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Astonishing Stories

Entry updated 10 August 2017. Tagged: Publication.

US Pulp magazine, 16 issues February 1940 to April 1943, mostly bimonthly, published by Fictioneers, Inc, Chicago; edited February 1940 to September 1941 Frederik Pohl and November 1941 to April 1943 Alden H Norton.

Fictioneers, Inc was a subsidiary of Popular Publications. After the success of this magazine and its sister publication, Super Science Stories, both edited by the 19-year-old Pohl, Popular Publications went on to acquire various of the Frank A Munsey magazines, including The Argosy, Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Fantastic Novels, and put Alden H Norton in overall control of their sf, including the two being edited by Pohl. Astonishing Stories was a lively and successful magazine, publishing mainly short stories, while Super Science Stories emphasized novels. With a cover price of ten cents, Astonishing Stories was the cheapest sf magazine on the market. Although Astonishing was in part a training ground for writers who would become famous later, its stories were surprisingly good considering how little was paid for them: the total budget per issue, including artwork, was $405. To stay within budget Pohl was thus forced to either consider rejections from other magazines or rely on friends. Fortunately he had a wide circle of contacts for not only had he previously worked as a literary agent, he was also a member of the Futurians a Fandom organization that included such literary prodigies as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight, Cyril M Kornbluth, Robert Lowndes, John B Michel, Richard Wilson and Donald A Wollheim. All of these would contribute to Astonishing, a few with their first sales, often under pen names and frequently in pseudonymous collaboration. The result was an uneven but frequently surprising mixture of enthusiasm and originality.

Pohl also acquired material from such seasoned writers as Ray Cummings, Neil R Jones (several Professor Jameson stories) and Clifford D Simak, and amongst the most memorable stories was the Darkness series by Ross Rocklynne that began with "Into the Darkness" (June 1940). Other contributors included Alfred Bester, Robert [Bloch], Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury and Henry Kuttner. Pohl was fortunate that his circle of friends included several artists, notably Hannes Bok, who provided many interior illustrations, whilst Jack Binder, Gabriel Mayorga, Bob Sherry and even Virgil Finlay provided most of the covers.

It was also in Astonishing that the book reviews, handled mostly by Donald Wollheim, took on the mantle of literary criticism. Whilst one might have regarded Astonishing as "cheap and cheerful" it was actually a far deeper, more entertaining and surprisingly resilient magazine than one would have anticipated.

A Canadian edition published three issues in January, March and May 1942. Whilst the first and last issues reprinted the contents of the November 1941 and March 1942 US Astonishing, the second issue reprinted most of the November 1941 Super Science Stories. [PN]


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