Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

If you haven’t heard of Hugo Gernsback, you’ve surely heard of the Hugo Award. Next to the Nebula, it’s the most prestigious of science fiction prizes, bringing together in its ranks of winners such venerable authors as Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Neil Gaiman, Isaac Asimov, and just about every other sci-fi and fantasy luminary you could think of. It is indeed fitting that such an honor should be named for Gernsback, the Luxembourgian-American inventor who, in April of 1926, began publishing “the first and longest-running English-language magazine dedicated to what was then not quite yet called ‘science fiction,’” notes University of Virginia’s Andrew Ferguson at The Pulp Magazines Project. Amazing Stories provided an “exclusive outlet” for what Gernsback first called “scientifiction,” a genre he would “for better and for worse, define for the modern era.” You can read and download hundreds of Amazing Stories issues, from the first year of its publication to the last, at the Internet Archive.

Like the extensive list of Hugo Award winners, the back catalog of Amazing Stories encompasses a host of geniuses: Le Guin, Asimov, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, and many hundreds of lesser-known writers. But the magazine “was slow to develop,” writes Scott Van Wynsberghe. Its lurid covers lured some readers in, but its "first two years were dominated by preprinted material,” and Gernsback developed a reputation for financial dodginess and for not paying his writers well or at all.




By 1929, he sold the magazine and moved on to other ventures, none of them particularly successful. Amazing Stories soldiered on, under a series of editors and with widely varying readerships until it finally succumbed in 2005, after almost eighty years of publication. But that is no small feat in such an often unpopular field, with a publication, writes Ferguson, that was very often perceived as “garish and nonliterary.”

In hindsight, however, we can see Amazing Stories as a sci-fi time capsule and almost essential feature of the genre’s history, even if some of its content tended more toward the young adult adventure story than serious adult fiction. Its flashy covers set the bar for pulp magazines and comic books, especially in its run up to the fifties. After 1955, the year of the first Hugo Award, the magazine reached its peak under the editorship of Cele Goldsmith, who took over in 1959. Gone was much of the eyepopping B-movie imagery of the earlier covers. Amazing Stories acquired a new level of relative polish and sophistication, and published many more “literary” writers, as in the 1959 issue above, which featured a “Book-Length Novel by Robert Bloch.”

This trend continued into the seventies, as you can see in the issue above, with a “complete short novel by Gordon Eklund” (and early fiction by George R.R. Martin). In 1982, Ferguson writes, Amazing Stories was sold “to Gary Gygax of D&D fame, and would never again regain the prominence it had before.” The magazine largely returned to its pulp roots, with covers that resembled those of supermarket paperbacks. Great writers continued to appear, however. And the magazine remained an important source for new science fiction—though much of it only in hindsight. As for Gernsback, his reputation waned considerably after his death in 1967.

“Within a decade,” writes Van Wynsberghe, “science fiction pundits were debating whether or not he had created a ‘ghetto’ for hack writers.” In 1986, novelist Brian Aldiss called Gernsback “one of the worst disasters ever to hit the science fiction field.” His 1911 novel, the ludicrously named Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660 is considered “one of the worst science fiction novels in history,” writes Matthew Lasar. It may seem odd that the Oscar of the sci-fi world should be named for such a reviled figure. And yet, despite his pronounced lack of literary ability, Gernsback was a visionary. As a futurist, he made some startlingly accurate predictions, along with some not-so-accurate ones. As for his significant contribution to a new form of writing, writes Lasar, “It was in Amazing Stories that Gernsback first tried to nail down the science fiction idea.” As Ray Bradbury supposedly said, “Gernsback made us fall in love with the future.” Enter the Amazing Stories Internet Archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

Free: 355 Issues of Galaxy, the Groundbreaking 1950s Science Fiction Magazine

Along with Astounding Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy Magazine was one of the most important science fiction digests in 1950s America. Ray Bradbury wrote for it--including an early version of his masterpiece Fahrenheit 451--as did Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Theodore Sturgeon, Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance, and numerous others.

Now a fairly decent collection of issues (355 in total) is available for your perusal at archive.org for absolutely free. It’s not complete yet, but it’s close.




When Galaxy appeared in October 1950, it promised a kind of science-fiction different from the space operas of previous decades. As an “annual report” written by publisher H.L. Gold proclaimed,

...other publishers thought the idea of offering mature science fiction in an attractive, adult format was downright funny. They knew what sold--shapely female endomorphs with bronze bras, embattled male mesomorphs clad in muscle, and frightful alien monsters in search of a human soul.

And while Astounding Science Fiction was focused on technology--suited for an America that had fundamentally changed since WWII--H.L. Gold’s Galaxy focused on ideas, humor, satire, psychology and sociology. It also had one of the best pay rates in the industry, and offered some of its writers exclusive contracts. And the writers responded in kind and followed their own obsessions--although Gold often pitched ideas.

(Ironically, though immersed in stories of inner and outer space, Gold was an acute agoraphobe, and stayed in his apartment, communicating by phone.)

After a wobbly start graphics-wise, Gold hired Ed Emshwiller in 1951 to paint covers, whose often humorous style (e.g. this Christmas issue below) suited the humor inside the issue.

Confident in their stable of writers, Galaxy produced the wonderful birthday cover at the top, featuring caricatures of everybody from Bradbury to Asimov. There’s also a guide to see who’s who.

A series of editors--including Frederik Pohl--took over from Gold after a car accident in 1961, and by 1977--eight years after Pohl's departure--the magazine was on its decline. There were more iterations, reprints, anthologies, and online versions, but the essential run is here. And those first ten years changed American science-fiction forever, paving the way for experimental writers like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson.

You could start with the Ray Bradbury story (“The Fireman”) we told you about, or Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters.”

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Sigourney Weaver Stars in a New Experimental Sci-Fi Film: Watch “Rakka” Free Online

South African–Canadian film director Neill Blomkamp recently launched Oats Studios, a new film project devoted to creating experimental short films. And now comes their very first production, a short film called "Rakka." Starring Sigourney Weaver, "Rakka" takes us inside the aftermath of an alien invasion sometime in the year 2020. The Verge rightly notes that "Rakka" isn’t "a conventional short film. Instead, it’s a series of scenes depicting various points of view. Some scenes show what the aliens are doing to humanity; others track a resistance movement led by Weaver, and an escaped prisoner named Amir." The new short runs 21 minutes and is streaming free on YouTube. " Watch it above, and to learn about the making of "Rakka" and Oats Studios, read this interview over at Cartoon Brew.

"Rakka" will be added to our collection: 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Blade Runner 2049’s New Making-Of Featurette Gives You a Sneak Peek Inside the Long-Awaited Sequel

All of us who excitedly write about Blade Runner 2049, the upcoming sequel to Blade Runner, have at some point described the film as "long-awaited." Since the original came out in 1982, that makes a certain literal sense, but the wait hasn't stretched to 35 years without cause. As Blade Runner rose higher and higher in stature, following it up properly grew into a more and more daunting challenge. But now, as Blade Runner 2049 approaches its October release, the prospect that this most respected of all science-fiction movies will have its continuation feels more real than ever — and it will feel even more real than that after you watch the short making-of featurette above.

Philip K. Dick, the prolific author of Blade Runner's source material, a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, recognized immediately how important the film would become. But its director Ridley Scott admits that he "could never have imagined how iconic it would still be" today.




Though he didn't return to direct Blade Runner 2049, ceding the chair to Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and taking on the role of producer instead, he does make quite a few appearances in this featurette as a kind of presiding spirit. "Blade Runner revolutionized the way we view science fiction," says Villeneuve. "I've never felt that much pressure on my shoulders — thinking that Ridley Scott will see this movie."

But more than anything the cast and filmmakers have to say, Blade Runner fans will savor the video's glimpses of the new picture's aesthetic, clearly both modeled after and deliberately made different from that of the original. As the title makes obvious, the story takes place thirty years after Blade Runner's 2019, and just as things have changed in our world, so they've changed in its world — not least in the form of a Korean influence that has its found its way in with the Japanese and Chinese ones that so characterized Blade Runner's future Los Angeles. "Defining this was like walking on a knife's edge," says production designer Dennis Gassner, "riding the line between the original film and what we're doing now."

If you'd like to compare the build-up to Blade Runner 2049 with the build-up to Blade Runner, have a look at its own thirteen-minute promotional featurette above. Made well before the time of the modern internet, let alone modern internet videos, this 16-millimeter film production, which featured Scott, "visual futurist" Syd Mead, and special effects artist Douglas Trumbull, circulated by making the screening rounds sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror conventions all across America. Few movies, let alone sequels, have built up as much anticipation as Blade Runner 2049 has, and even fewer have such a legacy to live up to. At least the filmmakers can rest assured that, if the critics don't happen to like it, well, they didn't like the first one either.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dramas of Sci-Fi Stories by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Image by Mr.Hasgaha, via Flickr Commons

If you dig through our archives, you can find no shortage of finely-produced radio dramatizations of your favorite science fiction stories. During the 1950s, NBC's Dimension X adapted stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and even Kurt Vonnegut. Later in the '50s, X Minus One continued that tradition, dramatizing stories by Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson and others. By the 1970s, Mind Webs got into the act and produced 188 adaptations--classics by Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. And the BBC did up Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Those productions will keep you busy for a good while. But if you're wondering what the 1980s delivered, then tune into Sci-Fi Radio, a series of 26 half-hour shows which aired on NPR Playhouse, starting in 1989. Some of the adapted stories include: "Sales Pitch" and "Imposter" by Philip K. Dick, "Diary of the Rose" and "Field of Vision" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "Wall of Darkness" by Arthur C. Clarke, and "Frost and Fire" by Ray Bradbury.

You can stream all episodes below, or over at Archive.orgSci-Fi Radio will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Hope you enjoy.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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How Russian Artists Imagined in 1914 What Moscow Would Look Like in 2259

In the days of popular retrofuturism—say, the first half of the twentieth century—people tended to imagine the world of tomorrow looking very much like the world of today, only with a lot more flying cars, monorails, and videophones. This is true whether those doing the imagining were titans of industry, marketing mavens, idealistic Soviets, or subjects of the Tsar, though we might think that people living under an ancient monarchical system might not expect much change. In some ways we might be right, but as we can see in the 1914 postcards here—printed as Russia entered World War I—the country did anticipate a modern, technological future, though one that still closely resembled its present.

Perhaps few but the most far-sighted of Russians predicted what the ailing empire would endure in the years to come—the disaster of the Great War, and the waves of Revolution and Civil War. Certainly, whoever painted these images foresaw no such catastrophic upheaval.




Although purporting to show us a view of Moscow in the 23rd century, they show the city very happily “still under monarchical rule,” writes A Journey Through Russian Culture, going about its daily life just as it did over three hundred years earlier, “with the addition of everything from subways to airborne public transportation, things probably seen as standard methods of transport for the future.”

Of course, there would be hot-rodded sleds on St. Petersburg Highway with headlights, fancy windshields, and what look like Christmas elves perched in them. Lubyanska Square, further up, would still host military parades of men on horseback, as children whizzed by on motorbikes and subway trains rumbled underneath. The Central Railway Station, above, might seem entirely unchanged, until one looks up, and sees elevated trams streaming out of the terminal like spider’s silk. Red Square, however, just below, would apparently host drag races, while people in trams and giant dirigibles looked on from above.

The images have a children’s book quality about them and the festive air of holiday cards. (If you read Russian, you can learn more about them here and here.) They were apparently rediscovered only recently when a chocolate company called Eyinem reprinted them on their packaging. Like so much retrofuturism, these seem—in their bustling, yet safe, cheerful orderliness—tailor-made for nostalgic trips through Petrovsky Park, rather than imaginative leaps into the great unknown. For that, we must turn to Russian Futurism, which, both before and after World War and the Revolution, imagined, helped bring about, but didn't quite survive the massive technological and political disruption of the next two decades.

See more of these Tsarist-futurist postcards at the site Meet the Slavs.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Omni, the Iconic Sci-Fi Magazine, Now Digitized in High-Resolution and Available Online

There was a time, not so long ago, when not only could a blockbuster Hollywood comedy make a reference to a science magazine, but everyone in the audience would get that reference. It happened in Ghostbusters, right after the titular boys in gray hit it big with their first high-profile busting of a ghost. In true 1980s style, a success montage followed, in the middle of which appeared the cover of Omni magazine's October 1984 issue which, according to the Ghostbusters Wiki, "featured a Proton Pack and Particle Thrower. The tagline read, 'Quantum Leaps: Ghostbusters' Tools of the Trade.'"

The movie made up that cover, but it didn't make up the publication. In reality, the cover of Omni's October 1984 issue, a special anniversary edition which appears at the top of the magazine's Wikipedia page today, promised predictions of "Love, Work & Play in the 21st Century" from the likes of beloved sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, social psychologist Stanley Milgram, physicist Gerard O'Neill, trend-watcher John Naisbitt — and, of course, Ronald Reagan. Now you can find that issue of Omni, as well as every other from its 1978-to-1995 run, digitized in high-resolution and made available on Amazon.




"Omni was a magazine about the future," writes Motherboard's Claire Evans, telling the story of "the best science magazine that ever was." In its heyday, it blew minds by regularly featuring extensive Q&As with some of the top scientists of the 20th century–E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick, Jonas Salk–tales of the paranormal, and some of the most important science fiction to ever see magazine publication" by William Gibson, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin — and even the likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and William S. Burroughs. "By coupling science fiction and cutting-edge science news, the magazine created an atmosphere of possibility, where even the most outrageous ideas seemed to have basis in fact."

Originally founded by Kathy Keeton (formerly, according to Evans, "a South African ballerina who went from being one of the highest-paid strippers in Europe") and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, Omni not only had an impact in unexpected areas (the eccentric musical performer Klaus Nomi, himself a cultural innovator, took his name in part from the magazine's) but took steps into the digital realm long before other print publications dared. It first established its online presence on Compuserve in 1986; seven years later, it opened up its archives, along with forums and new content, on America Online, a first for any major magazine. Now Amazon users can purchase Omni's digital back issues for $2.99 each, or read them for free if they have Kindle Unlimited accounts. (You can sign up for a 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited and start binge-reading Omni here.)

Jerrick Media, owners of the Omni brand, have also begun to make available on Vimeo on Demand episodes of Omni: The New Frontier, the 1980s syndicated television series hosted by Peter Ustinov. And without paying a dime, you can still browse the fascinating Omni material archived at Omni Magazine Online, an easy way to get a hit of the past's idea of the future — and one presenting, in the words of 1990s editor-in-chief Keith Farrell, "a fascination with science and speculation, literature and art, philosophy and quirkiness, serious speculation and gonzo speculation, the health of the planet and its cultures, our relationship to the universe and its (possible) cultures, and a sense that whatever else, tomorrow would be different from today."

via The Verge

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

 

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