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Fantastic Adventures

Entry updated 19 December 2020. Tagged: Publication.


US Pulp magazine published by Ziff-Davis as a companion to Amazing Stories; 128 issues May 1939 to March 1953. Fantastic Adventures began as a bimonthly, large-size pulp, but maintained a monthly schedule from January 1940 for most of its existence, shrinking to standard pulp size in June 1940. To December 1949 it was edited nominally by Raymond A Palmer, although William L Hamling really ran the magazine as managing editor from November 1947-February 1951. Thereafter, until March 1953 (when it merged with the one-year-old Ziff-Davis Digest magazine Fantastic) it was edited by Howard Browne.

At the outset the magazine ran mostly science fiction, including the Golden Amazon series by Thornton Ayre (see John Russell Fearn), the Lancelot Biggs series by Nelson S Bond and stories by Eando Binder, Raymond Z Gallun and Frederic Arnold Kummer Jr. Palmer felt he had something of a coup when he ran "The Scientists Revolt" (July 1939) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but this was a bottom-of-the-barrel scraping and had to be substantially revised by Palmer. Fantastic Adventures was seen as a second-rate Amazing, and legend has it that the sales were so poor that it was going to be dropped after the October 1940 issue but that issue ran the Tarzanesque "Jongor of Lost Land" by Robert Moore Williams, illustrated on the cover by J Allen St John. Sales improved and Palmer not only ran more Jongor stories but acquired new stories in the Carson Napier Venus series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The bulk of Fantastic Adventures's contents were provided by a small stable of Chicago writers, notably Berkeley Livingston, William P McGivern, David Wright O'Brien, Don Wilcox and Leroy Yerxa, as well as Hamling and Palmer, using a variety of house pseudonyms (see House Names). Many of their stories were humorous, often built around some madcap Invention or newly acquired Superpower that got out of control. This followed the style of fiction introduced by Nelson S Bond, who contributed similar work to Blue Book and which thus gave the magazine not only a light-hearted feel, much needed during the War years, but an aura that was slightly more sophisticated than the standard pulp packaging otherwise suggested. Robert Bloch's Lefty Feep series was also in this mould. Starting with "I'll Dream of You" (January 1947), Charles F Myers (1920-2006) wrote a popular series in the style of Thorne Smith about a dream girl called Toffee. What also attracted readers to the magazine were the bright covers by Malcolm Smith (1910-1966), Robert Gibson Jones and particularly Harold W McCauley (1913-1977), whose voluptuous women came to be called "The Mac Girl". Fantastic Adventures hardly bears comparison with its rival Astounding's short-lived but excellent companion Unknown, but sf writers given carte blanche to write pure fantasy for Fantastic Adventures did often produce readable fiction with a distinctive whimsical and ironic flavour. The mass-produced material it published was of quite negligible interest.

The magazine was at its most serious under Browne's editorship in 1950-1951, when it published Theodore Sturgeon's first novel, The Dreaming Jewels (February 1950; exp 1950), and notable long stories by Lester del Rey, Walter M Miller Jr and William Tenn. Browne, who did not like science fiction, felt more at home with Fantastic Adventures and wanted to produce a quality magazine of fantasy. Once he was given the chance with the Digest-sized Fantastic, which proved a success, he promptly merged Fantastic Adventures with it, but all trace of the old-style magazine rapidly vanished.

In 1941-1943 and 1948-1951 unsold issues were bound up in threes and sold as Fantastic Adventures Quarterly, there being eight such in the first series, Winter 1941-Fall 1943, and 11 in the second, Summer 1948-Spring 1951. There were two UK editions: the first released two short (32pp) numbered issues in 1946, the second reprinted 24 numbered issues 1950-1954, abridged from US issues dated March 1950-January 1953. [BS/MA]

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