Wonder Stories

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Air Wonder Stories
Science Wonder Stories
Wonder Stories
Thrilling Wonder Stories

July 1940 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Art by Howard V. Brown.
Editor David Lasser
Charles D. Hornig
Mort Weisinger
Oscar J. Friend
Sam Merwin, Jr.
Samuel Mines
Alexander Samalman
Categories Pulp magazine
Frequency Monthly, Bi-monthly and Quarterly at various time
Publisher Hugo Gernsback
First Issue July 1929
Final Issue
— Date
— Number

Winter 1955
Company pyth
Country USA Flag of USA.png
Language English
ISSN unknown

Wonder Stories was a science fiction magazine which published 66 issues between 1930 and 1936, edited by Hugo Gernsback. There have been other magazines containing Wonder Stories in their name, which are closely related to this one.

Gernsback founded Air Wonder Stories and Science Wonder Stories in 1929, after the "Experimenter Publishing bankruptcy" he lost control of Amazing Stories. Air Wonder Stories and Science Wonder Stories published 11 and 12 issues respectively, before Air Wonder Stories merged with Science Wonder Stories, which was then renamed just Wonder Stories (beginning with Volume 2 No 1).

In 1936, Wonder Stories was sold to Thrilling Publications. To match with their other pulps (e.g. Thrilling Western, Thrilling Detective) the title was changed to Thrilling Wonder Stories. The resulting title is considered a continuation of Wonder Stories since it began with Volume 8, Number 1. This published a further 112 issues, closing in 1955.

The Gernsback Wonder Stories were all oversized, premium, pulp magazines with covers by Frank R. Paul and with a similar editorial slant to Amazing Stories. Thrilling Wonder Stories was standard pulp size and took a more junior slant, shown especially with a "Sergeant Saturn" policing the letters page. However it was to publish many major figures, including Arthur C. Clarke, L. Sprague de Camp, Robert A. Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. van Vogt, and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Related publications included British and Canadian reprints, Science Wonder Quarterly (3 issues), Wonder Stories Quarterly (14 issues), Wonder Stories Annual (4 issues) and two reprint issues from 1957 and 1963.

The first issue of Air Wonder Stories (July 1929), including all illustrations, has been recreated online.

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's Experimenter Publishing. The new magazine was successful, but Gernsback lost control of Experimenter in a bankruptcy in 1929. He immediately formed a new company, Stellar Publishing, and launched three new magazines before the end of the year. The first to appear was Science Wonder Stories in June 1929; it was followed in July by the first issue of Air Wonder Stories, and then by the first issue of Science Wonder Quarterly, dated Fall 1929. Both Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories were monthly, and both were edited by David Lasser, though Gernsback was editor-in-chief.

In 1930, Gernsback decided to merge the two magazines into one, titled Wonder Stories. The reason for the merger is unknown, although it may have been that Gernsback needed the space in the printing schedule for another magazine he was planning to launch, Aviation Mechanics. Gernsback commented on the title change that the word "Science" in the title "has tended to retard the progress of the magazine, because many people had the impression that it is a sort of scientific periodical rather than a fiction magazine". The first issue of the merged magazine appeared in June 1930, still on a monthly schedule, with Lasser as editor. A few months later, in November, Gernsback reduced the size of the magazine from bedsheet to pulp.

In July 1933, Gernsback dismissed Lasser as editor; Lasser had become very involved in workers' rights and was spending less time on his editorial duties. Soon after Gernsback had let Lasser go he received a fanzine, The Fantasy Fan, from a reader, Charles Hornig; Gernsback called Hornig to his office. Hornig turned out to be only 17, but Gernsback asked him to proofread a manuscript, and decided that the results were satisfactory. Hornig was hired, at a salary "less than a third" of Lasser's. That same year, Gernsback dissolved Stellar Publications and created Continental Publications as the new publishing company for Wonder Stories. The schedule stuttered for the first time, missing the July and September 1933 issues. The first issue with Continental on the masthead was November 1933; this was also the first issue which listed Hornig as editor.

Wonder Stories had a circulation of about 25,000 in 1934; this was comparable to Amazing Stories circulation of that time, which had declined from an early peak of about 100,000. Gernsback experimented with other fiction titles, Pirate Stories and High Seas Adventures, that year; neither was successful. Wonder Stories was also failing, and in November 1935 it went bimonthly. Gernsback felt the blame lay with dealers who were returning magazine covers to be returned as unsold copies, and then selling the stripped copies at a reduced rate. In the March 1936 issue he made a plea to his readers to subscribe, proposing to distribute Wonder Stories solely by subscription. There was little response from the readership, and Gernsback decided to sell. He made a deal with Ned Pines of Standard Magazines and on 21 February 1936 Wonder Stories was sold.

Thrilling Wonder

Standard's line of magazines included several with "Thrilling" in the title, such as Thrilling Detective and Thrilling Love Stories. These were run by Leo Margulies, who had hired Mort Weisinger (among others) as the workload increased in the early 1930s. Weisinger was already an active science fiction fan, and when Wonder Stories was acquired, Margulies involved him in the editorial work. Margulies' group worked as a team, with Margulies listed as editor-in-chief on the magazines and having final say. However, since Weisinger knew science fiction so well, Weisinger was quickly given more leeway, and bibliographers generally list Weisinger as the editor for this period of the magazine's history.

The title was changed to Thrilling Wonder Stories to conform with the rest of the "Thrilling" line. The first issue appeared in August 1936—three months after the last Gernsback Wonder Stories appeared, dated March–April. Wonder Stories had been monthly, but Thrilling Wonder switched to a bimonthly schedule. In February 1938 Weisinger asked for reader feedback on the idea of a companion magazine; the response was positive, and in January 1939 the first issue of Startling Stories appeared, alternating months with Thrilling Wonder. A year later Thrilling Wonder went monthly; this lasted less than eighteen months, and the bimonthly schedule resumed after April 1941. Weisinger left Standard Magazines that summer and was replaced at both Startling and Thrilling Wonder by Oscar J. Friend, a pulp writer more experience in Westerns than science fiction, though he had published a novel, The Kid from Mars, in Startling Stories just the year before. In mid-1943, both magazines went to a quarterly schedule, and at the end of the following year Friend was replaced in his turn by Sam Merwin Jr.. The quarterly schedule lasted until well after the war ended: Thrilling Wonder returned to a bimonthly schedule with the December 1946 issue, and again alternated months with Startling, which went bimonthly in January 1947. Merwin left in 1951 in order to become a freelance editor. His replacement was Samuel Mines, who had worked for Standard Magazines since 1942.

In the summer of 1949, Street & Smith, one of the largest pulp publishers, had shut down every one of their pulps. The pulps were dying out, though it took several more years before they completely disappeared from the newsstands. Both Thrilling Wonder and Startling went quarterly in 1954, and at the end of that year Mines left. The magazines did not survive him for long. Only two more issues of Thrilling Wonder appeared, dated Fall 1954 and Winter 1955, both edited by Alexander Samalman; after that date it was merged with Startling, which itself ceased publication at the end of 1955.

Contents and Reception

Lasser and Hornig

Science Wonder's first issue included the first part of a serial, The Reign of the Ray, by Fletcher Pratt and Irwin Lester, and short stories by Stanton Coblentz and David H. Keller. Air Wonder began with a reprinted serial, Victor MacClure's Ark of the Covenant. Writers who first appeared in the pages of these magazines include Neil R. Jones, Ed Earl Repp, Raymond Z. Gallun and Lloyd Eshbach. The quality of published science fiction at the time was generally low, and Lasser was keen to improve it. He wrote to his regular contributors in May 1931, telling them that their science fiction stories:

"should deal realistically with the effect upon people, individually and in groups, of a scientific invention or discovery. [...] In other words, allow yourself one fundamental assumption—that a certain machine or discovery is possible—and then show what would be its logical and dramatic consequences upon the world; also what would be the effect upon the group of characters that you pick to carry your theme."

Lasser allowed the letter column to become a free discussion of ideas and values, and published stories dealing with topics such as the relationship between the sexes. One such story, Thomas S. Gardner's "The Last Women", portrayed a future in which men, having evolved beyond the need for love, keep the last woman in a museum. In "The Venus Adventurer", an early story by John Wyndham, under his real name of John Beynon Harris, a spaceman corrupts the innocent natives of Venus. Lasser avoided printing space opera, and several stories from Wonder in the early 1930s were more realistic than most space fiction up to that time. Examples include Edmond Hamilton's "A Conquest of Space", P. Schuyler Miller's "The Forgotten Man of Space", and several stories by Frank K. Kelly, including "The Moon Tragedy".

When Hornig took over from Lasser at the end of 1933, he attempted to continue and expand Lasser's approach. Hornig introduced a "New Policy" in the January 1934 issue, emphasizing originality and barring stories that merely reworked well-worn ideas. However, Astounding was moving into the lead position in the science fiction magazine field at this time, and Hornig had difficulty in competing. His rates were lower than Astounding's one cent per word, and sometimes writers were paid very late or not at all. Despite these handicaps, Hornig managed to find some good material, including Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey", an often-reprinted story that appeared in the July 1934 Wonder.

The covers for almost every issue of Air Wonder, Science Wonder and Wonder Stories were painted by Frank R. Paul, who had followed Gernsback from Amazing Stories. The only exception was a cover image composed of colored dots which appeared on the November 1932 issue.

Weisinger and Friend

When the magazine moved to Standard Magazines, as Thrilling Wonder, the fiction began to focus more on action than on ideas. The covers, often by Earle K. Bergey, typically depicted bizarre aliens and threatened women. In 1939, a reader, Martin Alger, coined the phrase "bug-eyed monster" to describe one such cover; the phrase subsequently entered the dictionary as a word for an alien. Several well-known writers appeared, including Ray Cummings, and John W. Campbell, whose "Brain-Stealers of Mars" series began in Thrilling Wonder in the December 1936 issue. A comic-strip began in August 1936, the first issue of the Standard Magazines version. It was written by "Max Plaisted", a pseudonym for Otto Binder and his brother, Jack. The strip, titled "Zarnak", was not a success and was cancelled after eight issues.

Weisinger's successor, Friend, gave the magazine a significantly more juvenile feel. He used the alias "Sergeant Saturn" and was generally condescending to the readers; this may not have been his fault as Margulies, who was still the editorial director, probably wanted him to attract a younger readership. Under Friend's direction, Earle Bergey began to paint more cover art featuring women in ludicrously revealing spacesuits, or wearing his trademark "brass brassières".

Merwin and Mines

Merwin, who took over with the Winter 1945 issue, gave the magazine a more adult approach than Friend had. He persuaded Bergey to make his covers more realistic, and obtained fiction from writers who had previously been publishing mainly in John Campbell's Astounding. The Summer 1945 issue of Thrilling Wonder included Jack Vance's first published story, "The World Thinker". He also published several stories by Ray Bradbury, some of which were later included in Bradbury's collection The Martian Chronicles. Other well-known writers that Merwin was able to attract included Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. van Vogt, and Robert A. Heinlein. Thrilling Wonder often published intelligent, thoughtful stories, some of which Campbell would have been unlikely to accept at Astounding: he did not like to publish stories that showed the negative consequences of scientific advances such as nuclear power. In the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley, the magazine became a serious rival to Astounding's long domination of the field during the late 1940s. This is not a universal opinion however, as the magazine is elsewhere described as "evidently secondary to Startling" during Merwin's tenure.

Samuel Mines took over from Merwin at the end of 1951, both at Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder. He argued against restrictions in science fiction themes, and published Philip José Farmer's "The Lovers", a ground-breaking story about sex, in 1952 in Startling, and followed this with another taboo-breaking story from Farmer, "Mother", in Thrilling Wonder in 1953. In the December 1952 Thrilling Wonder, Mines published Edmond Hamilton's "What's It Like Out There?", a downbeat story about the realities of space exploration that had been considered too bleak for publication when it had originally been written in the 1930s. Sherwood Springer's "No Land of Nod", in the same issue, dealt with incest between a father and his daughter in a world which they are the only two survivors. These stories were all well-received by the readership.

2007 Revival

In the June, 2007 issue of the long-running British fanzine Ansible, editor David Langford announced that Thrilling Wonder Stories will be re-launched under new editor/publisher Winston Engle. Langford quoted Engle as saying "It's not a pastiche or nostalgia exercise as much as modern SF with the entertainment, inspirational value, and excitement of the golden age."

A search of U.S. trademark records shows that Engle has indeed re-registered the previously fallow Thrilling Wonder Stories trademark "(Based on Intent to Use) Entertainment Services namely providing a website featuring, photographic, audio, video and prose presentations featuring science fiction." The Summer 2007 issue (vol. XLVI, No. 1) appeared in September or October in trade paperback format, with a mix of reprints and original stories. Contributors include Geoffrey A. Landis, R. Neube, Eric Brown, Michael Kandel, Ben Bova, Jack Williamson, and Raymond F. Jones. Winston Engle is editor and publisher of the issue.

As of June 2008, however, the website at thrillingwonderstories.com has gone dark, and no subsequent issues of the revived magazine seem to have been released.


External links

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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