Science Fantasy (magazine)

Science Fantasy, which also appeared under the titles Impulse and SF Impulse, was a British fantasy and science fiction magazine, launched in 1950 by Nova Publications as a companion to Nova's New Worlds. Walter Gillings was editor for the first two issues, and was then replaced by John Carnell, the editor of New Worlds, as a cost-saving measure. Carnell edited both magazines until Nova went out of business in early 1964. The titles were acquired by Roberts & Vinter, who hired Kyril Bonfiglioli to edit Science Fantasy; Bonfiglioli changed the title to Impulse in early 1966, but the new title led to confusion with the distributors and sales fell, though the magazine remained profitable. The title was changed again to SF Impulse for the last few issues. Science Fantasy ceased publication the following year, when Roberts & Vinter came under financial pressure after their printer went bankrupt.

Gillings had an inventory of material that he had acquired while editing Fantasy, and he drew on this for Science Fantasy, as well as incorporating his own fanzine, Science Fantasy Review, into the new magazine. Once Carnell took over, Science Fantasy typically ran a long lead novelette along with several shorter stories; prominent contributors in the 1950s included John Brunner, Ken Bulmer, and Brian Aldiss, whose first novel Nonstop appeared (in an early version) in the February 1956 issue. Fantasy stories began to appear more frequently during the latter half of the 1950s, and in the early 1960s Carnell began to publish Thomas Burnett Swann's well-received historical fantasies. Carnell felt that the literary quality of Science Fantasy was always higher than that of New Worlds, and in the early 1960s his efforts were rewarded with three consecutive Hugo nominations for best magazine. Under Bonfiglioli more new writers appeared, including Keith Roberts, Brian Stableford and Josephine Saxton. In the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley, the final year of Impulse, as it was titled by that time, included some of the best material ever published in a British science fiction magazine.

Publication history

Gillings and Carnell

Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1950 1/1 1/2
1951 1/3
1952 2/4 2/5
1953 2/6
1954 7 (nd) 8 9 10 11
1955 12 13 14 15 16
1956 17 18 19 20
1957 21 22 23 24 25 26
1958 27 28 29 30 31 32
1959 33 34 35 36 37 38
Issues of Science Fantasy in the 1950s, showing volume/issue number, and
color-coded to show who was editor for each issue. Walter Gillings was the
editor for the first two issues; John Carnell took over for the remainder of the
1950s. Underlining indicates that the magazine was titled with the season (e.g.
"Summer 1950") for that issue. Issue 7 was only dated with the year, 1954.[1][2]

In early 1946, John Carnell launched a new science fiction magazine titled New Worlds, published by Pendulum Publications. The first issue appeared in July 1946 and failed to sell well. The second issue, that October, sold better, but Pendulum went out of business before the end of 1947 with only one more issue released. A group of sf fans, including Carnell and Frank Cooper, decided to restart the magazine under their own control, and formed Nova Publications Ltd. The fourth issue appeared in April 1949.[3]

At the same time that the first issue of New Worlds appeared, a separate British magazine called Fantasy was launched by Walter Gillings, a science fiction fan and a reporter by profession. Fantasy lasted for only three issues before closing in 1947, but Gillings had accumulated a substantial inventory of stories—enough to fill nine issues.[4] Gillings followed the demise of Fantasy by publishing a fanzine, titled Fantasy Review, beginning in March 1947.[1]

In 1950, with New Worlds on a stable quarterly schedule, Nova Publications decided to launch a companion, Science Fantasy.[3] They chose Gillings as the editor, and his fanzine, which had been retitled Science Fantasy Review in 1949, was incorporated in the new magazine as a department. The first issue was dated Summer 1950, but printing disputes meant that the second issue was delayed until winter. Paper rationing delayed the third issue to Winter 1951, but before it appeared, Nova decided that it could no longer afford to have separate editors for New Worlds and Science Fantasy, and Gillings was let go.[1] According to Carnell, there were also "fundamental differences of opinion" that led to the decision to replace him.[5][note 1]

After the Spring 1953 issue, Nova Publications decided to switch printers, in order to cut costs and bring the cover price down from 2/- (10 p) to 1/6 (7.5 p). The new printers, The Carlton Press, failed to keep to the agreed printing schedule, and produced poor quality work; there were also printers' strikes, and this disruption caused extended delays in the appearance of the seventh issue.[1][5] While the dispute with the printers was going on, Carnell and Maurice Goldsmith, a journalist acquaintance of Carnell's, put together a small conference of well-known science fiction authors, including Arthur C. Clarke and John Wyndham. Goldsmith covered the conference for Illustrated, a weekly magazine, and the article caught the attention of Maclaren & Sons Ltd, a technical trade publisher interested in launching a new sf magazine. Carnell turned down the offer because of his loyalty to Nova Publications, but subsequent discussions ultimately led to Maclaren taking control of Nova Publications, with a commitment to produce New Worlds on a monthly basis and Science Fantasy on a bimonthly schedule. Maclaren's legal department was helpful in resolving the dispute with The Carlton Press, and the seventh issue of Science Fantasy finally appeared with a cover date of March 1954.[7]

In 1958, Nova decided to launch a British reprint of the American magazine Science Fiction Adventures, under the same title. The British Science Fiction Adventures lasted until May 1963, when it was felled by declining sales.[1] New Worlds, Nova's flagship title, and Science Fantasy were also suffering from poor sales, with circulation estimated at about 5,000,[8] though a change from bimonthly to a monthly schedule was also considered that year for Science Fantasy.[1][note 2] In September Nova decided to close down both remaining titles,[1] and in preparation for the change Carnell signed a contract in December 1963 to edit an original anthology series, New Writings in SF, for publisher Dennis Dobson.[8] Readers' responses to news of the planned demise of the magazines included a letter from Michael Moorcock, published in the April 1964 New Worlds, asking how the British market would now be able to train writers to sell to the higher-paying US magazines.[1]

Roberts & Vinter

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1960 39 40 41 42 43 44
1961 45 46 47 48 49 50
1962 51 52 53 54 55 56
1963 57 58 59 60 61 62
1964 63 64 65 66 67 68
1965 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79
1966 80 81 1/1 1/2 1/3 1/4 1/5 1/6 1/7 1/8 1/9 1/10
1967 1/11 1/12
Issues of Science Fantasy in the 1960s, showing volume/issue number, and
color-coded to show who was editor for each issue. John Carnell was the
editor until April 1964, after which Kyril Bonfiglioli took over. The last five issues
were edited by Keith Roberts and Harry Harrison. Issues 65 through 69 were
titled with the name of two consecutive months—e.g. issue 66 was dated
July–August 1964.[1][2]

In early 1964, David Warburton of Roberts & Vinter, an established publisher, heard from the printer of Science Fantasy and New Worlds that the magazines were going to fold shortly. Warburton decided that having a respectable magazine would help him in getting good distribution for Roberts & Vinter's books: Science Fantasy and New Worlds both had distribution arrangements with the two main British newsagents of the time, John Menzies and W.H. Smith.[8][note 3] Carnell did not want to continue to edit the magazines in addition to New Writings in SF, and recommended Moorcock to Warburton; Kyril Bonfiglioli, an Oxford art dealer who was a friend of Brian Aldiss, also expressed an interest. Warburton gave Moorcock the choice of which magazine to edit; Moorcock chose New Worlds, and Bonfiglioli became the new editor of Science Fantasy.[8] Roberts & Vinter changed the format from digest to paperback, and the first issue under Bonfiglioli's control was number 65, dated June–July 1964. The schedule was initially somewhat irregular, with each issue dated with two months even when two issues were only a month apart—for example, June–July 1964 was followed by July–August 1964.[1] From March 1965 a regular monthly schedule was begun.[9]

Bonfiglioli often bought material from writers without an established reputation; he did not make any special effort to acquire stories from well-known names. He was known for writing long and helpful rejection letters to newcomers, but he also had a reputation for laziness, and much of the day-to-day editorial work was done by assistants—first James Parkhill-Rathbone, and then Keith Roberts.[10]

Bonfiglioli disliked the title of the magazine, feeling that it "promised the worst of both worlds"; he proposed Caliban as the new title, but the publisher dissuaded him. He settled on Impulse instead, and the magazine appeared under the new title starting with the March 1966 issue.[1][11] The paperback format was unchanged, but the volume numeration was restarted at volume 1 number 1, to "sever all connections with Science Fantasy", in the words of sf historian Mike Ashley. The name change proved to be disastrous; there was already a magazine called Impulse, and this caused distribution problems. In addition, treating Impulse as a new magazine meant a fresh distribution contract was needed. Bonfiglioli attempted to repair the damage by changing the name to SF Impulse starting in August 1966, but the result was a dramatic drop in circulation.[11]

By late 1966 Bonfiglioli had made enough money from his antiques dealing to be able to retire to Jersey. J.G. Ballard was briefly involved with the magazine in an editorial role, but his aims for the magazine were too far from the publisher's goals and he was quickly replaced by Harry Harrison. Harrison almost immediately had to leave England and handed over much of the day-to-day management of the magazine to Keith Roberts.[11][12] Despite the setback from Bonfiglioli's title change, the magazine was still profitable, but in July 1966 Roberts & Vinter's distributor, Thorpe & Porter, went bankrupt while owing Roberts & Vinter a substantial sum. The resulting financial pressure led Roberts & Vinter to decide to focus on their more profitable magazines, and the February 1967 issue of SF Impulse was the last, though New Worlds, the sister magazine, survived via an Arts Council grant obtained by Brian Aldiss's efforts.[11][12] The title was merged with New Worlds with effect from the March 1967 issue, but nothing of SF Impulse's content was retained.[12]

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