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Wonder Stories

Entry updated 10 March 2019. Tagged: Publication.


1. US SF Magazine which began as Science Wonder Stories, letter-size, with twelve monthly issues, June 1929 to May 1930, and then merged with Air Wonder Stories as Wonder Stories for a further 66 issues from June 1930 to April 1966, continuing the volume numbering from Science Wonder. Published by Hugo Gernsback's Stellar Publishing Corporation June 1929 to October 1933, and by Gernsback's Continental Publications, Inc November 1933 to April 1936. David Lasser was managing editor until October 1933, being succeeded by Charles D Hornig, although Gernsback remained editor-in-chief throughout. Illustrator Frank R Paul was the cover artist for all issues. Wonder Stories was monthly until June 1933, skipped to August 1933, monthly October 1933 to October 1935, then three last issues: November/December 1935, January/February 1936 and April 1936. It remained letter-size until October 1930, then adopted the standard Pulp format November 1930 to October 1931, returning to bedsheet size from November 1931 and shrinking again from November 1933 until it was sold to Better Publications, to reappear as Thrilling Wonder Stories in August 1936, with volume numbers continuing from Wonder Stories.

After Gernsback lost control of his first sf magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1929, he rapidly made a comeback with a new company and two new magazines, Science Wonder Stories and, a month later, Air Wonder Stories. "SCIENCE WONDER STORIES are clean, CLEAN from beginning to end. They stimulate only one thing – IMAGINATION," he wrote in the first editorial. His policy, as usual, was to emphasize the didactic aspects of sf, and he claimed that every story had been passed by "an array of authorities and educators". Science Wonder Stories dealt with all aspects of science, unlike Air Wonder Stories, but in fact they used much the same authors and similar material, and it was logical, after a year, to amalgamate them as Wonder Stories. Science Wonder Stories was a handsome magazine, all the covers being by Frank R Paul. Authors included Miles J Breuer, Stanton A Coblentz, David H Keller (in ten of the twelve issues), Laurence Manning, Fletcher Pratt, Harl Vincent and Jack Williamson. Raymond Z Gallun made his debut here.

However, Gernsback came to believe that the word "Science" in the title was hampering the sales of the magazine, with potential buyers thinking it was a technical magazine rather than a fiction one. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow, but when he merged his two magazines in June 1930, he dropped the "Science". Shortly afterwards, Wonder Stories adopted the standard pulp size, making it all the more evident that Gernsback had recognized the rivalry of Astounding and had decided to join the ranks of the Pulp magazines. Some readers saw this as a sell-out, because the full letter size of Science Wonder and the earlier Amazing Stories did set the magazine apart from the regular pulps. Gernsback later reconsidered and returned Wonder to the larger size a year later, though he almost ceased publishing the magazine altogether with the October 1931 issue before a sudden financial opportunity allowed him not only to continue it, but to expand it and publish it on better quality paper. The Wonder Stories of the winter 1931/1932 was definitely not a pulp.

At a time when the Clayton Astounding was degrading science fiction with its wild adventures in space and time, and when Amazing was making little progress, being almost frozen in time under Sloane, Wonder, under the progressive editor David Lasser, was doing its best to be a haven for good science fiction and to encourage writers to develop the field. Notable stories under Lasser include John Taine's The Time Stream (December 1931-March 1932; 1946) and Jack Williamson's "The Moon Era" (February 1932). John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham) had his first story "Worlds to Barter" (May 1931) and much of his early work in Wonder Stories; Clifford D Simak also debuted here with "The World of the Red Sun" (December 1931), and Clark Ashton Smith published his best sf stories in it, some of the most individualistic sf in any magazine at the time, including "The City of Singing Flame" (July 1931), "The Eternal World" (March 1932) and "The Dweller in Martian Depths" (March 1933).

Leslie F Stone, a woman writer (in those days a rarity; see Women SF Writers), had five stories in Wonder Stories. Stone's "The Conquest of Gola" (April 1931) was one of the first stories in the pulps to take a realistic look at what space travel and exploring other worlds might really be like. The idea that humans needed to act responsibly in space and not simply invade other worlds and destroy the local life was developed by Edmond Hamilton in "A Conquest of Two Worlds" (February 1932) and P Schuyler Miller in "The Forgotten Man of Space" (May 1933), two of the most important stories that Lasser published. He also encouraged the teenage Frank K Kelly who produced several stories which considered the hazards of space travel, such as "The Moon Tragedy" (October 1933). Perhaps the most important contributor who is most closely associated with the magazine under Lasser was Laurence Manning, all of whose major work appeared there: "The Wreck of the Asteroid" (December 1932-February 1933) was another that considered the hazards of space exploration. He also contributed the Stranger Club series (1933-1935) and the Man Who Awoke series (March-August 1933; fixup 1975). The latter was one of the earliest stories to consider humanity's ecological impact on Earth. Nathan Schachner was another regular contributor, many of whose stories, such as "The Robot Technocrat" (March 1933), considered future social and political upheavals in the future.

Good though Lasser was in developing science fiction he also alienated writers through rewriting their stories and in this way lost Raymond Z Gallun and Clark Ashton Smith. He also became heavily involved in workers' rights during the Depression; and with his loyalties divided, Lasser was fired by Gernsback, who hired the teenage Charles D Hornig at a much lower salary. Advanced though he was for his years, Hornig was not as good an editor as Lasser, and under his control the magazine became rather more quirky and eccentric. His one stroke of luck was the discovery of Stanley G Weinbaum, and being able to publish his classic "A Martian Odyssey" (July 1934). It was also under Hornig, though it was Gernsback's suggestion, that Wonder Stories encouraged the growth of sf Fandom by sponsoring the Science Fiction League which was launched in April 1934.

Unfortunately the Depression bit deep into Gernsback's finances and this had a knock-on effect on his contributors, whom he was temporarily unable to pay. It became "payment on lawsuit", which drove many of his best writers over to the newly revamped Astounding. If Gernsback had been able to pay his authors a better rate and promptly (or, in some cases, at all) the magazine might have continued longer, and been a genuine rival to Astounding – although Hornig was not the editor to achieve this – but by 1936 he was finding it difficult to attract decent writers, circulation had dropped, and Wonder Stories was sold. It was bought by Ned Pines's Standard Magazines and continued as Thrilling Wonder Stories which was such a different magazine that it warrants a separate entry.

Wonder Stories is often denigrated because it was a Gernsback magazine, suffering by association: but during the years 1931 to early 1934 it published the best short science fiction available anywhere, and turned the sf field around, saving it from the pulp excesses of the Clayton Astounding and the museum-like stasis of Sloane's Amazing Stories. [MA]

2. After the demise of Thrilling Wonder Stories in Winter 1955, the Wonder Stories title was resuscitated for a reprint magazine, subtitled "An Anthology of the Best in Science Fiction" and edited by Jim Hendryx Jr. There appeared only two widely separated issues, dated 1957 and 1963, the first a Digest, the second a Pulp. These continued the Thrilling Wonder numeration, as volume 45, #1 and #2. [BS/PN]

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