Prior to the advent of radio in 1892, the printed word was king.
The magazine industry boomed and newsstands were as common as convenience stores are today. Pulps were an especially lucrative commodity. Printed on cheap newsprint, pulps were genre-specific periodicals that captivated millions of readers each month. A quarter would get you upward of 200 pages of short stories in the genre of your choice be it western, crime, horror, or romance. Pulps were, in essence, anthologies published on a regular basis.
In 1926, sci-fi joined the list of genres in the pulp stable with the publication of AMAZING STORIES, the first English language magazine focused solely on sci-fi. AMAZING was the brainchild of writer and editor Hugo Gernsback. While early issues of the series consisted largely of reprints of stories (including works by Poe and H.G. Wells), it soon shifted to publishing original works. Within a few months of its launch, AMAZING was selling nearly 100,000 copies per issue.
Hugo Gernsback’s reputation as being a sleazy and dishonest has been widely reported in print and web articles. In short, he was known for paying his authors little (if anything) and was not entirely upstanding. Gernsback filed for bankruptcy and lost control of the magazine three years after the launch of AMAZING. His story does not end there, though it’s a tale for another time.
The age of the pulps peaked in mid-20th century. Many pulps began to fold due to low circulation as Americans shifted their attention to radio and television. AMAZING managed to weather the storm and continued for decades, eventually ceasing publication in 2005 but returning in 2012 (in digital form) and in 2018 (in digital and print form). It outlasted numerous imitators (many with arguably better story content) and was adapted for television in both 1985 and 2020. In five short years it will celebrate its centennial.
Throughout its history, AMAZING has been helmed by an array of interesting editors (including Ray Palmer and Ted White) who brought their own slant (and talent) to the magazine. Future posts will explore a few of these individuals and how their involvement shaped AMAZING and influenced the genre as well as the industry.
OOTW’s Pioneers of Science-Fiction Series, an ongoing photo essay showcasing many of the major players in the early years of sci-fi, is being featured across our social channels. Be sure to check it out…