The First Science-Fiction Pulp — An AMAZING Story

Jun 9, 2016 by

Amazing Stories 26-04It was hard to miss the first issue of AMAZING STORIES on the newsstand. Letter-size, larger than the typical pulp magazine, with three-dimensional block letters trailing across its masthead and a bright yellow backdrop that framed an alien landscape and a bright red, ringed planet and small moon, the magazine certainly stood out on the sales rack. Frank R. Paul was the artist.

The names on the front cover of the magazine’s early issues were also major selling points: Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Garrett P. Serviss, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and others. It was just as Gernsback wrote in his editorial for the pulp’s first issue: “By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type story — a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” That is what the readers of AMAZING STORIES sought: “They wanted to be entertained, to escape, to experience that sense of wonder that good visionary fiction brought.” (Mike Ashley in THE TIME MACHINES).

Using stories drawn from the Munsey magazines, BLUE BOOK, THE STRAND, and other sources, Gernsback offered reprints of science-fiction classics, eventually coupling these with new stories often generated through contests. Through these competitions, Gernsback began to acquire a stable of new writers willing and able to write scientifiction: Miles J. Breur, Clare Winger Harris, David H. Keller, S. P. Meek, A. Hyatt Verrill, Harl Vincent, and others. Through his letter column, entitled “Discussions,” he reeled his readers into his world of wonder.

Within months, the new specialty magazine was selling over 100,000 copies of each issue. In establishing the first specialized science-fiction magazine, Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder, shared by lonely individuals prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.” Next would come AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL, published in the summer of 1927 and featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Mastermind of Mars.” AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY followed in the winter of 1928. Then, in the August 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon—2419 AD,” the first tale to feature Buck Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning it into “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”

Not one of the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, or pulp magazines published from the turn to the middle of the twentieth century, was created in isolation. There was a great, sometimes troubling, world buzzing around the butcher, the baker, the cop, the bobby-soxer, the factory worker, the Gibson girl, and the kid as they flipped a coin on the counter, left the newsstand, and walked home with a copy of magic in their hands.

Amazing Stories 2014-04It was certainly true of the magazine that transmogrified scientifiction into science fiction: AMAZING STORIES. Through war, police actions, political upheaval; through reprints and originals; though a remarkable set of editors, AMAZING persevered into the twenty-first century.

Join PulpFest 2016 at 8:45 PM on Friday, July 22, as we welcome Joseph Coluccio, president of the Pittsburgh Area Fantasy and Science Fiction Club, to our programming stage in the Union Rooms on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency Columbus for a look at AMAZING STORIES during the pulp era. It is Mr. Coluccio’s intention to consider the history — to about mid-century — of the content found in the pages of AMAZING STORIES, not in the context of the world at large, but in comparison to the rich popular culture of the time — science, radio, film art, and literature — that surrounded and influenced the magazine. Cover art, words and anecdotes are all that are left of those early, amazing years. Through a series of sometimes exciting, sometimes disastrous editorial decisions, AMAZING STORIES reflected changes right back into the flowing current of everyday taste. Relive those times through the words of Hugo Gernsback, T. O’Connor Sloane, Raymond A. Palmer and Howard Browne, brought to you by PARSEC‘s Joseph Coluccio.

Join “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” as we salute the 90th anniversary of the first continuing science fiction magazine. The convention will take place from July 21 through July 24 in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. You’ll have a FANTASTIC time.

(Hugo Gernsback edited and published AMAZING STORIES from April 1926 through April 1929. Plowing money into other interests and paying an extremely hefty salary to both himself and his brother, Hugo Gernsback filed for bankruptcy in early 1929. Afterward, T. O’Conor Sloane — who had assisted Gernsback from the start — became the magazine’s editor until the April 1938 issue. Sloane was far from being a visionary; he thought space travel was impossible.

Ziff-Davis took over the magazine with its April 1938 number featuring Ray Palmer as editor. The new editor transformed AMAZING STORIES into a juvenile magazine, establishing a stable of authors to write fiction aimed at the youth market. Toward the end of his editorial reign, Palmer started “The Shaver Mystery,” a hoax involving an evil race that causes all of mankind’s problems from their home underground. Palmer’s last issue was dated December 1949. In later years, he became involved with UFOs and similar topics while publishing FATE magazine.

Amazing Stories 53-04-05Howard Browne, a Palmer assistant, assumed the editorship in January 1950. Primarily interested in mystery fiction, Browne nevertheless turned AMAZING STORIES around, directing it toward an adult audience. It became a digest magazine — featuring cover art by Barye Phillps on its first issue — with its April/May 1953 number. Browne left the magazine following its August 1956 number. He was succeeded by Paul Fairman and the talented Cele Goldsmith. Ms. Goldsmith managed the magazine from March 1957 through June 1965, during which time it garnered a great deal of respect.

The Ultimate Publishing company, headed by Sol Cohen, began publishing the magazine with its August 1965 issue. Joseph Wrzos was its first editor, followed by Harry Harrison, Barry Malzberg, Ted White, and Elinor Mavor. The magazine was acquired by TSR Hobbies in March 1982, with Mavor continuing as editor. George Scithers became the editor with the November 1982 issue. Later editors included Patrick Price, Kim Mohan, and Jeff Berkwits. Its last issue was published in March 2005 with Paizo Publishing in charge.

In July 2012, longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson revived AMAZING STORIES as an online magazine. You can find it at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/. Its first issue dated April 2014 — featured front cover art by William F. Wu. According to the artist, the painting is a reworking of Frank Paul’s cover to the very first issue of the magazine, published in April 1926. To read more about Wu’s cover, please visit http://amazingstoriesmag.com/articles/cover-amazing-stories-april-2014/.)

The AMAZING Story: The Fifties — Dream Worlds

Feb 29, 2016 by

 

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1955-01

 AMAZING — From Howard Browne to Paul Fairman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 25, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1944-05

Ray Palmer and the AMAZING Shaver Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Palmer’s Fantastic Adventure

May 30, 2014 by

Fantastic Adventures 39-05The blossoming of the science-fiction and fantasy genres gathered more steam when Ziff-Davis premiered Fantastic Adventures in March 1939 with Ray Palmer editing. “Fantastic Adventures gives you the best in fantasy and off-trail science fiction . . . . Everyone likes to think and ponder and wonder at times. But these stories must necessarily be in the minority, because it is a basic requirement that we entertain you.”

Fantastic Adventures 40-10Within a year of its introduction, Fantastic Adventures seemed to be living on borrowed time. However, the combination of a strong story—Robert Moore Williams’ “Jongor of Lost Land,” a Tarzan-inspired adventure yarn—coupled with powerful front cover art by J. Allen St. John saved the pulp from oblivion in the fall of 1940. Within a few months, Palmer had inked a contract with Edgar Rice Burroughs for a quartet of novelettes featuring Carson of Venus. He would turn again to St. John for cover art to illustrate the stories and Fantastic Adventures was off and running.

While Burroughs, Williams, and others were thrilling readers with fantastic adventures of action and adventure, other writers began to contribute humorous tales. Stories by Nelson Bond and Ziff-Davis regulars William P. McGivern and David Wright O’Brien helped create the Fantastic Adventures school of screwball comedy. Robert Bloch, with his “Lefty Feep” stories, was the leading practitioner of this form of writing.

For most of the fiction that would appear in Fantastic Adventures during his years as editor, Palmer largely relied on a stable of writers based in Chicago. In addition to those mentioned previously, Howard Browne, Paul W. Fairman, Chester S. Geier, Roger P. Graham, Berkeley Livingston, Rog Phillips, Geoff St. Reynard, Don Wilcox, and Leroy Yerxa all contributed significantly to the magazine.

Following Palmer’s departure from Ziff-Davis in late 1949, Howard Browne became the publisher’s editor-in-chief. Given an increased budget, Browne worked to improve the quality of Fantastic Adventures, but the change came too late. With the pulps in their death throes, the magazine’s end was near. In the spring of 1953, it was merged into Fantastic, a successful digest magazine featuring science fiction and fantasy that Browne had started for Ziff-Davis in the previous year.

Fantastic 52 Summer

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

Although Fantastic would run into the early eighties, Fantastic Adventures would be no more following the combined May-June 1953 number.