Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: Munchhausen Lands on Mars

(Click on thumbnail to read pdf file in your browser. Feel free to download and share the original and intact file.)

As I think I've mentioned before, it's ironic that some critics label Hugo Gernsback, founder of Amazing Stories (and, a few years later, Science Wonder Stories), as the great villain in the history of science fiction. If not for him, they argue, science fiction wouldn't have been set apart as a genre of its own, in gaudy pulp magazines.

It's tough to imagine how, though. Hugo Gernsback didn't invent the pulp magazine, nor did he invent the genre pulp magazine. The world produced the western magazine, the detective magazine, the mystery magazine, and so on, without Gernsback's input. It seems inevitable that someone, at some point, would notice that those "'different' stories," as the Munsey magazines called them, were popular, and take a flyer on a magazine dedicated to them. But that's not the ironic part.

The ironic part is that while the aforementioned Munsey magazines were publishing Edgar Rice Burroughs' tales of sword-swinging Martians, Hugo Gernsback was publishing honest-to-gosh scientific fiction. It wasn't literature, but it sure as soap wasn't pulp, either.

This week's story, by the man himself, is an example of how Gernsback saw scientific fiction (or, as he later dubbed it, scientifiction) a decade before Amazing Stories: as a sort of lightly-dramatized speculative lecture. It says something about the secondary nature of the fiction in scientific fiction that, rather than telling it as a straightforward narrative, Gernsback felt the need not just to have this tale involve one of history's greatest liars, but related to us at second hand by an "I.M. Alier." It's as though writing something that was unabashedly fiction just wouldn't have been cricket.

That Amazing Stories and Gernsback's later magazines weren't all like this, was more a matter of what the public would support... which was the adventure-based stories of Argosy All-Story and the like. Even so, Gernsback maintained a fondness for idea-based science fiction. Science Wonder Stories had room for items like Rev. Louis Tucker's "The Cubic City," more a travelogue/thought experiment about a future city two miles on a side than a plot, per se. Certainly not what Edgar Rice Burroughs would write.

Not that there's anything wrong with Tucker, or Burroughs. As I've paraphrased, science fiction is large; it contains multitudes. And I like it that way.

1 comment:

lartronics said...

Gersback is loved by many and probably hated by just as many. He was a man who see into the future and while NOT a talented writer, he was a talented organizer. As an inventor, publisher, forecastor, humorist, sexologist, and more: he had an opinion on just about everything. I was hired by him back in the 50's and eventually came to own the company -- Gernsback Publications Inc.

For more information on Hugo Gernsback check out a new biography available on Amazon.

The document was found by me when we closed down Gernsback Publications in 2003. It was an old ms that I edited and produced as a book.

Follow the link and you can go to the book and thanks to Amazon’s “look inside” feature, you can even get an idea of what it covers.

Hope you find it interesting.

The book is also available as an E-book for the Kindle or your PC or Mac at Amazon.

For more information feel free to contact me, Larry Steckler, at