Monday, September 30, 2013

Fantastic Adventures

Established in 1926, Amazing Stories was the first American science fiction magazine. The second successful title, Astounding Stories, came along in 1930. Other magazines joined their ranks during the 1930s and '40s, but Amazing and Astounding marched in lock step at the head of science fiction in America during the pulp fiction era.

In January 1938, Ziff-Davis acquired Amazing Stories from Bernarr Macfadden's Teck Publications. The following month, science fiction fan and writer Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977) hired on with Ziff-Davis. He assumed the editorship of Amazing Stories in June 1938.

Five years prior, in April 1933, Street and Smith took over Astounding Stories from Clayton Magazines. F. Orlin Tremaine served as editor from October 1933 to November 1937. John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) started working for Street and Smith in October 1937. From December 1937 to May 1938, Campbell served under Tremaine, who left Street and Smith on May 1, 1938. The first issue of Astounding under Campbell's full control was that same May issue. By then, Campbell had already renamed the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction.

So in the spring of 1938, the two longest running science fiction magazines in America took on new editors. (1) Less than a year later, in March 1939, Street and Smith added a fantasy magazine, Unknown, to its line of titles. John W. Campbell was editor. Ziff-Davis followed suit with Fantastic Adventures in May 1939. Raymond A. Palmer edited that magazine. Like Unknown, Fantastic Adventures struggled in its first year or so in print and neared cancellation in October 1940, when it was rescued by the popularity of Robert Moore Williams' Lost Worlds story, "Jongor of Lost Land." The cover for that October issue was by an old Weird Tales standby, J. Allen St. John.

Whereas Unknown came to an end in 1943, Fantastic Adventures survived into the 1950s, propelled by stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Nelson S. Bond and artwork by Frank R. Paul and J. Allen St. John. Like Campbell, Palmer wanted to raise the standards of fantasy fiction. Palmer's goal was to place them on par with slick magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post. Instead Fantastic Adventures is remembered today as a venue for the so-called Shaver Mystery stories of the late 1940s. The first installment of the Shaver Mystery, "I Remember Lemuria," rewritten by Palmer but published under the byline of Richard S. Shaver, appeared in the March 1945 issue of Amazing Stories. Tales of Deros and Teros filled the pages of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures for the next half decade. Resulting sales helped fill the coffers at Ziff-Davis. Less than five feet tall, Raymond Palmer had engineered an outsized success from the delusions of a madman.

Palmer had a keen eye for what worked on the popular imagination. In 1947 he latched onto flying saucers as the next big thing. In the summer of the first big flap, he asked Kenneth Arnold, witness to the first sighting, to investigate the Maury Island Incident in Washington State. In March 1948, Palmer launched Fate, a digest-sized magazine of Forteana. The cover story, "The Truth About Flying Saucers," was written by Kenneth Arnold. Palmer and Arnold collaborated on a book, The Coming of the Flying Saucers, a few years later. By then Palmer was out on his own, having left Ziff-Davis in 1949. He would spend the rest of his career as a writer, editor, and publisher of magazines and books about flying saucers, the Shaver Mystery, and other strange and paranormal subjects. Meanwhile, Howard Browne took over as editor of Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories.

Not to be outdone, John W. Campbell became an adherent to a different religion based on science fiction. In one way or another, the Shaver Mystery may have been a dry run for a belief in flying saucers. Whatever the case, L. Ron Hubbard may have been paying close attention to Raymond Palmer's forays into pseudoscientific pseudo-religion, for as the 1940s came to a close, he created what he called "a new science of the mind," a science fiction religion to top all others. John W. Campbell fell hard and printed Hubbard's article, "Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science," in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Other writers in Campbell's stable followed along. Today they are gone, while Dianetics and Astounding--retitled Analog--live on.

Born in the same year and buried in the same decade, John W. Campbell and Raymond A. Palmer seem to have been like Betty Hutton and Howard Keel singing:
Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.
I don't know what relationship if any the two men had, but their lives ran on parallel tracks. The trauma of Raymond Palmer's childhood was made manifest in his broken body. The emotional coldness and hostility coming from Campbell's father and aunt may have had equally damaging effects on his own psyche. (That may have been one of the reasons why he fell for L. Ron Hubbard's snake oil salesmanship.) Both were science fiction writers and fans. Both rose to the editorship of a prominent science fiction magazine at the same time and created a new fantasy magazine, also at the same time. Both had a good run during the 1940s before--in Isaac Asimov's estimation--the Golden Age of Science Fiction came to and end (coincidentally or not when Dianetics came along and Campbell began approaching the deep end). And of course both were involved in spreading the gospel of a new religion sprung from the science fiction magazines both knew and loved so well.

Fantastic Adventures
May 1939 to Mar. 1953
129 Issues (15 Volumes)
Published by: Ziff-Davis, Chicago (moved to New York in 1950)
Edited by: Raymond A. Palmer (May 1939 to Dec. 1949); Howard Browne (Jan. 1950 to Mar. 1953)
Format: Bedsheet (May 1939 to May 1940); standard pulp size thereafter

Fantastic Adventures Quarterly
Winter 1941 to Spring 1951
21 Issues (9 Volumes)
Published by: Ziff-Davis, Chicago (moved to New York in 1950)
Edited by: Raymond A. Palmer (1941 to 1949); Howard Browne (1950 to 1951)
Format: Pulp size
Notes: Fantastic Adventures Quarterly consisted of unsold issues of Fantastic Adventures bound together and sold as extra-long pulp magazines. 

(1) Weird Tales also changed hands that year but held onto its editor, Farnsworth Wright.

Fantastic Adventures for February 1940, the first fantasy cover of the magazine. The artist was Robert Fuqua. 
The March 1940 issue, showing miniaturization, a perennial theme in science fiction. Fuqua returned as the cover artist.
Frank R. Paul created this cover illustration for the April 1940 issue. I have included it here because of the Arctic/Antarctic theme, subject of a future blog posting. 
Fantastic Adventures, October 1940, the issue that saved a magazine, with a cover story by Robert Moore Williams and cover art by J. Allen St. John. 
Ziff-Davis rebound copies of Fantastic Adventures for its Fantastic Adventures Quarterly. Here's the cover for the Summer 1948 issue. Note Shaver's byline. Note also the page count--that's a lot of reading for 35 cents.
Text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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