History of US science fiction and fantasy magazines to 1950 | beginning of the digest era

Beginning of the digest era

First issue of Imagination, dated October 1950; cover art by Hannes Bok

Street & Smith, one of the longest established and most respected magazine publishers, shut down all their pulps in the summer of 1949. The pulps were dying, largely as a result of the success of pocketbooks, and Street & Smith decided to concentrate on their slick magazines. The only survivor of Street & Smith's pulp titles was the digest-format Astounding Science Fiction.[160] By the end of 1955, Fantastic Adventures, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Thrilling Wonder, Startling Stories, Planet Stories, Weird Tales, and Fantastic Story Quarterly had all ceased publication. Despite the pulps' decline, a few new magazines did appear in pulp format at the end of the 1940s, though these were all short-lived, and several of them focused on reprints rather than new material.[161]

One of the first new post-war titles was Fantasy Book, which appeared in 1947. It was the work of William Crawford, a specialty publisher, and varied between pulp and digest sizes. Crawford ran into problems with distribution and production, and the magazine was never regular, but he produced eight issues over the next four years that included some worthwhile material, most notably Cordwainer Smith's first story, "Scanners Live in Vain", in the January 1950 issue.[162]

Popular had added Fantastic Novels as a companion to Famous Fantastic Mysteries in 1948; the following year it launched A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine, in an attempt to cash in on Merritt's popularity, and Captain Zero, a science-fictional hero pulp. Both were failures, lasting only five and three issues, respectively. Standard's Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder, both well-regarded by the end of the decade, were joined in 1950 by two reprint magazines. One was Fantastic Story Quarterly, which was intended to carry reprints that were too long to run in Startling's "Hall of Fame" department. This was initially a financial success, and Standard decided to add another title, Wonder Story Annual. Both titles survived into the mid-1950s.[161] Two exceptions to the reprint rule were Future Science Fiction, which Silberkleit brought back as a bimonthly pulp in May 1950, still edited by Lowndes,[129] and Out of This World Adventures, also in pulp format, which combined science-fiction material with a few pages of comics. The publisher, Avon, also launched a romance magazine and a western magazine with the same format, but the experiment was a failure and Out of This World Adventures only lasted for two issues, dated July and December 1950.[161] At the end of 1950 Marvel Science Stories reappeared as the Goodman brothers saw a new boom in science fiction magazines getting under way; it began as a pulp, but changed to a digest the following year. The fiction was of higher quality than in the first incarnation of the magazine, but it lasted less than two years.[163][164]

December 1950 issue of Out of This World Adventures; cover art by James Bama

Although Astounding had been in digest format since 1943, few new digest magazines had been launched since then. One of the first into the fray was Other Worlds, Raymond Palmer's first new science fiction magazine since he had left Ziff-Davis. It appeared in November 1949, and was bimonthly for the first year. Palmer acquired stories by Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, and Raymond F. Jones, but the overall quality was not high; Ashley characterizes the magazine as "good, but not quite good enough".[165] Howard Browne took over from Palmer as editor of Amazing and Fantastic Adventures, and made strides in improving the quality of both magazines, though much of his impact only became visible after 1950.[166]

In December 1949, Lawrence Spivak, the editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, launched The Magazine of Fantasy as a fantasy companion, in digest format. The editors were Anthony Boucher, a well-regarded mystery writer who wrote some science fiction, and J. Francis McComas. It was retitled The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction with the following issue, and four more quarterly issues appeared in 1950. The contents were of the same standard as the fiction that appeared in slick magazines of the day, and it was soon successful.[167] In October 1950 the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction appeared, edited by H.L. Gold, also in digest format;[168] it too did well, and in the 1950s both magazines became very highly regarded, supplanting Astounding as the leading science-fiction magazines.[169]

Three more magazines began publication in 1950, all in digest format. The first was Fantasy Fiction, which produced two issues. It included some respectable reprinted material from 1930s issues of Argosy, but none of the new stories were memorable.[170] In October 1950, Raymond Palmer, who had left Ziff-Davis to become a publisher in his own right, launched Imagination. A serious accident in the summer forced him to turn most of the editing work over to Bea Mahaffey, and after two issues he sold the magazine to William Hamling, who kept it going until 1958.[171] The final magazine of the decade was Worlds Beyond, edited by Damon Knight, which appeared in December 1950, and lasted for three monthly issues; the publisher, Hillman Periodicals, decided to scrap the magazine only days after the first issue went on sale. All three issues featured quality work, and many of the stories have been reprinted frequently; Willam Tenn's "Null-P" and C.M. Kornbluth's "The Mindworm" being perhaps the best-known.[172] Knight included material by non-genre writers such as Graham Greene and Rudyard Kipling, along with genre names such as Katherine MacLean and Lester del Rey.[173] Ashley suggests that had Knight been allowed to continue, the magazine would have been a significant contribution to 1950s science fiction.[174]

Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, and other large, mainstream companies began publishing science-fiction books around 1950. They issued fixups and collections of magazine fiction, but also original stories; authors no longer only had magazines as buyers.[175]

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