Pulp magazines began in 1896 when The Argosy switched to what we now recognize as the pulp format: a lengthy all-fiction magazine printed on cheap, wood-pulp paper with untrimmed edges. Over the next quarter century, the pulp market was dominated by general interest story magazines, especially by Argosy, Adventure, Blue Book, and Short Stories. These magazines published a variety of genres, including fantasy and nascent science fiction. Titles devoted to specific genres came along during the second generation of pulp magazines. These included Western Story Magazine (1919), Black Mask (1920), and of course Weird Tales (1923), the first American magazine devoted exclusively to fantasy. Hugo Gernsback published the first regular science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, but the Golden Age of Science Fiction did not begin until John W. Campbell took over Astounding Stories in 1938. In short, any period described as "before the Golden Age" could potentially include the years 1896 to 1938. The first group of authors I would like to write about began their careers not only before the Golden Age, but also before Amazing Stories, the first science fiction pulp magazine, was published. They include Ray Cummings, Ralph Milne Farley, and Murray Leinster.
Technical Writer and Editor, Pulp Fiction Writer, Comic Book Writer
Born August 30, 1887, New York, New York
Died January 23, 1957, Mount Vernon, New York
Raymond King Cummings was born on August 30, 1887, on Times Square in New York City. Educated at Princeton University and on his family's orange plantation in Puerto Rico, Cummings worked as a writer and editor for Thomas Edison from 1914 to 1919. All-Story Weekly published the first story he ever sold, "The Girl in the Golden Atom" (Mar. 15, 1919). Cummings followed that with "People of the Golden Atom" (All-Story Weekly, Jan. 24-Feb. 24, 1920) and more than 600 (and perhaps as many as 750) tales in a decades-long career. The Golden Atom stories were reprinted in hardback in 1922. Since then they have been reprinted again and again in magazines, anthologies, and paperbound editions. It's fair to say that Cummings' career was built upon a miniature universe.
The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mentions Cummings' series of Scientific Club Stories (in the manner of the older "club story" form); his Matter, Space, and Time sequence; and his Crimes of the Year 2000 series for Detective Fiction Weekly. Cummings also worked in the planetary romance genre (pioneered by Edgar Rice Burroughs) in his stories of Tama of Mercury, and in the space opera genre with his stories of Greg Haljan. A website called Technovelgy: Where Science Meets Fiction lists Cummings' scientific inventions and innovations. Not listed is this quote:
"Time . . . is what keeps everything from happening at once,"
a quote that I believe I have heard attributed to Albert Einstein. Not bad for a pulp fiction writer.
Cummings' wife, Gabrielle Wilson, and daughter, Elizabeth Starr or Betty, were also writers. Husband and wife lived for a time in a hotel in New York City, where they wrote through the night and woke up for breakfast at noon. As Cummings' pulp fiction career began to shrink away in the 1940s, he ghosted comic book scripts for Timely Comics. Wikipedia lets us know that he adapted "The Girl in the Golden Atom" to Captain America #25 and 26 in a story entitled "Princess of the Atom." Cummings also wrote stories for Human Torch and Sub-Mariner comics.
I have never read anything by Ray Cummings, but I believe he has a reputation for being juvenile or old fashioned. Edgar Rice Burroughs can be described with the same words, yet he doesn't lack for fans. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction equivocates, but in the end is probably correct: "So there will likely never be a Cummings revival." However, his idea of a miniature universe will probably go on for as long as people read works of fantasy.
For Weird Tales
"Explorers Into Infinity" (three-part serial, Apr., May, and June 1927)
"The Giant World" (three-part serial, Jan., Feb., and Mar. 1928)
"The Robot God" (July 1941)
"The Lifted Veil" (May 1947)
|Ray Cummings and his Golden Atom stories made their debut in "The Girl in the Golden Atom" in All-Story Weekly for March 15, 1919. The story (Cummings' favorite among his own works) was very popular and led to many sequels and reprintings.|
|Avon reprinted Cummings' story "The Princess of the Atom" in 1950.|
|Even Dr. Seuss got in on the act of little worlds nestled within our own when he published Horton Hears a Who! in 1954. We would do well to remember Horton's refrain, "A person's a person, no matter how small."|
|Ray Cummings tried his hand at planetary romance in his stories of Tama, Princess of Mercury.|
|Tama returned in Tama of the Light Country (cover artists unknown).|
|Here's a cover for Super Science Novels Magazine. I don't know the date or the artist. In fact, there's a lot of information missing from this image. Note the setting in the Light Country.|
|Ace had a field day with Ray Cummings' work during the 1960s. Note the theme of miniaturization in this cover for Beyond the Vanishing Point. I don't know the cover artist.|
|Here's a more brightly colored cover for A Brand New World. The cover art is apparently unsigned, but is this the work of Jack Gaughan?|
|Another Ace cover, this one for Brigands of the Moon.|
|If you want to see other science fiction artists pale, just put their work next to that of Alex Schomburg, as in this cover for The Exile of Time.|
|I would collect Ace Books from now until the end of time if there were enough covers like this one for Wandl the Invader. I don't know the artist's name. Can anyone help?|
|We shouldn't forget that Ray Cummings contributed four stories to Weird Tales. Here is the cover for July 1941 illustrating his novelette "The Robot God." The artist was Hannes Bok. That looks like a self-portrait on the right.|