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

Mar 7, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES 1972-07

Ted White and the Golden Age of AMAZING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 3, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1960-12

Cele Goldsmith and the Ultimate AMAZING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cele Goldsmith was striking to the core.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Operas in the Sky

Jun 6, 2014 by

Planet Stories 39-WAlthough Fiction House had been around since the 1920s, it waited until 1939 to enter the science-fiction field. A year before, it had joined the comic book industry with Jumbo Comics, home to Sheena, “Queen of the Jungle.” Perhaps trying to hedge its bets, Fiction House launched a science-fiction pulp, Planet Stories, and a science-fiction comic book, Planet Comics, at the same time.

Over the years, Fiction House had developed a reputation for offering action-packed stories of adventure in its pulps. Planet Stories would prove to be no exception to this rule. Over its 71 issues, the rough-paper magazine would be home to countless science-fiction adventure stories called “space operas.”

In her introduction to The Best of Planet Stories #1, acclaimed author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett writes: “Planet, unashamedly, published “space opera” . . . . a story that has an element of adventure . . . . of great courage and daring, of battle against the forces of darkness and the unknown . . . The so-called space opera is the folk-tale, the hero-tale, of our particular niche in history . . . . These stories served to stretch our little minds, to draw us out beyond our narrow skies into the vast glooms of interstellar space, where the great suns ride in splendor and the bright nebulae fling their veils of fire parsecs-long across the universe; where the Coal-sack and the Horsehead make patterns of black mystery; where the Cepheid variables blink their evil eyes and a billion nameless planets may harbor life-forms infinitely numerous and strange.”

Running from 1939 – 1955, the early issues of Planet Stories featured writers such as Eando Binder, Nelson Bond, Ray Cummings, Ed Earl Repp, and Ross Rocklynne. By the middle-forties, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury reigned supreme with the former offering seventeen “science fantasies,” while the latter introduced readers to The Martian Chronicles. They were joined by less-acclaimed authors such as Alfred Coppel, Gardner F. Fox, Henry Hasse, Emmett McDowell, and Basil Wells. The late forties and early fifties found the magazine publishing work by Poul Anderson, James Blish, Philip K. Dick, Chad Oliver, Mack Reynolds, and other greats who would go on to develop science fiction’s modern era.

Planet Stories 42-WPerhaps it was Planet Stories’ emphasis on cover art with a strong dose of sex—usually imagined by Allen Anderson or Frank Kelly Freas—that helped turn “space opera” into a pejorative term. Per Leigh Brackett, “It was fashionable for a while, among certain elements of science-fiction fandom, to hate Planet Stories. They hated the magazine, apparently, because it was not Astounding Stories.” For seventy-one issues, rather than aiming for the cerebrum, it aimed for the gut. Who is to say that one target is more valid than the other?

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