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Popular Magazine, The

Entry updated 1 April 2024. Tagged: Publication.


US Pulp magazine published by Street & Smith, edited by Henry Harrison Lewis for the first year and then Charles Agnew MacLean (1880-1928), who edited it until his sudden death. Appeared monthly from November 1903, semimonthly from 1 October 1909, weekly from 24 September 1927, semi-monthly from 7 July 1928, and monthly February-September 1931. Merged with Complete Stories from October 1931. It claimed at one stage to be the biggest magazine in the world.

The Popular Magazine was the first major pulp competition that Frank A Munsey received, challenging The Argosy and soon The All-Story, but unlike those magazines The Popular did not publish scientific romances or "different" stories to anything like the scale that Munsey did, neither did it develop an equivalent stable of writers. In fact the editor was expressly anti-sf, stating in the issue for 1 August 1910, "We don't care much for tales of the utterly impossible." Considering this handicap a surprising number of "impossible" stories slipped through the net.

The Popular began as a boy's magazine for the first few issues but soon changed its ways. Its earliest fantasy of any note was H Rider Haggard's sequel to She, Ayesha: The Return of She (January-August 1905; 1905) which was also being serialized in the UK in The Windsor Magazine, but did not conclude there until October 1905, so Popular's was the first complete publication of the novel. Nothing more of any consequence appeared until "Land of the Lost" (March-August 1909; 1909 as The Toll of the Sea) by Roy Norton where seismic activity causes a new continent to arise in the Pacific. Norton was best known as a writer of Westerns, but the Lost Race theme evidently appealed to him and he returned to it in "The Glyphs" (20 September 1919) and its sequel "The Secret City" (7 November-7 December 1919), both of which were later serialized in the UK in The Red Magazine and later issued in one book as The Caves of Treasure (fix up 1925). The Popular evidently enjoyed the lost race theme as it returned to it with several stories, including "The Last Atlantide" (17 December 1927-21 January 1928) by Fred MacIsaac, set in South America, and "Morgo the Mighty" (second August-first October 1930) by Sean O'Larkin, set in the Himalayas.

Starting in the issue for 1 February 1914 was "Babes in the Wood", a six-part series by George Sterling set in the Pleistocene Age and charting the lives of early humans (see Prehistoric SF). It may have encouraged John Charles Meecham to write "Out of the Miocene" (15 September-1 October 1914) where, by mind control, the protagonist is able to experience the past and encounters primitive humans. Both stories have a superficial similarity to Edison Marshall's "Og, the Dawn-Man" (24 March-14 April 1928; 1934 as Ogden's Strange Story) where following an accident, Ogden's consciousness Timeslips back to caveman days.

The threat of science was evident in both "The City of Dread" (15 October-15 November 1910; 1912 as The Sign at Six) by Stewart Edward White, with its Mad Scientist intent on freezing New York, and The Destroyer (15 May-15 July 1913; 1913) by Burton Stevenson, where in advance of the War the Germans are developing super-destructive electromagnets. Science brings world economies to their knees in "The Millenium Engine" (23 February 1915) by Leavitt Ashley Knight, where the invention in the future of a cheap, indestructible, near-perfect motorcar destroys the car and train industries. In "The Forgotten Land" (7 February 1917) by H H Knibbs (1874-1945) a plague wipes out white people and the American Indian recovers their territory. Edgar Wallace, though better known for his crime fiction, enjoyed dabbling with the power of science and brought the world to the brink in The Green Rust (7-28 August 1919; 1919). In The Day of Uniting (7 October 1921; 1926), a story worthy of the machinations of Harry Stephen Keeler, a series of preposterous events all seem to be a smokescreen to obscure from the world that it is about to be destroyed by a Comet.

Among its other borderline contributions to the genre were stories by John Buchan, John Collier, Sax Rohmer and several in the Craig Kennedy series by Arthur B Reeve. Henry C Rowland wrote an entire novel, "Utopia" (20 July 1919) set in the near future, showing Haiti as a new paradise where alcohol flows freely after Prohibition has been introduced in the USA. Jacques Futrelle had contributed several of his Thinking Machine stories to The Popular and had started a new series featuring detective Paul Darraq. The third in that series, "The Flying Eye" (November 1912) involves a paint that turns an aircraft invisible (see Invisibility) and a force ray or Tractor Beam that can draw people up from the ground. It may well have been the last story Futrelle sold before he drowned in the sinking of the Titanic. [MA/JE]


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