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!