Yesterday's Tomorrows

This time, let's look at a trio of vintage magazines, featuring some vintage authors who helped make the field what it is today.

Wonder Stories Quarterly,  Fall 1932

Back in 1932, Hugo Gernsback was in charge of the “Wonder Stories” magazines, such as this issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly, which in its 96 8.4 by 11.5 pages gave its readers four interplanetary stories: “Emissaries of Space” by Nathan Schachner, “The Crisis With Mars” by Frank R. Kelly, “Guardians of the Void” by Arthur K. Barnes, and “The Electron Flame” by Jack Williamson, complete with some fine full-page illustrations by Frank R. Paul, who also drew the cover.  This issue was half the price of its predecessors, as the fifty cent price had become “entirely out of keeping with economic conditions”, as Gernsback commented in the editorial.  It was 48 pages slimmer than the previous issue, too.

“Our cover illustration, from Jack Williamson’s exciting story, “The Electron Flame”, shows the owner of the little Martian Moon flying off to safety in his space ship.  He leaves the detective to be devoured by the onrushing flood of the electron flame, which is consuming the world.”  Don't you just hate it when that happens?  The story was included in a nice thick collection of Williamson stories from 1932-35 in 2000, "Wizard's Isle," which had an introduction by Ray Bradbury, and an afterword by the author himself, who was then a mere 92 years old.  I see he had a new novel serialised in Analog in 2005, "The Stonehenge Gate," which must be some kind of record for the length of an author's career, given that his first serial, "The Green Girl," was in Amazing Stories in 1930.

Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1951

Famous Fantastic Mysteries, after an experiment with a classier, trimmed format, had returned to the regular pulp size now, with shaggy edges and advertisements, though it still had only 112 interior pages; the “Quality Presentation” issues had been around three-quarters of an inch narrower, and an inch and a quarter shorter.  The rather striking cover this time was by Lawrence, while Virgil Finlay provided most of the interior artwork, along with Lawrence, Bok and Fawcette.

“The Gray Mahatma” by Talbot Mundy took up 56 pages; it is the second of his tales starring “Jimgrim”, from 1922, also known as “Caves of Terror”.  ”Talbot Mundy was a distinguished writer in an era that was distinguished for its fine story-telling.  ’The Gray Mahatma’ was first published in the early twenties… it was published in Popular Publications’ Adventure Magazine. There have been many requests for Mundy’s stories from our readers.”

“We were extremely fortunate this time”, editor Mary Gnaedinger continued at the start of the letters column, “in being able to secure Robert A. Heinlein’s “- And He Built a Crooked House -”, an amusing and clever bit of writing from one of the fantasy field’s favorite authors.”  From the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, that ran for 11 pages; Margaret Irwin contributed a new short story, “The Book”, while “Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft (from the October 1927 Weird Tales) and  ”He Didn’t Want Soup” by Paul Ernst (from Argosy, December 14th 1940), plus the 1923 poem “The Spirit Boats” by Minna Irving (also printed in the December 1939 Famous Fantastic Mysteries),  filled the remaining pages.

This was a time before there were masses of paperback novels and collections available, and indeed many people wouldn't have regular access to a television.  Pulps had been a staple form of entertainment for many decades, but times were changing; the final issue, with its long-time companion magazine Fantastic Novels combined into it, came out in June 1953, featuring Ayn Rand's 1938 novella "Anthem," not to mention a Bran Mak Morn novelette by Robert E. Howard from 1932, "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka, and a 1941 story by Ray Bradbury & Henry Hasse.

Astounding Science Fiction, September 1938

John W. Campbell Jr had only been in full editorial charge of Astounding for a few months when this issue came along – I couldn’t resist this Thomson cover, as having a female main character visible, mainly for decorative purposes, seems so unusual for this magazine.

There are already some familiar Campbell-era names in this issue; a three-part serial, “The Tramp”, by L. Ron Hubbard is beginning, and as well as novelettes by Robert Willey, Eddin Clark and Arthur J. Burks, we have short stories by Manly Wade Wellman, Ray Cummings, Eric Frank Russell, and Robert Moore Williams.  The editor’s page celebrates five years of the Street & Smith Astounding, with its 160 pages, trimmed edges, new authors, and general editorial improvements.  The October 1937 issue was the first one edited by Campbell, according to isfdb, so this was the end of his first year.  His final issue, of what was then Analog, was dated December 1971 - the end of an era.

In the “Science Discussions and Brass Tacks” letters column, running between the ads in the back for almost seven pages of very small type, L. Sprague de Camp can be seen, already a published author – and also Isaac Asimov, still a few months away from making his first sale.  But perhaps Robert Moore Williams deserves a special mention; he too was a fairly new author, but his story here, “Robots Return” was later to be found in the 1953 anthology The Robot and The Man, as a particularly memorable robot story.  Or maybe that's because my father's copy of the British hardback edition of that anthology was something I encountered rather early on in my sf reading!

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