Amazing Stories

Tagged: Publication

"The magazine of scientifiction", with whose founding Hugo Gernsback announced the existence of sf as a distinct literary species. It was initially a letter-sized SF Magazine issued monthly by Gernsback's Experimenter Publishing Co. as a companion to Science and Invention and Radio News, first issue dated April 1926, and was the first magazine to publish science fiction exclusively. The original title survived to 2005, through a succession of publishers, and was subsequently resurrected by a new publisher (Steve Davidson) who acquired the title in 2011 and relaunched online in July 2012.

The publication regime of Amazing Stories saw great changes even in its early years. Gernsback lost control of Experimenter Publishing Co in 1929 and the magazine was acquired by B A Mackinnon and H K Fly, who primarily after its companion title Radio News. The name of the company was modified more than once, becoming Radio-Science Publications in 1930 and Teck Publications in 1931; but these name changes were cosmetic, as they operated under the overall umbrella of Bernarr Macfadden, who was himself listed as publisher and owner from December 1931; he did not interfere with his editors. Arthur H Lynch was named as editor of the May-October 1929 issues, but his primary role was to edit Radio News. Gernsback's assistant, T O'Conor Sloane, who had remained with the magazine, continued as managing editor and from November 1929, was granted full editorship. The magazine adopted the standard Pulp format with the October 1933 issue. The title was sold in 1938 to Ziff-Davis, who installed Raymond A Palmer as editor (June 1938). Palmer assumed a radically different editorial policy, concentrating on action-adventure fiction, much of it "mass-produced" by a stable of authors using House Names. Howard Browne became editor in January 1950 and the magazine became a Digest with the April/May 1953 issue. After a brief period with Paul W Fairman as editor (June 1956-November 1958) – during which time the title was changed to Amazing Science Fiction (March 1958) and then Amazing Science Fiction Stories (May 1958) – Cele Goldsmith took over, using her married name of Cele Lalli from August 1964; she ran the magazine until June 1965, when the title, which had changed back to Amazing Stories in October 1960, was sold to Sol Cohen's Ultimate Publishing Co. For some years thereafter the bulk of the magazine's contents consisted of reprints, with Joseph Ross acting as managing editor (from August 1965). Harry Harrison became editor in December 1967, but a period of confusion followed as he handed over to Barry N Malzberg in November 1968, who was in turn soon replaced by Ted White in May 1969. White eliminated the reprints and remained editor until October 1978, when Sol Cohen sold his interest in the magazine to his partner Arthur Bernhard; White's last issue was February 1979. Elinor Mavor, using the pseudonym "Omar Gohagen" (May 1979-August 1980) and then her own name, became editor until the September 1982 issue. But in March 1982 – by which time it had again become Amazing Science Fiction Stories and had been combined with its long-time companion Fantastic (from the November 1980 issue) – the title was sold to TSR Hobbies, the marketers of the Dungeons & Dragons Role Playing Game, who installed George H Scithers as editor, his first issue being November 1982. Scithers was replaced in September 1986 by Patrick Lucien Price. Amazing's circulation hit an all-time low in 1984 and recovery was slow, but a surge in sales in 1990 prepared the ground for the magazine to be relaunched in May 1991 in a large-sized Slick format, with the original masthead restored. Kim Mohan took over as editor at the time of the image-change, and Amazing once again became monthly rather than bimonthly. Publication was temporarily suspended with the December 1993 issue – dated Winter 1994 – as Amazing was continuing to lose money. It resumed with a Spring 1994 issue, now in digest-format, but only two further digest issues were published that year, the last being marked as Winter 1995. The magazine was reborn in Summer 1998, again in Slick format, still edited by Kim Mohan but now published by Wizards of the Coast, from Renton, Washington, which had bought TSR, Inc in 1997. The magazine sported a Star Trek cover and included a new Star Trek story by A C Crispin, the first of a number of TV Ties that would develop over successive quarterly issues alongside standalone fiction by many leading writers. In this guise Amazing reached its 600th issue in February 2000. However it ceased again in Summer 2000, but was resurrected as a monthly in September 2004. Now published by Paizo Publishing, under license from Hasbro, Inc. (who took over Wizards of the Coast in 1999), Amazing retained its slick format and again emphasized movie and TV tie-ins. It was initially edited by David Gross but Jeff {BERKWITS} was brought in as the new editor. He was only able to oversee the final three issues before financial restraints once again saw Amazing mothballed, its final issue, March 2005 (#609) being released only online. In 2011 long-time fan Steve Davidson set about securing the title to Amazing Stories, which Hasbro had allowed to lapse, and in July 2012 released the first of two pre-launch issues.

In its first two years Amazing used a great many reprints of stories by H G Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe (considered by Gernsback to be the founding fathers of sf) alongside more recent pulp stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Garrett P Serviss, A Merritt and Murray Leinster. The artwork of Frank R Paul was a distinctive feature in this period. Original material began to appear in greater quantity in 1927/8, when Miles J Breuer, David H Keller and Jack Williamson published their first stories in Amazing. Gernsback's purpose had been to publish fiction that stimulated minds into pursuing scientific endeavour. The works of Burroughs and Merritt, however, proved highly influential, taking the fiction in Amazing along the route to exotic pulp adventure rather than promoting its educational value. Space Opera made a spectacular advent when the first Buck Rogers in the 25th Century story, "Armageddon – 2419 A.D." (August 1928) by Philip Francis Nowlan appeared in the same issue that E E "Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Space (August-October 1928; 1946) began serialization. Sloane maintained Gernsback's policy of favouring didactic material that was sometimes rather stilted by pulp-fiction standards, but extravagant serial novels – notably Smith's Skylark Three (August-October 1930; 1948), Edmond Hamilton's "The Universe Wreckers" (May-July 1930) and Jack Williamson's The Green Girl (March-April 1930; 1950) maintained the balance. From 1930 Amazing faced strong competition from Astounding, whose higher rates of pay secured its dominance of the market. Moreover Sloane worked at a glacial pace frequently holding on to manuscripts for several years so that by the mid-thirties Amazing's content felt staid and old-fashioned compared to Astounding's. The most popular stories in Amazing during the mid-1930s were the Professor Jameson series by Neil R Jones though there was fiction of comparatively more lasting value by David H Keller, S P Meek and P Schuyler Miller alongside, it has to be said, some of the worst examples of creative writing by Hendrik Dahl Juve (1899-1990), Henry J Kostkos (1900-1977) and Joseph W Skidmore. By 1937, even though little more than a decade old, Amazing Stories looked an antiquated relic.

When Ray Palmer took over the ailing magazine in 1938, with editorial offices shifted to Chicago, he attempted to boost circulation in several ways. He aimed at a younger audience, obtaining several stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs, and encouraged Burroughs imitators like Robert Moore Williams, and went for outright adventure stories from writers who could no longer find a market at Astounding such as Eando Binder, Raymond Z Gallun and Edmond Hamilton. He also introduced a companion magazine Fantastic Adventures. By the mid-1940s Palmer elected to support a series of Paranoid fantasies by the obsessive Richard S Shaver with insinuations that Shaver's theories about evil subterranean forces dominating the world by superscientific means were actually true. However, the bulk of Amazing's contents in the Palmer era consisted of lurid formulaic material by a local group of Chicago-based writers which included Chester S Geier, William L Hamling, Berkeley Livingston,William P McGivern, David Wright O'Brien, Don Wilcox and Leroy Yerxa contributing under their own names and a coterie of House Names, most notoriously Alexander Blade. Palmer himself was a frequent pseudonymous contributor.

By late 1947 Palmer was moonlighting, setting up his own company to publish Fate magazine, and William L Hamling was effectively editor of the magazine until he also left to establish his own company and publish Imagination. This left Amazing in the hands of Howard Browne whose real interest was in the companion mystery and detective magazine. He threw out the Shaver material and minimized the productivity of the fiction factory whilst interesting Ziff-Davis in converting Amazing into a Slick magazine. This did not happen because of restraints imposed by the entry of America into the Korean War, but Browne did endeavour to publish better quality material by Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Fritz Leiber and Clifford Simak. With the success of a digest-format Fantastic, Amazing was also converted to the digest size in April 1953 and for a year or two Browne had a significant budget and was able to acquire some superior material by Arthur C Clarke, Philip K Dick, Richard Matheson and Theodore Sturgeon amongst others. However this was the time of the science-fiction boom with considerable competition amongst the digest magazines. Amazing's sales did not respond sufficiently so the budget was reduced and Browne reintroduced the fiction-factory approach, leaving most of the editorial work to his assistant and successor, Paul W Fairman. The stories were produced on a regular basis by a small group of writers including Harlan Ellison, John W Jakes, Milton Lesser, Henry Slesar, Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett, the last two often in collaboration.

In 1958 Fairman moved on to edit Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (> Ellery Queen), and was succeeded by his assistant, Cele Goldsmith. Under her editorship Amazing improved dramatically, publishing good work by many leading authors. Notable contributions included Marion Zimmer Bradley's first Darkover novella, The Planet Savers (November 1958; 1962 dos; exp 1976), Harlan Ellison's first sf novel, "The Sound of the Scythe" (October 1959; rev as The Man with Nine Lives 1960 dos), and Roger Zelazny's Nebula-winning "He Who Shapes" (January-February 1965; exp as The Dream Master 1966). Zelazny was one of several writers whose careers were aided in their early stages by Goldsmith; others include Piers Anthony, Ben Bova (who did a series of science articles), David R Bunch, Thomas M Disch and Ursula K Le Guin. Following the reprint era under the initial tenure of Sol Cohen, Ted White renewed the attempt to maintain a consistent standard of quality; although handicapped by having to offer a word-rate payment considerably less than that of his competitors, he achieved some degree of success. The special 50th-anniversary issue which he compiled appeared on time but bears the cover date June 1976, owing to scheduling difficulties. White was able to help develop new writers like Roger Ebert (1942-    ), George Alec Effinger, Gordon Eklund, Thomas Monteleone and John Shirley as well as publish solid material by John Brunner, Jack Dann, Pamela Sargent, Bob Shaw and George Zebrowski.

When Sol Cohen handed Amazing over to his business partner Arthur Bernhard, there was good reason to believe that the magazine's days were numbered. White left and was succeeded by Elinor Mavor who, like Cele Goldsmith, proved herself more than capable at producing a good magazine after her initial teething troubles, but she was always restricted by both the budget and Bernhard's lack of vision. With its sale to TSR, who trademarked the title in 1982, it was hoped that the financial backing and entrepreneurship of that company would yield significant benefits. George Scithers brought to the magazine several of the writers he had helped develop at Asimov's SF Magazine, notably John M Ford, Barry Longyear, Paul J McAuley and Somtow Sucharitkul (> S P Somtow) and he and his successor, Patrick Lucien Price, continued to encourage new authors including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and J Michael {STRACZYNSKI}. It was in Amazing that the word Cyberpunk was coined in the title of Bruce Bethke's story "Cyberpunk" (November 1983). Fellow cyberpunk Paul Di Filippo also became a regular contributor.

Despite the editor's efforts, the magazine received almost no promotion or financial regeneration. It did not directly benefit either financially or commercially when Stephen Spielberg's company created the TV series Amazing Stories (> Amazing Stories) in 1985, the money from licencing the name went into the company's accounts overall and were not invested into the magazine. When, in May 1991, it was converted into a slick magazine with new editor Kim Mohan, there were hopes that this was the boost the magazine needed. Production values were high. The new slick packaging was much more attractive than any of Amazing's previous incarnations, and arguably the most attractive of any sf magazine. Mohan succeeded in presenting good material by the best of the new generation of writers as well as celebrating Amazing's past in an appealing concoction of artwork, reminiscences and other features. Despite this, sales did not respond and the cost of production became prohibitive. Despite the two later attempts between 1998 and 2005, Amazing failed to regenerate, though no one could argue that it went in a blaze of glory.

Its new website incarnation under Steve Davidson (from July 2012) has yet to be tested as a fiction magazine, but his initial enthusiasm, together with forging a link with the original magazine by bringing in former editors Barry Malzberg, Patrick L Price, Joseph Ross and Ted White as an Editorial Advisory Board, bodes well. He has even revived the Experimenter Publishing Company for his multi-faceted online approach to the magazine which is just one aspect of the world of science fiction (> Online Magazines). Although a little fiction has appeared, the Amazing website [see links below] functions chiefly as a multi-contributor blog of commentary on current happenings in sf/fantasy and Fandom. Two online issues – chiefly comprising nonfiction – have been posted, dated Summer 2012 and August 2012.

Amazing Stories remains significant as the magazine that started it all as the first periodical dedicated to science fiction in 1926, but apart from three brief quality periods under Howard Browne in 1953-1954, Cele Goldsmith from 1959 to 1965 and Ted White from 1969 to 1978, and a period of sustained effort under George Scithers, Patrick L Price and Kim Mohan, Amazing was never a field leader – and, unfortunately, under Ray Palmer and Paul W Fairman actually damaged the image of science fiction. It was thus something of a Jekyll and Hyde, ever anticipating the next transformation.

Amazing had three UK reprint editions, 1946 (1 undated issue, pulp), 1950-1953 (24 undated issues, pulp) and 1953-1954 (8 undated issues, digest). There was also a Japanese (> Japan) edition, really a series of anthologies, which saw seven issues between April and July 1950 selecting from both Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. Anthologies based on Amazing Stories include The Best of Amazing (anth 1967) edited by Joseph Ross, The Best from Amazing Stories (anth 1973) edited by Ted White, Amazing Stories: 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction (anth 1985) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg, Amazing Stories: Vision of Other Worlds (anth 1986) edited by Greenberg, and a number of others edited by Greenberg. In addition, between 1995 and Amazing's revival in 1998, Kim Mohan compiled two anthologies which he regarded as a continuation of the magazine: Amazing Stories: The Anthology (anth 1995) and More Amazing Stories (anth 1998). [MA/PN/BS]

Editors

  • Hugo Gernsback, April 1926-April 1929
  • T O'Conor Sloane, May 1929-April 1938
  • Raymond A Palmer, June 1938-December 1949 (though William L Hamling took on the role from March 1947)
  • Howard Browne, January 1950-August 1956
  • Paul W Fairman, September 1956-November 1958
  • Cele Goldsmith Lalli, December 1958-June 1965
  • Joseph Wrzos (> Joseph Ross), August 1965-October 1967
  • Harry Harrison, December 1967-September 1968
  • Barry N Malzberg, November 1968-March 1969
  • Ted White, May 1969-February 1979
  • Elinor Mavor, May 1979-September 1982
  • George H Scithers, November 1982-July 1986
  • Patrick L Price, September 1986-March 1991
  • Kim Mohan, May 1991-Summer 2000
  • David Gross, September-December 2004
  • Jeff Berkwits, January-March 2005
  • Steve Davidson, July 2012-current

Awards for fiction

  • January-February 1965: Roger Zelazny, "He Who Shapes" – novella Nebula
  • Winter 1999: Leslie {WHAT}, "The Cost of Doing Business" – short story Nebula

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