Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Theme.
Term introduced by F Orlin Tremaine in the December 1933 issue of Astounding, describing an idea-centred type of story he aimed to include in each issue henceforth. These "thought-variant" stories, as distinct from the action-adventure sf tradition of the Pulp magazine, should each develop an idea that "has been slurred over or passed by in many, many stories". The same issue carried Tremaine's first example, Nat Schachner's "Ancestral Voices" (December 1933 Astounding) (see Time Paradoxes); another of note was Donald Wandrei's "Colossus" (January 1934 Astounding) (see Cosmology; Great and Small). Though sometimes little more than a promotional gimmick, this policy helped shift the centre of gravity of magazine sf from Space Opera (in its initial derogatory sense) towards idea-driven speculation. John Russell Fearn was a frequent thought-variant contributor.
The notion was soon imitated by the 1933-1936 Wonder Stories editor Charles D Hornig, whose "new-story" policy's few successes included Stanley G Weinbaum's debut, "A Martian Odyssey" (July 1934 Wonder Stories). At Astounding, Tremaine's successor John W Campbell Jr briefly offered his own variants of the thought-variant: whole "Mutant" issues of the magazine, intended to mark significant changes in its and sf's direction, and "Nova" stories defined as "unusual in manner of presentation rather than basic theme". Both these terms were short-lived. [DRL]
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