D&D publisher TSR generally gets a bad rap for their brief venture into science fiction in the 1980s. Much of their D&D related fiction — especially the Weis and Hickman DragonLance novels, which launched their entire publishing line — is still remembered fondly today. But does anybody remember Martin Caidin’s Buck Rogers novel, or Martin H. Greenberg’s Starfall anthology?
Which is a shame. At one point — riding high on the success of the DragonLance books — TSR claimed it was the largest publisher of SF and fantasy titles in the nation, and it sure looked that way whenever I walked into a bookstore. There were literally racks of the stuff: DragonLance books, Forgotten Realms books, Dark Sun novels, Birthright novels, SpellJammer novels, Greyhawk books, Ravenloft novels, Planescape novels… and on and on and on.
If you were a serious genre reader in the late 80s, you gradually trained your eyes to ignore it all as you scanned the shelves for anything new and original.
What many of us never knew — because they were hidden alongside all their gaming fiction — was that TSR published dozens of new and original SF and fantasy novels, unconnected to any of their gaming fiction, including bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb’s famous science fiction pastiche Bimbos of the Death Sun (1987), Paul B. Thompson and Tonya C. Cook’s Red Sands (1988), Ardath Mayhar and Ron Fortier’s Monkey Station (1989), Robin Wayne Bailey’s Nightwatch (1990), and many others.
They also discovered several major authors, publishing Nancy Varian Berberick’s first novel The Jewels of Elvish (1989), Nick Pollotta’s first novel Illegal Aliens (written with Phil Foglio, 1989), and first novels from L. Dean James, Chrys Cymri, K.B. Bogen, and others.
But my favorite books published by TSR during this period weren’t novels at all. They were five anthologies collecting stories from the pulp days of Amazing Stories, edited by Martin H. Greenberg.
The financial incentive for publishing these was pretty clear. TSR acquired Amazing Stories in 1982, and TSR was the expert in leveraging all aspects of publishing to support their premium properties.
And so Martin H. Greenberg got a green light to do a total of five Amazing anthologies for TSR:
- A hardcover celebrating the magazine’s 60th Anniversary: Amazing Stories: 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction (co-edited with Isaac Asimov, 1985);
- A hardcover focusing on encounters with aliens, Amazing Stories: Visions of Other Worlds (1986); and
- Three paperback survey books covering the first three decades of the magazine: Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The Wonder Years: 1926 – 1935, The War Years: 1936-1945, and The Wild Years: 1946 – 1955 (all in 1987).
Amazing Stories has been mined pretty effectively by anthologists over the years. Asimov called it the finest of the early SF magazines, and reprinted somewhere around a dozen stories from the early pulp era of Amazing in his superb Before the Golden Age, just as an example.
But by gathering many of the most acclaimed short stories from one of the most famous SF magazines in history, as well as many overlooked gems, editor Greenberg produced five terrific books which, taken together, give some great insight into the way Amazing shaped the entire genre, and the way its famous editors — especially Hugo Gernsback, T. O’Conor Sloane, Raymond A. Palmer, Howard Browne, Cele Goldsmith, and Ted White — shaped it.
Amazing Stories: 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction appeared first. It collected 19 stories, starting with David H. Keller’s “The Revolt of the Pedestrians” (1928), to Pat Murphy’s “In the Islands” (1983). Here’s the Table of Contents:
- “The Revolt of the Pedestrians,” David H. Keller, M.D. (1928)
- “The Gostak and the Doshes,” Miles J. Breuer, M.D. (1930)
- “Pilgrimage,” Nelson S. Bond (1939)
- “I, Robot,” Eando Binder (1939)
- “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton,” Robert Bloch (1939)
- “The Perfect Woman,” Robert Sheckley (1953)
- “Memento Homo,” Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1954)
- “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” Isaac Asimov (1961)
- “Requiem,” Edmond Hamilton (1962)
- “Hang Head, Vandal!,” Mark Clifton (1962)
- “Drunkboat,” Cordwainer Smith (1963)
- “The Days of Perky Pat,” Philip K. Dick (1963)
- “Semley’s Necklace,” Ursula K. Le Guin (1964)
- “Calling Dr. Clockwork,” Ron Goulart (1965)
- “There’s No Vinism Like Chauvinism,” John Jakes (1965)
- “The Oögenesis of Bird City,” Philip José Farmer (1970)
- “The Man Who Walked Home,” James Tiptree, Jr. (1972)
- “Manikins,” John Varley (1976)
- “In the Islands,” Pat Murphy (1983)
Isaac Asimov provided the introduction, “Amazing Stories and I.” By this time Asimov had already had his own magazine for eight years — Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine — and was able to bring a unique viewpoint. (He also offered an explanation for why he renamed his contribution, originally published in 1961 under the title “Playboy and the Slime God.”)
As a bonus it also has a gorgeous color insert: sixteen pages reprinting six decades of cover art, with some insightful commentary on changing art styles.
Amazing Stories: Visions of Other Worlds arrived in 1986. Robert Silverberg provided the introduction, explaining that the focus of this volume was to illustrate “the theme of dealing with aliens — that is, with those who are not ourselves.”
This volume ignored the first three decades of the magazine’s life, starting off in the 50s with fifteen stories dating from 1953 to 1980:
- “No Charge for Alterations,” H.L. Gold (1953)
- “Or Else,” Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (1953)
- “The Cosmic Frame,” Paul W. Fairman (1955)
- “The Bald-Headed Mirage,” Robert Bloch (1960)
- “A Dusk of Idols,” James Blish (1961)
- “Before Eden,” Arthur C. Clarke (1961)
- “Third Stage,” Poul Anderson (1962)
- “The Stars, My Brothers,” Edmond Hamilton (1962)
- “Sail 25” (aka “Gateway to Strangeness”), Jack Vance (1962)
- “Quinquipedalian,” Piers Anthony (1963)
- “The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal,” Cordwainer Smith (1964)
- “The Forest of Zil,” Kris Neville (1967)
- “We Know Who We Are,” Robert Silverberg (1970)
- “Strange Wine,” Harlan Ellison (1976)
- Titan Rising,” Gregory Benford (1980)
As I mentioned, Amazing had been mined plenty of times before and — while they were both fine books — Greenberg’s first two TSR anthologies didn’t really make a major impact.
But his next effort, a three-volume paperback series covering 1926 to 1955 in nearly 1,000 pages, was the first true survey anthology of Amazing Stories, and should be in every pulp collector’s library.
The first volume, Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The Wonder Years: 1926-1935, appeared in 1987 and included Jack Williamson, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Edmond Hamilton, and many more. This time Greenberg chose Jack Williamson for the introduction, and each story had a new illo done in the pulp style by George Barr, Hank Jankus, or Paul Jaquays.
The decade was magical for many reasons. The editors, Hugo Gernsback and later T. O’Conor Sloane, discovered dozens of top-notch writers including E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack Williamson, John W. Campbell, and many others — and virtually defined science fiction for a generation.
This was the era of Charles R. Tanner’s “Tumithak of the Corridors” and Doc Smith’s The Skylark of Space, both of which originally appeared in Amazing.
Here’s the back cover copy of the book, which I found particular effective:
A meteor hits ground near home and nothing is the same thereafter. A man from 30,000 years into the future pops into the living room. Another man stays alive to see the end of mankind and the world. Insects threaten to become the dominant species on earth.
In the Wonder Years. The first ten years of Amazing Stories. A time when radium, atoms, and audio-visual communications were the hot new scientific topics of the day. A time when space travel was only a dream in a few creative minds.
A time when H.P. Lovecraft, Edmond Hamilton, Miles J. Breuer, Jack Williamson, and John W. Campbell, Jr., were submitting their early science fiction stories to the world’s first magazine devoted to science fiction.
And the complete Table of Contents:
- Introduction by Jack Williamson
- “The Metal Man,” Jack Williamson (1928)
- “The Jameson Satellite,” Neil R. Jones (1931)
- “The Man Who Saw the Future,” Edmond Hamilton (1930)
- “The Machine Man of Ardathia,” Francis Flagg (1927)
- “The Tissue-Culture King,” Julian Huxley (1927)
- “The Voice from the Ether,” Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (1931)
- “The Coming of the Ice,” G. Peyton Wertenbaker (1926)
- “The Miracle of the Lily,” Clare Winger Harris (1928)
- “The Man with the Strange Head,” Miles J. Breuer, M.D. (1926)
- “Omega,” Amelia Reynolds Long (1932)
- “The Plutonian Drug,” Clark Ashton Smith (1934)
- “The Last Evolution,” John W. Campbell, Jr. (1932)
- “The Colour out of Space,” H.P. Lovecraft (1927)
Amazing Stories‘ second decade is still remembered as the Golden Age of magazine science fiction.
That may be a little bit of hyperbole. By 1938 Amazing‘s circulation was down to only 15,000 — disastrous for a pulp magazine — and in January 1938 Ziff-Davis took over the magazine. The April issue was Sloane’s last, and Raymond A. Palmer became the new editor.
This wasn’t a particularly successful era for Amazing. It had been solidly replaced at the forefront of the SF genre by John W. Campbell’s Astounding by this point and, under Palmer’s tenure, it wasn’t developing many new authors, relying chiefly on house writers, usually writing under pseudonyms.
Palmer’s tenure is remembered chiefly for his mistakes, such as promoting The Shaver Mystery stories of Richard Shaver, the first of which, “I Remember Lemuria,” appeared in 1945.
Presented by Palmer as a mixture of truth and fiction, Shaver’s stories about prehistoric civilizations helped dramatically increase Amazing‘s circulation, but opened the magazine to a lot of ridicule. Serious writers began to abandon it.
But that was the tail end of the decade, and before that there was still plenty of good fiction to be had.
Here’s the back cover copy:
Robots always follow humans’ orders. But is it for good or ill…? The ability to make a living duplicate of someone has real appeal. But can a duplicate be too perfect…? The problems on Earth can be avoided by sending people into space to found new homeland. But what happens to the generations born in the ships…? The human mind is a wondrous thing. But can it be shared with another species…?
These are among the questions that science fiction writers drew out of events in the War Years, the second decade of AMAZING Stories, the world’s first and oldest science fiction magazine.
Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ralph Milne Farley, Stanley Weinbaum, John Wyndham – these are among the great writers who first tested their ideas and talents during these years when life on Earth was so troubled.
And the TOC:
- “Robot AL-76 Goes Astray,” by Isaac Asimov (1941)
- “Devolution,” Edmond Hamilton (1939)
- “The Four-Sided Triangle,” William F. Temple (1939)
- “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years,” Don Wilcox (1940)
- “Adam Link’s Vengeance,” Eando Binder (1940)
- “The Living Mist,” Ralph Milne Farley (1940)
- “Phoney Meteor,” John Wyndham (1941)
- “The Council of Drones,” W. K. Sonnemann (1936)
- “Shifting Seas,” Stanley G. Weinbaum (1936)
- “I, Rocket,” Ray Bradbury (1944)
Palmer resigned in 1949 to start his own magazine, Fate, and Howard Browne took over as editor. He began by reportedly throwing away 300,000 words of fiction Palmer had in inventory. Browne lured the best writers of the era to the magazine, including Philip K. Dick, H. Beam Piper, Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford D. Simak, and many others, and he stayed with the magazine until 1956.
Here’s the back cover copy:
Our appliances usually serve us well. But what are we asking too much? Do our machines plot behind our backs…? Will a person who catches the latest “bug” recover as superhuman – or something else…? When the fastest gun in the West thinks the gun into his handm how do you beat him…? People can’t really live in Jupiter’s seething gaseous atmosphere – or can they…?
These are some of the questions many science fiction authors asked during mind-expanding “Wild Years”, the third decade of Amazing Stories.
In those years, Philip K. Dick, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford D. Simak, Robert Bloch, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov were among the great writers who explored alternative viewpoints, and who submitted their ideas to the world’s first and oldest science fiction magazine.
And the TOC:
- “You Could be Wrong,” Robert Bloch (1955)
- “Breakfast at Twilight,” Philip K. Dick (1954)
- “Operation RSVP,” H. Beam Piper (1951)
- “Satisfaction Quaranteed,” Isaac Asimov (1951)
- “Restricted Area,” Robert Sheckley (1953)
- “Peacebringer,” Ward Moore (1950)
- “The Little Creeps,” Walter M. Miller (1951)
- “The Draw,” Jerome Bixby (1954)
- “A Way of Thinking,” Theodore Sturgeon (1953)
- “Skirmish,” Clifford D. Simak (1950)
- “They Fly So High,” Ross Rocklynne (1952)
- “Chrysalis,” Ray Bradbury (1946)
Greenberg was to do a few more anthologies for TSR, notably Fantastic Stories: Tales of the Weird & Wondrous (1987) co-edited with Patrick L. Price, gathering sixteen classic fantasy tales from Fantastic Stories magazine and another color insert of cover art; and Starfall (1999), a collection exploring TSR’s short-lived science fiction game setting.
Fantastic magazine merged with Amazing in 1979, and presumably the rights to the name reverted to TSR when they acquired Amazing. This is another excellent book well worth tracking down for collectors; authors include Isaac Asimov, James E Gunn, Lester del Rey, Robert Bloch, Ursula K LeGuin, Robert F. Young and many others.
Starfall is another fine effort; the setting was unique in many ways, and this anthology of original stories included contributions from Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, Robin Wayne Bailey, Gary Braunbeck, Matthew J. Costello, Diane Duane, William H. Keith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, Michael A. Stackpole, and many more.
One final note: I acquired virtually all of these books well after they were published, usually online through eBay or Amazon. You can get good used copies of virtually all of them for under 5 – 10 bucks (with the possible exception of Fantastic Stories: Tales of the Weird & Wondrous), probably less than a new paperback.
They’re well worth it.