Interior illustration by Alexander Leydenfrost
for Ray Bradbury's "The Million Year Picnic", in Planet Stories
, Summer 1946
Asimov said that "The dropping of the atom bomb in 1945 made science fiction respectable" to the general public, but only eight US science fiction or fantasy magazines survived World War II: Astounding Science Fiction, published by Street & Smith; Weird Tales, from Delaney's Short Stories, Inc.; Standard Magazines' Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories; Ziff-Davis's Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures; Popular's Famous Fantastic Mysteries; and Planet Stories, published by Love Romances, Inc. All had been forced to quarterly schedules by the war, except Weird Tales, which was bimonthly, and Astounding, still the leading sf magazine. Campbell continued to find new writers: William Tenn, H. Beam Piper, Arthur C. Clarke and John Christopher all made their first sales to Astounding in the late 1940s, and he published many stories now regarded as classics, including "Vintage Season" by C.L. Moore, "With Folded Hands ..." by Jack Williamson, Children of the Lens by E.E. Smith, and The Players of Null-A by A.E. van Vogt. The pace of invention which had marked the war years for Astounding was now slackening, however, and in Ashley's words the magazine was now "resting on its laurels". In 1950, Campbell published an article on dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard; this was a psychological theory that would eventually evolve into Scientology, a new religion. Dianetics was denounced as pseudoscience by the medical profession, but to the dismay of many of Astounding's readers it was not until 1951 that Campbell disavowed it.
Sam Merwin, who had taken over from Oscar Friend at Standard Magazines towards the end of the war, abandoned the juvenile approach that had characterized both Startling and Thrilling; he asked Bergey to make his covers more realistic, and started to publish more hard science fiction, including work by Murray Leinster, George O. Smith, and Hubbard. He bought Jack Vance's first sale, "The World Thinker", which appeared in 1945, and published a good deal of material by Ray Bradbury, including several of his Martian Chronicle stories. Some of the highest-profile names from Campbell's stable of Astounding writers sold to Merwin, including van Vogt, Heinlein, and Sturgeon, whose "The Sky Was Full of Ships" appeared in 1947 and was much praised by readers. Other notable stories include Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe, which appeared in 1948, and Kuttner's Valley of the Flame, one of several science fantasy novels he published in Startling. Writers such as John D. MacDonald, Margaret St. Clair, William Tenn, Arthur C. Clarke, James Blish, and Damon Knight all sold to Merwin, and the net effect was a dramatic improvement in the quality of both magazines, to the point where Ashley suggests that by the late 1940s, Thrilling Wonder, in particular, was a serious challenger to Astounding for the leadership of the field.
Planet Stories also improved dramatically by the end of the decade. Several well-known writers, including Blish, Brown, and Knight, published good material in Planet, but the overall improvement was largely due to the contributions of Bradbury and Leigh Brackett, both of whom set many of their stories on a version of Mars that owed much to the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Brackett, one of Planet's most prolific contributors, developed her style over the 1940s and eventually became the leading exponent of planetary romances. Her series of stories about Eric John Stark, considered by Ashley to be her best work, began in Planet with "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" in the Summer 1949 issue. Bradbury's work for Planet included two of his Martian Chronicles stories, and a collaboration with Brackett, "Lorelei of the Red Mist", which appeared in 1946. Tim Forest, a historian of the pulps, considers Bradbury's work to be Planet's "most important contribution to the genre". The covers were generally simple action scenes, featuring a helpless damsel threatened by a bug-eyed monster, but according to Clute "the content was far more sophisticated than the covers".
January 1948 issue of Fantastic Adventures
; art by
Robert Gibson Jones
Weird Tales had lost much of its unique flavor with the departure of Farnsworth Wright, but in Ashley's view McIlwraith made the magazine more consistent: "though the issues edited by McIlwraith "seldom attain[ed] Wright's highpoints, they also omitted the lows". McIlwraith continued to publish some of Weird Tales most popular authors, such as Fredric Brown and Fritz Leiber, but eliminated sword and sorcery fiction, which Robert E. Howard had popularized under Wright with his stories of Conan, Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn. August Derleth, who had corresponded with Lovecraft until the latter's death in 1937, continued to send Lovecraft manuscripts to McIlwraith during the 1940s, and at the end of the decade decided to issue a magazine to publicize Arkham House, a publishing venture he had begun in 1939 that reprinted largely from the pages of Weird Tales. The title was The Arkham Sampler; Derleth intended it to be a more literary magazine than the current crop of sf and fantasy pulps. It published both new and reprint material. Some of the stories were of good quality, including work by Robert Bloch and Lord Dunsany, but it closed down after eight quarterly issues for financial reasons.
At Ziff-Davis, Fantastic Adventures continued as it had during the war, with an occasional noteworthy story such as "Largo", by Theodore Sturgeon, and "I'll Dream of You" by
Charles F. Myers. Both Fantastic Adventures and its sister magazine, Amazing Stories, were able to return to monthly publication by late 1947 because of the "Shaver Mystery", a series of stories by Richard Shaver. In the March 1945 issue of Amazing Palmer published a story by Shaver called "I Remember Lemuria". The story, about prehistoric civilizations, was presented by Palmer as a mixture of truth and fiction, and the result was a dramatic boost to Amazing's circulation.[note 5] Palmer ran a new Shaver story in every issue, culminating in a special issue in June 1947 devoted entirely to the Shaver Mystery. Amazing soon drew ridicule for these stories and William Ziff ordered Palmer to limit the amount of Shaver-related material in the magazine; Palmer complied, but his interest (and possibly belief) in this sort of material was now significant, and he soon began planning to leave Ziff-Davis. In 1947 he formed Clark Publications, launching Fate the following year, and in 1949 he resigned from Ziff-Davis to edit that and other magazines.
In March 1948, Fantastic Novels reappeared; it had been published by Munsey as a reprint companion to Famous Fantastic Mysteries, now owned by Popular, and it took on the same role in its new incarnation. Gnaedinger, the editor, was a fan of Abraham Merritt's work, and the first three issues of the new version included stories by Merritt. Reprints of old classics such as George Allan England's The Flying Legion and Garrett P. Serviss's The Second Deluge constituted most of Fantastic Novels' contents, with some more recent material such as Earth's Last Citadel, by Kuttner and Moore, which had only previously appeared as a serial in Argosy in 1943.
Mainstream magazines began publishing science fiction after the war. Heinlein amazed fans and fellow writers when, Asimov recalled in 1969, "an undiluted science fiction story of his" appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Small science fiction magazines often lost experienced authors to mass-market publications like Playboy so did not benefit, Asimov said, "from the field's new-won respectability".