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Early Pioneers of Women in Speculative Fiction Nominated For Retro Hugo Awards

by Maria DePaul

To recognize the breadth and depth of women’s speculative fiction, the first step is to rediscover the past. Thus, a movement is afoot to rediscover some of the early forays by women into the world of genre magazine publishing.

Recognizing the lasting influence of female pioneers into the science fiction magazine world, the Hugo Awards has nominated two of the creators of Weird Tales magazine for the 1943 Retro Hugo Awards: editor Dorothy McIlwraith and illustrator Margaret Brundage. For the complete list of nominees, go here.

Named after Hugo Gernsback, founder of Amazing Stories magazine, the awards recognize excellence in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Voting for final awards opened in April, and winners will be announced at the World Science Fiction Convention (WSFC) in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. Visit here for more information on the voting process.

Weird Tales magazine promoted the early work of several innovators in science fiction and fantasy, such as publishing H.P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulu” in 1928 and Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” stories. Editor Farnsworth Wright originally hired Brundage for another publication, Oriental Stories, which was later renamed The Magic Carpet. Wright subsequently commissioned Brundage to produce covers for Weird Tales magazine, along with other illustrators. For more on the connection between the two publications, see this.

Wright selected scenes from featured stories for cover illustrations. Mainly using pastels, Brundage created more than 60 covers for the magazine from 1932 until 1945. Her images pushed the boundaries of subject matter for the magazine and risked censorship due to their depictions of female nudity and bondage. The magazine published her work under her initial “M” until in 1934 when Wright revealed that the illustrator was a woman. Brundage’s work has developed a loyal fan base. For an in depth look at Brundage’s life and her illustrations, see Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock, “The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art” (Vanguard / Shasta-Phoenix, 2013) ISBN 1-93433-151-1.

When Wright resigned as editor of Weird Tales in 1940, McIlwraith took the helm. Dorothy McIlwraith had previously edited Short Stories magazine from 1936 to 1938. The McIlwraith era continued to feature work by innovators such as Ray Bradbury. She had edited the publication until it closed in 1954. Since then, several attempts have briefly revived the publication, but its website activity ends with the aptly titled “Undead Issue” at weirdtales.com.

Another woman linked to that legendary magazine may not have earned a nomination, but she deserves recognition as an innovator in the field. She had an uncanny ability to recognize and promote talented writers in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Sonia Greene is known mainly for having discovered and briefly married H.P. Lovecraft, but in fact was an established writer and editor in her own right. Before her short story coauthored by Lovecraft appeared in Weird Tales, Greene produced fanzines and pulp publications of genre fiction as early as the 1910s and 20s. She worked to establish networks for their promotion through regional conventions, meeting the legendarily reclusive Lovecraft at a convention in Boston in 1921. She was president of the United Amateur Press Association. For a more extensive history of the group, see this link.

Greene wrote the short story “Four O’Clock” in 1922, which can be read free online at many sites, including this one from wikisource:  https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Four_O%27Clock. However, the story was not published until 27 years later as part of an anthology of her ex-husband’s work in Something About Cats and Other Pieces.

The book also includes a short story Greene wrote with Lovecraft, “The Invisible Monster,” which was originally published in the November 1923 issue of Weird Tales. Also known as “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” the story can be read, along with a variety of works connected to all things Lovecraft, here.

No review of the pulp science fiction era would be complete without recognition of Gernsback’s juggernaut Experimenter Publishing, which featured Amazing Stories among its many publications. In addition to publishing reprints of classics by such legends as Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne, Amazing Stories featured early work from many notable genre authors of the twentieth century, including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Masterson. Go here for more information about the publication’s history and future ambitions.

Cele Goldsmith Lalli, editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic until 1965, promoted such female authors as Ursula Le Guin and Sonya Dorman. She received a special award for her work on Amazing Stories and Fantastic from the World Science Fiction Convention in 1962. Here’s a complete list of the 1962 awards.

From the early steps women took into the world of genre publishing in the twentieth century, the field has exploded in multiple directions. The print-based beginnings of science fiction and fantasy were viewed as a niche market. Thus, publishers frequently took a narrow, almost myopic, focus on the straight male point of view in its editing, marketing, and publishing. Women in editing positions were notable, not only because they were talented and willing to take risks on new authors, but because they were rare.

Now, thanks in great part to the growth of the internet and online publishing, the field has widened into a broad spectrum encompassing multiple perspectives. Readers, listeners, and viewers find science fiction and fantasy venues opening new paths for people who had previously been underrepresented. Online genre publishing not only supports print publications, but now also features voices from every nationality, ethnic and racial background, faith tradition, gender and sexual orientation, and ability level – an ever expanding universe.

A bit about the columnist:

Maria DePaul is a Washington, DC, writer whose work has appeared in many publications. In 2018, her work is scheduled to appear in Bindweed, Illumen, and Scifaikuest. Visit author page

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