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Science and Invention

Entry updated 24 March 2017. Tagged: Publication.


US monthly letter-size popular-science magazine, Slick paper; 220 issues May 1913 to August 1931. It began as The Electrical Experimenter and changed title to Science and Invention in August 1920. Published 1913-1929 by Experimenter Publishing, under Hugo Gernsback until his bankruptcy in 1929, thereafter published by Radio-Science Publications. Although Gernsback was overall editor-in-chief, the hands-on editor was H Winfield Secor (1888-1977) until June 1925 and then Joseph H Kraus (1898-1967) who remained as editor after the bankruptcy proceedings until the magazine was sold in August 1931 and merged with Popular Mechanics. The Electrical Experimenter was partly modelled on Gernsback's earlier magazine Modern Electrics, which he had started in April 1908 and sold in March 1913 (it eventually merged with Popular Science Monthly in April 1915). It was in Modern Electrics that Gernsback's serial Ralph 124C 41+ (April 1911-March 1912 Modern Electrics; 1925) had first appeared.

From the start Gernsback encouraged contributions where readers looked for new scientific ideas and explored them in fiction. He led by example with his serial, Baron Münchhausen's New Scientific Adventures (May 1915-February 1917; 2010) which was once again full of Inventions and speculation. The first to take up Gernsback's challenge was George Frederic Stratton, a writers of boys' fiction, who suggested a series of new inventions in "Omegon" (September 1915), "The Gravitation Nullifier" (October 1915) and particularly "The Poniatowski Ray" (January 1916). The war in Europe and its effects on American shipping caused writers to suggest new Weapons or methods of defence. Stratton continued to suggest ideas in his fiction whilst Gernsback, Secor and others suggested ideas in various articles, such as the anonymous illustrated feature "Warfare of the Future" (November 1915). Most of the stories were trivial but "At War With the Invisible" (March-April 1918) by R and G Winthrop, illustrated by Frank R Paul was a genuine full-length novella describing Scientists' attempts to find a way to locate Alien invaders who had a shield of Invisibility. After the War the extent of speculative articles and fiction increased significantly and the magazine added further pages to cope with the growth. The March 1920 issue was especially significant. Gernsback provided an editorial, "The Moon Rocket"; George Wall provided a feature, "The Airship of Tomorrow"; and Charles S Wolfe provided the first of what would become a series of scientific detective stories with "Whispering Ether". The next issue introduced Wolfe's series detective Joe Fenner. Stories and features about the future began to snowball which was part of the reason why Gernsback changed the title to Science and Invention from August 1920. That issue incorporated a feature by Charles I Horne about Jules Verne, which was soon followed by an uncredited piece, "An American Jules Verne" (October 1920) about Luis Senarens. The April 1921 issue boasted a cover by Howard V Brown "Can We Visit the Planets?" and inside there were various articles on space travel. The next issue, May 1921, saw the first of the Dr Hackensaw stories by Clement Fezandié which would come to epitomize Gernsbackian sf – the sugar-coated lecture about the possibilities of science. Gernsback regarded Fezandié as the greatest living exponent of "scientifiction". Almost all of his Dr Hackensaw series – 39 short stories and a four-part serialized novel "A Journey to the Center of the Earth" (June-September 1925) – was published in Science and Invention (two final stories appeared in Amazing). These are wooden as narratives, but contain lively ideas about new inventions, including Robots, television and brainwashing through dissolution of neural ganglia; Hackensaw even experiences weightlessness, on a trip to the Moon.

From March 1920 onwards there was not a single issue that did not contain either a speculative article or speculative fiction, often both, and often several. The August 1923 issue contained a special "Scientific Fiction" section with a cover by Howard V Brown, and contributions by G Peyton Wertenbaker, Ray Cummings, Gernsback himself and Fezandié amongst others. The Cummings item was an episode of his serial "Around the Universe" (July-December 1923). Cummings would contribute three further serials, The Man on the Meteor (January-September 1924; 1943), Tarrano the Conqueror (July 1925-August 1926; 1930) and Into the Fourth Dimension (September 1926-May 1927; 1981). Gernsback also ran a serial by A Merritt, "The Metal Emperor" (November 1927-July 1928; 1946 as The Metal Monster), a revision of a novel recently serialized in Argosy (7 August-25 September 1920 as "The Metal Monster"). It is perhaps surprising, since Gernsback had launched Amazing Stories in April 1926, that the later Cummings and Merritt serials did not appear there: this serves to emphasize that Gernsback wanted to continue to stimulate the imagination of the young experimenters and gadgeteers who read Science and Invention and whom he might yet entice over to Amazing Stories.

Science and Invention was a more commercially successful magazine than Amazing, with a formula not unlike that later adopted by Omni. But although it was from Science and Invention that Amazing Stories evolved and thereby the whole genre of magazine science fiction, there was not a single writer whom Gernsback published in the magazine who went on to establish themselves as a major force in the sf world, not even G Peyton Wertenbaker, who was Gernsback's most exciting pre-Amazing discovery. Most of the contributors to Science and Invention had been experimenters who enjoyed putting a new idea into a story but were not experienced writers. Gernsback may have created the crucible from which the sf genre emerged, but it was the Frank A Munsey school of writers and the great pioneers like H G Wells and Jules Verne whose work influenced the later writers. [MA/PN]


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