The Sense of Wonder (Stories)

May 5, 2014 by

Science Wonder Stories 29-06Soon after losing his small publishing empire to bankruptcy, Hugo Gernsback was back in the publishing business. Within months, he had returned to the stands with a pair of science-fiction magazines–Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. Using stories from the Amazing Stories pipeline, Gernsback debuted his new letter-sized periodicals in the spring of 1929.

The new Gernsback magazines were edited by David Lasser. A former technical writer and graduate of MIT, Lasser believed, “If Wonder Stories was to amount to anything, we had to do better . . . .  we had to lift the quality of the stories. We needed more imagination in the stories, we needed a sound scientific basis, and since these were appealing mainly to young people, there should also be a socially useful theme to inspire the readers.”

Although Hugo Gernsback had final say on the make-up of each issue, Lasser (and Charles D. Hornig after him) was largely responsible for story selection. He did not hesitate to ask for revisions or share story ideas with writers. Nevertheless, largely due to Gernsback’s reluctance to pay more than one-half cent a word and his tendency to withhold payment to his writers until legal action was threatened, both Lasser and his successor were hard-pressed to acquire exceptional works of fiction.

Despite their handicap, both Lasser and Hornig were able to publish a fair number of inventive stories, often the work of new writers who, after apprenticing with the Gernsback magazines, went elsewhere to further their reputations. Eando  Binder, Raymond Z. Gallun, Laurence Manning, P. Schuyler Miller, Nat Schachner, Clifford Simak, Leslie F. Stone, Charles R. Tanner, Stanley Weinbaum, and Arthur Leo Zagat are some of the writers whose early science fiction can be found in the pages of the Wonder magazines. More established writers such as Edmond Hamilton, David H. Keller, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Williamson also appeared regularly in Gernsback’s science-fiction line.

In addition to introducing readers to the work of some of the leading practitioners of early science fiction, Wonder Stories also helped early science-fiction fans to realize that they were not alone in the world. Through its letter column and “Science Fiction League,” organized by Charles Hornig during his editorial reign, readers began to reach out to one another, organizing clubs and societies to foster interest in science and science fiction. Some of these groups are still functioning today.

Air Wonder Stories 29-07Perhaps if it had not been introduced just a few months before the stock market crash of October 1929, Gernsback’s Wonder group would have met with larger success. The shaky economy, combined with bad distribution and Hugo Gernsback’s financial reputation, led to the cancellation of one magazine after another. The first to end was Air Wonder Stories, dropped after eleven issues. The last to go was Wonder Stories. It ran for 78 issues as a “Gernsback Publication.”

Hugo Gernsback’s “Wonder Group” featured four magazines. Science Wonder Stories was the first, debuting with its June 1929 number. Air Wonder Stories appeared one month later, lasting through its issue dated May 1930. It was then “combined” with Science Wonder to form Wonder Stories.

Scientific Detective Monthly was introduced in December 1929. Later retitled Amazing Detective Tales, it was sold to another publisher after ten issues.

Science Wonder Stories Quarterlyretitled Wonder Stories Quarterly with its Summer 1930 issue–was canceled after the Winter 1933 number. It had debuted in the fall of 1929 and ran for fourteen issues.

Thrilling Wonder Stories 40-09The final issue of Wonder Stories was dated April 1936. Sold to Standard Magazines, it returned to the stands as Thrilling Wonder Stories in July 1936. Edited by Mort Weisinger, it published pulp action-adventure stories aimed at the juvenile market. With its Winter 1945 issue, Sam Merwin became the editor and the magazine began to take on a more adult slant. He was followed by Samuel Mines in late 1951 and Alexander Samalman in the fall of 1954. The magazine was canceled following its 111th issue, dated Winter 1955. In 2007, it was revived for two additional issues published and edited by Winston Engle.

In the early fifties, Standard issued a Wonder Story Annual, a reprint magazine that ran for four issues.

Following the loss of Wonder Stories, Hugo Gernsback made two curtain calls in the world of science-fiction publishing. The first was Superworld Comics, a comic book he published in 1940. It lasted for three issues. His last bow came in 1953 when he released Science-Fiction Plus, a slick magazine that ran for seven issues. It was edited by Sam Moskowitz.

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