History of US science fiction and fantasy magazines to 1950 | weird tales and amazing stories

Weird Tales and Amazing Stories

First issue of Weird Tales, dated March 1923. Cover art by R.R. Epperly.

The first magazine to be primarily associated with fantasy and science fiction was Weird Tales, which appeared in March 1923.[13] It was initially edited by Edwin Baird and issued by Rural Publishing, a company owned by Jacob Clark Henneberger and John M. Lansinger. Rural had previously launched the magazine Detective Tales. Weird Tales was intended to provide a market for fantasy and weird fiction, and Henneberger was keen to obtain material unusual enough that it could not be sold to the existing pulp magazines. The planned monthly schedule soon began to slip, skipping July and December. As early as February 1924, Farnsworth Wright took over from Baird as interim editor.[14] After the May-June-July 1924 Anniversary Issue was published, Henneberger and Lansinger split the company, each taking one of the magazines. Henneberger kept nominal control of Weird Tales, while the Cornelius Printing Company, of Indianapolis, to whom Rural owed most of its debt, took over primary ownership.[15] The magazine went on hiatus for five months while Cornelius built a new printing plant.[16] Weird Tales resumed publication with the November 1924 issue, with Farnsworth Wright as permanent editor. The magazine quickly began to improve, both in appearance and quality, as Wright nurtured talented fantasy writers such as Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.[17]

Wright frequently published science fiction, including Edmond Hamilton's first story, which appeared in August 1926, and work by J. Schlossel and Otis Adelbert Kline,[18][19] as well as weird and occult fiction.[20] The first magazine devoted entirely to science fiction joined Weird Tales on the newsstands on 10 March 1926, titled Amazing Stories and dated April. Gernsback had delayed the launch a couple of years after his subscriber survey had shown only limited interest in an sf magazine, but finally decided to take the plunge. He ceased publication of Practical Electrics (recently retitled The Experimenter) but retained the editor, T. O'Conor Sloane, to edit the new magazine, though Gernsback had final say over the fiction content. The first issue of Amazing consisted entirely of reprinted material, including Jules Verne's novel Off on a Comet, and stories by H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe, but new fiction quickly appeared, with Clare Winger Harris and A. Hyatt Verrill each finding success in one of Gernsback's early reader competitions. Both went on to become established writers. Gernsback also introduced a letter column, and encouraged his readers to join in lively discussions there. In the view of Mike Ashley, a historian of science fiction, this was "the real secret of the success of Amazing Stories and is the cause of the popularity of science fiction": the letter column gave science fiction fans, many of whom were lonely, a forum in which to make friends and talk about their interests. The resulting community of like-minded readers gave birth to science fiction fandom, and also to a generation of writers who had grown up reading the genre.[21]

Sole issue of Amazing Stories Annual, from 1927. Cover art by Frank R. Paul.

Amazing was very successful, reaching a circulation of 100,000 in less than a year.[21] It was some time before significant competition appeared, but two minor fantasy magazines were launched the year after Amazing's first issue.[22] One, Tales of Magic and Mystery appeared in 1927 and lasted only five issues; it specialized in stories about magic, including a series on Houdini. It was a financial failure, and is now remembered mainly for having published "Cool Air", a story by Lovecraft. The other was Ghost Stories, which was launched in mid-1926 by Bernarr Macfadden, who also published confessional magazines such as True Story. Much of the material in Ghost Stories was written in a similar confessional style, featuring tales of encounters with ghosts presented as true events.[22][23][24]

In June 1927 Gernsback published Amazing Stories Annual, twice the size (and twice the price) of the regular Amazing Stories. It carried a new Mars novel, The Mastermind of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which Burroughs had been unable to sell elsewhere, perhaps because it contained satirical elements aimed at religious fundamentalism. Burroughs' name was a powerful aid to sales, and since Gernsback had secured two stories by Abraham Merritt, who was also very popular, the magazine sold out all 150,000 copies, despite the high price.[25][26] This success convinced Gernsback to launch another science fiction title, and the first issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly appeared in 1928 with a Spring cover date.[26] In the same year Gernsback printed E.E. Smith's first novel, in Amazing, titled The Skylark of Space. It was enormously successful, and on the strength of Smith's Skylark series of novels, and his later Lensman series, Smith became "one of the greatest names, if not the greatest of all" to sf readers of the 1930s.[27]

Gernsback's declared goals for Amazing were to educate and to entertain.[28] In the editorial for the first issue he asserted that "Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading – they are also always instructive. They supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain – and they supply it in a very palatable form. For the best of these modern writers of scientifiction have the knack of imparting knowledge and even inspiration without once making us aware that we are being taught".[29] It was difficult for Gernsback to find high-quality new material that was both entertaining and met his declared goal of providing scientific information, and the early issues of Amazing contained a high proportion of reprints. He discovered that his readers preferred the fantastical romances of Burroughs and Merritt to the more scientific stories of Verne and Wells, and perhaps in response published Merritt's "The Moon Pool" in the May 1927 issue of Amazing. The story was completely unscientific; Gernsback's introduction to the story claimed that Merritt was introducing a new science, but Ashley comments that Gernsback was simply "looking for an excuse for including such fantastic fiction in the magazine when it did not fit in with his basic creed".[30]

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