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 Fifties — Dream Worlds

Feb 29, 2016 by

 

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1955-01

 AMAZING — From Howard Browne to Paul Fairman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Silverberg Turns Eighty

Jan 15, 2015 by

Award-winning science-fiction author Robert Silverberg turns eighty today. One of the few remaining authors with work that appeared in pulp magazines, Silverberg’s first professionally published story was “Gorgon Planet” for NEBULA in February 1954. Within two years, his work was found in a wide array of science-fiction magazines and he was named “Most Promising New Writer” by Hugo Award voters in 1956.

Robert Silverberg worked for the Ziff-Davis writing stable, creating copious amounts of fiction for AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC as well as competitors such as IMAGINATION, IMAGINATIVE TALES, and SUPER-SCIENCE FICTION. Much of his early fiction appeared behind a variety of pen names including Ivar Jorgenson, Calvin M. Knox, and Eric Rodman. During this period, he also collaborated with Randall Garrett, producing fiction as Robert Randall, Gordon Aghill and Ralph Burke.

Winner of multiple awards, including the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, Silverberg received the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2004. PulpFest would like to take the opportunity to wish Robert Silverberg the happiest of birthdays in this, his eightieth year. Thanks for the stories.

 

The first Scottish science-fiction magazine, NEBULA, published Robert Silverberg's first professional sale, "Gorgon Planet," in its February 1954 issue, featuring cover art by Bob Clothier.

The first Scottish science-fiction magazine, NEBULA, published Robert Silverberg’s first professional sale, “Gorgon Planet,” in its February 1954 issue, featuring cover art by Bob Clothier.