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Amazing Stories Science Fiction in the Context of the Cold War

Amazing Stories was first published in April 1926 under Experimenter Publishing and was the first magazine to be solely dedicated to science fiction. Amazing stories is still in publication, with the most recent publication released in Summer 2020. The modern format of Amazing Stories appears to offer one volume each year, separated into 4 issues. However, during the period under study – 1965 to 1967 – the magazine was publishing on a bi-monthly schedule under Ultimate Publishing Company (Ashley 263, 325). In our archive, we have 11 issues from August 1965 to October 1967 to study.

Starting in this time period, Amazing Stories had come under new ownership and was primarily reprinting older stories with only a small amount of new content in each issue (Ashley 263-264). On the covers of the magazines in the archive, apart from large background images, the names of the authors in each issue were prominent, showing how the magazine marketed around already known authors. This lack of new stories could be considered a somewhat stagnant period for Amazing Stories where their position in the science fiction world was to recirculate popular stories to an existing audience.

Nonetheless, the cover art is very telling as to the focus of Amazing Stories content at this time as these images would be carefully selected to appeal to potential readers in the context of the late 1960’s. As mentioned earlier, the general format of each cover is a large image taking about two thirds of the page with the Amazing Stories title logo, names of featured authors, and the title of one or two included stories occupying the rest of the space. The subject of the images is quite telling. Several covers show large, futuristic spaceships, several show robots and some show more abstract images that include odd futuristic civilizations. Yet, the most prominent theme across the covers of each issue is war. Large explosions, fire, weaponry, or conflict is present in almost every piece of cover art. Seeing as the late 1960’s was the height of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union, there was general fear of war across the U.S population, war that could feature new, devastating technology. The depictions of spaceships likely harken to the ongoing space race. The depictions of robots are likely inspired by new computer technology – in the August 1965 issue, the “robot” depicted appears very similar to the room-sized computers that were being developed at the time. The odd futuristic civilizations could be a prediction as to outcomes of the conflicting ideas of U.S capitalism and U.S.S.R communism that underscore the motivations of the cold war.

The issues of Amazing Stories from 1965-1967 have a running theme of war-like imagery on the covers, which speaks to the anxiety surrounding the use of development in technology towards destruction. The imagery is a further depiction of the social fears and motivations surrounding the socio-political climate of the cold war.

Ashley, Michael. Transformations: The Story of Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970. Vol. II, Liverpool University Press, 2005.

The history of science fiction magazines, starting in the mid 1920’s, is a long and complicated road. In his book, Transformations, Michael Ashley recounts the decades of science fiction magazines and how they were affected by society and visa versa. In Vol. 2 of his series, Ashely focuses on the timeline of these magazines between the 50’s and the 70’s. During these decades, Ashley explains the trials and tribulations of the science fiction magazine genre. As new technological advances were released, such as radio and TV, people became less and less interested in science fiction literature. However, starting in the 60’s, many social factors, along with advances in science “were making science fiction more topical and relevant every day” (Ashley 161).  Major events like the Space Race and the Cold War controlled the public, instilling fear and inspiration in Americans. Science fiction magazines became an outlet for people’s imagination and thoughts about the possibilities of war and space. Ashley argues that these events caused the boom in popularity for science fiction magazines, making them more significant to the public and expanding their audiences. 

He continues, writing about the science fiction genre and its easily influenced content during that time period. Throughout the book, Ashely discusses these societal effects on the genre saying, “The Cold War and the nuclear threat would dominate fiction…” (Ashley 28). Science fiction magazines were often a product of the social climate of the time. People’s imagination and thoughts of the future were largely influenced by what was going on in the world. The recurring theme over the decades was the fear behind the Cold War and nuclear threats. Imagery of war, explosions, and space were predominant in these magazines, capturing their audiences through their own fears of the future. Most magazines in this era used war-like imagery to remain relevant while hooking their audience with imaginative stories.

Booker recounts dominating themes present in science fiction novels, such as nuclear destruction and alien invasion. He relates these prominent themes to the social climate of the era, saying that “…science fiction captured something very crucial about the first decade in which it was clear that science had given humanity the power to destroy itself virtually at the touch of a button” (Booker 2). Along with Cold War anxieties, Americans were consumed with news about the space race and technological advancements in nuclear weaponry. These fears were quickly displayed in the media and in society, especially through science fiction writing, images, and films. As Booker explains, science fiction films and novels best displayed the feeling of impending doom surrounding nuclear weapons and the Cold War. Though many people were excited by the developments in technology and exploration of space, the feeling of fear dominated science fiction literature throughout the years.

May, Andrew. “Future Shock”. Rockets and Ray Guns: The Sci-Fi Science of the Cold War. Springer Series, 2018, pp. 195-213

The central argument of May’s book is that science fiction has the ability to deliver a well-defined imagination of the future by taking into account the ongoing discoveries and inventions in the realm of science, analyzing them as trends and making researched predictions. In his book, May gives a spotlight to the chronology of events of the Cold War, the politically charged atmosphere of the era and how science fiction experts had predicted the events of this ‘war’ to a great extent. 

A prominent theme in the author’s arguments is about how close science fiction came to the reality of its time- not just to foresee the possible devastating use of science (the atomic bomb, for example), but also depicting social anxiety surrounding it. The author writes that, “Few people, either in the SF community or the wider population, doubted that it (The Cold War) would be a war fought with nuclear weapons. That was a devastating prospect—but one the world was forced to live with from the 1950s right through to the 1980s.” By this statement, May seeks to explain the apprehension and fear of an outbreak of a third World War. This particular fear had been a prominent feature of science fiction comics and short stories from 1940-1970s. He gives multiple lines of evidence of this heightened social paranoia, the most prominent being the launch of the new science fiction comic series ‘Atomic War’ in 1952. 

After deconstructing the influence that The Cold War had over the science fiction content of its time, May presents an alternate perspective of the latter influencing the former. The author writes: “…a more significant—and rather disturbing— question is the extent to which SF inspired some of the more extreme lines of Cold War research.” To support his claim, May gives examples of graphic covers of science fiction short stories which accurately pictured the events of The Cold War many years in advance, particularly the race towards a Moon landing. In order to portray the more visible influences, he gave examples of the use of telepathic remote viewing by the CIA and President Reagan’s Defence Initiative nicknamed ‘Star Wars’.  This path of reasoning falls in line with his primary argument of science fiction experts weaving their imagination with the advancements in science, to not only predict, but perhaps even influence the outcome of politics. (May 206)

Works Cited

Amazing Stories, August 1965- October 1967, Archives and Special Collections,Crosland Library, Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Ashley, Michael. Transformations: the Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970. Liverpool University Press, 2005. 

Booker, M. Keith. Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964. Greenwood Press, 2001.

May, Andrew., and SpringerLink. Rockets and Ray Guns: The Sci-Fi Science of the Cold War. Cham : Springer International Publishing : Imprint: Springer, 2018.

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