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!

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.)

Ray Palmer’s Fantastic Adventure

May 30, 2014 by

Fantastic Adventures 39-05The blossoming of the science-fiction and fantasy genres gathered more steam when Ziff-Davis premiered Fantastic Adventures in March 1939 with Ray Palmer editing. “Fantastic Adventures gives you the best in fantasy and off-trail science fiction . . . . Everyone likes to think and ponder and wonder at times. But these stories must necessarily be in the minority, because it is a basic requirement that we entertain you.”

Fantastic Adventures 40-10Within a year of its introduction, Fantastic Adventures seemed to be living on borrowed time. However, the combination of a strong story—Robert Moore Williams’ “Jongor of Lost Land,” a Tarzan-inspired adventure yarn—coupled with powerful front cover art by J. Allen St. John saved the pulp from oblivion in the fall of 1940. Within a few months, Palmer had inked a contract with Edgar Rice Burroughs for a quartet of novelettes featuring Carson of Venus. He would turn again to St. John for cover art to illustrate the stories and Fantastic Adventures was off and running.

While Burroughs, Williams, and others were thrilling readers with fantastic adventures of action and adventure, other writers began to contribute humorous tales. Stories by Nelson Bond and Ziff-Davis regulars William P. McGivern and David Wright O’Brien helped create the Fantastic Adventures school of screwball comedy. Robert Bloch, with his “Lefty Feep” stories, was the leading practitioner of this form of writing.

For most of the fiction that would appear in Fantastic Adventures during his years as editor, Palmer largely relied on a stable of writers based in Chicago. In addition to those mentioned previously, Howard Browne, Paul W. Fairman, Chester S. Geier, Roger P. Graham, Berkeley Livingston, Rog Phillips, Geoff St. Reynard, Don Wilcox, and Leroy Yerxa all contributed significantly to the magazine.

Following Palmer’s departure from Ziff-Davis in late 1949, Howard Browne became the publisher’s editor-in-chief. Given an increased budget, Browne worked to improve the quality of Fantastic Adventures, but the change came too late. With the pulps in their death throes, the magazine’s end was near. In the spring of 1953, it was merged into Fantastic, a successful digest magazine featuring science fiction and fantasy that Browne had started for Ziff-Davis in the previous year.

Fantastic 52 Summer

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

Although Fantastic would run into the early eighties, Fantastic Adventures would be no more following the combined May-June 1953 number.