This was simultaneously delightful and dismaying. Delightful, of course, to get a fine set of SF magazines for not much more than they cost on the newsstand 45 years ago; dismaying to find that pristine vintage copies of one of the most important SF magazines command such little interest in the market.
Seriously, this doesn’t bode well for the thousands of SF magazines I’ve been gradually accumulating in my basement for the last 35 years. I consider them treasures, but it seems the number of people who share my interest is shrinking every year. I just hope they don’t all end up getting recycled when I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Well, all collectors can really do is delight in those treasures we find, and share our enthusiasm with those around us. To that end, here I am, talking about a handful of issues of Amazing Stories, starting with the January 1969 issue, at left.
The late sixties was a bumpy time for the Granddaddy of Science Fiction magazines. Perhaps its finest editor, the talented Cele Goldsmith, left when the magazine was sold to Sol Cohen’s Ultimate Publishing Company in March 1965. At the time, Ultimate was simultaneously publishing Great Science Fiction, Science Fiction Classics, and other profitable reprint magazines — profitable chiefly because they didn’t pay for any of the reprints. Cohen wanted to pursue a similar strategy with Amazing.
Cohen hired Joseph Wrzos to edit both Amazing and Fantastic magazines, and indeed for several years Amazing offered almost exclusively reprints — although Wrzos reportedly did get Cohen to cough up funds for one new piece of fiction per issue. Wrzos left in 1967, and Harry Harrison was briefly editor from September 1967 to February 1968, when the talented Barry Malzberg stepped into his shoes.
It’s the Malzberg era I’m chiefly concerned with here. Malzberg came into conflict with Cohen almost immediately over the reprints, and you can see the results on the cover of the January 1969 issue, which proudly proclaims several NEW pieces of fiction, including stories by Dean R. Koontz, David R. Bunch, new review columns by Robert Silverberg and James Blish, and the first installment of a two-part serial novel, We All Died at Breakaway Station by Richard C. Meredith.
The gradual shift from a reprint publication to a living, breathing science fiction magazine wasn’t the only exciting change happening to Amazing. January 1969 was the very height of the Space Race, a scant six months before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, when space travel stepped out of the pages of science fiction and planted a foot firmly in the history books.
Science Fiction experienced a huge surge in respectability and interest as a result, and magazines like Amazing, which only a year or two earlier had gleefully embraced its pulp roots by reprinting Frank R. Paul covers from the 1920s, made an abrupt shift in tone with cover art that spoke of more contemporary themes, jettisoning Paul’s jet-packs and jolly pool-dwelling aliens for stern-looking marines on stark lunar landscapes, and fighter jets in desperate orbital dogfights.
The flight to quality continued with the March 1968 issue (at right; click for a bigger version). This time the new fiction was from John Sladek, Thomas Disch, and David Bunch, not to mention the conclusion of Meredith’s novel.
This was a pretty stellar line up — for any time period.
In fact, just looking through a handful of issues from 1968-71 reveals a stellar list of authors: Bob Shaw, Randall Garrett, Philip Jose Farmer, Christopher Anvil, Howard L. Myers, Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany, R.A. Lafferty, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, Thomas M. Disch, John Sladek, Walter M. Miller, Jr, Mack Reynolds, Milton Lesser, and many others.
There were some great novels, too, most of them published in two parts. In 1969-70 alone Amazing published Meredith’s We All Died at Breakaway Station, Robert Silverberg’s Up the Line (starting in July 1969), Piers Anthony’s Orn (starting in July 1970), and One Million Tomorrows by Bob Shaw (November 1970).
Malzberg made great strides with the non-fiction as well. In addition to recruiting Silverberg and Blish to handle the review chores, he broke ground with real investigative reporting. The Nov 1970 issue had his famous Dianetics expose, “Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science,” which still makes fascinating reading today.
The issues were 146 pages each (including the front cover in the page count, oddly enough), and thoroughly packed with fiction, reviews, and articles.
The Malzberg era was short-lived, however. He had an argument with Cohen over cover art, and Cohen replaced him with Ted White. Ted took the magazine in a very different direction, and the contents — and the cover art — changed dramatically again.
I’m still working my way through the issues, but I’ve been pleased and fascinated with what I’ve discovered so far. In a scant few years, Amazing went through several dramatic changes; growing up, in effect, from an un-self-conscious pulp remnant to a magazine that reflected America’s fascination with the Space Age, and then just as quickly submerging itself in 70s pop culture, with covers that were clearly more influenced by Marvel Comics than the Space Race.
One final comment on the contents, before I leave you with a panorama of Amazing Stories covers: boy, the font is small. Say what you will about SF readers of the 1960 and 1970s, but they sure had great eyesight.
Below is a snapshot of the set of 27 Amazing issues I purchased, arranged chronologically from 1966 to 1980. This is by no means a complete set of issues spanning those 15 years, but it gives you a nice representative sample. Click on the image for a bigger version, and you can see what I mean about the rapid progression of cover art: from pulp (top row, 1966 to 1969) to Space Age chic (second row, 1969-70) to the beginning of the Ted White era (third row, 1970-71), and finally the mid-70s (last two rows).
This is what 35 bucks can get you — or roughly the cost of that single season of Jersey Shore you purchased on DVD. Just as a point of note. I’m not judging.
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