Astonishing Stories was an American
The magazine was never regarded as one of the leading titles of the genre, but despite the low budget it published some well-received material. Science fiction critic
Although science fiction had been published before the 1920s, it did not begin to coalesce into a separately marketed genre until the appearance in 1926 of
Popular was uncertain of the sales potential for the two new titles and decided to publish them under its Fictioneers imprint, which was used for lower-paying magazines. Astonishing's first issue was dated February 1940; it was bimonthly, alternating monthly with Super Science Stories. Pohl's budget for an issue was $405: in Pohl's memoirs he recalls
|Issues of Astonishing Stories, showing volume/issue number. The colors|
identify the editors for each issue: Frederik Pohl until September 1941,
and Alden H. Norton for the remaining issues.
Pohl stretched his budget by reducing the space he needed to fill with fiction. For example, a long letter column took up several pages but required no payment; similarly, running advertisements for Popular's other magazines did not use up the fiction budget. Some authors sent inaccurate word counts with the stories they submitted, and Popular saved money by paying them on the basis of whichever word count was less—the author's or one done by Popular's staff. The result was a saving of forty to fifty dollars per issue. More money was saved by reusing snipped elements of black and white illustrations to fill space, as multiple uses of the same artwork did not require additional payments to the artist.
Towards the end of 1940 Popular doubled Pohl's salary to twenty dollars per week.[notes 4] In June 1941 Pohl went to see Steeger to ask for a further raise; he was planning to resign and work as a free-lance writer if he did not get more pay. Steeger, in Pohl's words, "had complaints of his own", and was not receptive; by the end of the meeting Pohl had lost his job as editor. Pohl later commented "I have never been sure whether I quit or got fired."[notes 5] Instead of replacing Pohl, Popular assigned editor-in-chief Alden H. Norton to add the magazines to his responsibilities. The arrangement lasted for seven months, after which Norton asked Pohl to return as his assistant. Norton offered Pohl a higher salary as an associate editor than he had received as the editor, and Pohl quickly accepted.
Pohl was not eligible to be drafted for military service as he was married, but by the end of 1942 his marriage was over and he decided to enlist. As voluntary enlistment was suspended he was unable to immediately join the army, but eventually was inducted on April 1, 1943. Paper was difficult to obtain because of the war, and Popular decided to close the magazine down; the final issue, dated April 1943, was assembled with the assistance of