PulpFest and Ray Bradbury on Instagram

Aug 27, 2020 by

Here is one of the many fine cover images that we’ve been posting to the PulpFest Instagram page over the last few days. It’s just one small part of our Ray Bradbury tribute, honoring the August 22 centennial of the author’s birth.

The image displayed here is the cover for the Spring 1944 issue of PLANET STORIES. Painted by “Ghastly” Graham Ingels, it’s the artist’s only cover for the Fiction House science fiction pulp. Best known for his work for EC Comics during the 1950s — notably THE HAUNT OF FEAR and TALES FROM THE CRYPT — Ingels also contributed interior art to PLANET STORIES and other Fiction House pulps.

Ray Bradbury’s “The Monster Maker” — a short story reprinted in THE COLLECTED STORIES OF RAY BRADBURY: A CRITICAL EDITION, VOLUME 1: 1938-1943 — originally appeared in this particular issue of PLANET STORIES. Bradbury established himself as one of the leading “Golden Age” voices of science fiction in the pages of the Fiction House magazine.

Join us every Monday through Friday — between 7:30 and 8 PM, eastern time — for selected images and commentary related to Bradbury appearances on the PulpFest Instagram page. Why not become one of the 1100+ followers we have on Instagram? You’ll find us at https://www.instagram.com/pulpfest/.

PulpFest Historical — Bradbury’s Centennial

Aug 22, 2020 by

Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. From an early age, he was a voracious reader and consumer of popular culture — movies, pulp magazines, radio programming, newspaper comic strips, circuses, magic, and more. He was enamored with the Buck Rogers newspaper strip, the stories of L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and more. By age twelve, he wanted to write.

After his family moved to Los Angeles in 1934, the teenaged Bradbury discovered science fiction fandom. Through the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, he met such people as Forrest J Ackerman, Hannes Bok, Leigh Brackett, Ray Harryhausen, Henry Hasse, Robert A. Heinlein, and Henry Kuttner. It was Kuttner, in particular, who took the young Bradbury under his wing, urging him to read more outside the fields of science fiction and fantasy, critiquing his stories, and advising the budding author to simply “shut up and write.”

Ray Bradbury sold his first story in 1941. A collaboration with Henry Hasse, “Pendulum” was based on a work originally published in Bradbury’s own fanzine, FUTURE FANTASIA. The two authors would sell two other collaborations before the younger Bradbury set off on his own.

With the help of Kuttner and fellow writer Leigh Brackett, as well as literary agent Julius Schwartz, Bradbury began to find regular markets for his fantasy and science fiction in AMAZING STORIES, PLANET STORIES, SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and WEIRD TALES. It was from the latter that Bradbury would largely construct his first book. The legendary DARK CARNIVAL was published by Arkham House in 1947.

Bradbury also began to contribute crime and detective fiction to DETECTIVE TALES, DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINENEW DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and similar pulps. At the urging of a friend, the young writer began to submit his work to the more prestigious (and better paying) “slicks.” These included AMERICAN MERCURY, CHARM, COLLIER’S, MADEMOISELLE, and THE NEW YORKER. His story, “The Big Black and White Game” — published in the August 1945 issue of AMERICAN MERCURY — was included in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE YEAR anthology. “The Homecoming” — published in the October 1946 issue of MADEMOISELLE — found its way into the pages of THE O. HENRY PRIZE STORIES OF 1947.

As his fiction began to be discovered by a wider audience, Ray Bradbury came to the attention of former COLLIER’S editor Don Congdon. About a year after writing to express his admiration for the author’s work, Congdon became Ray Bradbury’s literary agent. During the summer of 1949, Bradbury’s new representative arranged a meeting with Doubleday editor Walter I. Bradbury (no relation) in New York City. According to Sam Weller’s THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES, it was during this meeting that the Doubleday editor suggested: “What about all those Martian stories you’ve been writing for PLANET STORIES and THRILLING WONDER? Wouldn’t there be a book if you took all those stories and tied them together into a tapestry?”

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES was published in 1950 by Doubleday and Company. It would be this “fix-up” novel — a mixture of previously published and new, loosely connected stories — that would assure Ray Bradbury’s success as an author.

Other books would follow Bradbury’s Mars novel. These included THE ILLUSTRATED MAN in 1951, FAHRENHEIT 451 and THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN in 1953, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY in 1955, DANDELION WINE in 1957, A MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY  in 1959, R IS FOR ROCKET and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES in 1962, THE MACHINERIES OF JOY in 1964, and many others. Bradbury would also make significant contributions to ESQUIRE, GALAXY, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, PLAYBOYTHE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and other magazines.

Ray Bradbury won the World Fantasy Award in 1977, the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1989, the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1989, an Emmy Award in 1994, the National Medal of Arts in 2004, a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize jury “for his distinguished, prolific, and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy” in 2007, and many other awards. The author died on June 5, 2012, a few months shy of 92.

Although he got his start as a writer of fantasy, horror, detective, and science fiction stories for the pulp magazines, Ray Bradbury defied categorization. He was truly — as he often called himself — a “magician of words.”

(Ray Bradbury’s short novel, “The Creatures That Time Forgot,” garnered Chester Martin’s cover illustration for the Fall 1946 issue of PLANET STORIES. Published as “Frost and Fire” in R IS FOR ROCKET, the story concerns a world with such extreme conditions that its inhabits — the descendants of space explorers who had crashed on the planet — live for just eight days.

Bradbury’s novella was later adapted to film by Elaine and Saul Bass and released in 1983. Two years later, it was adapted by Klaus Janson as a graphic novel and published by DC Comics.

To learn more about Ray Bradbury, we recommend BECOMING RAY BRADBURY, by Jonathan R. Eller (University of Illinois Press, 2011), NOLAN ON BRADBURY, by William F. Nolan (Hippocampus Press, 2013), and THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES: THE LIFE OF RAY BRADBURY, by Sam Weller (HarperCollins Publishers, 2005). Of course, there’s also the PulpFest 2020 program book, THE PULPSTER #29. It will soon be available for $15, plus postage, and feature a number of articles about Ray Bradbury.)

Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES

May 4, 2020 by

In his introduction to Irwin Porges’s EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS: THE MAN WHO CREATED TARZAN, Ray Bradbury suggested that during the summer of 1930, “a mob of boys and girls” were running away from him. That he made the summer excruciating and unbearable “for everyone.” Why you may ask?

You see my problem was Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan and John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

Problem, you ask. That doesn’t sound like much of a problem.

Oh, but it was. You see, I couldn’t stop reading those books. I couldn’t stop memorizing them line by line and page by page. Worst of all, when I saw my friends, I couldn’t stop my mouth. The words just babbled out. Tarzan this and Jane that, John Carter here and Dejah Thoris there. And when it wasn’t those incredible people it was Tanar of Pellucidar or I was making noises like a tyrannosaurus rex and behaving like a Martian thoat, which, everyone knows, has eight legs.

In the view of Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs stands above other writers because of his . . .

. . .  unreason, because of his natural impulses, because of the color of the blood running in Tarzan’s veins, because of the blood on the teeth of the gorilla, the lion, and the black panther. Because of the sheer romantic impossibility of Burroughs’ Mars and its fairytale people with green skins and the absolutely unscientific way John Carter traveled there. Being utterly impossible, he was the perfect fast-moving chum for any ten-year-old boy. For how can one resist walking out of a summer night to stand in the middle of one’s lawn to look up at the red fire of Mars quivering in the sky and whisper, “Take me home.”

As a writer, Ray Bradbury first visited Mars in print in the story, “The Piper,” self-published in the Spring 1940 issue of his fanzine, FUTURIA FANTASIA. A revised version under the same title would appear in the February 1943 number of THRILLING WONDER STORIES. 

Originally published as by Ron Reynolds, “The Piper” is far removed from the Mars depicted in his seminal work, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. The first of his “Chronicles” stories — “The Million Year Picnic” — would first appear in the Summer 1946 PLANET STORIES. “Lorelei of the Red Mist,” a novella started by his friend and mentor, Leigh Brackett, and completed by Bradbury would also run in the same issue.

Initially released by Doubleday & Company seventy years ago today, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES was a “fix-up” novel comprised of a mixture of previously published stories and bridge chapters. Crediting Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO and John Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH as major influences on the book’s structure, Ray Bradbury labeled his book, a “half-cousin to a novel.”

Inspired by a suggestion by Doubleday editor Walter I. Bradbury (no relation), the initial outline for THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES was put together on a portable typewriter at the Sloane House YMCA in New York City in 1949. As the author later recalled, “It was a typical hot June night in New York. Air conditioning was still a luxury of some future year. I typed until 3 A.M., perspiring in my underwear as I weighted and balanced my Martians in their strange cities in the last hours before arrivals and departures of my astronauts.”

According to Sam Weller’s biography of the author — THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES: THE LIFE OF RAY BRADBURY — Walter Bradbury loved the idea behind THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES:

This idea for a novel-in-stories would provide a mirror for humanity, its faults, foibles, and failures. The book would be a cautionary tale, warning against the cultural perils that lay ahead.

Recognizing Ray Bradbury as a “rising literary talent who could be a key player in Doubleday’s new science fiction line,” the editor offered the writer a book deal on the spot, sending him back to Southern California with a check for $1500 for a pair of books.

Over the next year, Ray Bradbury reviewed all of his Martian stories, selecting and revising those to be included in his “book of stories pretending to be a novel.” Initially compiled as eighteen stories and eleven bridge chapters, it was paired down by the author and his editor, Walter Bradbury. Four segments were removed from the final manuscript.

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES would be welcomed by both the science fiction community and, later, by mainstream critics led by the respected author, Christopher Isherwood. It has remained in print since 1950 and has been adapted for radio, comic books, theater, television, and as an opera and a video game. To date, although both MGM and Paramount have owned the book’s film rights, no motion picture version has ever been produced.

In Sam Weller’s book, LISTEN TO THE ECHOES: THE RAY BRADBURY INTERVIEWS, the Science Fiction Grand Master and “Poet of the Pulps” suggests:

I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly — Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world . . . . By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books. Say to a girl or boy at age ten: “Hey, life is fun! Grow tall!” I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic. Burroughs put us on the moon. All the technologists read Burroughs.

Like Edgar Rice Burroughs before him, Ray Bradbury has inspired a fair share of “technologists.” As astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote in his introduction to the 2015 Folio Society edition of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES:

The spaceship was improbable, at best. Having been blasted from the Earth’s surface, pushed hard to an incredible speed, and then having to endure a silent nine-month coast through interplanetary space, it was now being pulled unstoppably by the gravity of planet Mars, inexorably down into the Martian atmosphere. Jealously protecting its precious cargo, a carton-of-eggs rover named Curiosity, the ship gradually, deliberately gave its life to the wicked heat, the punishing deceleration and the sudden, final impact onto the dusty surface of Mars. And as the newly landed Curiosity slowly, safely awoke and began to look around, its robot eyes showed us a new place in our history – just south of Mars’ equator, on an ancient sea floor in Gale Crater, forevermore known as Bradbury Landing. The dreamers and scientists and engineers who guided Curiosity to the landing site chose that name because “many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.” Those stories, the sparks of imagination that helped fire the flames that lifted Curiosity, are . . . THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES.

(At PulpFest 2020, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Ray Bradbury. Our keynote address will be presented by Professor Garyn G. Roberts. Bradbury’s pal for more than thirty years, Garyn will discuss the life and works of the Science Fiction Grand Master and “Poet of the Pulps,” including “The Million Year Picnic,” originally published in the Summer 1946 PLANET STORIES and featuring front cover art by Chester Martin.

We’ll also have presentations on Bradbury in comic books, television, and film. Filling out our Bradbury salute will be several presentations concerning Mars in fiction, a look at early science fiction fandom, and more.)

Visions of Bradbury: The Author at 100

May 1, 2020 by

Although he got his start as a writer of fantasy, horror, detective, and science fiction for the pulp magazines, author Ray Bradbury defied categorization. He referred to himself as a “magician of words.”

Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois and decided to become a writer around the age of twelve. From his earliest memories, he was a voracious reader and consumer of popular genre fiction (and the pulp magazines in which these stories flourished),
silent movies, radio programming, newspaper comic strips, circuses, magicians and more. From his earliest years forward, Ray Douglas Bradbury was enamored with the Buck Rogers newspaper strip and the works of Jules Verne, L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others.

After moving with his family to Los Angeles in 1934, the teenaged Bradbury discovered science fiction fandom. Through the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, he met such people as Forrest J Ackerman, Hannes Bok, Leigh Brackett, Ray Harryhausen, Henry Hasse, Robert A. Heinlein, and Henry Kuttner. It was Kuttner, in particular, who took the young Bradbury under his wing, urging him to read more outside the fields of fantasy and science fiction, critiquing his stories, and simply telling the budding author to simply write and “shut up.”

Collaborating with Henry Hasse, Ray Bradbury sold his first story in 1941. Based on a work originally published in Bradbury’s self-published fanzine, FUTURE FANTASIA, “Pendulum” ran in the November 1941 issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES. The issue featured front cover art by Robert C.  Sherry. The Bradbury and Hasse team would sell two more collaborations before the younger Bradbury set off on his own.

With the help of writers Henry Kuttner and Leigh Brackett, as well as literary agent Julius Schwartz, Ray Bradbury began to find regular markets for his science fiction and fantasy in AMAZING STORIES, PLANET STORIES, SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and WEIRD TALES. It was largely from the latter that Bradbury would draw the stories for his first book, the legendary DARK CARNIVAL, published by Arkham House in 1947.

In 1944, Ray Bradbury also began to contribute crime and detective fiction to DETECTIVE TALES, DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE, NEW DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and other pulps. At the urging of a friend, the young writer also started to submit his work to the more prestigious (and better paying) “slicks.” These included AMERICAN MERCURY, CHARM, COLLIER’S, MADEMOISELLE, and THE NEW YORKER. His story, “The Big Black and White Game,” published in the August 1945 issue of AMERICAN MERCURY, was included in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE YEAR anthology. “The Homecoming,” published in the October 1946 issue of MADEMOISELLE (after being rejected by WEIRD TALES), found its way into the pages of THE O. HENRY PRIZE STORIES OF 1947.

As his fiction began to be read by a wider audience, Bradbury came to the attention of former COLLIER’S editor Don Congdon. About a year after writing Bradbury to express his admiration for the author’s work, Congdon became Ray Bradbury’s literary agent. During the summer of 1949, Bradbury’s representative arranged a meeting with Doubleday editor Walter I. Bradbury (no relation) in New York City. According to Sam Weller’s THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES, it was during this meeting that the Doubleday editor suggested: “What about all those Martian stories you’ve been writing for PLANET STORIES and THRILLING WONDER? Wouldn’t there be a book if you took all those stories and tied them together into a tapestry?”

Thus was born THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, published in 1950 by Doubleday and Company. It would be this work — a “fix-up” novel consisting of a mixture of previously published and new, loosely connected stories — that would assure Ray Bradbury’s success as an author.

Other books would follow his Mars collection, including THE ILLUSTRATED MAN in 1951, FAHRENHEIT 451 and THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN in 1953, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY in 1955, DANDELION WINE in 1957, A MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY  in 1959, R IS FOR ROCKET and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES in 1962, THE MACHINERIES OF JOY in 1964, as well as many others. Bradbury would also make significant contributions to ESQUIRE, GALAXY, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, PLAYBOY, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and other magazines.

Ray Bradbury won the World Fantasy Award in 1977, the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1989, the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1989, an Emmy Award in 1994, the National Medal of Arts in 2004, a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize jury “for his distinguished, prolific, and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy” in 2007, and many other awards. The author died on June 5, 2012, a few months shy of 92.

On Saturday, August 8, PulpFest 2020 welcomes Professor Garyn G. Roberts for “Visions of Bradbury: The Author at 100.” Bradbury’s pal for more than thirty years, Professor Roberts will discuss the Science Fiction Grand Master and “Poet of the Pulps,” beginning at 7:50 PM. Our 2013 Munsey Award winner promises to share many unique items that he collected during his long friendship with Ray Bradbury.

(To learn more about Ray Bradbury, we recommend BECOMING RAY BRADBURY, by Jonathan R. Eller (University of Illinois Press, 2011), NOLAN ON BRADBURY, by William F. Nolan (Hippocampus Press, 2013), and THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES: THE LIFE OF RAY BRADBURY, by Sam Weller (HarperCollins Publishers, 2005).

The November 1942 issue of WEIRD TALES — with cover art by Richard Bennett — features the first Ray Bradbury story to be published by “The Unique Magazine,” “The Candle.” The story’s ending was suggested by Bradbury’s mentor, Henry Kuttner.

Garyn G. Roberts, PH.D., has written extensively about the pulps, both professionally and as a fan. He has edited or co-edited some of the best collections from the pulps including A CENT A STORY: THE BEST FROM TEN DETECTIVE ACES, MORE TALES OF THE DEFECTIVE DETECTIVE IN THE PULPS, THE COMPLEAT ADVENTURES OF THE MOON MAN, THE MAGICAL MYSTERIES OF DON DIAVOLO, and THE COMPLEAT GREAT MERLINI SAGA.

Roberts’s anthology, THE PRENTICE HALL ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, a college level textbook, is notable for the attention paid to the pulp magazines. It was honored with the Ray and Pat Browne National Popular Culture Book Award. His comprehensive examination of Chester Gould’s creation, DICK TRACY AND AMERICAN CULTURE, was a Mystery Writers of American Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist.

Garyn regularly contributes research for, edits, and provides introductions for books by Battered Silicon Press Dispatch Box, Haffner Press, Steeger Books, and other publishers. He has published extensively on the life and works of his friends, Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, and often serves as a presenter and panelist at conventions.)

A Century Ago in a Galaxy Called California

Dec 14, 2015 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Operas in the Sky

Jun 6, 2014 by

Planet Stories 39-WAlthough Fiction House had been around since the 1920s, it waited until 1939 to enter the science-fiction field. A year before, it had joined the comic book industry with Jumbo Comics, home to Sheena, “Queen of the Jungle.” Perhaps trying to hedge its bets, Fiction House launched a science-fiction pulp, Planet Stories, and a science-fiction comic book, Planet Comics, at the same time.

Over the years, Fiction House had developed a reputation for offering action-packed stories of adventure in its pulps. Planet Stories would prove to be no exception to this rule. Over its 71 issues, the rough-paper magazine would be home to countless science-fiction adventure stories called “space operas.”

In her introduction to The Best of Planet Stories #1, acclaimed author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett writes: “Planet, unashamedly, published “space opera” . . . . a story that has an element of adventure . . . . of great courage and daring, of battle against the forces of darkness and the unknown . . . The so-called space opera is the folk-tale, the hero-tale, of our particular niche in history . . . . These stories served to stretch our little minds, to draw us out beyond our narrow skies into the vast glooms of interstellar space, where the great suns ride in splendor and the bright nebulae fling their veils of fire parsecs-long across the universe; where the Coal-sack and the Horsehead make patterns of black mystery; where the Cepheid variables blink their evil eyes and a billion nameless planets may harbor life-forms infinitely numerous and strange.”

Running from 1939 – 1955, the early issues of Planet Stories featured writers such as Eando Binder, Nelson Bond, Ray Cummings, Ed Earl Repp, and Ross Rocklynne. By the middle-forties, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury reigned supreme with the former offering seventeen “science fantasies,” while the latter introduced readers to The Martian Chronicles. They were joined by less-acclaimed authors such as Alfred Coppel, Gardner F. Fox, Henry Hasse, Emmett McDowell, and Basil Wells. The late forties and early fifties found the magazine publishing work by Poul Anderson, James Blish, Philip K. Dick, Chad Oliver, Mack Reynolds, and other greats who would go on to develop science fiction’s modern era.

Planet Stories 42-WPerhaps it was Planet Stories’ emphasis on cover art with a strong dose of sex—usually imagined by Allen Anderson or Frank Kelly Freas—that helped turn “space opera” into a pejorative term. Per Leigh Brackett, “It was fashionable for a while, among certain elements of science-fiction fandom, to hate Planet Stories. They hated the magazine, apparently, because it was not Astounding Stories.” For seventy-one issues, rather than aiming for the cerebrum, it aimed for the gut. Who is to say that one target is more valid than the other?