A Story of WONDER

May 3, 2019 by

The first issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES hit the newsstands ninety years ago, on May 3, 1929. Behind the dramatic Frank R. Paul cover were included five short stories, the beginning of a serialized novel — “The Reign of the Ray” by Fletcher Pratt and Irvin Lester — a science quiz (with the answers in the issue’s stories), an essay contest, and “Science News of the Month.” SCIENCE WONDER STORIES ran for twelve issues dated June 1929 through May 1930. David Lasser was managing editor and Hugo Gernsback was publisher and editor-in-chief.  Each issue had a fantastic Frank R. Paul cover.

In the magazine’s first issue, Gernsback stated — “We live and breathe day by day in a Science saturated atmosphere. The wonders of science no longer amaze us — we accept each new discovery as a matter of course . . . SCIENCE WONDER STORIES supplies the need for scientific fiction and supplies it better than any other magazine . . . . who are readers of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Everybody. Bankers, ministers, students, housewives, bricklayers, postal clerks, farmers, mechanics, dentists — every class you can think of — but only those with imagination. And as a rule, only those with intelligence and curiosity . . . . It augers well for the future of science fiction in America.

Gernsback claimed that science fiction was educational and stated that, “Teachers encourage the reading of this fiction because they know that it gives the pupil a fundamental knowledge of science and aviation.

The first issue of the magazine included an essay contest on the topic of “What Science Means To Me.” Jack Williamson won First Honorable Mention for “Tremendous Contribution to Civilization” and E. E. Doc Smith snagged Second Honorable Mention with  “A Scientist-Author Speaks.” The winning entry (gaining the author fifty dollars) by B. S. Moore was entitled — “The Door to the World of Explanation.”

In “Science News of the Month” we learned that Peyote was legal in Paris, although this was controversial. The General Electric Company had produced electric eyes to turn on lights when a room darkened below a certain threshold or by arrangement with a time clock. Also, that television images of persons and objects were broadcast by Station W2XBS in New York City from 7 to 9 P. M. Eastern Standard Time on the radio channel from 2,000 to 2,100 kilocycles. Twenty complete pictures were broadcast every second. Science and wonder indeed!

In subsequent issues, Gernsback introduced us to “The Wonders of Gravitation” and “The Problems of Space Flying.” “Science News of the Month” included a machine that set type by voice, and a robot money-changer that rejected spurious coins while scolding: “Please use good coins only.”

All of this was padding for the stories, of course. Raymond Z. Gallun made his debut here. Other authors included Miles J. Breuer, Stanton A. Coblentz, David H. Keller, Laurence Manning, Fletcher Pratt, Harl Vincent, and Jack Williamson.

In 1930, Gernsback merged SCIENCE WONDER STORIES with its companion magazine, AIR WONDER STORIES, to create WONDER STORIES. Reports vary as to why this merger occurred — weak sales, Gernsback’s poor relationships with his writers, or needed space in the publishing schedule for AVIATION MECHANICS. Perhaps the SCIENCE WONDER STORIES concept was just not working. In an editorial a few months before the last issue, Gernsback commented that the word “Science” in the magazine’s title “. . . 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.” Whatever the truth, the last issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES went on sale in April of 1930.

The magazine is fondly remembered, despite its short run. Gernsback’s idea of selling science to the masses might have been a gimmick, or he might have been serious in his belief that our imaginations are enriched by super science. Either way, the goal of stimulating the imagination through science remains a good one, no matter what Gernsback’s true motivations.

Looking for your own copy of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Fans of genre fiction, original artwork, and vintage pulp magazines will find treasures galore at PulpFest 2019. The convention runs from Thursday, August 15, through Sunday, August 18, and is held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, nineteen miles north of Pittsburgh, PA. This year’s theme is “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories.” Find out more about PulpFest’s great programming, register for the convention, and book a room at the DoubleTree from the convention’s home page. Then join us in August for a WONDERful immersion into the world of the pulps.

(Sara Light-Waller is one of more than thirty fiction writers who will be attending PulpFest 2019. An avid reader of pulp science fiction stories, Sara writes and illustrates her fiction in the manner of the Golden Age science fiction from the 1930’s and 40’s.  She is the author of ANCHOR: A STRANGE TALE OF TIME and LANDSCAPE OF DARKNESS.

Sara will be one of our “New Fictioneers” readers on Saturday, August 17, at PulpFest 2019.

The official release date of the June 1929 SCIENCE WONDER STORIES — featuring cover art by Frank R. Paul — is thanks to Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes, writing in THE GERNSBACK DAYS (2004).

Between the twelve issues of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES and the combined WONDER STORIES, the magazine had a run of seventy-eight issues. The final issue of WONDER STORIES was dated April 1936. The title was then sold to Standard Magazines. It returned to the stands as THRILLING WONDER STORIES during the summer of 1936.

For a brief look at the history of this classic pulp magazine and its various incarnations, please see our post, “The Sense of Wonder (Stories),” published on our website on May 5, 2014.)

The Sense of Wonder (Stories)

May 5, 2014 by

Science Wonder Stories 29-06Soon after losing his small publishing empire to bankruptcy, Hugo Gernsback was back in the publishing business. Within months, he had returned to the stands with a pair of science-fiction magazines–Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. Using stories from the Amazing Stories pipeline, Gernsback debuted his new letter-sized periodicals in the spring of 1929.

The new Gernsback magazines were edited by David Lasser. A former technical writer and graduate of MIT, Lasser believed, “If Wonder Stories was to amount to anything, we had to do better . . . .  we had to lift the quality of the stories. We needed more imagination in the stories, we needed a sound scientific basis, and since these were appealing mainly to young people, there should also be a socially useful theme to inspire the readers.”

Although Hugo Gernsback had final say on the make-up of each issue, Lasser (and Charles D. Hornig after him) was largely responsible for story selection. He did not hesitate to ask for revisions or share story ideas with writers. Nevertheless, largely due to Gernsback’s reluctance to pay more than one-half cent a word and his tendency to withhold payment to his writers until legal action was threatened, both Lasser and his successor were hard-pressed to acquire exceptional works of fiction.

Despite their handicap, both Lasser and Hornig were able to publish a fair number of inventive stories, often the work of new writers who, after apprenticing with the Gernsback magazines, went elsewhere to further their reputations. Eando  Binder, Raymond Z. Gallun, Laurence Manning, P. Schuyler Miller, Nat Schachner, Clifford Simak, Leslie F. Stone, Charles R. Tanner, Stanley Weinbaum, and Arthur Leo Zagat are some of the writers whose early science fiction can be found in the pages of the Wonder magazines. More established writers such as Edmond Hamilton, David H. Keller, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Williamson also appeared regularly in Gernsback’s science-fiction line.

In addition to introducing readers to the work of some of the leading practitioners of early science fiction, Wonder Stories also helped early science-fiction fans to realize that they were not alone in the world. Through its letter column and “Science Fiction League,” organized by Charles Hornig during his editorial reign, readers began to reach out to one another, organizing clubs and societies to foster interest in science and science fiction. Some of these groups are still functioning today.

Air Wonder Stories 29-07Perhaps if it had not been introduced just a few months before the stock market crash of October 1929, Gernsback’s Wonder group would have met with larger success. The shaky economy, combined with bad distribution and Hugo Gernsback’s financial reputation, led to the cancellation of one magazine after another. The first to end was Air Wonder Stories, dropped after eleven issues. The last to go was Wonder Stories. It ran for 78 issues as a “Gernsback Publication.”

Hugo Gernsback’s “Wonder Group” featured four magazines. Science Wonder Stories was the first, debuting with its June 1929 number. Air Wonder Stories appeared one month later, lasting through its issue dated May 1930. It was then “combined” with Science Wonder to form Wonder Stories.

Scientific Detective Monthly was introduced in December 1929. Later retitled Amazing Detective Tales, it was sold to another publisher after ten issues.

Science Wonder Stories Quarterlyretitled Wonder Stories Quarterly with its Summer 1930 issue–was canceled after the Winter 1933 number. It had debuted in the fall of 1929 and ran for fourteen issues.

Thrilling Wonder Stories 40-09The final issue of Wonder Stories was dated April 1936. Sold to Standard Magazines, it returned to the stands as Thrilling Wonder Stories in July 1936. Edited by Mort Weisinger, it published pulp action-adventure stories aimed at the juvenile market. With its Winter 1945 issue, Sam Merwin became the editor and the magazine began to take on a more adult slant. He was followed by Samuel Mines in late 1951 and Alexander Samalman in the fall of 1954. The magazine was canceled following its 111th issue, dated Winter 1955. In 2007, it was revived for two additional issues published and edited by Winston Engle.

In the early fifties, Standard issued a Wonder Story Annual, a reprint magazine that ran for four issues.

Following the loss of Wonder Stories, Hugo Gernsback made two curtain calls in the world of science-fiction publishing. The first was Superworld Comics, a comic book he published in 1940. It lasted for three issues. His last bow came in 1953 when he released Science-Fiction Plus, a slick magazine that ran for seven issues. It was edited by Sam Moskowitz.

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.