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Thrilling Wonder Stories

Entry updated 19 December 2020. Tagged: Publication.


US Pulp magazine, a continuation of Wonder Stories, but with a sufficiently significant policy change to require separate treatment. 111 issues, August 1936 to Winter 1955. Published by Standard Magazines, New York under their subsidiaries, Beacon Magazines, August 1936 to June 1937, and Better Publications October 1937 to August 1943; before switching to Standard Magazines Fall 1943 to Winter 1955. Edited by Mort Weisinger (August 1936-June 1941), Oscar J Friend (August 1941-Fall 1944), Sam Merwin Jr (Winter 1945-October 1951), Samuel Mines (December 1951-Summer 1954) and Alexander Samalman (Fall 1954-Winter 1955). Leo Margulies was editorial director during Weisinger's and Friend's editorships. Thrilling Wonder Stories began as a regular bimonthly and changed to monthly December 1939 to April 1941, then back to bimonthly June 1941 to August 1943. A quarterly schedule followed, Fall 1943 to Fall 1946; then bimonthly December 1946 to August 1953. The last six issues from November 1953 to Winter 1955 were quarterly.

Thrilling Wonder Stories was the continuation, after a brief gap, of Hugo Gernsback's Wonder Stories; the adjective "Thrilling" was added to the title to bring it into conformity with other magazines from its new publisher. The issue numeration continued from Wonder Stories, August 1936 starting volume 8, but although it was the same magazine, its personality changed. The new magazine was more garish and more juvenile than its predecessor. The early covers, by Howard V Brown, are said to have been responsible for the coinage of the term Bug-Eyed Monsters (or BEMS), such creatures being a regular feature of his paintings, along with giant Dinosaurs, insects and men. The first eight issues featured an early sf Comic strip (Zarnak by Max Plaisted) which was abruptly suspended in mid-plot after the October 1937 number. Thrilling Wonder Stories's contributors were mostly second-string authors: Eando Binder, Frederick Arnold Kummer Jr, Arthur Leo Zagat and others.

It ran a number of popular series, notably John W Campbell Jr's Penton and Blake stories, Arthur K Barnes's Gerry Carlyle stories and the Hollywood on the Moon series by prolific contributor Henry Kuttner. An amateur writers' contest sponsored by the magazine was won by Alfred Bester with his first story, "The Broken Axiom" (April 1939). Thrilling Wonder Stories was successful enough to generate two companion magazines: Startling Stories, in January 1939, and Strange Stories, featuring mostly weird fiction, in February 1939. Startling featured longer stories (a complete novel in each issue, when possible) and soon became the better magazine. In mid-1940 Thrilling Wonder Stories also began to claim a "complete novel" in most issues, but in actuality the majority of these were no more than long novelettes. During this boom period a third companion, Captain Future, was initiated, and for a little over a year Thrilling Wonder Stories changed from its habitual bimonthly schedule and appeared monthly. Earle K Bergey succeeded Brown as cover artist with the September 1940, issue and was responsible for most subsequent covers; his paintings switched the emphasis from the BEM to the scantily clad lady being threatened by it. Thrilling Wonder Stories became even more juvenile in the early 1940s with the introduction of the "Sergeant Saturn" editorial mouthpiece (see Startling Stories).

When Merwin became editor he did away with the magazine's juvenile trappings and considerably improved it, although it remained evidently secondary to Startling. It published further noteworthy stories, including many from Murray Leinster, and some "novels" that were genuinely of novel length: A E van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher (February 1949; fixup 1951), James Blish's "Let the Finder Beware!" (December 1949; rev 1952 as Jack of Eagles; vt ESP-er) and Leigh Brackett's "Sea-Kings of Mars" (June 1949; 1953 as The Sword of Rhiannon). Ray Bradbury, whose first solo short story appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1943, was a regular contributor, as was Jack Vance, who also made his debut in its pages with "The World-Thinker" (Summer 1945). Vance's Magnus Ridolph series and Kuttner's Hogben stories were popular features of the Merwin Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Although the magazine acquired more companions in the boom of the early 1950s – Fantastic Story Magazine (see Fantastic Story Quarterly) and Space Stories – it soon began to suffer in the general decline of the pulp-magazine industry. Changes in editor had little effect on sales, even though under Mines the quality had improved. He published Edmond Hamilton's "What's It Like Out There?" (December 1952), which had been written back in 1932 but was considered too advanced at the time and was rejected by Wonder Stories. Mines also ran "No Lad of Nod" (December 1952) by Sherwood Springer, which considered what would happen if the sole survivors on earth were a father and daughter. He also published Philip José Farmer's celebrated Taboo-breaking "Mother" (April 1953). For these last few years Thrilling Wonder belied its gosh-wow pulp image and might have survived had it converted to a more respectable looking digest magazine – and changed its name! Instead, it went the way of all pulps. The last issue appeared in Winter 1955, after which the magazine's title (along with that of Fantastic Story Magazine) was absorbed into Startling for that magazine's last three issues.

Two issues of a reprint magazine, Wonder Stories, revived the old title and continued the Thrilling Wonder Stories numeration (see Wonder Stories). This later converted into the regular reprint annual Treasury of Great Science Fiction Stories. Two UK editions appeared for short periods, both heavily cut from the original: Atlas Publishing produced ten numbered issues (3 in 1949-1950, 7 in 1952-1953); Pemberton published a further 4, numbered #101-#104, in 1953-1954. A Canadian reprint ran 1945-1946 and again 1948-1951. Damon Knight's useful selection The Shape of Things (anth 1965) is drawn exclusively from Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

In 2007 the Thrilling Wonder Stories trademark was re-registered by editor/publisher Winston Engle for a fresh launch as an illustrated quarterly review-size trade paperback with a programme of, in Engle's own words, "... modern SF with the entertainment, inspirational value, and excitement of the golden age" (June 2007 Ansible). Two issues appeared, dated Summer 2007 (volume XLVI, #1) and Spring 2009 (volume XLVII, #1), both with Pulp-style covers. Contents were a mixture of reprints, with several original stories by Ben Bova, Eric Brown, Michael Kandel and others, and various nonfiction departments. [MJE/DRL/MA]

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