Saturday, October 28, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Adventure November 1939

Adventure November 1939The Magazine of the Week is the November 1939 issue of Adventure magazine, cover art by Wesley Neff. Adventure was the flagship of the adventure genre of pulp magazines. Under the direction of editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman and assistant editor Sinclair Lewis (who went on to be the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature), Adventure became a huge success soon after its initial publication in 1910. This quickly gave rise to a great many competitors, such as Action Stories, Red Blooded Stories, Danger Trail, Dynamic Adventures, Thrilling Adventures, Mammoth Adventures, Dime Adventure, and the eloquently named Man Stories. Adventure pulps were as popular as any genre, yet unlike science fiction, mysteries, westerns, and romance, adventure fiction did not remain a separate publishing category when the industry shifted from pulps to paperbacks.

Adventure and its imitators brought the most exotic locations of the world into the homes of pre-TV Americans. The plots were typically outlandish, Indiana Jones-style swashbucklers, yet Adventure was notoriously meticulous about the accuracy of factual details. This is probably why the most successful pulp writer of all, Edgar Rice Burroughs, never appeared in Adventure magazine--Adventure readers could not forgive him for placing a tiger in Africa, where there are no tigers, in the first Tarzan book.

Adventure invited readers to send in questions and retained experts in every field to answer. As a result, the letters section of Adventure is one of the most striking features of any pulp magazine. The questions to the editors in the Magazine of the Week include: How do you remove gold flour from sand? (Answer: Amalgamate the gold by adding mercury to the pan.) Any advice for navigating the Linville Gorge? (A: See that your hobnails are sharp and tight.) What is the best wood for footing arrows? (A: Genuine South American beefwood; order it from C.H. Pearson & Son Hardwood in Brooklyn.) What language is spoken in southwestern Abyssinia? (A: Amharic is the official language but Galla, spoken by the Bantu tribes, most widely used.) What is the best agent for killing and preserving very large moths and butterflies? (A: Potassium cyanide; handle with care.)

Adventure magazine had a fervently loyal fan base. It was the first pulp magazine to encourage its readers to join fan organizations, a marketing device later used successfully by the science fiction pulps. One of the fan organizations promoted by Adventure was The Legion, whose officers included Adventure editor Hoffman and Theodore Roosevelt, a devoted reader of Adventure. When the United States entered World War I, the Legion gathered information as to its members' skills and forwarded it to the War Department, which used this information in forming certain regiments. After the War, Theodore Roosevelt and other veterans in The Legion renamed the group the American Legion, and it remains an important veterans' organization to this day.

The popularity of the adventure genre dipped by the late 1930's. Adventure managed to survive until 1971, but sadly only by converting to a "slick" format girlie magazine. Even though the Magazine of the Week is a bit after Adventure's pulp heyday, I love this issue for the rugged pirate cover (not to mention the story title "Tooth Dentist of Tamarack"). We'll see another evocative, albeit politically incorrect by modern standards, Adventure cover next week.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Ace-High Western November 1945

Ace High Western Nov. 1945Since all of my favorite authors have had the courtesy not to die in the last week, we return to our survey of the old pulp magazines. The Magazine of the Week is the November 1945 issue of Ace-High Western, one of the Western pulps.

I am not a big collector of Westerns, but I acquired the Magazine of the Week because the lead story, "Barb Wire Brings Bullets!", is by Clifford D. Simak, one of my favorite Golden Age science fiction writers (featured in one of my "Neglected Master" book reviews: A Choice of Gods), another example of how freely the pulp writers crossed genre barriers. I also liked the wonderfully vibrant cover on the Magazine of the Week. Most of the Western pulps distinguished themselves from the other pulp genres with less garish, higher quality cover art, and what fun is that?

Westerns were among the most popular of the pulp magazine genres -- witness the fact that Ace-High Western ran for 30 years, while its sister magazine Ace-High Detective lasted all of nine issues. Unlike science fiction, however, it is not accurate to say that the pulp magazines created Westerns as a genre. Westerns became a distinct genre during the heyday of the dime novels in the 19th Century, for example the Deadwood Dick dime novel that was our January 23 Book of the Week.

Westerns have declined in readership over the years, but still linger as a discrete publishing category, largely thanks to the continuing popularity of Louis L'Amour. Louis L'Amour is another author who established his career in the pulp magazines, usually writing under the pseudonym Jim Mayo. It is ironic that L'Amour arguably saved the Western genre from extinction, since he started out primarily in a different pulp genre, then switched to Westerns as that genre disappeared. His original genre of choice was perhaps the most important genre of the pulp era, but it no longer exists as a separate publishing category. Next week's Magazine of the Week will be an example of that lost genre.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker

The Year of the Quiet SunThe Book of the Week is the 1970 first printing, paperback original of The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson "Bob" Tucker, cover art by Leo and Diane Dillon. This is to honor Mr. Tucker, who passed away last week, forcing the cancellation of his upcoming Third Annual 90th Birthday Party.

Bob Tucker was a successful author of both science fiction and mysteries. Before becoming a professional author, he was an active science fiction fan for many years, publishing various fanzines and receiving a Hugo Award as best fan writer. At one time it was a running gag in SF fandom to spread false news of Tucker's death (somebody thought it was funny - I guess you had to be there); unfortunately, last week's news was not such a hoax.

Tucker was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1996 and inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003. He was noted for time travel stories with a more somber tone than most time travel adventures. The Year of the Quiet Sun is an example, telling of time travelers who venture a generation into the future to find America torn apart by interminable wars overseas and race riots at home. The Year of the Quiet Sun was a nominee for the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1970 and won a John W. Campbell Campbell Memorial Award.

Aside from his own fiction, Wilson Tucker will live on in science fiction through two pieces of terminology. First, in 1941 Tucker coined the term "space opera," widely used to this day to describe free-wheeling interstellar adventures like Star Wars. Second, Tucker delighted in naming his characters after friends and colleagues, and so now whenever a science fiction author borrows the name of a fellow SF writer or personality it is called a "Tuckerism."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Dime Mystery July 1940

Dime Mystery July 1940Returning to our history of the pulp magazines, the Magazine of the Week is the July 1940 issue of Dime Mystery magazine.

Dime Mystery, edited by Harry Steeger, was arguably the first of the weird menace pulps, and featured some of the most gruesome covers ever seen in pulp fiction. However, under pressure from Mayor LaGuardia of New York, Dime Mystery decided to tone things down in 1940. It skipped the June 1940 issue, then came back to market with the Magazine of the Week. Dime Mystery continued to show women in peril, but they (a) had clothes on, and (b) were not being tortured or mutilated. The contents of the magazine took longer to change. The Magazine of the Week still has stories with titles like "Satan's Broiler" and "Bodies to Burn."

As it happens, by self-censoring its cover art, Dime Mystery ended up with much more clever and amusing covers, such as the evil little people on the cover of the Magazine of the Week. Okay, this was obviously still rather politically incorrect by modern standards, but at least the magazine was gradually moving in the right direction. Pulp cover art gets a lot more politically incorrect than this, as you may see in future weeks if I decide I'm up to the potential grief. While I think that over, next week we'll see an example of a Western pulp magazine.