A man wears a strange headset, complete with eyepieces. From each lens emanates a yellow beam, neatly indicating his line of sight. He is gazing up at a second man, far larger than himself, who emerges from a machine that resembles some sort of roller press. A forest of blue and purple trees surrounds the larger man — although not, it appears, the smaller man, who seems to exist in a different plane of reality. It was June 1928, and this bizarre scene adorned the cover of Amazing Stories’ latest instalment.
Hugo Gernsback’s editorial this month is entitled “Our Amazing Minds”, and touches on the topic of hypnotism. “[I]t will come as a surprise to many intelligent people to hear that a majority of individuals believe that hypnotism is to be classed with witchery and other occult pastimes, such as spiritualism” complains Gernsback. “The very same people, though, who denounce hypnotism as one of the black arts, glibly go to a Yogi to have their future read and believe implicitly what this faker tells them”. He goes on to relate how Science and Invention magazine offered a $2000 prize to any astrologer who could prove the accuracy of their predictions; the contest received no participants.
By contrast, Gernsback argues that the ability to operate upon a person’s subconscious mind through hypnosis or similar techniques is not magic, but science – a science that he credits himself with helping to develop:
In the year 1911, in my story, Ralph 124C 41+, I featured a purely fictional instrument which I termed “The Hypnobioscope.” This instrument was supposed to impart knowledge and education to the sleeping mind. I set forth quite an elaborate theory at that time, as to why it should be simple to educate the sleeping mind. While the mind sleeps, it is not being distracted by outside influences and it would, therefore—I reasoned—be more receptive than at any other time. This was pure fiction and evidently I did not take much stock in it myself, because I never actually tried it.
Much to my amazement, however. Chief Radio Man Finney, of the United States Navy, who read the story, tried it in 1922, with the result that today in the Pensacola, Florida, Naval Station, students are taught code while they sleep.
Does the present issue of Amazing Stories contain anything similarly prescient? Read on and find out…
“The Blue Dimension” by Francis Flagg
“Have you ever read this?” he asked, holding up a large copy of the “Book of Mormon.”
“No, sir. At least not all of it,” I answered.
“But enough to know the story of how Joseph Smith dug up the tablets and was enabled to read and copy them?”
“You mean about the miraculous spectacles?” I laughed. “That bunk!”
“How do you know it’s bunk?”
“Why, of course it is,” I protested. “Who ever heard of such glasses before or since?”
“Nobody,” he admitted. “And, as you say, Joseph Smith’s story is probably bunk. But for all that, have you ever thought it might be possible to make a pair of glasses through which one could see—beyond this environment?”
Dr. Crewe posits a theory that the sounds too high or low to be audible to the human ear and colours beyond the invisible spectrum are just two parts of an entire plane of existence to which human senses are oblivious – a plane that may include complex organisms: “I literally believe that, as- the Good Book says, there are worlds within worlds.”
The doctor then reveals that he has created a means of viewing this world: an elaborate set of goggles containing a new substance called Radium-Tetra-Dimenol. Robert tries them on, and is confronted with the sight of a blue forest:
It was a blue world that I saw. The trees, the giant ferns, the sucker-like blooms, were all blue. Not one prevailing shade of blue, no. The flowers, in some cases, were almost purplish red, and in others, shaded away into the most delicious contrasts of creamy whites and yellows. But the predominating color was blue. What could be seen of the sky was greenish blue. The very atmosphere had a bluish tinge, as if the winds were colored and could be seen. Whichever way I looked, the blue forest was before me. I turned my head. It was on either side of me—behind me.
And sure enough, this blue world has an inhabitant:
It was, perhaps, seven feet in height, naked, and of an indigo color over all. The eyes were set at the end of short tentacles which continually moved and writhed and could bring the creature’s vision to bear in any direction, or in several directions at the same time, for of organs of sight there were three. The mouth was a pouting thing that filled me with indescribable loathing, while the root-like legs ended in flat feet probably a yard in circumference. Four snaky branches were attached to the upper part of the body and were evidently arms.
After witnessing the creature hurl a spear at a large beetle, Robert is thrown into a panic (“I screamed and clawed at my head. ‘For God’s sake. Doctor,’ I screamed, ‘take them off!'”)
Dr. Crewe then reveals that he has created a means of entering the blue dimension: “if my body can be made to vibrate in accord with the blue world, I shall manifest there and not here”, he explains. His invention, the Re-vibrator, is an electric mechanism that runs the user through a set of rollers (shades of Bob Olsen’s “The Four-Dimensional Roller Press”) thereby sufficiently altering the vibration of their molecular structure. The doctor puts the machine to the test by placing three mice through it; they are successfully transported to the blue dimension, although they grow in size in the process (again, shades of “The Four-Dimensional Roller Press”).
Returning to the goggles, the pair decide to examine new areas of the other plane. Robert witnesses “purplish-black beasts with six legs and tortoise-like heads” being hunted by more members of the intelligent race – albeit a different ethnic group this time, smaller and copper-yellow rather than indigo. The next is a vast but seemingly deserted city.
This vision sufficiently intrigues Dr. Crewe that he enters the Re-vibrator himself; like the mice he is enlarged by the process, emerging in the blue dimension twenty feet tall. Only too late does do they release that the Re-vibrator is one-way: Dr. Crewe is trapped in the other dimension. Robert proceeds to begin sending food through the machine to ensure that the doctor is at least well-fed, but accidentally breaks the goggles, preventing him from ever seeing his mentor again.
The idea of a world existing in another dimension overlapping with ours – striking and intriguing, but hard to pull off convincingly – had turned up a few times previously in Amazing. H. G. Wells’ “The Plattner Story” explored the idea in terms of ghosts and the afterlife, while George Paul Bauer’s “Below the Infra Red” used it as the basis for an Edgar Rice Burroughs-style fantasy romp. Francis Flagg’s treatment is comparatively grounded, depicting a new world based on halfway-plausible evolutionary biology (Crewe speculates that the creatures are an intelligent evolution of plant life) and a plot driven by nuts-and-bolts technology. Despite this sober-minded conception, the story gives off a pervading atmosphere of terror – like a Lovecraft protagonist, Robert seems on the brink of losing his mind to fear of the unknown.
“A Biological Experiment” by David H. Keller
A young couple of the year 3928, Elizabeth and Leuson, marry each other – with the help of forged papers, so as to bypass government bureaucracy – and elope to the wilderness. Here, Leuson tells Elizabeth all about a bygone age; an age when the common people, instead of getting all of their facts from government-approved film and radio, were capable of reading. The couple have rediscovered the lost art of reading and, with the aid of books that Leuson stole from the Congressional Library, attempt to recover lost knowledge.
As Leuson delivers a history lesson to Elizabeth, the story delivers its own future history to the reader. We learn that, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, the government passed a law requiring women to obtain permits before having children, in an attempt to lower the numbers of babies born to poor families; but the scheme was not successful, as it merely prompted women to give birth at home in secret.
As the centuries passed, mankind was struck by various new diseases that wiped out half of the white population while “[a]ll the so-called savage races [were] blotted out of existence”. The survivors were left with mental and physical problems – amongst other things their legs were withered by excess automobile usage, the central concept of “The Revolt of the Pedestrians” by the same author. Sterilisation became widespread, at first prescribed by the government for those deemed unfit to have children, and later obtained by couples in “companionate marriages” who simply did not want children.
With birth rates declining, humanity faced extinction. But developments in organ transplants led to the discovery that functional ovaries could be kept in glass vessels; and, from here, science developed a means to create synthetic babies. After that, sterilisation became mandatory, and all babies were created in labs and raised in government nurseries.
All of this led to a world without poverty or sickness – but also without love:
“But what is love, anyway?” asked the young woman.
“Love is sacrifice!” was the reply. “That seems to be the only definition. I have read the old books and when people in those old days were in love they always had to sacrifice themselves. A boy and a girl in love with each other waited for years till the time came when they could marry. They gave up their ambitions, their future, their success in life so they could marry. For years most of them felt, what was called in those days, ‘the pinch of poverty.’ There was sickness and constant work and struggle for the necessities of life. The love life centered around the house they lived in and they called this house a home. This is a word that disappeared from the English language years ago, centuries ago, when it was destroyed by the automobile, the aeroplane, and moving picture, to say nothing of the companionate marriage.
The father worked all day and helped care for the children at night and them other never ceased work. The children died and the men had to borrow money to bury them. That was before universal government cremation. Often the wives died and left the men with children, with little babies one day old; or the husbands died and left the wife to struggle on till the children grew old enough to help. Everything in that life meant sacrifice and out of that sacrifice grew the thing the old poets called love. It was so very different from what we call love today.”
Elizabeth and Leuson have a baby in the wilderness. But tragedy strikes: Elizabeth, with no access to medical science, dies in childbirth. And so Leuson returns to Washington with his baby, where he lectures a roomful of women on the lost notion of motherhood. The response is rapturous: “The women looked at the baby, and as the tears streamed down their cheeks, they knew at last what they had been wanting all those thousand years. They knew, but they needed a leader to tell them.” The story ends with a revolution in the making:
And as they matched down Pennsylvania Avenue, the women of the nation cried in unison: “Give us back our homes, out husbands, and our babies!”
As well as being rather clunkily constructed, using the sort of expositional dialogue where of the sort where characters remind each other of what month and year it is, “A Biological Experiment” is a self-evident product of an era when eugenics was still widely viewed a credible future for humanity. The story casually skims over such horrific notions as the disease-based genocide of “so-called savage races” and the mass sterilisation of those deemed “unfit” by the government in favour of the somewhat trite message that peace and security brings about boredom. That said, it does carry off an inspired irony with the revelation that Leuson and Elizabeth are, themselves, unknowing subjects of a scientific experiment, rather than the pastoral throwbacks that they initially appear.
“The Golden Girl of Munan” by Harl Vincent
It is the year 2406, and protagonist Roy Hamilton sits in his New York studio apartment struggling to get a connection on his videophone (“Pity that the Terrestrial Videophone Company couldn’t keep their confounded voice and vision ether waves working, he thought angrily”) when he picks up an unexpected message from a mysterious young woman named Thelda. He cannot see her face, but he can hear her speaking in a “voice of gold… The most beautiful voice he had ever heard”. She gives Roy a dire warning…
In the future history of the story, a world government formed in 1950 and, to ensure progress, shipped away “two thousand reactionaries” in a steamship named the Gigantean:
They did not believe that war was actually made forever impossible by the many irresistible weapons which science had developed. They fought disarmament and the consolidation bitterly, and stirred up much discord. Finally, in desperation, the Terrestrial Government rounded up the ring-leaders in various parts of the world, put them on the Gigantean and told them to go wherever they pleased, but to never appear near any inhabited coast on pain of destruction, by means of beam energy, of the ship and themselves.
The boat found an island in the Pacific, which those on board named Munan. One of the scientists within the group “discovered means of producing a wall of neutralizing vibrations completely surrounding the island” to protect it from unwanted visits by aircraft (which travel by “beam lanes”). Now, says Thelda, the population of Munan has reached over a million, and the descendants of the two thousand reactionaries are planning to use their ingenious inventions to invade the wider world. But a small group of rebels – mainly women, including Thelda – have decided to sabotage this scheme; they sent a spy outside the island to seek possible allies, and eventually chose Roy as their contact due to his athletic prowess and his friendship with a brilliant scientist named Professor Nilsson.
Upon hearing about this, the professor cobbles together an aircraft (which “utilizes stray electronic energy as the old time sailing vessels used the winds of the ocean”) and heads off to Munan with Roy, the rebels lowering the island’s protective defences for them. Here, the newcomers meet the cave-dwelling resistance movement — including its “dear leader” Thelda, who turns out to be as beautiful in appearance as in voice:
Although small in stature, her slimness and the erectness of her carriage gave her the appearance of greater height. Vibrant with life, her face was turned partly towards Roy, so that he was enabled to study the perfect profile intently. Fluffy red-gold hair seemed a fitting halo for the piquant oval of ivory creaminess which was her face. Large, golden brown eyes, wide set beneath perfectly arched brows, with their expression of sadness and innocent appeal, belied the firmness of the small chin, the sauciness of the very slightly upturned little nose, and the sweet promise of the rosy lips, now barely parted in excitement.
Indeed, physical beauty appears universal among the resistance forces: “the men were physically very powerful and of classic and dignified features; the women, though slightly smaller in stature than those of the outside world, were far more beautiful, with a loveliness that was almost ethereal in character.”
Landon, advisor to Thelda, describes how the island’s elite has cultivated a bloodthirsty population through eugenics: “In each generation there would be a few who, like ourselves, were born with the love of mankind in their hearts, but as quickly as these were discovered by the Zar they were killed off in cold blood. Thus, by a process of enforced evolution, there was developed a race of cold-blooded creatures who call themselves men and women, but who are in actuality, fiends incarnate.” However, despite these efforts, good-hearted people still exist on the island: “In all evolution there are reversions to types, which types may have been remotely located in the roots of the family tree. We are those reversions; thank the Supreme Being.”
Using strange minerals native to Munan, the island’s inhabitants have developed invisible aircraft armed with terrible bombs, a single one of which would be capable of wiping out New York City. The heroes decide to try and get their hands on this weaponry so that they can use it against the Zar; two rebels, Doreen and Ramon, are killed in their attempts, but Zora (“a picture of mature beauty from the top of her exquisitely coiffured head to the soles of her modishly shod feet”) manages to gain access to the island’s arsenal by seducing a government official. She returns with a sample of crysinum, the extremely volatile liquid used in Munanian bombs – but as she is forced to kill several enemies with a disintegration ray to escape, the Zar’s forces begin to close on the resistance. The rebels escape in the professor’s plane – and, after taking to the air, the professor aims a beam at the island’s arsenal. This causes an eruption that destroys the whole of Munan:
The vicious yellow vapor continued to pour forth as from the crater of a volcano, and all in its path went the way of the mountain. Munan was overtaken by the fate it had decreed for The Outside. None could escape. No quarter could be asked. None could have been given. No pity stirred the breasts of the little groups watching in awestruck silence. When the vapor reached the city, tall buildings sank into the yellow turbulence like pillars of ice undermined by boiling water. The population could be seen swarming into the ocean like a rippling massed formation of army ants. In five minutes all that remained of Munan was a seething mass giving the appearance of ebullient sulphur.
Gone was the deadly fluid and the supply of crysinum bombs. Gone was the race which hated the world with so great an intensity that this same fate had been planned for billions of innocent and unsuspecting victims. Gone were the results of centuries of misdirected mental and physical effort. The Outside was saved!
“The Golden Girl of Munan” has a future history that hinges on two ideas that have dated very badly: eugenics, and world peace achieved through the threat of mutually-assured destruction. But all of that is ultimately just an excuse for a simple-minded romp; the island of Munan, despite its weird history, turns out to be little different from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars or A. Merritt’s subterranean world – a place where Elysian beauties go up against inhuman fiends in a way that owes more to fairy tales than to science. Harl Vincent would later write a sequel, “The War of the Planets”, that was published in the January 1929 issue of Amazing.
The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (part 1 of 2)
Amazing begins serialising one of Wells’ best-known and most influential novels – the story of a village in receiving a visit from a mysterious scientist named Griffin, who turns out to have made himself invisible. The first half of the novel makes no explanation of how the title character became invisible; it instead focuses on the reactions of the locals to their strange guest. One of Wells’ gifts as a writer was his ability to create colourful supporting casts, and in The Invisible Man he shows clear delight in setting the cat amongst these proverbial pigeons.
When the newcomer arrives with his body covered head to toe, the people of the village wonder why: is he in disguise, or perhaps hiding some skin disorder? Bit by bit, as the man flaunts his invisible limbs or commits crimes unseen, the locals are thrown into a state of bewilderment and panic. The only exception is a man named Marvel, who becomes the Invisible Man’s accomplice.
The story is a good example of an author hitting upon a strong but simple concept and then taking the time to play with it. The main appeal for the reader – who is aware of the title character’s invisibility before any of the characters – is to watch Wells as he plays, and experience his every discovery alongside him.
Baron Munchhausen’s New Scientific Adventures by Hugo Gernsback (part 5 of 6)
We open with narrator I. M. Alier receiving a scoffing response from the local press, allowing Gernsback to satirise the newspaper professions. Next, Alier’s contact Munchhausen relates some more adventures on Mars. The Baron alearns that the Martians consume food in the form of gas (“gaseous food that you don’t need to chew is vastly more nourishing and satisfying than solid food”) and are treated to the sight of a Martian moonrise.
To avoid the planet’s vast sandstorms, the buildings and roads of Martian cities are constructed atop towers. The houses are made from transparent material, eliminating privacy but also eliminating vice (Munchhausen approves of this: “If you place your whole humanity in transparent houses, the scandals, murders, war, most of the law suits and the gossip will disappear automatically”)
The tenth chapter is “The Planets at Close Range”, which includes a discussion about the properties of the Martian atmosphere. It also reveals that the people of the planet generate light and heat at night using electricity from solar energy that they gather during the day, through a more advanced version of the selenium cells found on Earth (these would be supplanted by silicon solar cells in the 1950s). Finally, the Baron is shown a spherical viewing device which can be adjusted to display footage of other worlds, including the citizens of Earth and the rings of Saturn.
Once again, Baron Munchhausen’s New Scientific Adventures shows that Gernsback has trouble channelling his fertile imagination into a workable story. Genuinely provocative ideas such as the concept of a society without privacy are set alongside dry digressions about town planning: “Usually eight buildings constitute a ‘block,’ three to each side, with the center space left open. The ‘blocks’ are separated by wide arched roadways; wherever two of them cross each other, there are usually two bridges flung diagonally across which meet in the center.”
The issue concludes with another batch of readers’ mail. Preston Slosson, Ph.D of the University of Michigan, opens his letter on a pugnacious note: “Since you are good enough to invite discussion from your traders, I accept the implicit invitation in the spirit of the Irishman who watched a brawl; ‘Is this a private fight or can anyone get in?’”
He goes on to praise the idea of a science fiction magazine on principal, but complaints that “[a]t present very few men of science can write fiction and very few writers of fiction know anything about science” and consequently stories in the genre tend to “deal vaguely with unknown ‘rays’ and ‘substances’ and ‘fourth dimensions’ in a way that betrays much ignorance of physics.” Slosson does, however, have positive words for H. G. Wells:
Mr. Wells knows his astronomy and creates creatures fitted to the arid, cold and bleak planet, light of air and of gravity; where others invent human beings or animals totally unfitted to Martian conditions.
John A. Thomkins disparages Gernsback’s own Munchhausen adventures (“you say that an object placed above the gravity screen and, losing its weight, remained suspended in the air. You should, and probably do, know better than that. The column of air above the screen would lose its weight, and the pressure of the air on all sides would be sufficient to send it hurtling into space”) and argues that Wells’ “Pollock and the Porroh Man” is out of place in a magazine of scientific fiction. He also objects at length to David M. Speaker’s “The Disintegrating Ray”:
In The Disintegrating Ray by David M. Speaker, the author remarks that the atomic weight of an element depends upon the number of electrons per atom. As a matter of fact, although it is true that the greater the number of electrons the greater the atomic weight, this is merely incidental, since the greater portion of the mass of the atom is concentrated in the proton. The ratio of the mass of the electrons to the entire mass of the atom is one to eighteen hundred and therefore negligible.
The letter prompts a response from Speaker himself:
[M]y story is not intended to be used as a text look on atomic structure. Its purpose was merely to suggest the possibility of eventual atomic disintegration. Therefore, the stressed point was not the atom itself, but the means (epsilon ray) of causing its disintegration and the transmutation of one element into another. For this reason, using a story teller’s license, I took the liberty of simplifying the actual atomic structure in order to clarify the explanation of the ray’s action.
Mr. Thomkins may be right when he states that “the removal of an electron from a mercury atom would result in an Hg plus ion” but I am not quite convinced. I have yet to see the metal which can remain in an ionized state out of a solution. While such a thing may be possible from a theoretical viewpoint, it is extremely doubtful if an element so placed could long retain an extra proton without either losing it or else having it neutralized by electrons in the air. While I admit the latter is very probable, yet I see no reason why the proton should not leave the atom with the removed electron, as the ray is constantly removing any other electrons which might neutralize it. Certainly, whichever happened, the mercury would either definitely change to gold or else return to its original state, but it would not be an Hg plus ion. However, this point is rather doubtful, but I would like to point out that it is just such doubtful points as this that constitute the difference between a Scientifiction Story and an accomplished fact.
The editorial response quotes “a distinguished chemist” who took Speaker’s side of the discussion, before responding to Thomkins’ comments on Munchhausen: “As far as our friend the Baron is concerned you have made rather a good point about the gravity screen. But whether the air lost its weight or not it would be acted on by the surrounding atmosphere. We might imagine that the gravity screen only affected solids”.
Robert A. Wait also criticises “The Disintegrating Ray”: “To form the regent metal from the only liquid metal one would have to not only knock off one planetary electron, but he would have to remove two binding electrons and three protons from the nucleus.” Wait’s letter also makes more general comments on the magazine: “A year ago I bought my first Amazing Stories. Ever since then I have been trying to decide whether the magazine was plain trash, or whether it was really a solid type of literature, with a few poorly written pieces […] Frankly, I think the cover designs, while they do attract some people, give the magazine an extremely large handicap among the better monthly publications.” He speaks favourably about a number of Amazing‘s stories, but trips up on Wells’ “Pollock and the Porroh Man” (“I like Wells very much, but I do not see how this story is scientific in any way”) and dismisses the March cover illustrating W. J. Hammond’s “Lakh-Dal, Destroyer of Souls” as “absolutely monstrous […] hideous, absolutely unworthy of the magazine.” The editorial reply defends the Wells tale as “an interesting study of psychology and is a truly scientific story.”
Ross L. Bralley writes in seeking closure on a dispute with an acquaintance: “My friend argues that the horizon line [on Mars] would seem no farther away than on the earth because the difference in the planet’s size would be relative, therefore no difference could be noted. I maintain, however, that as Mars is almost half the size of the earth the horizon line in that planet would appear to be almost twice as close as in our earth.” The editorial reply sides with Bralley over his friend.
Philip M. Zimmerman pokes a neat set of holes in “Rice’s Ray” by Harold A. Lower (“there were glass windows on the ship. What allowance, if any, was made for contraction, when the ship met up with absolute zero of temperature?”)
In a missive headed “A Kind Letter From a Lady Friend and Reader”, Mrs. H. O. De Hart praises H, G. Wells for his verisimilitude, which she contrasts with the heavy use of coincidence in “Lakh-Dal, Destroyr of Souls”; complains that the Hicks’ Inventions with a Kick” stories “smack a little strongly of ‘slap stick’ comedy, which is rather out-dated”; and suggests that the magazine’s title and covers give the wrong impression as to its contents: “I’m willing to scrap with any misguided person who calls my favorite magazine trash, merely because of its name and the undeniably ‘passionate’ colors of its cover!” She deems herself “not competent to criticise the scientific aspect of any story, having learned till I know of science from those same stories”, but concludes with an enthusiastic endorsement of science fiction: “Ah, but then I travel indeed! For I journey to Mars and Venus, with side trips to the Moon, and down to the heart of the earth, yea, even into the fourth Dimension! And who could do more?”
J. W. Hackny sends in a clipping from the Cleveland Plain Dealer about alleged developments in flight:
The invention of a machine by which the force of gravity is neutralized, was announced today by Bernays Johnson, a radio engineer, who claims that if the machine can be developed to a commercial stage, air flights from New York to Paris can be achieved in five or six hours.
The editor dismisses this extremely dubious report, however: “We do not say that no way of affecting gravity will ever be discovered, but any such prospect is extremely remote.”
Earl Hess provides a curiously autobiographical letter (“I am 23 years of age. marriage biologically impossible, have a large but well controlled imagination, a 5 acre farm, with one acre in cultivation”) where he lists his favourite authors in the genres of adventure, humour, mystery and science fiction; in this last category he places Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Allen England, Jules Verne and Garrett P. Serviss, and praises “Blasphemer’s Plateau” by Alexander Snyder at length. He then goes on to ask for “one to three men or boys” who could help him to convert his small farm into a research station.
Melville H. Hatch, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Zoology, attempts to define scientifiction:
To me it consists of the postulation of some new circumstance or situation in our physical environment and the working out of the implications for humanity contained in the postulated change. And the art of scientifiction consists in the skill with which these implications are worked out. The weakness with most of your stories is that they accomplish little more than the first of these undertakings, simply the mapping out of a new situation, without bothering to work out the implication. Originality in scientifiction is impossible any more, so far as the major theme is concerned.
He expresses skepticism towards short-form SF: “I doubt, first, whether really good scientifiction can be produced in works of less than novel length”, although he acknowledges that Murray Leinster’s Burl stories “The Mad Planet” and “The Red Dust” are “about the nearest to producing adequate scientifiction in short story length.” Finally, Hatch offers a list of suggestions for the magazine, the last of which is a plea for genre scholarship:
Create a department of criticism, to contain critical, bibliographical, and historical notes on scientifiction. Your one journal can’t hope to publish all the scientifiction. Therefore, help your readers to further extend their acquaintance with the field. How many, for instance, know that recently the Saturday Evening Post ran a first class piece of scientifiction by Conan Doyle. We know in a dim way that Poe, Verne and Wells are the classical figures in scientifiction, hut the details of the development of the art are unknown to most of us.
Ray Whittaker writes of his difficulty in finding the magazine in Europe: “it was not until the fourth of July in the little town of Interlaken, while strolling down the street I saw the desired and forgotten June copy so prominently displayed that I gladly paid the required 50 cents and retired for the rest of the day, regardless of Swiss mountain scenery et al.”
Edward C. Johnston makes some criticisms of Wells (“while he has great imagination in his writings of future scientific achievements, his machines for getting these results are crude compared to those of other writers”) while defending Edgar Rice Burroughs (“Mr. Burroughs is to me one of the most interesting of writers if one disregards such points as the manufacture of air from light-rays caught in tanks and the beautiful bodies of his Martian folk who resemble earth-men although developed from eggs”) As for illustrations, Frank R. Paul’s work leaves him unimpressed:
A suggestion that I would like to make is that Mr. Paul stick more closely to his facts in his illustrations. The cover illustrating The Moon Pool is an example of this point. Quoting from the story the description of the dwarfs, “The dwarf’s face was as white as Olaf’s… features clean cut and noble, almost classical… “The gigantic shoulders were covered with a loose green fur…” etc. The illustration shows red skinned and green skinned dwarfs, which make a fine picture but a poor illustration. Another point which seems to be common to all artists is the substitution of automatics for revolvers and vice versa. Also, can Mr. Paul draw a man that does not resemble “Tarrano, the Conquerer?”
This last comment is a reference to an early space opera by Ray Cummings, which was serialised in Gernsback’s Science and Invention during 1925 and 1926.
W. Ivy Parks mulls over the notion of unexplored dimensions:
I propose that if it is possible to have so many as three or four of anything we can name; it should then be possible to have an indefinite number of the same. And since we know as many dimensions as three (or four) why should we not eventually extend that number far beyond our present experience? Now I expect to be roasted to a cinder for that, if this letter ever sees print, but no matter, I shall have “started something,” and also “extravagant fiction today—cold fact tomorrow” is our motto. Something along this “multi-dimensional” is to be found in H. G. Wells’ book Men Like Gods, which I believe would be welcomed by readers of Amazing Stories, as also would The Blind Spot, by Austin Hall and H. K. Flint.
Stuart James Byrne, as well as hailing H. G. Bishop’s “On the Martian Way” as the best story published in the magazine, bucks the critical trend towards the publication’s artwork: “I remember, once, two months ago, I was standing at a newsstand, looking at the Annual, and a man behind me happened to see the remarkable picture on the front of it; he immediately became interested, and after looking through another one on the stand, be reached in his pocket, and gave the newsman a half dollar and took the book.”
Nine-year-old Stark Y. Robinson describes how he discovered the magazine: “I was up at a friend’s house and we were talking about good stories when he suddenly pulled out the August issue of Amazing Stories and said; ‘You ought to read Amazing Stories, they’re keen.'”
This letter contrasts with another missive — published outside the letters section as a standalone article — from a 97-year-old reader named E. E. Twiggens. After voicing disagreement with critics who object to the magazine’s covers (“Your cover designs may not be artistic, but they have a kick to them, and that’s what I read the magazine for”) Twiggens goes into some anecdotes about his encounters with new technology during his younger days, and their bearing on his modern enjoyment of science fiction:
When I was a boy, long before the Civil War, I traveled 300 miles on horseback to see a “flying machine” that a mechanic was building at Troy, New York. He had been getting “funny writeups” in all the papers in the country for his crazy notion, and his delight was pathetic when I actually expressed confidence that some day men might fly. I helped him with the machine for some weeks, but we never were able to get it off the ground. It was finally wrecked in a gust of wind. The world was not yet ready for aviation. In those days the idea looked as crazy as a trip to the moon does now.
During the Civil War, inspired by some “fool story” by a wildly imaginative fiction writer, several of us in the Union Army wanted to drift over beleaguered Vicksburg in a “fire balloon,” as they were called in those days, for the purpose of drawing maps of the fortifications. Although we offered to stand all the expense ourselves, permission was not given. The Union generals feared that the attempt would set the army up for ridicule before the nation.
Having lived through a period of tremendous development of the sciences, I am impatient with those short-sighted individuals who object to a scientific story because it is a little ahead of present-day knowledge. These things will all come, in some form or other, and even I may live to see them. I should like to wander from star to star, drinking in the beauty and the awful solitude of the airless spaces.
Discussing the stories in the magazine, Twiggens dismisses Jules Verne as outmoded (“science has caught up with so much of what was only fantastic fiction in Verne’s time, that it is always a disappointment to read Verne’s stuff again”) but speaks warmly of Wells. He also praises Gernsback’s Baron Munchhausen tales: “I was surprised that you had not published anything before by Mr. Gcrnsback” he writes. “He is an able and finished author and you ought to contract with him to become a regular contributor before some other magazine grabs him.” This presumably tongue-in-cheek comment turned out to be rather prescient, as it was less than a year before Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories and had to launch the rival magazine Science Wonder Stories.
Also published in the issue as a standalone article is “An American Jules Verne”, a three-page illustrated piece about Luis Senarens. Writing for publisher Frank Tousey, Senarens penned a range of stories intended for young boys starring heroic inventors like Frank Reade Jr and Jack Wright. The article credits Senarens with dreaming up precursors to army tanks, powered ice sleds and more; it also incorrectly claims that Senarens had “died recently”, when he was still alive at the time and would not pass on until 1939.