MY PERSONAL TIME MACHINE: AMAZING STORIES’ FIRST YEAR (part 3)

Figure 1 - Story Contest Entry form

Figure 1 – Story Contest Entry form

Continuing where I left off last week, (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)  we’re three-quarters of the way through our look at Amazing Stories’ first full year of monthly publication. You will note that this is not a full or scholarly work; rather it’s my own idiosyncratic look at our host’s origin, intended to amuse, provoke, or edify my readers. I have what my mother described as a “grasshopper mind,” although others—my younger sister Starshadow especially—might say I’m a bit ADD. I tend to dwell on things that interest me, and a lot of things interest me. Because this has been an Interesting Week (in the sense of “May you live in interesting times), I will probably not be as long-winded as usual—read “This column will be somewhat shorter than many.” For one thing, my not really cheap Microsoft wireless keyboard stopped working. And because I’ve got my A+ and some Microsoft certifications, I tried for most of a day to try to get it working again. No luck; I’m now using my “built-like-a-brick” IBM PS/2 keyboard, which rewards typing with a solid and audible click. So much for fewer wires on my desk.

Figure 2 - Amazing Stories Vol. 1 No. 7 Cover

Figure 2 – Amazing Stories Vol. 1 No. 7 Cover

I’m also going to start including Gernsback’s editorial in my list of contents, just to be inclusive. I realize that not all of you have access to the actual issues—even though many of them are online—so I feel it’s my duty for completeness’s sake (I understand that the Michael Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes book The Gernsback Days has a pretty complete index to not only Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, but also to his Electrical Experimenter and other magazines, if you’re interested.) By the way, where I put a copyright date for a story (or serial) it means that it’s a reprint; that date—if I can find it—represents its first appearance. I should probably also list the original publication, but that will take more time than I have right now to research except in a few special cases. I should also say that all Amazing covers for this first year are by Frank R. Paul, as are most—but not all—of the interior illustrations.

Contents for Amazing Stories Vol. 1 No. 7, Oct. 1926
* “Beyond the Pole,” (Serial, pt. 1 of 2) by A. Hyatt Verrill
• “A Columbus of Space,” (Serial, conclusion) by Garrett P. Serviss ©1906
• “The Purchase of the North Pole,” (Serial, conclusion) by Jules Verne ©1911
• “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” (Serial, pt. 1 of 2) by H. G. Wells ©1896
* “Blasphemer’s Plateau,” by Alexander Snyder
* “Lullaby,” (Poem) by Leland S. Copeland
* Editorial: “Imagination and Reality” by Hugo Gernsback
*=new
(Cover by Frank R. Paul illustrating “Beyond the Pole”)

The editorial is a bit odd, in my opinion; Gernsback seems to be touting SF (Scientifiction) as a method or inspiration for invention; he cites a “well-known case” of an inventor who patented a mousetrap and who’s manufacturer discovered it could be made into a burglar alarm quickly and cheaply. It’s a bit muddled, but hey… it’s Hugo; not every editorial’s a winner. The stories here are, for the most part, reprints—and already covered (in the case of two of the serials) in my last week’s column; the third one is a new serial (wonder of wonders!) by a writer new to Amazing’s pages, one A. Hyatt Verrill. Verrill spins a yarn of the discovery of a peaceful species of telepathic humanoid crayfish-beings (or lobsteroid people) by a shipwrecked scientist in the Antarctic; at that time it was Terra incognita, so almost anything could have existed in the center of that large mass. It’s told using the “found manuscript” (the early 20th-century equivalent of our modern “found footage” movie, like Blair Witch Project) so popular in those days. By modern standards it rambles a bit. I should also mention here that the Jules Verne story brings in a mathematician (J. T. Maston) who also appeared in Verne’s story From the Earth to the Moon! I found that interesting.

The Wells story is so well known that not much needs to be said here; you might be interested to know that it uses the same “found manuscript” (or “as told by”) format as the Verrill piece. And according to Gernsback, modern science is wound all through the story “Blasphemer’s Plateau,” until a scientist, attempting to “play God” falls victim to the same fate that all with that hubris have in literature. (I find it interesting that in many ways I find myself more in sympathy with the scientist, who has what I would consider “modern” attitudes towards God, Heaven and Hell, than I do with the protagonist.) The verse in this issue attempts to be both ironic and humorous and succeeds to a slight degree.

Figure 3 - Amazing Stories Vol 1 No. 8 Cover

Figure 3 – Amazing Stories Vol 1 No. 8 Cover

Contents for Amazing Stories Vol. 1 No. 8, Nov. 1926
• “The Second Deluge,” (Serial, part 1 of 4) by Garrett P. Serviss ©1911
• “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” (Serial, conclusion) by H. G. Wells ©1896
* “Beyond the Pole,” (Serial, conclusion) by A. Hyatt Verrill*
• “The Mad Planet,” by Murray Leinster ©1920
• “A Drama in the Air,” by Jules Verne ©1911
* “Stars,” (Poem) by Leland S. Copeland
* Editorial: “Plausibility in Scientifiction” by Hugo Gernsback
*= new
(Cover by Frank R. Paul illustrating “The Second Deluge”)

Number eight begins with Gernsback’s editorial refuting a letter from a reader in San Francisco, who complains about scientific errors in both the Murray Leinster story “The Runaway Skyscraper” and in “High Tension” by Albert B. Stuart. The reader also goes on to say that SF authors fail to consider that explorers from Earth upon new planets don’t take bacteria into consideration (à la Wells’s War of the Worlds) and that because of these and other errors, SF is more like fairy tales than science-based fiction. Hugo reassures him that writers are allowed a bit of poetic license, and why pick on bacteria? Wells already covered that—how about cosmic rays? A fun, and early, examination of what constitutes SF. Serviss’s serial begins to remind the modern reader of Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie’s When Worlds Collide (see next issue’s T.o.C.), as they begin building giant arks. Hey, wonder if they saw the John Cusack movie 2012? The Leinster story, “Mad Planet,” was published in hardcover by Gnome Press (1954) (as a fix-up comprising this story and “Red Dust” [1927] as well as Nightmare Planet [1953]), then as an Ace Double paperback (D-147) in 1956. The story is about non-technological humans surviving on a world overrun by giant insect and fungi. Leinster was not one of the best SF writers—his style was somewhat stilted—but he was an engaging writer, and I’m very fond of his Med Ship books with Calhoun and Murgatroyd the Tormal. The Verne story is, according to Gernsback, one of his earliest published ones, and—at least to me—presages The Mysterious Island, as it is a story about balloon flight. The Copeland poem I found eminently forgettable. An interesting sidebar to this issue is that, although Experimenter Publishing owns (according to the contents page) radio station WRNY, where Hugo has a weekly program, they forgot to put the logo on the front cover!

Figure 4 - Amazing Stories - Vol 1 No 9 Cover

Figure 4 – Amazing Stories – Vol 1 No 9 Cover

Contents for Amazing Stories Vol. 1 No. 9, Dec. 1926
• “The First Men in the Moon,” (Serial, pt. 1 of 3) by H. G. Wells ©1900-1901
• “The Man Higher Up,” by Edwin Balmer & William B. MacHarg ©1909
* “The Time Eliminator,” by Kaw
* “Through the Crater’s Rim,” by A. Hyatt Verrill
* “The Telepathic Pick-Up,” by Samuel M. Sargent, Jr.
• “The Educated Harpoon,” by Charles S. Wolfe ©1920
• “The Diamond Lens,” by Fitz-James O’Brien ©1858
• “The Second Deluge,” (Serial pt. 2) by Garrett P. Serviss ©1911
* “Ascension,” (Poem) by Leland S. Copeland
* Editorial: “$500 Prize Story Contest,” by Hugo Gernsback
*=new
(Cover by Frank R. Paul to spark the $500 cover contest)

See Figure 1 for the cover entry coupon; the entire editorial is about the contest, which requires a typed or pen-written manuscript of between 5,000 and 10,000 words (no pencil allowed); one interesting thing here for modern writers is that winners of prizes are giving up all rights. Of course in today’s market, any editor seeking that kind of rights grab would be roundly excoriated by all and sundry. In this issue, although five of eight stories are reprints—the most famous being the Wells story (a terrific movie has been made of it) and the O’Brien story (this antedates, yet reminds one of, Ray Cummings’s novel The Girl in the Golden Atom), there is a story here by Edwin Balmer (with Willam B. MacHarg) who, along with Philip Wylie, is well known for When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide. I wonder if those books were sparked by the Garrett P. Serviss serial? Fitz-James O’Brien, by the way, is also well known for his “What Was It? A Mystery” story, about an invisible killer. “The Man Higher Up” is a “detective scientifiction story” (as is “The Educated Harpoon”), but the science here is (although called “psychic” science by Gernsback) very similar to that of modern lie-detection. The “Telepathic Pick-Up” is very similar to something I’ve read somewhere… although I can’t bring it to mind right now. A man invents a machine that can read thoughts as readily as radio waves—since both are, according to him, electromagnetic in nature—and uses that machine to accidentally listen to the thoughts of a man on Death Row in a nearby prison. When the man dies and his thoughts can still be heard, the inventor breaks his machine in dismay—and now I remember what it reminds me of: the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” about a mesmerist’s ability to keep a man alive after the death of his physical body through mesmerism (hypnotism). The Kaw (who he? I dunno.) is a humorous nothing.

I found it encouraging that this issue had a number of new works among the reprints. I’m not “cheating” by looking ahead; I’m reading each issue as it comes due, so the future(!) will come as a surprise to me. Even after this series is finished, I will continue to read as much early and old SF as possible; it’s fascinating to see the tropes we’re all familiar with come into play possibly for the first time. And to watch the language of SF evolve, as well as the writing styles.

I’d love to have you comment on this week’s column. You can register and comment here (it’s easy and only takes a minute), or you can comment on my Facebook page or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments are all welcome—and don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!

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