Worldcon began in 1939 (Nycon I, New York). It wouldn’t be until the 1953 convention in Philadelphia that the Science Fiction Achievement Awards would be given out for the first (and only time, or so they thought). Several years ago the membership of WSFS voted to fill in the blanks for the pre-Hugo Award era Worldcons and decreed that any Worldcon that took place on the 25th, 50th or 75th anniversary of a Worldcon that had not awarded Hugos could correct this oversite and award the Retrospective Hugo Awards.
MidAmeriCon II is the 75th anniversary of Denvention I, the third Worldcon, held in Denver Colorado. Olon F. Wiggins was the Chair, Robert A. Heinlein was the special guest and approximately 90 people attended – a significant drop from the two previous years (200, 128). The two previous Worldcons had been held in cities that were centers of the publishing industry (New York, Chicago), which may account for some of the difference as Denver was by far the most remote Worldcon that had been held to date.
But it was held and the experience proved to reinforce and support the idea that Worldcon was here to stay. And then it wouldn’t be until 1946 until another Worldcon was held. (Making the world safe for democracy kind of got in the way.)
1940 is the exemplar year when it comes to the firmly held belief that there was a time when a fan could read everything in the field. By the end of 1940 there would be no less than 19 magazines on the newsstands, the stalwarts of Amazing, Astounding, Thrilling Wonder and Weird Tales being joined by all manner of new magazine concepts, from the still vaguely familiar – Startling Stories, Planet Stories, Captain Future and Unknown – to the largely forgotten – Comet, Fantastic Adventure, Super Science Stories, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and more.
Just sit back for a second or two to ponder our own landscape and imagine (as good SF fans ought to be able to do) what it would be like if the energies that have been plowed into ebooks, electronic readers and self-publishing had instead (somehow) found there way onto newsstands in the form of short fiction magazines. (Maybe POD machines are so inexpensive that every newsstand, smoke shop and drugstore features one.) Imagine being able to walk into a store and imagine being able to stand four-square in front of a display that confronts you with something like this:
(Elide the obvious clunky technology and inherent exploitive sexism for the moment and just pretend that you could reach out and pick up any one of these mags, thumb through its pages, steal a peek at the letter columns (to see if yours made it in there); breath the faintly dusty smell of the inks and pulp; take a flight of fancy evoked by one or another of the covers.
It sure must have been a proud and wonderful (if lonely) thing to be a fan back in those days.
For the princely sum of $3.35 cents per month, one could acquire every single pulp that covered science fiction, fantasy and horror. (Actually less because it wouldn’t be until December of 1940 that the last of the year’s new titles was released and many of these titles were not published on a monthly schedule. But if you stopped at a well-stocked stand in December of 1940 – presuming that they kept the quarterlies stocked for the entire quarter – three dollars, a quarter and a dime would get you EVERYTHING.
(Parenthetically, it wouldn’t be until later on in the decade that the first anthologies were published and the first small presses devoted to our genre would begin producing. In 1940, the magazines were IT.)
If you happened to have four bucks burning a hole in your pocket come December, 1940, this is what you’d be walking home with:
Some of these magazines were published quarterly, some monthly, some bi-monthly and most were subject to irregularities. 109 individual issues were produced throughout the entirety of 1940.
For just a bit more than $20.00 you could own the entire world of science fiction, fantasy and horror ($20.95).
Today that same amount won’t even get you a single newly released hardback.
If I am not mistaken, the present award categories are used for the Retros. If this is true, then the categories available for 1940 would be all of the fiction categories (so long as we consider serials to be “novels”); essays in the magazines and in the fanzines can be considered for Best Related works. But when it comes to the editor’s categories, we’re going to be restricted to one, that for Short Form.
Of course Campbell is the natural choice here, but take a minute to consider everyone who is eligible:
Mary Gnaedinger – Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels (reprints)
Raymond A. Palmer – Amazing Stories, Amazing Stories Quarterly (reprint), Fantastic Adventures
Mort Weisinger – Captain Future, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories
Frederik Pohl – Astonishing, Super Science Stories
F. Orlin Tremaine – Comet
Charles D. Hornig – Future Fiction, Science Fiction, Science Fiction Quarterly
Martin Goodman – Marvel Tales/Marvel Stories
Malcolm Reiss -Planet Stories
John W. Campbell Jr. – Astounding Science Fiction, Unknown
Farnsworth Wright – Weird Tales
None of the other editors had anything approaching the budget that Campbell had, yet Pohl, Hornig and Weisinger managed to put together some very fine issues from time to time (often relying on friends for copy at cut-rates), while Malcolm Reiss practically gave birth to the sword and planet sub-genre (not to mention introducing us all to Leigh Brackett!) with Planet Stories and several of the other magazines had a material impact on the field – if only by keeping certain authors and artists barely fed.
When we vote on the Hugos, we’re supposed to be judging the work. I don’t think it is out of line to take into consideration “work” that may not be directly related to the selection stories when it comes to the editors. Many of them knew they’d gotten a rum deal, yet they persisted, often performing miracles, because their efforts were directly contributing to building an entirely new genre.
Despite obvious loyalties, my money is on Hornig, Pohl and Weisinger.
To learn more about each of these editors:
Martin Goodman Wikipedia
Malcolm Reiss ISFDB
and the magazines themselves:
Next part, we’ll take a look at the authors working in the field during 1940.
Anyone can join the World Science Fiction Society and be eligible to both attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in 2016, as well as nominate and vote for both the Hugo Awards and the Retrospective Hugo Awards. To learn more about WSFS and MidAmericon II, visit the 74th Worldcon’s website.