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Startling Stories

Entry updated 10 July 2023. Tagged: Publication.


1. US Pulp magazine, 99 issues January 1939 to Fall 1955, published by Better Publications January 1939 to Winter 1955, and by Standard Magazines (really the same company) Spring to Fall 1955; edited by Mort Weisinger (January 1939-May 1941), Oscar J Friend (July 1941-Fall 1944), Sam Merwin Jr (Winter 1945-September 1951), Samuel Mines (November 1951-Fall 1954), Theron Raines (Winter and Spring 1955) and Herbert D Kastle (Summer and Fall 1955). Leo Margulies was editorial director of Startling and its companion magazines during Weisinger's and Friend's editorships. The schedule varied between bimonthly (dated by month) and quarterly (dated by season), with a monthly period in 1952-1953.

Startling was started as a companion magazine to Thrilling Wonder Stories. Whereas Thrilling Wonder printed only shorter fiction, the policy of Startling was to include a complete novel (albeit sometimes very short) per issue; in its early years the cover bore the legend "A Novel of the Future Complete in This Issue". The space left for shorter stories was limited, and was partially filled by "Hall of Fame" reprints – stories from the Hugo Gernsback-edited Wonder Stories and its predecessors: #1 featured Stanley G Weinbaum's The Black Flame (January 1939; 1948). Contributors in the early years included Eando Binder, Oscar J Friend, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, Manly Wade Wellman and Jack Williamson. Hamilton's "A Yank at Valhalla" (January 1941; vt The Monsters of Juntonheim 1950; vt A Yank at Valhalla 1973 dos) was a particularly vigorous adventure. Early covers were by Howard Brown and Rudolph Belarski, but from 1940 onwards the covers were mostly by Earle K Bergey, the artist whose style is most closely identified with Startling and its sister magazines. The characteristic Bergey cover showed a rugged hero, a desperate heroine (in either a metallic bikini or a dangerous state of déshabillé) and a hideous Alien menace.

Under Weisinger and more particularly under Friend, Startling adopted a deliberately juvenile slant. This was most clearly manifested in the patronizing shape of the character "Sergeant Saturn", who conducted the letter column and other readers' departments (in Thrilling Wonder Stories and Captain Future as well as in Startling). Many readers were alienated by this, and when Merwin became editor he phased out such juvenilia and gradually built Startling into the best sf magazine of the period, apart from Astounding. In 1948-1949 it featured such novels as What Mad Universe (September 1948; exp 1949) by Fredric Brown, Against the Fall of Night (November 1948; 1953; rev vt The City and the Stars 1956) by Arthur C Clarke and Flight into Yesterday (May 1949; exp 1953; vt The Paradox Men 1955 dos; rev 1984) by Charles L Harness, in addition to novels by Henry Kuttner (mostly Science Fantasy) and Murray Leinster and stories by Ray Bradbury, Clarke, C M Kornbluth, John D MacDonald, Jack Vance, A E van Vogt and others.

Merwin left the magazine in 1951 (thereafter becoming a frequent contributor). By this time Startling, like other Pulp magazines, was feeling the effect of the increased competition provided by such new magazines as Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Merwin's successor, Mines, continued to publish interesting material, such as Philip José Farmer's The Lovers (August 1952; exp 1961) – which helped earn him a Hugo as Most Promising New Writer – and many Jack Vance stories, notably Big Planet (September 1952; 1957). The magazine adopted a new cover slogan ("Today's Science Fiction – Tomorrow's Fact") and a more dignified appearance, but it became another victim of the general decline of pulp magazines. In Spring 1955, as the most popular title in its stable, it absorbed Thrilling Wonder and its more recent companion, Fantastic Story Magazine (see Fantastic Story Quarterly). After two further issues it ceased publication, one short of #100.

Mines edited an anthology drawn from Startling's pages, The Best from Startling Stories (anth 1953; vt Startling Stories 1954), while a number of its "Hall of Fame" reprints were collected in From Off this World (anth 1949) edited by Margulies and Friend. A heavily cut and very irregular UK edition was published by Pembertons in 18 numbered issues, June 1949 to May 1954. A first Canadian reprint series ran 1945-1946, and a second 1948-1951. Damon Knight's useful selection The Shape of Things (anth 1965) is drawn exclusively from Startling and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

2. Startling Stories was revived in 2007 by Ron Hanna of Wild Cat Books, Winchester, Virginia. Its initial format was in letter-size, 64 pages, saddle-stapled, printed on semi-slick stock and available as print-on-demand. It reproduced the original Startling Stories logo on the cover but otherwise lacked the pulp format. The magazine's content, however, modelled itself on the original Captain Future pulp, introducing in the first issue its own Shared World sequence of Space Opera adventures, starting with Captain Steve Danger in "Calling Captain Danger" by Tom Johnson, Omega Station, created by K G McAbee, set in a port at the end of one of our galaxy's spirals, and the Space-Hawk Squadron, created by Wayne Skiver, featuring an inter-galactic police force with Superpowers. Other series characters were added in subsequent issues. The sequence lasted for six quarterly issues from January 2007 to May 2008 (numbered #1 to #6), the last of which made stronger links to the original Startling Stories by reprinting stories by Frank Belknap Long and Murray Leinster.

The magazine was then entirely revamped and reissued in traditional Pulp format, 204 pages, perfect bound on semi-slick stock, quarterly (though not consistently) from Fall 2008 to Summer 2012 – eight issues in all, numbered vol 2 #1 to vol 2 #8. Ron Hanna remained editor-in-chief but it was now edited by William Carney and reproduced the style and appearance of Startling Stories, including the editorial feature "The Ether Vibrates" and reprinting selected stories from the magazine and its companion titles alongside new stories, Comic-strips and art features. The shared-world approach was dropped but a few continuing series remained, and it retained the Retro-Pulp, space adventure atmosphere. The final issue was dated Summer 2012; Wild Cat Books ceased operations in 2013.

3. Startling Stories was revived again in February 2021 as an annual published by Wildside Press with John Betancourt as publisher and editor-in-chief and Doug Draa as editor, thus making it a companion to the revived Weirdbook. Apart from a reprint from Robert Silverberg, the issue was all-new fiction including a short novel by Betancourt himself. The aim is to keep alive the vivacious form of Space Opera and intelligent adventure fiction of the original pulp. [MJE/MA]

see also: Golden Age of SF.

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