Children of the Pulps — Part Three

Jul 19, 2019 by

The stories and art of the pulp magazines have had a profound effect on popular culture across the globe. They have reverberated through a wide variety of media — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video, anime, manga, and role-playing games.

Although science fiction can trace its roots to the imaginary voyages, satires, and utopias of the seventeenth century, scholars have repeatedly pointed to Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN  — originally published in 1818 — as the first science-fiction novel. Twenty-five years later — beginning with “MS. Found in a Bottle” — Edgar Allan Poe began to use logic and science to explain elements of his fantastic stories. The strength of Poe’s stories inspired authors around the world. One was Jules Verne, who introduced “precise, scientific details” into FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and other tales.

As the 19th century progressed and more people were reading, magazines naturally developed a wider audience. For the more literary, there were titles such as BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE and HARPER’S NEW MONTHLY. For those with less refined tastes, there were dime novels, penny-dreadfuls, and story papers. It was in these publications that the “American Jules Verne,” Luis Senarens, developed the Frank Reade, Jr. series that featured steam-powered contraptions in exciting adventure yarns. During the late nineteenth century, the thrilling yarns of Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard, and later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells, helped to develop a market for the British popular fiction magazine. The United States would follow in late 1896 when Frank A. Munsey converted THE ARGOSY to an all-fiction, rough-paper magazine.

From its start as a pulp, THE ARGOSY was home to fantastic fiction, reprinting a dystopian short story in its first issue. Other works featured by the magazine included Park Winthrop’s “The Land of the Central Sun” and William Wallace Cook’s “A Round Trip to the Year 2000.”

Selling in the hundreds of thousands, THE ARGOSY was bound to generate 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. Munsey himself would be next in line, introducing THE ALL-STORY in late 1904.

More than any other pulp prior to the introduction of the science fiction and fantasy fiction magazines, THE ALL-STORY became the major repository for the “different” tale, the pseudo-scientific yarn, the scientific romance, or the “off-the-trail” story. In its February 1912 issue, the Munsey pulp would begin serializing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Under the Moons of Mars.” The author would follow with Tarzan of the Apes,” published in its entirety in the October 1912 number.

Burroughs’ two classics, along with the pseudo-scientific works of H. G. Wells and his American counterpart, George Allan England, would serve as templates for much of the science fiction written over the next twenty-five years, generating a type of story best known as “the scientific romance.” THE ALL-STORY editor Robert H. Davis, in particular, worked to develop this school of fiction, creating a stable of writers who could contribute such stories. Davis can very well be thought of as “The Grandfather of Science Fiction.”

Although the scientific romances published in the Munsey pulps remained popular, beginning in late 1915, a trend toward specialized magazines slowly emerged. Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE was the first successful specialty pulp. Over the next decade, magazines specializing in western fiction, love stories, sea yarns, and sports fiction would follow. In early 1923, a pulp devoted to the fantasy and horror genres — WEIRD TALES — would be launched.

In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, WEIRD TALES, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages. Edmond Hamilton — who began selling to the magazine in 1926 — was the pulp’s leading contributor of science fiction. With tales of super-science about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “World-Wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction contributors included Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Donald Wandrei, Jack Williamson, and H. P. Lovecraft, spinning his own brand of science fiction in tales of cosmic horror.

Although science fiction was frequently found in its pages, WEIRD TALES was not the first specialized science fiction magazine. That was left for Hugo Gernsback to develop. Called “The Barnum of the Space Age” in 1963, Gernsback came to the United States in 1904. He began importing electronic parts and equipment and sold them via mail order catalog. Gernback’s catalog soon evolved into a magazine, MODERN ELECTRICS, selling for ten cents. In 1911, it began publishing fiction, serializing Gernsback’s own story, “Ralph 124C 41+,” in twelve parts.

In the spring of 1913, Gernsback began publishing a new science periodical, THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER. Before long, it was also publishing fiction alongside technical articles. Beginning with its August 1920 number, Gernback’s magazine became SCIENCE AND INVENTION.

The scientifically-trained Gernsback was committed to educating his audience about science and technology through the fiction he published. That all changed in early 1923 when — perhaps in an effort to boost circulation or to test the waters in the growing market for specialized fiction magazines — Gernsback began publishing fiction that was meant to entertain. He reprinted two short works by H. G. Wells, and later, new works by George Allan England and Ray Cummings. The August 1923 issue of SCIENCE AND INVENTION was a “Scientific Fiction Number.” It featured six “scientifiction” stories including “The Man from the Atom,” a short story by a new author, sixteen-year-old G. Peyton Wertenbaker.

SCIENCE AND INVENTION and his other technical magazines were mere stepping stones for Hugo Gernsback. In the spring of 1926, he introduced a full-fledged science fiction — or as he then termed it, “scientifiction” — magazine. It was hard to miss the first issue of AMAZING STORIES — dated April 1926 — on the newsstand. It was larger than the typical pulp magazine. Vivid, three-dimensional block letters trailed across its masthead, set against a bright yellow backdrop. Frank R. Paul’s cover art depicted a number of ice skaters, gliding in front of snow heaps crowned by two stranded sailing vessels. Looming behind this scene was a bright red, ringed planet and a small moon.

In 1987, the late Jack Williamson wrote: “I don’t think anybody today can entirely understand what it meant to me and many like me then . . . but we found sheer wonder in AMAZING STORIES, a rich new revelation of exciting things to come, a dazzling vision of new ideas and discoveries and inventions that could push our future frontiers wider, make all our lives richer.”

Within months of its introduction, AMAZING STORIES was selling over 100,000 copies of each issue. In establishing the first specialized science-fiction magazine, Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder shared by lonely individuals scattered across the country, all of them prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.”

The names on the front covers of the early AMAZING STORIES were certainly major selling points: Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Edgar Allan Poe, Garrett P. Serviss, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and others. Gernsback also offered story contests. These helped him 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 the AMAZING STORIES letter column — “Discussions” — Hugo Gernsback also reeled readers into his world of wonder.

With the August 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space.” Also appearing in the issue was Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon — 2419 AD,” the first tale to feature Buck Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning the genre away from the Munsey type of story — popular with a wide range of readers, both male and female — and toward “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”

Although he introduced AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY in the winter of 1928, Hugo Gernsback was increasingly experiencing cash flow problems. Plowing money into his radio interests and paying very hefty salaries to his brother and himself, Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing Company was forced into bankruptcy.

Although down but not out, Hugo Gernsback used assets tied to his importing and radio businesses to launch a new larger-sized pulp in May 1929. Called SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, Gernsback called the stories in his new magazine, “science fiction.” Unlike “scientifiction,” this name would stick.

With the growth of the science fiction field — both AMAZING and SCIENCE WONDER also issued quarterlies — other publishers began to notice the field. William Clayton — publisher of SNAPPY STORIES, RANCH ROMANCES, and other titles — was the first to take a bite. Not enamored with the Gernsback style of science fiction, Clayton was more interested in stories of action and adventure . . . “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.” His new magazine would be called ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE. According to Alva Rogers:

ASTOUNDING was unabashedly an action adventure magazine and made no pretense of trying to present science in a sugar-coated form . . .  The amount of science found in its pages was minimal – just enough to support the action and little more. Lessons in science could be obtained in school or in text books; driving action and heroic adventure was what the reader of ASTOUNDING wanted. Interplanetary wars and space battles, hideous and menacing Bug Eyed Monsters . . . the courage, ingenuity and brains of a single puny man, or small group of men, pitted against the terrible might and overwhelming scientific knowledge of extraterrestrial aliens – with defeat the inevitable fate of the invaders: that was what set the reader’s pulse pounding. . . . Action was the hallmark of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE.”

Although the early ASTOUNDING would serve as a repository for space battles and bug-eyed monsters, after it was acquired by Street & Smith in 1933, it would launch what has become known as Science Fiction’s Golden Age. Utilizing writers both old and new, editor John W. Campbell began to set the stage in 1938 and early 1939, publishing such stories as Lester Del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy,” Clifford D. Simak’s “Cosmic Engineers,” Don A. Stuart’s “Who Goes There?” and “Cloak of Aesir,” and Jack Williamson’s “The Legion of Time” and its sequel, “One Against the Legion.”

The July 1939 issue however, is cited most often as the start of the Golden Age of ASTOUNDING and, in turn, of science fiction. Behind a very effective cover by SHADOW cover artist Graves Gladney, the reader would find the first prose fiction by radio soap opera writer A. E. van Vogt as well as the young Isaac Asimov’s first story for ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION. August’s and September’s issues continued the trend with the first stories of Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon appearing in the magazine. October’s number began the serialization of E. E. Smith’s cosmic adventure, “Gray Lensman,” along with another tale by Heinlein.

The start of the new decade brought with it the flowering of Robert Heinlein as he contributed “Reqiem,” his first novel “If This Goes On—,” “The Roads Must Roll,” and “Blowups Happen.” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout” as well as A. E. van Vogt’s “Slan,” were also serialized by Campbell during the year. 1941 continued apace with the first of Heinlein’s works as Anson McDonald—“Sixth Column,” “Solution Unsatisfactory,” and “By His Bootstraps”—as well as “—And He Built a Crooked House,” “Logic of Empire,” “Universe,” and “Methuselah’s Children,” all published under his own name. Heinlein however, was not alone in 1941. Leigh Brackett contributed “Martian Quest;” L. Sprague de Camp offered “The Stolen Dormouse;” Theodore Sturgeon shared “Microcosmic God;” Eric Frank Russell and A. E. van Vogt respectively produced the first tales in their “Jay Score” and “Weapon Shops” series; Isaac Asimov presented “Nightfall” and the first of his robot stories; and E. E. Smith began “Second Stage Lensmen.”

ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION would continue to publish outstanding works of science fiction throughout World War II and for many years to come. More importantly, it would inspire new magazines dedicated to fantasy and science fiction — GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and others — and older magazines — including AMAZING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES — to step up their game and publish quality science fiction. We’re still enjoying the results eighty years after that momentous issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION, dated July 1939.

Over the last three days, we’ve explored just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the profound effect of the stories and art of the pulp magazines on popular culture. THE SHADOWWEIRD TALES, and the early science fiction pulps are just a few of the many rough-paper magazines that have inspired pop culture creators over the decades. PulpFest 2019 will focus on the many ways pulp fiction and pulp art have inspired and continue to inspire creators.

We’re calling this year’s theme “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories,” with presentations on Zorro, Dashiell Hammett, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Sherlock Holmes, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and more. It’s all part of our examination of the pervasive influence of pulp magazines on contemporary pop culture. We hope you’ll join us from August 15 – 18 at the beautiful DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, Pennsylvania.

(Soon after starting his monthly SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, Hugo Gernsback debuted a quarterly title. Its first issue was dated Fall 1929. After three quarterly issues, the “Science” was dropped from its title. In his editorial remarks published in the May 1930 issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, Gernsback noted, “It has been felt for some time that the word “Science” has tended to retard the progress of the magazine, because many people had the impression that it is a sort of scientific periodical rather than a fiction magazine.” Although he continued to publish his science fiction magazine, future issues would feature a new title: WONDER STORIES. His quarterly was likewise retitled.

Frank R. Paul painted all of the covers for Hugo Gernsback’s WONDER STORIES QUARTERLY. We believe that that the artist’s cover for the Fall 1932 quarterly aptly depicts the “sheer wonder” that Jack Williamson and other readers found in the early science fiction pulps.

Unlike the Munsey pulps, THE POPULAR MAGAZINE offered a smattering of the fantastic over the years: H. Rider Haggard’s “Ayesha: The Further History of She,” Edgar Wallace’s “The Green Rust,” Fred MacIsaac’s “The Last Atlantide,” and Sean O’Larkin’s “Morgo the Mighty” are a few examples. The latter novel garnered the cover art on three of the four issues in which it was serialized. Howard V. Brown contributed the cover painting for the first installment, which ran in the second August 1930 number. It was one of very few fantastic covers to be featured on the Street & Smith pulp magazine.

Who knows whether the “Scientific Fiction Number” was an effort to boost circulation or to test the waters in the growing market for specialized fiction magazines? Unfortunately, Hugo Gernsback did not share that information. However, we do know that Howard V. Brown painted the cover for the August 1923 issue.

Not long after the appearance of the November 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES — with its wondrous Frank R. Paul cover — Gernsback’s printer demanded payment on past due bills. The publisher filed for bankruptcy. In early 1929, the Experimenter Publishing Company went into receivership. The last issue of AMAZING STORIES to be edited by Hugo Gernsback was dated April 1929.

Prior to creating the cover art for the first issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, H. W. Wessolowski had done a half-dozen covers for AMAZING STORIES and its quarterly companion. Beginning with the January 1930 number, he would become the primary cover artist for the Clayton science fiction pulp.

One of the many changes — or “mutations” as he called them — that John W. Campbell instituted at ASTOUNDING after taking over as editor in late 1937, was the hiring of long-time ADVENTURE artist, Hubert Rogers. The free-lance illustrator’s first cover was the February 1939 number. Eventually, he would paint nearly sixty covers for Campbell’s ASTOUNDING, including the April 1940 number, illustrating L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout.”

To learn more about the influence of the early science fiction pulps, please visit the PulpFest Instagram page.)

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.)