Startling Stories

Startling Stories was an American pulp science fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1955 by publisher Ned Pines' Standard Magazines. It was initially edited by Mort Weisinger, who was also the editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Standard's other science fiction title. Startling ran a lead novel in every issue; the first was The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum. When Standard Magazines acquired Thrilling Wonder in 1936, it also gained the rights to stories published in that magazine's predecessor, Wonder Stories, and selections from this early material were reprinted in Startling as "Hall of Fame" stories. Under Weisinger the magazine focused on younger readers and, when Weisinger was replaced by Oscar J. Friend in 1941, the magazine became even more juvenile in focus, with clichéd cover art and letters answered by a "Sergeant Saturn". Friend was replaced by Sam Merwin, Jr. in 1945, and Merwin was able to improve the quality of the fiction substantially, publishing Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night, and several other well-received stories.

Much of Startling's cover art was painted by Earle K. Bergey, who became strongly associated with the magazine, painting almost every cover between 1940 and 1952. He was known for equipping his heroines with brass bras and implausible costumes, and the public image of science fiction in his day was partly created by his work for Startling and other magazines. Merwin left in 1951, and Samuel Mines took over; the standard remained fairly high but competition from new and better-paying markets such as Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction impaired Mines' ability to acquire quality material. In mid-1952, Standard attempted to change Startling's image by adopting a more sober title typeface and reducing the sensationalism of the covers, but by 1955 the pulp magazine market was collapsing. Startling absorbed its two companion magazines, Thrilling Wonder and Fantastic Story Magazine, in early 1955, but by the end of that year it too ceased publication.

Ron Hanna of Wild Cat Books revived Startling Stories in 2007.[1] Wild Cat Books folded in 2013. A statement of the closure is still posted on the Facebook page All Pulp dated March 12, 2013 (as of January 29, 2019).

Publication history

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 Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine published by Hugo Gernsback. By the end of the 1930s the field was booming.[2] Standard Magazines, a pulp publishing company owned by Ned Pines, acquired its first science fiction magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories, from Gernsback in 1936.[3] Mort Weisinger, the editor of Thrilling Wonder, printed an editorial in February 1938 asking readers for suggestions for a companion magazine. Response was positive, and the new magazine, titled Startling Stories, was duly launched, with a first issue (pulp-sized, rather than bedsheet-sized, as many readers had requested), dated January 1939.[4] Initial pay rates were half a cent per word, lower than the leading magazines of the day.[5][6]

Startling was launched on a bimonthly schedule, alternating months with Thrilling Wonder Stories, though in 1940 Thrilling moved to a monthly schedule that lasted for over a year.[7][8] The first editor was Mort Weisinger, who had been an active fan in the early 1930s and had joined Standard Magazines in 1935, editing Thrilling Wonder from 1936.[9] Weisinger left in 1941 to take a new post as editor of Superman, and was replaced by Oscar J. Friend, who was an established writer of pulp fiction, though his experience was in western fiction rather than sf.[10][11][12] During Friend's tenure Startling slipped from bimonthly to quarterly publication. Friend lasted for a little over two years, and was replaced by Sam Merwin, Jr., as of the Winter 1945 issue.[13]

Merwin succeeded in making Startling popular and successful, and the bimonthly schedule was resumed in 1947.[13][14] At the start of 1952 Startling switched to a monthly schedule; this was unusual in that Startling was notionally junior to Thrilling Wonder, its sister magazine, which remained bimonthly.[15][note 1] Merwin left shortly before this switch, in order to spend more time on his own writing. He was replaced by Samuel Mines, who had worked with Standard's Western magazines, though he was a science fiction aficionado.[16]

Street & Smith, one of the longest established and most respected publishers, shut down all of their pulp magazines in the summer of 1949. The pulps were dying, partially as a result of the success of paperbacks. Standard continued with Startling and Thrilling, but the end came only a few years later.[17] In 1954, Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a book in which he asserted that comics were inciting children to violence. A subsequent Senate subcommittee hearing led to a backlash against comics, and the publishers dropped titles in response. The financial impact spread to pulp magazines, since often a publisher would publish both. A 1955 strike by American News Corporation, the main distributor in the U.S., meant that magazines remained in warehouses and never made it to the newsstands; the unsold copies represented a significant financial blow and contributed to publishers' decisions to cancel magazines. Startling was one of the casualties. The schedule had already returned from monthly to bimonthly in 1953, and it became a quarterly in early 1954. Thrilling Wonder published its last issue in early 1955, and was then merged with Startling, as was Fantastic Story Magazine, another companion publication, but the combined magazine lasted only three more issues.[7][14][18] Mines left the magazine at the end of 1954; he was succeeded for two issues by Theron Raines, who was followed by Herbert D. Kastle for the last two. The final issue was dated Fall 1955.[14][note 2]

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