Robert H. Davis — The Grandfather of Science Fiction

May 29, 2019 by

Born in Nebraska on March 23, 1869, Robert Hobart Davis has been called the greatest editor of the pulp era. Trained in the newspaper industry, Davis became the managing editor of Frank A. Munsey’s NEW YORK SUNDAY NEWS in the early 1900s. He soon shifted to fiction editor for MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE. As Munsey added more magazines to his stable, he turned them over to Davis. THE ALL-STORY MAGAZINE, THE CAVALIER, RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE, THE SCRAP BOOK, and others were edited by Bob Davis.

Sam Hellman — a Davis protégé — knew of no other editor who had “graduated more writers from pulp to prominent pay.” Pulp historian John Locke also noted that, “More than sixty authors — many of them well-known — dedicated their books to Bob Davis.”

Bob Davis was the literary godfather to “Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey, Edison Marshall, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Octavus Roy Cohen, Max Brand, Fannie Hurst, Israel Zangwill, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Sophie Kerr, Frank L. Packard, Montague Glass, Arthur Somers Roche, Faith Baldwin, James Oliver Curwood, Rex Beach, Louis Joseph Vance, Charles Van Loan, and Ben Ames Williams,” according to Richard Cary. He also signed O. Henry to a long-term contract — giving Munsey first look at the author’s works — and acquired the rights to Joseph Conrad’s last major work, “Victory.”

Science fiction and fantasy also owe a great deal to Robert H. Davis. He was a major force in their development during the early years of the twentieth century. Using the scientific romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs as a template, Davis inspired a style of fiction for the Munsey stable of magazines. He called this style the “different” story. The Munsey editor discovered or cultivated the talents of Ray Cummings, George Allan England, Philip M. Fisher, Homer Eon Flint, J. U. Giesy, Austin Hall, Murray Leinster, A. Merritt, Todd Robbins, Victor Rousseau, Garrett P. Serviss, Perley Poore Sheehan, Francis Stevens, and Charles B. Stilson. Robert H. Davis can very well be thought of as “The Grandfather of Science Fiction.”

Join PulpFest 2019 on Thursday evening, August 15, as we welcome Gene Christie for a look at the life of Bob Davis and his importance to the development of science fiction and fantasy.

PulpFest 2019 will begin on Thursday, August 15, and run through Sunday, August 18.  Join PulpFest at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, just north of Pennsylvania’s “Steel City” of Pittsburgh. To join PulpFest 2019, click the Register button below our homepage banner. To book a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton — our host hotel — click the Book a Room button, also found on our homepage.

(Although he cultivated a school of writers to create “pseudoscientific” or “different” stories for the Munsey chain of magazines, Robert H. Davis also turned to Edgar Rice Burroughs for many such works. One was “Thuvia, Maid of Mars.” It was serialized in three parts, beginning with the April 8, 1916 issue of ALL-STORY WEEKLY, featuring cover art by P. J. Monahan.

Gene Christie will explore the life and influence of “The Grandfather of Science Fiction” at PulpFest 2019. A longtime pulp collector and scholar, Gene has edited over a dozen anthologies for various publishers. THE CRIME MAGNET: THE ADVENTURES OF MAJOR BERNARD DE TREVILLE, THE MAN WHO FOUND ZERO: EARLY SCIENCE FICTION AND WEIRD FANTASY FROM THE BLACK CAT, THE PEOPLE OF THE PIT AND OTHER EARLY HORRORS FROM THE MUNSEY PULPS, THE SPACE ANNIHILATOR: EARLY SCIENCE FICTION FROM THE ARGOSY, and THE THING FROM — OUTSIDE are just a few of Gene’s books.)

The Munsey Magazines

Apr 15, 2014 by

All Story 1905-01Shortly after The Argosy had been converted to the first all-fiction magazine in 1896, and not long thereafter the first pulp magazine, its circulation had doubled to about 80,000 copies per issue. By 1907, the year the periodical celebrated its 25th anniversary, its circulation had reached a half million copies, earning its publisher about $300,000 per year.

From its beginning, The Argosy made a home for fantastic fiction, reprinting “Citizen 504,” a dystopian short story written by Charles H. Palmer, in the December 1896 issue. Other reprints, from a variety of sources would follow. As the century turned, original fiction of a fantastic nature began to appear in The Argosy, including works by Jared L. Fuller, Park Winthrop, and longtime dime novelist William Wallace Cook. Edgar Franklin Stearns also began to contribute his humorous fantasies concerning off-beat contraptions to the magazine.

As its readership grew, The Argosy was bound to attract some imitators. Street & Smith, the longtime publisher of dime novels and story papers, was first to meet the call, debuting The Popular Magazine with its November 1903 issue. As the circulation of the new magazine grew, it became apparent to Frank Munsey that there was room on the newsstand for more than one pulp. At the end of 1904, the publisher debuted The All-Story Magazine.

allstory_tarzanMore than any other periodical prior to the introduction of the specialized science-fiction and fantasy pulps, The All-Story became the major repository for the “different” tale or the pseudo-scientific yarn. It was soon joined by other Munsey magazines–The Scrap Book and The Railroad Man’s Magazine (both 1906), The Ocean/The Live Wire (1907), and The Cavalier (1908). All of these, The Cavalier in particular, published fantastic fiction. However, it was all but a prelude to the serial novel that would begin in the February 1912 issue of The All-Story– “Under the Moons of Mars”–credited to Norman Bean.

Bean’s novel—the first published fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs—would introduce John Carter of Mars to readers. It would soon be followed by the author’s “Tarzan of the Apes,” published in its entirety in the October 1912 issue of The All-Story. These two novels, along with the pseudo-scientific works of H. G. Wells and his American disciple, George Allan England, would serve as templates for much of the science fiction written over the next twenty-five years, generating a type of fiction best known as “the scientific romance.” The Munsey chain in particular worked to develop this school of fiction, creating a stable of writers–Ray Cummings, J. U. Geisy, Victor Rousseau, Francis Stevens, Charles B. Stilson, and the best of all, Abraham Merritt–able to contribute such stories.

Adventure 1910-11Although the fiction of Burroughs and Wells and those “inspired” by their work would remain popular for some time to come, its share of the pulp market would diminish as new magazines began to arrive on the scene. Beginning with Adventure Magazine, introduced by the Ridgway Company in 1910, these specialized pulps lessened the attraction of the general fiction magazines for those who enjoyed a certain type of story–mystery, romance, western, or straight adventure. In not too many years, the fantasy and science-fiction fan would likewise be served.

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