Sci-Fi’s Pulp Legacy

Remember the pulps? Neither do I. That era’s peak was gone by the time I was born. For those of you who don’t know what is meant by “the pulps” or pulp magazines, it was an era in the publishing industry that went from about the late 1800s to the 1950s. The magazines were printed on cheap wood pulp paper with ragged, untrimmed edges, thus “pulps.” Their size, generally was about the size of a comic book. Argosy Magazine is considered the first pulp magazine, starting in 1896.

It was the halcyon days of magazine publishing as there were literally hundreds of these magazines. And though the pay was minimal, because of the sheer numbers of magazines available, a prolific writer could make a living.

The very first dedicated sci-fi pulp was Amazing Stories, launched in 1926 by editor Hugo Gernsback. It reached a circulation of 150,000. It could be argued that it single-handedly launched the sci-fi genre, because it didn’t take long before there were slew of imitators on the market. During the 30s, 40s, and 50s, there must have been dozens of pulp Sci-Fi magazines of varying degrees of quality available to the public.

Magazines with names such as Astonishing, Air Wonder, Fantastic Adventures, Imagination, Planet Stories, Science Wonder, Startling Stories, and Wonder Stories thrilled a generation of readers.

When I started reading sci-fi in the early 70s, there were still several of these magazines around, including Fantastic (died 1980), Galaxy (died 1980), Galileo (died 1980), If aka World of If (died 1974), and Thrilling Science Fiction (died 1975). A few of those had survived from the pulp era. Many of sci-fi’s great names were published within those pages in the 1970s, names like John Brunner, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester Del Rey, Frederick Pohl, and Fritz Leiber.

Today, there are only two sci-fi mags that have a history that extends back to those wondrous days of the pulps.

Only two that have continuously published since Sci-Fi’s heyday.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, which started life as Astounding Stories back in 1930.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, which goes back as far as 1949.

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, doesn’t trace it’s roots back to the pulps, it only started in 1977, but in this day and age it makes it an old magazine. I only mention it because Isaac Asimov himself got his start in the pulps.

Weird Tales, although more horror and fantasy than science fiction, also traces it’s roots back to the pulps, but not continuously. It’s first incarnation was from 1923-1954, then it was resurrected in 1986 and is still being published.

The point of all this? Just that if you want to keep the pulp legacy alive, if we want to have these wonderful sci-fi magazines continue to exist, if you are like me and think back to all the wondrous stories that have appeared in these magazines throughout the years when you pick up an issue, then we must support them before it’s too late and they all become footnotes in sci-fi’s publishing history and badly researched articles on Wikipedia.

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