Wonder Stories

Wonder Stories
Air wonder stories 192907.jpg
The first issue of Air Wonder Stories, July 1929. The cover is by Frank R. Paul.
FounderHugo Gernsback
First issueJuly 1929; 90 years ago (1929-07)
Final issueJanuary 1955; 64 years ago (1955-01)

Wonder Stories is an early American science fiction magazine which was published under several titles from 1929 to 1955. It was founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1929 after he had lost control of his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, when his media company Experimenter Publishing went bankrupt. Within a few months of the bankruptcy, Gernsback launched three new magazines: Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Quarterly.

Air Wonder Stories and Science Wonder Stories were merged in 1930 as Wonder Stories, and the quarterly was renamed Wonder Stories Quarterly. The magazines were not financially successful, and in 1936 Gernsback sold Wonder Stories to Ned Pines at Beacon Publications, where, retitled Thrilling Wonder Stories, it continued for nearly 20 years. The last issue was dated Winter 1955, and the title was then merged with Startling Stories, another of Pines' science fiction magazines. Startling itself lasted only to the end of 1955 before finally succumbing to the decline of the pulp magazine industry.

The editors under Gernsback's ownership were David Lasser, who worked hard to improve the quality of the fiction, and, from mid-1933, Charles Hornig. Both Lasser and Hornig published some well-received fiction, such as Stanley Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey", but Hornig's efforts in particular were overshadowed by the success of Astounding Stories, which had become the leading magazine in the new field of science fiction. Under its new title, Thrilling Wonder Stories was initially unable to improve its quality. For a period in the early 1940s it was aimed at younger readers, with a juvenile editorial tone and covers that depicted beautiful women in implausibly revealing spacesuits. Later editors began to improve the fiction, and by the end of the 1940s, in the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley, the magazine briefly rivaled Astounding.

Publication history

By the end of the 19th century, stories centered on scientific inventions and set in the future, in the tradition of Jules Verne, were appearing regularly in popular fiction magazines.[1] Magazines such as Munsey's Magazine and The Argosy, launched in 1889 and 1896 respectively, carried a few science fiction stories each year. Some upmarket "slicks" such as McClure's, which paid well and were aimed at a more literary audience, also carried scientific stories, but by the early years of the 20th century, science fiction (though it was not yet called that) was appearing more often in the pulp magazines than in the slicks.[2][3][4] The first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, was launched in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback at the height of the pulp magazine era. It helped to form science fiction as a separately marketed genre, and by the end of the 1930s a "Golden Age of Science Fiction" had begun, inaugurated by the efforts of John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction. Wonder Stories was launched in the pulp era, not long after Amazing Stories, and lasted through the Golden Age and well into the 1950s.[5][6]

Gernsback era

Air Wonder Stories
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1929 1/1 1/2 1/3 1/4 1/5 1/6
1930 1/7 1/8 1/9 1/10 1/11
Volume and issue numbers of Air Wonder Stories. The editor was David
Lasser throughout.

Gernsback's new magazine, Amazing Stories, was successful, but Gernsback lost control of the publisher when it went bankrupt in February 1929. By April he had formed a new company, Gernsback Publications Incorporated, and created two subsidiaries: Techni-Craft Publishing Corporation and Stellar Publishing Corporation. Gernsback sent out letters advertising his plans for new magazines; the mailing lists he used almost certainly were compiled from the subscription lists of Amazing Stories. This would have been illegal, as the lists were owned by Irving Trust, the receiver of the bankruptcy. Gernsback denied using the lists under oath, but historians have generally agreed that he must have done so. The letters also asked potential subscribers to decide the name of the new magazine; they voted for "Science Wonder Stories", which became the name of one of Gernsback's new magazines.[7][8]

Science Wonder Stories
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1929 1/1 1/2 1/3 1/4 1/5 1/6 1/7
1930 1/8 1/9 1/10 1/11 1/12
Volume and issue numbers of Science Wonder Stories. The editor was David
Lasser throughout.

Gernsback's recovery from the bankruptcy judgment was remarkably quick. By early June he had launched three new magazines, two of which published science fiction.[9] The June 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories appeared on newsstands on 5 May 1929, and was followed on 5 June by the July 1929 issue of Air Wonder Stories.[7][10] Both magazines were monthly, with Gernsback as editor-in-chief and David Lasser as editor.[11][12][13] Lasser had no prior editing experience and knew little about science fiction, but his recently acquired degree from MIT convinced Gernsback to hire him.[14]

Gernsback claimed that science fiction was educational. He repeatedly made this assertion in Amazing Stories, and continued to do so in his editorials for the new magazines, stating, for example, that "teachers encourage the reading of this fiction because they know that it gives the pupil a fundamental knowledge of science and aviation."[15] He also recruited a panel of "nationally known educators [who] pass upon the scientific principles of all stories". Science fiction historian Everett Bleiler describes this as "fakery, pure and simple", asserting that there is no evidence that the men on the panel—some of whom, such as Lee De Forest, were well-known scientists—had any editorial influence.[16] However, Donald Menzel, the astrophysicist on the panel, said that Gernsback sent him manuscripts and made changes to stories as a result of Menzel's commentary.[17]

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1930 2/1 2/2 2/3 2/4 2/5 2/6 2/7
1931 2/8 2/9 2/10 2/11 2/12 3/1 3/2 3/3 3/4 3/5 3/6 3/7
1932 3/8 3/9 3/10 3/11 3/12 4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6 4/7
1933 4/8 4/9 4/10 4/11 4/12 5/1 5/2 5/3 5/4 5/5
1934 5/6 5/7 5/8 5/9 5/10 6/1 6/2 6/3 6/4 6/5 6/6 6/7
1935 6/8 6/9 6/10 6/11 6/12 7/1 7/2 7/3 7/4 7/5 7/6
1936 7/7 7/8
Issues of Wonder Stories from the merger of Science Wonder and Air
to the acquisition by Beacon Publications, indicating editors: Lasser
(blue, 1930–1933), and Hornig (yellow, 1933–1936)

In 1930, Gernsback decided to merge Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories into Wonder Stories. The reason for the merger is unknown, although it may have been that he needed the space in the printing schedule for his new Aviation Mechanics magazine.[18] Bleiler has suggested that the merger was caused by poor sales and a consequent need to downsize. In addition, Air Wonder Stories was probably focused on too specialized a niche to succeed.[10] In an editorial just before Science Wonder Stories changed its name, Gernsback commented that the word "Science" in the title "has tended to retard the progress of the magazine, because many people had the impression that it is a sort of scientific periodical rather than a fiction magazine".[19] Ironically, the inclusion of "science" in the title was the reason that science fiction writer Isaac Asimov began reading the magazine; when he saw the August 1929 issue he obtained permission to read it from his father on the grounds that it was clearly educational.[20] Concerns about the marketability of titles seem to have surfaced in the last two issues of Science Wonder, which had the word "Science" printed in a color that made it difficult to read. On the top of the cover appeared the words "Mystery-Adventure-Romance", the last of which was a surprising way to advertise a science fiction magazine.[7]

The first issue of the merged magazine appeared in June 1930, still on a monthly schedule, with Lasser as editor.[12][13] The volume numbering continued that of Science Wonder Stories, therefore Wonder Stories is sometimes regarded as a retitling of Science Wonder Stories.[21] Gernsback had also produced a companion magazine for Science Wonder Stories, titled Science Wonder Quarterly, the first issue of which was published in the fall of 1929. Three issues were produced under this title, but after the merger Gernsback changed the companion magazine's title to Wonder Stories Quarterly, and produced a further eleven issues under that title.[22][23]

Science Wonder Quarterly and
Wonder Stories Quarterly
Winter Spring Summer Fall
1929 1/1
1930 1/2 1/3 1/4 2/1
1931 2/2 2/3 2/4 3/1
1932 3/2 3/3 3/4 4/1
1933 4/2
Science Wonder Quarterly (first three issues) and
Wonder Stories Quarterly (all subsequent issues). The
editor was David Lasser throughout.

In July 1933, Gernsback dismissed Lasser as editor. Lasser had become active in promoting workers' rights and was spending less time on his editorial duties. According to Lasser, Gernsback told him "if you like working with the unemployed so much, I suggest you go and join them".[24] It is likely that cost-cutting was also a consideration, as Lasser was paid $65 per week, a substantial salary in those days.[25][26] Soon after Lasser was let go, Gernsback received a fanzine, The Fantasy Fan, from a reader, Charles Hornig. Gernsback called Hornig to his office to interview him for the position of editor; Hornig turned out to be only 17, but Gernsback asked him to proofread a manuscript and decided that the results were satisfactory. Hornig was hired at an initial salary of $20 per week.[27][28] That same year, Gernsback dissolved Stellar Publications and created Continental Publications as the new publisher for Wonder Stories.[27] The schedule stuttered for the first time, missing the July and September 1933 issues;[27] the recent bankruptcy of the company's distributor, Eastern Distributing Corporation, may have been partly responsible for this disruption.[29][30] The first issue with Continental on the masthead, and the first listing Hornig as editor, was November 1933.[27]

Wonder Stories had a circulation of about 25,000 in 1934, comparable to that of Amazing Stories, which had declined from an early peak of about 100,000.[31][32] Gernsback considered issuing a reprint magazine in 1934, Wonder Stories Reprint Annual, but it never appeared.[33] That year he experimented with other fiction magazines—Pirate Stories and High Seas Adventures—but neither was successful.[34] Wonder Stories was also failing, and in November 1935 it started publishing bimonthly instead of monthly. Gernsback had a reputation for paying slowly and was therefore unpopular with many authors; by 1936 he was even failing to pay Laurence Manning, one of his most reliable authors.[35] Staff were sometimes asked to delay cashing their paychecks for weeks at a time.[36] Gernsback felt the blame lay with dealers who were returning magazine covers as unsold copies, and then selling the stripped copies at a reduced rate. To bypass the dealers, he made a plea in the March 1936 issue to his readers, asking them to subscribe, and proposing to distribute Wonder Stories solely by subscription. There was little response, and Gernsback decided to sell. He made a deal with Ned Pines of Beacon Magazines and on 21 February 1936 Wonder Stories was sold.[34]

Thrilling Wonder Stories

Spring Summer Fall Winter
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1936 8/1 8/2 8/3
1937 9/1 9/2 9/3 10/1 10/2 10/3
1938 11/1 11/2 11/3 12/1 12/2 12/3
1939 13/1 13/2 13/3 14/1 14/2 14/3
1940 15/1 15/2 15/3 16/1 16/2 16/3 17/1 17/2 17/3 18/1 18/2 18/3
1941 19/1 19/2 19/3 20/1 20/2 20/3 21/1 21/2
1942 21/3 22/1 22/2 22/3 23/1 23/2
1943 23/3 24/1 24/2 24/3 25/1
1944 25/2 25/3 26/1 26/2
1945 26/3 27/1 27/2 27/3
Issues of Thrilling Wonder Stories from 1936 to 1945. Editors are Mort Weisinger
(green, 1936–1941), Oscar Friend (pink, 1941–1944), and Sam Merwin (purple,
1945). Underlining indicates that an issue was titled as a quarterly (e.g. "Winter
1944") rather than as a monthly.

Pines' magazines included several with "Thrilling" in the title, such as Thrilling Detective and Thrilling Love Stories. These were run by Leo Margulies, who had hired Mort Weisinger (among others) as the workload increased in the early 1930s. Weisinger was already an active science fiction fan, and when Wonder Stories was acquired, Margulies involved him in the editorial work. Margulies' group worked as a team, with Margulies listed as editor-in-chief on the magazines and having final say. However, since Weisinger knew science fiction well, Weisinger was quickly given more leeway, and bibliographers generally list Weisinger as the editor for this period of the magazine's history.[37]

The title was changed to Thrilling Wonder Stories to match the rest of the "Thrilling" line. The first issue appeared in August 1936—four months after the last Gernsback Wonder Stories appeared.[13][37] Wonder Stories had been monthly until the last few Gernsback issues; Thrilling Wonder was launched on a bimonthly schedule.[13] In February 1938 Weisinger asked for reader feedback regarding the idea of a companion magazine; the response was positive, and in January 1939 the first issue of Startling Stories appeared, alternating months with Thrilling Wonder.[38] A year later Thrilling Wonder went monthly; this lasted fewer than eighteen months, and the bimonthly schedule resumed after April 1941. Weisinger left that summer and was replaced at both Startling and Thrilling Wonder by Oscar J. Friend, a pulp writer with more experience in Westerns than science fiction, though he had published a novel, The Kid from Mars, in Startling Stories just the year before.[39] In mid-1943 both magazines went to a quarterly schedule, and at the end of 1944 Friend was replaced in his turn by Sam Merwin, Jr. The quarterly schedule lasted until well after World War II ended: Thrilling Wonder returned to a bimonthly schedule with the December 1946 issue and again alternated with Startling which went bimonthly in January 1947.[13][40] Merwin left in 1951 in order to become a freelance editor,[41] and was replaced by Samuel Mines, who had worked for Ned Pines since 1942.[42]

The Thrilling Wonder logo, a winged man against the background of a glass mountain was taken from the Noel Loomis story, "The Glass Mountain."

Spring Summer Fall Winter
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1946 28/1 28/2 28/3 29/1 29/2
1947 29/3 30/1 30/2 30/3 31/1 31/2
1948 31/3 32/1 32/2 32/3 33/1 33/2
1949 33/3 34/1 34/2 34/3 35/1 35/2
1950 35/3 36/1 36/2 36/3 37/1 37/2
1951 37/3 38/1 38/2 38/3 39/1 39/2
1952 39/3 40/1 40/2 40/3 41/1 41/2
1953 41/3 42/1 42/2 42/3 43/1
1954 43/2 43/3 44/1 44/2
1955 44/3
Issues of Thrilling Wonder Stories from 1946 to 1955. Editors are Sam Merwin
(purple, 1946–1951), Samuel Mines (orange, 1951–1954), and Alexander Samalman
(gray, 1954–1955). Underlining indicates that an issue was titled as a quarterly
(e.g. "Winter 1946") rather than as a monthly.

By the summer of 1949 Street & Smith, one of the largest pulp publishers, had shut down every one of their pulps. This format was dying out, though it took several more years before the pulps completely disappeared from the newsstands.[43] Both Thrilling Wonder and Startling went quarterly in 1954, and at the end of that year Mines left. The magazines did not survive him for long; only two more issues of Thrilling Wonder appeared, both edited by Alexander Samalman. After the beginning of 1955, Thrilling Wonder was merged with Startling, which itself ceased publication at the end of 1955.[44]

After the demise of Thrilling Wonder Stories the old Wonder Stories title was revived for two issues, published in 1957 and 1963. These were both edited by Jim Hendryx Jr. They were numbered vol. 45, no. 1 and 2, continuing the volume numbering of Thrilling Wonder. Both were selections from past issues of Thrilling Wonder; the second one convinced Ned Pines, the publisher who had bought Wonder Stories from Gernsback in 1936 and who still owned the rights to the stories, to start a reprint magazine called Treasury of Great Science Fiction Stories in 1964; a companion, Treasury of Great Western Stories, was added the next year.[45][46]

In 2007, Winston Engle published a new magazine in book format, titled Thrilling Wonder Stories, with a cover date of Summer 2007.[47] Engle commented that it was "not a pastiche or nostalgia exercise as much as modern SF with the entertainment, inspirational value, and excitement of the golden age".[48] A second volume appeared in 2009.[49]

IF —!: a picture feature

Six months after the debut of Thrilling Wonder Stories, its June 1937 issue contained a picture feature by Jack Binder entitled IF —!.[50] Binder's earlier training as a fine artist[51] helped him create detailed renderings of space ships, lost cities, future cities, landscapes, indigenous peoples, and even ancient Atlantins. IF —!'s pen and ink drawings are hand-lettered and rendered in black and white. These one-to-two page studies presented readers with possible outcomes to early 20th-century scientific quandaries. These included:

  • IF Another Ice Age Grips the Earth![52] (June 1937) – Binder's first picture feature is tucked in between "The Chessboard of Mars" by Eando Binder and J. Harvey Haggard's "Renegade: The Ways of the Ether are Strange When a Spaceman Seeks to Betray." Ice Age offered renderings of glaciated cities, infra-red ray guns, and a floating city alongside underground habitations—"the safest and most practicable retreat!" for chilly humans. It ends with the announcement: "Next Issue: If Atomic Power were Harnessed!"
  • IF the Oceans Dried![53] (April 1938) – Sailing vessels are museum pieces enshrined in huge bubble cases since the ocean floor is now home to meandering train tracks. All manner of minerals are mined to the benefit of mankind and the lost city of Atlantis (if real) is exposed. All ocean life becomes extinct and the earth's climate undergoes dramatic, yet positive, change.
  • IF Science Reached the Earth's Core[54] (Oct. 1938) – Neutronium allows humans to penetrate to the earth's core, which is not molten, but a gravity-free haven where "vacationers enjoy the thrill of being weightless." IF —! is credited with the first use of the phrase "zero-gravity," a science fiction mainstay,[55] where "Space Travel is solved. Starting at the zero-gravity of Earth's core, accumulative acceleration is easily built up in a four-thousand-mile tube. The ship's reach Earth's surface where gravitation !|is strongest with an appreciable velocity that makes the take-off a simple process of continuation!"
  • IF Earth's Axis Shifted[56] (April 1940) – An astronomical telescope points towards the night sky revealing that the planets have aligned and caused the earth's axis to shift. Tidal waves sweep cities away. North America in now a tropic zone, while Siberia is balmy and Antarctica swarms with immigrants wanting to harvest the now accessible coal and metal. "Next Issue: IF the World were Ruled by Intelligent Robots!"
Other Languages
العربية: قصص العجائب
español: Wonder Stories
français: Wonder Stories
italiano: Wonder Stories
română: Wonder Stories
русский: Wonder Stories
Simple English: Wonder Stories
українська: Вандер сторіс