A Century Ago in a Galaxy Called California

Dec 14, 2015 by

Pardon the play on words in the title, but it was hard to resist with the seventh STAR WARS movie, THE FORCE AWAKENS, premiering in theaters across the world at the end of this week. But why write about STAR WARS on a website devoted to PulpFest, Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con?

Two words: Leigh Brackett. Four more words: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Considered by many to be the best of the STAR WARS films, the original treatment for the fifth episode of George Lucas’ series was written by Leigh Brackett. Shortly after delivering her untitled screenplay to Twentieth Century Fox, the so-called “Queen of the Space Opera” passed away. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time, and in 1981, received a Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation.

Born one-hundred years ago on December 7, 1915, Leigh Brackett was the wife of author Edmond Hamilton. Together, they were two of the many writers who helped to popularize the so-called “space operas” of the pulp magazines. Ed started first as the leading contributor of science fiction to WEIRD TALES during the 1920s. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. In later years, he was asked by Standard Magazines’ Leo Margulies to work up something involving a “Mr. Future, Wizard of Science.” Eventually, the character evolved into Captain Future, a super-scientist headquartered on the Moon. In each issue of the pulp, Hamilton’s hero and his faithful assistants — known as the Futuremen — would save the solar system and, in later issues, the universe. When Mort Weisinger began working for DC Comics in 1941, he turned to Standard’s leading writers of science fiction — including Hamilton — to write the adventures of Superman and other comic book heroes.

Leigh Brackett came later to the pulps, selling her first story to ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION in late 1939. The bulk of her science fiction appeared in Fiction House’s PLANET STORIES and Standard’s THRILLING WONDER STORIES and STARTLING STORIES. A native of southern California, she began collaborating on screenplays during the middle forties. Supposedly, Hollywood film director Howard Hawks was so impressed by her crime novel NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE that he had his secretary call in “this guy Brackett” to help William Faulkner write the script for THE BIG SLEEP. Released in 1946 and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it is considered a classic of film noir. During the fifties and sixties, Brackett, Hawks, and actor John Wayne collaborated on several motion pictures, included RIO BRAVO, HATARI, EL DORADO, and RIO LOBO. Leigh Brackett died in 1978.

In 1972, Brackett and Hamilton served as the guests of honor at the first Pulpcon, the forerunner to PulpFest. Years later in 2009, the town of Kinsman, Ohio — where Brackett and Hamilton lived after they had married — began celebrating this famed couple of pulp history. The celebration evolved into KinCon, a convention exploring the worlds of Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett. Although the event is currently on hiatus, KinCon continues to celebrate these two exceptional pulp fictioneers through its website on Facebook.

Like KinCon, PulpFest seeks to draw attention to the profound effect that the pulps had on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of media — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest honors pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways the magazines and their creators — people like Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton — have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades.

Join PulpFest 2016 to be part of this great celebration of American popular culture. Start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” in 2016. It will take place July 21st through July 24th at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and the Greater Columbus Convention Center in the beautiful downtown of Columbus, Ohio.

(After studying art by correspondence, Allen Anderson worked as a staff artist for Fawcett Publications in Minneapolis from 1929 to 1939. He moved to New York City in 1940 and began painting covers for pulp magazines published by Ace Magazines, Fiction House, Harry Donenfeld, and Martin Goodman. He also painted comic book covers for Ziff-Davis from 1949 to 1953. From 1947 through 1953, he contributed about thirty front cover paintings to PLANET STORIES — including the Winter 1948 issue — a Fiction House pulp magazine best remembered for the many entertaining space operas that appeared in its rough paper pages. In later years, Anderson opened a small advertising agency and worked as a sign painter. )

Donuts & Space Opera! Happy Birthday, Doc Smith!

May 2, 2015 by

Amazing08-28Food scientist and author Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith, often called “the father of space opera,” was born 125 years ago, on May 2, 1890. His first published work, “The Skylark of Space,” was written with the help of a neighbor, Mrs. Lee Hawkins Garby.

Smith began writing the first Skylark yarn in 1915, taking five-plus years to complete the work. At the time, there was no model for Smith’s tale. A grand story spanning across galaxies, it was serialized by Hugo Gernsback, beginning in the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Also appearing in that same issue was Philip Nowlan’s “Armageddon – 2419 A.D.,” the story that introduced Buck Rogers to the reading public.

Smith would go on to write two more Skylark stories for the pulps and a third, “Skylark DuQuesne,” that was originally serialized in the digest magazine IF: WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION, beginning in June 1965.

Although the Skylark stories served to introduce readers to space opera, it was Doc’s Lensman stories that truly defined the sub-genre. Consisting of seven novels published over a fourteen-year span, the series also began in AMAZING STORIES. “Triplanetary” started in the January 1934 issue and ran through the April number. Although the Lensman stories appeared in a number of books and pulp magazines, it is the final four novels of the series that truly define Smith’s great saga. Originally published in Street & Smith’s ASTOUNDING between September 1937 and February 1948, these novels owe a great deal to John W. Campbell, the magazine’s editor beginning in 1938.

Smith would publish other works of science fiction, including “Spacehounds of IPC,” “Lord Tedric,” and “Subspace Survivors,” but none would approach the scope of the Skylark tales and, even more so, the Lensman yarns.

E. E. “Doc” Smith, the food scientist who specialized in doughnut mixes and science-fiction, died on the last day of August in 1965. One-hundred twenty-five years old today, Smith’s work inspired a host of authors to fill the pages of AMAZING STORIES, PLANET STORIES, and other magazines and media with tales of action and adventure, some of them even set “a long ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . ”

(Frank R. Paul’s cover for the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES, in which the first Skylark story appeared, is one of the most iconic images from the science-fiction pulps.)

 

Captain Future, Man of Tomorrow

Jun 9, 2014 by

Captain Future 40-WIn addition to the explosive growth of the science-fiction pulp market, 1939 was also the year of the first World Science Fiction Convention. According to a story related by science-fiction scholar Sam Moskowitz, Standard Magazines’ editor-in-chief, Leo Margulies and Mort Weisinger came up with “a new idea in fantasy magazines” at the convention. It was Captain Future, a science-fiction hero pulp that premiered at year’s end.

In actuality, Standard’s editorial staff had been batting around ideas for a science-fictional single-character magazine for months, even asking long-time pulpster Edmond Hamilton to work up something involving a “Mr. Future, Wizard of Science.”  Eventually, the character evolved into Captain Future, a super-scientist headquartered on the Moon. In each issue of the pulp, Hamilton’s hero and his faithful assistants—known as the Futuremen—would save the solar system and, in later issues, the universe. Although action-packed and entertaining, the novels were juvenile space operas.

Startling Stories 50-01Captain Future ran until the spring of 1944, surviving for seventeen issues with Edmond Hamilton writing fifteen of the lead novels. In 1945-46, three more Captain Future adventures appeared in Startling Stories. Hamilton wrote two of them and Manly Wade Wellman one. Seven shorter works followed in 1950, all of them written by Hamilton for Startling Stories. In the late sixties, Popular Library reprinted thirteen of the Captain’s adventures in paperback. Specialty publisher Haffner Press is currently collecting the entire series in hardcover.

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

Captain Future has proved very popular throughout the world with an animated television series being produced in Japan and exported to other nations. Additionally, there have been hundreds of comic books featuring the characters published in both French and German. Captain Future figurines, models, board games, drinking glasses, and other merchandise have also appeared.