Today’s Favorite Magazine From The V1N1 Collection: Science Fiction + (Plus)

Today, we touch base with the last science fiction magazine published by the Father of Science Fiction, Hugo Gernsback, with a look at Science Fiction + from 1953 –

a “preview of the future” as we are informed right there on the cover.  We’re also treated to three recognizable names – Gernsback, Binder and Farmer, and to something called a “Cosmatomic Flyer”, or, in non-Gernsbackian English, a guy wearing a jetpack.

But before going any farther, I think it instructive to take a look at all of the other SF magazines that would have been on the stands at the same time as this new publication was introduced (which I can identify pretty easily owing to the SF Magazine Timeline Graph that I created some time ago):

Titles on the stands with the same “removal” date (that’s what’s on the cover – the month that the issue is supposed to be REMOVED from the stand, to be replaced with the next issue) are included below.

Some 29 different magazines, not counting “Plus”, were  on the stands when this magazine was introduced. (Of course, not all newsstands carried all of these publications and, owing to the vagaries of publishing and distribution, earlier issues of various titles might have been on display, but this list and gallery does  represented pretty much what a customer looking for futuristic, mind-blowing fare would have been confronted with.)  Several more titles would be introduced later in the year as well.

I think that most people looking at that gallery would have to admit that Science Fiction Plus is a little dull, or perhaps juvenile looking and uninspiring when compared to most of those other covers.  I could be wrong, tastes vary, but I think ladies and tigers, not to mention spaceships, dead astronauts and green women with provocative stares probably captured a few more eyeballs than the “Cosmatomic Flyer

My point here may be that good ol’ Hugo had probably missed the boat by this time frame;  he wanted and thought of SF as being an educational medium, providing technical know-how and inspiration to citizen scientists, while the field itself and moved on to other things.

This would be born out by Mr. Gernsback’s editorial in the final issue of this magazine that would appear in December of the same year, although he thinks the genre has left him, rather than him leaving the genre:

Modern science-fiction today tends to gravitate more and more into the realm of the esoteric and sophisticated literature, to the exclusion of all other types. It is as if music were to go entirely symphonic to the exclusion of all popular and other types. The great danger for science-fiction is that its generative source— its supply of authors— is so meager. Good S-F authors are few, extremely few. Most of them have become esoteric— “high brow.” They and their confreres disdain the “popular” story— they call it “corny,” “dated,” “passe.”

Nevertheless, we note with interest that when a publisher recently brought out a popular priced quarterly which had only “antiquated” reprints of science-fiction of the late 2o’s, it sold far better than other similar efforts. The lesson would seem to be plain from this and other examples: there is a fine market for Crepe Suzette, but an infinitely largr one for good ice cream.

If the young and budding S-F author— unspoiled by the prevailing snob-appeal— will look around carefully, he will, note that all S-F media— with the exception of science-fiction magazines — always cater to the masses. They rarely have snob-appeal, the story is nearly always simple, understandable to the masses, young and old.

Yes, motion picture producers buy the rights for esoteric S-F books, but their scenarists carefully rewrite the whole story into simple language so that it is not over the heads of the masses. Radio and television scripts follow practically the same formula. So do newspaper strips and the comics.

At present, science-fiction literature is in its decline— deservedly so. The masses are revolting against the snob dictum “Let ’em eat cake!” They’re ravenous for vitalizing plain bread!” Internet Archive, Science Fiction Plus, December 1953, page 2 for the whole issue

Before getting into high dudgeon, remember, this was written in 1953.  (Although I am sure that there are many readers still in the genre who recognize and possibly agree with some, if not all, of that sentiment.)

Price wise, he was on the high end (it must have sucked on the day that customers discovered that they could no longer buy four of these magazines for a buck!).

Internally, the magazine, while of “slick” proportions (the magazines above ranged from small digest to standard pulp, to slick in dimensions.  “Plus” would have stood taller than most, hearkening back to Amazing’s similar debut in 1926, and, like every one of his inaugural magazine issues, this one was printed with quality paper and inks) it is thin on page count, numbering only 68 pages, including covers.

I can imagine that the heft, cover price and cover presentation mitigated against swift sales.  First, many of the competing titles still only required fishing a quarter out of a pocket (no searching around for an additional dime).  Next, picking it up would suggest a lack of content – if it even got picked up to begin with.

The magazine was edited by Sam Moskowitz, the same SF historian who dropped the “Father of Science Fiction” title on Gernsback.  The two purportedly had different ideas about what made for a good SF story, and this may have affected “Plus”‘ reception as well.

Another element that can’t really be ignored is Gernsback’s wordplay.  You’re already familiar with “Cosmatomic” from the cover;  it seems that one of Gernsback’s affectations was the creation of portmanteau words.  Words like the unpronounceable “Scientifiction”.  He did similar with anagrammatic pseudonyms, using the name “Greno Gashbuck” (and Kars Gugenchob, Gus N Habergockfor, elsewhere) for his article on the Cosmatomic Flyer.  The portmanteau in question is based on “Cosmic-Atomic Reaction Flyer.”  I don’t think anyone was fooled by the name, and probably the only person on the planet amused by it was Forrest J. “Forrie” “4SJ” Ackerman.

Unfortunately for a last hurrah. Science Fiction Plus didn’t put Hugo back on the map.

You can read a fair bit more about the origins of this magazine in an article by Sam Moskowitz, published in the Fantasy Commentator fanzine at

You also might be interested to know that, depending on how you categorize things,  Gernsback introduced no fewer than ten SF oriented magazines during his run – Amazing Detective Tales, Amazing Stories, Amazing Stories Annual, Amazing Stories Quarterly, Science Fiction Series, Science Fiction Classics, Science Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, Air Wonder Stories and Science Fiction Plus.

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