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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Dis­cov­er the First Hor­ror & Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine, Der Orchideen­garten, and Its Bizarre Art­work (1919–1921)

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


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