Amazing Stories

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Amazing Stories

Hugo Gernsback's pulp Amazing Stories virtually established the genre of the science fiction magazine when it was launched in 1926 and, despite frequent ownership and editorial policy changes, the magazine has maintained its position as one of the most prominent purveyors of science fiction throughout the century. Amazing Stories either launched or boosted the careers of dozens of sci-fi writers, and it helped create the intimate culture of sci-fi magazines by publishing letter columns, supervising competitions, and encouraging a relationship between readers, writers, and publishers. Still accepting science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories in the late 1990s, Amazing Stories was the oldest science fiction magazine in the nation.

Publisher Gernsback emigrated to America from Luxembourg in 1904, and quickly established a business selling dry cell batteries and home radio sets. In order to promote sales he issued a catalogue and then the first radio magazine, Modern Electrics, in 1908. In 1911 an issue of that magazine included the first episode of Gernsback's fiction series "Ralph 124C 41+." Science fiction became a regular part of Gernsback's publication, indicating his preference for technological extrapolations of scientific articles. In August 1923, Gernsback experimented with a "scientific fiction" special issue of Science and Invention, which carried six stories and speculative articles. In April 1926, he published the first issue of Amazing Stories, a magazine of "scientifiction."

Gernsback defined "scientifiction" and established the character of the magazine through reprints of stories by H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. In his editorials, Gernsback stressed that he felt his readers could be educated by such romances "intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision." Gernsback solicited the participation of fans through the letters column, "Discussions," which encouraged reviews of fiction. The column published the full names and addresses of the writers, allowing for direct correspondence between readers and the circulation of amateur publications. He also initiated writing competitions, such as a contest that asked readers to supply a story to accompany the December 1926 Frank R. Paul cover illustration.

Amazing Stories and its associate publications, Amazing Stories Annual and Amazing Stories Quarterly, published work by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Cummings, Abraham Merrit, and Murray Leinster with interplanetary settings. E. E. "Doc" Smith's serial "The Skylark of Space" began in August of 1928; that same issue featured the first Buck Rogers story, "Armageddon 2419AD," written by Philip Francis Nowlan. Both Nowlan and Smith were major contributors to the popularity of science fiction through the wide appeal of space opera. Alongside this type of science fiction Gernsback also published the work of David Keller, who was interested in the social implications of scientific extrapolation. Amazing Stories also published fantasy, horror, and thriller storylines, including works by H. P. Lovecraft.

Despite the commercial success of Amazing Stories, Gernsback's company, Experimenter Publishing Co., was forced into bankruptcy in 1929. The title to the magazine was sold and continued under the editorship of Gernsback's assistant, T. O'Connor Sloan. He maintained a strict adherence to scientific fidelity, which included the space opera-serials of J.W. Campbell (before he became the editor of rival Astounding Science Fiction), Smith, Edmond Hamilton, and Jack Williamson; Sloan sustained the magazine until it was sold again in 1939. Under the editorship of Ray Palmer the publication policy was relaxed and the magazine accepted a wider range of stories. The magazine was briefly edited by Paul Fairman, but was then taken over by assistant editor Cele Goldsmith in 1958.

Goldsmith re-established the reputation of the magazine by encouraging new writers and creative experimentation. She was particularly interested in fantasy and published Marion Zimmer Bradley's first "Darkover" series. The magazine still included scientific articles, but the fiction became oriented toward the "soft sciences" and the writers Goldsmith discovered include Harlan Ellison, Thomas M. Disch, Roger Zelazny, and Ursula K. Le Guin. These writers later made their reputations in fantasy writing and in the new wave of critical and literary science fiction writing in the 1970s. Amazing Stories went into a period of decline after Goldsmith's departure in 1965, producing reprints under a series of writer/editors, until Ted White took over as editor beginning in 1970.

Despite the relative impoverishment of the magazine, White published original fiction and returned the magazine to its original interest in fan culture through a very outspoken editorial column. The magazine's fortunes again declined after White left in 1979, but Amazing Stories was reinvigorated in 1987 when it was purchased by TSR Inc., the company that produced the popular game "Dungeons and Dragons." Under TSR and, later, under owner Wizards of the Coast Inc. (another game manufacturer), Amazing Stories maintained its hard science fiction outlook, eschewing "sword and sorcery" in favor of science fiction stories from young writers.

—Nickianne Moody

Further Reading:

Aldiss, Brian W., with David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. New York, Atheneum, 1986.

Ashley, Michael, editor. A History of the Science Fiction Magazine. London, New English Library, 1974.

Ashley, Michael, and Robert A. W. Lowndes. The Gernsback Days: The Evolution of Modern Science Fiction, from 1911-1936. San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1995.

Siegel, Mark Richard. Hugo Gernsback: Father of Modern Science Fiction. San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1988.

Tymn, Marshall, and Mike Ashley, editors. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines. Westport, Connecticut, Green-wood Press, 1985.