Entry updated 14 January 2019. Tagged: Publication.
US general fiction Pulp magazine which ran for 613 monthly issues from May 1905 to May 1956. It began as The Monthly Story Magazine, became The Monthly Story Blue Book Magazine in September 1906, The Blue Book Magazine in May 1907, and finally Bluebook in February 1952. By the 1930s it was regarded as the "King of the Pulps" and one of the big three, alongside Argosy and Adventure. It published more science fiction than either of those titles and was a close rival to The All-Story in the quantity of sf that it published, though never in its influence. It was published by the Story-Press Corporation (later called Consolidated Magazines), Chicago until September 1929, during which time it was a companion to The Red Book Magazine, and thereafter by the McCall Company, Chicago, so that it also became a companion to McCall's. As a consequence Blue Book was more closely associated with the Slick magazines and was almost a token pulp simply by virtue of its paper. In fact Blue Book twice changed to the larger letter-size format, from October 1930 to August 1932 and again from September 1941 to the end. This larger format gave it a more sophisticated look than its main rival, Argosy, which had adopted that size in January 1941.
Its founding editor was Trumbull White, who later became the first editor of Adventure, but Blue Book is most closely associated with Donald Kennicott (1881-1965), who was assistant editor from 1910 onwards but was soon more or less left in charge by the senior editors, so that though Kennicott was not formally editor until December 1929, he essentially ran the magazine from at least 1916 (when his name first appears on the masthead), until he stood down in January 1952. Kennicott enjoyed science fiction (almost as much as he enjoyed historical fiction) and the magazine reflected these interests for almost forty years.
Science fiction was present in Blue Book from the start. George Allan England debuted with "The Time Reflector" (September 1905) about a machine that can witness the past through stored light. The British writer William Hope Hodgson made several early sales here, starting with one of his earliest nautical strange stories, "More News of the Homebird" (August 1907) – sequelling "From the Tideless Sea" (April 1906 Monthly Story Magazine) – about a family trapped for years in the Sargasso Sea, and including his best known story "The Voice in the Night" (November 1907), about castaways transformed by a fungus. Canadian-born but English resident James Barr contributed "The Last Englishman" (July 1906), depicting a future where the British Empire and United States have collapsed in a world dominated by Oriental and Islamic forces. A particularly advanced story for this period, and a surprising one considering the author, was "An Interplanetary Rupture" (December 1906) by Frank L Packard (1877-1942), best known for his crime stories featuring Jimmy Dale, but here portraying a colonized solar system in the thirty-second century and the outbreak of war between Earth and Mercury. William Wallace Cook, who also contributed sf to The Argosy was present with a series, Tales of Twenty Hundred (December 1911-May 1912) portraying attempts to control the Earth's weather (including shifting the Earth on its axis!) and other wild scientific schemes. Another surprising science fiction contributor was Ellis Parker Butler (1869-1937) whose "The Last Man" (September 1914) has New York's populace wiped out.
The years around the First World War saw a growing interest in escapist fiction, especially of the exotic variety, and Blue Book began to run more stories of Lost Worlds and remote cultures. Early examples included "The Blue Lizard" (August 1913-February 1914) by James Francis Dwyer, set in the Pacific and The Bride of the Sun (November 1914; 1913 as L'Espouse de Soleil; trans anon as The Bride of the Sun 1915) by Gaston Leroux set in South America, but the theme really established itself when Blue Book acquired the new Allan Quatermain novel by H Rider Haggard, The Ivory Child (February-September 1915; 1916). It was followed by the Tarzan series, "New Stories of Tarzan" (September 1916-August 1917; 1919 as Jungle Tales of Tarzan) by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs had established his reputation in The All-Story but he would soon make Blue Book his second home. From his first appearance in September 1916 to his last, with "Beyond the Farthest Star" (January 1942), Burroughs appeared in 86 separate issues, with twelve serials, three short novels and various novelettes and stories. He was in every monthly issue from October 1928 to March 1932. Other novels, besides his Tarzan stories, include the trilogy of novellas "The Land That Time Forgot" (August 1918), "The People That Time Forgot" (October 1918) and "Out of Time's Abyss" (December 1918) that make up the book The Land That Time Forgot (fixup 1924); and the serials Tanar of Pellucidar (March-August 1929; 1930), A Fighting Man of Mars (April-September 1930; 1931), "The Land of Hidden Men" (May-September 1931; 1932 as Jungle Girl) and Swords of Mars (November 1934-April 1935; 1936). Blue Book paid Burroughs a premium rate of up to ten cents a word for some of the serials, because whenever Burroughs was present the sales increased, by 10,000-20,000, though eventually his continued presence did start to pall.
Burroughs's works rather dominated the exotic adventure although James Francis Dwyer and Beatrice Grimshaw continued to appear and there was room for a Burroughs imitator, William L Chester with his series about Kioga in an Arctic hidden civilization, which began with Hawk of the Wilderness (April-October 1935; 1936). Kennicott's fascination for the potential of science was evident in his editorial "Writer and Inventor" (June 1933) where he urged that it was important for fiction to be one step ahead of fact. As a consequence Blue Book during the 1930s and 1940s was filled with scientific speculation. They took a variety of forms. British writer Bertram Atkey contributed a Timeslip series featuring Hobart Honey (April-November 1930) in which the protagonist finds himself skimming through history. Another Briton, F Britten Austin contributed "The Shattered Atom" (February 1932) about the perils of atomic energy (see Nuclear Energy), whilst in "The Man Who Was 63,000 Years Old" (July 1933) Jay Lucas reveals an immortal's memories of his caveman days (see Immortality). The big story, though, was When Worlds Collide (September 1932-February 1933; 1933) and its sequel After Worlds Collide (November 1933-April 1934; 1934) by Edwin Balmer, the previous editor of Blue Book and who still edited Red Book, in collaboration with Philip Wylie. This rapidly became an acknowledged classic of the 1930s.
Blue Book was soon to be dominated by another writer, H Bedford-Jones who, though he had been appearing in the magazine since 1915, from 1935 on was present in every issue, sometimes under four different names. He contributed a number of long series many of which traced the development of a particular topic, such as Weapons or navigation, down through the centuries in fictional form. He would often introduce scientific elements thus appealing to Kennicott's two interests of history and science. The series Trumpets from Oblivion (November 1938-November 1939) uses a Time Viewer to allow scientists to study the truth behind various myths and legends. Bedford-Jones reworked the idea a few years later with the Counterclockwise series (between November 1943 and December 1944) in which war-work on a new form of radar creates instead a receiver of signals from the past. Bedford-Jones also looked ahead to the end of the War and its consequences in his Freedoms Coalition series written as by Gordon Keyne that began with "Peace Hath Her Victories" (January 1943).
The major contributor of sf and fantasy to Blue Book in the 1940s was Nelson S Bond, starting with Exiles of Time (May 1940; 1949), where specialists are transported through time to a moment when Earth is threatened by a Comet. Bond wrote two humorous series, not unlike the stories he was contributing to Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. Pat Pending featured a screwball inventor whose inventions seldom make sense such as the clock that tells time backwards in "The Bacular Clock" (July 1942), the first in the series that ran through to "Much Ado About Pending" (August 1948). Squaredeal Sam McGhee features in a series of tall tales similar to Lord Dunsany's Jorkens Club Stories. The series, most of which are fantasy, ran from "One's Got to be Best" (March 1943) to "Black Magic" (February 1951). Bond also contributed several standalone stories of which the best known is "The Bookshop" (October 1941) about a shop which is accessible only at certain times and contains all those books that were planned but never written. "The Magic Staircase" (February 1942) is about an entrance to another world whilst "Another World Begins" (November 1942; vt "The Cunning of the Beast" Strange Ports of Call edited by August Derleth anth 1948) has God as an Alien and Adam and Eve his experiments. Bond contributed fifty-nine stories to Blue Book, his last being the story of the last man on Earth, "Button, Button" (March 1954), and including an adaptation of "Spaceways" (August 1953) based on a Radio play by Charles Eric Maine.
During the War, Philip Wylie completed a story in which the Nazis plan to take over the world with an arsenal of atomic bombs. The story was submitted to Blue Book and because it contained much detail on atomic bombs Kennicott sent it to the authorities for clearance. The story was promptly prohibited and Wylie placed under house arrest. Only after the War was the story freed for publication and appeared as "The Paradise Crater" (October 1945). Inevitably the immediate post-war years saw a spate of stories about the nuclear threat. H Verner Dixon (1908-1984) considered a world controlled by the great powers through the use of Spaceships in "Is This To be Our Tomorrow?" (April 1946). In "Refuge for Tonight" (March 1949), Robert Moore Williams depicted a fight for survival in a depleted post-nuclear America, whilst in "To People a New World" (November 1950) Nelson Bond explored a post-nuclear Eden. Lewis Sowden returned to the threat-from-space theme in "Star of Doom" (July-August 1949; 1951 as Tomorrow's Comet).
Robert A Heinlein made two sales to Blue Book. The strongly feminist "Delilah and the Space Rigger" (December 1949) portrayed a female radio operator on an all-male space station, even though since the end of World War II Blue Book had promoted itself as a men's magazine. "Planets in Combat" (September-October 1951; 1951 as Between Planets), was marketed as one of Heinlein's juveniles, but it takes an adult stance in paralleling postwar Paranoia with interplanetary intrigue.
When Kennicott retired in 1951, with his last issue January 1952, his successors restyled Blue Book into a men's service magazine and science fiction appeared less frequently, though there were contributions by John D MacDonald and Robert Sheckley. The last major sf was The Power (March 1956; exp 1956) by Frank M Robinson, in the same issue as a feature about the benefits of the Earth having a Space Station.
Blue Book ceased publication with its issue for May 1956. It was revived as a sleazy men's magazine, Bluebook for Men in October 1960, which lasted to at least January 1975, but although its initial editor was Maxwell Hamilton, it bore no relationship to the original magazine and is of no interest.
Blue Book was the only general fiction pulp to have survived through into the 1950s and kept faith with the publication of science fiction over a span of fifty years, regardless of anything achieved by Hugo Gernsback and his successors. [MA]
- Trumbull White, May 1905-1906
- Karl Edwin Harriman, 1906-1911
- Ray Long, 1912-January 1919
- Karl Edwin Harriman (second term), February 1919-June 1927
- Edwin Balmer, July 1927-November 1929
- Donald Kennicott, December 1929-January 1952
- Maxwell Hamilton, February 1952-May 1954
- Andre Fontaine, June 1954-May 1956
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