Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, science fiction periodicals exploded in popularity. Leading the pack was John W. Campbell Jr. and his rein at Astounding Science Fiction, which helped to usher in the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction. However, while Astounding set trends and remained popular, other magazines overtook it, namely Horace Gold and his Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine, which helped to bring in some of the mid-century’s most revolutionary novels that have come to define the genre.
Horace Leonard Gold was born on April 26th, 1914 in Montreal, Canada, immigrating to the United States at the age of 2 and ending up in New York City. Interested in writing, he sold his first science fiction story to F. Orlin Tremaine at Astounding Stories, which had recently been acquired by the Street & Smith Company the year before. The story, “Inflexure,” appeared in the October issue of the magazine under the pseudonym Clyde Crane Campbell, fearing anti-Semitism from editors and readers. He continued to publish pulp stories through Astounding in 1935, but slowly branched out to other magazines, such as Thrilling Wonder Stories, eventually publishing under his own name. In 1939, he became the assistant editor for Standard Magazine publications Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories. In 1941, he began writing for Detective Comics, following Editor Mortimer Weisinger.
On March 31st, 1944, Gold was drafted into the United States Army and went through basic training at Camp Upton Yaphank. From there, he was deployed overseas to the Pacific Theater of Operations, where he likely saw action in the South Pacific. His experiences left him with a strong case of agoraphobia, a type of anxiety that left him unable to leave his Manhattan apartment for much of his later life. Discharged in 1946 at the end of the War, he returned home and resumed his work, conducting his work over the phone.
In the post-War publishing field, Astounding Science Fiction was losing its lead to competition and, as editor John W. Campbell Jr. began to explore non-scientific elements in his magazine’s stories, such as telepathy and L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, it was alienating authors along the way. In 1950, Gold was hired by an Italian company, World Editions, which was looking to break into the American SF market, with a magazine called Galaxy Science Fiction. Where other editors such as Campbell had historically looked for rigorous scientific accuracy, Gold went in another direction, focusing on social issues: “What science fiction must present entertainingly is speculation. Not prophecy, but fictional surmises based on present factors, scientific, social, political, cultural or whatever.”
One of his first calls was to Clifford Simak, asking if there was anything that he’d be interested in submitting. Simak noted that he had finished up a novel, Time Quarry, which Gold bought and began publishing from the first issue. Galaxy appeared in October 1950 as a monthly publication. It paid far better than its competitors, and Gold proved to be a far better editor than his counterpart at Astounding. Its Table of Contents contained a strong list of authors: Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Katherine McLean, Richard Matheson, Fritz Leiber, Frederic Brown and Isaac Asimov.
With Gold at the helm, Galaxy Science Fiction began to change the tone of the genre. Astounding had taken advantage of the scientific rush that followed the development of the atomic bomb, and the resulting doomsday stories that followed. Gold went in another direction, explaining in an editorial that “[t]he shape humanity is in is cause for worry, I believe, but not the kind of paralyzing terror that clutches science fiction writers in particular… Look, fellers, the end isn’t here yet.” Rather than destruction wrought by war, he saw destruction brought on by other means.
Strong, socially aware and satirical fiction became the mainstay with Galaxy, and 1951 proved to be an excellent year for the publication: “The Fireman,” by Ray Bradbury, appeared in the February issue, set in a dystopian world where literature was burned by government agents, and was later expanded into his landmark novel Fahrenheit 451. April brought Cyril Kornsbluth’s story “The Marching Morons,” and September saw Gold bring Robert Heinlein away from Astounding with his three-part story “The Puppet Masters.” Gold had begun to build an impressive stable of authors, which included names such as Isaac Asimov, Lester Del Rey, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornsbluth, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster, Katherine Maclean, Clifford Simak, Jack Vance and many others. Gold had created an outlet for new stories that many hadn’t realized that they’d needed.
The volume of high-quality material continued over the course of the 1950s. 1952 brought collaboration between C.M. Kornsbluth and Frederik Pohl with The Gravity Planet (later published as The Space Merchants) after Gold read an early draft from Pohl. Around the same time, Gold began calling Alfred Bester, asking for some work, eventually wearing him down to the point where Bester came up with a series of ideas that became his first novel, The Demolished Man. The first installment started in January 1952, and continued through March. The novel was an immediate hit, and in 1953, it earned the first ever Hugo Award for Best Novel. October of 1953 brought a new Isaac Asimov novel, Caves of Steel, bringing the author’s robot stories from the logic puzzles of Astounding into the more socially oriented world of Galaxy.
Like Campbell, Gold knew exactly what he wanted in a story and worked (frequently over the phone) with his group of authors as they wrote their stories, often making sweeping changes, sometimes to the irritation of the authors. Through his efforts, Gold had begun to change science fiction: According to James Gunn, “[t]he evolution of the science fiction hero began with Mary Shelley’s tormented scientist and continued through Poe’s natural aristocrat of sensibilities, Verne’s middle-class engineers, Well’s common man, Burroughs’ adventurers, Gernsback’s inventors, Campbell’s engineers and meritocrats, and Boucher’s man of sensibilities. Now, Gold’s vision focused not on the adventurer, the inventor, the engineer, or the scientist, but on the average citizen.” The result was a more nuanced view of the world, where the protagonist’s options weren’t quite so clear cut.
The shift in tone represented where the genre was headed. Very different from Astounding, and completely different from Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, Galaxy represented a major shift that would bring a new generation of authors to the table. David Kyle, in his A Pictorial History of Science Fiction, notes that Gold’s direction “would inevitably lead a decade later brutal unsubtlety of the realistic to the New Wave.” Indeed, one major story serialized in Galaxy, Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination,” has been said to be a direct precursor to two major following movements within the genre: the New Wave and Cyberpunk. Like publications before it, Galaxy and Gold didn’t simply add material to the genre, they added to the ongoing conversation, building upon the publications and authors that had come before.
Gold’s tenure at Galaxy Science Fiction lasted for the duration of the 1950s. Facing a decline in the magazine market, Gold changed the title of the publication to Galaxy Magazine, and put in further changes to help cut costs, bringing the magazine from a monthly schedule to a bimonthly one in 1958. In 1959, the company that owned Galaxy, Digest Productions, picked up a second magazine, IF, which Gold began to edit alongside Galaxy. By the latter half of the decade, his health had begun to fail, and longtime friend and editor Frederik Pohl began helping with the magazine. In 1961, Gold was involved in a serious taxi-cab accident. The accident was detrimental to his health: He lost weight and found himself in constant pain, and was unable to continue to work on the magazine. At Gold’s suggestion, Pohl met with Bob Guinn, Galaxy’s publisher, offering to take over the magazine temporarily. Pohl’s temporary job became a decade-long one as Gold retired from editing. Retired, Gold published the occasional short story throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but otherwise spent his time in seclusion.
Horace Gold and Galaxy Science Fiction occupied a point of time in which science fiction exploded and began to find a modern identity. It had largely succeeded in shrugging off the pulp-era image, with some of the genre’s defining works published in its pages. At the same time, it helped to set the stage for the next major movement to arrive—the New Wave—by shifting the focus of the genre away from the wiz-bang gadgets and scientific details, and becoming a genre that looked to the problems of the modern day.