May 152014

Astounding Stories 38-01Hired by Street & Smith in 1937, John W. Campbell became the editor of Astounding Stories upon the promotion of F. Orlin Tremaine. Writing under his own name and several pseudonyms, Campbell was one of the leading science-fiction writers of the 1930s. His story “Twilight,” published in the November 1934 Astounding under the Don A. Stuart pen name, is considered a science-fiction classic.

While he worked through a backlog of stories purchased by his predecessor, Campbell began making changes to the magazine, or “mutations,” as he called them. The first major “mutation” came with the March 1938 issue when the magazine became known as Astounding Science-Fiction.

Wanting to create a science-fiction magazine for mature readers, Campbell asked his authors to provide readers with “new worlds that science might offer.” Writers, both new and old, began to respond: Lester Del Rey with “The Faithful” and “Helen O’Loy;” Jack Williamson with “The Legion of Time;” and L. Ron Hubbard with “The Tramp.” Campbell himself joined in with “Who Goes There,” as did Clifford D. Simak, who had left the field, and new writers L. Sprague de Camp and Eric Frank Russell. Seasoned professionals such as Arthur J. Burks, Raymond Z. Gallun, and Manly Wade Wellman also joined in.

Astounding Science-Fiction 39-02But Campbell had merely been tilling the soil in 1938, preparing it for the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden Age in 1939. The stage was set when the February 1939 Astounding Science-Fiction featured the magazine’s first cover by Hubert Rogers. A free lance illustrator long associated with Adventure, Rogers would eventually paint nearly sixty covers for Campbell’s Astounding.

Although the outpouring of exceptional fiction continued in the new year with stories such as Simak’s “Cosmic Engineers” and Williamson’s “One Against the Legion,” it is the July 1939 issue that is cited most often as the start of the Golden Age of Astounding and in turn, of science fiction. Behind a very effective cover by artist Graves Gladney, the reader would find the first prose fiction by A. E. van Vogt as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for Campbell’s magazine. August’s and September’s issues continued the trend with the first stories of Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon appearing in the magazine. October’s number began the serialization of E. E. Smith’s “Gray Lensman,” along with another tale by Heinlein.

The forties brought with them the flowering of Robert Heinlein with stories such as “The Roads Must Roll,” “Blowups Happen,” “Universe,” and “Methuselah’s Children,” all published under his own name, and “Sixth Column,” “By His Bootstraps,” and “Beyond this Horizon,” published under the his Anson McDonald pseudonym. Isaac Asimov began to be heard with works such as “Nightfall” and the first stories of his robot and “Foundation” series. A. E. van Vogt contributed “Slan” and began the “Weapon Shops” tales. And L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout,” serialized in 1940, caused a substantial stir.

As the decade wore on, World War II began to effect Astounding as Campbell’s writers were pulled away to help with the war effort. Others however, emerged to take their place. Writing as Lewis Padgett, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore contributed such tales as “The Twonky” and “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” while Jack Williamson, writing as Will Stewart, began the “Seetee” series. Lester del Rey’s “Nerves” became one of the most popular stories published in 1942 while Fritz Leiber’s “Gather Darkness” and C. L. Moore’s “Judgment Night” were two of the best to appear in 1943. Hal Clement, Raymond F. Jones, and George O. Smith all began writing for Campbell during this period and Murray Leinster returned to Astounding. The magazine itself also went through a couple of changes during this time, becoming letter-sized at the start of 1942 and a digest at the end of 1943.

Although Astounding Science-Fiction would continue to publish outstanding works of science fiction throughout the war and for many years to come, the magazine’s and science fiction’s golden luster began to diminish as the years wore on. As the fifties began, it became increasingly apparent that Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had become the leading lights of magazine science fiction. Although John Campbell would win eight Hugo Awards for best editor between 1952 and 1965, his age was past.

Astounding Science Fiction 60-01In 1960, Astounding was renamed Astounding/Analog Science Fact & Fiction. The “Astounding” was dropped from the title with the October 1960 number when it became known as Analog Science Fact-Fiction. It has survived into the present time using some sort of variation on that title. John Campbell continued to edit Astounding/Analog until his death in July 1971. He was succeeded as editor, first by Ben Bova, and later by Stanley Schmidt and Trevor Quachri. The magazine was sold to Davis Publications in 1980 and Dell Magazines in 1992, the company that publishes it today.

To learn more about the image used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.

May 072012

Much of our 2012 programming revolves around birthdays. Both Tarzan and John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ two most popular heroes, turn 100 this year. And Robert E. Howard’s Conan reaches eighty. We’re celebrating these important occasions with presentations devoted to these characters and their creators. But 2012 marks another important anniversary in pulp history.

This summer’s PulpFest will begin almost 75 years to the day after the September 1937 Astounding Stories hit newsstands across the nation. That issue was the first to benefit from the input of John W. Campbell, a pioneering science-fiction writer hired to assist F. Orlin Tremaine, who had been at the magazine’s helm since Street & Smith purchased it from publisher William Clayton in 1933. With Tremaine’s guidance, Astounding had become the preeminent SF pulp, but its best days were yet to come. Just a few months after joining the magazine’s staff, Campbell assumed full editorial control of the monthly and promptly instituted policies that ushered in what later became known as the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Within a few short years, John Campbell had assembled a stable of writers that included talented newcomers and reliable mainstays alike. His roster of contributors was unparalleled by any other magazine in the field, and the first six years of his tenure as editor saw the publication of such classic science-fiction stories as "Slan," "Who Goes There?", "Final Blackout," "Sixth Column," "Methuselah’s Children," "Beyond This Horizon," "Gather, Darkness!", three of E. E. Smith’s "Lensman" novels and the early installments of Isaac Asimov’s "Foundation" series.

PulpFest 2012 will honor this remarkably fecund period in Astounding’s long history with a unique presentation. Rather than entrust it to a single speaker or a panel of enthusiasts, our salute to Campbell and the magazine’s Golden Age will be conducted by Garyn G. Roberts, PhD., and Blood ‘n’ Thunder editor Ed Hulse. Both are well qualified to discuss Campbell’s influence and Astounding’s peak years: Roberts is a popular culture professor and the editor of The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2000), while Hulse has written extensively about Astounding’s Golden Age, most recently in The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps (2007).

Roberts and Hulse will take a Siskel-and-Ebert approach to their conversation, citing their favorite Astounding authors and stories while debating the merits of individual yarns that appeared in the magazine during the years under review. Their discussion will be accompanied by a slideshow of Astounding covers from September 1937 to November 1943. We’re not aware of any pulp-convention presentation that has employed this format, and we think it’ll be something special.

Join PulpFest on Thursday, August 9th for At the Newsstand with Hulse and Roberts.

The cover art above is by Wesso for the September 1937 issue of Astounding Stories.

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