Amazing Stories

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First issue of Amazing Stories, art by Frank R. Paul. This copy was autographed by Hugo Gernsback in 1965.

Amazing Stories magazine, sometimes retitled Amazing Science Fiction, was first published in April 1926 in New York City, thereby becoming the first magazine devoted exclusively to publishing stories in the genre presently known as science fiction (SF). It is regarded as the world's first science fiction magazine. After the April 2005 issue, the magazine went on hiatus, and in March 2006, the magazine's current publisher announced that it would no longer be published.

Created by Hugo Gernsback, with many of its covers by the legendary Frank R. Paul, it featured a much-imitated logo of the magazine name in ever-shrinking letters. Amazing Stories was filled with stories of "scientific romance". Gernsback coined the portmanteau word "scientifiction" (abbreviated "STF") as a name for the genre which, over the years, became science fiction.

Origins

By the end of the 19th century, scientific fiction stories were appearing with some regularity in popular fiction magazines. The market for short stories naturally lent itself to tales of invention in the tradition of Jules Verne. Magazines such as Frank Munsey's Magazine]] and The Argosy, launched in 1889 and 1896 respectively, carried a few science fiction stories each year. Some of the slick magazines also carried scientific stories, but by the early years of the 20th century, science fiction was appearing more often in the pulp magazines than in the slicks.

In 1908, Hugo Gernsback published the first issue of Modern Electrics, a magazine aimed at the scientific hobbyist. It was an immediate success, and Gernsback began to include articles on imaginative uses of science, such as "Wireless on Saturn" (December 1908). In April 1911, Gernsback began the serialization of his science fiction novel, Ralph 124C 41+, but in 1913 he sold his interest in the magazine to his partner and launched a new magazine, Electrical Experimenter, which soon began to publish scientific fiction. In 1920 Gernsback retitled the magazine Science and Invention, and through the early 1920s he published much scientific fiction in its pages, along with non-fiction scientific articles.


Gernsback had started another magazine called Practical Electrics in 1921, changing its name to The Experimenter in 1924. At that time, Gernsback sent a letter to 25,000 people to gauge interest in the possibility of a magazine devoted to scientific fiction; in his words: "The response was such that the idea was given up for two years." However, in 1926 he decided to go ahead and ceased publication of The Experimenter to make room in his publishing schedule for a new magazine. The editor of The Experimenter, T. O'Conor Sloane, thus became the editor of the new magazine, titled Amazing Stories. The first issue appeared on 10 March 1926, with a cover date of April 1926.

Publishing history

The early years

The editorial work was largely done by Sloane, but Gernsback retained final say over the fiction content. Two consultants were hired to help identify fiction to reprint, Conrad A. Brandt and Wilbur C. Whitehead. Gernsback also hired artist Frank R. Paul, who had worked with Gernsback as early as 1914 and had done many illustrations for the fiction in The Electrical Experimenter, though no covers. The magazine was issued in the large bedsheet format, the same size as the technical magazines. Amazing was an immediate success and soon reached a very respectable circulation of 100,000. Gernsback saw there was an enthusiastic readership for "scientifiction" (the term "science fiction" had not yet been coined), and in 1927 he issued Amazing Stories Annual. The annual sold out, and in January 1928, Gernsback launched a quarterly magazine, Amazing Stories Quarterly, as a regular companion to Amazing, and it continued on a fairly regular schedule for 22 issues.

Gernsback was slow to pay his authors and other creditors; he was solvent overall but the extent of his investments limited his liquidity. On 20 February 1929 his printer and paper supplier opened bankruptcy proceedings against him. Experimenter Publishing was declared bankrupt in days, but because the assets left the magazine solvent, Amazing survived with its existing staff. Hugo and his brother, Sidney, were forced out as directors, and Arthur H. Lynch took over as editor-in-chief, though Sloane continued to have effective control of the magazine's contents. The receivers, Irving Trust, soon sold the magazine to B.A. Mackinnon, and in August 1931, Amazing was acquired by Teck Publications, a subsidiary of Bernarr Macfadden's Macfadden Publishing. Macfadden's deep pockets helped insulate Amazing from the financial strain caused by the Great Depression; The schedule of Amazing Stories Quarterly began to slip, but Amazing did not miss an issue in the early 1930s. It became unprofitable to run over the next few years, however. Circulation dropped, probably to little more than 25,000 in 1934, and in October 1935, it went to a bimonthly schedule

By 1938, with circulation down to only 15,000, Teck Publications was having financial problems. In January 1938 Ziff-Davis took over the magazine; the April issue was assembled by Sloane but published by Ziff-Davis. B. G. Davis, who ran Ziff-Davis's editorial department, attempted to hire Roger Sherman Hoar as editor; Hoar turned down the job but suggested Raymond A. Palmer, an active local science fiction fan. Palmer was duly hired that February, taking over editorial duties with the June 1938 issue. Ziff-Davis launched Fantastic Adventures, a fantasy companion to Amazing, in May 1939, also under Palmer's editorship. Palmer quickly managed to improve Amazing's circulation, and in November 1938, the magazine went monthly again, though this did not last throughout Palmer's tenure: between 1944 and 1946 the magazine was bimonthly and then quarterly for a while before returning to a longer-lasting monthly schedule.

1940s

In September 1943 Richard Sharpe Shaver, an Amazing reader, began to correspond with Palmer, who soon asked him to write stories for the magazine. Shaver responded with a story called "I Remember Lemuria", published in the March 1945 issue, which was presented by Palmer as a mixture of truth and fiction. The story, about prehistoric civilizations, dramatically boosted Amazing's circulation, and Palmer ran a new Shaver story in every issue, culminating in the June 1947 special issue devoted entirely to the Shaver Mystery, as it was called. Amazing soon drew ridicule for these stories. A derisive article by William S. Baring-Gould in Harper's (September 1946) prompted William Bernard Ziff, Sr. to tell Palmer to limit the amount of Shaver-related material in the magazine; Palmer complied, but his interest (and possibly belief) in this sort of material was now significant, and he soon began to plan to leave Ziff-Davis. In 1947 he formed Clark Publications, launching Fate the following year, and in 1949 he resigned from Ziff-Davis to edit that and other magazines.

Howard Browne, who had been on a leave of absence to write fiction, took over as editor and began by throwing away 300,000 words of inventory that Palmer had acquired before he left. Browne had ambitions of moving Amazing upmarket, and his argument was strengthened by Street & Smith, one of the longest established and most respected publishers, who shut down all of their pulp magazines in the summer of 1949. The pulps were dying, largely as a result of the success of the pocketbook, and Street & Smith decided to concentrate on their slick magazines. Some pulps struggled on for a few more years, but Browne was able to persuade Ziff and Davis that the future was in the slicks, and they raised his fiction budget from one cent to a ceiling of five cents a word. Browne managed to get promises of new stories from many name authors, including Isaac Asimov and Theodore Sturgeon, and produced a dummy issue in April 1950. The plan of launching the new incarnation of Amazing in April 1951 (the 25th anniversary of the first issue) was cut short by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Budgets ere being cut in the wake of the economic impact of the war, and Ziff-Davis never revived the idea.

1950s

Browne's interest in Amazing declined when the project to turn it into a slick magazine was derailed. Although he stayed involved with Fantastic Adventures, Amazing's stable-mate at Ziff-Davis, he left the editing work on Amazing to William Hamling and Lila Shaffer. In December 1950, when Ziff-Davis moved their offices from Chicago to New York, Hamling stayed behind in Chicago, and Browne became more involved with the magazine once again.

In 1952, Browne persuaded Ziff-Davis to try a high-quality digest fantasy magazine. Fantastic, which appeared in the summer of that year, focused on fantasy rather than science fiction and was so successful that it persuaded Ziff-Davis to switch Amazing from pulp format to digest in early 1953 (while also switching to a bimonthly schedule). Circulation fell, however, perhaps because the existing readership were not interested in Browne's editorial approach. This led to budget cuts, which limited the story quality in both Amazing and Fantastic. Fantastic began to print science fiction as well as fantasy. Circulation increased as a result, but Browne, who was not a science fiction aficionado, once again lost interest in the magazines.

In 1956 Browne left Ziff-Davis. The new editor, Paul W. Fairman, took over with the September 1956 issue. Early in Fairman's tenure, Bernard Davis decided to try issuing a companion series of novels, titled Amazing Stories Science Fiction Novels. Readers' letters in Amazing had indicated a desire for novels, which Amazing did not have room to run. The novel series did not last; only one, Henry Slesar's 20 Million Miles to Earth, appeared. However, in response to readers' interest in longer fiction, Ziff-Davis expanded Amazing by 16 pages, starting with the March 1958 issue, and the magazine began to run complete novels.

Fairman left to edit Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine at the end of 1958, and his place was taken by Cele Goldsmith. Goldsmith had been hired in 1955 as a secretary and became assistant editor to help cope with the additional work created when Ziff-Davis launched two short-lived magazines in 1956, Dream World and Pen Pals. When Fairman left, a consultant, Norman Lobsenz, was hired to work with Goldsmith, as Ziff-Davis weren't sure she was capable of taking on the editorial duties, but she performed well, and Lobsenz's involvement soon became minimal.

1960s

Goldsmith was an innovative editor who is well regarded by science fiction historians, but circulation lagged during her tenure. By 1964 Fantastic's circulation was down to 27,000, with Amazing doing little better. The following March both magazines were sold to Ultimate Publishing Company, run by Sol Cohen and Arthur Bernhard.Goldsmith was given the choice of going with the magazines or staying with Ziff-Davis; she stayed, and Cohen hired Joseph Wrzos to edit the magazines, starting with the August and September 1965 issues of Amazing and Fantastic, respectively. Wrzos used the name "Joseph Ross" on the mastheads to avoid mis-spellings. Both magazines immediately moved to a bi-monthly schedule.

Cohen had acquired reprint rights to the magazines' back issues, although Wrzos did get Cohen to agree to print one new story every issue. Cohen was also producing reprint magazines such as Great Science Fiction and Science Fiction Classics]], but no payment was made to authors for any of these reprints. This brought Cohen into conflict with the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), a professional writers' organization formed in 1965. Soon SFWA called for a boycott of Ultimate's magazines until Cohen agreed to make payments. Cohen agreed to pay a flat fee for all stories, and then in August 1967 agreed to a graduated rate, depending on the length of the story. Harry Harrison had acted as an intermediary in Cohen's negotiations with SFWA, and when Wrzos left in 1967, Cohen asked Harrison to take over. SF Impulse, which Harrison had been editing, had folded in February 1967, so Harrison was available. He secured Cohen's agreement that the policy of printing almost nothing but reprinted stories would be phased out by the end of the year, and took over as editor with the September 1967 issue.

By February 1968 Harrison decided to leave, as Cohen was showing no signs of abandoning the reprints. He resigned, and suggested to Cohen that Barry Malzberg might be interested in taking over. Malzberg took over in April 1968. Cohen knew Malzberg from his work at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, and thought that he might be more amenable than Harrison to continuing the reprint policy. In the event Malzberg immediately came into conflict with Cohen over the issue, and then threatened to resign in October 1968 over a disagreement about artwork Malzberg had commissioned for a cover. Cohen contacted Robert Silverberg, the then-current president of SFWA, and told him (falsely) that Malzberg had actually resigned. Silverberg recommended Ted White as a replacement. Cohen secured White's agreement and then fired Malzberg; White assumed control with the May 1969 issue.

1970s

When White took over as editor, Amazing's circulation was about 31,000, with only about 4% subscribers. This was a very low ebb for subscriptions; Analog, by comparison, sold about 35% of its circulation through subscriptions. Cohen's wife filled the subscriptions at home, and Cohen had never tried to increase the subscriber base as this would have increased the burden on his wife. White worked hard to increase the circulation despite this, though with limited success. One of his first changes was to reduce the typeface to increase the amount of fiction in the magazine; to pay for this he increased the price of both Fantastic and Amazing to 60 cents, but this had a strong negative effect on circulation, which fell about 10% from 1969 to 1970.

In 1972, White changed the title to Amazing Science Fiction, distancing the magazine slightly from some of the pulp connotations of "Amazing Stories". White worked at a low wage, with much unpaid assistance from friends for reading the slushpile, but the circulation continued to fall. From near 40,000 when White joined the magazine, the circulation fell to about 23,000 in October 1975. White was unwilling to continue with the very limited financial backing that Cohen provided, and he resigned in 1975. Cohen was able to convince White to remain for an additional year, although in the event White stayed until late 1978.

Amazing raised its price from 75 cents to $1.00 with the November 1975 issue. The schedule switched to quarterly beginning with the March 1976 issue; as a result, the fiftieth anniversary issue had a cover date of June 1976. In 1977, with Amazing's circulation (at nearly 26,000) as good as it had been for several years, Cohen announced that Amazing and Fantastic had lost $15,000. Cohen looked for a new publisher to buy the magazines, but in September of the following year sold his half-share in the company to his partner, Arthur Bernhard. White had occasionally suggested to Cohen that Amazing would benefit from a redesign and investment; he made the same suggestions to Bernhard in early October. According to White, Bernhard not only said no, but told him he would not receive a salary until the next issue was turned in. White resigned, and returned all manuscripts in his possession to their authors, even those which had been copy-edited and were ready for publication. White claimed that he had been instructed to do this by Bernhard, though Bernhard denied that this was so.

1980s to 2000s

Elinor Mavor took over as editor in early 1979. She had worked for Bernhard as an illustrator, and had done production work for several magazines. She had also been an editor at Bill of Fare, a restaurant trade magazine. Mavor had read a good deal of science fiction but knew nothing about the world of science fiction magazines when she took over. She was not confident that a woman would be accepted as the editor of a science fiction magazine, so she initially used the pseudonym "Omar Gohagen" for both Amazing and Fantastic, dropping it late in 1980. Circulation continued to fall, and Bernhard refused to consider Mavor's request to undertake a subscription drive, which might have helped. Instead, in late 1980, Bernhard decided to merge the two magazines. Fantastic's last independent issue was October 1980; thereafter the combined magazine returned to a bimonthly schedule. At the same time the title was changed to Amazing Science Fiction Stories. Bernhard cut Mavor's salary after the merger, as she was editing only one magazine. Despite this, she stayed with Amazing, but was unable to prevent circulation from dropping again, down to only 11,000 newsstand sales in 1982.

Shortly after the merger, Bernhard decided to retire, and approached Edward Ferman, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Joel Davis, at Ziff-Davis, among others, about a possible sale of Amazing. Jonathan Post, of Emerald City Publishing, believed he had concluded a deal with Bernhard, and began to advertise for submissions, but in the event the negotiations failed. Bernhard also approached George H. Scithers, who declined, but was able to put Bernhard in touch with Gary Gygax of TSR. On 27 May 1982 the sale was finalized. Scithers was taken on by TSR as editor beginning with the November 1982 issue.

During its final decade it was published erratically, and eventually Wizards of the Coast cancelled a version published by Pierce Watters.

In 2004 it was relaunched by Paizo Publishing, but after the April 2005 issue, the magazine went on "hiatus". In March 2006, Paizo announced that it would no longer publish Amazing.

Media crossovers

Director Steven Spielberg licensed the title for use on an American television show called Amazing Stories that ran from 1985 to 1987. Spielberg named it after the magazine, which his father had read since he was a child.

Between 1998 and 2000, Amazing Stories published the first (and, to date, only) officially licensed magazine short stories based upon the Star Trek franchise. In 2002, these stories were reissued by Pocket Books in the collection Star Trek: The Amazing Stories.

Amazing Stories also published several Babylon 5 stories written by J. Michael Straczynski.

A short story by science fiction author Isaac Asimov, "Birth of a Notion", tells how a time-travelling physicist briefly visits Hugo Gernsback and plants the idea for the title Amazing Stories.

July, 1926 issue

Amazing Stories, Volume 1, Number 4, gives a feeling of the original magazine.

The cover features a Frank R. Paul illustration of giant house fly, many times the size of a man. It is attacking a naval vessel, which is firing artillery at it. The lower-right corner boldly proclaims "Stories by H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Garrett P. Serviss". At the bottom of the cover is the legend "Experimenter Publishing Company, New York, publishers of Radio News — Science & Invention — Radio Review — Amazing Stories — Radio Internacional" [sic].

There were 96 pages, but the page numbering continued from the previous issue. The only non-fiction is a 1-page editorial in which Gernsback expands on the magazine's motto: Extravagant Fiction Today . . . Cold Fact Tomorrow.

The contents page lists:

  • G. McLeod Windsor, Station X (part 1 of 3 parts)
  • H. G. Wells, The Man Who Could Work Miracles
  • Jacque Morgan, The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick: The Feline Light and Power Company Is Organised (a humorous piece about trying to generate usable static electricity from cats)
  • Garrett P. Serviss, The Moon Metal
  • Curt Siodmak, The Eggs From Lake Tanganyika
  • Hugo Gernsback, The Magnetic Storm
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Sphinx
  • Jules Verne, A Trip To The Centre of The Earth (last part of serial)
  • Clement Fezandié, Doctor Hackensaw's Secrets: The Secret of the Invisible Girl

Each story has a full page illustration. There are a very few small advertisements (magic tricks, trusses, etc.) and classified advertisements (For sale: Rharostine "B" Eliminator, $15).

Notable Issues

The August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories has become a sought-after collectors item. It is important in the history of the space opera subgenre because it includes Armageddon 2419 A.D. - the first appearance of Buck Rogers - and E.E. Smith's The Skylark of Space, considered one of the first space opera novels. Though Armageddon 2419 A.D. was not a space opera, the comic strip based on it certainly was.

The July 1940 issue of Amazing featured an illustration by Frank R. Paul on the back cover. It showed a model of an Earthling, as imagined by Martians, that included a small image of Earth as a cloudless blue planet. Forrest J Ackerman cites this as one of the earliest corrections to the popular pre-spaceflight image of Earth as a green world.

References

  • Forrest J Ackerman Forrest J Ackerman's World of Science Fiction (1997) < ISBN:1575440695 > Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Mike Ashley The Time Machines:The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the beginning to 1950 < ISBN:0853238650 > Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Mike Ashley Transformations:The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970 < ISBN:0853237794 > Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Mike Ashley Gateways to Forever:The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980 < ISBN:9781846310034 > Buy it from Amazon.com
  • John Clute The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) < ISBN:0312096186 > Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Sam Moskowitz Seekers of Tomorrow (1966) < ISBN:0883551292 > Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Joseph Sanders E.E. "Doc" Smith (1986) < ISBN:0916732738 > Buy it from Amazon.com

External links


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