Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Four-Score Wednesday: Science Wonder Stories, March 1930

Science Wonder Stories, Volume 1, Number 10, March 1930. Published February 3, 1930.

(As usual, click on the thumbnail to the left to get a 150dpi image of the cover by Frank R. Paul.)

this month is shown an episode from "Before the Asteroids." The aged Arinian scientist, Andites, is in the act of breaking up the enemy planet Voris by shooting an enormous power across space to disintegrate the atoms of Voris. Beside Andites are the leaders of the armies defending Arin against the enemy.

Sometimes, one of the less endearing characteristics of science fiction is its tendency to hyperbole. Why just have people in danger, it seems to say, when you can have the whole of timespace about to come to an end, or the whole multiverse, or whatever. In the cover story, just blowing up the planet isn't good enough, I guess. They have to disintegrate its atoms. Like they'll appreciate the extra effort.

If that sounded grumpy, I didn't mean it to. That kind of story can give you hugeness fatigue, is all.

Remember that contest for stories under 1,500 words that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago? Well...


In our November, 1929, issue, we announced a [$]300.00 prize story contest. The requirements of this contest were that a short, SHORT science fiction story was to be written around the cover picture of that issue.

The story was required to be of the science fiction type, and was to be plausible in the light of our present scientific knowledge.

The contest came to a successful close on December 5th, when some eight-hundred-odd manuscripts had been received.

This, indeed, is a tremendous number of manuscripts for a contest of this kind and, if we go by the number of entries received, the contest must be declared a huge success.

Evidently, everyone wanted to try a hand at writing a short, short science fiction story. Of course, as is usually the case in contests of this kind, most of the manuscripts submitted were unquestionably by amateurs and would-be writers who had no experience in fiction writing. But we appreciate their efforts, even though we could not award them prizes.

It was a matter of great relief to the editors that few of the higher prizes were won by professional writers, and that they were carried off either by unknown writers or by those who are not professional authors.

This is exactly what the editors hoped for: because the contest was admittedly to encourage new authors. And, in this respect, the contest may be said to have succeeded beyond our fondest expectations.

It is hoped that all of our readers and the hundreds of contestants will realize the tremendous amount of work connected with a prize contest of this kind, where so many manuscripts must be assorted and graded and passed upon by the judges.

The judges also hope that their selection will meet the approval of authors and readers alike.

Mr. Charles R. Tanner, the winner of the first prize, undoubtedly submitted the best manuscript. It was, by the way, one of the few that had a surprise ending that was not only excellent in execution, but correct from a scientific standpoint. No other author had noted the error in the coloring of the sky on the cover printed in the November, 1929, issue. The error was, of course, intentional; for in similar covers in the past we have always used the correct black sky, as, for instance, in our August, 1929, issue.

A number of the prize winning stories will be found in this issue. The remainder, including the "honorable mentions," which we have purchased from the authors, will be published in the April issue.

It is to be hoped that our new authors have been sufficiently encouraged by this prize contest to try their hands at longer stories, and so gain all the joy, distinction and material rewards that our writers receive.

Checks have been mailed to the prize winners, and the most memorable of our prize contests is hereby declared successfully closed.

The comment that "[t]he error [in coloring the sky] was, of course, intentional" amuses me, considering this is the magazine that routinely has green or yellow skies. Gernsback just drew the line at coloring space, I guess (although since the yellow sky on the cover of the July 1929 issue belongs to a 116-foot asteroid, he actually did color what ought to have been black).

Charles R. Tanner, who won the contest with "The Color of Space," went on to publish fifteen more stories from 1930 to 1951. Wonder Stories bought his second story, "Flight of the Mercury" for its July 1930 issue. You can read "The Color of Space" here, on the official Charles R. Tanner website.

Second-prize winner John R. Pierce later wrote under his own name (including a sale to Wonder Stories in 1934) and as J.J. Coupling, but made his biggest mark in telecommunications, becoming known, according to Mike Ashley's The Gernsback Years, as "the father of Telstar," the first communications satellite.

Frank J. Brueckel, Jr., third-prize winner, had sold to Gernsback before. But it's understandable that professional writers would enter the contest, since, as I pointed out when I mentioned the contest before, the pay rate was better than the standard. Brueckel wrote two more stories and a serial for the Wonder family--one of the former in the same issue as his winning entry.

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