Astounding/Analog had two (or three) editors before John W. Campbell, Jr., came along with his magnolious “Golden Age” of people like Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein and all. However, none of those original editors were the ones that made the magazine great. That task was left for John Campbell, on his way to becoming what some authorities (ahem!) would call the greatest editor science fiction has ever had. (I’ll say more about that later.)
The original Astounding Stories of Super Science was the creation of a rather small New York pulp magazine publishing company called Clayton, which, sometime in the vertiginous year of 1929, elected to get bigger by adding some new titles. It was a reasonably intelligent decision, considering that they didn’t know what was going to happen to Wall Street that October, but it had one built-in flaw. It was only for eleven new titles. It should have been for twelve.
This requirement was an artifact of the way pulp magazines were printed. The text interiors were printed on the big black-and-white rotary presses on the cheapest available woodpulp paper. The covers, however, were printed in full color on glossy paper, and the most economical way to do that was to print them twelve at a time. If they were to proceed with only eleven titles it would mean leaving the twelfth space on the special paper empty and throwing away the part of that expensive paper not used.
Since printing a cover was a significant fraction of the cost of printing a pulp magazine it would be a pity to waste the cost of one. It made more sense simply to add a twelfth magazine. The question was, what kind of pulp should it be?
I don’t know who suggested that it be science fiction. Most authorities think it was Harry Bates, but I have a hunch that it might have been a man named Douglas Merriweather Dold. He is sometimes referred to in the old records as the editor of the new magazine but in fact was probably only an assistant, and was also the brother of the science-fiction cover artist (William) Elliott Dold. And I think that what Doug said was something like, “Tell you what we could do. We could put out a book” — all pulp editors of a certain vintage called their magazines books, perhaps because they wished they were— “of this scientifiction stuff that old Hugo Gernsback is doing. We could call it something like Astounding Stories of Super Science.”
And so they did, and so the new magazine came out into one of the worst years for publishing (or for almost anything else in the annals of American business.) in history It was the beginning of what they called the Great Depression.
In spite of the calamitous economic conditions, the new magazine survived. The actual editor was that same previously mentioned Harry Bates, who studied the stories in Gernsback’s magazines and the often better ones that from time to time appeared in all-fiction magazines like Argosy, and from them all derived an editorial policy that might have gone something like: “Action-adventure stories that simply could not happen here and now.”
That seemed to be a policy congenial for the writers. Ray Cummings, Murray Leinster, Lilith Lorraine and Captain S.P. Meek helped to fill the issues, and were generally happy to see some of their work in the new Astounding. One reason for that was the fact that all twelve of the new magazines had been planned in the prosperous and optimistic boom times of 1929 before the October crash. So as a matter of policy, the new magazines paid the writers not only well but, even more important, paid them promptly on acceptance.
Given a better economical climate, the Clayton Astounding might have endured a good deal longer, for it had some pretty good stories and even one or two that have to be called classics, like Farewell to the Master” (aka “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” by Harry Bates himself). Indeed, it was not, or at least it was not directly, the Great Depression that did it in, It was only that Clayton, foreseeing that some crippling charges would be coming due from their printer, sought to forestall them by the bizarre expedient of buying up the printing company first. It was a bold move. It didn’t work. It had required signing some notes, and when the notes came due, Clayton didn’t have the resources to meet them. Then they were out of business.
So for a bit, Astounding Stories — the trailing words “of Super Science” had been dropped after the first year — lay dormant. When Harry Bates discovered that there were enough stories in the inventory and enough printing materials, already bought and paid for, for one more issue, he promptly brought it out, dated March, 1933. Then nothing, until the larger — and solvent! — company of Street & Smith decided to buy it, and Astounding was reborn.
To be continued. . . .