Ten years ago, Mike Resnick started Galaxy’s Edge magazine with a desire to share “some pretty good stories.” Today, we take you back to that inaugural issue for a look back on the history of science fiction magazines as told by Mr. Resnick in the very first Editor’s Word. ~Enjoy!
THE EDITOR’S WORD
by Mike Resnick
~ March 2013 ~
Welcome to the premier issue of Galaxy’s Edge. We’ll be coming around every two months with a mixture of new stories and reprints, reviews and columns. Almost all the reprints will be by very-well-known authors; most of the new stories will be by less-well-known (but not less talented) authors.
We’re very proud to be the latest addition to the pantheon of science fiction magazines, which have a pair of histories—one long and glorious, the other just as long but inglorious (and infinitely more interesting).
You think not?
Let me share some of it with you before the last of us Old Guys (and Gals) pass from the scene and there’s no one left to remember the Untold History of the Science Fiction Magazines anymore.
The Shaver Mystery
In 1938, Ray Palmer, an undersized hunchback with a pretty thorough understanding of his readership, took over the editorship of Amazing Stories. At the time, John Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction, featuring the best of Heinlein, Asimov, Sturgeon, Hubbard, van Vogt, de Camp, Simak, and Kuttner, ruled supreme among the magazines—but then Palmer came up with a gimmick that changed everything: the Shaver Mystery.
He ran a novel—rather generic, rather poorly written—called I Remember Lemuria! It was all about these creatures called Deros that lived hidden away from humanity but were preparing to do dire things to us. Nothing special in any way—
—except that Palmer swore to his readers, who consisted mostly of impressionable teen-aged boys, that the story was true, and that Richard Shaver was forced by the Powers That Be to present it as fiction or no one—including Ziff-Davis, Palmer’s bosses—would dare risk publishing it.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it?
Well, the really silly part came next: while Palmer was running another dozen or so “Shaver Mystery novels”—each worse than the last—from 1945 to 1948, his circulation skyrocketed. Amazing passed Astounding, spread-eagled the field, and became the top-selling science fiction magazine, not only of that era, but of any era.
I’ll tell you a little story about the Shaver Mystery. Back when I was editing men’s magazines in Chicago in the late 1960s, I used, among others, a very talented artist, slightly older than myself, named Bill Dichtl. One day we got to talking, and found out we were both science fiction fans, and Bill told me about his adventures with the Shaver Mystery.
He was a 14-year-old subscriber to Amazing in the late 1940s, living in Chicago (where Amazing was published), and one day he got a mysterious phone call, asking if he would like to help in the secret war against the Deros. Of course he said he would. He was given an address to go to that Friday night, and was warned to tell no one about this assignation.
So on Friday night, Bill sneaked out of his house and dutifully went to the address, which happened to be the building that housed the Ziff-Davis publishing empire. He took the elevator up to the appointed floor, found himself in a darkened corridor, saw a single light coming out from beneath a door at the far end of it, walked to the door, saw it was the room number he had been given, and entered. There was a long table, and maybe a dozen other earnest teen-aged boys were sitting at it.
Bill took a seat, and they all waited in silence. About ten minutes later a little hunchbacked man entered the room. It was Ray Palmer, of course. He explained that the Deros would soon be making their move against an unsuspecting humanity, and it was the duty of the boys in that room to spend the rest of the night warning as many people as possible of the coming struggle so they wouldn’t be caught unaware.
He had lists of thousands of addresses, which the boys dutifully copied onto blank envelopes. He had thousands of folded and stapled “warnings” that they stuffed into the envelopes. He had thousands of stamps that they licked and stuck onto the envelopes. They finished at sunrise, and Palmer swore them all to secrecy and thanked them for helping to save humanity.
Bill had stuffed a copy of the warning into his pocket to give to his parents, just in case they had somehow been omitted from the mailing list. On the subway home, he opened it and read it—and found out that Palmer had duped the boys into mailing out thousands of subscription renewal notices.
By 1949 Palmer was gone. He started Other Worlds, hired a gorgeous Cincinnati fan, Bea Mahaffey, to edit it for him, and even brought Shaver along. (To this day, some people think Palmer was Shaver. They were wrong; he was actually seen with Palmer by some fans and pros. Someone purporting to be Shaver wrote some letters to Richard Geis’ Hugo-winning fanzine, Science Fiction Review, in the 1970s, but no one ever saw him or followed up on it.)
Palmer’s gimmick at Other Worlds was to get readers to pressure Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. to hire his discovery, “John Bloodstone,” as the legal successor to Burroughs. (“Bloodstone” was actually Palmer’s pal, hack writer Stuart J. Byrne, who had written a copyright-infringing novel, Tarzan On Mars, that Palmer wanted to publish.) ERB Inc. refused, and that was the end of that, and pretty much the end of Other Worlds (though you can still find illegally-photocopied copies of Tarzan On Mars for sale here and there).
Palmer’s final stop was at Fate Magazine, begun in 1949, where he got rich one last time off a gullible reading public.
As for Shaver, not a single word of the million-plus that he wrote remains in print.
The Prediction Issue
The November 1948 issue of Astounding was typical of its era. It was not the best issue that John Campbell edited that year, nor was it the worst, and like all other issues of Astounding prior to 1950, it was far superior to its competitors.
Astounding’s letter column was (and still is) “Brass Tacks,” and in that particular issue there was a cute letter by a Richard A. Hoen who, like most fanboys, went over the most recent issue story by story, explaining in goshwowboyoboy fashion what he liked and disliked and why. Robert A. Heinlein’s “Gulf” was pretty good, though not quite up to Beyond This Horizon, opined Mr. Hoen. He ranked it second best in the issue, just ahead of A. E. van Vogt’s “Final Command,” with Lester del Rey’s “Over the Top” coming in fourth. He wasn’t much impressed with L. Sprague de Camp’s “Finished,” which was fifth, and he absolutely hated Theodore Sturgeon’s “What Dead Men Tell,” ranking it last. Mr. Hoen also had words of praise for the cover painting by Hubert Rogers.
Only one problem: he was ranking the stories in the November 1949 issue, and of course none of them existed. It was a cute conceit, everyone got a chuckle out of it, and everyone immediately forgot it.
Except Campbell, who went out of his way to make it come true.
The November 1949 issue of Astounding featured the first part of Heinlein’s serial, “Gulf”; Sturgeon’s “What Dead Men Tell”; de Camp’s “Finished”; van Vogt’s “Final Command”; and del Rey’s “Over the Top.” And of course it had a cover by Rogers.
There was only one place the prediction fell short. Mr. Hoen had ranked a story called “We Hail,” by Don A. Stuart, first. Don A. Stuart was Campbell’s pseudonym when he was writing works of ambition (such as “Twilight”) rather than space opera, and was taken from his first wife’s maiden name, Dona Stuart. Well, Campbell didn’t write a story for the issue—but in its place he ran the first part of “And Now You Don’t,” the three-part serial that formed the climax of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. I don’t imagine anyone had any serious objections to the substitution.
So when you hear writers like me say that science fiction isn’t really in the predicting business, just remind us of the November 1948 Astounding.
The Magazines are Officially Noticed
Science fiction tends to cry and carry on because no one pays any attention to it, that it’s a ghetto beneath the notice of the New York Literary Establishment and most of the Powers That Be in academia.
And yet science fiction has been officially Noticed (and more than once) by the United States Government, and that was long before that government started naming weapons and defense systems after rather silly science fiction movies.
Back in the Good Old Days of the pulps, more often than not the cover art showed a partially-clad (or, if you prefer, a mostly-unclad) girl, usually at the mercy of aliens who seemed more interested in ripping off the rest of her clothes than doing anything practical, like killing or communicating with her.
The thing is (and I refer you to the two introductory articles in my anthology, Girls For the Slime God), only one magazine actually delivered the salacious stories that went hand-in-glove with those cover illos, and that magazine was Marvel Science Stories. The first issue, back in August of 1938, featured Henry Kuttner’s “The Avengers of Space,” a rather pedestrian novella to which I suspect he added all the sex scenes after it had been turned down by the major markets. Then out came issue number two, and there was Kuttner with another novella of the same ilk: “The Time Trap.”
What was the result?
Well, there were two results. The first was that Kuttner was labeled a debased and perverted hack, and had to create Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell, his two most famous pseudonyms (but far from his only ones) in order to make a living, since it would be a few years before the top editors wanted to buy from Henry Kuttner again.
The second was that the United States government, through its postal branch, gave science fiction its very first official recognition. They explained to the publisher that if the third issue of Marvel was as sexy as the first two, they were shutting him down and sending him to jail.
And with that, Marvel Science Stories became the most sedate and—let’s be honest—dull science fiction magazine on the market. It died not too long thereafter, the first prozine to be slain by the government.
But the government wasn’t quite through Noticing the prozines. Move the clock ahead five years, to March 1944, which was when Astounding, under the editorship of John Campbell, published a forgettable little story called “Deadline,” by Cleve Cartmill.
It became one of the most famous stories in the history of the prozines—not because of its quality, which was minimal, but because it brought the prozines to the official notice of the government for the second time.
We were embroiled in World War II, and in early 1944 the Manhattan Project—the project that resulted in the atomic bomb—was still our most carefully-guarded secret.
And Cartmill’s story, which used knowledge and facts that were available to anyone, concerned the construction of an atomic bomb that used U-235.
Cartmill was visited by the FBI and other select governmental agencies the week the story came out, each demanding to know how he had managed to steal the secrets of the bomb. He pointed out that his “secrets” were a matter of public record. He was nonetheless warned never to breach national security again, upon pain of truly dire consequences.
The government representatives then went to Campbell’s office, where he explained to them, as only Campbell could, that if they were not uneducated, subliterate dolts they would know exactly where Cartmill got his information, and that Astounding had been running stories about atomic power for years. They tried to threaten him into promising not to run any more stories of atomic power until the war was over. Campbell didn’t take kindly to threats, and allowed them to leave only after giving them a thorough tongue-lashing and an absolute refusal to censor his writers.
So the next time you hear a writer or editor bemoaning the fact that science fiction doesn’t get any notice, point out to him that there were actually a couple of occasions in the past when we got a little more official notice than we wanted.
Vietnam and the Magazines
Nothing since the War Between the States aroused more passions on both sides than did the Vietnam War. In 1968 Judith Merril and Kate Wilhelm decided to do something about it: they enlisted a large number of writers—the final total was 82—and took out ads against the war in the March issue of F&SF and the June issues of Galaxy and If. Included in their number were most of the younger New Wave writers such as Harlan Ellison, Barry Malzberg, Norman Spinrad, Robert Silverberg, Philip K. Dick, Terry Carr, and Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as a smattering of old masters like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Fritz Leiber.
Word got out—the rumor is that it was leaked by Fred Pohl, Merril’s ex-husband—and the pro-war faction also ran ads in all three magazines. (Pohl had them on facing pages in his two magazines.) Included in the ads were Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, John W. Campbell Jr. (the only then-current editor to appear on either list), Fredric Brown, Hal Clement, Larry Niven, Jack Vance, and Jack Williamson. The pro-war ads contained only 72 names, leading the anti-war faction to claim that they had “won.”
Pohl was editing both Galaxy and If, and he offered to donate the ad revenues to the person who came up with the best “solution” to the Vietnam War. It was won by Mack Reynolds, but Pohl never published his “solution”; runners-up were Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
Saving the Lensman
E. E. “Doc” Smith was clearly the most famous and most popular writer of the late 1920s and most of the 1930s as well. He broke new ground with the Skylark series, but it was the four Lensman books upon which his fame and adoration rests. (Yes, four; the first two in the six-book series were afterthoughts, Triplanetary being expanded and rewritten to become the chronological first in the series, First Lensman written last of all to fill a gap between Triplanetary and the four Kimball Kinnison books.)
Doc introduced Kimball Kinnison, the Gray Lensman, to the world in 1937, with Galactic Patrol, which ran in Astounding from September 1937 to February 1938—just about the time a young John Campbell was beginning his lifelong tenure as editor and preparing to reshape the field. This was followed in a few years by The Gray Lensman and then Second Stage Lensman.
But while Doc was slowly completing the saga of the Kinnison clan, Campbell was bringing Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt into the field, and finding room for Fritz Leiber, Clifford D. Simak, and L. Sprague de Camp.
Doc was many things as a writer, but graceful wasn’t one of them, and subtle wasn’t another. It didn’t matter when he was competing against the likes of Nat Schachner and Ray Cummings and Stanton A. Coblentz—but against Campbell’s stable he seemed like a dinosaur, thousands of evolutionary eons behind where Campbell had pushed, pulled and dragged the field.
So when he delivered the climactic volume of the Lensman saga, Children of the Lens, Campbell didn’t want to run it. It just didn’t belong in a magazine that had published “Nightfall” and “Sixth Column” and “Slan” years earlier.
One fan had the courage to seek Campbell out and disagree. He’s the one who told me this story, and Campbell later kind of sort of grudgingly agreed that it was pretty much the truth. Ed Wood (the fan, not the movie director), who’d been active in fandom for a few years, and would be active for another 50, cornered Campbell and explained that he owed it to Doc, who had given him the original Lensman story when Astounding badly needed it, to buy Children of the Lens. Moreover, he owed it to the field, for we were not then a book field, and if Doc’s novel didn’t run in Astounding, there was an excellent chance that it would never see the light of day. Campbell finally agreed. The novel appeared without the customary fanfare accorded to a new Doc Smith book, and was the only Lensman novel to receive just a single cover, though it ran for six issues beginning in November of 1947.
So for those of you who are Lensman fans—and tens of thousands of people still are, more than half a century later—you owe two debts of gratitude, one to Doc for writing it, and another to a motivated fan, Ed Wood, for making sure you got to find out how it all ended for Kimball Kinnison and his offspring.
How Unknown Was Born
Ask 20 experts (or fans; there’s not much difference) which was the greatest science fiction magazine of all time, and you’ll get some votes for the 1940s Astounding, the 1950s Galaxy, the 1960s New Worlds, the 1970s F&SF, and the 1990s Asimov’s.
Now ask that same group to name the greatest fantasy magazine, and the odds are that at least 19 will answer Unknown. It was that good, that unique, and remains that dominant in the minds of the readers.
How did it begin?
There are two versions.
The first is that John Campbell wanted to start a fantasy magazine, he convinced Street & Smith to publish it, he called it Unknown, and it ran 43 issues until the wartime paper shortage killed it off.
The other version, which has been repeated in dozens of venues, is that Campbell was sitting at his desk at Astounding, reading submissions, and he came to a novel, Sinister Barrier, by Eric Frank Russell. It was too good to turn down, but it didn’t fit into the format he had created for Astounding, and hence there was nothing to do but create a brand-new magazine, Unknown, which could run stories like Sinister Barrier and Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser stories, and Theodore Sturgeon’s “Yesterday Was Monday” and Robert A. Heinlein’s Magic, Inc., and that’s how Unknown came into being. A number of histories of the field have reported that this was the start of Unknown.
Which version is true?
The first one, of course—but the second one is so fascinating and evocative that I suspect it’ll never die, and if we all keep repeating it enough, why, in another 60 years or so, it’ll be History. (See my novel The Outpost to discover how these things work.)
It all began with a radio show hosted by a mysterious male character known only as the Shadow. The show was owned by Street & Smith, the huge magazine publisher, and when it became increasingly obvious that the Shadow was far more popular than the show, they decided they’d better do something to copyright and trademark him before it was too late—so they decided to publish a one-shot pulp magazine about a crimefighter known as the Shadow.
To write the story, they hired magician and sometime pulp author Walter Gibson, and, for whatever initial reason, they decided to have him write it as “Maxwell Grant.”
The rest is history. That first issue of The Shadow sold out in record time. Street & Smith immediately ordered more novels from Gibson—who was getting $500.00 a novel, not bad pay in the depths of the depression—and in mere months The Shadow was selling more than a million copies an issue.
So Street & Smith decided the next step was to go semi-monthly. They called Gibson into their offices and asked if he was capable of turning out a Shadow novel every 15 days. Gibson said he could do it, but since it was no secret that The Shadow had, almost overnight, become the best-selling pulp magazine in America, he wanted a piece of this bonanza. He wasn’t going to be greedy or hold them up for some phenomenal sum. He’d write two novels a month, never miss a deadline, and keep the quality as high as it had been—but in exchange, he wanted a raise to $750.00 a novel.
His loving, doting publishers immediately metamorphosed into businessmen and said No.
Gibson thought he had them over a barrel. You give me $750.00 a novel, he said, or I’ll leave and take my audience with me.
Leave if you want, said Street & Smith, but next week there will be a new Maxwell Grant writing The Shadow for us, and who will know the difference?
It took Gibson ten seconds to realize that far from having Street & Smith over a barrel, they had him inside the barrel. He went back home and continued to write Shadow novels for $500.00 a shot.
This ploy worked so well that when Street & Smith began publishing Doc Savage, which was primarily written by Lester Dent, all the novels were credited to “Kenneth Robeson.”
Rivals saw the beauty in this—Street & Smith didn’t exactly have a monopoly on publishing’s notion of fair play and morality—and thus The Spider novels, written mostly by Norvell Page, bore the pseudonym of “Grant Stockbridge.”
“Kenneth Robeson,” Doc Savage’s author, was so popular that “he” also became the author of The Avenger pulp series.
And so on. Soon all the other “hero pulps”—pulps with a continuing hero and cast of characters, such as the above-mentioned—were written under house names, so that no author could either hold up the publishers for a living wage or leave and force the magazine to close down.
There was only one exception.
Edmond Hamilton wrote most of the 22 Captain Future novels under his own name.
He was the only established science fiction writer working for Better Publications, Cap’s publisher, and his employers freely admitted that no one else in the house knew the first damned thing about writing that crazy Buck Rogers stuff.
The Mystery of Edson McCann
One day Horace Gold, the editor/publisher of Galaxy, got the notion of having a contest for the best novel by an unknown writer. He offered a prize of $7,000—more than the average American made in a year back then—and was immediately whelmed over by hundreds of booklength manuscripts, 99% of them dreadful and the other 1% even worse. (Ask anyone who has ever read a slush pile. This was nothing unusual or unexpected—at least, not by anyone except Horace.)
Horace had already bought Gravy Planet (later to become The Space Merchants, which eventually outsold, worldwide, just about every other science fiction novel ever written except perhaps for Dune.) When he couldn’t find an even mildly acceptable novel among the entries, he approached Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth and said he’d like Gravy Planet to be the winner. The stipulation, though, was that it had to appear under a pseudonym, since the contest had to be won by an unknown.
Pohl and Kornbluth talked it over, decided they could get $7,000 from normal serial and book rights, and opted to keep their names on it, which disqualified it from the contest.
Now Gold was getting desperate. The deadline was almost upon him, and he still hadn’t found a single publishable novel among all the entries. So he turned to Pohl again.
Pohl and his Milford neighbor, Lester del Rey (a whole passel of science fiction writers lived in Milford, Pennsylvania back in the 1950s) had decided to collaborate on a novel about the future of the insurance industry, called Preferred Risk. Gold begged them to use a pseudonym and let it be the contest winner. Lester was less concerned with receiving credit for his work than Kornbluth was—or perhaps he was more concerned with a quick profit. At any rate, he agreed, and Pohl went along with him.
They divided up the pen name. Pohl chose “Edson” for a first name, and del Rey came up with “McCann”. They invented a whole life for him (for the magazine’s bio of the contest winner), in which he was a nuclear physicist working on such a top secret hush-hush project that Galaxy couldn’t divulge any of the details of his life.
And so it was that Preferred Risk, commissioned from two top professionals by Horace Gold, won the $7,000 prize for the Best Novel By An Unknown.
And why did they choose “Edson McCann”?
Well, if you break it down to its initials, it’s “E. McC”—or E equals MC squared.
The No-Budget Magazines
Hugo Gernsback is considered the Father of Science Fiction. That title is more than a little at odds with the facts, since Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were writing it long before Hugo came along—but Hugo named the field and was the first publisher to bring out a magazine devoted entirely to “scientifiction” (Amazing Stories in 1926).
Parenthetically, he also guaranteed that we would be inundated with bad science fiction for years to come…because by creating a market for science fiction, he gave it a place where it no longer had to compete with the best of the other categories. Science fiction writers no longer had to fight for spots in a magazine against Dashiell Hammett and James T. Cain and Frank Gruber and Max Brand; now they competed with Ray Cummings and Nat Schachner and Ross Rocklynne. The first—and for years only—science fiction magazine in the world was edited by Hugo Gernsback, an immigrant whose knowledge of the English language was minimal, and whose knowledge of story construction was nil. He felt science fiction’s sole purpose was to interest adolescent boys in becoming scientists, and that was pretty much the way he edited.
The way he published was even worse. He liked to buy stories, but he hated to pay for them. Finally Donald A. Wollheim took him to court for the $10.00 he was owed. Neither Gernsback nor Wollheim ever forgot it.
Now move the clock ahead a few years, to about 1940. Wollheim had helped form the Futurians, that incredibly talented group of youngsters that would someday dominate the field. Among its members were Cyril Kornbluth, Damon Knight, Judith Merril, Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Robert A.W. Lowndes, James Blish, and Wollheim himself (and indeed, in a year or two they’d be editing just about every magazine in the field except for John Campbell’s Astounding).
Anyway, while Pohl edited Astonishing and Super Science on a pitifully small budget, Wollheim picked up two of his own to edit: Cosmos and Stirring Science. Their pages abounded in stories by Futurians Kornbluth, Pohl, Lowndes, and Knight, with illos by the finest Futurian artist, Hannes Bok. Those magazines put many of the Futurians on the map.
And do you know why Wollheim used Futurians almost exclusively?
Because his budget was Zero—not small, not minimal, but zero—and only his fellow Futurians would work for free for the man who once sued Hugo Gernsback for $10 that was owed on a story.
Horace Gold Goes Out to Play
Horace Gold returned home from World War II a disabled veteran … but his disability took a most peculiar form: agoraphobia. He was literally afraid to leave the comfort and security of his New York apartment.
It didn’t stop him from selling investors on the idea of Galaxy magazine. And it didn’t stop him from editing it, and turning it into (in my opinion) the only serious rival the Astounding of the late 1930s and early 1940s had for the title of Best Science Fiction Magazine of All Time.
He turned part of his apartment into an office. He worked at home, he ate at home, he slept at home, he wrote at home, he edited at home. Any writer who wanted a face-to-face with Horace visited him at home. He hosted a regular Friday night poker game that included his stable of writers: Bob Sheckley, Phil Klass (William Tenn), Fred Pohl, and Algis Budrys. Lester del Rey occasionally sat in, as did rival editor (of F&SF) Tony Boucher.
And because they were his friends, and they thought they were doing him a favor, this coterie of card-players and writers was constantly urging Horace to go outside, to breathe in the fresh air (well, Manhattan’s approximation of it, anyway), to just take a walk around the neighborhood so that he would know there were no secret dangers lurking beyond the doors of his apartment. They urged, and they cajoled, and they implored, and finally the big day came.
Horace Gold left his apartment for the first time in years—
—and was promptly hit by a taxi.
(There is a second version of this story, in which he actually spent a few evenings wandering around Manhattan, and then got into a crash while riding home in a taxi. Either way, the result was the same. He stopped eating, stopped editing, and was eventually institutionalized.)
Conclusion: the science fiction (and related) magazines have a long and fascinating history. My fondest hope is that if they talk about Galaxy’s Edge twenty or thirty years from now, it will only be to say that we ran some pretty good stories.
Mike here again. Okay, now you know a bit about the magazines. Next issue I’ll tell you about some of the writers and editors who make up this colorful field.
It’s a blessing this Science Fiction/Fantasy story magazine that you started, Mr. Resnick, hung in there for ten lovely years, and we can say with confidence that you and Lezli definitely published “some pretty good stories.” ♥
Join us next week when we share some snippets of those stories gracing Galaxy’s Edge magazine’s last issue … and then, we’ll be back with more history of the magazine as shared with us ten years ago, by our friend and mentor to many, Mike Resnick.