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.)

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.)

Science and Invention

Apr 27, 2014 by

ScienceAndInvention1923-08Called “The Barnum of the Space Age” by Life magazine in 1963, Hugo Gernsback emigrated to the United States in 1904. Soon thereafter, he founded a company to import electrical equipment and began producing a catalog. By 1908, Gernsback’s catalog had evolved into his first magazine, Modern Electrics, selling for ten cents. Three years later, his magazine began to publish fiction, serializing Gernsback’s novel about one of the leading scientists of the year 2660, “Ralph 124C 41+.” Considered to be one of the worst novels published in the history of science fiction, Gernsback’s tale must have struck a cord with readers. Not long after its conclusion in the March 1912 Modern Electrics, fiction became a regular feature in the magazine’s pages and subsequent Gernsback releases.

In the spring of 1913, Gernsback began publishing a new science periodical, The Electrical Experimenter. Before long, the magazine was serializing its publisher’s “Baron Münchhausen’s New Scientific Adventures,” a series of fictitious tales set on Mars, the Moon, and elsewhere. These were soon joined by George Frederic Stratton’s stories about an entrepreneur who invested in a variety of intriguing inventions, Thomas Benson’s “Wireless Wiz” yarns, and Charles S. Wolfe’s stories about a scientific detective named Joe Fenner. With its August 1920 number, The Electrical Experimenter was renamed Science and Invention and fiction became a larger portion of its contents. The fiction that Gernsback published in his science magazines generally revolved around a scientific principle.  Clement Fezandié’s Doctor Hackensaw stories for Science and Invention are prime examples of this type of story.

In early 1923, perhaps in an effort to boost circulation of Science and Invention or to test the waters in the growing market for specialized fiction magazines, Gernsback began publishing more stories and fiction that was meant to entertain including works by H. G. Wells, George Allan England, and Ray Cummings. Later that same year, Gernsback released a “Scientific Fiction Number” of his science magazine. The August 1923 issue of Science and Invention featured six “scientifiction” stories. It would not be long before Hugo Gernsback would found the first science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories.

Modern Electrics became a magazine in April 1908. It was published by Hugo Gernsback until he sold it in 1913. The last Gernsback issue was dated March 1913.

Gernsback launched The Electrical Experimenter with its May 1913 number. Its title was changed to Science and Invention with its August 1920 issue. The last Gernsback issue was dated April 1929 when Gernsback lost control of the magazine following bankruptcy proceedings filed against his publishing company.

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