Collecting Science Fiction Pulps and Digests
Michael HaynesA Journey Beyond... Books
Collectors of written science-fiction and fantasy who have overlooked the pulp and digest magazines--which served as the backbone of Golden Age SciFi--will find themselves amazed with the additional richness these items can add to their collections. Before Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, or Robert Heinlein were published in books, they were appearing between the often-lurid covers of magazines such as Astounding, Weird Tales, and Super Science Stories. Frequently, the true first publications of stories and even serialized novels, can be bought for a fraction of what their first book edition sells for. This is an aspect of science fiction and fantasy collecting which no true fan should ignore.
Pulp magazines (named for the cheap paper on which they were printed) were the literary descendants of Britain's "penny dreadfuls." Initially, there were no SF-specific pulps and early works like Edgar Rice Burroughs's "A Princess of Mars" and "Tarzan of the Apes" were published in general magazines such as All-Story. In 1923 saw the magazine Weird Tales was created. Hugo Gernsback introduced Amazing Stories (the first magazine to focus on science fiction) in 1926 and 1930 saw the launch of Astounding Science Fiction. Of these early publications, only Astounding (renamed to Analog in 1960) has had an uninterrupted run to date.
During the war years, the large pages of the pulps went out of fashion and were permanently replaced with the smaller "digest"-sized pages. Notable later publications were The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (also known as F&SF, still going after 58 years), Galaxy, and Worlds of If. In 1977, the last major SF digest, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, debuted.
If you wanted to buy a first edition of Dune in hardback, you'd be looking at spending at least $2500. But before Chilton published the novel, it was serialized in Analog. A complete set of the issues in which the serial appeared could be acquired for around $125; a patient collector could likely put the set together for even less. A more recent example is Stephen King's first Dark Tower novel which was serialized in F&SF.
Pulps and digests can appeal to other collecting interests. The cover paintings by the likes of Chesley Bonestell and Kelly Freas capture the sense of wonder and whimsy of the stories inside. Additionally, some works published in these magazines are hard or impossible to find in other printings. Dean R. Koontz wrote many short stories for magazines in the late-60s and early-70s; those issues are avidly sought by Koontz completists. Some issues of Astounding from the late-40s include items by L. Ron Hubbard, published as non-fiction, which served as the groundwork for Scientology. The letters columns in these issues show how readers of the time reacted to Hubbard's ideas.
A science fiction magazine collection can be started inexpensively. Many author bibliographies list magazine publications. Online, most major used and rare book sites also have SF magazines for sale. With these resources, you can start exploring this fascinating part of science fiction history.
Michael Haynes operates A Journey Beyond... Books, an online business that specializes in entertainment, mystery, science fiction and fantasy books. You can browse their inventory here.