The Gernsback Back-Catalogue

electricalexpOne of my ongoing projects is an issue-by-issue retrospective of Amazing Stories, the pioneering science fiction magazine, and I’ve covered it as far back as its debut issue of April 1926. But one thing I haven’t been able to delve into, yet, is its prehistory. Amazing Stories grew out of Hugo Gernsback’s earlier magazines, which were general science and technology publications that occasionally ran fiction – but these magazines and stories are nowhere near as well-documented as Amazing.

Galloping in to the rescue is Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lawndes’ book The Gernsback Days, which includes a lengthy appendix listing every single story to have been published in a Hugo Gernsback magazine. Thanks to this, I was able to get a glimpse at that antediluvian world of Gernsbackian SF before Amazing.

First we have the comparatively short-lived magazine Modern Electrics, which serialised Gernsback’s novel Ralph 124C 41+ from 1911 to 1912, before running five instalments of Jacque Moran’s “The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick” until early 1913. Then came The Electrical Experimenter, which serialised the only other novel by Gernsback that saw publication during his lifetime: Baron Munchhausen’s New Scientific Adventures. I’m familiar with the exploits of Ralph, Fosdick and Munchhausen, which were reprinted by Amazing Stories.

But starting in the June 1914 issue, Electrical Experimenter started running a series that appears to have lacked any such afterlife: Thomas W. Benson’s stories about the “Wireless Wiz” (the author was miscredited as Thomas N. Benson in early issues)..These tales boasted such intriguing titles as “The Wireless Wizard’s Ghostly Conspiracy” and “How the Wireless Wiz Turned Evangelist”, although the Ashley/Lowndes book notes that most of the stories were non-SF. I suspect that the Wireless Wiz was a character who made use of inventions available to contemporary readers of the magazine.

George Frederic Stratton provided five stories that ran between the September 1915 and July 1916 issues: “Omegon“, “The Gravitation Nullifier”, “The Poniatowski Ray”, “The Shirikari Tentacle” and “Trailing Aravilla”. ISFDB says that these stories share a character named Fred Cawthorne; they appear never to have been reprinted.

C. M. Adams contributed three stories in 1917: ”Joe’s Experiment”, “Eddy Currents” and “The Radio Bomb”., while R. and G. Winthrop penned a two-part story that ran over the March and April 1918 issues: “A War with the Invisible”. Like the adventures of the Wireless Wiz and Fred Cawthorne, there seems to have been negligible subsequent interest in these stories.

Then we find Harlan A. Eveleth’s “Ham Jones—Scientist” (July 1917), Thomas Red’s “A Tight Squeeze for Uncle George” (May 1918), F. W. Russell’s “How Jimmy Saved the Bank” (March 1919), Mabel M. Davis “How Don Flashed the S.O.S.” (July 1919), John White’s “Plan T” (November 1919) and E. H. Johnson’s “The Golden Vapor” (February 1920). Save for the very last of these, which was reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, these seem to have, once again, quickly slipped into literary oblivion.

But there are a few names besides E. H. Johnson I recognised from reading old Amazing issues. Gernsback himself penned a story called “The Magnetic Storm” for the August 1918 issue, which was later reprinted in Amazing. Also notable is Clement Fezandie: although his story from this era (“My Message to Mars”, published in the July 1920 issue) seems never to have been reprinted, Fezendie himself became a familiar face in Gernsback’s magazines, his “Dr. Hackensaw’s Secrets” and “Hicks’ Inventions with a Kick” series eventually turning up in Amazing.

Towards the end of Electrical Experimenter’s existence under that title, its most prolific fiction author was Charles S. Wolfe, who penned “Whispering Ether” (March 1920), “The Educated Harpoon” (April/May 1920), “Aladdin’s Lamp” (May/June 1920), “The Phantom Arm” (June/July 1920) and “Alarm Number 18” (July 1920), the first two of which were reprinted in Amazing Stories.

With the August 1920 issue, The Electrical Experimenter was retitled Science and Invention. It lasted until 1928 and continued to publish SF stories, including many by Wolfe and Fezandie, plus later discoveries like Ray Cummings. On top of this are Gernback’s other technology magazines: Radio News, Practical Electrics, The Experimenter.

But these can be topics for future posts…

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