(August 16, 1884 – August 19, 1967)
Hugo Gernsback was one of the most important founding figures of modern SF. He was Luxembourgian-American inventor, writer, editor, and magazine publisher, best remembered for publications that included the first science-fiction magazine.
Before helping to create SF, Gernsback was an entrepreneur in the new electronics industry. In April 1908, he founded Modern Electrics, the world's first magazine about both electronics and radio, and later founded The Electrical Experimenter, which became Science and Invention in 1920. It was in these magazines that he began including SF stories.
Gernsback founded the first prozine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, marking the beginning of SF as a distinct and separate genre. He saw SF as a teaching tool and said that a good SF story would be "75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science". (This has been called the "Gernsback Delusion".)
He also played a key role in starting fandom, by publishing letters in his magazines and including the addresses of people who wrote them. Fans who wrote to the lettercol and joined the Science Fiction League Gernsback founded began communicating directly with each other and that was the start of fandom. (See First Fan Letter with Address.) He also coined the term science fiction, though he preferred scientifiction.
In 1929, he lost control of Amazing Stories, but quickly founded two new sf magazines, Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. A year later, due to Depression-era financial troubles, the two were merged into Wonder Stories, which he continued to publish until 1936, when it was sold to Thrilling Publications and renamed Thrilling Wonder Stories. Gernsback returned in 1952–53 with Science-Fiction Plus.
In 1940 he published three issues of a SF comic book, Superworld Comics, with the help of his one-time Wonder Stories editor, Charles D. Hornig. This comic book was described by SF historian Sam Moskowitz as the first SF comic book, although the first issue of Planet Comic also appeared early in 1940. An illustrated article about Superworld Comics by Jon D. Swartz appeared in Tightbeam 293 (February, 2019).
Gernsback was noted for dubious business practices, and for paying his writers extremely low fees or not paying them at all. H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as "Hugo the Rat." Barry Malzberg said "Gernsback's venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been so well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature. That the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field's most prestigious award and who was the GoH at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established."
Gernsback's disinclination to pay writers led directly to the founding of the Futurians, after Donald Wollheim and John Michel visited other groups to complain about nonpayment, and when he failed to pay the room rental for a lecture he arranged, led to one of the first fan feuds, splitting the first fanclub, the Scienceers.
Gernsback wrote the novel Ralph 124C 41+ in 1911, which, although one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time, and filled with numerous science-fiction ideas, is really pretty awful. Brian Aldiss called it a "tawdry illiterate tale" and a "sorry concoction" while Lester del Rey called it "simply dreadful."
Nonetheless, Gernsback created modern SF and even the people who think he did so badly (e.g., Brian Aldiss who described Gernsback as "the worst disaster ever to hit SF"), can only describe their position in terms of his.
Awards, Honors and GoHships:
- 1952 -- Chicon II
- 1964 -- First Fandom Hall of Fame
- The Hugos, the top award for science fiction and fanac is named in his honor, and in 1960 he received a special Hugo Award as "The Father of Magazine Science Fiction".
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