The Visionaries, Madmen, and Tinkerers Who Created the Future That Never Was
THE LOOK OF THE FUTURE - PULP ROBOT COVERS
1920s - 1930s
Pulp magazines evolved in the late 19th century from earlier fiction magazines. Rival publishers learned that fat, cheap magazines sold incredibly well. At first, they covered all types of fiction indiscriminately, including those stories called "scientific romances," back when a romance was synonymous with an adventure. Reader feedback made the publishers rethink that policy. People who wanted a certain type of story were growing frustrated by having to skip past hundreds of pages to get to something they liked.
Specialty pulps appeared sporadically at first, but by the 1920s most pulps, except for the few top-of-the-line elites, limited themselves to a single subject. What we now call science fiction comes from one man, Hugo Gernsback, the leader in radio and even television magazines and allied electronic subjects. His Amazing Stories created the genre and when he lost control of the magazine his later series of Wonder publications competed with Amazing and Astounding to create the Golden Age of Adjectival Titles.
Robots were slow to penetrate science fiction. My database shows fewer than a dozen stories about robots appearing in the 1920s. By the 1930s, though, writers and artists realized the possibilities of the robot menace, a scourge that could substitute for aliens and giant monsters to wreak havoc on American cities and menace the stalwart heroes. No image of what a robot should look like had coalesced in the popular mind, so artists could create wild and mechanically implausible monsters to freeze buyers' blood. I can't explain the fascination for tentacles that so many had.
I've tried to pull covers from many different magazines and artists with no attempt to be comprehensive. Information about the covers is from ISFDB.com.
Argosy All Story Weekly, August 7, 1920
Stockton Mulford cover illustrates “The Metal Monster” by A. Merritt
Weird Tales, December 1926
Joseph Doolin cover illustrates “The Metal Giants” by Edmond Hamilton
Amazing Stories, January 1928
Frank R. Paul cover
Amazing Stories, October 1928
Frank R. Paul cover illustrates "To the Moon by Proxy" by J. Strossel
Scientific Detective Monthly, March 1930
Jno Ruger cover illustrates “The Robot Terror” by Melbourne Huff
Astounding Stories, January 1931
H. W. Wesso cover illustrates “The Gate to Xoran” by Hal K. Wells
Wonder Stories, December 1931
Frank R. Paul cover illustrates “The Reign of the Robots” by Edmond Hamilton
Amazing Stories, April 1932
Leo Morey cover illustrates "The Lost Machine" by John Wyndham
Wonder Stories, March 1933
Frank R. Paul cover illustrates "Wanderers of Time”
by John Beynon Harris [John Wyndham]
Wonder Stories, November 1933
Cover not credited, illustrates "The Call of the Mech-Men” by Lawrence Manning
Amazing Stories, March 1934
Leo Morey cover illustrates “Triplanetary” by Edward E. Smith, Ph.D.
Wonder Stories, February 1935
Frank R. Paul cover illustrates "The Robot Aliens" by Eando Binder
Amazing Stories, April 1934
Leo Moray cover illustrates "The Mentanicals" by Francis Flagg
Wonder Stories, September 1935
Frank R. Paul cover
Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1938
H. W. Wesso cover illustrates "Something from Jupiter"
by Dow Elstar [Raymond Z. Gallun]
Amazing Stories, April 1938
Robert Fuqua cover illustrates "World Without Women"
by Thornton Ayre [John Russell Fearn]
Amazing Stories, January 1939
Robert Fuqua cover illustrates "I, Robot" by Eando Binder
Startling Stories, January 1939
Howard V. Brown cover
Fantastic Adventures, May 1939
Robert Fuqua cover illustrates "Revolt of the Robots" by Arthur Tofte
Startling Stories, July 1939
Howard V. Brown cover illustrates "Robot A-1" by Oscar J. Friend
The Spider, December 1939
March 9, 2021