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Saturday Evening Post

Entry updated 5 August 2020. Tagged: Publication.


US weekly family magazine, and the foremost periodical, in the eyes of many, for representing the American way of life through its features and articles. Treated as a Slick magazine, it was never a formal slick in the sense of the hefty glossy women's magazines full of fashion and aimed at the women's market. It was a fairly thick tabloid that was often two-thirds advertisements and by 1948 had become the weekly reading matter of over 10% of America's adult population. It was regarded by writers as the leading market for fiction and the holy grail amongst writers for the Pulp magazines. If they sold to the Post then they had made it. This is why it became so newsworthy in the science-fiction field when Robert A Heinlein sold several stories to the magazine starting in 1947.

The Saturday Evening Post liked to claim it was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1728, making a dubious and highly tenuous link to a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, that Franklin had purchased in 1729 and which had run through to 1815. This same magazine, now renamed the Saturday Evening Post was supposed to have been re-established on 4 August 1821 by Charles and Samuel Atkinson, the connection being that it was produced in the same print shop and used the same type as Franklin's paper had used. For the next seventy years the Post was but one of many US papers, usually simple four-page broadsheets, that carried news, features and fiction – often pirated from abroad – in small type, often unillustrated. The earliest identifiable sf in the magazine was "A Succession of Sundays" (27 November 1841; vt "Three Sundays in a Week" 10 May 1845 Broadway Journal) by Edgar Allan Poe, a rather untypical story which may have given the idea to Jules Verne for Le tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours (1873; trans George M Towle as Around the World in Eighty Days 1874).

The real story of the Post begins in 1897 when Cyrus Curtis bought the magazine with the idea of making it a men's magazine, but rapidly discovered its potential as a wider family magazine. He relaunched it in January 1898 as a fully illustrated weekly built on three elements of business, public affairs and adventure. The latter was to be delivered through its fiction and Curtis hired George H Lorimer as his literary editor. Lorimer impressed Curtis so much that he soon made him editor-in-chief and so he remained until his retirement at the end of 1936. Lorimer turned the Post into a multi-million dollar business and it was thanks to him that the magazine became the goal of every aspiring writer. One of its earliest and best known stories that epitomized adventure and romance was The Call of the Wild (20 June-18 July 1903; 1903) which made Jack London's reputation overnight.

The Post carried some Proto SF in its earliest Lorimer issues, including Morgan Robertson's "The Battle of the Monsters" (22 July 1899), imagining the battle of microbes within the human body. Lorimer was certainly not averse to publishing stories of fantastic science such as "Mortmain" (2-9 July 1906) by Arthur Train which deals with limb and organ transplants (see Medicine). Train wrote several other speculative stories for the Post notably The Man Who Rocked the Earth (14-28 November 1914; 1915) with Robert W Wood, which looks ahead a few years into World War One where a super-scientist, who has discovered atomic power (see Nuclear Energy) and Antigravity threatens to move the Earth on its axis unless peace is restored. Other stories and serials from this period include "The Green Mouse" (12 November 1904) by Robert W Chambers, the first of the Green Mouse series about an Invention able to extract the essence of romance, assembled as The Green Mouse (coll of linked stories 1910); The Diamond Master (19 December 1908-9 January 1909; 1909) by Jacques Futrelle; and "When the World Was Young" (10 September 1910) by Jack London, cited as a possible source of inspiration for Tarzan. It also published a series of speculative articles by H G Wells on the future and aftermath of the War, starting with "What is Coming?" (1 January 1916).

Science fiction was less apparent in the Post over the next thirty years although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contributed both "The Maracot Deep" (8-29 October 1927) (see Under the Sea) and "The Death Voyage" (28 September 1929) an Alternate History of the end of the First World War. Lord Dunsany contributed his tall tale of a trip to Mars by plane in "Our Distant Cousins" (20 November 1929) and Thomas McMorrow appeared with "Mr Murphy of New York" (22 March 1930) which envisages a future New York with restrictions on building heights. Probably the best known story from this middle period, in addition to the author's Daniel Webster fantasies, was "The Place of the Gods" (31 July 1937; vt "By the Waters of Babylon" in Thirteen O'Clock coll 1937) by Stephen Vincent Benét, a post-catastrophe story with a famous depiction of the Ruined Earth.

Lorimer's successor, Wesley Winans Stout, saw the Post into World War Two, but the editor who saw it through that war and beyond, and who published so much science fiction after the war, was Ben Hibbs (1901-1975). It was Robert A Heinlein who first made the grade with "The Green Hills of Earth" (8 February 1947). Heinlein sold several more stories to the Post though Gerald Kersh took a more measured, one-step-at-a-time approach to acclimatize post-war Post readers to science fiction with "Note on Danger B" (5 April 1947), about an unlikely possible danger of exceeding the sound barrier, and the Timeslip classic "The Monster" (21 February 1948; vt "The Brighton Monster" in The Brighton Monster and Others coll 1953) about a possible consequence of the detonation of the atom bomb. William F Jenkins (see Murray Leinster), who had first encouraged Heinlein to sell to the Post, also appeared with "Doomsday Deferred" (24 September 1949), about the relentless peril of army ants.

It was inevitable that Ray Bradbury would soon sell to the Post, starting with "The World the Children Made" (23 September 1950; vt "The Veldt" The Illustrated Man 1951) and including the well known "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (23 June 1951; vt "The Fog Horn" in The Golden Apples of the Sun coll 1953), but of equal importance was that writers already established in the Slicks for their mainstream work or occasional fantasies would also turn to sf. These included Paul Gallico with several stories – among them the early all-knowing Computer tale "The Terrible Answer" (17 June 1950) – and the serial "To Live Forever" (18 April-6 June 1953; vt The Foolish Immortals 1953); and Conrad Richter (1890-1968) with the Time Travel story "Doctor Hanray's Second Chance" (10 June 1950) and others. Philip Wylie made a profound statement for peace in his novella The Answer (7 May 1955; 1955 chap). The Post also serialized Wylie's The Smuggled Atom Bomb (4 August-1 September 1951), plus "The Day That New York Was Invaded" (25 December 1954-29 January 1955; vt The Mouse That Roared 1955) by Leonard Wibberley and No Blade of Grass (1956 UK as The Death of Grass; 27 April-8 June 1957; 1957) by John Christopher, all reflecting the post-war Paranoia.

There was more than enough sf being published in the Post by these contributors and others (Edmund Cooper, Jack Finney, Frank Harvey, Ward Moore, William Sambrot and Robert Standish) to allow the editorial staff to compile The Post Reader of Fantasy and Science Fiction (anth 1964). Barthold Fles (1901-1989) had earlier compiled Saturday Evening Post Fantasy Stories (anth 1951).

When Ben Hibbs left the Post in 1961 there was a quick succession of editors and the proportion of science fiction diminished. The original magazine ceased publication in March 1969 but has since been revived, chiefly as a vehicle for nostalgia but with a focus on literary standards and national health (see website below). Perhaps fittingly, the last sf to appear in its pages was a series by Isaac Asimov, "The Dream" (January 1974), "Benjamin's Dream" (April 1974) and "Benjamin's Bicentennial Blast" (June/July 1974) all collected as "The Dream", "Benjamin's Dream" and "Benjamin's Bicentennial Blast" (coll 1976 chap), which took the magazine back to its fabricated origins and projects Benjamin Franklin's visions of the future. [MA]

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