Amazing Stories, 1926-1995
An Obituary, with an Aside
on Buck Rogers

Essay by
Donald L. Franson

 

June 1995

  
A sense of wonder

The news [in 1995] of the death of Amazing Stories, the world's first all-science-fiction magazine, may be just another false alarm, like that of Mark Twain or Bob Tucker; but as one of the last of the subscribers, I am inclined to believe it is true. I received a letter from TSR, the publisher, in May, informing me that the Winter 1995 issue, which I had received in January, had been the last; and that I was entitled to a refund on my subscription.

I had been reading Amazing since 1930, but my current subscription started with Cele Goldsmith (later Cele Lalli) as editor, went through the reprint era, the Ted White years, later ups and downs, large size, small size, crisis after crisis, but none any more fatal than the first one in 1929 — when Hugo Gernsback was attacked on a legal-financial technicality and lost control of his first magazine empire, including Amazing Stories. That history is not new to most of you, so I am just going to give my feelings on the end of it all. You may say, after all, it was only a name. But what a name!

This must be the last of the titles with exploding adjectives. Quite a few other magazines still exist, despite economic problems for all magazines in the age of the paperback, but their titles don't promise amazement. Why not?

I want to be amazed. I want to be astounded, thrilled, astonished, at the fantastic, imaginative, wonderful adventures of future science I am reading. Sense of wonder is not dead!

In the 1930s we were laughed at for reading "that crazy Buck Rogers stuff" in Amazing and the other pulp magazines. I am amazed these days, not by the SF magazines, but by Science News, Ad Astra, The Planetary Report, even by the National Geographic. If science is amazing, why not science fiction, at its cutting-edge, which is the magazines?

Maybe it is the result of the dictum of John W. Campbell, Jr., that SF should present the marvels of the future as if they were common everyday occurrences, familiar to the characters of that day. Ho-hum.
  

Enter Richard Seaton & Buck Rogers

Skylark of Space, Amazing Aug 1928 - Frank R. Paul As a premium, for refusing a refund for the six issues left on my subscription, I promptly received a big package via UPS that contained this coffee-table book, Buck Rogers: The First 60 Years in the 25th Century, edited by Lorraine Dille Williams. Though it is priced at $24.95, it is not a bargain at $15. The only things worthwhile in it are Ray Bradbury's introduction written in 1969 (this book was published in 1988, hence the 60 years) and the reprints of selected comic pages from the 1930s through the 1970s. But I am not a comics collector, and the rest of the book disappointed me. I expected it would give the inside story of how the idea of Buck Rogers came about, since it was edited by the granddaughter of John Flint Dille.

How Anthony Rogers became Buck is told elsewhere, but I'll summarize it. Philip Francis Nowlan published a story in the August 1928 Amazing featuring the adventures of Anthony Rogers, titled "Armageddon — 2419 A.D." John Flint Dille, involved in newspaper syndication, was scanning a newsstand and was attracted by the garish cover of that issue.

This August 1928 cover is shown in full color (mostly red and yellow) in Buck Rogers: The First 60 Years, without explanation. That is unfortunate, because readers will automatically assume that the Amazing cover, by Frank R. Paul, illustrates Nowlan's story, and shows Buck Rogers in action. But the man on the cover, doing tricks with a flying belt, is not Buck Rogers. It is Richard Seaton — hero of The Skylark of Space and the later Skylark novels by Edward E. Smith.

I know this, and Dave Kyle knows it, as may anyone who has a copy of the magazine and will look at the contents page, where it says:

Our Cover this month depicts a scene from the first installment in this issue of the story entitled THE SKYLARK OF SPACE by Edward Elmer Smith and Lee Hawkins Garby, in which the scientist, who has discovered a chemical substance for the liberation of intra-atomic energy, is making his initial tests, preparatory to his interplanetary flight by means of this liberated energy, which makes possible his interstellar space-flyer.

My theory is that Mr. Dille picked up the magazine and began flipping the pages, looking for the story illustrated on the cover. Nowlan's and Smith's stories both were illustrated by Frank R. Paul. Dille came upon those cute little outline drawings, almost comic figures, that are in the middle of Nowlan's story (pages 427, 430, and 437 in the magazine; pages 24, 27, and 34 of the book). He saw their possibilities for comic strips, contacted Nowlan, and the rest is history. But if he had only looked at the contents page, he might have contacted Doc Smith instead ...

Laughing merrily, the four made their way to the testing shed, in front of which Seaton donned a heavy leather harness, buckled about his shoulders, body and legs; to which were attached numerous handles, switches, boxes and other pieces of apparatus. He snapped the switch which started the Tesla coil in the shed and pressed a button on an instrument in his hand, attached to his harness by a small steel cable. Instantly there was a creak of straining leather and he shot vertically into the air for perhaps a hundred feet, where he stopped and remained motionless for a few moments.

— Edward Elmer Smith
    in collaboration with Lee Hawkins Garby

   The Skylark of Space, Part 1 of 3
   Amazing Stories, August 1928

In that alternate history, we early SF fans might have been laughed at for reading "that crazy Dick Seaton stuff".

So ave atque vale, Amazing Stories. Hail and farewell! May you forever remain on that great newsstand in the sky, where it is always 1926, and the spirit of Hugo Gernsback reigns supreme.

  

© 1995 Donald L. Franson


  
Amazing August 1928 cover
by Frank R. Paul

For a close-up of the central figure,
Richard Seaton in flight, see
The Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams
by David Kyle
  

  
First appeared in
ScientiFiction: The First Fandom Report
Autumn 1995

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