Science fiction magazine | the first science fiction magazines

The first science fiction magazines

March 1941 cover of the Science Fiction magazine, volume 2, issue 4

The first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, was published in a format known as bedsheet, roughly the size of Life but with a square spine. Later, most magazines changed to the pulp magazine format, roughly the size of comic books or National Geographic but again with a square spine. Now, most magazines are published in digest format, roughly the size of Reader's Digest, although a few are in the standard roughly 8.5" x 11" size, and often have stapled spines, rather than glued square spines. Science fiction magazines in this format often feature non-fiction media coverage in addition to the fiction. Knowledge of these formats is an asset when locating magazines in libraries and collections where magazines are usually shelved according to size.

The premiere issue of Amazing Stories (April 1926), edited and published by Hugo Gernsback, displayed a cover by Frank R. Paul illustrating Off on a Comet by Jules Verne. After many minor changes in title and major changes in format, policy and publisher, Amazing Stories ended January 2005 after 607 issues.

Except for the last issue of Stirring Science Stories, the last true bedsheet size sf (and fantasy) magazine was Fantastic Adventures, in 1939, but it quickly changed to the pulp size, and it was later absorbed by its digest-sized stablemate Fantastic in 1953. Before that consolidation, it ran 128 issues.

Much fiction published in these bedsheet magazines, except for classic reprints by writers such as H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, is only of antiquarian interest. Some of it was written by teenage science fiction fans, who were paid little or nothing for their efforts. Jack Williamson for example, was 19 when he sold his first story to Amazing Stories. His writing improved greatly over time, and until his death in 2006, he was still a publishing writer at age 98.

Some of the stories in the early issues were by scientists or doctors who knew little or nothing about writing fiction, but who tried their best, for example, Dr. David H. Keller. Probably the two best original sf stories ever published in a bedsheet science fiction magazine were "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley G. Weinbaum and "The Gostak and the Doshes" by Dr. Miles Breuer, who influenced Jack Williamson. "The Gostak and the Doshes" is one of the few stories from that era still widely read today. Other stories of interest from the bedsheet magazines include the first Buck Rogers story. Armageddon 2419 A.D, by Philip Francis Nowlan and The Skylark of Space by E. E. Smith and Mrs. Lee Hawkins Garby, both in Amazing Stories in 1928.

There have been a few unsuccessful attempts to revive the bedsheet size using better quality paper, notably Science-Fiction Plus edited by Hugo Gernsback (1952–53, eight issues). Astounding on two occasions briefly attempted to revive the bedsheet size, with 16 bedsheet issues in 1942–1943 and 25 bedsheet issues (as Analog, including the first publication of Frank Herbert's Dune) in 1963–1965. The fantasy magazine Unknown, also edited by John W. Campbell, changed its name to Unknown Worlds and published ten bedsheet-size issues before returning to pulp size for its final four issues. Amazing Stories published 36 bedsheet size issues in 1991–1999, and its last three issues were bedsheet size, 2004–2005.

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