For we are regarded over here as a strange species, we science fiction fans. In fact, science fiction itself is looked upon as such queer stuff that it cannot appear in print, except on rare occasions. Thus it comes about that English science fiction writers, like J. M. Walsh and John Russell Fearn, cannot find a market for mss. in England, and have to send them to America.
For several years now I have been doing my utmost to persuade British magazine publishers that there is a demand for science fiction in England; but they still persist in thinking that the demand is not sufficient to ensure the success of an experiment such as Gernsback made in America in 1926. Those of them, that is, who can comprehend what science fiction is.
I do not say that science fiction is completely unknown in England. For now and again science stories are published in book form. But these appearances are so rare that such books are regarded by their reviewers as something absolutely out-of-the-ordinary, which can only be compared with the stories of Wells and Verne. As if they were the only people who have ever written science fiction!
But when a science story appears in a magazine, it is, indeed, an important event. Nine times out of ten, it appears in a publication that appeals only to boys. For if editors have any use for science fiction at all; it is only as "blood-and-thunder." They completely ignore the fact that there are thousands of adult readers-some of them even with whiskers-who are just as interested in science fiction, provided it is fit for their consumption.
The first science story I ever read was Burroughs' "At the Earth's Core" which ran as a serial in a boy's paper when I was a child. Another early specimen I remember was George Goodchild's "Message from Space," described as "a thrilling story of flying adventures, telling how Mars saved the Earth," which was serialised in the Children's Newspaper in 1921. This is one of the most treasured exhibits in my science fiction museum.
Another is an ancient novelette, with a picture of a tight-laced lady and a bewhiskered gentleman gazing thru the window of a space-ship, on the cover. The title is "A Honeymoon in Space" the author, George Griffith. This serves to show that science fiction was published way back in the old days, apart from the stories of Wells.
But it took Amazing Stories to convert me to science fiction, when I discovered it in 1927. Soon afterwards I made it in life to persuade publishers to pay more attention to its development, and to exploit its possibilities. Some job, believe me! For we British are slow to adopt new ideas (altho science fiction is at least 100 years old).
I had hopes of forming a national society with this object in view, but beyond the establishment of a Science Literary Circle in 1930, which lasted less than a year, I did not get far with the project. There were a number of interesting developments, however, which, altho we were not responsible, gave us a feeling of encouragement.
For instance, in 1931, Pearson's Magazine (which originally published Wells' "War of the Worlds") ran a serial on the giant insect theme-title "Winged Terror," by G. R. Malloch a British magazine writer. Then, in the Writer, a monthly devoted to our would-be authors, appeared an article suggesting that a 'Science story Boom' was in the offing. This mentioned Amazing Stories and its contemporaries, and recommended budding authors to try their hand at science fiction and send it to America.
At the same time, Chums, a prominent boy's magazine, reprinted two stories that had appeared two years before in Air Wonder Stories. They were the work of Jack Williamson and Ed Earl Repp, American authors. On the strength of this, I wrote an article in the Writer, urging British authors to send their science fiction to English editors.
But I'm afraid it didn't help much. If the authors responded, the editors didn't, except with rejection slips.
It was about this time, too, that J. M. Walsh, who was already well known as a mystery writer, turned his attention to science fiction, and published his "Vandals of the Void" in book form. It is strange to think that he and John Russell Fearn, who are so familiar to American fans, are unknown over here to the general public, so far as their science fiction is concerned. But it is not their fault. It is because editors will regard their work as too original to be palatable.
But both of them are optimistic enough to believe, like myself, that one day-however distant that may be-a science fiction magazine will be published in England. At least there are encouraging signs that editors are becoming science fiction conscious. Of these, and of developments since 1931, I hope to tell in a future article.