The first science fiction magazine was Amazing Stories, with its issue of April, 1926. Edited by the legendary Hugo Gernsback, it featured the serial “Off on a Comet” by Jules Verne as well as stories by G. Peyton Wertenbaker, Austin Hall and others. Gernsback, who began his publishing career with catalogues for his radio supply company, went on to found the first eight science fiction magazines.
But to fans of the space adventure story, there is a second date, often overlooked, that’s every bit as important as the date that first sf magazine appeared. It’s August, 1928.
In its August 1928 issue, Amazing Stories published two amazing classics by writers who were unknown at the time, which made important contributions to the history of science fiction and helped to create what we today know as space opera.
The first of these was the serial “Skylark of Space” by Edward E. Smith, Ph. D. “Skylark,” was the first sf adventure novel of genuinely cosmic scale. It was supposedly written in 1919 (in collaboration with Mrs. Lee Hawkins Garby because Smith didn’t feel he could handle the love interest in the story), and rejected by several magazines before Gernsback took it. It eventually spawned three sequels (the last, “Skylark DuQuesne” serialized in If in 1965), and kicked off a career whose highlight was the “Lensman” series, including the titles “Triplanetary,” “First Lensman,” “Galactic Patrol,” “Gray Lensman,” “Second-Stage Lensman” and “Children of the Lens.” These epic novels introduced the concepts of intergalactic adventure on a grand scale and their influence can be felt down to today. J. Michael Strazynski, the creator of the wonderful science fiction TV series Babylon 5 has acknowledged being inspired by the Lensman novels in writing his television show.
That same issue of Amazing Stories included another long story, “Armageddon – 2419,” by Philip Francis Nowlan. It concerns a young man named Anthony Rogers who is overcome by gas fumes in the Twentieth Century and awakes to find he has been in suspended animation and it’s now 2419. The sequel to this story, “The Airlords of Han,” (Amazing Stories, 1929) was combined with the first to form a novel finally published in 1962.
But the most important development of this story was that a newspaper syndicate acquired it and turned it into a comic strip, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” that became enormously popular and introduced rousing science fiction adventure to a whole new audience.
Charles Fort once pointed out that several men seemed to have invented the steam engine at the same time. His comment was that “We steam engine come steam engining time.” August, 1928 was apparently “space opera” time. In the pages of the famous fantasy magazine Weird Tales, that month, a young writer from Ohio named Edmond Hamilton published the first of a series of stories about the Interplanetary Patrol.
The Interplanetary Patrol was a galactic police agency, made up of denizens of many worlds, who defended the entire galaxy from a series of truly cosmic menaces. Cosmic scale meant little to these guys, who were accustomed to zipping about to any point in the galaxy and, as occasion demanded, to visiting other galaxies as well. Hamilton became a frequent and prolific contributor not just to Weird Tales (his first story had appeared there in August, 1926, “The Monster-God of Mamurth”) but also to most of the science fiction magazines through the decade of the 60s.
Hamilton proved he could write just about any sort of sf, and for thirty years he published scores of stories (he appeared almost monthly until the fifties!) usually with some new idea. But sf adventure was his first love. In the forties he wrote the novels for Standard Magazines’ Captain Future magazine. In the last decades of his life he appeared less often but usually with long novelettes of space adventure that deserve more attention than has been paid them.
Many consider novel “The Star Kings” to be his greatest story, (It appeared in the September, 1947 issue of Amazing Stories.) It concerns a contemporary man who begins to believe that he is from the future, and indeed, he is; and he gets to return there to save the Galaxy. In the sixties Hamilton wrote a sequel to it called “Return to the Stars.” There are some (including this writer) who consider it his best work, and it is certainly a work of greater depth and feeling, and better written than the first novel.
Ed Hamilton was married to another great writer of space adventure stories, Leigh Brackett. They sometimes collaborated, but only once did they acknowledge the fact. Leigh, a famous film writer as well as magazine writer, created the grim hero Eric John Stark for Planet Stories. Shortly before their deaths they wrote a long novelette called “Stark and the Star Kings,” in which her Eric John Stark travels into the future to join forces with Ed’s Star Kings. It was published in 2005 by Haffner in a beautiful edition that collects as well, both Star Kings novels by Hamilton, and the three original Eric John Stark stories from Planet. There is no grander reading for anyone who loves sf reading on a cosmic scale.