Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 To 1970

Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 To 1970

Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 To 1970

Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 To 1970


When we think of science fiction, we think primarily of movies and television shows, but this assumption belies the fact that the genre's initial rise to prominence came in pulp magazines. With lurid covers and titles like Galaxy, If, and Thrilling Wonder Stories, the science fiction pulp magazines created the visual and thematic vocabulary that continues to animate today's science fiction blockbusters.

In Transformations, the second volume in his acclaimed three-volume history of science fiction magazines, science fiction historian Mike Ashley brings his unparalleled knowledge to bear on the period from the beginning of the Cold War through the end of the 1960s, an era of tremendous change in the writing of and the marketplace for science fiction.

Ashley begins his story with the decline of the pulp magazines at the end of the 1940s and their replacement by new digest-sized and glossy magazines. That switch, and the increased respectability that came with it, coincided with a true golden age of science fiction writing in the early 1950s, with such giants of the genre as Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, and Harlan Ellison all publishing regularly in a wide range of such magazines.

As Ashley shows, by the end of the decade, sales had slumped, all but six of the science fiction magazines had folded, and the future looked bleak- until the surprising rebirth of the genre through the work of British writers Michael Moorcock and J. G. Ballard. Ashley also considers how the popularity of Star Trek and the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced the future of the science fiction magazine.

For fans of science fiction seeking to understand how their favorite genre evolved from Amazing Storie's to Babylon 5, Transformations will be essential reading.


This second volume of my three-volume history of the science-fiction magazine covers the years 1950 to 1970, and the title, Transformations, sums up in one word every possible change that happened to sf and the magazines during that period.

In the first volume I traced the development of the sf magazine from its earliest days and the creation of the first specialist magazine, Amazing Stories, by Hugo Gernsback in 1926, through the so-called Golden Age under John W. Campbell in the period 1938–42, to the dying of the pulps at the end of the 1940s. the period saw the first two great generations of sf writers and the start of a third, which would come into full fruition in the fifties. It also saw sf evolving from Gernsback's original gadget story, into the cosmic science story, space opera, and ultimately into the transcendent sf of the forties. During this process some writers fell by the wayside, while others helped create the super-hero pulps and comic-books. Others even created a religion. It was with the first breath of the new science, dianetics, that I closed Volume I. Dianetics, created by L. Ron Hubbard, was being championed in Astounding by John W. Campbell, but to many looked almost as much a sham as the Shaver Mystery had in Amazing Stories only a few years earlier. It was in this moment of weakness at Astounding that new magazines came along, especially Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) to help transform science fiction and take it into the postnuclear age.

That is what this volume covers. It sees the rise and fall and rise again of science fiction during a period of intense turbulence. At the start we find publishers switching from the old pulp magazines to the new digest size or into slick format, or even into pocketbook format. It was difficult to know which way to go. the public interest in science fiction spawned by the . . .

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