Awards, and Betraying SF’s Inner Reader

“This is YOUR magazine. Only by knowing what kind of stories you like can we continue to please you. Fill out this coupon or copy it on a sheet of paper and mail it to AMAZING STORIES, 53 Park Place, New York City.”

— Readers’ Vote of Preference ballot, Amazing Stories, Vol. 1 No. 7, October 1926

From the letter column “Discussions,” Amazing Stories, Vol. 1 No. 10, January 1927:

“Some time ago I read one of your issues and was greatly surprised to find such reading matter as is published in your magazine. Mr. Jules Verne’s story was one of the best. He is a very promising writer. You also have several other good stories in the October issue.”

— E. H., Indianapolis, Ind.
[Verne had been dead for many years, so the editor printed this as inadvertently funny but suppressed the reader name.]

“”I have always been an avid reader of pseudo-scientific stories, or, as you term them, scientifiction — a very good descriptive word, by the way, — and I have waited for years for something like this to appear.

“One gets loaded up on the western tales, and silly twaddle, as typified by the “sex” magazines; and a magazine such as AMAZING STORIES, with the unique, the bizarre — is a relief.

“I have, however, a fault to find with AMAZING STORIES. I can’t understand why you reprint any of the Verne stories. I have, for one, never liked them. They are dry, and to my mind, poorly written.

“The “Hackensaw” stories were ordinary, as were the “Fosdick” tales. I didn’t care for them, personally, nor for Poe’s stories.

“”The Moon Hoax” was — rotten! It does not belong in your magazine, if you intend to live up to “Scientifiction.”

“Stories by England, Wells, Serviss, by writers who can, and do, combine scientific facts and well-written fiction into an interesting and gripping tale, are what I want, and it is, I understand, your aim to give us that. If you do this, there is no reason why circulation will not increase to warrant the issue twice a month….”

— Harry V. Spurling, Elgin, Ill.

“….many of your authors are very amateurish in the use of words, and short on facts, as in the case of Mr. Windsor in “Station X.” … If my criticism seems harsh, forgive it on the grounds that I am interested in the welfare of AMAZING STORIES, and hope to see them truly great, and not in the class of cheap fiction.”

— Prof. Jack E. Edwards, San Francisco, Calif.

The whole reason sf has awards is that the sf magazines used to encourage reader comment and criticism on their choice of stories. The simple voting coupon quickly was overtaken by letter columns full of “letters of comment” including addresses, which then became fandom’s first method of finding friends who shared an interest in “scientifiction.” Many magazines (and later, fanzines) pooled the votes for the year and announced which stories were the year’s or the issue’s reader favorites. All the sf awards grew out of this.

The criteria for these awards were all about reader interest and enjoyment, not about the names on the masthead, or their sex and ethnicity.

From the letter column “Discussions,” Amazing Stories, Vol. 8, No. 12, April 1934:

“I have just finished reading “The Second Deluge” published in your last Quarterly issue of your superb magazine, and I can’t refrain myself from instantly writing to you, before I read the whole magazine.

“This story, to my liking, is the best I ever read of fiction in either English or Spanish languages. I would like to get acquainted with more of Prof. Garrett P. Serviss’ productions…

“The Second Deluge” is worth the money I paid for it fifty times over, and the entertainment I had from its reading is unequaled, although I had to stay up late at nights, unwilling to discontinue….”

— Rafael Villegas, P. O. Box 1419, San Jose, Costa Rica, C. A.

“I must tell you that I find Discussions so very interesting that it is the first thing I turn to when reading the magazine. It is almost like a story, showing us, who can read between the lines, the psychology of the people who write therein.

“…No matter how absorbing planetary stories may be, they do get boring when there are too many. Thus, it is not asking too much to give us psychology readers “a break” and print more stories like the “Pellucid Horror,” “Master of Dreams,” and the “Lost Language.”

— Miss Rea Ash, 1001 East 167th Street, New York City, N. Y.

“….As for the stories, well I’m not throwing any bricks because almost all of the stories you have published so far, have been in my estimation excellent, each in its own way. Although the kinds which I prefer above all are the ones dealing with time-space traveling, the past or future and about the different planets of the universe.

“And now, Mr. Editor, I’d like a word or two with some of our readers. I wish many of your who throw bricks so lavishly at some poor author would stop to think that even though he can’t please everybody, after all he is only human, and a flower or two and some words of encouragement would do far more good than a ton of bricks….”

— Miss E. M. C. Poppe, Box 727, W. Brownsville, Pa.

1 Comment

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One response to “Awards, and Betraying SF’s Inner Reader

  1. I’ve been reading scattered issues of the early Amazing Stories, and I saw that letter by “E.H.” of Indianapolis calling the famous and long dead Mr. Verne a “promising writer.” I suspect satire on the part of the reader, as the contents page of the magazine ran a picture of Verne’s tombstone every issue. There had been complaints in the letters column about Gernsback’s use of reprinted old stories that were in every public library and that everyone had already read, and this may have been a more subtle poke than usual.

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