Children of the Pulps — Part Three

Jul 19, 2019 by

The stories and art of the pulp magazines have had a profound effect on popular culture across the globe. They have reverberated through a wide variety of media — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video, anime, manga, and role-playing games.

Although science fiction can trace its roots to the imaginary voyages, satires, and utopias of the seventeenth century, scholars have repeatedly pointed to Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN  — originally published in 1818 — as the first science-fiction novel. Twenty-five years later — beginning with “MS. Found in a Bottle” — Edgar Allan Poe began to use logic and science to explain elements of his fantastic stories. The strength of Poe’s stories inspired authors around the world. One was Jules Verne, who introduced “precise, scientific details” into FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and other tales.

As the 19th century progressed and more people were reading, magazines naturally developed a wider audience. For the more literary, there were titles such as BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE and HARPER’S NEW MONTHLY. For those with less refined tastes, there were dime novels, penny-dreadfuls, and story papers. It was in these publications that the “American Jules Verne,” Luis Senarens, developed the Frank Reade, Jr. series that featured steam-powered contraptions in exciting adventure yarns. During the late nineteenth century, the thrilling yarns of Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard, and later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells, helped to develop a market for the British popular fiction magazine. The United States would follow in late 1896 when Frank A. Munsey converted THE ARGOSY to an all-fiction, rough-paper magazine.

From its start as a pulp, THE ARGOSY was home to fantastic fiction, reprinting a dystopian short story in its first issue. Other works featured by the magazine included Park Winthrop’s “The Land of the Central Sun” and William Wallace Cook’s “A Round Trip to the Year 2000.”

Selling in the hundreds of thousands, THE ARGOSY was bound to generate 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. Munsey himself would be next in line, introducing THE ALL-STORY in late 1904.

More than any other pulp prior to the introduction of the science fiction and fantasy fiction magazines, THE ALL-STORY became the major repository for the “different” tale, the pseudo-scientific yarn, the scientific romance, or the “off-the-trail” story. In its February 1912 issue, the Munsey pulp would begin serializing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Under the Moons of Mars.” The author would follow with Tarzan of the Apes,” published in its entirety in the October 1912 number.

Burroughs’ two classics, along with the pseudo-scientific works of H. G. Wells and his American counterpart, George Allan England, would serve as templates for much of the science fiction written over the next twenty-five years, generating a type of story best known as “the scientific romance.” THE ALL-STORY editor Robert H. Davis, in particular, worked to develop this school of fiction, creating a stable of writers who could contribute such stories. Davis can very well be thought of as “The Grandfather of Science Fiction.”

Although the scientific romances published in the Munsey pulps remained popular, beginning in late 1915, a trend toward specialized magazines slowly emerged. Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE was the first successful specialty pulp. Over the next decade, magazines specializing in western fiction, love stories, sea yarns, and sports fiction would follow. In early 1923, a pulp devoted to the fantasy and horror genres — WEIRD TALES — would be launched.

In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, WEIRD TALES, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages. Edmond Hamilton — who began selling to the magazine in 1926 — was the pulp’s leading contributor of science fiction. With tales of super-science about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “World-Wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction contributors included Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Donald Wandrei, Jack Williamson, and H. P. Lovecraft, spinning his own brand of science fiction in tales of cosmic horror.

Although science fiction was frequently found in its pages, WEIRD TALES was not the first specialized science fiction magazine. That was left for Hugo Gernsback to develop. Called “The Barnum of the Space Age” in 1963, Gernsback came to the United States in 1904. He began importing electronic parts and equipment and sold them via mail order catalog. Gernback’s catalog soon evolved into a magazine, MODERN ELECTRICS, selling for ten cents. In 1911, it began publishing fiction, serializing Gernsback’s own story, “Ralph 124C 41+,” in twelve parts.

In the spring of 1913, Gernsback began publishing a new science periodical, THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER. Before long, it was also publishing fiction alongside technical articles. Beginning with its August 1920 number, Gernback’s magazine became SCIENCE AND INVENTION.

The scientifically-trained Gernsback was committed to educating his audience about science and technology through the fiction he published. That all changed in early 1923 when — perhaps in an effort to boost circulation or to test the waters in the growing market for specialized fiction magazines — Gernsback began publishing fiction that was meant to entertain. He reprinted two short works by H. G. Wells, and later, new works by George Allan England and Ray Cummings. The August 1923 issue of SCIENCE AND INVENTION was a “Scientific Fiction Number.” It featured six “scientifiction” stories including “The Man from the Atom,” a short story by a new author, sixteen-year-old G. Peyton Wertenbaker.

SCIENCE AND INVENTION and his other technical magazines were mere stepping stones for Hugo Gernsback. In the spring of 1926, he introduced a full-fledged science fiction — or as he then termed it, “scientifiction” — magazine. It was hard to miss the first issue of AMAZING STORIES — dated April 1926 — on the newsstand. It was larger than the typical pulp magazine. Vivid, three-dimensional block letters trailed across its masthead, set against a bright yellow backdrop. Frank R. Paul’s cover art depicted a number of ice skaters, gliding in front of snow heaps crowned by two stranded sailing vessels. Looming behind this scene was a bright red, ringed planet and a small moon.

In 1987, the late Jack Williamson wrote: “I don’t think anybody today can entirely understand what it meant to me and many like me then . . . but we found sheer wonder in AMAZING STORIES, a rich new revelation of exciting things to come, a dazzling vision of new ideas and discoveries and inventions that could push our future frontiers wider, make all our lives richer.”

Within months of its introduction, AMAZING STORIES was selling over 100,000 copies of each issue. In establishing the first specialized science-fiction magazine, Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder shared by lonely individuals scattered across the country, all of them prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.”

The names on the front covers of the early AMAZING STORIES were certainly major selling points: Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Edgar Allan Poe, Garrett P. Serviss, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and others. Gernsback also offered story contests. These helped him to acquire a stable of new writers willing and able to write scientifiction: Miles J. Breur, Clare Winger Harris, David H. Keller, S. P. Meek, H. Hyatt Verrill, Harl Vincent, and others. Through the AMAZING STORIES letter column — “Discussions” — Hugo Gernsback also reeled readers into his world of wonder.

With the August 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space.” Also appearing in the issue was Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon — 2419 AD,” the first tale to feature Buck Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning the genre away from the Munsey type of story — popular with a wide range of readers, both male and female — and toward “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”

Although he introduced AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY in the winter of 1928, Hugo Gernsback was increasingly experiencing cash flow problems. Plowing money into his radio interests and paying very hefty salaries to his brother and himself, Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing Company was forced into bankruptcy.

Although down but not out, Hugo Gernsback used assets tied to his importing and radio businesses to launch a new larger-sized pulp in May 1929. Called SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, Gernsback called the stories in his new magazine, “science fiction.” Unlike “scientifiction,” this name would stick.

With the growth of the science fiction field — both AMAZING and SCIENCE WONDER also issued quarterlies — other publishers began to notice the field. William Clayton — publisher of SNAPPY STORIES, RANCH ROMANCES, and other titles — was the first to take a bite. Not enamored with the Gernsback style of science fiction, Clayton was more interested in stories of action and adventure . . . “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.” His new magazine would be called ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE. According to Alva Rogers:

ASTOUNDING was unabashedly an action adventure magazine and made no pretense of trying to present science in a sugar-coated form . . .  The amount of science found in its pages was minimal – just enough to support the action and little more. Lessons in science could be obtained in school or in text books; driving action and heroic adventure was what the reader of ASTOUNDING wanted. Interplanetary wars and space battles, hideous and menacing Bug Eyed Monsters . . . the courage, ingenuity and brains of a single puny man, or small group of men, pitted against the terrible might and overwhelming scientific knowledge of extraterrestrial aliens – with defeat the inevitable fate of the invaders: that was what set the reader’s pulse pounding. . . . Action was the hallmark of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE.”

Although the early ASTOUNDING would serve as a repository for space battles and bug-eyed monsters, after it was acquired by Street & Smith in 1933, it would launch what has become known as Science Fiction’s Golden Age. Utilizing writers both old and new, editor John W. Campbell began to set the stage in 1938 and early 1939, publishing such stories as Lester Del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy,” Clifford D. Simak’s “Cosmic Engineers,” Don A. Stuart’s “Who Goes There?” and “Cloak of Aesir,” and Jack Williamson’s “The Legion of Time” and its sequel, “One Against the Legion.”

The July 1939 issue however, is cited most often as the start of the Golden Age of ASTOUNDING and, in turn, of science fiction. Behind a very effective cover by SHADOW cover artist Graves Gladney, the reader would find the first prose fiction by radio soap opera writer A. E. van Vogt as well as the young Isaac Asimov’s first story for ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION. August’s and September’s issues continued the trend with the first stories of Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon appearing in the magazine. October’s number began the serialization of E. E. Smith’s cosmic adventure, “Gray Lensman,” along with another tale by Heinlein.

The start of the new decade brought with it the flowering of Robert Heinlein as he contributed “Reqiem,” his first novel “If This Goes On—,” “The Roads Must Roll,” and “Blowups Happen.” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout” as well as A. E. van Vogt’s “Slan,” were also serialized by Campbell during the year. 1941 continued apace with the first of Heinlein’s works as Anson McDonald—“Sixth Column,” “Solution Unsatisfactory,” and “By His Bootstraps”—as well as “—And He Built a Crooked House,” “Logic of Empire,” “Universe,” and “Methuselah’s Children,” all published under his own name. Heinlein however, was not alone in 1941. Leigh Brackett contributed “Martian Quest;” L. Sprague de Camp offered “The Stolen Dormouse;” Theodore Sturgeon shared “Microcosmic God;” Eric Frank Russell and A. E. van Vogt respectively produced the first tales in their “Jay Score” and “Weapon Shops” series; Isaac Asimov presented “Nightfall” and the first of his robot stories; and E. E. Smith began “Second Stage Lensmen.”

ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION would continue to publish outstanding works of science fiction throughout World War II and for many years to come. More importantly, it would inspire new magazines dedicated to fantasy and science fiction — GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and others — and older magazines — including AMAZING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES — to step up their game and publish quality science fiction. We’re still enjoying the results eighty years after that momentous issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION, dated July 1939.

Over the last three days, we’ve explored just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the profound effect of the stories and art of the pulp magazines on popular culture. THE SHADOWWEIRD TALES, and the early science fiction pulps are just a few of the many rough-paper magazines that have inspired pop culture creators over the decades. PulpFest 2019 will focus on the many ways pulp fiction and pulp art have inspired and continue to inspire creators.

We’re calling this year’s theme “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories,” with presentations on Zorro, Dashiell Hammett, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Sherlock Holmes, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and more. It’s all part of our examination of the pervasive influence of pulp magazines on contemporary pop culture. We hope you’ll join us from August 15 – 18 at the beautiful DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, Pennsylvania.

(Soon after starting his monthly SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, Hugo Gernsback debuted a quarterly title. Its first issue was dated Fall 1929. After three quarterly issues, the “Science” was dropped from its title. In his editorial remarks published in the May 1930 issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, Gernsback noted, “It has been felt for some time that the word “Science” has tended to retard the progress of the magazine, because many people had the impression that it is a sort of scientific periodical rather than a fiction magazine.” Although he continued to publish his science fiction magazine, future issues would feature a new title: WONDER STORIES. His quarterly was likewise retitled.

Frank R. Paul painted all of the covers for Hugo Gernsback’s WONDER STORIES QUARTERLY. We believe that that the artist’s cover for the Fall 1932 quarterly aptly depicts the “sheer wonder” that Jack Williamson and other readers found in the early science fiction pulps.

Unlike the Munsey pulps, THE POPULAR MAGAZINE offered a smattering of the fantastic over the years: H. Rider Haggard’s “Ayesha: The Further History of She,” Edgar Wallace’s “The Green Rust,” Fred MacIsaac’s “The Last Atlantide,” and Sean O’Larkin’s “Morgo the Mighty” are a few examples. The latter novel garnered the cover art on three of the four issues in which it was serialized. Howard V. Brown contributed the cover painting for the first installment, which ran in the second August 1930 number. It was one of very few fantastic covers to be featured on the Street & Smith pulp magazine.

Who knows whether the “Scientific Fiction Number” was an effort to boost circulation or to test the waters in the growing market for specialized fiction magazines? Unfortunately, Hugo Gernsback did not share that information. However, we do know that Howard V. Brown painted the cover for the August 1923 issue.

Not long after the appearance of the November 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES — with its wondrous Frank R. Paul cover — Gernsback’s printer demanded payment on past due bills. The publisher filed for bankruptcy. In early 1929, the Experimenter Publishing Company went into receivership. The last issue of AMAZING STORIES to be edited by Hugo Gernsback was dated April 1929.

Prior to creating the cover art for the first issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, H. W. Wessolowski had done a half-dozen covers for AMAZING STORIES and its quarterly companion. Beginning with the January 1930 number, he would become the primary cover artist for the Clayton science fiction pulp.

One of the many changes — or “mutations” as he called them — that John W. Campbell instituted at ASTOUNDING after taking over as editor in late 1937, was the hiring of long-time ADVENTURE artist, Hubert Rogers. The free-lance illustrator’s first cover was the February 1939 number. Eventually, he would paint nearly sixty covers for Campbell’s ASTOUNDING, including the April 1940 number, illustrating L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout.”

To learn more about the influence of the early science fiction pulps, please visit the PulpFest Instagram page.)

Wonder in the Air

Jun 12, 2019 by

Imagine the delights of flying when airplanes were new. The excitement of air circuses, wing walkers, and barnstormers. Think of the brave flying aces whose tremendous feats of courage helped us win the Great War. This was the atmosphere ninety years ago when Hugo Gernsback launched AIR WONDER STORIES on June 12, 1929.

In truth, the accuracy of the stories’ science is soft, although there is real information about contemporary planes and flying in each issue. The Frank R. Paul covers show spectacular flying machines and cities, all of which seemed appropriately futuristic.

In June 1929 there were over a dozen air-oriented magazines available on the newsstands. Gernsback was riding a popular wave with AIR WONDER STORIES, a pulp that would tell “flying stories of the future, strictly along scientific-mechanical technical lines, full of adventure, exploration and achievement.”

But the magazine was short-lived, running briefly for eleven issues from July 1929 until May 1930. After this, it merged with SCIENCE WONDER STORIES to become, WONDER STORIES. During its short run Hugo Gernsback was editor-in-chief, David Lasser was listed as Literary Editor and Frank R. Paul, Art Director.

Each issue included a letters column, “News of Aviation,” an “Aviation Quiz,” and later, a column called “Aviation Forum,” which answered questions and explained general principles of powered flight.

The stories were a mix of new and old, with some reprints from Gernsback’s earlier magazines. Well-known writers such as Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Victor McClure, George Allan England, and Harl Vincent appeared in its pages.

The “News of Aviation” column speculated on the future of flight. In the first few issues we see articles about —  giant airships planned for the United States Navy, the practicality of telephone service on airplanes, and quotes from the Graf Zeppelin director about how to make plane flights profitable. We also discover that a flight from New York to Siberia will soon take a mere five days by air. Also that, the Mayflower Fire and Marine Insurance Company will soon offer insurance policies against airplane crashes in suburban areas.

The first issue covered a variety of story topics including — robot flying machines, anti-gravity, and Eugenics. The latter is the central theme of “Men with Wings” by Leslie Stone, a pseudonym for a female writer named Leslie F. Silverberg née Rubenstein (1905-1991).

The September 1929 issue includes a letter of praise for the magazine from 14-year-old Henry Kuttner, enthusing about the stories in the premiere issue, specifically — “Ark of the Covenant,” “Islands of the Air,” and “Men with Wings” which he found to be “splendid.” It is in Gernsback’s response to Kuttner’s letter where we discover that Leslie Stone, is a woman, not a man, as Kuttner had assumed.

AIR WONDER STORIES filled a niche that we can barely imagine today. Our dreams have moved on and those old stories seem almost shocking in their limited scope. But, at the time, they spurred visions for readers, and upcoming authors such as Henry Kuttner, to build upon and create their own speculative dreams of the future.

(Sara Light-Waller is one of more than thirty fiction writers who will be attending PulpFest 2019. An avid reader of pulp science fiction stories, Sara writes and illustrates her fiction in the manner of the Golden Age science fiction from the 1930’s and 40’s.  She is the author of ANCHOR: A STRANGE TALE OF TIME and LANDSCAPE OF DARKNESS.

Sara will be one of our “New Fictioneers” readers on Saturday, August 17, at PulpFest 2019.

The official release date of the July 1929 AIR WONDER STORIES — featuring cover art by Frank R. Paul — is thanks to Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes, writing in THE GERNSBACK DAYS (2004).

The final issue of AIR WONDER STORIES was dated May 1930. There were a total of eleven issues. After AIR WONDER STORIES and SCIENCE WONDER STORIES were combined to form WONDER STORIES, the magazine had a run of seventy-eight issues. The final issue of WONDER STORIES was dated April 1936. The title was then sold to Standard Magazines. It returned to the stands as THRILLING WONDER STORIES during the summer of 1936.

For a brief look at the history of this classic pulp magazine and its various incarnations, please see our post, “The Sense of Wonder (Stories),” published on our website on May 5, 2014.)

 

A Story of WONDER

May 3, 2019 by

The first issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES hit the newsstands ninety years ago, on May 3, 1929. Behind the dramatic Frank R. Paul cover were included five short stories, the beginning of a serialized novel — “The Reign of the Ray” by Fletcher Pratt and Irvin Lester — a science quiz (with the answers in the issue’s stories), an essay contest, and “Science News of the Month.” SCIENCE WONDER STORIES ran for twelve issues dated June 1929 through May 1930. David Lasser was managing editor and Hugo Gernsback was publisher and editor-in-chief.  Each issue had a fantastic Frank R. Paul cover.

In the magazine’s first issue, Gernsback stated — “We live and breathe day by day in a Science saturated atmosphere. The wonders of science no longer amaze us — we accept each new discovery as a matter of course . . . SCIENCE WONDER STORIES supplies the need for scientific fiction and supplies it better than any other magazine . . . . who are readers of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Everybody. Bankers, ministers, students, housewives, bricklayers, postal clerks, farmers, mechanics, dentists — every class you can think of — but only those with imagination. And as a rule, only those with intelligence and curiosity . . . . It augers well for the future of science fiction in America.

Gernsback claimed that science fiction was educational and stated that, “Teachers encourage the reading of this fiction because they know that it gives the pupil a fundamental knowledge of science and aviation.

The first issue of the magazine included an essay contest on the topic of “What Science Means To Me.” Jack Williamson won First Honorable Mention for “Tremendous Contribution to Civilization” and E. E. Doc Smith snagged Second Honorable Mention with  “A Scientist-Author Speaks.” The winning entry (gaining the author fifty dollars) by B. S. Moore was entitled — “The Door to the World of Explanation.”

In “Science News of the Month” we learned that Peyote was legal in Paris, although this was controversial. The General Electric Company had produced electric eyes to turn on lights when a room darkened below a certain threshold or by arrangement with a time clock. Also, that television images of persons and objects were broadcast by Station W2XBS in New York City from 7 to 9 P. M. Eastern Standard Time on the radio channel from 2,000 to 2,100 kilocycles. Twenty complete pictures were broadcast every second. Science and wonder indeed!

In subsequent issues, Gernsback introduced us to “The Wonders of Gravitation” and “The Problems of Space Flying.” “Science News of the Month” included a machine that set type by voice, and a robot money-changer that rejected spurious coins while scolding: “Please use good coins only.”

All of this was padding for the stories, of course. Raymond Z. Gallun made his debut here. Other authors included Miles J. Breuer, Stanton A. Coblentz, David H. Keller, Laurence Manning, Fletcher Pratt, Harl Vincent, and Jack Williamson.

In 1930, Gernsback merged SCIENCE WONDER STORIES with its companion magazine, AIR WONDER STORIES, to create WONDER STORIES. Reports vary as to why this merger occurred — weak sales, Gernsback’s poor relationships with his writers, or needed space in the publishing schedule for AVIATION MECHANICS. Perhaps the SCIENCE WONDER STORIES concept was just not working. In an editorial a few months before the last issue, Gernsback commented that the word “Science” in the magazine’s title “. . . has tended to retard the progress of the magazine, because many people had the impression that it is a sort of scientific periodical rather than a fiction magazine.” Whatever the truth, the last issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES went on sale in April of 1930.

The magazine is fondly remembered, despite its short run. Gernsback’s idea of selling science to the masses might have been a gimmick, or he might have been serious in his belief that our imaginations are enriched by super science. Either way, the goal of stimulating the imagination through science remains a good one, no matter what Gernsback’s true motivations.

Looking for your own copy of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Fans of genre fiction, original artwork, and vintage pulp magazines will find treasures galore at PulpFest 2019. The convention runs from Thursday, August 15, through Sunday, August 18, and is held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, nineteen miles north of Pittsburgh, PA. This year’s theme is “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories.” Find out more about PulpFest’s great programming, register for the convention, and book a room at the DoubleTree from the convention’s home page. Then join us in August for a WONDERful immersion into the world of the pulps.

(Sara Light-Waller is one of more than thirty fiction writers who will be attending PulpFest 2019. An avid reader of pulp science fiction stories, Sara writes and illustrates her fiction in the manner of the Golden Age science fiction from the 1930’s and 40’s.  She is the author of ANCHOR: A STRANGE TALE OF TIME and LANDSCAPE OF DARKNESS.

Sara will be one of our “New Fictioneers” readers on Saturday, August 17, at PulpFest 2019.

The official release date of the June 1929 SCIENCE WONDER STORIES — featuring cover art by Frank R. Paul — is thanks to Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes, writing in THE GERNSBACK DAYS (2004).

Between the twelve issues of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES and the combined WONDER STORIES, the magazine had a run of seventy-eight issues. The final issue of WONDER STORIES was dated April 1936. The title was then sold to Standard Magazines. It returned to the stands as THRILLING WONDER STORIES during the summer of 1936.

For a brief look at the history of this classic pulp magazine and its various incarnations, please see our post, “The Sense of Wonder (Stories),” published on our website on May 5, 2014.)

Our Guest of Honor — Ted White

Jun 20, 2016 by

Amazing Stories 26-04In the spring of 1926, publisher Hugo Gernsback introduced AMAZING STORIES, the first continuing science fiction magazine. Within months, the new specialty magazine was selling over 100,000 copies per issue. Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder, shared by lonely individuals prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.” Next would come AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL, published in the summer of 1927 and featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Mastermind of Mars.”AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY followed in the winter of 1928. Then, in the August 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon—2419 AD,” featuring Anthony “Buck” Rogers. These two space operas would help color science fiction for well over a decade.

Although Gernsback would lose control of his magazine in 1929, the founding of AMAZING STORIES signaled the separation of science fiction into its own category.  Before long, AMAZING was joined by other science fiction pulps, including Gernsback’s own WONDER STORIES and Clayton’s ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCEIt was in the latter magazine — retitled ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION — that the genre would enter its golden age, under the guidance of editor John W. Campbell. Decades later, AMAZING STORIES likewise attained a golden age, thanks to the heroic efforts of editor Ted White.

In his May 1969 editorial for AMAZING, White likened the development of the New Wave in science fiction to the 1960s revolution in rock music and the emergence of heavy metal and acid rock. He pointed out that this music was able to coexist beside the more melodic rhythms of the Beach Boys and others. He also recognized that heavy rock was drawing upon its roots, in rhythm and blues, to express its new voice.

White 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 science fiction in AMAZING, White could make it possible for the old and the new to influence each other.

Ted White strove to attract good fiction and new writers to the magazines. However, 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. Piers Anthony, Richard A. Lupoff, Barry N. Malzberg, David R. Bunch, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Christopher Priest, James Tiptree, Jr., Avram Davidson, Philip José Farmer, Gordon Eklund, Robert Silverberg, George Alec Effinger, F. M. Busby, Jack Dann,George Zebrowski, Thomas Monteleone, John Shirley, and others all found a home in Ted White’s AMAZING. They were joined by some of science fiction’s most exciting artists: Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta, John Pederson, Jr., Joe Staton, Doug Chaffee, Vaughn Bode, Dan Adkins,  and most significantly Mike Hinge.

Fantasy & SF 2014-03-04PulpFest is very pleased to welcome as its 2016 Guest of Honor, author, editor, musician, and science-fiction and pulp fan Ted White. Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1968 and nominated as Best Professional Editor or for Best Professional Magazine throughout most of the seventies, Mr. White will speak about his career, AMAZING STORIES, science fiction fandom, the pulps, and much, much more on Saturday evening, July 23, from 7:30 to 8:15 in the Union Rooms on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency.

We look forward to seeing you at “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” from July 21 through July 24 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency and the city’s spacious convention center in the exciting Arena District of Columbus, Ohio. Please join us as editor emeritus Ted White helps PulpFest celebrate ninety years of AMAZING STORIES! Remember that the Hyatt Regency Columbus is sold out of rooms for July 21 through July 23. At www.columbusconventions.com/thearea.php, you’ll find a list of area hotels courtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Alternately, you can search for a room at tripadvisor or a similar website to find a hotel near the convention. Thanks so much to everyone who has reserved a room at our host hotel. By staying at the Hyatt Regency, you’ve helped to ensure the convention’s success.

(Our guest of honor continues to publish professionally after more than sixty years of practicing his craft. His short story, “The Uncertain Past,” appeared in the March & April 2014 number of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION — featuring front cover art by Kent Bash — while “The Philistine” can be found in the October 2015 issue of ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT.

AMAZING STORIES likewise continues to be published, ninety years after the appearance of its first issue. That number — dated April 1926 — featured front cover art by Frank R. Paul, the “grandfather of science fiction art.” Revived in 2012 by longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson as an online magazine, you can find the new AMAZING STORIES at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/. It’s also available as an ebook via Amazon.com.)

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The First Science-Fiction Pulp — An AMAZING Story

Jun 9, 2016 by

Amazing Stories 26-04It was hard to miss the first issue of AMAZING STORIES on the newsstand. Letter-size, larger than the typical pulp magazine, with three-dimensional block letters trailing across its masthead and a bright yellow backdrop that framed an alien landscape and a bright red, ringed planet and small moon, the magazine certainly stood out on the sales rack. Frank R. Paul was the artist.

The names on the front cover of the magazine’s early issues were also major selling points: Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Garrett P. Serviss, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and others. It was just as Gernsback wrote in his editorial for the pulp’s first issue: “By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type story — a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” That is what the readers of AMAZING STORIES sought: “They wanted to be entertained, to escape, to experience that sense of wonder that good visionary fiction brought.” (Mike Ashley in THE TIME MACHINES).

Using stories drawn from the Munsey magazines, BLUE BOOK, THE STRAND, and other sources, Gernsback offered reprints of science-fiction classics, eventually coupling these with new stories often generated through contests. Through these competitions, Gernsback began to acquire a stable of new writers willing and able to write scientifiction: Miles J. Breur, Clare Winger Harris, David H. Keller, S. P. Meek, A. Hyatt Verrill, Harl Vincent, and others. Through his letter column, entitled “Discussions,” he reeled his readers into his world of wonder.

Within months, the new specialty magazine was selling over 100,000 copies of each issue. In establishing the first specialized science-fiction magazine, Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder, shared by lonely individuals prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.” Next would come AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL, published in the summer of 1927 and featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Mastermind of Mars.” AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY followed in the winter of 1928. Then, in the August 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon—2419 AD,” the first tale to feature Buck Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning it into “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”

Not one of the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, or pulp magazines published from the turn to the middle of the twentieth century, was created in isolation. There was a great, sometimes troubling, world buzzing around the butcher, the baker, the cop, the bobby-soxer, the factory worker, the Gibson girl, and the kid as they flipped a coin on the counter, left the newsstand, and walked home with a copy of magic in their hands.

Amazing Stories 2014-04It was certainly true of the magazine that transmogrified scientifiction into science fiction: AMAZING STORIES. Through war, police actions, political upheaval; through reprints and originals; though a remarkable set of editors, AMAZING persevered into the twenty-first century.

Join PulpFest 2016 at 8:45 PM on Friday, July 22, as we welcome Joseph Coluccio, president of the Pittsburgh Area Fantasy and Science Fiction Club, to our programming stage in the Union Rooms on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency Columbus for a look at AMAZING STORIES during the pulp era. It is Mr. Coluccio’s intention to consider the history — to about mid-century — of the content found in the pages of AMAZING STORIES, not in the context of the world at large, but in comparison to the rich popular culture of the time — science, radio, film art, and literature — that surrounded and influenced the magazine. Cover art, words and anecdotes are all that are left of those early, amazing years. Through a series of sometimes exciting, sometimes disastrous editorial decisions, AMAZING STORIES reflected changes right back into the flowing current of everyday taste. Relive those times through the words of Hugo Gernsback, T. O’Connor Sloane, Raymond A. Palmer and Howard Browne, brought to you by PARSEC‘s Joseph Coluccio.

Join “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” as we salute the 90th anniversary of the first continuing science fiction magazine. The convention will take place from July 21 through July 24 in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. You’ll have a FANTASTIC time.

(Hugo Gernsback edited and published AMAZING STORIES from April 1926 through April 1929. Plowing money into other interests and paying an extremely hefty salary to both himself and his brother, Hugo Gernsback filed for bankruptcy in early 1929. Afterward, T. O’Conor Sloane — who had assisted Gernsback from the start — became the magazine’s editor until the April 1938 issue. Sloane was far from being a visionary; he thought space travel was impossible.

Ziff-Davis took over the magazine with its April 1938 number featuring Ray Palmer as editor. The new editor transformed AMAZING STORIES into a juvenile magazine, establishing a stable of authors to write fiction aimed at the youth market. Toward the end of his editorial reign, Palmer started “The Shaver Mystery,” a hoax involving an evil race that causes all of mankind’s problems from their home underground. Palmer’s last issue was dated December 1949. In later years, he became involved with UFOs and similar topics while publishing FATE magazine.

Amazing Stories 53-04-05Howard Browne, a Palmer assistant, assumed the editorship in January 1950. Primarily interested in mystery fiction, Browne nevertheless turned AMAZING STORIES around, directing it toward an adult audience. It became a digest magazine — featuring cover art by Barye Phillps on its first issue — with its April/May 1953 number. Browne left the magazine following its August 1956 number. He was succeeded by Paul Fairman and the talented Cele Goldsmith. Ms. Goldsmith managed the magazine from March 1957 through June 1965, during which time it garnered a great deal of respect.

The Ultimate Publishing company, headed by Sol Cohen, began publishing the magazine with its August 1965 issue. Joseph Wrzos was its first editor, followed by Harry Harrison, Barry Malzberg, Ted White, and Elinor Mavor. The magazine was acquired by TSR Hobbies in March 1982, with Mavor continuing as editor. George Scithers became the editor with the November 1982 issue. Later editors included Patrick Price, Kim Mohan, and Jeff Berkwits. Its last issue was published in March 2005 with Paizo Publishing in charge.

In July 2012, longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson revived AMAZING STORIES as an online magazine. You can find it at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/. Its first issue dated April 2014 — featured front cover art by William F. Wu. According to the artist, the painting is a reworking of Frank Paul’s cover to the very first issue of the magazine, published in April 1926. To read more about Wu’s cover, please visit http://amazingstoriesmag.com/articles/cover-amazing-stories-april-2014/.)

Traveling through Time with H. G. Wells

Jun 6, 2016 by

Amazing Stories 27-08Just a few days ago, we discussed The Whisperer and The Skipper, two of the “superheroes” of the pulps. Both characters premiered in their own magazines in 1936, eighty years ago. PulpFest will be celebrating a potpourri of anniversaries in 2016, including the 120th anniversary of the first pulp magazine — THE ARGOSY — and the 90th anniversary of the debut of the first continuing science fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES. We’ll be previewing our programming during this month.

September 21, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of H. G. Wells. Along with Jules Verne (1828-1905), Wells is a central pillar to what we today call science fiction. However, Wells was also a multifaceted personality and talent. Educated in the sciences and a literary genius, Herbert George Wells came into prominence during the late nineteenth century. By the turn of the century, he was considered by many to be the world’s most important social thinker.

A prodigious talent, Wells wrote for the popular fiction magazines of his native England during “The Age of the Storytellers,” a period when increasingly urban and literate societies required cheap, entertaining, and easily accessible entertainment to escape the drudgery of the mills and offices. Writing for magazines such as THE STRAND and PEARSON’S MAGAZINE, H. G. Wells delivered countless scientific romances that are enjoyed to this very day. His classic novels “The War of the Worlds” and “The Invisible Man,” were both originally published in PEARSON’S in 1897. His later science fiction, including “The First Men in the Moon” (1900-1901) and “The Country of the Blind” (1904), would run inTHE STRAND.

It would be difficult to deny the importance of Wells to the development of both science fiction and AMAZING STORIES. During his three years as editor and publisher of the first science-fiction magazine, Hugo Gernsback turned to Wells’ fictional output for nearly thirty stories, reprinting such tales as “The Country of the Blind,” “The Crystal Egg,” “The Empire of the Ants,” “The First Men in the Moon,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” “A Story of the Days to Come,” “The Time Machine,” “The Valley of the Spiders,” “The War of the Worlds,” and “When the Sleeper Wakes” in his flagship title and its companions.

War of the Worlds

At 10:05 PM on Thursday, July 21 — the opening night of PulpFest 2016 — please join us in the Union Rooms on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio for “Traveling through Time with H. G. Wells.” Professor Garyn G. Roberts will offer an illustrated presentation regarding Wells that surveys both the better and lesser-known achievements in the man’s life, emphasizing and including his works reprinted in Gernsback’s AMAZING STORIES. Garyn will also explore the author’s many contributions to the early days of pulp magazine speculative fiction.

Garyn Roberts has written extensively about the pulps, both professionally and as a fan, and has edited or co-edited some of the best collections of fiction from the pulps. He is the author/editor of the award-winning THE PRENTICE HALL ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASYGaryn was presented with the Munsey Award by PulpFest in 2013 to honor his many contributions to the pulp community.

The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor pulp fiction by drawing attention to the many ways it had inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades. The convention will take place from Thursday evening, July 21st, through Sunday afternoon, July 24th, in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. Start making your plans to join us at the “pop culture center of the universe” for PulpFest 2016.

Wells War of the Worlds film poster

(Three visions of H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” Frank R. Paul, the “grandfather of science-fiction art,” painted the cover for the August 1927 issue of AMAZING STORIES, illustrating the first half of the classic novel, serialized by the magazine in two parts. PulpFest 2016 has used Paul’s cover art throughout the past year to promote our convention at book stores, comic shops, and other conventions and fairs.

“War of the Worlds” was originally serialized in eight parts in PEARSON’S MAGAZINE, running from April through December in the year 1897. It was very well-illustrated by Warwick Goble.

In 1951, film producer George Pal, screenwriter Barré Lyndon, and director Byron Haskin began working to produce a movie that above all, would attempt to portray as realistically as possible the details of an alien invasion. Largely set in the United States and starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, Pal’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was released in 1953. Although the film now appears somewhat dated, it remains one of the best and most important science fiction movies of the 1950s. Unfortunately, the creator of the film art is not known.)

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.)

The AMAZING Story: The Twenties — By Radio to the Stars

Feb 18, 2016 by

Slider AMAZING STORIES 1928-08 Frank R. Paul

The AMAZING Hugo Gernsback

One of the major themes of PulpFest 2016 will be the 90th anniversary of the premiere of the first continuing science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIESIn November 2015, PulpFest programming and marketing director Mike Chomko contacted author, anthologist, and science-fiction and popular culture historian Mike Ashley, asking him to be a guest at PulpFest 2016. Due to a scheduling conflict, Mr. Ashley declined to attend. However, he did grant us permission to post his series of seven articles concerning the history of AMAZING STORIES — originally offered in the January through July 1992 issues of AMAZING STORIES. We’ll be posting the entire series, releasing one article every Monday and Thursday over the next few weeks.

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. 

“The AMAZING Story: The Twenties — By Radio to the Stars” 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 January 1992 issue of AMAZING STORIES.

Modern Electrics 1911-04Ninety years ago there were no science-fiction magazines. In fact, there was no such thing as “science fiction”; the name had yet to be coined. There were stories called scientific romances — H. G. Wells had written scores of them. There were also weird stories, off-trail stories, “different” stories, uncanny stories, and among all of these were stories we would now call science fiction — a rose by any other name. But before 1926 the category had yet to be created, and fans who enjoyed these weird-scientific stories had no regular magazine in which to find them.

In the years after World War I the interest in this type of story grew rapidly. For the best in escapist fiction, millions of Americans read the pulp magazines, and the magazines with the most escapist fantasies were published by Frank A. Munsey, in particular THE ARGOSY and THE ALL-STORY MAGAZINE. It was in THE ALL-STORY that Edgar Rice Burroughs first appeared, in 1912, with his adventures of John Carter in “Under the Moons of Mars.” This was followed a few months later by “Tarzan of the Apes.” The Munsey magazines became the principal market for scientific romances and fantastic adventures. By the start of the twenties they had a regular stable of writers, including George Allan England, Homer Eon Flint, Murray Leinster, Ray Cummings, Austin Hall, Garret Smith, and A. (Abraham) Merritt. These were the leading writers of the scientific romance in the pulps, one of whom — Leinster — would stay at that core for the next fifty years. The type of story they wrote then was light on science, high on adventure or concept, and high on fantastic imagery. The stories appealed to that desire we all have to escape from this mundane, depressing world and discover a world of wonder. The most popular of them all were Burroughs and Merritt, and each, in his way, set the standard for the scientific adventure fantasies of the twenties.

While this line of scientific adventure was emerging in the pulps, another development was taking place — a revolutionary development. The architect of this revolution was Hugo Gernsback, and it was from his errant hybrid that the early world of science fiction, and AMAZING STORIES, would sprout.

Hugo Gernsback was born in Luxembourg in 1884, the son of a prosperous wine merchant. In his youth he developed a fascination with electrical gadgets, and by his teens he was a fertile inventor. He emigrated to the United States in 1904, after the death of his father, in the hope of making a fortune from his invention of a powerful dry-cell battery. The device proved too expensive to produce but, undaunted, Gernsback constructed a smaller battery, which he sold to the Packard Motor Car Company.

Gernsback’s main interest at this time, though, was in radio. He was surprised how difficult it was to obtain the necessary parts to construct wireless telegraphy units in New York, so in 1905 he established a company to import electrical equipment. It was this Electro-Importing Company that was to be the foundation of his publishing empire. In 1906 Gernsback marketed a portable wireless telegraph transmitter and receiver at the seemingly impossible price of $7.50. Skeptics believed he was a fraud, and a policeman was dispatched to verify Gernsback’s claim. Gernsback demonstrated his device, though the policeman remained unconvinced. “I still think yez are fakers,” he told Gernsback. “Yer ad here sez it is a wireless set, so what are all dem here wires for?”

It was this incident that spurred Gernsback on to publish a magazine. He later recalled, “It rankled me that there could be such ignorance in regard to science, and I vowed to change the situation if I could. A few years later I brought out the world’s first radio magazine, MODERN ELECTRICS, to teach the young generation science, radio, and what was ahead for them.”

It was the “what was ahead for them” aspect with which Gernsback became so closely associated. He loved to speculate about potential inventions and to encourage his readers to experiment. He targeted this encouragement chiefly at the young, who had the more fertile and flexible minds. To further encourage them he turned his speculative thoughts into a story, “Ralph 124C 41+,” which was serialized in MODERN ELECTRICS during 1911-12.

ModernElectrics 1911-12Actually, to call this piece a “story” is rather generous, because Gernsback was only using the narrative form to liven up what was otherwise a catalogue of future inventions. He explored the world of the year 2660 from the viewpoint of one of the world’s great scientists. Each month readers were treated to extravagant scientific speculations, and there was even a chase scene in one episode when Ralph’s girl, Alice, was kidnapped by Martians, and Ralph pursued them. It was in that episode that Gernsback made one of his most remarkable predictions by describing exactly how radar would work, more than twenty years before it was “discovered” by Robert Watson-Watt.

The difference between Gernsback’s adventures of Ralph and the stories appearing in the Munsey magazines was quite fundamental. The Munsey stories were high on entertainment, low on scientific accuracy. They were predominantly fantastic adventures or, at the shorter length, scientific mysteries, with the emphasis on the weird and wonderful. The writers were competent pulpsters able to unravel a strong, compelling story with a fanciful theme.

Gernsback’s story was low on entertainment, but deliberately high on scientific accuracy and speculation. He was no storyteller; he was no writer at all. It was not his intention to entertain but to educate and, he hoped, to stimulate his readers to become creative and inventive. It was this motive that led, by stages, to the birth of AMAZING STORIES. And it was this difference that initially separated Gernsback’s scientific fiction from the pulp scientific adventures.

In 1913 Gernsback sold MODERN ELECTRICS and founded a new magazine, THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER, which broadened Gernsback’s coverage beyond radio to all aspects of scientific achievement. Gernsback was now vociferously encouraging readers to become inventors and to build their own future. Along that road, Gernsback averred, lay fame and fortune, and he cited Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Guglielmo Marconi as model examples. Writing in the April 1916 ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER, Gernsback said:

A world without imagination is a poor place to live in. No real electrical experimenter, worthy of the name, will ever amount to much if he has no imagination. He must be visionary to a certain extent, he must be able to look into the future and if he wants fame he must anticipate the human wants. It was precisely this quality which made Edison — a master of imagination — famous.

THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER began to publish fiction regularly by a variety of almost unknown writers — George F. Stratton, Charles M. Adams, Harlan Eveleth — names as remote and lost as the crew of the Marie Celeste. Every one of their stories was awful, but as scientific speculation they were enlightening. Because it was wartime, many of the stories speculated on devices to help win the war, such as anti-gravitation to cause havoc among the enemy, or a concentrated electron ray (not unlike a laser beam) to detonate enemy explosives.

Science & Invention 23-08In 1920 Gernsback retitled the magazine SCIENCE AND INVENTION, to emphasize that he had moved beyond the basic role of the experimenter toward the vaster world of science and technology. Gernsback was an evangelist of science determined to educate the American public and even more determined to inspire them into scientific achievement. He, probably more than any of his contemporaries, opened the eyes of the American public to the possibilities of science and the wonders to come. Through the stimulation of his magazines, he could inspire them to build their future world.

The closest anyone came to publishing a magazine of scientific stories before AMAZING STORIES was with THE THRILL BOOK and WEIRD TALES. THE THRILL BOOK came from Street & Smith in 1919, and though its original concept had been to publish scientific romances, when it appeared it concentrated on adventure stories, a few with fantastic elements. WEIRD TALES, launched in Chicago in March 1923, was always intended as a horror magazine but did carry some stories of the monster-in-the-laboratory type, and later some space adventures, mostly by Edmond Hamilton.

Gernsback was so taken with the idea of promoting science through fiction that he seriously considered issuing such a magazine in 1923. That year he made the August issue of SCIENCE AND INVENTION a “Scientific Fiction Number.” It contained five complete stories, plus an episode of Ray Cummings’s serial “Around the Universe.” The stories were, by and large, boring, although there was something special in “The Man From the Atom” by precocious fifteen-year-old G. Peyton Wertenbaker. This story, about a man who escapes from our universe into a macro-universe beyond, is still readable today.

We do not know the reader reaction to the issue since, at that time, the magazine ran no letter column. When it did run a letter column, it was evident that the stories Gernsback published were favorably received, and that may well have been the case here. In any case, a few months later Gernsback gave thought to launching a new magazine, to be called SCIENTIFICTION. He made no reference to this fact in his magazines at the time, but, as he later recalled, he sent a flyer to his subscribers attempting to gauge interest. The response was, apparently, dispiriting, so Gernsback did not pursue the venture. He seemingly had enough to handle at that point anyway, since in June 1925 he launched his own radio station, WRNY, the first such enterprise in New York City.

Had there been a greater positive response to the circular, the history of magazine science fiction might have started two years earlier, and that turn of events may have had a significant impact on its later evolution, which, as we shall later see, became fast-paced. I imagine that the main reason why the response was lukewarm was that Gernsback targeted the wrong market. Those most likely to subscribe to his technical magazines would have been professional scientists, engineers and radio enthusiasts, both experimenters and hobbyists, who may have appreciated the stories in SCIENCE AND INVENTION as novelty items but would have expressed no great interest in a specialist magazine. It was much more likely to have appealed to the newsstand browser (from which most of the general pulp readers came) — those who could not necessarily afford to subscribe to a magazine, or had no reason to. To the browser, it was much more fun looking at all of the pulps on display and relishing the thrills promised by the covers.

Amazing Stories 26-04This Gernsback was to discover when, in 1926, he acted on impulse (as he so often did) and launched the world’s first science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES. Its premiere issue, dated April 1926, was released on March 10. It was in the same format as SCIENCE AND INVENTION, having a larger page size (8 by 11 inches) than the usual pulp, which thus set it apart. In addition it had a gaudy, eye-catching cover by Frank R. Paul, an Austrian-born artist and draftsman who had been illustrating the majority of the stories in SCIENCE AND INVENTION since 1918. The first issue, with a print run of 100,000, sold out. Gernsback was onto a winner.

Fortunately, Gernsback had not filled the magazine with stories that were typical of those in SCIENCE AND INVENTION. The first issue contained all reprints, with classic selections from H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe, a pulp reprint by Austin Hall from ALL-STORY, and the two best stories he had previously published, Wertenbaker’s “The Man From the Atom” and “The Thing From — Outside” by George Allan England, one of the more popular adventure writers for the pulps.

The success of AMAZING, however, put Gernsback into a dilemma. The type of “scientifiction” (as he then called it) that readers most enjoyed were stories of scientific adventure that contained less technological speculation than he desired. During the preceding few years in SCIENCE AND INVENTION, Gernsback had run a series of stories by Clement Fezandié, a New York teacher and businessman, under the general title of “Doctor Hackensaw’s Secrets.” These stories were really thinly disguised lectures. In each episode, Hackensaw waffled on about his latest invention, regardless of its effects upon the world or humanity. Forty years later, Gernsback still referred to Fezandié as a “titan of science fiction,” which suggests the type of story that he most liked. But, when Gernsback asked the readership of AMAZING STORIES if they would like to see a continuation of the Hackensaw series in the new magazine, he got an emphatic NO. The demand was for stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs and A. Merritt — tales from the Munsey school of scientific romance. Although Gernsback claimed he had a number of Fezandié’s stories in stock, he only published two in AMAZING, in the third and fourth issues he put out. It rapidly became evident that his newfound readers were not so interested in scientific expostulation but cared far more for scientific extravaganza.

Striving to find a middle ground, Gernsback balanced reprints from the pulps and classics by Verne and Wells against a variety of gadget stories that he hoped would educate and inspire. But he was soon being lectured to by his readers and writers. In a letter that Gernsback published in his July 1926 editorial, Wertenbaker, his first significant discovery, warned him that “the danger that may lie before AMAZING STORIES is that of becoming too scientific and not sufficiently literary.”

Gernsback found that he had to compromise his principles. If he had to publish fantastic adventures in order to attract readers, then he would do so, provided that he could also inspire them with a selection of gadget stories. His biggest conflict in this regard came with the serialization of Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” in 1927. He found himself justifying the inclusion of the story in the magazine by arguing about the advanced science projected by Merritt. Although the story does contain some scientific speculation, it’s basically hocus-pocus that was included by Merritt when he wrote a novel-length sequel to his original fantastic short story, published in ALL-STORY in 1919. In his heart of hearts, Gernsback knew that the science in this story was of dubious authenticity, and that knowledge played heavily on his conscience.

Amazing Stories 26-07Another challenge was Frank R. Paul’s garish covers. There was no doubt that Paul’s exciting drawings attracted a wide readership, predominantly young males, but they also caused the magazine to become associated with sensationalistic trash. Yet when Gernsback experimented with a serious symbolical cover in 1928, that issue suffered a drop in sales of 22 percent.

In fact, by 1928 — a year that saw an explosion in new writing talent — Gernsback had more or less accepted that AMAZING STORIES had outgrown his original premise. The kind of gadget story that he obviously liked and had intended to serve as inspiration — such riveting classics as “An Experiment in Gyro-Hats” by Ellis Parker Butler (June 1926), “The Automatic Self-Serving Dining Table” by Henry Hugh Simmons (April 1927), and “The Tide Projectile Transportation Co.” by Will H. Gray (September 1927) — had become dead weight. Readers were clamoring for the scientific extravaganzas that had initially been represented by reprints selected by Gernsback’s adviser, C. A. Brandt — “A Columbus of Space” by Garrett P. Serviss (August through October 1926), ‘The Red Dust” by Murray Leinster (January 1927), “The Land That Time Forgot” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (February through April 1927), and, of course, “The Moon Pool” by A. Merritt (May through July 1927), the most popular story published in AMAZING‘s first few years. All of these had first appeared in the Munsey pulps.

Moreover, the writers now establishing themselves were not producing the gadget story in any quantity, but were writing the scientific extravaganza in emulation of the Munsey pulps. The first regular writer to establish himself in AMAZING STORIES was archaeologist A. Hyatt Verrill, who became noted for adventure stories set in lost valleys, typical of the Munsey locales. Then there was Edmond Hamilton, who became a regular after the January 1928 issue. He had been selling super-science sagas to WEIRD TALES for two years, and had cut his teeth on reading the Munsey pulps. Jack Williamson, who is still writing today (Williamson continued writing until his death in 2006, long after the original publication of this article), first appeared in the December 1928 issue with “The Metal Man,” a story blatantly inspired by Merritt’s writings. And we should not forget H. P. Lovecraft, the doyen of WEIRD TALES, who sold arguably his best story to AMAZING STORIES, “The Colour Out of Space” (September 1927). Lovecraft had also been a great fan of the Munsey pulps, and though this story was probably more inspired by Algernon Blackwood than by Abraham Merritt, it reflects far more the imagery of the Munsey visionaries than that of Gernsback’s electro-philiacs.

Probably the only authors not directly influenced by the Munsey pulps were the doctors David H. Keller and Miles J. Breuer. Yet even these writers, despite their scientific training, turned more to the non-technological sciences.

Keller had a greater social conscience than most other writers, and in “The Revolt of the Pedestrians” (February 1928), “A Biological Experiment” (June 1928), and other stories he projected the human element of scientific advance. He had a sharp mind and an eye for detail, which lent strength to the messages in his stories. Breuer was fascinated by the mathematics of other dimensions and produced a range of fascinating stories exploring the concepts of the fourth and fifth dimensions.

Amazing Stories Annual 1927By and large Keller and Breuer were the exceptions, not the rule. They wrote the intelligent novelty items, not the mind-blowing scientific adventures. The selling power of the latter was evident when, in celebration of the first year’s success of AMAZING, Gernsback released an AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL. As the lead novel in this bumper issue — twice as thick as the regular monthly magazine — Gernsback secured a new Martian novel from Edgar Rice Burroughs, “The Master Mind of Mars.” Even though the ANNUAL was twice the price of the monthly, it sold out within a few weeks. Its success led Gernsback to establish an AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY companion magazine featuring all-new material.

The old order of Gernsback’s gadget stories was finally blasted out of existence with the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES. This was the most important issue Gernsback was to publish, and is one of the most significant issues of AMAZING. It contained two profoundly influential stories, E. E. (Doc) Smith’s serial “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella “Armageddon — 2419 A.D.”

Smith’s work was the literary equivalent of a nuclear attack. Hitherto most of Gernsback’s scientifiction had been relatively sedate, confined to Earth-bound experiments or explorations. Some stories had ventured to the Moon and neighboring planets, but only a rare few (those by Ray Cummings and J. Schlossel, plus some of the work of Edmond Hamilton in WEIRD TALES) had gone beyond the boundaries of the solar system. Smith blasted through all this. In his story, superscientist Richard Seaton discovers atomic energy, builds a spaceship, and sets off to explore the Universe, pursued by the villainous, though equally super-scientific, Blackie DuQuesne. It was a scientific extravaganza par excellence, and the readers went wild. “The Skylark of Space” became the archetypical work of space opera.

Amazing Stories 28-08Nowlan’s novella did for the future what Smith’s novel did for outer space. Anthony Rogers, an engineer, is trapped in a mine but is revived five centuries hence. The United States is now dominated by a super-scientific Mongolian race, the Han. Rogers joins forces with a guerrilla faction to overthrow the enemy. In this story, and its sequel “The Air-lords of Han” (March 1929), Nowlan creates a fascinating range of future weaponry, combining action, adventure, and scientific speculation. Anthony Rogers went on to be converted into the comic-strip hero Buck Rogers, a name synonymous with early science fiction.

This is what the readers wanted — superscience. Gone were the relatively mundane tales of everyday inventions and new uses for radio. The possibilities of science fiction were blown wide open. Readers wanted their imaginations stretched beyond the horizons of tomorrow, and Gernsback could deliver nothing less. His “scientifiction” brainchild had rapidly grown out of all proportion and was threatening to veer out of control. For the moment he was prepared to let it go, though he had no idea of the consequences.

Gernsback’s original ideal had been to create a vehicle that would transport his experimenters into tomorrow, or more appropriately inspire his experimenters to create tomorrow. Within three years of its launch, AMAZING STORIES had become the vessel by which science fiction had set a course for the stars. But the science fiction that emerged was not Gernsback’s baby. It was the Munseyesque-pulp scientific romance that ruled the day, with its fantastic excesses tempered by Gernsback’s furnace of science.

Amazing Stories 28-11Gernsbackian scientifiction, which had been born in MODERN ELECTRICS in 1911, had all but died in 1928, but it wasn’t extinct yet. While it was exerting its influence on the scientific romance to create the super-science epic, it was itself evolving and recovering, and would emerge anew in the 1930s.

Within a few months of publishing “The Skylark of Space,” Gernsback lost control of AMAZING STORIES, as a consequence of financial mismanagement in his many business dealings. (Those interested in the specifics of the incident will find it discussed in great detail in Tom Perry’s article “Experiment in Bankruptcy” in the May 1978 issue of AMAZING STORIES.) The consequences of this event were significant, and that’s where we pick up “The Amazing Story” on Monday, February 22nd.

 

(Concerning our illustrations . . . . Hugo Gernsback introduced the first radio magazine — MODERN ELECTRICS — in 1908. Hoping to encourage his readers to experiment and learn more about science, he began serializing a story, “Ralph 124C 41+,” beginning with the April 1911 issue. Although the cover artist is not credited, it resembles the work of George Westcott, an artist who had produced some of the magazine’s earlier covers. Written by Gernsback himself, “Ralph 124C 41+” ran for twelve consecutive issues including the December 1911 number, the second magazine pictured in our article, with cover art by Thomas Wrenn.

The “Scientific Fiction Number” of Gernsback’s SCIENCE AND INVENTION was dated August 1923 and featured featured six “scientifiction” stories, including G. Peyton Wertenbaker’s “The Man from the Atom,” the inspiration for Howard V. Brown’s front cover art. Much of the “science fiction” that appeared in SCIENCE AND INVENTION revolved around a scientific principle, particularly the stories of Clement Fezandié, an author much favored by the publisher.

The debut issue of the first science-fiction pulp — AMAZING STORIES — was dated April 1926 and featured front cover art by Frank R. Paul, the “grandfather of science-fiction art.” An Austrian-born artist and draftsman who had been illustrating the majority of the stories in SCIENCE AND INVENTION since 1918, Paul was a mainstay for Gernsback throughout his career as a publisher.

One rule of publishing that hasn’t changed in 90 years is that a magazine cover, first and foremost, must be eye-catching. Frank Paul’s covers for the July 1926 AMAZING STORIES and the AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL for 1927 are certainly that. And the authors in the magazines — Edgar Rice Burroughs, Austin Hall, A. Merritt, Edgar Allan Poe, Garrett P. Serviss, Curt Siodmak, A. Hyatt Verill, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and others — certainly didn’t hurt sales. Paul’s cover for the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES — featuring the start of E. E. Smith’s “Skylark of Space” and the first Buck Rogers story — is one of the icons of science-fiction art.

The November 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES featured a cover illustration of Jupiter as seen from Ganymede. It was done to accompany Frank J. Brueckel’s story, “The Moon Men.” The artwork was one of the last covers created by Frank R. Paul for the Gernsback version of AMAZING. Paul would return to the magazine in 1939 — after Ziff-Davis had become its publisher, painting over fifty back covers for AMAZING STORIES and its companion, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES.)

An AMAZING Story

Feb 15, 2016 by

The latest issue of AMAZING STORIES, dated April 2014, with cover art by Frank Wu

One of the major themes of PulpFest 2016 will be the 90th anniversary of the first continuing science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES. In addition to the appearance of our Guest of Honor, Ted White — the longest serving editor of the magazine (and its companion title, FANTASTIC) — we’ll be offering a presentation on the magazine itself, put together by Joseph Coluccio, president of the Pittsburgh Area Fantasy and Science Fiction Club. Mr. Coluccio will discuss the pulp era of AMAZING, the years when Hugo Gernsback, T. O’Conor Sloane, Ray Palmer, William Hamling, and Howard Browne helmed the world’s first science-fiction magazine.

Another theme of our convention — the 150th anniversary of H. G. Wells‘ birth — will likewise tie into our AMAZING story. Herbert George Wells, who came into prominence during the late nineteenth century, was educated in the sciences and was a literary genius. It would be difficult to deny the importance of Wells to the development of both science fiction and AMAZING STORIES. During his three years as editor and publisher of the first science-fiction magazine, Gernsback turned to Wells’ fictional output for nearly thirty stories, reprinting such tales as “The Country of the Blind,” “The Crystal Egg,” “The Empire of the Ants,” “The First Men in the Moon,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” “A Story of the Days to Come,” “The Time Machine,” “The Valley of the Spiders,” “The War of the Worlds,” and “When the Sleeper Wakes” in his flagship title and its companions.

Our presentation, “Traveling through Time with H. G. Wells,” will feature Garyn G. Roberts, winner of the 2013 Munsey Award. Professor Roberts has written extensively about the pulps, both professionally and as a fan. His work, THE PRENTICE HALL ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, a college level textbook, is notable for the attention paid to the pulp magazines.

These are just some of the ways that PulpFest 2016 will be celebrating ninety years of the first science-fiction magazine — AMAZING STORIES — whose inaugural issue really stood out on the newsstand. It was larger than the typical pulp magazine with three-dimensional block letters trailing across its masthead and a bright yellow background that framed an alien landscape, a ringed planet and small moon. Frank R. Paul was the artist, illustrating Verne’s “Off on a Comet.”

The names on the front cover of the magazine’s early issues were also major selling points: Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Garrett P. Serviss, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and others. The readers of AMAZING “… wanted to be entertained, to escape, to experience that sense of wonder that good visionary fiction brought.”

Using stories drawn from the Munsey magazines, BLUE BOOK, THE STRAND, and other sources, Gernsback offered reprints of science-fiction classics, eventually coupling these with new stories generated through contests. Using various competitions, Gernsback began to acquire a stable of new writers willing and able to write scientifiction: Miles J. Breur, Clare Winger Harris, David H. Keller, S. P. Meek, H. Hyatt Verrill, Harl Vincent, and others. Through his letter column, entitled “Discussions,” he reeled his readers into his world of wonder.

Within months, the new specialty magazine was selling over 100,000 copies per issue. In establishing the first specialized science-fiction magazine, Gernsback had tapped a vein of wonder, shared by lonely individuals prone to “imaginative flights of fancy.” Next would come AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL, published in the summer of 1927 and featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Mastermind of Mars.”AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY followed in the winter of 1928. Then, in the August 1928 number of AMAZING STORIES, Gernsback introduced his readers to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Skylark of Space” and Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon—2419 AD,” featuring Anthony “Buck” Rogers. These two “space operas” would color science fiction for well over a decade, turning it into “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.”

Amazing Stories 26-04Despite its seeming success, the Gernsback publishing empire continuously experienced cash flow problems. Plowing money into his radio interests and paying extremely hefty salaries to both himself and his brother, Gernsback offered generally low word rates for stories. Coupled with a slow payment schedule, often months after a story had been published, few authors were interested in writing for the company. In early 1929, Gernsback’s suppliers demanded payment on past due bills, leading the publisher to file for bankruptcy. Experimenter Publishing Company went into receivership, ending Hugo Gernsback’s involvement with the first science-fiction pulp, AMAZING STORIES.

Be here on Thursday when PulpFest begins a series of articles on the history of AMAZING STORIES authored by popular culture historian Mike Ashley. The series originally ran in the January through July 1992 issues of AMAZING STORIES. We’ll be posting the entire series at www.pulpfest.com, starting on Thursday, February 18th with “The AMAZING Story: The Twenties — By Radio to the Stars.”

(Hugo Gernsback edited and published AMAZING STORIES from April 1926 through April 1929. He then lost control of the magazine. His most favored artist was Frank R. Paul — now known as the “grandfather of science-fiction art” — who painted both the first and the last covers of the Gernsback AMAZING.

In July 2012, longtime science-fiction fan Steve Davidson revived AMAZING STORIES as an online magazine. You can find it at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/. It’s also available as an ebook via Amazon.com.

The first new issue of AMAZING STORIES — pictured at the head of our article and dated April 2014 — features cover art by Frank Wu. According to the artist, the painting is a reworking of Frank Paul’s cover to the very first issue of the magazine, published in April 1926. To read more about Wu’s cover, please visit http://amazingstoriesmag.com/articles/cover-amazing-stories-april-2014/.)

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.