Startling Stories

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Startling Stories was a pulp science fiction magazine which also published a lot of science fantasy. A companion magazine to Thrilling Wonder Stories and Captain Future magazine, it published 99 issues from 1939 to 1955. It was edited by Sam Merwin, Jr. from 1945 to 1951.

It featured a novel in each issue, several of which were written by Henry Kuttner. Among the classic stories which were published in it were The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum, The Last Days of Shandakor and The Star-Men of Llyrdis by Leigh Brackett, and Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke. From 1940 to 1952 it featured covers by Earle Bergey. After Captain Future magazine ceased publication, some of the final stories about the eponymous character were published in Startling.

Publication history

Although science fiction had been published before the 1920s, it did not begin to coalesce into a separately-marketed genre until the appearance in 1926 of Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine published by Hugo Gernsback. By the end of the 1930s the field was undergoing its first boom, Standard Magazines, a pulp publishing company owned by Ned Pines, had acquired its first science fiction magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories, from Gernsback in 1936. Mort Weisinger, the editor of Thrilling Wonder, printed an editorial in February 1938 asking readers for suggestions for a companion magazine. Response was positive, and the new magazine, titled Startling Stories, was duly launched, with a first issue dated January 1939.

Startling was launched on a bimonthly schedule, alternating months with Thrilling Wonder Stories, though in 1940 Thrilling moved to a monthly schedule that lasted for over a year. For the first few years Startling published a lead novel in every issue, with a few short pieces to fill out the magazine. The first editor, Mort Weisinger, left in 1941 to take a new post as editor of Superman, and was replaced by Oscar J. Friend, The magazine switched from bimonthly to quarterly in 1943. Friend was replaced by Sam Merwin, Jr. from the Winter 1945 issue.

Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke in Startling Stories Cover by Earle K. Bergey

Merwin succeeded in making Startling popular and successful, and the bimonthly schedule was resumed in 1947, followed by a switch to monthly at the start of 1952. Merwin left shortly before this switch, in order to spend more time on his own writing. He was replaced by Samuel Mines, who had worked with Standard's western magazines, though he was a science fiction aficionado.

Street & Smith, one of the longest established and most respected publishers, 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. Standard continued with Startling and Thrilling, but the end came only a few years later. In 1954, Fredric Wertham published his book, Seduction of the Innocent, in which he asserted that comics were inciting children to violence. A subsequent United States Senate subcomittee hearing led to a backlash against comics, and the publishers dropped titles in response. The financial impact spread to pulp magazines, since often a publisher would publish both. In addition, in 1955 a strike by American News Corporation, the main magazine distributor in the US, meant that magazines built up in warehouses and never made it to the newsstands; the unsold copies represented a significant financial blow and contributed to decisions to cancel magazines. Startling was one of the casualties. The schedule had already returned from monthly to bimonthly in 1953, and it became a quarterly in early 1954. Thrilling Wonder published its last issue in early 1955, and was then merged with Startling, but the combined magazine only lasted three more issues. Mines had left the magazine at the end of 1954; he was succeeded for two issues by Theron Raines, who was followed by Herbert D. Kastle for the last two. The final issue was dated Fall 1955.

Contents and reception

From the beginning, every issue of Startling contained a lead novel, along with one or two short stories. When Standard Magazines had bought Wonder Stories in 1936, they had also acquired rights to reprint the stories that had appeared there, and so Startling also included a "Hall of Fame" reprint from Wonder Stories in every issue. The first lead novel was Dawn of Flame, a revised version of a story by Stanley Weinbaum that had previously appeared only in a edition limited to 250 copies. There was also a tribute to Weinbaum, written by Otto Binder. Otto and his brother, Earl, also contributed a story, "Science Island", under their joint pseudonym Eando Binder. The "Hall of Fame" reprint was D.D. Sharp's "The Eternal Man", from 1929. Other features included a pictorial article on Albert Einstein, and a set of biographical sketches of scientists, titled "Thrills in Science".

Startling was popular, and soon "became one of the core sf magazines", according to science fiction historian Mike Ashley. The target audience was younger readers, and the lead novels were often space operas by well-known pulp writers such as Edmond Hamilton and Manly Wade Wellman. In addition to space opera, some more fantastical fiction began to appear, contributed by writers such as Henry Kuttner. These early science fantasy stories were popular with the readers, and contrast with the hard science fiction that John W. Campbell was pioneering at Analog Science Fiction Science Fact / Astounding.

When Friend took over as editor in 1941, he introduced "Sergeant Saturn", a character who answered readers' letters and appeared in other features in the magazine. The intent was to please the younger readers, but many subscribers found the approach irritating. When Merwin became editor in 1945 he dropped this approach. He also asked Earle K. Bergey, who did many covers for Startling to change his style somewhat. Bergey was famous for his "brass-brassière" covers, in which women wore ludicrously revealing spacesuits; under Merwin's influence he began to paint more realistically.

Merwin managed to improve Startling to the point of being a serious rival to Astounding, the acknowledged leader of the field. His discoveries included Jack Vance, whose first story, "The World Thinker", appeared in the Summer 1945 issue, and regularly published science fantasy by Henry Kuttner. Notable stories that appeared in the late 1940s include Fredric Brown's "What Mad Universe", and Charles L. Harness's Flight Into Yesterday, later published in book form as The Paradox Men. Merwin's successor, Mines, also published some excellent work, though the increased competition in the early fifties from Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction did lead to some dilution of quality. In late 1952, Mines published Philip Jose Farmer's "The Lovers", a taboo-breaking story that integrated sex into the plot without being prurient. It was widely praised, and Farmer, partly as a consequence, went on to win a Hugo Award as "Most Promising New Writer". New authors first published by Mines included Frank Herbert, who debuted with "Looking For Something?" in April 1952, and Robert F. Young, whose first story, "The Black Deep Thou Wingest", appeared in June 1953.

Bibliographic details

Startling was a pulp-sized magazine for all of its 99 issues. It initially was 132 pages, and was priced at 15 cents. The page count was reduced to 116 pages with the Summer 1944 issue and then increased to 148 pages with the March 1948 issue, at which time the price went up to 20 cents. The price increased again, to 25 cents, in November 1948, and the page count increased again to 180 pages. This higher page count did not last; it was reduced to 164 in March 1949 and then again to 148 pages in July 1951. The October 1953 issue saw the page count drop again, to 132, and a year later the Fall 1954 issue cut the page count to 116. The magazine remained at 116 pages and a price of 25 cents for the rest of its existence.

The original bimonthly schedule continued until the March 1943 issue, which was followed by June 1943 and then Fall 1943. This inaugurated a quarterly schedule that ran until Fall 1946, except that an additional issue, dated March, was inserted between the Winter 1946 and Spring 1946 issues. The next issue, January 1947, began another bimonthly sequence, which ran without interruption until November 1951. With the following issue, January 1952, Startling switched to a monthly schedule, which lasted until the June 1953 issue which was followed by August and October 1953 and then January 1954. The next issue was Spring 1954, and the magazine stayed on a quarterly schedule from then until the last issue, Fall 1955.

There was a British reprint edition from Pembertons between 1949 and 1954. These were heavily cut, with sometimes only one or two stories and usually only 64 pages, though the October and December 1952 issues both had 80 pages. It was published irregularly; initially once or twice a year, and then more or less bimonthly beginning in mid-1952. The issues were numbered from 1 to 18. Three different Canadian reprint edition also appeared for a total of 21 or 22 issues (the reference works are inconsistent on the number). Six quarterly issues appeared from Summer 1945 through Fall 1946 from Publication Enterprises, Ltd.; then another three bimonthly issues appeared, from May to September 1948, from Pines Publications. Finally 12 more bimonthly issues appeared from March 1949 to January 1951, from Better Publications of Canada. All these issues were almost identical to the American versions, although they are half an inch taller.

The editorial succession at Startling was as follows:

  • Mort Weisinger: January 1939–May 1941.
  • Oscar J. Friend: July 1941–Fall 1944.
  • Sam Merwin Jr.: Winter 1945–September 1951.
  • Samuel Mines: November 1951–Fall 1954.
  • Theron Raines: Winter 1955–Spring 1955.
  • Herbert D. Kastle: Summer 1955–Fall 1955.


  • Michael Ashley The History of the Science Fiction Magazine Vol. 3 1946–1955((1976) < ISBN:0809278421 > Buy it from
  • Mike Ashley Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970 (2005) < ISBN:0853237794 > Buy it from
  • John Clute The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) < ISBN:0312096186 > Buy it from
  • Donald H. Tuck 'The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volume 3 (1982) < ISBN:0911682260 > Buy it from
Science fiction pulp magazines

A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine · Amazing Stories · Astounding Stories · Astonishing Stories · Captain Future · Comet · Cosmic Stories · Dynamic Science Fiction · Dynamic Science Stories · Famous Fantastic Mysteries · Fantastic Adventures · Fantastic Novels · Fantastic Story Magazine · Fantasy · Future Science Fiction · Marvel Science Stories · Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories · Out of This World Adventures · Planet Stories · Satellite Science Fiction · Science Fiction · Science Fiction Quarterly · Space Stories · Startling Stories · Stirring Science Stories · Strange Stories · Strange Tales · Super Science Fiction · Super Science Stories · Science fiction magazines · Tales of Magic and Mystery · Tales of Wonder · Ten Story Fantasy · Tops in Science Fiction · Two Complete Science-Adventure Books · Uncanny Stories · Uncanny Tales (Canadian) · Uncanny Tales (U.S.) · Unknown · Vargo Statten Science Fiction Magazine · Weird Tales · Wonder Stories


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