Early SF Pulps: Guided Exploration

Required readings appear in boldface.

Amazing Stories, which began its run in 1926, is commonly called the first science-fiction pulp magazine. The pulps were a key institution in the formation of a literary genre called “science fiction.” The aim of this reading is to get a sense of what kind of institution an early pulp was. Thanks to the extraordinary Pulp Magazines Project, you can access good digital scans of many issues of many pulp magazines, including Amazing. (Cheap and ephemeral at the time, these are now rare collector’s items.)

Read the short history of the magazine on the site. Then download the PDFs of the first two issues: go to the Amazing page in the archive, and right-click (or control-click) on the “PDF” links for the April 1926, May 1926, and July 1926 issues, choosing to save the file to your hard drive (these are moderately large files). Do not use the “HTML” or “FlipBook” versions, which serve different purposes.

Carefully read all paratexts (that is, everything that isn’t a story!) in the April and May issues of the magazine. Examples of paratexts are ads, editorials, the italicized notes introducing stories, tables of contents, and so on. You will have to page through every page; this is why the PDF format is important. Think about what this tells you as you do it; keep notes. Also read Gernsback’s editorial, “Fiction Versus Facts,” in the July issue.

In Amazing 1, no. 1 you will see some familiar names. Read “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Then visit this page from the American Periodicals Series database of nineteenth-century magazines and click the tab reading “Page View – PDF” so that you know what this document is. We will discuss what this means in class.

Reading “The New Accelerator” is optional, but also take a look at this page in the HathiTrust database and figure out what you’re looking at.

Now read (still in the same issue) the first part of Wertenbaker’s “The Man from the Atom.” The second part (in the May issue) is optional.

The other required reading is in a different magazine, Wonder Stories, also run by Gernsback (though edited by David Lasser). Locate and read the Pulp Magazines Project’s short history of the title. Then read Leslie Stone’s short story “The Conquest of Gola.” The syllabus tells you all you need to know to download the PDF of the issue in which this story appears. As you read, continue to pay close attention to the paratexts.

Optional but fun: “The Man Who Evolved,” by Edmond Hamilton, in the same issue as Stone’s story.

Author: AG

Associate Professor, Department of English, Rutgers University, New Brunswick