65-10The first year of the Ultimate AMAZING was consequently not at all bad, and circulation did rise to nearly 50,000. New stories included “On the Sand Planet” by Cordwainer Smith, Murray Leinster’s novel “Killer Ship,” Philip K. Dick’s “Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday,” and Roger Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry” (in FANTASTIC). The reprints were also worthy of resurrection, though here Cohen entered dangerous territory.

Perhaps it wasn’t too bad when the stories reprinted were early tales by writers long dead or forgotten. But when the selections were of more recent vintage, with the writers still active, they began to look askance at Cohen’s practices. Whether or not he was legally right, reprinting stories by authors without any payment was not an accepted practice, and certainly one that was frowned upon by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), then under the presidency of Damon Knight.

Cohen compounded the problem, however, not only by continuing with the reprints in AMAZING and FANTASTIC, but by starting a series of new magazines that consisted entirely of reprints and for which not a single payment was made. The first of these was GREAT SCIENCE FICTION, which went on sale in October 1965, followed by THE MOST THRILLING SCIENCE FICTION EVER TOLD (in April 1966) and by SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS (in April 1967). This last title came under a new imprint that Cohen set up pseudonymously, and he brought in Herb Lehrman to help in the selection of reprints. (None of the editors of AMAZING and FANTASTIC during this time had anything to do with the production of the all-reprint magazines.) This move only antagonized SFWA all the more, and when Cohen refused to pay even token reprint fees to the authors, SFWA declared a boycott of the magazines and undertook legal proceedings against Cohen.

This battle went on for many months and brought a sour taste to the sf magazine world. After two years, Joseph Wrzos believed he had done all he could for the magazines, and had exhausted what he felt to be the best of the old material without transgressing into the realms of SFWA authors. Wrzos resigned in the summer of 1967 (his last issue being the November FANTASTIC).

Despite his brief tenure, Wrzos had served more than adequately as an editor in difficult circumstances, and the magazines had benefited from his love for the field. He had succeeded in buying some fine serials and novelettes including, in his second year, “Ensign Flandry” by Poul Anderson, “Born Under Mars” by John Brunner, “The Heaven Makers” by Frank Herbert, and Jack Vance’s “The Man From Zodiac.” But because most of these stories either came out as novels shortly after their magazine appearances, or were soon included in authors’ collections, they are not remembered for their magazine publication, and AMAZING is only remembered as a reprint magazine — and that almost as a mark of disdain. Yet other reprint magazines, from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES to MAGAZINE OF HORROR (which didn’t pay for reprint rights either) are remembered with fond nostalgia. Such is history.

If we are to put the record straight here, then we may look down upon GREAT SF and MOST THRILLING SF (and the score of other low-budget titles that Cohen released) because of the non-payment policy, and because of the quality of some of the fiction that was reprinted (most selections coming from the Palmer years). But if we are honest about AMAZING and FANTASTIC, those issues were of as reasonable quality as possible in the circumstances.

It was sobering that at the time of this unfortunate episode the magazine’s founder, Hugo Gernsback, died at the age of 83 on August 19, 1967. He must have looked with sadness upon the fate of his revolutionary brainchild.

The year after Wrzos’s departure was one of rapid change. He was succeeded by Harry Harrison. As an author, Harrison has maintained an enviable reputation for his action-packed sf (such as the DEATHWORLD series) and for his humorous satires about the Stainless Steel Rat. He had known Cohen since the early 1950s, and more recently had helped work out an interim agreement with SFWA. He had also been reviewing books for AMAZING for the last few issues. When Cohen asked if he would help edit the magazines, Harrison agreed on the condition that all reprints be phased out within a year.

Amazing Stories 68-09Harrison’s tenure was too brief to identify a discernible editorial trend. He sought to secure an international flavor for the magazine, printing a new Russian story, “An Unusual Case” by Gennadiy Gor, and introducing a featured “letter” from foreign lands — somehow, Brian Aldiss managed to contribute both a London letter and an Oslo letter. But Harrison left little mark on the fiction. Perhaps his most notable new story was Samuel Delany’s “House A-Fire” (an excerpt from his novel NOVA), but history may consider his most important story as being “A Darkness in My Soul” by Dean R. Koontz in the January 1968 FANTASTIC. In truth, though, this story — one of Koontz’s earliest and best — had been purchased by Wrzos. The most popular story Harrison published was almost certainly “Idiot’s Mate” by Robert Taylor, which was the only AMAZING story from the second half of the 1960s to be nominated for a Hugo. It considers man’s inhumanity to man in a real-life chess match played to the death on the Moon.

Harrison’s editorials suggest that he would have developed a blend between the emerging “new wave” fiction and the best of the pulp tradition, but none of this came about.

Five months after Harrison arrived he left, unable to persuade Cohen to drop the reprints. Harrison recommended Barry Malzberg, whom Cohen knew from his work at a literary agency. Malzberg started work on April 1, 1968, and resigned on October 19. In that period he compiled three issues each of AMAZING and FANTASTIC using stories purchased, for the most part, by Harrison. The January 1969 AMAZING is probably the closest to an all-Malzberg issue. It included the start of Richard C. Meredith’s powerful novel “We All Died at Breakaway Station” and a Dean Koontz story, “Temple of Sorrow.” It is interesting to note in Malzberg’s blurb for the story that he speculated on “just how good Mr. Koontz is going to be.”

In this issue Malzberg also contributed his only editorial to the magazine. Here, in his characteristically acerbic style, he claimed that most magazine sf was “ill-written, ill-characterized, ill-conceived and so excruciatingly dull as to make me question the ability of the writers to stay awake during its composition . . .” Malzberg contended that science fiction had to break with its tradition and establish itself as part of the mainstream of literature, albeit an eclectic element. Malzberg’s idea of radical writers included R. A. Lafferty, John Sladek, Thomas Disch, and David Bunch, whose stories he purchased. But Malzberg was not able to develop his plans. He fell out with Cohen over a cover that Malzberg had been authorized to commission but which Cohen refused to pay for.

In the background at this time, Robert Silverberg, who had become the new president of SFWA, had been seeking to achieve an amicable agreement between the organization and Cohen. It was not easy because of Cohen’s steadfast refusal to pay for reprints, and his insistence upon their use. Eventually, with patient coaxing, Silverberg reached a partly workable agreement. In appreciation, Malzberg credited him as Associate Editor of the magazine, though he had no real involvement with it other than writing a few guest editorials and articles. In the summer of 1968 Cohen told Silverberg that Malzberg was about to resign and asked if Silverberg had any idea for a successor. Silverberg recommended Ted White, who was promptly hired. Silverberg subsequently learned that Malzberg had not at that time intended to resign, and Cohen had used the opportunity of finding a new editor to fire Malzberg.

It was all unsavory and distasteful, and this period of AMAZING has to be among the lowest in terms of its publishing morals, even though it was not its lowest in story content.

But with the arrival of Ted White on the scene, all of that was about to change. Cohen at last met his match, and White was to usher AMAZING STORIES into a silver, if not a golden, age. We’ll look at his impact on the magazine on Monday, March 7th.

“The AMAZING Story: The Sixties — The Goose-Flesh Factor” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the May 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. Please visit www.pulpfest.com on Monday, March 7th, for the sixth segment of the series.

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . After Paul Fairman’s departure from Ziff-Davis, Cele Goldsmith was named editor of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC. Her first issue of AMAZING was the December 1958 number with cover art by Edward Valigursky. An associate art director for Ziff-Davis, he also painted over eighty freelance covers for the Ziff-Davis fantasy and science-fiction magazines. We discussed him in our previous segment.

According to Mike Ashley, Cele Goldsmith considered the AMAZING STORIES for March 1959 to be the first issue on which she left her mark. The changes she desired to make included the cover art — a hallmark of Goldsmith’s years with the magazine. Covers do sell magazines. The March 1959 number featured a new cover artist, Albert A. Nuetzell, an illustrator who worked primarily in the movie industry from the 1940s through the 1960s. Nuetzell painted seven covers for Goldsmith’s AMAZING, plus two covers for FANTASTIC. Some of his most memorable cover work was featured on the early issues of Warren Publishing’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman.

The stories of author David R. Bunch typified “the uniqueness of the Goldsmith years.” His short story, “The Flesh-Man from Far Wide,” appeared in the November 1959 AMAZING STORIES behind a cover painted by Leo R. Summers, an artist who had joined the Ziff-Davis company in 1951. He soon became the art director for AMAZING, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, and when it debuted in 1952, FANTASTIC. Summers also painted about thirty covers for AMAZING and its companions during the fifties and sixties. He left the company in 1956 and became a freelance artist, illustrating books and producing science-fiction, advertising, and movie poster art. His illustrations appeared in many issues of ASTOUNDING/ANALOG.

During Goldsmith’s tenure at AMAZING and FANTASTIC, her mainstay artists were Ed Emshwiller, George Schelling, Lloyd Birmingham, and Alex Schomburg. A native of Puerto Rico, Schomburg had been one of the leading illustrators for Hugo Gernsback’s science and technology magazines, from as far back as 1925. It wasn’t until the 1950s however, that he became a regular cover artist for the science-fiction magazine market. He was still contributing cover art to the science-fiction magazines of the early nineties. He became a cover artist for Cele Goldsmith with the October 1960 number of AMAZING STORIES. All told, Schomburg would contribute two dozen covers to Goldsmith’s AMAZING and FANTASTIC.

Lloyd Birmingham was another of Goldsmith’s favored artists. Following the close of the Second World War, Birmingham became a freelance artist specializing in aerospace and industrial artwork. Following a client’s lead, Birmingham became associated with Ziff-Davis and began to produce cover paintings for the Goldsmith magazines. His first was the November 1961 FANTASTIC. Birmingham contributed nearly two dozen covers to Goldsmith’s AMAZING and FANTASTIC, including the March 1963 AMAZING STORIES. Lloyd Birmingham was also the creator of the long-running daily comic strip, “The Handy Family.”

Although known primarily for his work composed for the digest and paperback markets, Edmund Alexander Emshwiller — or “Emsh” —  created a few covers for pulp magazines such THRILLING WONDER STORIES. The bulk of his work for the pulp and digest market consisted of interior illustrations for AMAZING STORIES, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION, FANTASTIC STORY MAGAZINE, FUTURE SCIENCE FICTION, SPACE STORIES, STARTLING STORIES, and the aforementioned THRILLING WONDER. Under his own name or his “Emsh” pseudonym, Emshwiller contributed ten covers to AMAZING STORIES — including the December 1963 issue — as well as ten covers to FANTASTIC.

Cele Goldsmith’s final issue of AMAZING STORIES was the June 1965 number, featuring front cover art by Gray Morrow. The artist painted the covers of all but one of Goldsmith’s final eight issues of AMAZING and FANTASTIC. Primarily remembered for his work in comic books and comic strips — including “Tarzan” and “Buck Rogers” — Morrow also contributed cover and interior art to many of the science-fiction digests of the 1960s — ANALOG, IF, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and GALAXY. He painted more than one-hundred covers for Ace Books’ PERRY RHODAN series and paperback covers for Avon, Lancer, and other publishers. He was nominated for the Hugo Award for best professional artist in 1966, 1967, and 1968.

Joseph Wrzos served as editor of AMAZING STORIES for fourteen issues, beginning with the August 1965 number and ending with the October 1965 issue. He went out with a bang when he landed a front cover painted by the legendary Frank Kelly Freas. While attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Freas began to contribute freelance artwork to the pulp magazines. He sold his first cover paintings to WEIRD TALES. They were published in the early 1950s. Following his graduation from art school in 1951, he began selling covers to pulps such as ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, PLANET STORIES, SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY, and SUPER SCIENCE STORIES. His illustrations also appeared in ANALOG and ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. In 1957, he sold his first cover illustration for MAD MAGAZINE and went on to paint many other covers for the publication. Freas’s artwork was also favored by the paperback book industry. His covers appeared on books published by Ace, Avon, Ballantine, DAW, Signet, and other publishers. He was the first artist to win ten Hugo Awards and was nominated for the Hugo twenty times.

Out final illustration is the AMAZING STORIES for September 1968 — Harry Harrison’s final issue as the magazine’s editor — with cover art by Frank R. Paul, reprinting the artist’s interpretation of the Andromeda galaxy, originally created for the back cover of the October 1945 FANTASTIC ADVENTURES as part of the series “Stories of the Stars.” According to Frank Wu’s gallery of Paul’s back cover artwork, there were at least fourteen episodes of this series that were featured as the back covers for various issues of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. It is believed the series began in the winter of 1943 and ran until the summer of 1946.)

The AMAZING Story: The Fifties — Dream Worlds

Feb 29, 2016 by

 

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1955-01

 AMAZING — From Howard Browne to Paul Fairman

Amazing Stories 42-12The garbage cans at the Ziff-Davis offices must have been full at the close of 1949. It was then that Howard Browne took over from Ray Palmer as editor-in-chief of the Ziff-Davis fiction magazines. He disposed of 300,000 words of purchased manuscripts, clearing the decks of the Shaver-inspired material that had haunted AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES during the last five years. Browne had a free hand under publisher Bernard Davis to make the magazines respectable.

L. Sprague de Camp, writing in his SCIENCE-FICTION HANDBOOK in 1953, described Browne as “a huge massive man with a bone-crushing handclasp and, like Palmer, a keen commercial sense.” It was Browne’s desire to convert AMAZING into an up-market glossy magazine. He was of the view that the days of the pulp magazine were over. Since the world had become aware of the devastating power of the nuclear bomb, science fiction had come of age, and had earned a small respectability among the higher-class magazines. Several sf writers from the pulps, including Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Murray Leinster, were now selling regularly to up-market magazines such as COLLIER’S and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and Browne believed there was a space in that market for an all science-fiction magazine.

It meant paying good money. He raised the promised payment rates, previously only about one cent a word, to five cents. He made the rounds of the leading literary agents seeking quality stories, and secured promises from Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Clifford Simak, and other major names. By April 1950 he was ready to put together a dummy issue (which has since become a collector’s item) — and then the axe fell.

In June 1950 the North Koreans invaded South Korea. With the American economy suddenly redirected toward combating the invasion, budgets were cut and the gamble of a slick AMAZING was dropped as too risky. The stories Browne had purchased made their way into the pulp pages of AMAZING, among them “Operation R. S. V. P.” by H. Beam Piper and “Satisfaction Guaranteed” by Isaac Asimov. The news of Browne’s plans had caused other agents to reconsider AMAZING as a market, and this had brought in stories from other big names — Fritz Leiber, William F. Temple, Fredric Brown, Clifford Simak — so that by the end of 1950 there was a glimmer of quality about AMAZING that had not been evident for many years.

Amazing Stories 52-01A sure sign of an improving market is when a magazine begins to encourage and foster new writers — the lifeblood which enables science fiction to develop. Rapidly, under Browne’s editorship, the stable of Ziff-Davis writers (Rog Phillips, Berkeley Livingston, Don Wilcox, Chester Geier) found itself being nudged aside by talented newcomers. John W. Jakes, better known these days for his NORTH AND SOUTH Civil War novels, made his first sale to Howard Browne in 1950. (“Your Number Is Up!” was in the December issue.) Other members of the vanguard of new talent included Mack Reynolds, whose first sale to AMAZING was “United We Stand” (May 1950); Milton Lesser (known today as historical writer Stephen Marlowe), who debuted in November 1950 with “All Heroes Are Hated!”; Charles Beaumont, who contributed “The Devil, You Say?” in January 1951; and Walter M. Miller, Jr., whose first professional sale was “Secret of the Death Dome” (January 1951). All four of these men were destined to become leading sf writers of the 1950s.

A final break with the old era came at the close of 1950, when Ziff-Davis decided to move its editorial offices to New York. (The production side of the operation remained in Chicago.) Browne was quite happy with the move, as was his associate editor Lila Shaffer, but William Hamling, who had done the bulk of the editorial work since Palmer began to phase himself out in 1948, was less enthusiastic; he had too many connections in Chicago. So Hamling followed in Palmer’s footsteps and established his own publishing company, called Greenleaf. Hamling took over publication of IMAGINATION, a magazine started for him by Palmer. He later moved into the market for men’s magazines with the highly successful ROGUE.

The move to New York was completed by early 1951. It meant that the members of the old stable of Chicago writers were no longer regulars in the magazine, and Browne was able to secure stories from a wider range of writers via direct contact with the New York agencies. However, the benefits of this changeover took some time to materialize.

Lila Shaffer had now taken over as managing editor under Browne’s overall control. Browne had every confidence in her, regarding her as highly competent and an excellent editor. But, like Browne, she had little knowledge of or interest in science fiction. FANTASTIC ADVENTURES fared better for material of reasonable quality than did AMAZING, primarily because of the editor’s greater interest in fantasy fiction. Once the backlog of “slick” stories was used up,  AMAZING reverted to the routine space-adventure magazine it had been in the 1940s. Typical of its contents was the Michael Flannigan trilogy: “The Land Beyond the Lens,” “The Golden Gods,” and “The Return of Michael Flannigan.” These stories were written by Stuart J. Byrne under the alias of John Bloodstone, in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The series, which ran in the March, April, and August 1952 issues, pitched Flannigan into another world where he became a superhero fighting against astonishing odds. Nothing new there. In fact, as an aside, it’s a sad reflection that most fantastic fiction written today isn’t far advanced from that, yet remains equally popular.

Amazing Stories 52-04Overall, 1952 was not a good year for the kind of image Browne had hoped to engender. Too often the stories, through their titles, continued to project the old pulp style of adventure, such as in Don Wilcox’s “The Mad Monster of Mogo” (November 1952) or Milton Lesser’s “Secret of the Black Planet” (June 1952). Even though most of the stories weren’t too bad, they still projected the feeling that AMAZING was a Burroughs-inspired magazine. In fact, some readers regarded Browne as a Burroughs-style writer and suspected the Bloodstone stories were his work. There was an image about the magazine that was impossible to overcome in the pulp format.

There was also the astonishing inclusion of a series of works I’m surprised Browne condoned. These were the “Master of the Universe” stories, which ran from April through November 1952 and were credited to “Author Unknown” (or, in the last two installments, “Author Unborn”). The series purported to be a manuscript giving the future history of Earth from 1975 to 2575, complete with serious footnotes and references to future sources. Like the Shaver Mystery, it was presented as fact, and it created a modicum of reaction from readers — some of whom asked for copies of the future books! One of the footnotes in the series refers to a book by John Evans, which was a pen name of Browne’s. Some years ago I wondered whether Browne had written this series, as a retaliation to the budget cuts and so as a way of expressing his frustrations at not being able to develop the magazines. When I put this question to him in 1982, he had no recollection of the series. I am still unsure who did perpetrate it, and would be interested to hear from anyone who might know. The series did nothing to further the image of AMAZING STORIES.

By 1952 science fiction was undergoing a surge of popularity in the United States. Scores of new science-fiction magazines had appeared in the last few years or were now appearing, and two of the newest — GALAXY, edited by Horace L. Gold, and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas, were vying with ASTOUNDING for honors as the leading sf magazine. Indeed, these titles were already known as “The Big Three.” GALAXY was closest to the image that Browne had wanted. Gold selected a more sophisticated style of science fiction — not hung up on technology, as ASTOUNDING so often was, but concentrating on the human angle.

Ever since 1943, ASTOUNDING had been published in a small pulp format, only a little larger than the digest size that had become established among literary magazines and reviews. When THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY (as it was initially called) appeared in October 1949, it also followed the digest format, as did GALAXY a year later. The day of the pulp magazine was passing into history. Many of the young readers whom the pulps had attracted were switching to comic books, while older readers were turning to the rapidly growing market in paperback books. Television was also just starting to make its mark, and some of the old-guard pulp writers were finding it more lucrative to continue their trade writing for television.

All of this meant that by 1952 a major change was happening in the magazine market, though many publishers were unsure what direction to take. Ziff-Davis thought it would test the waters of the digest-magazine market, and this gave Browne a second opportunity to create his dream magazine. Since his heart was in fantasy rather than sf, Browne opted to launch a new fantasy magazine called, simply, FANTASTIC. Unlike the slick magazines, which required significant advertising revenue to sustain their high-quality production, the digest magazines were only pulps in reduced format, and Ziff-Davis was therefore able to invest money in increasing word rates. FANTASTIC promised up to ten cents a word for leading writers. It also sought to go up-market by including two-tone color interior artwork, as well as wraparound covers.

Fantastic 52 SummerThe first issue of FANTASTIC, dated Summer 1952, appeared on March 21, and is a beautiful issue to behold, even now. A delicious cover by Barye Phillips, depicting a witch, heralded a collection of stories by top writers, including Raymond Chandler, with a little-known story reprinted from PARK EAST MAGAZINE, “Professor Bingo’s Snuff.” Other writers included Walter M. Miller, Kris Neville, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Horace Gold. The writing was sharp and sophisticated, a long way from that appearing in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES or AMAZING STORIES. Some readers criticized that the magazine’s quality was not as high as had been expected, but it was on a par with F&SF, and showed much promise for the future.

Soon after the second issue had appeared in June, FANTASTIC shifted to a bimonthly schedule. The third issue, which boasted a Mickey Spillane novelette, “The Veiled Woman,” allegedly sold 90 percent of its print run, which was almost unheard of in publishing circles. (The May 1984 issue of AMAZING STORIES contains a fascinating article by Howard Browne, in which he talks about his experiences as editor and also offers an interesting insight into the true story behind “The Veiled Woman” and how it came to be written.)

Ziff-Davis was satisfied. Browne was given a $200-a-month raise and the go-ahead to convert AMAZING STORIES to a digest magazine. He was also given the budget to employ a new editorial assistant. Browne selected Paul W. Fairman, a versatile thirty-six-year-old writer he had discovered two years earlier. Fairman had become a prolific contributor to the Ziff-Davis pulps under a variety of pen names, the most notorious being “Ivar Jorgensen.” Over the last year Fairman had been actively involved in launching a new magazine, IF, the same magazine that became GALAXY‘s companion in the 1960s and won a bunch of Hugo Awards. Soon after his appointment, Fairman replaced Lila Shaffer as managing editor when she left Ziff-Davis to marry.

By early 1953, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES had merged with FANTASTIC and, after its March 1953 issue, AMAZING STORIES became a digest and shifted from a monthly to a bimonthly schedule. That shift in frequency of publication came as something of a shock to readers, and it suggests that Ziff-Davis was still not wholly confident about the format change. The money the company was plowing into the two titles in production costs and enhanced word rates had to be balanced somehow, and one way to reduce the financial outlay was to put out fewer issues over a given span of time.

Amazing Stories 53-04-05Nevertheless, Browne pulled out the stops editorially. Despite his lack of interest in science fiction, he now tightly held the editorial reins, personally selecting all the stories for AMAZING and FANTASTIC. The first digest-sized AMAZING included stories from Robert Heinlein (“Project Nightmare”), Theodore Sturgeon (“The Way Home”), Richard Matheson (“The Last Day”), Murray Leinster (“The Invaders”), and Ray Bradbury (“Here There Be Tygers”). It had a feel of sophistication about it, at least when compared to the previous pulp issues, though the initial impact came from the pen-and-ink illustrations rather than the stories. Art editor Leo Ramon Summers, together with artists Robert Kay, Charles Berger, David Stone, and Henry Sharp, had gone for an economical spidery style that reflected simple carefree imagery rather than scientific detail or sense-of-wonder action. Only Ed Emshwiller and Virgil Finlay retained their usual styles.

The magazine was a critical success, and was welcomed by the more serious reader, but it was a giant leap for the average pulp-adventure fan for whom AMAZING had served as a monthly ticket to the planets. Overnight, AMAZING had changed its market and was trying to attract a new one. This strategy might have worked in less competitive times, but with the scores of magazines then vying for attention on newsstands and store shelves, AMAZING found it difficult to stand out.

Browne’s own separation from the past is perhaps most evident in the blurb he wrote for Arthur C. Clarke’s story, “Encounter in the Dawn,” in the second digest issue:

A lot of glib fiction has been written about life on other planets, with space ships dropping down among
alien races, zap guns decimating the enemy, while Our Hero goes battling off after a Beautiful Princess, who is about to be ravaged by the hairy-nosed glumpfx of Pluto. But Mr. Clarke . . . takes the realistic approach and gets better results than anything by the boom-boom boys.

So much for Ray Palmer’s “Gimme bang-bang” approach, which had been the cornerstone of AMAZING‘s editorial philosophy in the previous decade.

For a period in the second half of 1953, AMAZING could revel in its attempts to equal or better “The Big Three.” There were stories by Robert Sheckley (“Restricted Area,” June; “Beside Still Waters,” October; “The Perfect Woman,” December), Philip K. Dick (“The Commuter,” August; “The Builder,” December), and Henry Kuttner (“Or Else,” August), all of which stand the test of time. Richard Matheson contributed “Little Girl Lost” (October), which became the subconscious inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film POLTERGEIST.

There were further quality stories from William P. McGivern, Evan Hunter (author of the 87th Precinct novels under the pseudonym Ed McBain), and Algis Budrys.

One noticeable feature of all the best stories from this period is that they are scarcely science fiction at all, but convey a deeper mood of the fantastic or the unnerving, bringing a more adult feel to the treatments of their themes. They were certainly far from the type of science fiction that had been contained in the earliest issues of Hugo Gemsback’s brainchild.

If there is one author whose work best represents the era of the early digest-format AMAZING, it is Walter M. Miller, Jr. He had three stories apiece in AMAZING and FANTASTIC during this time. “Death of a Spaceman” (AMAZING, March 1954) is typical. It isn’t a science-fiction story at all — it’s the memories of Old Donegal, a space pioneer, as he lies dying. Yet within the story Miller manages to convey the perils and the loneliness of space exploration better than in any thrill-a-minute adventure yarn. Joe De Bolt and John R. Pfeiffer, writing in Neil Barron’s ANATOMY OF WONDER (3rd edition, Bowker, 1987), said of Miller’s stories from this period that they brought “a depth of character and richness of meaning to sf unusual for the times and, with them, bridged the gulf from the pulps to the mainstream.” That was exactly the effect Browne wanted. Had he been able to keep Miller as a contributor, AMAZING may well have published his award-winning masterwork, “A Canticle for Liebowitz,” but instead this sold to THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, where it began to appear in early 1955.

AMAZING STORIES 54-11It is ironic, but perhaps not altogether surprising, that today we can look back at the early digest issues of AMAZING and remark upon the quality of the stories and the caliber of the writers. Yet at this time AMAZING was being outsold by rival magazines, some of which had little if any quality material in their contents. Browne’s roots were firmly in the pulp tradition, and he (and the magazine) remained a victim of that market; it could not be escaped overnight. Whereas three years earlier Browne’s dream of a quality slick magazine had been quashed before it was even born, now his heart was hit as the reality became a gathering nightmare. Another dream was shattered.

Within a year of the launch of the digest, AMAZING‘s budget was cut. The word rates dropped, the leading authors faded away, and the magazine became a dim shadow of its recent former self. Fairman left in the summer of 1954, leaving Browne to edit the magazine on his own, supported only by the Ziff-Davis secretarial staff.

Less than a year after the magazine’s brief golden period, we find Browne having to admit to a few problems. In the March 1955 issue, one letter writer took Browne to task, cataloguing all of the problems now plaguing AMAZING in its degeneration over the last year. He summed it up by asking, “What happened to this mag?” Browne responded:

Not enough readers will buy the magazine to justify the tremendous costs involved. It was your editor’s
argument that a magazine containing the best of everything in the science-fiction field — best paper for best reproduction of the best artwork illustrating the best stories, plus the use of color — would bring a couple of hundred thousand steady readers every issue. We were wrong — and the figures were not long in arriving to prove us wrong. Sure, circulation mounted, but nothing like it had to justify the expense involved. We stuck to our guns as long as we could, but the day arrived when retrenchment was in order. We hated to back down; but in view of the circumstances it would have been foolhardy not to.

Curiously, at this low ebb, Ziff-Davis decided to put AMAZING back on a monthly schedule, starting with the December 1955 issue. But this only meant more work for Browne, and with his dreams shattered, he lost interest in the magazines. He left them to more or less edit themselves. “Many of the stories appearing in the Ziff-Davis magazines were never read by me,” he told me some years ago. At the time when Fairman and Shaffer were supporting editors, this arrangement may have been fine, but it was probably not the case when Browne was editing solo. (After all, someone had to read them.) It is more likely that he has simply forgotten these years, during which he compiled the issues more as a chore than a mission. Instead, he spent his time writing two suspense novels, THIN AIR and THE TASTE OF ASHES, the first books published under his own name. He was delighted when, in 1956, he received a call from a television producer who had read the books and invited Browne out to Hollywood to try his hand as a screenwriter.

Browne jumped at the chance, though he took a few months’ leave of absence first before taking the plunge full-time. To cover for him as editor, Browne called back Paul W. Fairman. Fairman had still been writing regularly for the Ziff-Davis magazines, sometimes almost filling entire issues under a collection of house names.

Fairman and Browne worked together in compiling AMAZING‘s bumper 30th anniversary issue for April 1956. The fiction in it was all reprinted material, selected from the magazine’s archives, but the nonfiction was new, including a whole cabinet of curiosities where personalities of the day were asked for their predictions about what the year 2001 would be like. The luminaries included Salvador Dali, Dr. Robert Lindner, Philip Wylie, Steve Allen, and Sid Caesar (who was uncanny in his prediction of global television).

Shortly after that issue hit the stands, Browne hit the road. Fairman took over full responsibility for the magazines, assisted by a young woman, Cele Goldsmith, who had recently been brought onto the payroll to help Browne with an ill-fated correspondence magazine called PEN PALS.

Fairman’s style of editing was not Browne’s. He was a production-line writer, and had cut his teeth on the Palmer issues of the magazine. He saw no problems with the old policy of authors writing a set monthly wordage and publishing the stories under house names. After all, that’s what he did with his own work. So, back came E. K. Jarvis, Gerald Vance, and P. F. Costello to join Ivar Jorgensen, Lee Archer, Clyde Mitchell, and other names designed to deceive — only this time the real writers had changed.

Amazing Stories 56-12The bulk of the copy in AMAZING during the mid to late 1950s was produced by the latest generation of writers: Robert Silverberg, Milton Lesser, Harlan Ellison, Henry Slesar, Randall Garrett, and Fairman himself. Although the younger ones were still learning their trade, these were all good writers, and while they might now disown what they churned out for AMAZING and FANTASTIC during those days, much of it was readable by the standards of the time. Its main trouble was that it was predictable, formula material, using standard plots and characters. Fairman enjoyed basic conflict stories, usually man versus environment, or man against enormous odds, with man invariably triumphant at the end. Those by Garrett were often lighthearted, those by Silverberg charmingly innocent, and those by Ellison harsh and downbeat. Otherwise they were basically the same story.

Silverberg’s first story for AMAZING was “Hole in the Air” (January 1956), the start of a relationship which, thirty-five years later, is still going strong. Silverberg — under his own name and numerous pseudonyms — is AMAZING‘s most prolific contributor. (Robert Silverberg is still associated with AMAZING STORIES as a member of the magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board.)

In addition to his affinity for basic conflict stories, Fairman also believed that sex helped sell issues. He spiced up story titles, and even launched a magazine of wish-fulfillment stories with a heavy emphasis on sex, called DREAM WORLD. This publication arose following the success of a special “dream” issue of FANTASTIC, but DREAM WORLD was not everyone’s heart’s desire, and it lasted only three issues (February, May, and August 1957).

Little of merit survives from the Fairman years. The 1950s were the days of the science-fiction B-movies, and Fairman seemed to equate sf too closely with the archetypal monster movie or alien invasion. Indeed, the movie industry inspired another companion magazine, AMAZING STORIES SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL, which attempted to bridge the gap between paperbacks and magazines. It saw only one issue, in June 1957, which consisted of a novelization by Henry Slesar of the Columbia film 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH.

Fairman also had a passion for UFOs, and he made the October 1957 AMAZING STORIES a “special flying saucer issue.” Apart from two UFO stories, written pseudonymously by Algis Budrys (“If These Be Gods” by “Gordon Jaylyn”) and Harlan Ellison (Farewell to Glory” by “Ellis Hart”), the issue was given over to a “Flying Saucer Forum,” with contributions from Ray Palmer, Kenneth Arnold, Gray Barker, Richard Shaver, and the United States Air Force.

Although many people were interested in the UFO enigma, not all readers would have welcomed the return of Shaver to AMAZING‘s pages. But there was more to come. Fairman devoted much of the July 1958 FANTASTIC to the Shaver Mystery. The circulation of both magazines was dropping, and it looked as if Fairman was following Palmer’s lead of the previous decade by pandering to the fringe cults.

Fairman had, until this time, been able to indulge himself because Bernard Davis (whose primary interest had been the fiction magazines) had stepped down as president of the company in July 1957. He bought Mercury Publications, which published THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and established his own Davis Publications. The company continues to this day in the hands of his son, Joel Davis, and publishes ISAAC ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE and ANALOG (formerly ASTOUNDING), among other titles. (Davis sold its magazines to Bantam Doubleday Dell in 1992. In 1996, Dell Magazines was acquired by Crosstown Publications and became part of Penny Publications. ASIMOV’S and ANALOG are now published by Penny Press/Dell Magazines.)

The new publisher of AMAZING, Michael Michaelson, who was also vice president in charge of circulation, was not as indulgent, and was anxious to see AMAZING paying its way. Changes were in store. In September 1958 Fairman left Ziff-Davis to return to writing, which he did with moderate success under a host of pseudonyms until his death in 1977. His place was taken by his assistant, Cele Goldsmith.

Amazing Stories 58-11The Fairman years saw AMAZING at its worst, equating with the dullness of the Sloane era twenty years before. The magazine was read predominantly by young people, to whom it clearly appealed (a pen-pal column, “The Space Club,” brought responses mostly from readers in the 12-to-15 age range), but they were turning more to comics and television. The time was due to change AMAZING‘s image again, and seek a new market. Cele Goldsmith felt up to that challenge. She assumed the editorship of AMAZING with its December 1958 issue, and started the climb back to glory. We’ll revel in her success on Thursday, March 3rd, in the next segment in our series.

“The AMAZING Story: The Fifties — Dream Worlds” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the April 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. Please visit www.pulpfest.com on Thursday, March 3rd, for the fifth segment of the series. 

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . Howard Browne assumed the editorship of AMAZING STORIES beginning with the January 1950 number, remaining in that capacity through the August 1956 number. He had become associated with the magazine in the early forties when then-editor Ray Palmer convinced him to write a novel set in prehistoric times, “Warrior of the Dawn,” which Palmer serialized in late 1942 and early 1943. The first segment of Browne’s story was featured on the cover of the December 1942 AMAZING with cover art by the incomparable J. Allen St. John, best known for his illustrations of the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

One of the best writers who contributed to AMAZING during the 1950s was Walter M. Miller, Jr. His first professional sale — “Secret of the Death Dome” — appeared in the January 1951 issue. Later in the decade, Miller would sell the serial rights to his classic novel “A Canticle for Liebowitz” to THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. During the fifties, Miller contributed a dozen stories to AMAZING and its companions — FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and FANTASTIC. “The Reluctant Traitor” appeared in the January 1952 AMAZING STORIES. The issue featured cover art by Norman Saunders, a prolific and talented illustrator who contributed work to the pulps, slicks, digests, paperbacks, comic books, men’s adventure magazines, and trading cards.

Although AMAZING STORIES published some fine stories during the fifties, it was largely a “routine space-adventure magazine” for much of the decade, publishing stories in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs. These included the Michael Flannigan trilogy, written by Stuart J. Byrne under the alias of John Bloodstone. The middle story in the trilogy — “The Golden Gods” — appeared in the April 1952 number, with a front cover painting rendered by Barye Phillips, an artist who created many paperback covers for Gold Medal and other Fawcett imprints during the 1950s. He also painted covers for Avon, Bantam, Dell, Pocket Books, and Signet and was referred to throughout the industry as “The King of the Paperbacks.”

In addition to his work for the paperback industry during the 1950s, Barye Phillips also contributed four covers to AMAZING STORIES and two covers to FANTASTIC, including its first issue, the Summer 1952 number. Phillips created the cover with Leo R. Summers, who served as the art director for the magazine. Summers also painted about thirty covers for AMAZING and its companions during the 1950s and sixties.

The success of the digest FANTASTIC led Ziff-Davis to convert its science-fiction title, AMAZING STORIES, to the same format. Its first digest issue was the April/May 1953 number, with another cover by Barye Phillips. Inside were stories by Ray Bradbury, editor Howard Browne, Alfred Coppel, H. L. Gold, Robert Heinlein, Murray Leinster, Richard Matheson, and Theodore Sturgeon. It’s hard to imagine a better line-up for the magazine’s debut as a digest.

Looking at the early digest issues of AMAZING STORIES, one sees many of the greats of science fiction and fantasy — Robert Bloch, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Gold, Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Henry Kuttner, Leinster, Matheson, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Robert Sheckley, Sturgeon, and others — listed on their contents pages. It is difficult to surmise why the magazine wasn’t selling, but competition was stiff. Within a year after its conversion to the digest format, AMAZING had reverted to a “routine space-adventure magazine.” The November 1954 issue — with a rather downbeat cover painting by Edward Valigursky (using the pseudonym William Rembach) — was one of its last quality issues, featuring stories by Bloch, Herbert, John Jakes, Milton Lesser, and others.

Edward Valigursky studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the American Academy of Arts, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He began to sell drawings to pulp magazines while still an art student. In 1952, he moved to New York City and began working as an associate art director for Ziff-Davis. He also worked as a freelance artist, contributing interior illustrations and cover art to AMAZING STORIES, DREAM WORLD, FANTASTIC, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, IF, STARTLING STORIES, and such men’s adventure magazines as ARGOSY, SAGA, and TRUE ADVENTURE. He painted over eighty covers for the Ziff-Davis fantasy and science-fiction magazines — including the December 1956 AMAZING STORIES — and more than 100 paperback covers for Ace Books. He later turned to advertising art and illustrating for magazines such as COLLIER’S and POPULAR MECHANICS.

Howard Browne left Ziff-Davis in 1956, turning things over to Paul Fairman. Little of merit survives from Fairman’s period as the editor of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC. The late fifties “were the days of the science-fiction B-movies, and Fairman seemed to equate sf too closely with the archetypal monster movie.” The November 1958 issue of the magazine — with art again by Ed Valigursky — features a monstrous ant on the front cover. Valigursky’s creature is remindful of the “giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization” in the 1954 Warner Brothers science-fiction movie, THEM!

The AMAZING Story: The Forties — “Gimme Bang-Bang”

Feb 25, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1944-05

Ray Palmer and the AMAZING Shaver Mystery

Amazing Stories 40-04To many who recall it, the AMAZING STORIES of the 1940s represented the era of the Shaver Mystery. It is probably fair to say that the Shaver phenomenon colored the judgment of many who dismiss the contents of AMAZING during this time as sensationalistic rubbish because of the so-called “crackpot” element that was attracted to the magazine. And crackpots there were, but that is not the whole story.

Raymond A. Palmer, the young new editor of AMAZING at the start of this decade, has been damned by history far more than he deserves — though it must be admitted that in later years he did more or less encourage his isolation. A succession of illnesses and accidents left Palmer a lonely child. One accident left him malformed from a curvature of the spine. In adult life he was only a little more than four feet tall. But what he lacked in height, he made up for in dynamism and showmanship.

One of the factors that led to Palmer’s later isolation was that he started his tenure as editor at the same time that John W. Campbell came on the scene at ASTOUNDING STORIES. Campbell instigated a policy of publishing serious, mature, and above all believable science fiction. He developed a coterie of new writers — including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, and, believe it or not, L. Ron Hubbard — who could feed off his ideas, as he could feed off theirs. Partly because of these interchanges, the work of these authors ushered in the so-called Golden Age of science fiction.

Palmer, on the other hand, went for fun and games, treating science fiction lightheartedly and aiming at a younger, less sophisticated readership. As a consequence, science fiction polarized between Campbell’s science-forecasters at one extreme and Palmer’s laboratory playpit at the other. That’s not to say that Palmer published only puerile trivia. But because he was science fiction’s renegade, many are ready to dismiss too easily the fiction that he did publish. From today’s vantage point, though, one might argue that under Palmer, AMAZING published a 1940s’ version of “pop” or “punk” science fiction, and its pages during that decade hold some surprises.

At the outset, it must be recalled that Palmer was trying to rebuild AMAZING‘s circulation and rectify years of damage caused by T. O’Conor Sloane’s handling of the magazine. By 1938 AMAZING had stagnated, and Palmer’s first move was to enliven it with bold, gaudy, action-packed covers reflecting the fast-paced, thrill-a-minute contents. When his writers asked what type of fiction he wanted, Palmer’s simple answer was “Gimme bang-bang.” Palmer had little time for the cerebral style of sf that was emerging in ASTOUNDING. He wanted superficial, escapist enjoyment, similar to the scientific romances that the pulp magazines had published before Hugo Gernsback launched AMAZING STORIES in 1926, but less sophisticated.

Amazing Stories 41-06Palmer wanted to recapture the fun of the early pulps. He was fortunate in being able to secure three groups of stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, set respectively in his worlds of Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar. These ran through 1941 and 1942. Although Burroughs’s fortunes had declined in recent years, his name still captured the imagination of old and young alike. The first appearance of an original Burroughs story in AMAZING, however, caused a controversy. The January 1941 issue carried the novelette “John Carter and the Giant of Mars,” but many readers, who were dedicated Burroughs fans, felt this story did not read as if the master had written it. The letters flooded in. The truth was not revealed at the time, but Irwin Porges, in his massive biography of Burroughs, THE MAN WHO CREATED TARZAN, asserts that the story had been written jointly with Burroughs’s son, John Coleman.

Palmer didn’t mind controversy — it helped sell issues. Moreover, ever the Burroughs fan, he favored fiction written in the Burroughs style, and both AMAZING and its companion FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (which Ziff-Davis began to publish with its May 1939 issue) had a strong Burroughsian flavor during the early 1940s. This is especially evident in the work of Ralph Milne Farley and Robert Moore Williams.

Farley had apparently been approached to edit AMAZING STORIES when Ziff-Davis first acquired it in 1938, and had recommended Palmer instead. In the twenties he had written his own Burroughsian-style “Radio Man” series for ARGOSY, set on Venus. The scientist-adventurer of those stories, Miles Cabot, was resurrected in Amazing in “The Radio Man Returns” (June 1939). Stories by Farley, some of them serialized over more than one issue, appeared in eight issues of the magazine during 1939 and 1940.

Williams, who became one of AMAZING‘s most prolific contributors, was a skillful adventure writer, and it is rumored that his Tarzan-like novella “Jongor of Lost Land” changed the fortunes of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (for the better) after it appeared in that magazine’s October 1940 issue. His initial appearance in AMAZING was with “The Man Who Ruled the World” in June 1938 — the first issue that carried Palmer’s name as editor.

Palmer also used the artistic skills of J. Allen St. John to illustrate the Burroughs stories, as well as several covers, and there is little doubt that all these factors contributed to the continuing growth in AMAZING‘s circulation during the early part of the decade.

Amazing Stories 42-07Another echo from the past was “Anthony Gilmore,” the pseudonym under which Harry Bates and Desmond Hall had written their Hawk Carse stories when they were editors of ASTOUNDING. The Hawk Carse stories were space opera at its worst, but they remained sentimentally entrenched in the minds of some fans. Palmer commissioned Bates to write a short novel, “The Return of Hawk Carse” (July 1942). The fact that the story was not well received is at least some measure of the degree by which science fiction had advanced, even at AMAZING‘s juvenile level.

Palmer brought together other writers from the early days of magazine sf, and allowed them free rein with unabashed scientific adventures. Primary among them were Edmond Hamilton, Ross Rocklynne, Manly Wade Wellman, Raymond Z. Gallun, Ed Earl Repp, Stanton A. Coblentz, and Eando Binder. Although they were capable of more serious science fiction (and occasionally proved it in other magazines), they used AMAZING as their knockabout backyard. Stories followed simple plots: they were either gangster stories transposed into space, with villains chasing and being chased around the solar system; or they were war stories in space; or they were tales about bizarre inventions, often with madcap results.

Typical stories of the period by members of this group, which can be generally categorized by their titles alone, include “Treasure on Thunder Moon” by Hamilton (April 1942); “Warrior Queen of Lolarth” by Rocklynne (May 1943); “Suicide-Rocket” by Wellman (March 1942); “Terror out of the Past” by Gallun (March 1940); “The Secret of Planetoid 88” by Repp (December 1941); and “The Cosmic Deflector” by Coblentz (January 1943).

Occasionally, Palmer would acquire fiction from more serious or aspiring writers, including Isaac Asimov, John Beynon (full legal name John Beynon Harris; later known as John Wyndham), and Eric Frank Russell.

“Marooned Off Vesta” (March 1939) was Asimov’s first published story. “The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use” followed in the May 1939 magazine, but Asimov soon became a member of Campbell’s stable at ASTOUNDING and only had one more story in AMAZING during the 1940s (“Robot AL 76 Goes Astray” February 1942).

Beynon’s stories in AMAZING during the early years of Palmer’s tenure were “Judson’s Annihilator” (October 1939, a standard sf war story, and “Phoney Meteor” (March 1941), a clever tale about alien invasion.

Russell’s first appearance in the magazine, and his only one during the decade, was with “Mr. Wisel’s Secret” in February 1942, the same issue that contained the aforementioned Asimov story.

Amazing Stories 44-05Those were, and are, noteworthy writers, and there were others, but of greatest significance were the stories by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury had an unbridled talent for giving his stories an offbeat originality, something that appealed more to Palmer than to Campbell. His “I, Rocket” (May 1944) is an adventure story from the viewpoint of a sentient rocket, published more than fifteen years before Anne McCaffrey would write “The Ship Who Sang.” Ten years after the appearance of the work, Campbell was still referring to Bradbury’s rocket as his “fairy ship,” since the story was devoid of the hardware for which Campbell yearned. Bradbury was also represented in the magazine by “Undersea Guardians” (December 1944), “Final Victim” (co-credited with Henry Hasse, February 1946), and “Chrysalis” (July 1946).

Unfortunately, challenging stories were the exception rather than the rule in AMAZING STORIES at this point in time. By the early 1940s, Palmer had developed a stable of local (Chicago-based) writers who could write to order, often producing stories around cover paintings by Harold McCauley, Robert Gibson Jones, or Malcolm Smith. The mainstays were Don Wilcox, Robert Moore Williams, David Wright O’Brien, William P. McGivern, Leroy Yerxa, and David Vem, plus (later in the decade) Chester S. Geier, Berkeley Livingston, and William L. Hamling.

Of these, Wilcox was the oldest. He approached his writing more seriously than the others, and scored early with a memorable story, “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” (October 1940), based on his sociological studies. It was a pioneer work on the subject of the first generation starship.

O’Brien was regarded as the most talented of these writers. A nephew of Farnsworth Wright, editor of WEIRD TALES, he was 22 years old when his first story (“Truth Is a Plague!”) appeared in AMAZING in the February 1940 issue. O’Brien had a fertile mind, an abundance of youthful exuberance, and an infectious sense of humor. He shared an office with McGivern, who was only 16 years old when he made his debut in May 1940 with “John Brown’s Body,” co-written with O’Brien.

Amazing Stories 44-03The two of them were able to write just about any story to Palmer’s order. Sometimes the stories were serious, sometimes spooky, but usually they were madcap, designed for nothing but entertainment. Palmer often endowed these stories with his own zany titles, so that the pages of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES contained stories such as “The Quandary of Quintus Quaggle” (by McGivern, AS June 1941); “Mr. Muddle Does as He Pleases” (McGivern and O’Brien, AS August 1941); “Ferdinand Finknodle’s Perfect Day” (O’Brien, AS September 1941); “The Strange Voyage of Hector Squinch” (O’Brien, FA August 1940); “Sidney, the Screwloose Robot” (McGivern, FA June 1941), and “Rewbarb’s Remarkable Radio” (McGivern, FA December 1941). In many ways the stories of this sort read like P. G. Wodehouse meets AMAZING STORIES, and certainly the readers appreciated this lighthearted fare, which was unavailable elsewhere. Robert Bloch made the best of the situation with a whole series of stories in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES about Lefty Feep, a rather lovable layabout who manages to fall into and out of trouble.

Although forgotten today, Leroy Yerxa was among the most prolific contributors to the Ziff-Davis magazines. He was twenty-seven years old when his first story, “Death Rides at Night” appeared under his own name in the August 1942 AMAZING. In the next four years, till his untimely death in 1946, he sold more than seventy stories to Palmer for AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, with many of those published pseudonymously. He is rumored to have written an entire issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (possibly the one for December 1943). While other writers wrote more, their output was not concentrated in such a short, intense period. Possibly Yerxa’s only rival in this regard was David Wright O’Brien, who in the five years from 1940 through 1944 sold more than a hundred stories to Palmer, not counting his collaborations with McGivern.

Palmer’s core of writers were so prolific that they could fill every issue. To avoid the frequent recurrence of names, the authors used various personal pseudonyms, some of which were later adopted by other authors. For instance, “Lee Francis” began as a pen name of Leroy Yerxa’s, but after his death in 1946 it was used by others, including Hamling. In addition, a practice began of creating a number of house names. These nom de plumes were originally used to hide the identities of the various editorial personnel working on the magazine, especially David Vern.

Vern was a precocious, hyperactive young editorial assistant who came from New York to the Chicago office to help Palmer with the work arising from the expansion of the magazine line. (In addition to AMAZING STORIES and its new companion FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, Palmer was also editing RED STAR ADVENTURES and SOUTH SEA STORIES.)

Vern was also a passable writer, and his work started to appear in both magazines under the names of “Peter Horn,” “David V. Reed,” and “Alexander Blade.” (His first contribution to AMAZING was “Where Is Roger Davis?” in the May 1939 issue under the “Reed” pseudonym.) However, when Vern returned to New York after a few years these names, particularly “Alexander Blade,” were assigned to a variety of other writers.

Back cover of Amazing Stories 41-05Other house names emerged, including “P. F. Costello,” “Gerald Vance,” “E. K. Jarvis,” and “S. M. Tenneshaw” — originally used by McGivern, O’Brien, Williams, and Hamling, respectively. O’Brien also wrote as “John York Cabot” and (perhaps in homage to his uncle) “Duncan Farnsworth.” Palmer himself produced more than a dozen pieces of writing for AMAZING during the 1940s, using a variety of pseudonyms including “A. R. Steber,” “Morris J. Steele,” “Frank Patton,” “Henry Gade,” “Wallace Quitman,” and “G. H. Irwin.” Clearly, at times it could be difficult to tell the players even with a scorecard. Despite the efforts of a number of researchers over the years, many of the true authors of house name stories remain unidentified (although work that Kenneth R. Johnson is currently doing is close to cracking open the final parts of the mystery). (It is not known if Johnson ever solved “the final parts of the mystery.” However, since Johnson’s research into the subject has, to our knowledge, never been released, it seems unlikely that he did so.)

A strong family atmosphere prevailed in the Ziff-Davis offices in Chicago during this period, with Palmer looking after his boys. Wilcox, who is still active after all these years (Wilcox remained active until his death in the year 2000) though more now as a portrait painter than as a writer, has shared many memories of those days with me. “A card game, usually gin rummy, would be occupying the attention of editors and their assistants,” he recalled. “The fellows must have done their work at night. On check days, Palmer’s office might be a gathering place for several new writers, new faces, all ready to register disappointment if the checks hadn’t come in on time.”

Palmer had a fast-working, versatile mind. Wilcox has a clear memory of him furiously pounding his typewriter at high speed. On one occasion Wilcox had become too deeply involved in his story “The Lost Race Comes Back,” written around a cover painting by J. Allen St. John, and couldn’t finish it. Palmer promptly read the story and completed it himself there and then to meet the deadline. (The story appears in the May 1941 issue.)

The outward signs of AMAZING‘s success were its regularity — published once a month for five years beginning in November 1938 — and an increased number of pages. During 1941 and 1942 the page count rose from 144 up to 240 and all the way to 272. Even after the onset of World War II and the subsequent paper rationing, the magazine kept to 208 pages for a time (later shrinking to 180), remaining constantly the best value in bulk for money. But as war rationing continued to bite into the publishing industry, AMAZING was forced to cut back on its production schedule. In late 1943 the magazine shifted to bimonthly, and then to quarterly after the following summer, not returning to monthly publication until the June 1946 issue.

Amazing Stories 42-03Palmer supported the war effort by publishing the largest quota of anti-Nazi propagandist fiction of any sf magazine. Much of it made fun of the German war effort, but some stories were serious in tone. Palmer contributed a number himself, such as “A Patriot Never Dies” (August 1943) and “War Worker 17” (September 1943), both under his “Frank Patton” alias. The latter appeared in an issue dedicated to women war workers. The September 1944 magazine was a special war issue; every story in it was identified as having been written by a member of the military, and it also contained letters from the troops.

The most significant contributor to that issue was Corporal David Wright O’Brien, with three stories — one under his real name and one each attributed to “Corporal John York Cabot” and “Corporal Duncan Farnsworth.” The AMAZING office was shocked when O’Brien, who served in the U. S. Air Force, was shot down and killed over Berlin later that year at the age of twenty-six. He had been a personable, friendly young man with an effervescent writing talent, and there is no doubt that he would have followed his close friend William McGivern into the big time if he had survived the war.

During the war years, Ziff-Davis began publishing two new mystery magazines, MAMMOTH DETECTIVE, which started in May 1942, and MAMMOTH MYSTERY, which came out in February 1945. (These magazines gave McGivern the grounding that later helped to establish him as one of the top thriller writers.) To help Palmer edit these new titles, Bernard Davis brought in 34-year-old Howard Browne, a solid, no-nonsense detective writer of the Chandler school.

Browne had no interest in science fiction, though he enjoyed the fantasies in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. Ironically, however, his first appearance as a writer was in AMAZING. Palmer talked Browne into writing a novel set in prehistoric times, “Warrior of the Dawn,” which was serialized in late 1942 and early 1943. Adventures in prehistory, usually written in the Burroughsian style, were regular fare in both AMAZING and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES during the early years of Palmer’s tenure as editor. Among the most popular offerings were Manly Wade Wellman’s series of stories about Hok, a Stone Age warrior who was a prototype for Hercules. Hok fought his way through five adventures, including ones set in ancient Greece and Atlantis.

Amazing Stories 41-09The lost continents of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu all figured prominently in both magazines. For instance, “Adventure in Lemuria” by Frederic Arnold Kummer, Jr., appeared in the first issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (May 1939), and was followed by several sequels. Stanton A. Coblentz’s “Enchantress of Lemuria” was the lead novel in the September 1941 issue of AMAZING. In addition, in that same issue L. Taylor Hansen began a column on scientific mysteries, which dealt with Gondwanaland, Atlantis, and other puzzles from before the dawn of science.

Thus, readers of AMAZING became accustomed to Palmer’s fascination with ancient mysteries, and when Richard S. Shaver appeared in the March 1945 issue with a piece entitled “I Remember Lemuria,” the story should have come as no surprise. Nor would it have — except that Palmer claimed the story was based on truth!

Shaver maintained that eons ago, the earth had been inhabited by two super-races, the Titans and the Atlans. As time passed, they were forced underground by increasingly harmful radiation from the sun. They established vast subterranean caverns full of advanced scientific equipment. Eventually the sun’s radiation became too harmful, and both races were forced to abandon the planet. They left their scientific equipment behind, and it was later discovered by an inferior race of humans who tampered with the machinery and came under its control. Over the millennia these humans degenerated into deranged robots, or, in Shaver-speak, “deros.” It is the harmful rays and evil thoughts generated from the machines by these deros that have caused mankind to fall from grace, and are the cause of all of humanity’s ills. With the world in the grips of a war that was entering its final months, such a message, if indeed it were true, came as a sign of hope to many readers. If all evils came from external influences, then they could be stopped, and mankind would revert to its natural good state, and all would be well!

The origin of the Shaver stories has at times seemed confusing, though Palmer reported it himself clearly on many occasions, and Howard Browne had a vivid recollection of the events. Some years ago Browne recounted his memories to me: Shaver had submitted a two-page letter to AMAZING under the heading “Warning to Future Man.” Browne was the first one to read it. He remarked to Palmer that “the screwballs were blooming early” that year, and tossed the manuscript into the wastebasket. Palmer promptly retrieved it and said to Browne, “Let me give you a lesson in creative editing.” He thereupon sat down, read the manuscript, and wrote a novelette around it — the piece of writing that was published as “I Remember Lemuria.” Palmer then discovered Shaver had several longer stories in his possession. Palmer bought them, rewrote them extensively, and published them. As time went on, under Palmer’s guidance, Shaver wrote more and more stories himself, but the initial ones were shaped and crafted by Palmer.

Amazing Stories 47-06Prior to the appearance of the Shaver stories, AMAZING was selling around 125,000 copies per issue. The March 1945 issue had a larger than normal print run — and it soon sold out. Letters from readers poured in, and with the next issue, featuring Shaver’s “Thought Records of Lemuria,” circulation approached 200,000. Palmer’s employees were impressed, and Palmer overtly promoted the Shaver Mystery for all it was worth. There was a Shaver story in almost every issue for the next two years, culminating in an all-Shaver issue for June 1947. Other writers also contributed stories in the same vein, including Chester Geier, who founded the Shaver Mystery Club, and German writer Heinrich Hauser, then living in Chicago, who added two linked novels, “Agharti” (June 1946) and “Titans’ Battle” (March 1947).

It is not clear how much Palmer was milking the gullible, as any entrepreneur might. He left mixed messages over the years. In all likelihood Palmer, the victim of many handicaps and misfortunes, wanted to believe it, and was prepared to go along with it all the time it sustained sales.

Shaver was certainly sincere. When I corresponded with him in the 1970s, he still maintained the truth of his experiences and observations. By then he was pursuing ancient records in the rocks, where he believed the true history of Atlan was written.

Science fiction fans were less enthusiastic, and they became hostile to AMAZING‘s editor. Palmer, who only ten years earlier had been one of the leading sf fans, attempted some reconciliation by instigating a fan column in the March 1948 issue, “The Club House,” prepared by Rog Phillips. But on the whole, the sf fans formed only a small part of the readership of AMAZING, and if they had to be antagonized for the sake of sales, why should Palmer worry?

Eventually such leading magazines as HARPER’S and ATLANTIC MONTHLY began to notice and criticize the crackpot elements of the Shaver Mystery, and the story goes (according to him) that Palmer was told to soft-pedal the topic thereafter. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know, since it would seem surprising for a publisher to act negatively in reaction to such publicity. (One learns never to take too seriously anything Palmer says.) The fact remains that by the end of 1946, Davis had been elevated within the company, and Ray Palmer followed him up the ladder to become overall editorial director. He was given a salary increase of around $250 a month and even more freedom with the magazines.

Palmer’s next move, though, was rather devious. During 1947, he shut down MAMMOTH DETECTIVEMAMMOTH MYSTERY, and the recently created MAMMOTH ADVENTURES. He placed William Hamling in editorial control of the two magazines — AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES — while Howard Browne took a leave of absence during which he wrote three mystery novels.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Palmer invested his money in establishing the Clark Publishing Company and, in May 1948, launched the magazine FATE. Robert N. Webster (an alias of Palmer’s) was identified as the publisher of the new magazine.

Palmer had come to realize that much wealth lay in appealing to the fringe cults. Following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world had not only awoken to the terrifying consequences of science, but also to other possibilities. One such was that man’s advance into the nuclear age had been the sign to alien observers that man was becoming a danger to himself and his planet, and he had to be kept under closer observation. Hence, the sudden wave of flying saucer sightings. Palmer had been one of the first to promote “ufology” in the pages of AMAZING. Now he could use FATE as he wished to pander to all of the occult sciences. As a consequence, that type of material was siphoned from AMAZING to FATE.

Amazing Stories 47-09With that shift, the quality of fiction in AMAZING improved marginally. Theodore Sturgeon put in a surprise appearance with “Blabbermouth” (February 1947), a story probably switched from the inventory of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. Edmond Hamilton, ever an old reliable, who during the early 1940s had scored with his Captain Future stories in the magazine of the same name, wrote “The Star Kings” (September 1947), a space opera par excellence, again in the Burroughs tradition. There were also some readable, non-Shaverian stories from Rog Phillips, Chester Geier, and Don Wilcox, but by and large the mid to late 1940s saw AMAZING at its lowest point in quality — yet its highest in circulation!

Palmer’s link with the magazine grew more tenuous as FATE became more popular. By mid-1949 his plans were well advanced for a new science-fiction magazine, OTHER WORLDS, which appeared in October (cover date November). Palmer continued to produce both FATE and OTHER WORLDS under the Webster alias until he was satisfied that both magazines were established. He then resigned from Ziff-Davis, and Howard Browne came back from his leave of absence to take over editorial control of the magazines, with Hamling staying on as his assistant. The January 1950 issue was the first one to list Browne as editor.

Browne may not have liked science fiction very much, but he knew a good story when he saw one, and was dedicated to acting responsibly in his new role. The end of 1949 saw him discarding several hundred thousand words of Shaver-inspired material, as he sought to re-establish the magazine’s credibility. His successes and failures make up the next part of “The AMAZING Story.”

“The AMAZING Story: The Forties — ‘Gimme Bang-Bang'” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the March 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES.Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. Please visit www.pulpfest.com on Monday, February 29th, for the fourth segment of the series.

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . The AMAZING STORIES for April 1940 with cover art by H. R. Hammond — the artist’s only cover for the magazine — was a typical issue for the decade. When Ray Palmer was named managing editor in 1938, he established a new policy for lively, adventurous stories aimed at a young market. He wanted superficial, escapist enjoyment, similar to the scientific romances that the pulp magazines had once published, but less sophisticated. David Wright O’Brien’s “Fish Men of Venus” was the usual fare for the Palmer era of the magazine.

During the early forties, Palmer was fortunate in being able to secure three groups of stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, set respectively in his worlds of Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar. The six Martian stories that Burroughs sold to AMAZING STORIES — including “Black Pirates of Barsoom,” published in the June 1941 issue of AMAZING STORIES with front cover art by J. Allen St. John — formed the basis for the author’s final two books in his Mars series — LLANA OF GATHOL and JOHN CARTER OF MARS.

One of the finest artists to contribute cover art to Ray Palmer’s AMAZING STORIES was J. Allen St. John. A native of Chicago —  where AMAZING STORIES was produced — he began to work for various Midwestern publishers — including the A. C. McClurg Company of Chicago — in the early 1900s.  In 1915 he illustrated chapter headings for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ THE RETURN OF TARZAN, published by McClurg. Thus began the artist’s long association with Burroughs, the work for which he is most renowned. St. John also painted the front cover art for the July 1942 issue of AMAZING STORIES, featuring “The Return of Hawk Carse.”

The May 1944 AMAZING STORIES —  with front cover art by Malcolm Smith —  featured what John W. Campbell labeled Ray Bradbury’s “fairy ship,” in “I, Rocket,” the classic tale related from the viewpoint of a sentient space ship. A native of Tennessee, Smith studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. His first cover for AMAZING was the January 1942 number. Smith also contributed covers and illustrations to FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and Ziff-Davis’s MAMMOTH line of pulp magazines. During the fifties, he produced covers for IMAGINATION, MYSTIC, OTHER WORLDS, and other pulp and digest magazines.

J. Allen St. John began contributing cover art to the pulps during the Great Depression, painting covers for WEIRD TALES and its companions — ORIENTAL STORIES and THE MAGIC CARPET. During the 1940s, he contributed two dozen covers to Ray Palmer’s AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, including the March 1944 issue of AMAZING.

Ray Palmer was one of the leading science fiction fans when he became the managing editor of AMAZING STORIES. In order to attract other members of fandom to his magazine, Palmer added such features as “Correspondence Corner,” “Collectors’ Corner,” “Meet the Authors,” and a back cover painting. Many of the latter featured the work of Frank R. Paul, including the May 1941 issue. Frank Paul was the artist most preferred by Hugo Gernsback during the early years of AMAZING STORIES.

Joseph Wirt Tillotson, who signed his work “Robert Fuqua,” was managing editor Ray Palmer’s favored cover artist from the get-go. Beginning with the October 1938 issue of AMAZING STORIES through the January 1944 number, Fuqua contributed nearly three-dozen covers — including the March 1942 and September 1941 issues — to the magazine and its companion title, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Robert Gibson Jones began working as a commercial artist in the city of Chicago during the second decade of the twentieth century. His first known pulp magazine cover was the August 1942 issue of Ziff Davis’s FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. Over the next ten years, Jones contributed ninety front covers to FANTASTIC and its companion, AMAZING STORIES, including the June 1947 number. He also painted covers for the publisher’s MAMMOTH line of pulp magazines. His last known cover for the publisher is the December 1952 issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. During the fifties, he contributed covers to OTHER WORLDS and UNIVERSE SCIENCE FICTION.

The September 1947 AMAZING STORIES — with front cover art by Malcolm Smith — featured one of the best of the space opera novels from the pulps, Edmond Hamilton’s “The Star Kings.” It has been reprinted numerous times.)

The AMAZING Story: The Thirties — Escape from Oblivion

Feb 22, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1935-10

AMAZING STORIES Under Thomas O’Conor Sloane

Amazing Stories 29-04The last issue of AMAZING STORIES under Hugo Gernback’s editorship was dated April 1929. Following the bankruptcy of his publishing company, Gernsback was ousted from control. The receiver eventually refloated the company and it was sold to a new publisher, Mackinnon-Fly (later renamed Teck).

Gernsback, never one to rest on his laurels, formed a new company and launched a stream of science-fiction and technical magazines. The first, SCIENCE WONDER STORIES (which started with its June 1929 issue), was modeled closely on AMAZING STORIES and even contained stories that had been sent to Gernsback for AMAZING. In the next six months came AIR WONDER STORIES, SCIENCE WONDER QUARTERLY, and SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE MONTHLY, plus a series of sf booklets.

It was at this time that Gernsback began using the term “science fiction.” His old term, “scientifiction,” had been registered as a trademark by his former company, and he was advised that he could not use it to promote his new publications. His new phrase (which, unknown to him, had been coined eighty years earlier by a long-forgotten Englishman, William Wilson) rapidly came into common usage.

This flurry of activity attracted the attention of other pulp publishers. William Clayton set his editor, Harry Bates, the task of preparing a new magazine, which appeared in December 1929 (cover date January 1930), entitled ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE. Bates was aware of the science fiction in AMAZING STORIES, though he wasn’t enamored of it. “What awful stuff, I’d found it!” he later wrote. “Cluttered with trivia! Packed with puerilities. Written by unimaginables.”

In thinking about the possibilities of science fiction Bates, alas, latched onto the lowest common denominator — the superscience extravaganza — and because Clayton’s company was a popular market for pulp writers (as distinct from Gernsback’s visionaries), the new writers of sf concentrated on the adventure angle to the detriment of sound scientific speculation. It was the Clayton ASTOUNDING, more than any Gernsback magazine, that lowered the quality of science fiction and stereotyped it as man-vs.monster/rescues-damsel stuff — a stigma with which it was long thereafter associated (and with which, thanks to series such as DOCTOR WHO, it is still associated by some today).

Before 1930 was many months old, it was clear that a division was emerging in science fiction. SCIENCE WONDER STORIES (soon to become simply WONDER STORIES) on the one side strove to publish the more purist form of technological science fiction. ASTOUNDING STORIES, on the other side, cared little for the accuracy of its science, provided it was the basis for an exciting adventure. In neither case were the stories of a high literary standard, and consequently science fiction’s image was suffering on both fronts.

So where did this leave AMAZING STORIES? When Gernsback left, the magazine and its companion QUARTERLY remained in the editorial hands of Thomas O’Conor Sloane, his former assistant.

Amazing Stories 30-10 MoreySloane was not like Gernsback. For a start, he was seventy-seven years old (Gernsback was forty-four at the time), and while he was well grounded in Victorian science, he was not a visionary. He had been employed by Gernsback to run the administrative side of the magazine, specializing in proofreading and spotting scientific errors. He was a benign, amiable old graybeard who tolerated science fiction as an amusing diversion, but had no belief in what he published. He expected that no human would climb Everest, let alone travel into space. His editorials were stodgy essays on such exciting subjects as the light bulb. As a consequence, the stimulus and inspiration provided by Gernsback vanished from the magazine.

Nevertheless, science fiction fans — who were emerging in the hundreds, and were to organize themselves — are nothing if not loyal, and they welcomed this diversification in their favorite reading matter. They continued to support AMAZING STORIES, and for a time the magazine continued to publish stories that were close to the Gernsbackian mold.

AMAZING became as much a market for space opera as the other magazines, and it was in AMAZING that this branch of the genre reached its “cultural” peak. During 1930, the magazine not only published “Skylark Three,” E. E. Smith’s sequel to “The Skylark of Space,” but also Edmond Hamilton’s “The Universe Wreckers” and the series by John W. Campbell, Jr., about superscientists Arcot, Wade, and Morey. These were better than any equivalents in WONDER STORIES or ASTOUNDING.

Having scaled that peak, AMAZING was prepared to consider less cosmic alternatives. Hamilton, one of the earliest perpetrators of space opera, used AMAZING as the market for a change of pace in “The Man Who Saw the Future” (October 1930), which developed one of Gernsback’s throwaway ideas to consider how a man from the past would see the modern day. Likewise, Campbell, who had been a Sloane discovery, revealed he also had a subtler side, and though this would emerge more potently in ASTOUNDING STORIES in 1934 in stories such as “Twilight” and “Night,” it had its origins in AMAZING in “The Last Evolution” (August 1932), in which robots supersede humankind as masters of the earth.

In addition, Sloane relied on other Gernsback originals, including David H. Keller and Miles J. Breuer. Keller’s stories, such as ‘The Metal Doom” (May through July 1932), “No More Tomorrows” (December 1932), and “Unto Us a Child Is Born” (July 1933) are thoughtful speculations on the effects of scientific development (or lack of it) on society and the individual. Breuer continued to write his stories about the fourth dimension, including “The Book of Worlds” (July 1929) and “The Gostak and the Doshes” (March 1930), while with Clare Winger Harris, one of the few female sf writers of the day, he wrote “A Baby on Neptune” (December 1929), a clever story about space-time differentials.

Sloane sustained a few regular writers. Most of those who are closely associated with his magazine are, by and large, forgotten today except for the singularity of their names, such as Isaac R. Nathanson, Abner J. Gelula, Henry J. Kostkos, J. Lewis Burtt, Charles Cloukey, and Joe W. Skidmore. The one significant exception, apart from Campbell, was Neil R. Jones.

Amazing Stories 32-08 MoreyJones was good with ideas, but struggled to convert them into stories. He was not much of a writer, but he was a good storyteller, and he struck gold with his series about Professor Jameson. The professor had constructed a spaceship in his old age and planned to launch his body into space, where it would remain perfectly preserved. Forty million years later; long after life on Earth had passed away, the space coffin is found by a benevolent race of space explorers, the Zoromes. They are also superscientists, and have found a way of preserving their brains in robot bodies. They revive Jameson and transfer his brain to a robot. Thereafter he joins them on their exploration of the universe.

The series began with “The Jameson Satellite” (July 1931), and eleven more stories in the same vein followed in AMAZING, concluding with “The Music Monsters” (April 1938). Jones wrote thirty Jameson stories in all, including a number in the late sixties that remain unpublished.

There was a belief at the time, as AMAZING‘s circulation began to fall, that it was the Jameson stories that were keeping the magazine alive. One little-known fact about the series is that the first story had originally been submitted to Gernsback at SCIENCE WONDER STORIES. In that version, the story consisted of a lot of boring detail about how Jameson planned and built his space coffin. Jones boldly ended the story by revealing that the sequel would be entitled “After 40,000,000 Years.” In rejecting the story, Gernsback gave the sound advice that it should be edited to form the preface to the sequel. This Jones did, but, due to his dissatisfaction with the slowness and amount of Gernsback’s payments, he submitted the revised story to AMAZING. Had Gernsback’s payment practices been better, he would have had the classic Jameson series, and one can only speculate what effect that turn of events might have had on AMAZING‘s circulation.

By 1932, America was in the grips of the Depression. The economic crisis was having an effect on many publishers, even though the public would still scrape together its dimes to purchase its favorite magazines. At this time, perhaps there was no better escape than into the worlds of science fiction. Nevertheless, the publishers of AMAZING STORIES could not ignore or avoid the effects of the Depression. The companion QUARTERLY slipped to semiannual publication in 1932 and ceased altogether in 1934. AMAZING, which had so far retained its large pulp format, shifted to the standard pulp size with the October 1933 issue to minimize production costs, though it then became lost among other bookstore pulps.

Amazing Stories 33-02By now the magazine’s circulation had dipped to around 25,000, and it was doing little to attract new readers. Its covers were, for the most part, subdued. The mainstay artist was Leo Morey, Frank R. Paul having followed Gernsback to his WONDER stable, and though Morey’s covers were arguably better executed, they were drab and uninspiring compared to Paul’s. AMAZING did try one bold experiment during 1933, with a series of surreal symbolic covers rendered by an artist called A. Sigmond. Today these covers may be seen as revolutionary, but they met a cold reception from the readers of the 1930s, and probably harmed AMAZING‘s circulation.

Sloane did little to enliven the magazine internally. He had passed his eightieth birthday in November 1931 and, despite a surprisingly agile mind, he seemed to exist in a timeless cocoon, oblivious of what else was happening in the science fiction world. He frequently held onto manuscripts for several years before publishing them, so that the general tone of his magazine was out of sync with developments elsewhere. During 1932 and 1933, Gernsback, through his editor David Lasser, was pumping new respectability into science fiction, encouraging writers to include more realism in their stories. Many writers took up this challenge, initially Nathan (Nat) Schachner, Laurence Manning, P. Schuyler Miller, and Edmond Hamilton, but few of these were selling regularly to AMAZING, and when they did their stories often failed to appear for some years. Sloane was becoming increasingly remiss at notifying authors that stories had been accepted. This practice caused him one particular embarrassment when he published Malcolm Afford’s “The Ho-Ming Gland” in the February 1933 AMAZING — unaware that the story had already appeared in the January 1931 issue of WONDER STORIES. Afford, not knowing Sloane had accepted the story, and possibly thinking the manuscript had been lost, had tired of waiting to hear from Sloane and had submitted the story to Gernsback, who published it promptly.

By 1934 ASTOUNDING STORIES was eclipsing WONDER as the leading science-fiction magazine. William Clayton’s company had gone bust in 1933, due as much to his delight in gambling as to the Depression, and ASTOUNDING had been purchased by the venerable firm of Street & Smith. That company’s editor, F. Orlin Tremaine (who had some time before worked for Clayton, though not at ASTOUNDING), radically improved the magazine. Many writers, including Nat Schachner, Donald Wandrei, Jack Williamson, John Russell Fearn, Murray Leinster, Thomas Calvert McClary, C. L. Moore, and E. E. Smith, plus John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing as Don A. Stuart), noted the restraint shown by the new Gernsbackian sf, and fired it with the sense of wonder of the original scientific romances to produce a new strain of cosmic realism. Science fiction was born anew in the pages of ASTOUNDING during 1934 and 1935.

Those who solely read AMAZING would have been ignorant of this phenomenon. Writers submitted their stories to ASTOUNDING first, because it paid promptly and was the place to be, and to WONDER STORIES second, for, although Gernsback paid poorly, WONDER remained a fun magazine, supported by a vocal fan community in the newly established Science Fiction LeagueAMAZING was the last resort, and had become the backwater of science fiction.

Amazing Stories 35-04On the whole, AMAZING was boring. In order to save money, Sloane was reprinting ancient stories by Jules Verne, Fitz-James O’Brien, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edward Everett Hale. O’Brien’s “The Diamond Lens” appeared in the October 1933 issue — less then seven years after it had been printed during the Gernsback era, in December 1926. Reprints of Poe stories were used in four of six consecutive issues beginning in November 1933. In the middle four months of 1934, Sloane spent considerable space serializing Verne’s “Measuring a Meridian.” Few of these rehashed stories were science fiction even by Gernsback’s original standards: Poe’s “The Gold Bug” (April 1934), for instance, being a story of cryptography.

Worse still, Sloane published some new stories that were the real nadir of science fiction. Take “The Romance of Posi and Nega” (September 1932), the first of a series by Joe W. Skidmore that treated electrons as sentient beings. Or, what could arguably be called the worst story ever published in an American sf magazine, “The Universal Merry-Go-Round” by Roger Bird (April 1933). This story is so bad as to be compulsive reading, and no plot summary can do it justice. For starters, consider that it involves two men intent on a trip into space but who believe confinement in their capsule will drive them mad. They propose to take along the professor’s daughter — not for company, or anything else you might imagine, but to play the violin!

Merely by the law of averages, Sloane should have published some good stories, but his quota of decent material was woefully small, and probably arrived more through luck than through design. These included several stories by S. P. Meek, such as his adventures in a lost South American city, “The Drums of Tapajos” (November 1930 through January 1931) and “Troyana” (February through April 1932), plus his Ray Cummings-like stories in a subatomic world, “Submicroscopic” (August 1931) and “Awlo of Ulm” (September 1931). Meek’s stories weren’t particularly well written but were nonetheless lively and fascinating.

From Charles R. Tanner came “Tumithak of the Corridors” (January 1932) and “Tumithak in Shawm” (June 1933), about mankind’s subterranean resistance movement against the Venusian sheIks who now dominated the Earth.

“The Lost Machine” (April 1932) was a poignant robot story by John Beynon Harris (better known in later years as John Wyndham).

Howard Fast, a name more readily associated with the novels FREEDOM ROAD and SPARTACUS, made his first story sale to AMAZING with ‘Wrath of the Purple” (October 1932), about a virulent cellular lifeform that destroys all other living things.

“Omega, the Man” (January 1933) by Lowell Howard Morrow was a moving story of the last humans alive on Earth. Sloane had held onto this story for at least two years before publishing it, and had it appeared in 1930 it would have been heralded as a major breakthrough in realism.

Sloane could have made up for this omission had he accepted Edmond Hamilton’s “Colonists of Mars” in 1934, but he rejected it as being “well written, but too horrible.” The story lay in a back drawer for twenty years before Hamilton resurrected it and revised it under the title ‘What’s It Like Out There?” It appeared in THRILLING WONDER STORIES in 1952, at which time it was heralded as a bold new treatment of the realism of space colonization.

Harl Vincent established himself in the early AMAZING but went on to become an ASTOUNDING regular. His “Parasite” (July 1935) is an overlooked classic about an invisible alien intelligence that takes control of humans.

Finally, there was “He Who Shrank” (August 1936) by Henry Hasse, a noted classic about smallness that was the author’s first solo appearance in a professional magazine.

These are most of the few stories of merit or interest that AMAZING published in the early to mid-1930s. To his credit Sloane did manage to nurture a few writers who would later develop significant reputations. He published several stories by Eando Binder, the name used by the writing team of Earl and Otto Binder. Earl later moved away from writing but Otto continued to sell stories under the original name and others. Sloane bought their first story, “The First Martian” (October 1932).

John Russell Fearn made his debut with “The Intelligence Gigantic,” a serial in the June and July 1933 issues which set the tone for his cosmic career. Fearn became a regular contributor to AMAZING, often under pen names, and became one of the most prolific writers of science fiction in the 1940s and 1950s.

Finally, although he could not have known at the time what a service he was performing, Sloane used a poem entitled “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” in the October 1937 issue. This was the first appearance in print of Elton V. Andrews, a pseudonym used by a young man who would later be known to one and all by his real name: Frederik Pohl.

But these discoveries were hardly enough, at the time they occurred, to measurably alter AMAZING‘s course. The magazine, which had been a monthly publication from the start, went bimonthly after the August 1935 issue, and there the real downward spiral began. Readers faded away until, by 1937, the circulation was only about 15,000. Its publishers sold the magazine to William B. Ziff, a former World War I pilot, who had established the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company in Chicago in 1935 with Bernard G. Davis. The company initially published magazines aimed at rich hobbyists, such as POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY and POPULAR AVIATION, but Davis wanted to expand into the pulp fiction field. AMAZING was an opportune choice. The deal was made in January 1938, with the June 1938 issue the first one that was fully under Ziff-Davis’s control.

Amazing Stories 38-06Bernard Davis was in overall editorial control of the magazine, but as managing editor he appointed Raymond A. Palmer, one of the most active fans in the sf field, to whom he entrusted the task of procuring material. Palmer was twenty-seven years old, sixty years Sloane’s junior. A change in style was inevitable, but it was even more dramatic than the age gap would suggest. Palmer threw out the old Teck material and established a new policy for lively, adventurous stories aimed at a young market.

Hugo Gernsback must have winced at what was happening to his brainchild. Two years earlier, Gernsback had given up WONDER STORIES, his poor financial management once again having endangered one of his publications. WONDER STORIES had been bought by Standard Magazines and converted into THRILLING WONDER STORIES, which also aimed at the younger reader. Now AMAZING was pitching for an even younger readership, basically the young teenager. The magazine was given a facelift with striking front and back covers by local Chicago artists Robert Fuqua, Howard McCauley, and Julian S. Krupa. All of these illustrators had an eye for action, and the magazine was instantly attractive.

The interior artwork was also beefed up, and stories were given more sensationalistic titles. Palmer almost habitually changed authors’ titles, not always for the better, but his methods gave the magazine a consistency that was easily recognizable and with which many of its readers could associate.

However, the older generation of readers was horrified. A few remained loyal, but most shifted their allegiance to ASTOUNDING where, since December 1937, John W. Campbell, Jr., had been the editor and was leading science fiction into its Golden Age.

Palmer, being based in Chicago, was able to call upon a new stable of writers to build his own brand of science fiction entertainment. He scored several early successes.

Robert Bloch had always been a fan of science fiction, but heretofore had concentrated on weird and mystery fiction. Palmer bought Bloch’s first science-fiction story, “Secret of the Observatory” (August 1938), and published his powerful psychological sf story, “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton” (March 1939).

Amazing Stories 39-01 Robert FuquaPalmer also published Eando Binder’s “I, Robot” (January 1939), a touching story about a selflessly noble machine. This story made an impression on the young Isaac Asimov, and it was in AMAZING that Asimov first appeared professionally in print, with “Marooned Off Vesta” (March 1939).

Palmer also acquired William F. Temple’s “The Four-Sided Triangle” (November 1939), an ingenious story about two men in love with the same woman and how the situation is complicated with a matter-duplicator.

Nelson S. Bond, a more talented writer than he is usually judged to be, appeared with a superior consideration of a future feudal society in “The Priestess Who Rebelled” (October 1939).

By the end of the 1930s, AMAZING STORIES was firmly reestablished. It was back on a monthly schedule — which was reinstated after the October 1938 issue — and it had a new companion magazine, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (first issue dated May 1939). In a little more than a year Palmer had turned the magazine’s fortunes around, but at the risk of alienating the more serious members of the sf community.

But Palmer was undeterred. He was rapidly building AMAZING‘s new reputation. Even if history records that it was ASTOUNDING that led the science-fiction revolution and published more sf classics than the other magazines put together, in terms of sales it was Palmer who won the race. The magazine’s circulation soon exceeded ASTOUNDING‘s and continued to rise. AMAZING was ready to face all odds, and as war clouds gathered, Palmer prepared the magazine for its third decade.

“The AMAZING Story: The Thirties — Escape from Oblivion” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the February 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. Please visit www.pulpfest.com on Thursday, February 25th, for the third segment of the series. 

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . The April 1929 issue of AMAZING STORIES — featuring front cover art by the publisher’s favorite illustrator, Frank R. Paul — was the last issue of the magazine to be published by Hugo Gernsback.  Leaving with the publisher was his preferred artist. Only two more Paul front covers would adorn AMAZING STORIES until the early sixties — the May and June issues of 1929. The Austrian-born artist would quickly resurface, painting the covers for Gernsback’s new magazine, SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, and its companions.

Following Paul’s departure, AMAZING was without a regular cover for the first time in its history. For his early issues at the helm of the magazine, the pulp’s new editor, T. O’Conor Sloane, would turn to Hans Wessolowski — who signed his paintings as “Wesso” — and Leo Morey. The latter — a native of Peru — would become the magazine’s regular cover artist beginning with the January 1930 number, a role he would largely retain until AMAZING again changed hands with its acquisition by Ziff-Davis in 1938. Three of his works are pictured above: the October 1930, August 1932, and April 1935 issues of AMAZING STORIES.

At the beginning of 1933, Morey’s front cover paintings were temporarily replaced by a series of what have been called surreal or abstract covers, credited to an artist who signed the works “A. Sigmond.” Pictured here is the February 1933 cover featuring spaceships battling a dragon. According to Everett and Richard Bleiler’s SCIENCE FICTION: THE GERNSBACK YEARS (1998): “His/Her work, which included the lettering, is modern, competent, and attractive, although without display value or sales appeal . . . It seems obvious that Sigmond’s covers were associated with a desire to reduce printing costs, for one used only a blue plate, others only blue and red; only one cover applied full three-color printing . . . While artistically correct and aesthetically pleasing, Sigmond’s covers were undoubtedly disastrous on the newsstands.”

Nothing is known about A. Sigmond. However, according to Mort Weisinger’s column “The Ether Vibrates” in the July 1933 issue of SCIENCE FICTION DIGEST, “The July (1933) cover of the same mag (AMAZING STORIES, signed as by Sigmond), was a composite of the work of three or four different artists, Morey tells me.” Sigmond is credited with the January through July 1933 covers for AMAZING STORIES. Afterward, Leo Morey would return to painting the magazine’s covers. He would continue to do so through the April 1938 issue.

By 1937, AMAZING’s circulation had dropped to approximately 15,000. Its owners sold the magazine to Ziff-Davis, a publisher of hobby magazines that desired to enter the pulp industry. Ray Palmer, a very active science fiction fan, was named AMAZING’s managing editor. His first issue at the helm was the June 1938 number. It featured a “bold new title design” and a photographic cover created by Horace Hime, his one and only cover for AMAZING STORIES.

Beginning with the October 1938 issue, Palmer’s favored cover artist was Joseph Wirt Tillotson, who signed his work “Robert Fuqua.” The artist would contribute all but the June 1939 cover over the next year. In addition to AMAZING, Fuqua also contributed cover and interior illustrations to Ziff-Davis’s AIR ADVENTURES, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, MAMMOTH ADVENTURE, MAMMOTH DETECTIVE, MAMMOTH WESTERN, and SOUTH SEA STORIES. From 1938 to 1951, he painted eighty front and back covers for AMAZING STORIES.)

The AMAZING Story: The Twenties — By Radio to the Stars

Feb 18, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1928-08 Frank R. Paul

The AMAZING Hugo Gernsback

One of the major themes of PulpFest 2016 will be the 90th anniversary of the premiere of the first continuing science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIESIn November 2015, PulpFest programming and marketing director Mike Chomko contacted author, anthologist, and science-fiction and popular culture historian Mike Ashley, asking him to be a guest at PulpFest 2016. Due to a scheduling conflict, Mr. Ashley declined to attend. However, he did grant us permission to post his series of seven articles concerning the history of AMAZING STORIES — originally offered in the January through July 1992 issues of AMAZING STORIES. We’ll be posting the entire series, releasing one article every Monday and Thursday over the next few weeks.

Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. 

“The AMAZING Story: The Twenties — By Radio to the Stars” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the January 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES.

Modern Electrics 1911-04Ninety years ago there were no science-fiction magazines. In fact, there was no such thing as “science fiction”; the name had yet to be coined. There were stories called scientific romances — H. G. Wells had written scores of them. There were also weird stories, off-trail stories, “different” stories, uncanny stories, and among all of these were stories we would now call science fiction — a rose by any other name. But before 1926 the category had yet to be created, and fans who enjoyed these weird-scientific stories had no regular magazine in which to find them.

In the years after World War I the interest in this type of story grew rapidly. For the best in escapist fiction, millions of Americans read the pulp magazines, and the magazines with the most escapist fantasies were published by Frank A. Munsey, in particular THE ARGOSY and THE ALL-STORY MAGAZINE. It was in THE ALL-STORY that Edgar Rice Burroughs first appeared, in 1912, with his adventures of John Carter in “Under the Moons of Mars.” This was followed a few months later by “Tarzan of the Apes.” The Munsey magazines became the principal market for scientific romances and fantastic adventures. By the start of the twenties they had a regular stable of writers, including George Allan England, Homer Eon Flint, Murray Leinster, Ray Cummings, Austin Hall, Garret Smith, and A. (Abraham) Merritt. These were the leading writers of the scientific romance in the pulps, one of whom — Leinster — would stay at that core for the next fifty years. The type of story they wrote then was light on science, high on adventure or concept, and high on fantastic imagery. The stories appealed to that desire we all have to escape from this mundane, depressing world and discover a world of wonder. The most popular of them all were Burroughs and Merritt, and each, in his way, set the standard for the scientific adventure fantasies of the twenties.

While this line of scientific adventure was emerging in the pulps, another development was taking place — a revolutionary development. The architect of this revolution was Hugo Gernsback, and it was from his errant hybrid that the early world of science fiction, and AMAZING STORIES, would sprout.

Hugo Gernsback was born in Luxembourg in 1884, the son of a prosperous wine merchant. In his youth he developed a fascination with electrical gadgets, and by his teens he was a fertile inventor. He emigrated to the United States in 1904, after the death of his father, in the hope of making a fortune from his invention of a powerful dry-cell battery. The device proved too expensive to produce but, undaunted, Gernsback constructed a smaller battery, which he sold to the Packard Motor Car Company.

Gernsback’s main interest at this time, though, was in radio. He was surprised how difficult it was to obtain the necessary parts to construct wireless telegraphy units in New York, so in 1905 he established a company to import electrical equipment. It was this Electro-Importing Company that was to be the foundation of his publishing empire. In 1906 Gernsback marketed a portable wireless telegraph transmitter and receiver at the seemingly impossible price of $7.50. Skeptics believed he was a fraud, and a policeman was dispatched to verify Gernsback’s claim. Gernsback demonstrated his device, though the policeman remained unconvinced. “I still think yez are fakers,” he told Gernsback. “Yer ad here sez it is a wireless set, so what are all dem here wires for?”

It was this incident that spurred Gernsback on to publish a magazine. He later recalled, “It rankled me that there could be such ignorance in regard to science, and I vowed to change the situation if I could. A few years later I brought out the world’s first radio magazine, MODERN ELECTRICS, to teach the young generation science, radio, and what was ahead for them.”

It was the “what was ahead for them” aspect with which Gernsback became so closely associated. He loved to speculate about potential inventions and to encourage his readers to experiment. He targeted this encouragement chiefly at the young, who had the more fertile and flexible minds. To further encourage them he turned his speculative thoughts into a story, “Ralph 124C 41+,” which was serialized in MODERN ELECTRICS during 1911-12.

ModernElectrics 1911-12Actually, to call this piece a “story” is rather generous, because Gernsback was only using the narrative form to liven up what was otherwise a catalogue of future inventions. He explored the world of the year 2660 from the viewpoint of one of the world’s great scientists. Each month readers were treated to extravagant scientific speculations, and there was even a chase scene in one episode when Ralph’s girl, Alice, was kidnapped by Martians, and Ralph pursued them. It was in that episode that Gernsback made one of his most remarkable predictions by describing exactly how radar would work, more than twenty years before it was “discovered” by Robert Watson-Watt.

The difference between Gernsback’s adventures of Ralph and the stories appearing in the Munsey magazines was quite fundamental. The Munsey stories were high on entertainment, low on scientific accuracy. They were predominantly fantastic adventures or, at the shorter length, scientific mysteries, with the emphasis on the weird and wonderful. The writers were competent pulpsters able to unravel a strong, compelling story with a fanciful theme.

Gernsback’s story was low on entertainment, but deliberately high on scientific accuracy and speculation. He was no storyteller; he was no writer at all. It was not his intention to entertain but to educate and, he hoped, to stimulate his readers to become creative and inventive. It was this motive that led, by stages, to the birth of AMAZING STORIES. And it was this difference that initially separated Gernsback’s scientific fiction from the pulp scientific adventures.

In 1913 Gernsback sold MODERN ELECTRICS and founded a new magazine, THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER, which broadened Gernsback’s coverage beyond radio to all aspects of scientific achievement. Gernsback was now vociferously encouraging readers to become inventors and to build their own future. Along that road, Gernsback averred, lay fame and fortune, and he cited Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Guglielmo Marconi as model examples. Writing in the April 1916 ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER, Gernsback said:

A world without imagination is a poor place to live in. No real electrical experimenter, worthy of the name, will ever amount to much if he has no imagination. He must be visionary to a certain extent, he must be able to look into the future and if he wants fame he must anticipate the human wants. It was precisely this quality which made Edison — a master of imagination — famous.

THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER began to publish fiction regularly by a variety of almost unknown writers — George F. Stratton, Charles M. Adams, Harlan Eveleth — names as remote and lost as the crew of the Marie Celeste. Every one of their stories was awful, but as scientific speculation they were enlightening. Because it was wartime, many of the stories speculated on devices to help win the war, such as anti-gravitation to cause havoc among the enemy, or a concentrated electron ray (not unlike a laser beam) to detonate enemy explosives.

Science & Invention 23-08In 1920 Gernsback retitled the magazine SCIENCE AND INVENTION, to emphasize that he had moved beyond the basic role of the experimenter toward the vaster world of science and technology. Gernsback was an evangelist of science determined to educate the American public and even more determined to inspire them into scientific achievement. He, probably more than any of his contemporaries, opened the eyes of the American public to the possibilities of science and the wonders to come. Through the stimulation of his magazines, he could inspire them to build their future world.

The closest anyone came to publishing a magazine of scientific stories before AMAZING STORIES was with THE THRILL BOOK and WEIRD TALES. THE THRILL BOOK came from Street & Smith in 1919, and though its original concept had been to publish scientific romances, when it appeared it concentrated on adventure stories, a few with fantastic elements. WEIRD TALES, launched in Chicago in March 1923, was always intended as a horror magazine but did carry some stories of the monster-in-the-laboratory type, and later some space adventures, mostly by Edmond Hamilton.

Gernsback was so taken with the idea of promoting science through fiction that he seriously considered issuing such a magazine in 1923. That year he made the August issue of SCIENCE AND INVENTION a “Scientific Fiction Number.” It contained five complete stories, plus an episode of Ray Cummings’s serial “Around the Universe.” The stories were, by and large, boring, although there was something special in “The Man From the Atom” by precocious fifteen-year-old G. Peyton Wertenbaker. This story, about a man who escapes from our universe into a macro-universe beyond, is still readable today.

We do not know the reader reaction to the issue since, at that time, the magazine ran no letter column. When it did run a letter column, it was evident that the stories Gernsback published were favorably received, and that may well have been the case here. In any case, a few months later Gernsback gave thought to launching a new magazine, to be called SCIENTIFICTION. He made no reference to this fact in his magazines at the time, but, as he later recalled, he sent a flyer to his subscribers attempting to gauge interest. The response was, apparently, dispiriting, so Gernsback did not pursue the venture. He seemingly had enough to handle at that point anyway, since in June 1925 he launched his own radio station, WRNY, the first such enterprise in New York City.

Had there been a greater positive response to the circular, the history of magazine science fiction might have started two years earlier, and that turn of events may have had a significant impact on its later evolution, which, as we shall later see, became fast-paced. I imagine that the main reason why the response was lukewarm was that Gernsback targeted the wrong market. Those most likely to subscribe to his technical magazines would have been professional scientists, engineers and radio enthusiasts, both experimenters and hobbyists, who may have appreciated the stories in SCIENCE AND INVENTION as novelty items but would have expressed no great interest in a specialist magazine. It was much more likely to have appealed to the newsstand browser (from which most of the general pulp readers came) — those who could not necessarily afford to subscribe to a magazine, or had no reason to. To the browser, it was much more fun looking at all of the pulps on display and relishing the thrills promised by the covers.

Amazing Stories 26-04This Gernsback was to discover when, in 1926, he acted on impulse (as he so often did) and launched the world’s first science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES. Its premiere issue, dated April 1926, was released on March 10. It was in the same format as SCIENCE AND INVENTION, having a larger page size (8 by 11 inches) than the usual pulp, which thus set it apart. In addition it had a gaudy, eye-catching cover by Frank R. Paul, an Austrian-born artist and draftsman who had been illustrating the majority of the stories in SCIENCE AND INVENTION since 1918. The first issue, with a print run of 100,000, sold out. Gernsback was onto a winner.

Fortunately, Gernsback had not filled the magazine with stories that were typical of those in SCIENCE AND INVENTION. The first issue contained all reprints, with classic selections from H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe, a pulp reprint by Austin Hall from ALL-STORY, and the two best stories he had previously published, Wertenbaker’s “The Man From the Atom” and “The Thing From — Outside” by George Allan England, one of the more popular adventure writers for the pulps.

The success of AMAZING, however, put Gernsback into a dilemma. The type of “scientifiction” (as he then called it) that readers most enjoyed were stories of scientific adventure that contained less technological speculation than he desired. During the preceding few years in SCIENCE AND INVENTION, Gernsback had run a series of stories by Clement Fezandié, a New York teacher and businessman, under the general title of “Doctor Hackensaw’s Secrets.” These stories were really thinly disguised lectures. In each episode, Hackensaw waffled on about his latest invention, regardless of its effects upon the world or humanity. Forty years later, Gernsback still referred to Fezandié as a “titan of science fiction,” which suggests the type of story that he most liked. But, when Gernsback asked the readership of AMAZING STORIES if they would like to see a continuation of the Hackensaw series in the new magazine, he got an emphatic NO. The demand was for stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs and A. Merritt — tales from the Munsey school of scientific romance. Although Gernsback claimed he had a number of Fezandié’s stories in stock, he only published two in AMAZING, in the third and fourth issues he put out. It rapidly became evident that his newfound readers were not so interested in scientific expostulation but cared far more for scientific extravaganza.

Striving to find a middle ground, Gernsback balanced reprints from the pulps and classics by Verne and Wells against a variety of gadget stories that he hoped would educate and inspire. But he was soon being lectured to by his readers and writers. In a letter that Gernsback published in his July 1926 editorial, Wertenbaker, his first significant discovery, warned him that “the danger that may lie before AMAZING STORIES is that of becoming too scientific and not sufficiently literary.”

Gernsback found that he had to compromise his principles. If he had to publish fantastic adventures in order to attract readers, then he would do so, provided that he could also inspire them with a selection of gadget stories. His biggest conflict in this regard came with the serialization of Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” in 1927. He found himself justifying the inclusion of the story in the magazine by arguing about the advanced science projected by Merritt. Although the story does contain some scientific speculation, it’s basically hocus-pocus that was included by Merritt when he wrote a novel-length sequel to his original fantastic short story, published in ALL-STORY in 1919. In his heart of hearts, Gernsback knew that the science in this story was of dubious authenticity, and that knowledge played heavily on his conscience.

Amazing Stories 26-07Another challenge was Frank R. Paul’s garish covers. There was no doubt that Paul’s exciting drawings attracted a wide readership, predominantly young males, but they also caused the magazine to become associated with sensationalistic trash. Yet when Gernsback experimented with a serious symbolical cover in 1928, that issue suffered a drop in sales of 22 percent.

In fact, by 1928 — a year that saw an explosion in new writing talent — Gernsback had more or less accepted that AMAZING STORIES had outgrown his original premise. The kind of gadget story that he obviously liked and had intended to serve as inspiration — such riveting classics as “An Experiment in Gyro-Hats” by Ellis Parker Butler (June 1926), “The Automatic Self-Serving Dining Table” by Henry Hugh Simmons (April 1927), and “The Tide Projectile Transportation Co.” by Will H. Gray (September 1927) — had become dead weight. Readers were clamoring for the scientific extravaganzas that had initially been represented by reprints selected by Gernsback’s adviser, C. A. Brandt — “A Columbus of Space” by Garrett P. Serviss (August through October 1926), ‘The Red Dust” by Murray Leinster (January 1927), “The Land That Time Forgot” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (February through April 1927), and, of course, “The Moon Pool” by A. Merritt (May through July 1927), the most popular story published in AMAZING‘s first few years. All of these had first appeared in the Munsey pulps.

Moreover, the writers now establishing themselves were not producing the gadget story in any quantity, but were writing the scientific extravaganza in emulation of the Munsey pulps. The first regular writer to establish himself in AMAZING STORIES was archaeologist A. Hyatt Verrill, who became noted for adventure stories set in lost valleys, typical of the Munsey locales. Then there was Edmond Hamilton, who became a regular after the January 1928 issue. He had been selling super-science sagas to WEIRD TALES for two years, and had cut his teeth on reading the Munsey pulps. Jack Williamson, who is still writing today (Williamson continued writing until his death in 2006, long after the original publication of this article), first appeared in the December 1928 issue with “The Metal Man,” a story blatantly inspired by Merritt’s writings. And we should not forget H. P. Lovecraft, the doyen of WEIRD TALES, who sold arguably his best story to AMAZING STORIES, “The Colour Out of Space” (September 1927). Lovecraft had also been a great fan of the Munsey pulps, and though this story was probably more inspired by Algernon Blackwood than by Abraham Merritt, it reflects far more the imagery of the Munsey visionaries than that of Gernsback’s electro-philiacs.

Probably the only authors not directly influenced by the Munsey pulps were the doctors David H. Keller and Miles J. Breuer. Yet even these writers, despite their scientific training, turned more to the non-technological sciences.

Keller had a greater social conscience than most other writers, and in “The Revolt of the Pedestrians” (February 1928), “A Biological Experiment” (June 1928), and other stories he projected the human element of scientific advance. He had a sharp mind and an eye for detail, which lent strength to the messages in his stories. Breuer was fascinated by the mathematics of other dimensions and produced a range of fascinating stories exploring the concepts of the fourth and fifth dimensions.

Amazing Stories Annual 1927By and large Keller and Breuer were the exceptions, not the rule. They wrote the intelligent novelty items, not the mind-blowing scientific adventures. The selling power of the latter was evident when, in celebration of the first year’s success of AMAZING, Gernsback released an AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL. As the lead novel in this bumper issue — twice as thick as the regular monthly magazine — Gernsback secured a new Martian novel from Edgar Rice Burroughs, “The Master Mind of Mars.” Even though the ANNUAL was twice the price of the monthly, it sold out within a few weeks. Its success led Gernsback to establish an AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY companion magazine featuring all-new material.

The old order of Gernsback’s gadget stories was finally blasted out of existence with the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES. This was the most important issue Gernsback was to publish, and is one of the most significant issues of AMAZING. It contained two profoundly influential stories, E. E. (Doc) Smith’s serial “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella “Armageddon — 2419 A.D.”

Smith’s work was the literary equivalent of a nuclear attack. Hitherto most of Gernsback’s scientifiction had been relatively sedate, confined to Earth-bound experiments or explorations. Some stories had ventured to the Moon and neighboring planets, but only a rare few (those by Ray Cummings and J. Schlossel, plus some of the work of Edmond Hamilton in WEIRD TALES) had gone beyond the boundaries of the solar system. Smith blasted through all this. In his story, superscientist Richard Seaton discovers atomic energy, builds a spaceship, and sets off to explore the Universe, pursued by the villainous, though equally super-scientific, Blackie DuQuesne. It was a scientific extravaganza par excellence, and the readers went wild. “The Skylark of Space” became the archetypical work of space opera.

Amazing Stories 28-08Nowlan’s novella did for the future what Smith’s novel did for outer space. Anthony Rogers, an engineer, is trapped in a mine but is revived five centuries hence. The United States is now dominated by a super-scientific Mongolian race, the Han. Rogers joins forces with a guerrilla faction to overthrow the enemy. In this story, and its sequel “The Air-lords of Han” (March 1929), Nowlan creates a fascinating range of future weaponry, combining action, adventure, and scientific speculation. Anthony Rogers went on to be converted into the comic-strip hero Buck Rogers, a name synonymous with early science fiction.

This is what the readers wanted — superscience. Gone were the relatively mundane tales of everyday inventions and new uses for radio. The possibilities of science fiction were blown wide open. Readers wanted their imaginations stretched beyond the horizons of tomorrow, and Gernsback could deliver nothing less. His “scientifiction” brainchild had rapidly grown out of all proportion and was threatening to veer out of control. For the moment he was prepared to let it go, though he had no idea of the consequences.

Gernsback’s original ideal had been to create a vehicle that would transport his experimenters into tomorrow, or more appropriately inspire his experimenters to create tomorrow. Within three years of its launch, AMAZING STORIES had become the vessel by which science fiction had set a course for the stars. But the science fiction that emerged was not Gernsback’s baby. It was the Munseyesque-pulp scientific romance that ruled the day, with its fantastic excesses tempered by Gernsback’s furnace of science.

Amazing Stories 28-11Gernsbackian scientifiction, which had been born in MODERN ELECTRICS in 1911, had all but died in 1928, but it wasn’t extinct yet. While it was exerting its influence on the scientific romance to create the super-science epic, it was itself evolving and recovering, and would emerge anew in the 1930s.

Within a few months of publishing “The Skylark of Space,” Gernsback lost control of AMAZING STORIES, as a consequence of financial mismanagement in his many business dealings. (Those interested in the specifics of the incident will find it discussed in great detail in Tom Perry’s article “Experiment in Bankruptcy” in the May 1978 issue of AMAZING STORIES.) The consequences of this event were significant, and that’s where we pick up “The Amazing Story” on Monday, February 22nd.

 

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . Hugo Gernsback introduced the first radio magazine — MODERN ELECTRICS — in 1908. Hoping to encourage his readers to experiment and learn more about science, he began serializing a story, “Ralph 124C 41+,” beginning with the April 1911 issue. Although the cover artist is not credited, it resembles the work of George Westcott, an artist who had produced some of the magazine’s earlier covers. Written by Gernsback himself, “Ralph 124C 41+” ran for twelve consecutive issues including the December 1911 number, the second magazine pictured in our article, with cover art by Thomas Wrenn.

The “Scientific Fiction Number” of Gernsback’s SCIENCE AND INVENTION was dated August 1923 and featured featured six “scientifiction” stories, including G. Peyton Wertenbaker’s “The Man from the Atom,” the inspiration for Howard V. Brown’s front cover art. Much of the “science fiction” that appeared in SCIENCE AND INVENTION revolved around a scientific principle, particularly the stories of Clement Fezandié, an author much favored by the publisher.

The debut issue of the first science-fiction pulp — AMAZING STORIES — was dated April 1926 and featured front cover art by Frank R. Paul, the “grandfather of science-fiction art.” An Austrian-born artist and draftsman who had been illustrating the majority of the stories in SCIENCE AND INVENTION since 1918, Paul was a mainstay for Gernsback throughout his career as a publisher.

One rule of publishing that hasn’t changed in 90 years is that a magazine cover, first and foremost, must be eye-catching. Frank Paul’s covers for the July 1926 AMAZING STORIES and the AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL for 1927 are certainly that. And the authors in the magazines — Edgar Rice Burroughs, Austin Hall, A. Merritt, Edgar Allan Poe, Garrett P. Serviss, Curt Siodmak, A. Hyatt Verill, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and others — certainly didn’t hurt sales. Paul’s cover for the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES — featuring the start of E. E. Smith’s “Skylark of Space” and the first Buck Rogers story — is one of the icons of science-fiction art.

The November 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES featured a cover illustration of Jupiter as seen from Ganymede. It was done to accompany Frank J. Brueckel’s story, “The Moon Men.” The artwork was one of the last covers created by Frank R. Paul for the Gernsback version of AMAZING. Paul would return to the magazine in 1939 — after Ziff-Davis had become its publisher, painting over fifty back covers for AMAZING STORIES and its companion, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES.)

An AMAZING Story

Feb 15, 2016 by

The latest issue of AMAZING STORIES, dated April 2014, with cover art by Frank Wu

One of the major themes of PulpFest 2016 will be the 90th anniversary of the first continuing science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES. In addition to the appearance of our Guest of Honor, Ted White — the longest serving editor of the magazine (and its companion title, FANTASTIC) — we’ll be offering a presentation on the magazine itself, put together by Joseph Coluccio, president of the Pittsburgh Area Fantasy and Science Fiction Club. Mr. Coluccio will discuss the pulp era of AMAZING, the years when Hugo Gernsback, T. O’Conor Sloane, Ray Palmer, William Hamling, and Howard Browne helmed the world’s first science-fiction magazine.

Another theme of our convention — the 150th anniversary of H. G. Wells‘ birth — will likewise tie into our AMAZING story. Herbert George Wells, who came into prominence during the late nineteenth century, was educated in the sciences and was a literary genius. It would be difficult to deny the importance of Wells to the development of both science fiction and AMAZING STORIES. During his three years as editor and publisher of the first science-fiction magazine, Gernsback turned to Wells’ fictional output for nearly thirty stories, reprinting such tales as “The Country of the Blind,” “The Crystal Egg,” “The Empire of the Ants,” “The First Men in the Moon,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” “A Story of the Days to Come,” “The Time Machine,” “The Valley of the Spiders,” “The War of the Worlds,” and “When the Sleeper Wakes” in his flagship title and its companions.

Our presentation, “Traveling through Time with H. G. Wells,” will feature Garyn G. Roberts, winner of the 2013 Munsey Award. Professor Roberts has written extensively about the pulps, both professionally and as a fan. His work, THE PRENTICE HALL ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, a college level textbook, is notable for the attention paid to the pulp magazines.

These are just some of the ways that PulpFest 2016 will be celebrating ninety years of the first science-fiction magazine — AMAZING STORIES — whose inaugural issue really stood out on the newsstand. It was larger than the typical pulp magazine with three-dimensional block letters trailing across its masthead and a bright yellow background that framed an alien landscape, a ringed planet and small moon. Frank R. Paul was the artist, illustrating Verne’s “Off on a Comet.”

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. The readers of AMAZING “… wanted to be entertained, to escape, to experience that sense of wonder that good visionary fiction brought.”

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 various 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 per 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,” featuring Anthony “Buck” Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning it into “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”

Amazing Stories 26-04Despite its seeming success, the Gernsback publishing empire continuously experienced cash flow problems. Plowing money into his radio interests and paying extremely hefty salaries 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, few authors were interested in writing for the company. In early 1929, Gernsback’s suppliers 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.

Be here on Thursday when PulpFest begins a series of articles on the history of AMAZING STORIES authored by popular culture historian Mike Ashley. The series originally ran in the January through July 1992 issues of AMAZING STORIES. We’ll be posting the entire series at www.pulpfest.com, starting on Thursday, February 18th with “The AMAZING Story: The Twenties — By Radio to the Stars.”

(Hugo Gernsback edited and published AMAZING STORIES from April 1926 through April 1929. He then lost control of the magazine. His most favored artist was Frank R. Paul — now known as the “grandfather of science-fiction art” — who painted both the first and the last covers of the Gernsback AMAZING.

In July 2012, longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson revived AMAZING STORIES as an online magazine. You can find it at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/. It’s also available as an ebook via Amazon.com.

The first new issue of AMAZING STORIES — pictured at the head of our article and dated April 2014 — features cover art by Frank Wu. According to the artist, the painting is a reworking of Frank Paul’s cover to the very first issue of the magazine, published in April 1926. To read more about Wu’s cover, please visit http://amazingstoriesmag.com/articles/cover-amazing-stories-april-2014/.)

Street & Smith’s Second String Superheroes

Feb 1, 2016 by

The Skipper 1936-12THE SHADOW MAGAZINE kicked off the hero-pulp era with a bang when it debuted in 1931. Pulp publishers — including THE SHADOW‘s publisher, Street & Smith — scrambled to grab a share of that eager reading audience.

It took Street & Smith until 1933 to add more character pulps to its lineup: DOC SAVAGE, NICK CARTER MAGAZINE, and PETE RICE MAGAZINE. That same year, Thrilling Publications released THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE and THE LONE EAGLE, while Popular Publications introduced THE SPIDER and G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES.

Popular Publications’ THE SPIDER pushed the boundaries set by the other hero pulp magazines, which were rather mainstream. The Spider was judge, jury and executioner in his battle against crazed, blood-thirsty villains. Other Popular pulps — HORROR STORIES and TERROR TALES — pushed those boundaries even further. The chain’s pulps were “jammed with non-stop violence, like the fever dream of a homicidal maniac,” wrote the late pulp historian Robert Sampson in DEADLY EXCITEMENTS. And as their publisher’s name reflects, these pulps were quite popular. So popular, in fact, that Street & Smith decided it needed to put a harder edge in its hero pulps.

Rather than introduce those themes in its already popular THE SHADOW and DOC SAVAGE magazines, Street & Smith turned to two new hero pulps — THE WHISPERER and THE SKIPPER — to ratchet things up a notch or two.

THE WHISPERER hit the newsstands with an October 1936 number. The Whisperer was police Inspector James “Wildcat” Gordon, who before the end of his first adventure (“The Dead Who Talked”) would be named police commissioner.

The 30-year-old, stocky, granite-jawed policeman attempted to fight crime within the law during the day, but transformed into The Whisperer to take the law into his own hands when it didn’t go far enough. The brash Wildcat Gordon favored equally brash — no, make that garish — suits, often green-checked with bright red ties, a matching carnation, a battered Army campaign hat, and large, yellow shoes. The Whisperer was just the opposite.

Gordon’s crime-fighting alter ego was described as drab, homely, and unassuming. To transform into The Whisperer, Gordon changed into a gray business suit, gray spats and an old-fashioned round-brimmed hat, dusted his brownish/reddish hair with a white powder, and inserted two dental plates that transformed his square jaw into a long, narrow and oddly pointed one. The dental plates also caused him to speak in a low but penetrating whisper — hence his name. To aid him in meting out justice, The Whisperer packed two automatics fixed with super-silencers, which hissed and flashed licks of blue flame when fired. At other times, he took pleasure in snapping criminals’ necks with his exceptionally strong hands.

(Oh, does Police Commissioner James Gordon sound familiar? You’re probably thinking of Police Commissioner James Gordon from BATMAN. That’s just one of several links between the comic-book Caped Crusader and The Whisperer. Will Murray and Anthony Tollin address how THE WHISPERER and other pulps influenced BATMAN in Sanctum Books‘ reprints of the pulp series.)

When necessary, The Whisperer went undercover as D. Smith, or Dunk Smith, a two-bit crook, who looked just like The Whisperer, but without the hat. He had to moderate his speech, keeping it hoarse and husky, in order not to give himself away. Smith’s dog, a Scottish terrier named Brian Boru, only answered to Gordon when he’s either The Whisperer or Dunk.

Gordon was joined in the magazine by Richard “Quick Trigger” Traeger and his granddaughter (later daughter) Tiny Traeger; his police chauffeur, Horace “Slug” Minor; Detective Sgt. Thorsen; and Judge Patrick Kyley. Thorns in Gordon’s side were Deputy Commissioner Henry Bolton, Gordon’s obnoxious assistant who desperately wanted Gordon’s job, and Van Royston, the foppish mayor who dressed in black tie, tails and a silk top hat, and would have welcomed Bolton’s promotion.

Despite the hopped-up violence (at least for Street & Smith standards), The Whisperer rarely faced the sorts of villains confronted by The Spider. The Whisperer tackled organized crime, racketeers, political corruption, and the like.

The Whisperer 1936-10THE WHISPERER‘s first magazine lasted 14 issues, ending with December 1937. All of those novels were written by Laurence Donovan under the house name Clifford Goodrich. Donovan was an ideal fictioneer for putting an edge on The Whisperer (and The Skipper). He was also writing for the more provocative Spicy line of pulps. After his namesake pulp folded, The Whisperer moved to short stories in the back pages of THE SHADOW MAGAZINE, with one appearance in CRIME BUSTERS, for the next three years. Donovan fell out of favor with Street & Smith in 1938, and was replaced by Alan Hathway as the new Clifford Goodrich.

As the United States became embroiled in World War II, pulp popularity rebounded from a slump in the late 1930s. Street & Smith moved The Whisperer back to his own magazine, and restarted the numbering with Vol. 1, No. 1, dated October 1940. The character’s appearance was changed; gone was the drab gray, replaced with black. Murray has speculated that the change may have been to distance The Whisperer from Street’s latest pulp hero, The Avenger, who was also stocky and dressed in gray. The new series lasted ten every-other-month issues, ending the character’s pulp appearances for good with the April 1942 issue.

Two months after the first appearance of the original THE WHISPERER magazine, THE SKIPPER went on sale with a December 1936 cover date. As The Whisperer is often said to have been inspired by The Shadow, there’s little doubt that Captain John Fury — the Skipper — was a variant of Doc Savage.

THE SKIPPER was also written by Laurence Donovan, under the house name Wallace Brooker. Donovan was quite familiar with Doc Savage, having written nine of the Man of Bronze’s adventures from 1935 to 1937.

Cap Fury wasn’t the giant that Doc was; instead he, like Wildcat Gordon, was stocky, but with “flaming red hair” and “sharp arctic blue” eyes. He had Doc-like skills, which included lip reading, using pressure points to subdue the bad guys, and cat-like agility. He also relied on oversized sea boots to conceal hypodermics, oxygen masks, and other gadgets. His flaming red hair and last name echoed his dealings with the criminal sort. Unlike Doc, who refrained from killing, Cap Fury made good use of automatic pistols and a whip to mete out justice.

Fury sailed a rusted-looking old tanker, the “Whirlwind,” which was actually a state-of-the-art battleship, with deck guns, a fully outfitted laboratory, a hanger with foldable aircraft and a submarine, and elaborate living quarters.

Joining Fury in his adventures were Peter Doom, a former policeman and Fury’s closest associate; James Jonathan “Marlin Spike” Briggs, a Monk Mayfair-like first mate; Hurricane Dan Belmont, the giant second mate; Cock-eye, the third mate; and James “Bumps” McCarthy, “a roly-poly, red-haired” fellow “known as ‘Bumps’ because of his constantly getting himself into jams’ who was a newsreel camera man that followed Fury around for great film. Princess Mara — Mara von Jean, the Black Leopard Princess — takes the Pat Savage role in the series beginning in January 1937. She turns up occasionally when she’s not at a Boston girls’ school. There’s also G.R.M. “Grump” Rollins, chairman of the board that owned the Whirlwind.

Again, echoing Doc Savage, Fury was drawn into his battle against evil after his brother, Captain John Fury, was murdered by ocean-faring evildoers in his first adventure. Cap Fury vowed to rid the seas of pirates and criminals.

Unlike the routine bad guys that The Whisperer fought, The Skipper battled a number of fantastic foes who controlled death rays, a meteorite that removed oxygen from the air, voodoo practitioners, plague-bearing rats, and other nefarious foes.

When THE SKIPPER was canceled after 12 issues with the December 1937 number, Cap Fury moved into the back pages of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE. The shorter stories were written by Donovan, Harold Davis, and Norman Daniels.

(In addition to their pulp appearances, both The Whisperer and The Skipper branched out to backup stories in Street & Smith comic books in the 1940s.)

Learn much more about The Whisperer and Cap Fury at PulpFest 2016. “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” will salute the 80th anniversaries of the two pulp heroes. Pulp historian Will Murray will tell the story of “Street & Smith’s Second Stringers: The Whisperer and The Skipper” at the con. Murray is the 1979 Lamont Award winner, and author of “The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage and Tarzan” for Altus Press. PulpFest 2016 will take place from July 21st through July 24th in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center.

(THE SKIPPER, including the first issue dated December 1936, featured cover art by Lawrence Donner Toney, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. During the 1930s and 1940s, Toney painted covers for pulp magazines, such as CLUES, COMPLETE STORIES, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and WILD WEST WEEKLY, all published by Street & Smith. Most of his work for pulp magazines was signed only with his initials.

THE WHISPERER was introduced to readers with its October 1936 number, featuring front cover art by the talented John Newton Howitt, a devoted landscape painter whose work was sold at fine art galleries in New York City. With the advent of the Great Depression, the artist turned to the pulps for income. An excellent painter, Howitt found a ready market in the rough-paper periodicals, selling freelance pulp covers to ADVENTURE, DIME DETECTIVE, HORROR STORIES, THE SPIDER, TERROR TALES, THE WHISPERER, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and other pulp magazine titles.

To learn more about these talented artists, be sure to visit David Saunders’ Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists where you will find more than 300 biographical profiles of American pulp artists.)

ARGOSY at PulpFest — An Abundance of Riches

Jan 25, 2016 by

Blackwood's Magazine 1818-10 to 1819-03Although magazines have been around since the seventeenth century — the first regular periodical was ERBAULICHE MONATHS UNTERREDUNGEN, a literary and philosophy magazine, launched in Germany in 1663 — it was only with the arrival of increased literacy and lower costs in the early nineteenth century that magazines of mass appeal began to be produced.

As Europe and North America became increasingly industrialized, magazines began to reach a much wider, sometimes national, audience. BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE, NOUVEAU MAGAZINE DES ENFANTSHARPER’S NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE, ATLANTIC MONTHLY, SCRIBNER’S MONTHLYand others emerged, publishing the fiction of Charles Dickens, Fitz-James O’Brien, Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and others. The dime novels, penny-dreadfuls, and story papers were also introduced during these years, offering tales of derring-do to a growing juvenile audience. It was in such periodicals that the “American Jules Verne,” Luis Senarens, developed the Frank Reade, Jr. series of adventure yarns.

The last quarter of the nineteenth century has become known as “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 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 in Great Britain 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,” featuring 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, another popular British fiction 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.

War of the Worlds

The British popular fiction magazines were modeled after the illustrated periodicals of America. However, unlike their British counterparts, the leading American magazines of the late nineteenth century – HARPER’S, CENTURY MAGAZINE, and  SCRIBNER’S – were beyond the financial and 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.

Argosy 1896-12As 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 Munsey used for his daily newspaper and the rough-paper fiction magazine, or pulp, was born. Within a short while, 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.

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/LIVE WIRE (1907), and THE 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.

All-Story 12-10Bean’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 word “argosy” is defined as a large merchant ship, especially one with a rich cargo. With the terrific programming we’re lining up for PulpFest 2016, you’re promised “an abundance of riches” We’ll be saluting a wide range of anniversaries at this summer’s pulp con: the tenth anniversary of Sanctum Books; the eightieth anniversary of THE WHISPERER and THE SKIPPER; the ninetieth anniversary of AMAZING STORIES, the first science-fiction pulp; the hundredth anniversary of the specialty pulp; the 120th anniversary of THE ARGOSY, the original pulp magazine; and the 150th anniversary of the birth of H. G. Wells!

Check out our post of January 4, 2016 — “Coming Soon to Columbus — PulpFest 2016” — for a look at our planned. We’ll be featuring a pair of presentations on THE ARGOSY. “120 Years of THE ARGOSY — The World’s First Pulp Magazine,” will be offered by Doug Ellis, one of the world’s leading collectors and authorities on the magazine and a founder of the fabulous Windy City Pulp and Paper ConventionArt and pulp historian David Saunders will be discussing “The Artists of THE ARGOSY —  120 Years of Sensational Pulp Artists.” Both presentations are planned for Saturday evening, July 23rd, immediately preceding our exciting auction.

“Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” will take place from July 21st through July 24th in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. Start making your plans to join us at the “pop culture center of the universe” for PulpFest 2016.

(BLACKWOOD’S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE — which first appeared in April 1817 — was one of the first magazines to reach a national audience. It’s introduction helped pave the way for the popular fiction periodicals of the late nineteenth century. Pictured here is volume 4 of the magazine, dated October 1818 – March 1819. The image on the cover is an engraving of the 16th century Scottish historian George Buchanan. BLACKWOOD’S continued publication until 1980.

PEARSON’S MAGAZINE was one of the popular British fiction magazines that emerged during the late 1800s. Its first issue was dated January 1896. The magazine’s publisher, C. Arthur Pearson, was “fascinated with stories of the future and what science might bring. Hence, it comes as no surprise that H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was originally serialized in eight parts in PEARSON’S, running from April the December in 1897. It was illustrated by Warwick Goble. PEARSON’S ran for over 500 issues. Its last issue was date November 1939.

The December 1896 issue of THE ARGOSY, published by Frank A. Munsey, was the world’s first pulp fiction magazine. It would continue for nearly eighty years, ending as a “men’s adventure magazine.” It’s final issue was dated November 1978.

One of the most popular authors to appear in the Munsey magazines was undoubtedly Edgar Rice Burroughs. His adventure romance, “Tarzan of the Apes,” was published in its entirety in the October 1912 issue of THE ALL-STORY. The issue featured front cover art by Clinton Pettee who drew interior story illustrations for MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE and painted covers for such pulp magazines as THE ARGOSY,THE ALL-STORYTHE CAVALIER, and SHORT STORIES.)

 

A Century Ago in a Galaxy Called California

Dec 14, 2015 by

Pardon the play on words in the title, but it was hard to resist with the seventh STAR WARS movie, THE FORCE AWAKENS, premiering in theaters across the world at the end of this week. But why write about STAR WARS on a website devoted to PulpFest, Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con?

Two words: Leigh Brackett. Four more words: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Considered by many to be the best of the STAR WARS films, the original treatment for the fifth episode of George Lucas’ series was written by Leigh Brackett. Shortly after delivering her untitled screenplay to Twentieth Century Fox, the so-called “Queen of the Space Opera” passed away. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time, and in 1981, received a Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation.

Born one-hundred years ago on December 7, 1915, Leigh Brackett was the wife of author Edmond Hamilton. Together, they were two of the many writers who helped to popularize the so-called “space operas” of the pulp magazines. Ed started first as the leading contributor of science fiction to WEIRD TALES during the 1920s. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. In later years, he was asked by Standard Magazines’ Leo Margulies 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. When Mort Weisinger began working for DC Comics in 1941, he turned to Standard’s leading writers of science fiction — including Hamilton — to write the adventures of Superman and other comic book heroes.

Leigh Brackett came later to the pulps, selling her first story to ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION in late 1939. The bulk of her science fiction appeared in Fiction House’s PLANET STORIES and Standard’s THRILLING WONDER STORIES and STARTLING STORIES. A native of southern California, she began collaborating on screenplays during the middle forties. Supposedly, Hollywood film director Howard Hawks was so impressed by her crime novel NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE that he had his secretary call in “this guy Brackett” to help William Faulkner write the script for THE BIG SLEEP. Released in 1946 and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it is considered a classic of film noir. During the fifties and sixties, Brackett, Hawks, and actor John Wayne collaborated on several motion pictures, included RIO BRAVO, HATARI, EL DORADO, and RIO LOBO. Leigh Brackett died in 1978.

In 1972, Brackett and Hamilton served as the guests of honor at the first Pulpcon, the forerunner to PulpFest. Years later in 2009, the town of Kinsman, Ohio — where Brackett and Hamilton lived after they had married — began celebrating this famed couple of pulp history. The celebration evolved into KinCon, a convention exploring the worlds of Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett. Although the event is currently on hiatus, KinCon continues to celebrate these two exceptional pulp fictioneers through its website on Facebook.

Like KinCon, PulpFest seeks to draw attention to the profound effect that the pulps had on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of media — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest honors pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways the magazines and their creators — people like Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton — have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades.

Join PulpFest 2016 to be part of this great celebration of American popular culture. Start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” in 2016. It will take place July 21st through July 24th at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and the Greater Columbus Convention Center in the beautiful downtown of Columbus, Ohio.

(After studying art by correspondence, Allen Anderson worked as a staff artist for Fawcett Publications in Minneapolis from 1929 to 1939. He moved to New York City in 1940 and began painting covers for pulp magazines published by Ace Magazines, Fiction House, Harry Donenfeld, and Martin Goodman. He also painted comic book covers for Ziff-Davis from 1949 to 1953. From 1947 through 1953, he contributed about thirty front cover paintings to PLANET STORIES — including the Winter 1948 issue — a Fiction House pulp magazine best remembered for the many entertaining space operas that appeared in its rough paper pages. In later years, Anderson opened a small advertising agency and worked as a sign painter. )

Margaret Brundage at 115

Dec 7, 2015 by

Weird Tales (June 1933)Few artists are as strongly linked to a single pulp as Margaret Brundage is to WEIRD TALES. Dec. 9, 2015, marks the 115th anniversary of her birth in Chicago.

Margaret Brundage got her start in the pulp magazines with WEIRD TALES‘ sister publication, ORIENTAL STORIES (later MAGIC CARPET), with six covers from Spring 1932 through January 1934. Her first cover for “The Unique Magazine” appeared in September 1932. Her pastels graced the cover again the next month, then again in March 1933. Beginning in June 1933 — and for the next 39 covers — WEIRD TALES featured her luscious artwork exclusively. Her last cover for WEIRD TALES appeared on the January 1945 number, capping a run of 66 covers for the magazine, with Brundage receiving no more than $90 for a cover.

The artist’s cover illustration for Robert E. Howard’s “Black Colossus” (WEIRD TALES, June 1933) generated the most mail for any of the magazine’s covers, she told Robert Weinberg, as detailed in THE ALLURING ART OF MARGARET BRUNDAGE, published by Vanguard Productions in 2013.

Brundage always enjoyed illustrating Howard’s stories. It was WEIRD TALES‘ editor Farnsworth Wright who passed along news of Howard’s suicide to the artist in 1936: “When I learned of Robert Howard’s death, I was very upset . . . . (Wright and I) both just sat around and cried for most of the day. He was always my personal favorite.”

In an interview with R. Alain Everts in 1973, Brundage recalled her most controversial WEIRD TALES cover:

We had one issue (the September 1933 number) that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting ahold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation, and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple of thousand extra (copies).

In 1938, WEIRD TALES was bought by Short Stories, Inc., and its editorial headquarters moved from Brundage’ hometown of Chicago to New York City. Wright went east with the magazine, but he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, and by 1940 he was dead. Brundage stayed in Chicago, but the difficulty of shipping her fragile chalk illustrations by train to New York and a reduction in WEIRD TALES‘ cover rates to $50 ended her pulp career just five years later.

Margaret Brundage died April 9, 1976, at age 75.

PulpFest seeks to draw attention to the profound effect that the pulps had on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest honors pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways the magazines and their creators — people like Margaret Brundage — have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades.

Join PulpFest 2016 to be part of this great celebration of American popular culture. Start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” in 2016. It will take place July 21–24 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

(Margaret Brundage’s pastel cover for the June 1933 issue of WEIRD TALES illustrates Robert E. Howard’s tale, “Black Colossus.”)

George and Jerome Rozen at 120

Oct 15, 2015 by

Shadow33-08-01Born nearly 120 years ago on October 16, 1895, George Rozen and his twin brother, Jerome, were both pulp artists. George’s first published assignments were covers and interior pen-and-ink story illustrations for Fawcett magazines. In 1931, he replaced his brother as the cover artist for THE SHADOW MAGAZINE. George Rozen became the Street & Smith pulp’s most renowned cover artist, while his brother branched into the more prestigious fields of advertising and slick magazines.

As time passed, George Rozen continued to work for the pulp industry, selling cover art to all of the major publishers including Popular and the Thrilling Group. For Ned Pines, Rozen painted adventure, detective, western, war, and even science-fiction covers, including the first issue of CAPTAIN FUTURE, dated January 1940. As the pulp market began to contract, his work was increasingly found on paperbacks from Popular Library and Ace. In later years, he worked as an art instructor at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

Jerome Rozen preceded his twin brother, George, into the world of illustration. After working as an art instructor in Chicago, he moved to New York and began selling interior pen and ink story illustrations to Fawcett. His first covers appeared on BATTLE STORIES, COMPLETE STORIES, THE POPULAR MAGAZINE, WAR BIRDS, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and other pulps. In 1931, he painted the covers for the first four issues of Street & Smith’s THE SHADOW MAGAZINE. Although he continued to work for the pulp industry throughout the thirties, contributing a number of classic covers for Popular’s THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG as well as other pulps, the bulk of Jerome’s work was now done for the advertising and slick magazine markets.

Following a traffic accident in 1938, Jerome renewed his art career through the pulp market, selling covers to TEN DETECTIVE ACES, THRILLING ADVENTURES, WESTERN ACES, and other magazines. Soon thereafter, he was back in the advertising field and selling to slick magazines such as BOY’S LIFE and LOOK MAGAZINE. In 1978 he was rediscovered by fans of pulp magazines and was commissioned to recreate several of his classic pulp paintings.

PulpFest seeks to draw attention to the profound effect that the pulps had on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest honors pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways the magazines and their creators — people like George and Jerome Rozen — have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades.

Join PulpFest 2016 to be part of this great celebration of American popular culture. Start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” in 2016. It will take place July 21 – 24 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus.

(George Rozen’s painting for the August 1, 1933 issue of THE SHADOW MAGAZINE is perhaps one of the most iconic images of Walter Gibson’s “Dark Avenger.”)

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100 Years of the Specialty Pulp

Oct 8, 2015 by

Detective Story 1915-10-05Although it’s not as widely collected as its successors — magazines such as BLACK MASK and DIME DETECTIVE — Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE was a trailblazer. Its debut issue, dated October 5, 1915, was the first pulp magazine successfully dedicated to one fiction genre. Its first editor, Frank E. Blackwell, explained in an early issue, “I feel that stories dealing with the detection of crime are of more interest to the reading public than any others.” Many more specialty pulps would follow in the ensuing years, culminating in single-character magazines such as THE SHADOW or DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE.

DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE was a continuation of the nickel weekly, NICK CARTER STORIES, in which the first part of the lead story of the new pulp — “The Yellow Label” — had appeared. According to dime novel and story paper expert, J. Randolph Cox, “The intent was to transfer the reading public of Nick Carter’s adventures over to a more adult and sophisticated fiction magazine.” Judging from its long life — DETECTIVE STORY would run for thirty-four years, from October 5, 1915 through the Summer of 1949, a total of 1,057 issues — Street & Smith’s intent was very ably achieved.

Unlike its highly prized successors — particularly BLACK MASK, the magazine where the hard-boiled detective story first took shape — DETECTIVE STORY emphasized the more traditional or “clued” detective story. Carolyn Wells, Ernest M. Poate, Arthur B. Reeve, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, and others all wrote stories along the traditional line, while Edgar Wallace, J. S. Fletcher, Johnston McCulley, Christopher Booth, Herman Landon, and more offered tales of rogue or “bent” heroes. Sax Rohmer was also a contributor to the magazine, introducing the “yellow peril” theme to the magazine’s mix. In later years, the fiction took on a more realistic tone, resembling the stories found in ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, the mystery digest that had debuted during the second half of 1941.

Although DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE did little to further the development of the detective or crime story, its success would lead to a proliferation of pulp magazines devoted to a single theme or genre. According to the late pulp and science-fiction scholar Sam Moskowitz, “While not the first of the specialized fiction magazines, being preceded by THE OCEAN and THE RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE, it accomplished what they had not by creating a trend that would result in the proliferation of the pulps into western, love, air, science fiction, and supernatural, as well as detective.” Likewise in 1931, the CBS radio series inspired by the magazine’s fiction, DETECTIVE STORY HOUR, would introduce the public to The Shadow, the announcer for each episode. Soon thereafter, Street & Smith would launch THE SHADOW DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and the single-character pulp would be born.

In 2016, PulpFest intends to salute one-hundred years of the specialty pulp, first popularized during the fall of 1915, when DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE premiered. Join us at the Hyatt Regency Columbus from  July 21 – 24, 2016. It should be a very special convention!

(The first issue of DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE featured front cover art by John A. Coughlin, a Chicago-born artist who got his start in his home town’s advertising business. Coughlin moved to New York City in 1912 and painted his first pulp cover a year later — for Street & Smith’s THE POPULAR MAGAZINE. Other pulp clients included ARGOSY, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, SHORT STORIES, TOP-NOTCH, and WILD WEST WEEKLY. He also contributed cover art for HARPER’S WEEKLY, FARM AND FIRESIDE MAGAZINE, and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. According to pulp art scholar David Saunders, Coughlin’s cover for the March 7, 1931 issue of DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE marks the first painted appearance of The Shadow on a pulp magazine.)

News and Reviews of PulpFest 2015

Sep 14, 2015 by

2015 FlyerIf you weren’t able to make it to Columbus, Ohio, for PulpFest 2015 or if you’d like to relive the many fine times of this year’s convention, there are plenty of opportunities via the Internet.

For your listening pleasure

A couple of websites offer audio recordings of PulpFest programming:

Read all about it

A number of blogs have posts where PulpFest 2015 attendees recount their experiences at the convention:

You can find updated report lists at Bill Thom’s Pulp Coming Attractions, and at Yellowed Perils.

(Most of our promotional materials for PulpFest 2015 featured Matt Fox’s cover for the November 1944 issue of WEIRD TALES, one of about a dozen covers the artist painted for “the unique magazine.” Also pictured here is a trio of thumbnails from the “Thrilling Group,” the nickname for Standard Magazines, likewise lauded during our 2015 convention. Each year, PulpFest is packed with programming highlighting a range of topics.

To see what you’ve been missing, start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” in 2016. Your PulpFest organizing committee is already starting to plan for next year’s convention. PulpFest 2016 will take place July 21 – 24 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus.)

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