Fantastic Universe was a U.S. science fiction magazine which began publishing in the 1950s. It ran for 69 issues, from June 1953 to March 1960, under two different publishers. It was part of the explosion of science fiction magazine publishing in the 1950s in the United States, and was moderately successful, outlasting almost all of its competitors. The main editors were Leo Margulies (1954–1956) and Hans Stefan Santesson (1956–1960); under Santesson's tenure the quality declined somewhat, and the magazine became known for printing much UFO-related material. A collection of stories from the magazine, edited by Santesson, appeared in 1960 from Prentice-Hall, titled The Fantastic Universe Omnibus.
November 1954 issue; cover by Alex Schomburg
|Editor||Hans Stefan Santesson|
|Categories||Science fiction magazine|
|Publisher||Leo Margulies, H.L. Herbert|
|First issue||June–July 1953|
Volume 12 No 5
|Company||King-Size Publications, Great American Publications|
The early 1950s saw dramatic changes in the world of U.S. science fiction publishing. At the start of 1949, all but one of the major magazines in the field were in pulp format; by the end of 1955, all had either ceased publication or switched to digest format. This change was largely the work of the distributors, such as American News Company, who refused to carry the pulp magazines since they were no longer profitable; the loss of profitability was in turn associated with the rise in mass-market science fiction publishing, with paperback publishers such as Ace Books and Ballantine Books becoming established. Along with the increase in science fiction in book form came a flood of new U.S. magazines: from a low of eight active magazines in 1946, the field expanded to twenty in 1950, and a further twenty-two had commenced publication by 1954.
Fantastic Universe published its first issue in the midst of this publishing boom. The issue, published in digest format, was dated June–July 1953, and was priced at 50 cents. This was higher than any of its competition, but it also had the highest page count in the field at the time, with 196 pages. The initial editorial team was Leo Margulies as publisher, and Sam Merwin as editor; this was a combination familiar to science fiction fans from their years together at Thrilling Wonder Stories, which Merwin edited from 1945 to 1951. The publisher, King-Size Publications, also produced The Saint Detective Magazine, which was popular, so Fantastic Universe enjoyed good distribution from the start—a key factor in a magazine's success. The first issue included stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury. According to Donald Tuck, the author of an early SF encyclopaedia, the magazine kept a fairly high quality through Merwin's departure after a year, and through the subsequent brief period of caretaker editorship by Beatrice Jones. Margulies took over the editor's post with the May 1954 issue.
In October 1955, Hans Stefan Santesson, an American writer, editor, and reviewer, began contributing "Universe in Books", the regular book review column. A year later, with the September 1956 issue, Santesson took over from Margulies as editor. One immediate change was an increase in the number of articles about UFOs. Santesson ran several articles by Ivan T. Sanderson, among others, including articles on auras and on the abominable snowman. However, he also ran polemical articles opposed to the UFO mania, including strongly worded pieces by Lester del Rey and C.M. Kornbluth. Del Rey, at least, felt that Santesson was not a believer in UFOs: "So far as I could determine, Santessen [sic] was skeptical about such things, but felt that all sides deserved a hearing and also that the controversies were good for circulation."
The quality of the fiction is thought by Donald Tuck to have generally fallen during Santesson's period at the helm, though this was not entirely his fault—there were a great many other magazines competing for stories by the top writers. Santesson himself, despite a modicum of controversy over his heavy use of UFO and related material, was kind and helpful to writers, and was well liked as a result.
In late 1959 the magazine was sold to Great American Publications, and it was significantly redesigned. The size was increased to that of a glossy magazine, although the magazine was still bound rather than saddle-stapled. Under King-Size Publications, the magazine had had no artwork except small "filler" illustrations; now interior illustrations complementing the stories were introduced, and photographs and diagrams accompanied some of the articles. A fan column, by Belle C. Dietz, began, and Sam Moskowitz wrote two detailed historical articles about proto-sf. However, the March 1960 issue was the last one. Fredric Brown's "The Mind Thing" had begun serialization in that issue; it was eventually published in book form later that year.
Circulation figures for Fantastic Universe are unknown, since at that time circulation figures were not required to be published annually, as they were later. After the magazine folded, the publisher entertained plans to publish material bought for the magazine as a one-shot issue to be titled "Summer SF"; however, the issue never appeared. Santesson did later edit an anthology drawn from the magazine, titled The Fantastic Universe Omnibus.
Fantastic Universe published several significant stories during its seven-year history. These included stories from Tales of Conan, a collection of four Robert E. Howard stories rewritten as Conan stories by L. Sprague de Camp. Three of the stories were published in Fantastic Universe, two before the book, and one after:
Other notable and widely reprinted stories included:
One offbeat feature of the magazine was the habit of including very short (less than a page) vignettes of fiction, usually but not always relating to the cover, without credit. These were most probably the work of the editor in many cases, though Frank Belknap Long wrote several of these for the inside front cover of the magazine. There was never a letter column, though in the very last issue there was a note that one was planned for future issues. The book review column, always titled "Universe in Books", appeared fairly regularly but was liable to be dropped if there was no room for it. It was originally signed "The Editor", and was presumably written by Sam Merwin; Robert Frazier took the column on when Merwin left at the end of 1953. Santesson took over in October 1955 and wrote every column that appeared from that point on. After the first few issues, which contained editorial essays from both editor and publisher, the editorials disappeared, though Santesson did sometimes fill a blank space with a few editorial comments.
Two articles by Moskowitz in the last few months of the magazine, "Two Thousand Years of Space Travel", and "To Mars and Venus in the Gay Nineties", were unusually early and well-researched articles on proto-science fiction. A couple of other non-fiction articles appeared late on, but with the exception of UFO-related material, and occasional filler paragraphs reporting science news, Fantastic Universe did not generally run science-related articles.
The magazine began as a fat 196-page digest, priced at 50 cents, but this experiment did not last. The fourth issue, January 1954, cut the price to 35 cents, and it stayed at that price for the rest of its life. The page count also dropped, to 164 pages with the fourth issue, then to 132 pages with the eighth issue, September 1954. The page count stayed at 132 through the rest of the digest period, and for the first five issues of the "glossy" period under the new publisher. The very last issue cut the page count to 100 pages.
The magazine was initially bimonthly. The first three issues were named with two months: "June–July 1953", and so on. At the end of 1953 the naming was changed to the odd numbered months; and then after January, March, May, and July, the magazine went monthly, starting with the September 1954 issue. This lasted without a break until the November 1958 issue. Another bimonthly schedule, starting with January 1959, followed; the last King-Size Publications issue was September 1959, and it was followed by an October 1959 issue from Great American. The remaining five issues followed a regular monthly schedule; the last issue was March 1960. The volume numbering scheme was fairly regular; the first five volumes had six numbers each. Volume 6 had only five numbers, in order to get the new volume 7 to start with the new year, in 1957. This lasted until volume 10 was cut short at five numbers when the magazine returned to a bimonthly schedule at the end of 1958. Volume 11 had six numbers; volume 12 had five.
The editors were:
Cover art was initially mostly by Alex Schomburg. Other artists, including Ed Emshwiller, Kelly Freas, and Mel Hunter, contributed covers; and towards the end there was a long sequence of covers by Virgil Finlay. Finlay also contributed much of the interior art in the last six issues; generally Great American did not credit the artists, but along with Finlay, Emshwiller and John Giunta were featured.
A Handful of Darkness is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories by American writer Philip K. Dick. It was first published by Rich Cowan in 1955 and was Dick's first hardcover book.The stories originally appeared in the magazines Galaxy Science Fiction, Astounding Stories, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fantastic Universe, If, Amazing Stories, Imagination, Fantastic Story Magazine, Science Fiction Stories, Beyond Fantasy Fiction and Fantasy Fiction.A Matter of Traces
"A Matter of Traces" is a science fiction short story by American writer Frank Herbert, first appeared in Fantastic Universe magazine in November 1958 and later in Herbert’s 1985 short story collection Eye. It is the first story to mention Herbert's ConSentiency universe, one of his three elaborate fictional universes spanning multiple volumes (the others being the Dune universe and the Destination: Void universe developed with co-author Bill Ransom).Beyond the Door (short story)
"Beyond the Door" is a low fantasy short story by American writer Philip K. Dick, first published in the January 1954 issue of Fantastic Universe. The plot follows a cuckoo clock, which may or may not be intelligent, and a cuckolded husband.First Law
"First Law" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov, first published in the October 1956 issue of Fantastic Universe magazine and later collected in The Rest of the Robots (1964) and The Complete Robot (1982). The title of the story is a reference to the first of the Three Laws of Robotics.Hawks over Shem
"Hawks over Shem" is a fantasy novelette by American writer L. Sprague de Camp, featuring Conan the Barbarian and published in 1955. It's based on the story "Hawks over Egypt" by Robert E. Howard and is usually credited to both authors.Hell-Fire (story)
"Hell-Fire" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov, originally published in the May 1956 issue of Fantastic Universe and reprinted in the 1957 collection Earth Is Room Enough. It is one of a number of stories, such as "Darwinian Pool Room" and "Silly Asses", in which Asimov worries about the nuclear arms race of the 1950s.Ka the Appalling
"Ka the Appalling" is a fantasy story by American writer L. Sprague de Camp, part of his Pusadian series. It was first published in the magazine Fantastic Universe for August, 1958, and first appeared in book form in the anthology The Young Magicians, edited by Lin Carter (Ballantine Books, 1969). It was first brought together with other works of de Camp in his collection The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales (Pyramid Books, 1970). It has also been translated into French, German, and Italian.Minority Report (2002 collection)
Minority Report is a collection of science fiction stories by American writer Philip K. Dick. It was first published by Gollancz in 2002. Most of the stories had originally appeared in the magazines Fantastic Universe, Astounding, Space Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, Worlds of Tomorrow, and Fantasy and Science Fiction.Planet for Transients
"Planet for Transients" is a 1953 science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick. The story was originally published in the October–November 1953 issue of Fantastic Universe. The story also appears in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. 2) (formerly entitled Second Variety). The author's original title for the story was "The Itinerants".
Elements of this story appear in the novel Deus Irae, written by Dick and Roger Zelazny.Portals of Tomorrow
Portals of Tomorrow is an anthology of science fiction stories edited by American writer August Derleth, intended as the first in a series of "year's best" volumes. It was first published by Rinehart & Company in 1954. The stories had originally appeared in the magazines Fantasy and Science Fiction, Future, Esquire, Fantastic Universe, Galaxy Science Fiction, Blue Book, Startling Stories, Orbit, Astounding Stories and Beyond Fantasy Fiction.Rain, Rain, Go Away (short story)
"Rain, Rain, Go Away" is a short story by Isaac Asimov. A fantasy rather than a science fiction story, it was based on an idea by Bob Mills, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but rejected by him. It was instead published in the September 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe and reprinted in the 1975 collection Buy Jupiter and Other Stories.Soldier from Tomorrow
"Soldier From Tomorrow" (later reprinted under the title "Soldier") is a 1957 science fiction short story by Harlan Ellison, originally published in Fantastic Universe in October 1957. Its protagonist is Qarlo Clobregnny, a soldier from thousands of years in the future, who has been conditioned from birth by the State (the "Tri-Continenters") solely to fight and kill the enemy (the "Ruskie-Chinks"). After time traveling to the present, Qarlo is "civilized" by Lyle Sims, a government agent, and Soames, a philologist, and eventually goes on a lecture tour to warn of the coming armageddon. Ellison loosely adapted the story for his script for the 1964 The Outer Limits episode "Soldier".
Ellison was later to bring suit against The Terminator production company Hemdale and distributor Orion Pictures for plagiarism of his works. The parties settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount, and an acknowledgement of Ellison's works in the credits of The Terminator.Tales of Conan
Tales of Conan is a 1955 collection of four fantasy short stories by American writers Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, featuring Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The tales as originally written by Howard were adventure yarns mostly set in the Middle Ages; they were rewritten as Conan stories by de Camp, who also added the fantastic element. Three of the stories also appeared in the fantasy magazine Fantastic Universe, two of them before publication of the collection and the other one after. The book has also been translated into Japanese. The collection never saw publication in paperback; instead, its component stories were split up and distributed among other "Conan" collections. "The Flame Knife" was later also published as an independent paperback.
Chronologically, the four short stories collected as Tales of Conan represent an add-on to Gnome's Conan series, coming between stories published in the remaining volumes. The first "tale" would fall within the collection The Coming of Conan, the second between that volume and the collection Conan the Barbarian, the third within Conan the Barbarian, and the fourth between that volume and the collection The Sword of Conan.The Last Trump
"The Last Trump" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the June 1955 issue of Fantastic Universe and reprinted in the 1957 collection Earth Is Room Enough. Although humorous, it deals inter alia with a serious subject, calendar reform.The Minority Report
"The Minority Report" is a 1956 science fiction short story by American writer Philip K. Dick, first published in Fantastic Universe. In a future society, three mutants foresee all crime before it occurs. Plugged into a great machine, these "precogs" allow the Precrime Division to arrest suspects prior to any infliction of public harm. When the head of Precrime, John A. Anderton, is accused of murdering Leopold Kaplan, a man whom he has never met, Anderton is convinced a great conspiracy is afoot. His new assistant, Ed Witwer, must have corrupted the system in an attempt to oust him from the position. On the run and suspicious of even his wife, Anderton searches for the minority report to clear his name, as only two out of the three precogs predicted his guilt. Through a series of betrayals and changing alliances, Anderton discovers that the three predictions are rather a progression of alternate realities. To maintain Precrime's authority, Anderton consciously decides to kill Kaplan, thereby affirming the validity of the second majority report. Anderton is thus exiled with his wife to life on a frontier colony and replaced by Witwer as head of Precrime. The story ends with Anderton's advice to his successor: "Better keep your eyes open. It might happen to you at any time."
The story reflects many of Philip K. Dick's personal Cold War anxieties, particularly questioning the relationship between authoritarianism and individual autonomy. Like many stories dealing with knowledge of future events, "The Minority Report" questions the existence of free will.
In 2002, the story was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell and Max von Sydow. Spielberg's film was followed by a series of the same name, which debuted on the FOX Network on September 21, 2015.The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales
The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales is a collection of short stories by American science fiction and fantasy author L. Sprague de Camp, first published in paperback by Pyramid Books in November 1970. An E-book edition was published by Gollancz's SF Gateway imprint on September 29, 2011 as part of a general release of de Camp's works in electronic form. The pieces were originally published between 1939 and 1958 in the magazines Thrilling Wonder Stories, Unknown, and Fantastic Universe. The collection has also been translated into French and German.The book contains short fantasies by the author, most of them with contemporary settings, although the final piece is one of his "Pusadian" tales set in an antediluvian world patterned after Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age.The Road of the Eagles
The Road of the Eagles (a.k.a. Conan, Man of Destiny) is a 1955 Conan the Barbarian novelette by L. Sprague de Camp based on a story by Robert E. Howard, by the same name. It is usually credited to Howard and de Camp.The Sensitive Man
"The Sensitive Man" is a science fiction novella by American writer Poul Anderson, first published in the January 1954 issue of Fantastic Universe and reprinted in the 1981 collection The Psychotechnic League. The story is a component of the Psychotechnic League future history, and takes place in the year 2009, between "Un-Man" and "The Big Rain".We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (collection)
We Can Remember It for You Wholesale is a collection of science fiction stories by American writer Philip K. Dick. It was first published by Citadel Twilight in 1990 and reprints Volume II of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick replacing the story "Second Variety" with "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Many of the stories had originally appeared in the magazines Fantasy Fiction, Fantastic Universe, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Imagination, If, Amazing Stories, Science Fiction Quarterly, Startling Stories, Cosmos, Orbit, Astounding, and Planet Stories.