Free Stuff at PulpFest!

Jul 4, 2016 by

Amazing Stories 43-08Bring on the fireworks! It’s time to celebrate our nation’s freedom. What better time for PulpFest 2016 to offer thanks for all of the donations we’ve received? They’re all meant for our members who will receive them free of charge. Their only requirement is to attend “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” at the Hyatt Regency in the heart of downtown Columbus, Ohio from July 21 through July 24!

Our newest sponsor, AbeBooks.com, will be offering two hardcover copies of popular culture expert Mike Ashley’s SCIENCE-FICTION REBELS — the fourth volume in the author’s HISTORY OF THE SCIENCE-FICTION MAGAZINE — as door prizes during July’s convention. PulpFest will be randomly selecting two members present at this year’s convention to receive hardbound copies of this new work of science fiction scholarship. It’s a great book — valued at over $100 — to offer at this year’s convention. After all, we’ll be saluting the 90th anniversary of the first continuing science fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES, at this year’s PulpFest.

We’d also like to offer many thanks to Chaosium, the publisher of CALL OF CTHULHU, one of the most recognized role playing games in the world. Chaosium has donated a selection of both fiction books for door prizes and role playing game supplements to be used as prizes during PulpFest‘s gaming track.

Engle Publishing will be providing copies of THE PAPER & ADVERTISING COLLECTORS’ MARKETPLACE for distribution free of charge at PulpFest. They’ve been doing so since the first PulpFest in 2009.

Gordon Van Gelder and FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, the award-winning magazine that is celebrating its 67th anniversary in 2016, will again be offering copies of back issues to our members. Gordon’s magazine has been supporting PulpFest — and Pulpcon before it — for many years. We’re extremely grateful for the long-standing support of F&SF.

Radio Archives, the leading producer of old-time radio collections and pulp audiobooks, will be offering a free audiobook to each and every attendee of PulpFest 2016. To celebrate the launch of the new Airship 27 and Pro Se Productions lines of audiobooks, Radio Archives will be offering a free voucher — valued at $15 to $20 — through our registration packets. You’ll be able to choose any Airship 27 or Pro Se audiobook you like, with no restrictions. PulpFest is extremely grateful to Radio Archives, Airship 27 Productions, and Pro Se Productions for this very generous offer.

PulpFest itself will be holding a drawing at the close of our annual business meeting, scheduled for 9:20 PM on Saturday, July 23. Two lucky convention attendees who prepay for their membership, book a room for three nights at our host hotel, and choose to attend our business meeting will receive free memberships to PulpFest 2017. You must provide proof of your stay at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and be present at the drawing to receive your prize.

If you are not from the Columbus area and have yet to book your room for this year’s PulpFest, you can try calling 1-888-421-1442 to reach the Hyatt Regency. Perhaps there are rooms still available. Alternately, you can search for a room at tripadvisor  or a similar website to find a hotel near the convention. Other sites include www.columbusconventions.com/thearea.phpcourtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, and the Experience Columbus lodging page at http://www.experiencecolumbus.com/stay Thanks so much to everyone who has reserved a room at our host hotel. By staying at the Hyatt Regency, you’ve helped to ensure the convention’s success.

We’d also like to thank the many bookstores and comic shops throughout Ohio and other states, as well as the many book fairs and conventions that have helped to promote “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” all through the past year. You’ve done a FANTASTIC job and we couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks so much!

(Joseph Wirt Tillotson, who signed his work “Robert Fuqua,” was AMAZING 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 patriotic flag cover for the August 1943 issue — to the magazine and its companion title, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES.)

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.)

The AMAZING Story: The Thirties — Escape from Oblivion

Feb 22, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1935-10

AMAZING STORIES Under Thomas O’Conor Sloane

Amazing Stories 29-04The last issue of AMAZING STORIES under Hugo Gernback’s editorship was dated April 1929. Following the bankruptcy of his publishing company, Gernsback was ousted from control. The receiver eventually refloated the company and it was sold to a new publisher, Mackinnon-Fly (later renamed Teck).

Gernsback, never one to rest on his laurels, formed a new company and launched a stream of science-fiction and technical magazines. The first, SCIENCE WONDER STORIES (which started with its June 1929 issue), was modeled closely on AMAZING STORIES and even contained stories that had been sent to Gernsback for AMAZING. In the next six months came AIR WONDER STORIES, SCIENCE WONDER QUARTERLY, and SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE MONTHLY, plus a series of sf booklets.

It was at this time that Gernsback began using the term “science fiction.” His old term, “scientifiction,” had been registered as a trademark by his former company, and he was advised that he could not use it to promote his new publications. His new phrase (which, unknown to him, had been coined eighty years earlier by a long-forgotten Englishman, William Wilson) rapidly came into common usage.

This flurry of activity attracted the attention of other pulp publishers. William Clayton set his editor, Harry Bates, the task of preparing a new magazine, which appeared in December 1929 (cover date January 1930), entitled ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE. Bates was aware of the science fiction in AMAZING STORIES, though he wasn’t enamored of it. “What awful stuff, I’d found it!” he later wrote. “Cluttered with trivia! Packed with puerilities. Written by unimaginables.”

In thinking about the possibilities of science fiction Bates, alas, latched onto the lowest common denominator — the superscience extravaganza — and because Clayton’s company was a popular market for pulp writers (as distinct from Gernsback’s visionaries), the new writers of sf concentrated on the adventure angle to the detriment of sound scientific speculation. It was the Clayton ASTOUNDING, more than any Gernsback magazine, that lowered the quality of science fiction and stereotyped it as man-vs.monster/rescues-damsel stuff — a stigma with which it was long thereafter associated (and with which, thanks to series such as DOCTOR WHO, it is still associated by some today).

Before 1930 was many months old, it was clear that a division was emerging in science fiction. SCIENCE WONDER STORIES (soon to become simply WONDER STORIES) on the one side strove to publish the more purist form of technological science fiction. ASTOUNDING STORIES, on the other side, cared little for the accuracy of its science, provided it was the basis for an exciting adventure. In neither case were the stories of a high literary standard, and consequently science fiction’s image was suffering on both fronts.

So where did this leave AMAZING STORIES? When Gernsback left, the magazine and its companion QUARTERLY remained in the editorial hands of Thomas O’Conor Sloane, his former assistant.

Amazing Stories 30-10 MoreySloane was not like Gernsback. For a start, he was seventy-seven years old (Gernsback was forty-four at the time), and while he was well grounded in Victorian science, he was not a visionary. He had been employed by Gernsback to run the administrative side of the magazine, specializing in proofreading and spotting scientific errors. He was a benign, amiable old graybeard who tolerated science fiction as an amusing diversion, but had no belief in what he published. He expected that no human would climb Everest, let alone travel into space. His editorials were stodgy essays on such exciting subjects as the light bulb. As a consequence, the stimulus and inspiration provided by Gernsback vanished from the magazine.

Nevertheless, science fiction fans — who were emerging in the hundreds, and were to organize themselves — are nothing if not loyal, and they welcomed this diversification in their favorite reading matter. They continued to support AMAZING STORIES, and for a time the magazine continued to publish stories that were close to the Gernsbackian mold.

AMAZING became as much a market for space opera as the other magazines, and it was in AMAZING that this branch of the genre reached its “cultural” peak. During 1930, the magazine not only published “Skylark Three,” E. E. Smith’s sequel to “The Skylark of Space,” but also Edmond Hamilton’s “The Universe Wreckers” and the series by John W. Campbell, Jr., about superscientists Arcot, Wade, and Morey. These were better than any equivalents in WONDER STORIES or ASTOUNDING.

Having scaled that peak, AMAZING was prepared to consider less cosmic alternatives. Hamilton, one of the earliest perpetrators of space opera, used AMAZING as the market for a change of pace in “The Man Who Saw the Future” (October 1930), which developed one of Gernsback’s throwaway ideas to consider how a man from the past would see the modern day. Likewise, Campbell, who had been a Sloane discovery, revealed he also had a subtler side, and though this would emerge more potently in ASTOUNDING STORIES in 1934 in stories such as “Twilight” and “Night,” it had its origins in AMAZING in “The Last Evolution” (August 1932), in which robots supersede humankind as masters of the earth.

In addition, Sloane relied on other Gernsback originals, including David H. Keller and Miles J. Breuer. Keller’s stories, such as ‘The Metal Doom” (May through July 1932), “No More Tomorrows” (December 1932), and “Unto Us a Child Is Born” (July 1933) are thoughtful speculations on the effects of scientific development (or lack of it) on society and the individual. Breuer continued to write his stories about the fourth dimension, including “The Book of Worlds” (July 1929) and “The Gostak and the Doshes” (March 1930), while with Clare Winger Harris, one of the few female sf writers of the day, he wrote “A Baby on Neptune” (December 1929), a clever story about space-time differentials.

Sloane sustained a few regular writers. Most of those who are closely associated with his magazine are, by and large, forgotten today except for the singularity of their names, such as Isaac R. Nathanson, Abner J. Gelula, Henry J. Kostkos, J. Lewis Burtt, Charles Cloukey, and Joe W. Skidmore. The one significant exception, apart from Campbell, was Neil R. Jones.

Amazing Stories 32-08 MoreyJones was good with ideas, but struggled to convert them into stories. He was not much of a writer, but he was a good storyteller, and he struck gold with his series about Professor Jameson. The professor had constructed a spaceship in his old age and planned to launch his body into space, where it would remain perfectly preserved. Forty million years later; long after life on Earth had passed away, the space coffin is found by a benevolent race of space explorers, the Zoromes. They are also superscientists, and have found a way of preserving their brains in robot bodies. They revive Jameson and transfer his brain to a robot. Thereafter he joins them on their exploration of the universe.

The series began with “The Jameson Satellite” (July 1931), and eleven more stories in the same vein followed in AMAZING, concluding with “The Music Monsters” (April 1938). Jones wrote thirty Jameson stories in all, including a number in the late sixties that remain unpublished.

There was a belief at the time, as AMAZING‘s circulation began to fall, that it was the Jameson stories that were keeping the magazine alive. One little-known fact about the series is that the first story had originally been submitted to Gernsback at SCIENCE WONDER STORIES. In that version, the story consisted of a lot of boring detail about how Jameson planned and built his space coffin. Jones boldly ended the story by revealing that the sequel would be entitled “After 40,000,000 Years.” In rejecting the story, Gernsback gave the sound advice that it should be edited to form the preface to the sequel. This Jones did, but, due to his dissatisfaction with the slowness and amount of Gernsback’s payments, he submitted the revised story to AMAZING. Had Gernsback’s payment practices been better, he would have had the classic Jameson series, and one can only speculate what effect that turn of events might have had on AMAZING‘s circulation.

By 1932, America was in the grips of the Depression. The economic crisis was having an effect on many publishers, even though the public would still scrape together its dimes to purchase its favorite magazines. At this time, perhaps there was no better escape than into the worlds of science fiction. Nevertheless, the publishers of AMAZING STORIES could not ignore or avoid the effects of the Depression. The companion QUARTERLY slipped to semiannual publication in 1932 and ceased altogether in 1934. AMAZING, which had so far retained its large pulp format, shifted to the standard pulp size with the October 1933 issue to minimize production costs, though it then became lost among other bookstore pulps.

Amazing Stories 33-02By now the magazine’s circulation had dipped to around 25,000, and it was doing little to attract new readers. Its covers were, for the most part, subdued. The mainstay artist was Leo Morey, Frank R. Paul having followed Gernsback to his WONDER stable, and though Morey’s covers were arguably better executed, they were drab and uninspiring compared to Paul’s. AMAZING did try one bold experiment during 1933, with a series of surreal symbolic covers rendered by an artist called A. Sigmond. Today these covers may be seen as revolutionary, but they met a cold reception from the readers of the 1930s, and probably harmed AMAZING‘s circulation.

Sloane did little to enliven the magazine internally. He had passed his eightieth birthday in November 1931 and, despite a surprisingly agile mind, he seemed to exist in a timeless cocoon, oblivious of what else was happening in the science fiction world. He frequently held onto manuscripts for several years before publishing them, so that the general tone of his magazine was out of sync with developments elsewhere. During 1932 and 1933, Gernsback, through his editor David Lasser, was pumping new respectability into science fiction, encouraging writers to include more realism in their stories. Many writers took up this challenge, initially Nathan (Nat) Schachner, Laurence Manning, P. Schuyler Miller, and Edmond Hamilton, but few of these were selling regularly to AMAZING, and when they did their stories often failed to appear for some years. Sloane was becoming increasingly remiss at notifying authors that stories had been accepted. This practice caused him one particular embarrassment when he published Malcolm Afford’s “The Ho-Ming Gland” in the February 1933 AMAZING — unaware that the story had already appeared in the January 1931 issue of WONDER STORIES. Afford, not knowing Sloane had accepted the story, and possibly thinking the manuscript had been lost, had tired of waiting to hear from Sloane and had submitted the story to Gernsback, who published it promptly.

By 1934 ASTOUNDING STORIES was eclipsing WONDER as the leading science-fiction magazine. William Clayton’s company had gone bust in 1933, due as much to his delight in gambling as to the Depression, and ASTOUNDING had been purchased by the venerable firm of Street & Smith. That company’s editor, F. Orlin Tremaine (who had some time before worked for Clayton, though not at ASTOUNDING), radically improved the magazine. Many writers, including Nat Schachner, Donald Wandrei, Jack Williamson, John Russell Fearn, Murray Leinster, Thomas Calvert McClary, C. L. Moore, and E. E. Smith, plus John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing as Don A. Stuart), noted the restraint shown by the new Gernsbackian sf, and fired it with the sense of wonder of the original scientific romances to produce a new strain of cosmic realism. Science fiction was born anew in the pages of ASTOUNDING during 1934 and 1935.

Those who solely read AMAZING would have been ignorant of this phenomenon. Writers submitted their stories to ASTOUNDING first, because it paid promptly and was the place to be, and to WONDER STORIES second, for, although Gernsback paid poorly, WONDER remained a fun magazine, supported by a vocal fan community in the newly established Science Fiction LeagueAMAZING was the last resort, and had become the backwater of science fiction.

Amazing Stories 35-04On the whole, AMAZING was boring. In order to save money, Sloane was reprinting ancient stories by Jules Verne, Fitz-James O’Brien, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edward Everett Hale. O’Brien’s “The Diamond Lens” appeared in the October 1933 issue — less then seven years after it had been printed during the Gernsback era, in December 1926. Reprints of Poe stories were used in four of six consecutive issues beginning in November 1933. In the middle four months of 1934, Sloane spent considerable space serializing Verne’s “Measuring a Meridian.” Few of these rehashed stories were science fiction even by Gernsback’s original standards: Poe’s “The Gold Bug” (April 1934), for instance, being a story of cryptography.

Worse still, Sloane published some new stories that were the real nadir of science fiction. Take “The Romance of Posi and Nega” (September 1932), the first of a series by Joe W. Skidmore that treated electrons as sentient beings. Or, what could arguably be called the worst story ever published in an American sf magazine, “The Universal Merry-Go-Round” by Roger Bird (April 1933). This story is so bad as to be compulsive reading, and no plot summary can do it justice. For starters, consider that it involves two men intent on a trip into space but who believe confinement in their capsule will drive them mad. They propose to take along the professor’s daughter — not for company, or anything else you might imagine, but to play the violin!

Merely by the law of averages, Sloane should have published some good stories, but his quota of decent material was woefully small, and probably arrived more through luck than through design. These included several stories by S. P. Meek, such as his adventures in a lost South American city, “The Drums of Tapajos” (November 1930 through January 1931) and “Troyana” (February through April 1932), plus his Ray Cummings-like stories in a subatomic world, “Submicroscopic” (August 1931) and “Awlo of Ulm” (September 1931). Meek’s stories weren’t particularly well written but were nonetheless lively and fascinating.

From Charles R. Tanner came “Tumithak of the Corridors” (January 1932) and “Tumithak in Shawm” (June 1933), about mankind’s subterranean resistance movement against the Venusian sheIks who now dominated the Earth.

“The Lost Machine” (April 1932) was a poignant robot story by John Beynon Harris (better known in later years as John Wyndham).

Howard Fast, a name more readily associated with the novels FREEDOM ROAD and SPARTACUS, made his first story sale to AMAZING with ‘Wrath of the Purple” (October 1932), about a virulent cellular lifeform that destroys all other living things.

“Omega, the Man” (January 1933) by Lowell Howard Morrow was a moving story of the last humans alive on Earth. Sloane had held onto this story for at least two years before publishing it, and had it appeared in 1930 it would have been heralded as a major breakthrough in realism.

Sloane could have made up for this omission had he accepted Edmond Hamilton’s “Colonists of Mars” in 1934, but he rejected it as being “well written, but too horrible.” The story lay in a back drawer for twenty years before Hamilton resurrected it and revised it under the title ‘What’s It Like Out There?” It appeared in THRILLING WONDER STORIES in 1952, at which time it was heralded as a bold new treatment of the realism of space colonization.

Harl Vincent established himself in the early AMAZING but went on to become an ASTOUNDING regular. His “Parasite” (July 1935) is an overlooked classic about an invisible alien intelligence that takes control of humans.

Finally, there was “He Who Shrank” (August 1936) by Henry Hasse, a noted classic about smallness that was the author’s first solo appearance in a professional magazine.

These are most of the few stories of merit or interest that AMAZING published in the early to mid-1930s. To his credit Sloane did manage to nurture a few writers who would later develop significant reputations. He published several stories by Eando Binder, the name used by the writing team of Earl and Otto Binder. Earl later moved away from writing but Otto continued to sell stories under the original name and others. Sloane bought their first story, “The First Martian” (October 1932).

John Russell Fearn made his debut with “The Intelligence Gigantic,” a serial in the June and July 1933 issues which set the tone for his cosmic career. Fearn became a regular contributor to AMAZING, often under pen names, and became one of the most prolific writers of science fiction in the 1940s and 1950s.

Finally, although he could not have known at the time what a service he was performing, Sloane used a poem entitled “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” in the October 1937 issue. This was the first appearance in print of Elton V. Andrews, a pseudonym used by a young man who would later be known to one and all by his real name: Frederik Pohl.

But these discoveries were hardly enough, at the time they occurred, to measurably alter AMAZING‘s course. The magazine, which had been a monthly publication from the start, went bimonthly after the August 1935 issue, and there the real downward spiral began. Readers faded away until, by 1937, the circulation was only about 15,000. Its publishers sold the magazine to William B. Ziff, a former World War I pilot, who had established the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company in Chicago in 1935 with Bernard G. Davis. The company initially published magazines aimed at rich hobbyists, such as POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY and POPULAR AVIATION, but Davis wanted to expand into the pulp fiction field. AMAZING was an opportune choice. The deal was made in January 1938, with the June 1938 issue the first one that was fully under Ziff-Davis’s control.

Amazing Stories 38-06Bernard Davis was in overall editorial control of the magazine, but as managing editor he appointed Raymond A. Palmer, one of the most active fans in the sf field, to whom he entrusted the task of procuring material. Palmer was twenty-seven years old, sixty years Sloane’s junior. A change in style was inevitable, but it was even more dramatic than the age gap would suggest. Palmer threw out the old Teck material and established a new policy for lively, adventurous stories aimed at a young market.

Hugo Gernsback must have winced at what was happening to his brainchild. Two years earlier, Gernsback had given up WONDER STORIES, his poor financial management once again having endangered one of his publications. WONDER STORIES had been bought by Standard Magazines and converted into THRILLING WONDER STORIES, which also aimed at the younger reader. Now AMAZING was pitching for an even younger readership, basically the young teenager. The magazine was given a facelift with striking front and back covers by local Chicago artists Robert Fuqua, Howard McCauley, and Julian S. Krupa. All of these illustrators had an eye for action, and the magazine was instantly attractive.

The interior artwork was also beefed up, and stories were given more sensationalistic titles. Palmer almost habitually changed authors’ titles, not always for the better, but his methods gave the magazine a consistency that was easily recognizable and with which many of its readers could associate.

However, the older generation of readers was horrified. A few remained loyal, but most shifted their allegiance to ASTOUNDING where, since December 1937, John W. Campbell, Jr., had been the editor and was leading science fiction into its Golden Age.

Palmer, being based in Chicago, was able to call upon a new stable of writers to build his own brand of science fiction entertainment. He scored several early successes.

Robert Bloch had always been a fan of science fiction, but heretofore had concentrated on weird and mystery fiction. Palmer bought Bloch’s first science-fiction story, “Secret of the Observatory” (August 1938), and published his powerful psychological sf story, “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton” (March 1939).

Amazing Stories 39-01 Robert FuquaPalmer also published Eando Binder’s “I, Robot” (January 1939), a touching story about a selflessly noble machine. This story made an impression on the young Isaac Asimov, and it was in AMAZING that Asimov first appeared professionally in print, with “Marooned Off Vesta” (March 1939).

Palmer also acquired William F. Temple’s “The Four-Sided Triangle” (November 1939), an ingenious story about two men in love with the same woman and how the situation is complicated with a matter-duplicator.

Nelson S. Bond, a more talented writer than he is usually judged to be, appeared with a superior consideration of a future feudal society in “The Priestess Who Rebelled” (October 1939).

By the end of the 1930s, AMAZING STORIES was firmly reestablished. It was back on a monthly schedule — which was reinstated after the October 1938 issue — and it had a new companion magazine, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (first issue dated May 1939). In a little more than a year Palmer had turned the magazine’s fortunes around, but at the risk of alienating the more serious members of the sf community.

But Palmer was undeterred. He was rapidly building AMAZING‘s new reputation. Even if history records that it was ASTOUNDING that led the science-fiction revolution and published more sf classics than the other magazines put together, in terms of sales it was Palmer who won the race. The magazine’s circulation soon exceeded ASTOUNDING‘s and continued to rise. AMAZING was ready to face all odds, and as war clouds gathered, Palmer prepared the magazine for its third decade.

“The AMAZING Story: The Thirties — Escape from Oblivion” is © 2016 by Mike Ashley and appears here with the author’s permission. Notes in italics are by PulpFest and are © 2016 by PulpFest. The original article was published by TSR, Inc. and edited by Kim Mohan for the February 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Many thanks to Curt Phillips, the moderator of the Yahoo newsgroup PulpMags, for drawing our attention to and providing us with copies of Mike Ashley’s exceptional series of articles about the world’s first science-fiction magazine. Please visit www.pulpfest.com on Thursday, February 25th, for the third segment of the series. 

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . The April 1929 issue of AMAZING STORIES — featuring front cover art by the publisher’s favorite illustrator, Frank R. Paul — was the last issue of the magazine to be published by Hugo Gernsback.  Leaving with the publisher was his preferred artist. Only two more Paul front covers would adorn AMAZING STORIES until the early sixties — the May and June issues of 1929. The Austrian-born artist would quickly resurface, painting the covers for Gernsback’s new magazine, SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, and its companions.

Following Paul’s departure, AMAZING was without a regular cover for the first time in its history. For his early issues at the helm of the magazine, the pulp’s new editor, T. O’Conor Sloane, would turn to Hans Wessolowski — who signed his paintings as “Wesso” — and Leo Morey. The latter — a native of Peru — would become the magazine’s regular cover artist beginning with the January 1930 number, a role he would largely retain until AMAZING again changed hands with its acquisition by Ziff-Davis in 1938. Three of his works are pictured above: the October 1930, August 1932, and April 1935 issues of AMAZING STORIES.

At the beginning of 1933, Morey’s front cover paintings were temporarily replaced by a series of what have been called surreal or abstract covers, credited to an artist who signed the works “A. Sigmond.” Pictured here is the February 1933 cover featuring spaceships battling a dragon. According to Everett and Richard Bleiler’s SCIENCE FICTION: THE GERNSBACK YEARS (1998): “His/Her work, which included the lettering, is modern, competent, and attractive, although without display value or sales appeal . . . It seems obvious that Sigmond’s covers were associated with a desire to reduce printing costs, for one used only a blue plate, others only blue and red; only one cover applied full three-color printing . . . While artistically correct and aesthetically pleasing, Sigmond’s covers were undoubtedly disastrous on the newsstands.”

Nothing is known about A. Sigmond. However, according to Mort Weisinger’s column “The Ether Vibrates” in the July 1933 issue of SCIENCE FICTION DIGEST, “The July (1933) cover of the same mag (AMAZING STORIES, signed as by Sigmond), was a composite of the work of three or four different artists, Morey tells me.” Sigmond is credited with the January through July 1933 covers for AMAZING STORIES. Afterward, Leo Morey would return to painting the magazine’s covers. He would continue to do so through the April 1938 issue.

By 1937, AMAZING’s circulation had dropped to approximately 15,000. Its owners sold the magazine to Ziff-Davis, a publisher of hobby magazines that desired to enter the pulp industry. Ray Palmer, a very active science fiction fan, was named AMAZING’s managing editor. His first issue at the helm was the June 1938 number. It featured a “bold new title design” and a photographic cover created by Horace Hime, his one and only cover for AMAZING STORIES.

Beginning with the October 1938 issue, Palmer’s favored cover artist was Joseph Wirt Tillotson, who signed his work “Robert Fuqua.” The artist would contribute all but the June 1939 cover over the next year. In addition to AMAZING, Fuqua also contributed cover and interior illustrations to Ziff-Davis’s AIR ADVENTURES, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, MAMMOTH ADVENTURE, MAMMOTH DETECTIVE, MAMMOTH WESTERN, and SOUTH SEA STORIES. From 1938 to 1951, he painted eighty front and back covers for AMAZING STORIES.)