Our Pulp Fiction Heritage and the Significance of Moldering Magazines
by Robert Bee
Until the 1960s most science fiction was published in magazines with titles such as Amazing Stories, Startling Stories, Astounding Stories, Galaxy, Fantastic Stories, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. Science Fiction was rarely published in book form until paperbacks became common, and initially the paperbacks were largely reprints from the magazines. It's hard to exaggerate the importance of the magazines to the genre's history, since they controlled the length and content of science fiction stories and novels, as well as shaping the reception of stories and the reputations of authors through blurbs, artwork, and introductions.
In the 60s and 70s, magazines were as vital a part of SF publishing as books. Today it might be argued that the genre's short- fiction magazines have faded in importance as book publication has become the primary and most prestigious form of publication; yet even today many SF writers build their names in the magazines before publishing a novel. Magazines remain an important way for new writers to develop, as well as offering a place for established writers to develop ideas and experiment in a shorter format. To understand the history of science fiction we must study our science fiction magazines as print artifacts.
Inside and Out
Critics who emerge from within the genre, either as writers or as fans, have long recognized the magazine's importance to evolution of the field. Barry Malzberg, in his trenchant and thoughtful book of SF criticism Breakfast in the Ruins, discusses how the magazines and the editors have shaped the types of stories writers produced, for better and for worse. Damon Knight, in his essays of criticism, In Search of Wonder, and James Blish, in The Issue at Hand, commented on magazine fiction of the 1950s, and were among the first to establish critical standards for the field. Prolific amateur fan researcher Sam Moskowitz produced work that was sometimes inaccurate at the detail level but remains significant in that Moskowitz unearthed and cataloged information and stories from forgotten magazines and even 19th century newspapers. Examples of his work include Explorers of the Infinite and Seekers of Tomorrow. Mike Ashley's magisterial three-volume History of the Science Fiction Magazine provides one of the strongest accounts of the genre; their focus on the pulp magazines make Ashley's books essential reference works in SF criticism.
Academic critics, who may not know the history or traditions of the field, tend to ignore the importance of magazines. Important academic works that ignore the fiction’s context include C.N. Manlove's Science Fiction: Ten Explorations, Mark Rose's Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction, and David Samuelson’s Visions of Tomorrow: Six Journeys from Outer to Inner Space. These otherwise insightful books are filled with significant theoretical points that are clearly the result of close readings of the literature, but they lose historical value when the authors stress novels and reprint anthologies, a mistaken focus that may derive from applying mainstream models to science fiction works. Mainstream critics tend to focus on individual geniuses, whereas SF is an ongoing conversation between fans and writers: a conversation that occurs at conventions, in fanzines, and in fiction magazines. Any study of a popular genre such as SF must include careful attention to the historical, editorial, and commercial details of the fiction as well as the literary contexts. Paul Carter gets closer in The Creation of Tomorrow, a clearly written study of magazine SF from 1919 through the 1950s which provides an alternative to the novel-focused criticism so common among academic critics. Sadly, although Carter's book is attentive to historical contexts, it does not offer enough theoretical or critical insight.
One deterrent to researching the old magazines remains the expense of collecting them. Pulp magazines were not considered important by academic libraries until fairly recently, and only a few libraries such as the New York Public Library, Temple University, Texas A&M, LSU, and The University of California at Riverside have large collections. For a complete listing of science fiction research libraries consult the Anatomy of Wonder (811-836). Most of these archived collections are far from complete, and obviously a scholar can only consult them if s/he happens to be located nearby. The way most scholars consult these magazines is to buy them, an expensive proposition even though eBay has made the process cheaper and easier. Despite the difficulties of locating and collecting them, reading the actual magazines (rather than reprint anthologies) remains essential to understanding the genre. The magazines provide historical context, and much of the magazine fiction has not been reprinted, or at best, has appeared in hard-to-find editions. The work of most minor authors -- who published only a few stories in the magazines -- has never been collected. For genre or historical studies of science fiction, the minor writers are important; SF tropes are developed in an enormous megatext, a shared tapestry of meaning constructed by all the fans and writers, not just the majors. Science fiction magazines, with their intimate connection between readers and writers, constitute one of the best examples of a genre socially constructed through the interaction of a community.
Works Unseen, Authors Unsung
For a sense of how little pulp-published material is available to any but a small number of scholars, an excellent resource is Everett and Richard Bleiler's book Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years. This reference book describes and catalogs by motif and theme every story, editorial, poem, and letter in SF pulp magazines from 1926 to 1936. Fewer than 15% of the stories discussed have been reprinted. No comparable book has been written describing later periods of SF, but even if a larger percentage of that work has been reprinted, there is still a massive amount of important content that molders in old magazines.
Many famous writers have not seen their entire corpus published. Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison each published hundreds of short stories in the 50s, and only a small percentage of that work has appeared in book form. A several-volume project is in the works to reprint Silverberg's complete short fiction, but it's unclear whether (and in fact unlikely that) the project will actually publish all his stories (To Be Continued). Admittedly many of these stories are not either author's best work, but they tell scholars quite a bit about the tropes and themes important to the science fiction of the time as well as the writers’ development.
The magazines avoided publishing more than one story by the same author in an issue, so prolific writers like Ellison and Silverberg produced work under a variety of pennames. Although fans and scholars have traced many of these pennames, much pseudonymous work has not been reprinted. The husband and wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore relied on at least seventeen pennames. Although there have been several anthologies of Moore and Kuttner's work, much of their writing, which helped shape the development and maturation of SF as a genre, remains between the covers of various pulp magazines (Kuttner and Moore, Two-Handed Engine). This fact is unfortunate because Kuttner and Moore were at times overshadowed by their pseudonyms and were not given credit for the sheer breadth and quality of their work. Some pulp magazines had issues largely written by Kuttner and Moore under various pseudonyms. They were such an effective writing team that if one of them stepped away from the typewriter for a minute the other could take over the story where the other writer left off (Clute, Encyclopedia, 827). Their stories were varied enough that some of their pennames conveyed a "heteronym," a term coined by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa who wrote his poetry and prose under a variety of pen names. Pessoa's heteronyms differ from pseudonyms in that he invented a biography and a different writing style for each of his "other selves." Kuttner and Moore's strongest heteronyms include "Lewis Padgett" and "Laurence O'Donnell." The Lewis Padgett stories, largely published in Astounding during the 40s and 50s include classics such as "The Twonky" and "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," and the Baldy series about persecuted supermen. The Padgett stories are slick, clever SF, with humor and complicated plots. The Lawrence O'Donnell stories, most notably "Clash by Night" and "Fury" are thematically complex with strong characterization and literary touches such as epigraphs, quotations, and mythological references. Kuttner and Moore also wrote under other pennames several superb science fantasy and far future novels for Startling Stories during the 40s. Kuttner and Moore's pennames conveyed distinct enough styles that fans might list their favorite writers as one or more Kuttner and Moore pseudonyms without connecting the pennames back to the original writers.
Much of the nonfiction published in the science fiction magazines has also never been republished and remains of enormous historical value. One excellent guide to the development of the genre is Judith Merrill's criticism. Merill edited S-F The Year's Greatest Science- Fiction and Fantasy from 1956 to 1968, selecting the stronger magazine stories, and writing insightful introductions. She also wrote book reviews for Fantasy and Science Fiction from May 1965-May 1969. Merrill's criticism is especially important because it developed from inside the genre and reacted intelligently to the fiction as it was being produced, at a time when most academic critics ignored SF. Reviews by critics and writers such as Anthony Boucher and Avram Davidson in Fantasy and Science Fiction also help chart everything from the reputation of writers to the reaction of SF's readership to changes in the genre. For example, Lester del Rey's reviews in Galaxy in the late 60s chart some of the resistance to the New Wave among traditional SF writers and fans, and can be compared to Michael Moorcock's editorials promoting the New Wave in New Worlds.
Willy Ley's science columns, largely appearing in Galaxy in the 50s and 60s, had an enormous influence on fandom, as did Asimov's science columns in Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. For decades an editorial led off many SF magazines, a popular feature with the fans. John W. Campbell's trenchant and eccentric editorials helped give Astounding/Analog its unique character. In his early years as an editor, his editorials about science helped Astounding establish its reputation as a serious and technical magazine. Later, when his editorials focused more on his obsessions with perpetual motion machines, ESP, Dianetics, and his rightwing politics, he alienated a significant chunk of fans, and facilitated the migration of readers to other magazines such as Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Galaxy.
More Historical Context
The letter columns in magazines such as Astounding/Analog, Worlds of If, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fantastic, and Amazing are generally neglected by critics and historians. Michael Ashley, to his credit, weaves letters and fan reactions to the magazines into his history, but he remains one of the few critics to discuss this rich material. The letter columns demonstrate the reaction of fans to stories and authors, discuss politics, and were a way for fans from different parts of the country to network.
Evidence of reading is hard to obtain since the act of reading leaves no traces. Reading scholars, in an attempt to find documentary evidence for reading, have studied letters, diaries, and marginalia. The letter columns in the magazines offer an enormous amount of reading evidence, tracing which stories and writers appealed to SF readers as well as what they were looking for when they read SF. Samuel Delany has written pioneering criticism on the unique ways that science fiction is read (The Jewel-Hinged Jaw). One way to test the validity of theories offered by scholars such as Delany is to examine the way fans describe their reading practices in the letter columns.
Fantastic and Amazing magazines published a lot of significant nonfiction in the 60s and 70s, some of it never reprinted. In the 70s, Fantastic printed a series of essays by Alexei and Cory Panshin, which contains an excellent analysis of writers such as E.E. Doc Smith and Van Vogt. Fantastic also published a broad selection of interesting articles such as "Science Fiction and Drugs" (June 1970 132-135) by Donald K. Arbogast (a penname for Ted White), and essays by L. Sprague de Camp on Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers, which charted the rise of sword and sorcery.
Paratexts stand out as another excellent reason to study science fiction magazines. Gerard Genette coined the term paratext to refer to information that is a supplemental to the actual text, such as the introduction or index in a book. Within the science fiction magazines, the paratexts include the editorial comments, the blurbs, the "about the author" text, the illustrations, the cover painting, the letters page, etc. The editor will foreground the stories and authors that s/he thinks will help sell the magazine by featuring their names on the cover, and more profusely illustrating their work. The blurbs that precede each story also constitute an important paratext. Readers would sometimes decide which story to read first by glancing at the blurbs. In the October 1950 issue of Galaxy, the serial "Time Quarry" contains the blurb: "One life should be enough to give for humanity . . . but humanity wanted Asher Sutton to keep making the sacrifice indefinitely!" (4). For Frederic Brown's "The Last Martian": "The worries of a drunk are strange indeed. This one feared his people were all dead on another world. Silly, of course. Only . . . "(145). In the November 1951 issue of Galaxy the blurb for Frank Quattrocchi "Sea Legs" reads: "Restless and footloose, a man in space can't help but dream of coming home. But something nobody should do is bet on the validity of a homesick dream!" (5). For "Self-Portrait" by Bernard Wolfe: "In the credo of this inspiringly selfless cyberneticist, nothing was too good for his colleagues in science. Much too good for them!"(58). Galaxy's blurbs focused on plot as a way to attract readers browsing the magazine at a store, often relying on paradoxes or surprises to build suspense. Sometimes a Galaxy blurb relied on irony or satire to draw the reader in. The last blurb, for example, might cause the reader to wonder about the irony in the "selfless cyberneticist," giving his colleagues something that is "Much too good!" Was the "selfless" cyberneticist going to do something perverse to his colleagues, or harm them in the guise of helping them? Galaxy was a magazine that published quite a bit of satire, and that tendency is reflected in the ironic and paradoxical blurbs.
Many blurbs tried to direct the reader's reaction to a story. The editor John W. Campbell's blurbs in Astounding magazine inform us how he wanted the magazine's stories read. For example, in the June 1952 issue of Astounding, the blurb in Theodore R. Cogswell's "The Specter General" reads: "Normally, a colony is a fairly balanced miniature of its civilization, and acts pretty much like the civilization. But some most peculiar results can come from an isolated military base!" (9). For "The Ghost Town" by Donald Kingsbury : "Sometimes a cat gets into trouble; it's got claws that make climbing up a tree easy, but getting down again is tougher. And under certain conditions getting to the Moon would be like the problem of the tree-climbing cat!" (58). For Francis Donovan "The Short Life": "The Alien had to choose -- and fast -- a living entity to act through. He chose . . . but he made one error . . ."(6, October 1955). For "New Blood" by James E. Gunn: "It would be very dangerous indeed to have something of inestimable value that could not be communicated, taught, or known by any other human being! If you had immortality, but didn't know how or why, for instance . . . ." (62, October 1955). Campbell's blurbs tended to be longer than those by other editors, and to focus on ideas rather than plot or character. Astounding often published "problem-solving science fiction," and Campbell emphasized the problem-solving motif. The tree-climbing cat, the alien, and the immortal in the above blurbs all have a problem to resolve.
The illustrations, both the cover paintings and the interior drawings, are a significant component of the science fiction genre and the magazines' history. At their best, the illustrations convey the same sense of wonder as the fiction. Unfortunately, the original magazines remain the only place to study most SF illustration, which is an underappreciated art form that museums and universities rarely collect because they see illustration as hackwork rather than fine art. Many original cover paintings were not preserved because the magazines often threw them out after printing them. Much SF illustration -- especially the black and white interior art -- has never been republished. SF fans are the primary means of preserving the illustrations: a number of fans have developed extensive collections of original SF art.
The illustrations were created to help sell the magazines rather than to create original art, generally dramatizing a scene from a story, although some writers wrote stories based on a painting, thus reversing the usual order. Much of the iconography of SF: the rocketships, the aliens, the spacemen, the damsels in distress, are either powerfully or awkwardly rendered in paintings and drawings. Frank R. Paul emerged as the father of pulp SF art by painting the covers of all of Hugo Gernsback’s early SF magazines, embellishing the magazines with garish futuristic machines and cities. Howard Brown helped create the space art of magazines such as Astounding and Startling Stories. The magnificent crosshatched art of Virgil Finley, which was published in 27 different magazines, remains impressive; he probably was the best draughtsman in the genre’s history. Chesley Bonestell brought the style of photographic realism to space art, and his paintings invoked wonder and a fascination for space exploration.
The magazines allow critics to chart changes in the genre over time. I have a collection of several thousand science fiction magazines which I rely on for personal enjoyment and to write articles. My collection contains a complete run of Galaxy magazine and Worlds of If. I own nearly every issue of Fantastic from the 1970s, and most issues of Fantastic and Amazing from 58-70, with an especially strong selection from the classic Cele Goldsmith era of 58- 65. I also own hundreds of Analog/Astounding from the 40s through 80s, although that selection is incomplete. I collect assorted Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and a few New Worlds. The collection remains far from complete, and is ongoing, both in use and in accumulation.
If we look at a magazine picked at random from my collection, the January 1945 issue of Astounding, we can discern quite a bit about the genre at the time. The cover of the magazine advertises the feature story "The Mixed Men" by A.E. Van Vogt. Like most of the Astoundings of the era, the cover contains a black background. Some of Astounding’s cover paintings from the 40s and 50s had yellow or red backgrounds, but the digest sized magazine eschewed the garish design of magazines like Planet Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, and published covers with a solid color background and a foreground generally depicting either an astronaut, spaceship, planet, robot, or alien. The design told the reader that the magazine was serious and technical, not designed for juveniles. The January issue begins with an editorial by the editor John W. Campbell about "decimal points" and physics, and then offers a novelette, three short stories, and a serial. The nonfiction includes three science articles illustrated by photos and diagrams. The fiction highlights include the A.E. Van Vogt novelette, and a Frederic Brown short story. The interior art is printed in a subdued black and white. The reader's letters are often remarkably erudite, discussing the science in the stories or factual articles, and the merits of the fiction. Astounding is educational and technical, perfect for engineers and science nerds.
Astounding represents a tradition within science fiction that dates back to Hugo Gernsback, who created the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories in 1926, and envisioned "scientific fiction" as a way to educate people about science and technology. Gernsback felt the pleasure of fiction could make the educational pill of science easier to swallow.
Startling Stories represents a strikingly different style of science fiction magazine: one that saw its role as entertainment and social networking for fans. The July 1948 issue of Startling features a cover painting of a group of horrified people being swallowed by the Earth, while in the foreground a beautiful blonde wearing a torn, revealing dress flees in panic. The artist was Earle Bergey, who painted most of the covers for the magazine from 1940 forward, and generally emphasized tough-guy heroes or a heroine in a metallic bra or torn clothing, often being pursued by a BEM (bug-eyed monster).
Startling is larger in size than a digest magazine and designed to catch the eye of an adolescent male who might enjoy observing the gaps in the blonde's dress while scanning the pulp magazines at the drug store. Serious fans in the '40s and '50s often complained in the letter columns that although they liked the fiction, the covers made them embarrassed to be seen with the magazines. The content was more mature than the covers, which were justified as a necessary device for selling the magazine. Although the serious fans and readers may have been the magazine's core readership, the magazines also sold on the newsstands to casual readers attracted to the garish art. The interior art is less sensualistic, and illustrates scenes from the stories more closely than the cover paintings. Instead of science articles, the nonfiction concentrates on fannish issues: the editorial discusses fan organizations, and the magazine includes a column that reviews fanzines. The letter column is also fan focused, and more extensive than Astounding. The fan features helped Startling build a loyal following, and provided lonely fans with a chance for some human contact.
The fiction is impressive and includes a reprint novel by Edmond Hamilton, a novelette by Emmet MacDowell, and five short stories by the pre-cult L. Ron Hubbard, a Henry Kuttner reprint, Jack Vance, Margaret St. Clair, and Walt Sheldon. Problematically, the magazine continued to publish some reprints throughout its history, which contrasts with Astounding, the leading magazine of its time, which did not publish reprints. The problem with reprints is that they stifle innovation by offering fewer publication slots for new writers.
Under Sam Merwin, editor of Startling from '45 - '51, the magazine matured. Merwin dropped features such as the reader columns introduced by "Sergeant Saturn"--a figure that alienated many serfans- - and transformed the magazine into one of the better SF publications of its time. Startling published a lot of science fantasy rather than the more technical fiction of Astounding, with writers such as Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, and Jack Vance appearing often.
From 1951-1954 Samuel Mines edited the magazine, and despite the fact that the publication faced increasing competition and folded in 1955, Mines continued to publish good fiction. The classic Mines issue is probably August 1952, which published the taboo-breaking Philip Jose Farmer classic novel The Lovers. The novel was eventually republished as a paperback, but reading the reprint does not have the same effect as reading the original magazine which contained an editorial proclaiming the importance of the novel. Virgil Finley's interior illustrations accentuate the story, and the letter columns of later issues show the fans' vociferous reaction to the story, both pro and con.
Galaxy began publication in 1950 in digest format, and along with Fantasy and Science Fiction was part of the literary reaction to the pulp roots of science fiction. The two magazines intended to make the genre better written with stronger literary values. Galaxy's early covers were designed in an L format, with a white trim around the painting, which contrasts with the pulpy, sensationalistic covers on Startling and Thrilling Wonder Stories. The rear cover of the first issue -- in this case a significant paratext -- was headlined: "You'll Never See It In Galaxy." The things you'll never see in Galaxy include the clichéd themes of space opera, or westerns in space, with "hyperdrives" and "six gun fights." Galaxy was a magazine for serfans, "serious fans," who wanted adult themes and intelligent ideas. Horace Gold's first editorial, "For Adults Only," pointed out that everything about the magazine: from the cover, the interior illustrations, and the design, were designed to break from the juvenile focus of some pulp magazines. Fans would not be ashamed to be seen with an issue of Galaxy.
The paper stock was higher quality, and the magazine was stapled rather than just glued. In my personal collection, Galaxy has survived the ravages of time much better than the larger, pulp magazines of the era. I'm assuming the paper quality is a significant reason for the difference because every Startling Stories I own is crumbling and brittle, whereas the Galaxy magazines are rarely brittle.
Galaxy avoided many of the accouterments of fandom, which Horace Gold apparently associated with the juvenile pulps: it did not run a letter column, or articles about fandom and conventions.
Galaxy's fiction lived up to Gold's principles, tending to be eclectic, and focused on psychology and sociology rather than the hard science fiction of Astounding. The magazine published most of the major writers of the 50s including Heinlein, Asimov, Simak, and Bradbury. The magazine became strongly associated with the satire of Pohl and Kornbluth, but it also published prizewinning stories by writers such as Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester, Avram Davidson, and Jack Vance.
Although the first issues featured cover illustrations Gold was proud of, tending to foreground landscape over action and human figures, the paintings were at best uninspired. The art improved when Emsh (Ed Emshwiller) started contributing covers. Later issues of Galaxy published interior art by artists such as Jack Gaughan, which gave the magazine a more stylish look.
After Gold retired in 1961, Frederick Pohl took over as editor. He expanded Galaxy's editorial policy by accepting science fantasy from Jack Vance and Cordwainer Smith. He also edited Worlds of If throughout the '60s and early '70s; the more popular of the two, If won three Hugos. Pohl considered Galaxy the flagship publication, and If a secondary title, but the fans did not agree. A glance at the two magazines demonstrates that both were excellent publications, but If tended to publish "fun" stories, especially space opera, and serials by golden age writers E. E. Doc Smith and Van Vogt. Although Galaxy rarely published serials and series, If relied on them extensively, which was popular with the readers; some well received serials and series include Fred Saberhagen's Berserker stories, Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Keith Laumer's Retief series, C.C. MacApp's Gree series, and the early work of Larry Niven.
Science Fiction is a commercial genre, relying on subscriptions and newsstand sales to survive. Science Fiction magazines, with the exception of the British magazines New Worlds and Interzone, have not received government subsidies, and the British magazines have only sporadically received arts council funding. To my knowledge SF magazines have received little to nothing in the way of gifts, donations, or aristocratic patronage. The online SF magazine Strange Horizons survives from reader donations, and has reader fund drives like public radio, but this funding model is new and does not allow it to turn a profit or pay its editors. SF magazines survive on reader subscriptions, while most magazines and newspapers attempt to recoup costs with subscriptions and newsstand sells and make a profit through advertising.
The Economics of SF
The magazines are an essential tool in researching how commercialism affects the genre. Some self-consciously literary fiction is published by university presses with government and university subsidies and can afford to lose money. When Startling Stories ceased to make a profit it folded, a fate that most SF magazines have faced eventually.
The commercial restrictions faced by editors and writers have always been very real, perhaps more so when SF was solely or largely published in magazines. If one book is censored, a publishing company with a varied catalog can probably recover. If a magazine is censored, than it goes out of business; consequently, the SF magazines had to be careful about including sex and profanity.
Commercial restrictions involved more than just concern for sex and profanity; print publication, unlike the Internet, is limited to the number of words that can fit on a page. For years a SF novel had to be written to the length of 60,000 words, as anything much longer required too many issues to serialize, and anything shorter was not considered a novel. Short stories, novellas, and novelettes also had artificial length requirements which varied from magazine to magazine.
When science fiction was initially published in book form it was often in the form of a "fix-up;" a book composed of stories from the magazines stitched together as a novel or a short story collection. Science Fiction stories were often written in series, which allowed an author to create a world and then set several stories in that world, rather than creating a new world and a new future for every story, and gave the writer more freedom to develop his/her world. Fix-ups generally incorporated some new material to connect the loose ends and make the book read more smoothly. Many genre classics are fix-ups, including Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, Charles Stross's Accelerando, and much of A.E. Van Vogt's work. The fix-up form works because the writer can develop a world over several years, and then revise and rework the material for book publication. It is a form greatly affected by commercial pressures, but that productively benefits from those pressures. For a critic to study fix-ups, which is an excellent place to analyze commercial and editorial pressures on writers, s/he would need to recover all the original magazines and compare them to the later book publication, to chart how the work changed and developed as the author revised and combined material.
Another related area of research involves studying how magazine publication affected the revision and alteration of manuscripts. The contracts the authors signed gave the magazine rigid control over the text; an editor could alter the manuscript however s/he wanted. Titles were commonly changed, often much to the writer’s surprise. Editors could also alter the text of the story without notifying the author. An extreme example of this tendency was Horace Gold, the editor of Galaxy, who developed a reputation for overediting. Gold was an eccentric, troubled man who suffered from agoraphobia and rarely left his apartment, generally communicating to writers via the phone. Since he wanted Galaxy to be the best written magazine of its day, he would often edit and rewrite the work of contributors, to the point that some authors stopped submitting to Galaxy. He rewrote Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters so extensively he infuriated the author. On the other hand, many writers greatly benefited from Gold's involvement. Like John W. Campbell, he fed writers ideas, helping shape some of the best stories of his day. Gold extensively edited some classics of the genre, such as Alfred Bester's Demolished Man, and his guidance helped turn it into a much stronger novel.
Women of Vision
Although most SF writers are men, women writers have always been significant to the genre, and research into the magazine history allows scholars to develop a stronger sense of the importance of women to the genre. There have been important women writers in every era of SF: C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Judith Merril, Katherine MacLean, Margaret St. Clair, Kit Reed, Zenna Henderson, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc. Regardless of how sexist they were, editors needed science fiction enough that they did publish women, and some women became enormously popular as writers. However, sexism was certainly an issue; some women changed their names to make their gender ambiguous, for example, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, or Andre Norton.
James Tiptree Jr. remains the most famous case of a female writer changing her name. Alice Sheldon created a male penname with a personality and biography; she even wrote letters to other writers pretending to be an older, flirtatious man. The most famous example of Sheldon's roleplaying is the letter exchange between Tiptree and Ursula K. LeGuin, in which Sheldon flirted with the younger woman, and pretended to be an older, worldly man (Phillips, "Dear Starbear" and James Tiptree, Jr.). Sheldon was an immensely complicated person, and highlights the complexity of gender relations in SF. It may be that she created the Tiptree personality less out of a fear of sexism than out of a desire for anonymity and its liberating effect on her as a writer.
John W. Campbell has been accused of sexism, but he was quite willing to publish women writers such as Katherine MacLean; he just expected them to write in the Astounding/Analog mode, like the men he published. The reality is that female writers were paid the same word rates as male writers, and when their work was good it was published. Fewer women submitted stories than men, but when they did submit they may have been treated more fairly by the SF magazines than by the larger society. A study of gender in the SF magazines, which would be a book of its own, needs to look at the fact that women did publish stories and write letters to the magazines, so although the genre was male dominated, it was never exclusively male.
The preservation of SF magazines remains an important concern because pulp paper becomes brittle and crumbles over time, so SF magazines, even if preserved under good conditions, will fall apart eventually. The best medium for long term preservation is microfilm, which lasts for decades and is easy to store. There have been a few microfilming projects for SF magazines, for example at Brown University, but much of America’s pulp heritage has not been preserved. Microfilming, despite its manifold advantages, also has glaring disadvantages. Microfilming is sometimes inaccurate and results in missing pages or pages impossible to read. Microfilming destroys the color in the art, and the black and white art tends to be washed out by the process. Digitization is a better tool for display, but not always reliable as a means for preservation. Digitized media can be lost because of outdated hardware or software, and must be migrated onto new software and hardware every few years, which is both expensive and difficult. The best-case scenario is for pulp magazines to be preserved in a climate-controlled environment at a major research institution, backed up on microfilm, and then migrated to a digital format for display purposes. Such a preservation program would require a major grant, or a wealthy donor.
Although SF magazines are vital to the history of the genre, they have been a declining force for decades now. The highpoint of the magazines was the early 1950s when a dozen or so were published, with some boasting circulation in the hundreds of thousands. At that time, the magazines were virtually the only place for SF fans to get a dose of their genre. There was no SF TV, few decent movies, and very little SF published in book form. Today SF is produced in every possible media, and the magazines have become a place for hardcore, serious fans only. Today there are only three professional print SF magazines: Analog, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov's, with only Analog having a circulation in excess of 20,000 at 23,000. The circulation of these magazines has been declining steadily in recent years. One possible future for the magazines is online since it costs virtually nothing to publish an online magazine. A subscription-based online magazine could be very successful, but Internet users seem reluctant to pay for online subscriptions; they've become accustomed getting things for free online. Advertisements are another funding model for an online magazine, but SF fans are a narrow enough niche that ads may never bring in enormous profits for online magazines. Another possibility might be Print on Demand, which reduces printing and postage costs, and could offer a different business model for a SF magazine. The POD magazine can print issues as they are ordered, and can fill back orders without maintaining an inventory.
Chris Anderson in The Long Tail argues that the Internet is reshaping American common culture into a richer, more diverse culture composed of niches and small communities of common interests. This shift allows media with a small fan base to connect with its audience. To an extent Chris Anderson's model has come true for SF fans since a reader can obtain virtually any SF book through used book sites, an enormous convenience, since just a few years ago fans had to comb used book stores and dealer tables at conventions to obtain hard-to-find books. Online books stores have driven down the price of old SF paperbacks, although the postage can be expensive. SF pulp and digest magazines can be obtained relatively cheaply on eBay, and on a few websites. Websites and online magazines are now available for free, and many, such as The Internet Review of Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons, provide superb content. The downside to the online magazines is that don't seem to make any money, so they tend to pay writers less-than-professional rates and editors work largely on a volunteer basis.. Until someone can create an adequate funding model for the online magazines, they will probably remain amateurish or semi-pro.
Preservation of pulp science fiction magazines remains an important concern: both preservation of the remaining magazines in order to maintain markets for contemporary writers, and preservation of the older magazines to maintain research material for scholars and fans. The research topics that can be addressed by the heritage of SF pulp magazines are numerous: from concerns of genre to history of race and class, from literary studies to general cultural issues. Outside of fandom, the value of pulp SF magazines has often been underestimated, just as the genre has been unappreciated at times. Hopefully, the neglect of SF pulp magazines will be replaced with a stronger historical appreciation as scholars have begun to see the value of popular culture as well as traditional canonical literature.
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Ashley, Mike. Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines, 1970-1980. Liverpool University Press, 2007.
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Philips, Julie. "Dear Starbear: Letters Between Ursula K. Le Guin and James Tiptree Jr."
Fantasy and Science Fiction. Edited by Gordon Von Gelder. September 2006. Vol. 111, No. 3.
Philips, Julie. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. St. Martin's Press, 2006.
Rose, Mark. Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction. Harvard, 1981.
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Startling Stories. Edited by Samuel Merwin. July 1948. 17, 3.
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- Chris Perridas
- Besides being a Lovecraftian, I'm a writer with numerous publications of short stories, poems, and essays: Down in The Cellar, The Open Vein, +Horror Library+ Vol. 1, Horror Mall, Blood Moon Rising, Dark Recesses, and more. I'm an associate editor at Miskatonic Books where I blog. A long time member of Horror Library's T-12 (now defunct) where over 120,000 readers enjoyed my stories. My HPL blog has garnered notoriety since 2006, has nearly 3000 posts on HPL facts - many not found elsewhere, and has accumulated over 215,000 reads. I have written an unpublished biography on Lin Carter, and currently writing a biography of Lovecraft's grandfather.
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