The Thrill Book

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Cover of the 15 August 1919 issue; artwork by Sidney H. Riesenberg[1]

The Thrill Book was a short-lived pulp magazine published by Street & Smith in 1919. The Thrill Book is regarded as the first American pulp to specialise in fantasy and science fiction

stories.[2]

Publication history[edit]

Cover of the 15 July 1919 issue; artwork by Charles Durant[3]

In 1896, Argosy magazine began to print only fiction, and in December of that year it switched to using cheap wood-pulp paper. This is now regarded as having been the start of the pulp magazine era,[4] and for nearly twenty years thereafter, most pulps contained all kinds of fiction. In 1915 the influential magazine publisher Street & Smith began to issue more specialized titles, such as Detective Story Magazine and Western Story Magazine. Street & Smith's circulation manager, Henry Ralston, decided to launch a new magazine to publish "different" stories: "different" meant stories that were unusual or unclassifiable in some way, which in most cases meant that they included either fantasy or science fiction elements. In The Fiction Factory, Quentin Reynold's 1950s history of Street & Smith, Reynolds asserts that the magazine was the brainchild of Ormond G. Smith, one of the publishers, but pulp historian Will Murray regards this as unlikely to be the full story, given that Reynolds book was written forty years and was an "approved" history; Murray argues that Ralston was certainly involved. Walter Adolphe Roberts, the editor of Street & Smith's Ainslee's Magazine, told a friend of his, Harold Hersey, that Ralston was looking for an editor for a new magazine. Hersey had sold some writing to the pulps but had no editorial experience. He met with Ralston in early 1919 and was immediately hired on the basis of the interview. It is possible that Eugene A. Clancy, the editor of Street & Smith's The Popular Magazine, was originally intended to be the editor of The Thrill Book, but was unable to take on the additional work. Clancy assisted Hersey on some issues of The Thrill Book.[5]

Hersey began by making himself familiar with the work of writers already in the market who were capable of producing the kind of material Ralston wanted, and soon concluded that the new magazine would have to include some reprinted stories alongside the original material. The budget did not permit Hersey to pay rates that would attract top-quality writers, nor even to reprint the best-known stories of the kind he was looking for, and he was forced to use relatively unknown authors such as Perley Poore Sheehan and Robert W. Sneddon. Hersey distributed a "Notice to Writers" that described what he was looking for: "strange, bizarre, occult, mysterious tales ... mystic happenings, weird adventures, feats of leger-de-main, spiritualism, et cetera ... If you have an idea which you have considered too bizarre to write, too weird or strange, let us see it." This did not restrict the submissions to fantasy or science fiction, and as a result Hersey received (and printed) all kinds of fiction, including mysteries, adventures, and love stories.[5]

The first issue of The Thrill Book was dated 1 March 1915, and was published in a format similar to that of a dime novel.[6] The plan to publish twice a month indicated that Street & Smith were confident that the new magazine would be successful. The first issue included "Wolf of the Steppes", a werewolf story by Greye La Spina; this had been submitted to The Popular Magazine but forwarded by Clancy to The Thrill Book.[note 1] The story was the first by La Spina, whose real name was Fanny Greye Bragg; she would go on to publish several more stories in The Thrill Book and later became a regular contributor to Weird Tales.[5] Another first story was "The Thing That Wept", by Charles Fulton Oursler, who later went on to edit Liberty and to write novels under the name Anthony Abbot.[5][7][8] The 1 May issue included an early short story by Seabury Quinn, "The Stone Image'; the story features a character named Dr. Trowbridge, who would later appear regularly in Quinn's popular "Jules de Grandin" series of occult detective stories, though Quinn had not yet invented de Grandin himself. Tod Robbins, a well-regarded writer of fantasy, supplied several short pieces, all "shallow mood sketches" of much substance, in the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley.[6] Other contributors included Sophie Louise Wenzel, who later published stories in Weird Tales under the name Sophie Wenzel Ellis, and some writers now long-forgotten, such as George C. Jenks and John R. Coryell, who had written dime novels.[5]

Cover of the 1 August 1919 issue; artwork by Sidney H. Riesenberg

With the ninth issue, dated 1 July 1919, Hersey was replaced by Ronald Oliphant.[9] The reason he was replaced is not clear, though several explanations have been suggested. Murray Leinster claimed that Hersey was fired for publishing too much of his own fiction and poetry in the magazine; some of the poetry may have actually been written by Hersey's mother rather than by Hersey himself.[5] Pulp historian Richard Bleiler regards this theory as unlikely, since although up to eighteen of the twenty-five short poems in the magazine may have been by Hersey, only two stories in the first eight issues are definitely by him, and there are only four other stories which may have been Hersey's work, published under a pseudonym. Bleiler suggests that at most Street & Smith would have reprimanded Hersey, and that the real reason for his dismissal is more likely to be that Street & Smith were dissatisfied with The Thrill Book under his editorship. Bleiler also suggests that Hersey may have started the rumor that he was let go for buying too much of his own material, as this would have been less harmful to his reputation than a dismissal for failure. [9] Hersey himself claimed that he was not fired, but quit: "I wasn't fired, but I should have been ... I saw the 'handwriting on the wall' ahead of time. I asked to be relieved of my duties ... and my request was promptly accepted!" Whatever the reason, poor sales were almost certainly a part of the decision.[5]

At the same time that Oliphant was appointed editor, the format of the magazine was changed to a standard pulp layout. At 160 pages, this offered readers much better value for money than the 48-page dime novel format of the first eight issues, even with a price increase from 10 to 15 cents. The format change may also have been part of an attempt to copy the format of Adventure, the most successful pulp magazine of the day; in addition to the layout change, the contents page was changed to resemble that of Adventure, and a question and answer call, "Cross-Trails", was begun, in imitation of a similar feature in Adventure.[10]

Much of the material published under Oliphant's editorship would have been bought by Hersey, making it hard to judge Oliphant's impact.[5] However, it is clear that Oliphant bought more science fiction and fantasy stories than Hersey had done:[6] in particular, Hersey had published almost no stories that were straightforward science fiction, though two he did purchase, Murray Leinster's "A Thousand Degrees Below Zero" and "The Silver Menace", appeared in the first few issues of Oliphant's editorship.[5] The most famous science fiction to appear in The Thrill Book was Francis Stevens' novel The Heads of Cerberus, which was one of the earliest fictional depictions of alternate timelines.[5][6] In addition to increasing the science fiction content, Oliphant also brought in authors who were better known than those published under Hersey's editorship, including H. Bedford-Jones and John R. Coryell.[2] It seems likely that the fiction budget increased when Oliphant took over control, and he used this to pay higher word-rates to the better writers. For example, Bedford-Jones received $800 for "The Opium Ship", which was a rate of between 2.5 and 3 cents per word, whereas Francis Stevens was paid only $400, or less than a cent per word, for the much longer novel The Heads of Cerberus.[10]

Due to poor sales, Street & Smith cancelled the magazine; the October 15th issue was the final one.[11]

Rarity[edit]

Because The Thrill Book was only sold in selected parts of the US, copies of the magazine are very scarce and are highly prized by pulp magazine collectors.[11] For years, The Heads of Cerebus was the only story from the magazine to be reprinted. In 2005, Wildside Press reprinted the September 1 issue of The Thrill Book as part of their "Pulp Classics" series.[12]

Bibliographic details[edit]

The Thrill Book was published by Street & Smith. Initially the magazine was saddle-stapled, 10 34 in by 8 in, 48 pages long, and priced at 10 cents. This changed with the ninth issue, dated 1 July 1919, to pulp format, with 160 pages, priced at 15 cents. The editor was Harold Hersey from 1 March 1919 to June 15 1919, and Ronald Oliphant thereafter.[6] There were eight issues to the first volume, six in the second, and two in the third and final volume.[6][13]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The story had been purchased by Street & Smith on 28 June 1918, so it appears that The Thrill Book had been planned for some time before it finally appeared.[5]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Bleiler (1991), p. 252.
  2. ^ a b Richard Bleiler, "Thrill Book", in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. Orbit, 1999, ISBN 1-85723-897-4 (p. 1222)
  3. ^ Bleiler (1991), p. 250.
  4. ^ Nicholls, Peter; Ashley, Mike (18 July 2012). "Pulp". SF Encyclopedia. Gollancz. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Murray (2011), p. 11−28.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Ashley (1985), pp. 661−664.
  7. ^ Blottner (2011), p. 293.
  8. ^ Bleiler (1991), p. 34.
  9. ^ a b Bleiler (1991), pp. 10−13.
  10. ^ a b Bleiler (1991), pp. 13−15.
  11. ^ a b Will Murray, "The Thrill Book Story", in Pulp Vault Magazine, No. 14. Black Dog Books, 2011, ISBN 1-884449-07-7 (pp. 11-28).
  12. ^ Pulp Classics: The Thrill Book. Wildside Press, LLC, 2005. ISBN 1-59224-198-0 .
  13. ^ Bleiler (1991), pp. 49−50.

References[edit]

  • Ashley, Mike (1985a). "The Thrill Book". In Tymn, Marshall B.; Ashley, Mike. Science Fiction, Fantasy and Weird Fiction Magazines. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 661–664. ISBN 0-313-21221-X. 
  • Bleiler, Richard (1991). The Annotated Index to The Thrill Book. Mercer Island WA: Starmont House, Inc. ISBN 1-55742-205-2. ISSN 0738-0127. 
  • Blottner, Gene (2011). Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years. Jefferson NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3353-7. 
  • Murray, Will (2011). "The Thrill Book Story". Pulp Vault (Barrington Hills IL: Tattered Pages Press) (14).