Super Science Stories

First issue cover; artist unknown

Super Science Stories was an American pulp science fiction magazine published by Popular Publications from 1940 and 1943, and again from 1949 to 1951. Popular launched it under their "Fictioneers" imprint, which they used for magazines paying writers less than one cent per word. Frederik Pohl was hired in late 1939, at 19 years old, to edit the magazine; he also edited Astonishing Stories, a companion science fiction publication. Pohl left in mid-1941, and Super Science Stories was given to Alden H. Norton to edit; a few months later Norton rehired Pohl as an assistant. Popular gave Pohl a very low budget, so most manuscripts submitted to Super Science Stories had already been rejected by the higher-paying magazines. This made it difficult to acquire good fiction, but Pohl was able to acquire stories for the early issues from the Futurians, a group of young science fiction fans and aspiring writers.

Super Science Stories was an initial success, and within a year Popular increased Pohl's budget slightly, allowing him to pay a bonus rate on occasion. Pohl wrote many stories himself, to fill the magazine and to augment his salary. He managed to obtain stories by writers who subsequently became very well known, such as Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. After Pohl entered the army in early 1943, wartime paper shortages led Popular to cease publication of Super Science Stories. The final issue of the first run was dated May of that year. In 1949 the title was revived with Ejler Jakobsson as editor; this version, which included many reprinted stories, lasted almost three years, with the last issue dated August 1951. A Canadian reprint edition of the first run included material from both Super Science Stories and Astonishing Stories; it was unusual in that it printed some original fiction rather than just reprints. There were also Canadian and British reprint editions of the second incarnation of the magazine.

The magazine was never regarded as one of the leading titles of the genre, but has received qualified praise from science fiction critics and historians. Science fiction historian Raymond Thompson describes it as "one of the most interesting magazines to appear during the 1940s", despite the variable quality of the stories.[1] Critics Brian Stableford and Peter Nicholls comment that the magazine "had a greater importance to the history of sf than the quality of its stories would suggest; it was an important training ground".[2]

Publication history

Although science fiction (sf) 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,[3] and several new sf magazines were launched in 1939.[4] Frederik Pohl, a science fiction fan and aspiring writer, visited Robert Erisman, the editor of Marvel Science Stories and Dynamic Science Stories, to ask for a job.[5] Erisman did not have an opening for him, but told Pohl that Popular Publications, a leading pulp publisher, was starting a new line of low-paying magazines and might be interested in adding a science fiction title.[6] On October 25, 1939, Pohl visited Rogers Terrill at Popular, and was hired immediately, at the age of nineteen,[7] on a salary of ten dollars per week.[8][notes 1] Pohl was given two magazines to edit: Super Science Stories and Astonishing Stories.[7][10] Super Science Stories was intended to carry longer pieces, and Astonishing focused on shorter fiction; Super Science Stories was retitled Super Science Novels Magazine in March 1941, reflecting this policy, but after only three issues the title was changed back to Super Science Stories.[1]

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1940 1/1 1/2 1/3 1/4 2/1
1941 2/2 2/3 2/4 3/1 3/2
1942 3/3 3/4 4/1 4/2
1943 4/3 4/4
Issues of the first run of Super Science Stories, showing volume/issue
number. The colors identify the editors for each issue: Frederik Pohl until
August 1941, and Alden H. Norton for the remaining issues.

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.[7][11] Super Science Stories' first issue was dated March 1940; it was bimonthly, with Astonishing Stories appearing in the alternate months.[5] In Pohl's memoirs he recalls Harry Steeger, one of the company owners, breaking down the budget for Astonishing for him: "Two hundred seventy-five dollars for stories. A hundred dollars for black and white art. Thirty dollars for a cover." For Super Science Stories, Steeger gave him an additional $50 as it was 16 pages longer, so his total budget was $455 per issue.[12] Pohl could only offer half a cent per word for fiction, well below the rates offered by the leading magazines.[7][13][notes 2] Super Science Stories sold well, despite Pohl's limited resources:[5] Popular was a major pulp publisher and had a strong distribution network, which helped circulation. Steeger soon increased Pohl's budget, to pay bonuses for popular stories.[5][notes 3] Pohl later commented that he was uncertain whether the additional funds really helped to bring in higher quality submissions, although at the time he assured Steeger it would improve the magazine.[16] Some of the additional money went to Ray Cummings, a long-established sf writer who came to see Pohl in person to submit his work. Cummings refused to sell for less than one cent a word; Pohl had some extra money available when Cummings first visited him, and though he disliked Cummings' work was never able to bring himself to reject Cummings submissions, or even to tell him that he could not really afford to pay the rate Cummings was asking. Pohl comments in his memoirs that "for months he [Cummings] would turn up regularly as clockwork and sell me a new story; I hated them all, and bought them all."[17]

By reducing the space he needed to fill with fiction Pohl managed to stretch his budget. A long letter column took up several pages but required no payment, and neither did running advertisements for Popular's other magazines. Some authors sent inaccurate word counts with the stories they submitted, and savings were made 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. Snipped elements of black and white illustrations were also reused to fill space, as multiple uses of the same artwork did not require additional payments to the artist.[18]

Towards the end of 1940 Popular doubled Pohl's salary to twenty dollars per week.[8][notes 4] In June 1941 Pohl visited Steeger to ask for a further raise, intending to resign and work as a free-lance writer if he was unsuccessful. Steeger was unreceptive, and Pohl commented later "I have never been sure whether I quit or got fired".[20][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.[5] Norton offered Pohl thirty-five dollars a week as an associate editor, substantially more than the twenty dollars a week he had received as editor, and Pohl readily accepted.[22][23]

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.[24] 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 Ejler Jakobsson.[25][26][notes 6]

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1949 5/1 5/2 5/3 5/4 6/1
1950 6/2 6/3 6/4 7/1 7/2 7/3
1951 7/4 8/1 8/2 8/3
Issues of the second run of Super Science Stories, showing volume/issue
number. Ejler Jakobsson was editor throughout.

In late 1948, as a second boom in science fiction publishing was beginning, Popular decided to revive the magazine.[1] Jakobsson later recalled hearing about the revival while on vacation, swimming in a lake, five miles from a phone: "A boy on a bicycle showed on shore and shouted, 'Call your office.'" When he reached a phone, Norton told him that the magazine was being relaunched and would be given to Jakobsson to edit. Damon Knight, who was working for Popular at the time, also worked on the magazine as assistant editor, although he was not credited.[25] The relaunched magazine survived for almost three years, but the market for pulps was weak, and when Knight left in 1950 to edit Worlds Beyond Jakobsson was unable to sustain support for it within Popular. It ceased publication with the August 1951 issue.[28]

Other Languages