Revisit Vintage Issues of Astounding Stories, the 1930s Magazine that Gave Rise to Science Fiction as We Know It

Hav­ing been putting out issues for 92 years now, Ana­log Sci­ence Fic­tion and Fact stands as the longest con­tin­u­ous­ly pub­lished mag­a­zine of its genre. It also lays claim to hav­ing devel­oped or at least pop­u­lar­ized that genre in the form we know it today. When it orig­i­nal­ly launched in Decem­ber of 1929, it did so under the much more whiz-bang title of Astound­ing Sto­ries of Super-Sci­ence. But only three years lat­er, after a change of own­er­ship and the instal­la­tion as edi­tor of F. Orlin Tremaine, did the mag­a­zine begin pub­lish­ing work by writ­ers remem­bered today as the defin­ing minds of sci­ence fic­tion.

Under Tremaine’s edi­tor­ship, Astound­ing Sto­ries pulled itself above its pulp-fic­tion ori­gins with sto­ries like Jack Williamson’s “Legion of Space” and John W. Camp­bel­l’s “Twi­light.” The lat­ter inspired the strik­ing illus­tra­tion above by artist Elliott Dold. “Dold’s work was deeply influ­enced by Art Deco, which lends its geo­met­ric forms to the city of machines in ‘Twi­light,’ ” writes the New York Times’ Alec Nevala-Lee, which “inau­gu­rat­ed the mod­ern era of sci­ence fic­tion.”

In the case of a gold­en-age sci­ence-fic­tion mag­a­zine like Astound­ing Sto­ries, Nevala-Lee argues“its most imme­di­ate impact came through its illus­tra­tions,” which “may turn out to be the genre’s most last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to our col­lec­tive vision of the future.”

None of the imagery print­ed inside Astound­ing Sto­ries was as strik­ing as its cov­ers, full-col­or pro­duc­tions on which “artists could let their imag­i­na­tions run wild.” Some­times they adhered close­ly to the visu­al descrip­tions in a sto­ry’s text — per­haps too close­ly, in the case the June 1936’s issue with H. P. Love­craft’s “The Shad­ow Out of Time” — and some­times they depart­ed from and even com­pet­ed with the mag­a­zine’s actu­al con­tent. But after Camp­bell took over as edi­tor in 1937, that con­tent became even stronger: fea­tured writ­ers includ­ed Robert Hein­lein, A. E. van Vogt, and Isaac Asi­mov.

Now, here in the once sci­ence-fic­tion­al-sound­ing twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, you can not only behold the cov­ers but read the pages of hun­dreds of issues of Astound­ing Sto­ries from the thir­ties, for­ties, and fifties online. The ear­li­est vol­umes are avail­able to down­load at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s web site, by way of Project Guten­berg, and there are even more of them free to read at the Inter­net Archive. Though it may not always have faith­ful­ly reflect­ed the mate­r­i­al with­in, Astound­ing Sto­ries’ cov­er imagery did rep­re­sent the pub­li­ca­tion as a whole. It could be thought-pro­vok­ing and haunt­ing, but it also deliv­ered no small amount of cheap thrills — and the gold­en age of sci­ence fic­tion still shows us how thin a line real­ly sep­a­rates the two.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

Down­load Issues of Weird Tales (1923–1954): The Pio­neer­ing Pulp Hor­ror Mag­a­zine Fea­tures Orig­i­nal Sto­ries by Love­craft, Brad­bury & Many More

Enter the Pulp Mag­a­zine Archive, Fea­tur­ing Over 11,000 Dig­i­tized Issues of Clas­sic Sci-Fi, Fan­ta­sy & Detec­tive Fic­tion

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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