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Early Science Fiction Pulp Magazines: Resources in Special Collections: Home

Learn about the early- and mid-20th century science fiction pulp magazines in MSU Libraries' Special Collections.

What are "early" science fiction pulps?

The roots of science fiction go back at least as far as Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, published in 1818. Many historians look back even farther.

Science fiction pulps (at least, those in English) date back to 1926, when Hugo Gernsback started the magazine Amazing Stories.

Most science fiction pulps were published monthly or quarterly. They published short stories and novellas, not full-length novels. And, they were printed on very cheap paper -- hence the name. 

This resource guide covers our holdings of science fiction pulps from 1926 to 1957, including titles that started before 1957 and continued after. 

Why 1957? That's the year the Soviet Union successfully launched the Sputnik satellite, and the Space Age became a reality!

Term paper ideas

The stories, the advertisements, and the cover illustrations for the pulps all offer material for analysis.

In any genre, certain stories and authors tend to be reprinted frequently in anthologies, while others are forgotten. Who is forgotten, and why?

The advertisements provide clues about what demographic the publishers and advertisers think is reading the magazine. Is it aimed at young readers, teens, adults? Male or female readers? What other interests or concerns are readers assumed to have?

The cover illustrations are almost a genre of their own, and would be seen by many more people than read the actual stories - for example, customers at the newsstand who looked at the magazine but bought something else. Questions you can explore through the illustrations:

  • How are women depicted in these illustrations? Is there a difference between women who seem to be Earth humans, and those who seem to be from alien worlds? How are people of color portrayed?
  • How are men depicted? Is there a difference between those who seem to be Earth humans, and those who seem to be from alien worlds?
  • What different ways are non-humanoid aliens depicted? Are they friendly or threatening? Are they portrayed as being intelligent or not, and how can you tell? Is there a difference between the way groups of aliens are portrayed compared to the way groups of humans are portrayed?
  • Robots show up in many illustrations, as do humans with technology embedded in their bodies. Are they portrayed positively or negatively? What role in society do the illustrators imagine robots might have? What about the humans with embedded technology?
  • Real-world concerns are frequently reflected in science fiction stories, and cover illustrations may hint at them too. You may see references to World War II from 1941 to 1945, or references to the Cold War in the years following. Can you find references to other national or international events?
  • Comparing front cover and back cover illustrations. The front covers always illustrate a story in the magazine. During certain periods, the publishers of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures commissioned art for the back cover instead of selling it as ad space. These pieces weren't tied to specific stories, probably because their use could be postponed if the magazine did need ad revenue that month. See these issues for back cover art:
    • Fantastic Adventures: May, September, and November 1939, plus nearly all issues from August 1942 to October 1945
    • Amazing Stories: nearly all issues from August 1938 to July 1946, plus April-May 1953

More about science fiction illustrations

In the library catalog, search the subject heading science fiction -- illustrations. This link will retrieve books in the Main Library (books that can be checked out) and in Special Collections (books that must be used in the Special Collections reading room.)

A few good starting places:

2000 A.D. : Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps. Jacques Sadoul; translated by Eileen B. Hennessy. Chicago: H. Regnery, 1975.

Fantastic Science Fiction Art, 1926-1954. Lester del Ray, ed. New York: Ballantine, 1975.

Frank R. Paul: The Dean of Science Fiction Illustration. Jerry Weist. San Diego: IDW Publishing, 2012.

One Hundred Years of Science Fiction Illustration, 1840-1940. Anthony Frewin. London, Bloomsbury: 1974.

Resource guide author

Ruth Ann Jones

MSU Libraries, Special Collections

jonesr@msu.edu

Pulps in our collection

Dates represent our holdings at MSU. A magazine may have started before the earliest issue we've been able to acquire, or continued after the most recent issue we have, and we may not have every issue in between.

Use the purple GET IT button in the catalog record to request pulps to use in the Special Collections Reading Room.

There may be multiple entries for the same title, each covering a different date range. Usually, this means the magazine changed its publication schedule or its exact title.

Make sure to specify what dates you want to see -- for example, "All issues for the 1930s." If you want the entire run, ask for "All available issues." If you don't indicate what dates you want, we only retrieve the first "container" for that call number, which is usually a shelf box holding 4-6 issues.

Air Wonder Stories (1929-30)

Amazing Stories (1926-1958) 

Astonishing Stories (1940-43)

Astounding

Astounding Science Fiction, British edition (1948)

Avon

Captain Future (1940-44)

Cosmic Stories (1941-44)

Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine (1953-54)

Doc Savage (1933-46)

Dynamic Science Stories (1939)

Dynamic Science Fiction (1952-54)

Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-53)

Fantastic

Fantastic Adventures (1939-53)

Fantastic Novels

Fantastic Story

Fantastic Universe (1953-60)

Fantasy Fiction (1950)

Fantasy Stories (1950)

Future Fiction; see also Science Fiction Stories

Galaxy Science Fiction (1950-58)

If: Worlds of Science Fiction (1952-60)

Imagination (1955-58)

Imaginative Tales (1954-58)

Inside and Science Fiction Advertiser (1954-57)

Marvel

Marvel Stories (1940-41)

Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories (1931)

Orbit Science Fiction (1953-54)

Other Worlds Science Stories (1949-57)

Out of This World Adventures (1950)

Planet Stories (1939-54)

Rocket Stories (1953)

Satellite Science Fiction (1956-59)

Saturn (1957)

Science Fiction Adventures (1952-5?) Future Publications

Science Fiction Adventures (1956-57) Royal Publications

Science Fiction Digest (1954)

Science Fiction Quarterly (1941-43) Double Action Publications

Science Fiction Quarterly (1951-58) Columbia Publications

Science Fiction Stories; see also Future Fiction

Science Stories (1953-54)

Science Wonder Quarterly (1930)

Science Wonder Stories (1929-30)

Space Science Fiction (1952-53)

Space Science Fiction Magazine (1957)

Space Stories (1952-53

Spaceway (1953-70)

Star Science Fiction Stories (1953-59)

Startling Stories (1939-55)

Stirring Science Fiction Stories (1941)

Super-Science Fiction (1956-59)

Super Science Stories (1940-51)

Thrilling Wonder Stories (1936-54)

Tops in Science Fiction (1953)

Universe Science Fiction (1953-55)

Venture Science Fiction (1957-70)

Vortex Science Fiction (1953)

Weird Tales (1941-89)

Wonder Stories (1930-36)

Wonder Stories (1957-63)

Wonder Story Annual (1950-53)

Worlds Beyond (1950-51)

Science fiction pulp covers

Cover of Planet Stories, vol 1 no 9, shows a woman fighting off several alien creatures, including one resembling a bird and another with green scales.

Cover of Science Fiction, vol 3 no 5, showing a giant robot stomping its way through a crowd of fleeing humans.

Cover of Wonder Stories, vol 6 no 9, shows soldiers in World War I era uniforms fleeing giant robots.

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