Stephen King: A Latter Day “Fix Up”

At this point, it seems safe to say that magazines are more or less defunct as a vehicle for popular fiction. They were superseded more or less completely by paperbacks in the 1950s. Of course that process took awhile, and in the interim a good deal of the paperback SF market featured new, lengthier versions of magazine stories, which had been expanded or combined into book-length features. Eventually paperback originals (and original short story anthologies) came into their own, and the “fix-up” became less common without completely dying away.

Textual criticism of fix-ups has never been very popular among SF scholars, but it seems like there might some interesting possibilities. A comparison of the censored Analog versions of Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War” stories to his successful novelization comes to mind as an interesting possibility.

Having a significant collection of paperback and magazine SF on hand (as we do here!) makes this sort of work feasible. It is also fun to have a look at some of the lesser known magazine appearances of well-known authors. I’m thinking particularly (today) of Stephen King’s stealthy initial publication of “The Gunslinger” in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I don’t suppose King comes in for much academic criticism either, but at the very least it is revealing to compare the initial circumstances of the Gunslinger publication series to the more visible phenomenon that is has turned into. The most obvious finding from a perusal of our collection: at no point did the stories garner a cover.

king2king1 king3kingking4

Of course King was already a bestselling author when these came out. So, while he was willing to lend his name to this project (unlike the contemporary pseudonymous Richard Bachman books), commercially speaking it was decidedly on the back burner. As for the content itself, I’m not sure to what degree you could call the later novelization a fix-up. That is for the putative researchers to decide, right? Until I was putting this post together, I was not aware that he had been at The Gunslinger with revisions and updates. There is definitely a textual history there, if not necessarily a devoted critical community. Maybe in the next century.

Advertising in Pulp SF

In recent posts I have tended to dwell on science fiction magazine cover art. In my own case, at least, the exterior artwork is still doing its job: attracting attention to the contents within. Hopefully they are as exciting as the cover, right? But artwork is only a single point of entry into the study of science fiction pulps as artifacts.

And I can only assume we are keeping them in the first place in order to preserve the artifactual value. [there is a pretty significant Greenwood microfilm series of the early SF magazines] I’m not sure if the mainstream of analytical bibliography or its book history morph has yet to reach yellow-backs or dime novels, much less the pulps or their post-war paperback successors. The established bibliographical methods are generally appropriate only to hand-made books, so much more variable (and personal and evocative) than the relatively anonymous products of the popular machine press. And there is very little mystery in an actual copy of Amazing Stories. But there are some notable varieties of textual and extra-textual content which accompany and broadly inform the fantastic features which were the ostensible point of the science fiction pulps and related publications, and which are attention-worthy. How about:


“Pulpwood magazines offer two methods of escape from reality: one, by their fiction – that magic carpet that carries the reader off to parts unknown; the other, by their advertising of comparatively inexpensive means to keep the reader physically and mentally fit so that he can take the hero’s part in any romantic adventures he reads about, or dreams of having himself . . . . Advertising pages are as much a part of the magazine as those devoted to stories: parallel lines spoken by two sets of people but with a single thought: to catch and hold the reader’s attention.”

Harold Brainerd Hersey, “Pulpwood Editor: The Fabulous World of the Thriller Magazines Revealed by a Veteran Editor and Publisher (Greenwood, 1974): 77, 83.


The ads are fun, but the question is: to what degree they were tailored to SF pulp readers specifically? Could you infer that this demographic was underemployed, musically-challenged, and spindly to a degree that the western pulp readership was not? Were their noses more unsatisfactory than the norm?


The tough part about having deep holdings in SF magazines but not in other category pulps is that such comparisons are difficult, so I have to lean on Algis Budrys for some commentary (as far as I know, the only commentary of its kind germane to advertising policy in SFnal publications). In the following quote, he is trying to prove a larger point (grind a bigger ax) about the essential triviality of magazine SF, or at least to point out some of the the more unexpected influences on the literature which may not be appreciated by most scholars or other publishing neophytes, and he accidentally provides us with an interesting bit about the ads:

From the publishers’ point of view, the competition for readers during the chain period was a competition not between authors (who were regarded as ‘bylines,’ that is, as blurb material in most respects), and not even between individual magazine titles and genres within the chains, but between chains . . . . The publishers’ view of things can be deduced from the fact that advertising in the magazines was sold not by the individual title but by the chain; the only smaller unit offered was the ‘group’ within the chain. The content of the advertising – for High John the (luck-bringing) Conqueror Root, for an ‘encyclopedia’ of Female Beauty Around the World with supplementary torture photographs from the Orient, and for the Audel home-workshop manuals – conveys a very specific picture of the perceived demographics of the chain audience.”

Budrys, “Non-Literary Influences on Science Fiction,” (Borgo Press, 1983): 7.

So, the ads are not necessarily an absolutely essential source of information on readership, at least not SF genre-specific readerships. But they interesting nonetheless, and definitely entertaining. You might even call them evocative (Budrys would say: evocative of exploitation and disdain).

Next time: the letter column.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12

Coincidentally, I found mention of “the first SF I ever read” in a few places this year. The authors all happened to be about the same age, and all reading Gernsback publications with memorable Frank Paul covers. Paul, the primary illustrator of the first dedicated American SF magazine, is well known for hisarchetypal depiction of the alien machines from War of the Worlds. But the monolithic impression he made on Arthur C. Clarke is not so widely appreciated!


Arthur C. Clarke – Amazing Stories, November 1928

“The very first science-fiction magazine I ever saw had a cover by Frank Paul – and it is one of the most remarkable illustrations in the history of science fiction, as it appears to be a clear example of precognition on the part of the artist! I must have seen Amazing Stories for November 1928 about a year after it had been shipped across to England- so rumor has it, as ship’s “ballast”- and sold at Woolworth’s for 3p. How I used to haunt that once-famous store during my lunch hour, in search of issues of Amazing, Wonder, and Astounding, buried like jewels in the junk-pile of detective and western pulps! – Korshak, ed. From the Pen of Paul (Orlando: Shasta-Phoenix, 2009): 9.


Frederik Pohl – Amazing Stories Annual, 1927

“The name of the game that year was the Great Depression, but I didn’t know I was playing it. And at some point in that year of 1930 I came across a magazine named Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, with a picture of a scaly green monster on the cover[unfortunately not in our collection; how did that happen?!].I opened it up. The irremediable virus entered my veins . . . That first issue of Science Wonder was heaven, but I didn’t realize that the fact that it was a magazine implied that there would be other issues for me to find. When another science fiction magazine came my way, a few months later, it was like Christmas. That was an old copy of the Amazing Stories Annual, provenance unknown. Given two examples, I was at last able to deduce the probability of more, and the general concept of “science-fiction magazines” became part of my life.” –Pohl, The Way the Future Was (New York: Del Rey, 1978): 2, 6.


Lester Del Rey – Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929

“The Fall 1929 Science Wonder Quarterly has an unusually effective cover by Paul, showing three men in spacesuits, tethered by air lines to a rocket…This, incidentally, was the first science fiction magazine I ever read.” –Del Rey, The World of Science Fiction (New York: Garland, 1980): 50-51.


Whither the used magazine store?

I had originally planned to write a bit about some of the magazines edited in the early 1940s by recently departed Fred Pohl. At 19, he managed to talk his way into the editorship of two publications: Super Science Stories and Astonishing Stories. Pohl instituted the first SF book review columns of any substance in these magazines, and published early work from the Futurians, that notable circle of young New York SF fans and writers including notables such as Pohl himself, Asimov, James Blish, Hannes Bok, Damon Knight, and Judith Merril. This work bridged the gap between the SF pulps and the more sophisticated magazines of the 1950s and beyond (in which Pohl also figured heavily as a writer and editor).

When I pulled a few numbers, I ran across yet another cover stamped by a used magazine store. I used to see plenty of post-1950 SF magazines, and never noticed any of these stamps, but they do seem show up on our pulps somewhat frequently:





As far as the used magazine stores go, there seem to be very few left standing. I have never laid eyes on one; by the time I was looking for old SF it was in used book stores, the sort that carried mostly trade paperbacks in western, romance, crime, and horror (i.e. the usual pulpy suspects).
Newsstand. Omaha, Nebraska, 1938 (LoC American Memory Project)

My guess is that the used magazine stores probably started to fade out sometime in the 1950s, after the paperback (and the television) had begun to more fully displace periodicals as a vehicle for popular fiction. The fragility of the stock must have also been a limiting factor; the magazines were just not built to last. We can elevate these stamps into evidence of past patterns of popular readership. But the disappearance of a cheap outlet for a particular cultural product also makes me think about the need for nimble and active collecting, bringing to mind the great old quotation from Jeremy Belknap, founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

“There is nothing like having a good repository and keeping a good look out, not waiting at home for things to fall into the lap, but prowling about like a wolf for the prey.”

That is still the case for institutional collectors, whether you are hunting through an attic or a strip mall:
Gently Used Books, Douglassville, PA

From an imaginary science fiction bookseller’s catalogue…


An Early Fannish Imprint

8. [Crawford, William L.]: MARVEL TALES Volume 1, Number 2. Everett, PA: Fantasy Publications, 1934. 60pp. Original paper wrappers, stapled; top and bottom edges worn, corners bumped. Internally clean. Very good.

Marvel Tales was semi-professional editor William L. Crawford’s attempt to fill in the gap left during a brief, early Depression-era lull in the mass-market science fiction magazine marketplace. Crawford saw Marvel Tales as his own vehicle for publishing material too risky for editors at the helm of contemporary magazines such as Astounding Stories, Amazing Stories, and Wonder Stories. Serving simultaneously as publisher, editor, and typesetter, he produced five issues during 1934 and 1935, of which this is the second, notably featuring the first publication of Robert Howard’s short story “The Garden of Fear”. The present copy bears the yellow and green cover variant; the text does not include the printing errors found in the second, variant issue described by Miller and Contento. “Marvel Tales was a worthwhile and exciting experiment that could have had a significant impact on the development of SF had it succeeded . . . Crawford has been overlooked in the history of SF, but one day he will be accorded his place beside pioneers F. Orlin Tremaine and John W. Campbell, as an editor who tried to shape the future of SF” — Tymn. Nineteen copies located in OCLC. An attractive survival of 1930s SF fandom, and not common in the marketplace.


Available at Virginia Tech Special Collections



Pop Culture Artifacts from the Heron Collection of Speculative Fiction

Over the course of a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Virginia Tech Special Collections acquired the William J. Heron Collection of Speculative Fiction. The Heron collection includes approximately 5,000 issues of American, British, and Australian science fiction magazines. These magazines are notable not just for their content, but also have enduring appeal as cultural objects. Many early science fiction stories, especially magazine material from the 1940s and 1950s, have been variously reprinted, anthologized, expanded into book length, or otherwise modified for commercial re-use. So, seeing the original published setting of a story, or knowing that a given setting is not the first, provides a context for understanding its readership. And the cover art, which was usually original work, is always different and interesting in one way or another. As this is likely the first in an ongoing series of installments on science fiction magazines and their art and artists, the following images are all “firsts” from the great magazines, and all are from our collection. Of the four magazines represented here, both Astounding (which was retitled Analog in 1960) and Magazine of Fantasy (now know as Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) are still in publication. Astounding/Analog has been in continuous publication for almost 100 years!

Amazing Stories April 1926

Amazing #1, April 1926, Experimenter Publishing (cover by Frank Paul)

Astounding Stories

Astounding #1, January 1930, Clayton Magazines (cover by H.W. Wessolowski, aka Wesso)

Magazine of Fantasy

Magazine of Fantasy #1, Fall 1949, Mystery House (cover by Bill Stone)

Galaxy Science Fiction

Galaxy #1, October 1950, World Editions (cover by David Stone)