Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: G-8 and His Battle Aces June 1937

G-8 and His Battle Aces June 1937The Magazine of the Week is the June 1937 issue of G-8 and His Battle Aces, with cover story "Flight from the Grave" by prolific pulp author Robert J. Hogan. G-8 was an attempt to combine a hero pulp with a war pulp about World War I fighting aces. In order to include the amount of action and intrigue that hero pulp readers expected, G-8 resorted to some of the most bizarre story devices ever seen in the pulps or anywhere else. I love this cover image (by Frederick Blakeslee) of a vampire/zombie emerging from a coffin perched on top of a World War I biplane. Did he nail that thing to the fuselage the night before? Of all the absurd magazine covers that appeared in the pulp era, this one gets my vote as the most outrageous.

G-8 is remembered fondly by science fiction collectors for its wild elements of fantasy and horror. Many other hero pulps also had elements of science fiction and fantasy, particularly Doc Savage and The Secret 6, but there was only one hero pulp that was actually set in the future. You will see this futuristic hero in next week's Magazine of the Week.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: The Shadow March 15, 1941

The Shadow March 15, 1941The Magazine of the Week is the March 15, 1941 issue of The Shadow. Having discussed the unfortunate racial stereotypes in the old pulp magazines, I felt the need to point out that in some instances the pulps championed racial tolerance. On the cover of the Magazine of the Week, we see our hero The Shadow battling against the Ku Klux Klan in "The White Column." (The KKK is not referred to by name in the story, but then neither is Nazi Germany.)

Many incorrectly believe that the character of The Shadow was introduced in the radio show, narrated by Orson Welles and others, with the famous tag line, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" The Shadow did first appear on radio, but only as a voice introducing the show Detective Stories. None of that show's stories were about The Shadow. Nevertheless, fans of Detective Stories were intrigued by the mysterious narrator, so Street & Smith decided to turn The Shadow into an independent character, which they did in the pages of The Shadow magazine, beginning in 1931. Most of the contents of The Shadow magazine were written by Walter B. Gibson, under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant. The success of the magazine then inspired the famous Shadow radio show, which premiered in 1937.

In addition to the radio show, The Shadow magazine also triggered an entire genre of "hero pulps." Some of these hero pulps, notably Doc Savage, The Spider, and The Phantom Detective, enjoyed years of success, but none ever quite equaled the popularity of The Shadow. When many pulp genres later made the transition to paperbacks, the hero pulps instead transformed into a genre of comic books. Comic books then gifted most of their heroes with superpowers. The pulp heroes were instead mostly Batman-style heroes, relying on their wits and cleverness and some cool gizmos. The Shadow of the magazines did not even have his mysterious ability to cloud men's minds so they wouldn't see him--in the pulps he was just real good at skulking in corners. The Shadow was given his psychic powers by radio producers, who didn't think "and then I hid under the table" was dramatic enough for radio.

Some of the hero pulps attempted to integrate the hero genre with other pulp genres. My favorite example will be next week's Magazine of the Week, a hero pulp that was also a war pulp that was also a Weird Tales imitator.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Fantastic Universe August-September 1953

Fantastic Universe Aug-Sep 1953The Magazine of the Week is the August-September 1953 issue of Fantastic Universe, with cover art by Alex Schomburg. Here we see the image of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand, to belabor my point that Hollywood sci-fi has never (save once) come up with anything written science fiction didn't already cover decades earlier. By the way, this isn't meant as a slam on the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, which I consider an underrated film. People have focused on the monkey make-up and terrible sequels and forgotten that the original movie actually had something interesting to say. The remake is another matter.

Fantastic Universe was one of a host of digest-sized science fiction magazines to hit the market in the 1950's. The digest magazines dashed in to fill the void as the pulp magazines disappeared. By the late 1950's, the pulps were entirely gone from the newsstand, and the few science fiction pulps to survive managed it only by switching to digest format. The digests operated on shoestring budgets, yet managed to offer some of the best writing around. The Magazine of the Week features such outstanding authors as Evan Hunter (who became famous for his mysteries under the name Ed McBain), Richard Matheson (later a very successful screenwriter), and SF luminaries Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, Eric Frank Russell, and Andre Norton (under her pseudonym Andrew North).

We'll return to some of the digest magazines in future BOTWs, but first let's get back to our history of the pulp magazines, with the most successful title in the "hero pulp" genre.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Astounding Science Fiction February 1941

Astounding February 1941Continuing our tribute to pulp writer Nelson S. Bond (1908-2006), the Magazine of the Week is the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, with Nelson Bond cover story "Magic City." That Bond is the sole author mentioned on the cover shows how highly he was regarded during the pulp era, for this magazine also contains stories by science fiction legends Robert A. Heinlein (one story under his real name and a serialized novel under his pseudonym Anson MacDonald), Theodore Sturgeon, and L. Sprague de Camp.

This issue also has a great cover by Hubert Rogers. The film Planet of the Apes (1968), starring Charlton Heston, effectively used the image of a ruined Statue of Liberty to symbolize lost hope in a post-apocalyptic future. But with only one important exception Hollywood science fiction has always been decades behind written science fiction, and so we see that the ruined Lady Liberty concept originated not with Hollywood but with Nelson Bond's story "Magic City." ("Magic City" also takes the reader into the derelict New York subway tunnels, anticipating the best of the film sequels, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.) No need to speculate whether Pierre Boulle, author of the novel on which Planet of the Apes was based, ever saw this magazine growing up in France, for Boulle's novel doesn't contain the Statue of Liberty scene at all -- the novel's twist ending is closer to the ending of Tim Burton's 2001 remake.

And just in case anyone wants to give Hollywood credit for adding power to the image by burying the Statue of Liberty in the sand, we'll dispel that notion with next week's Magazine of the Week.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Amy's bookshelf :: Asimov's Science Fiction March 2006

Asimov's Science Fiction March 2006The March 2006 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction contains four novelettes and three short stories. My initial plan was to read the January 2006 issue, but I couldn't locate that magazine at first.

The colorful cover of the March issue caught my eye. The artwork is by J.K. Potter for the novelette "The Kewlest Thing of All" by David Ira Cleary. This futuristic story features a girl that has a videophone embedded in her palm and browser windows across her skin. She is guerilla marketing "kewlness" to a chubby woman technician. The setting is San Francisco flooded by melt water (global warming). It reads like updated cyberpunk. The ending confounded me somewhat, but I'd recommend this story.

"The Gabble" by Neal Asher is a standout SF novelette set on another world. Scientists on the alien world of Masada study its unusual lifeforms, including the highly dangerous hooders and the frustratingly untranslatable gabbleducks.

Other novelettes are "Dark Eden" by Chris Beckett which is a somewhat humorous but clich├ęd space adventure, and "Dead Men Walking" by Paul J. McAuley which is set on Uranus’s moon of Ariel and has a dying man telling of his search for a gory assassin.

Short story "46 Directions, None of Them North" by Deborah Coates is a fun, slangy, story told by a sixteen-year old girl who has to go to Alaska to see aliens land. "Companion to Owls" by Chris Roberson is a odd fantasy of a man's mostly solitary life on the Roof of a Cathedral that covers thousands of square miles. Last, but not least, is the powerful short story "Rwanda" by Robert Reed which deals with a cheap colonization of Earth, the enormousness of such an event, and how inhumanely humans can act to one another.