Planet Stories was an American pulp science fiction magazine, published by Fiction House between 1939 and 1955. It featured interplanetary adventures, both in space and on other planets, and was initially focused on a young readership. Malcolm Reiss was editor or editor-in-chief for all of its 71 issues. Planet Stories was launched at the same time as Planet Comics. Planet Stories also included stories from many well-known authors including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K.Dick and Clifford Simak.
Planet Stories two main writers are Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, both of whom set many of their stories on a romanticized version of Mars that owed much to the depiction of Barsoom in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Bradbury’s work for Planet included an early story in his Martian Chronicles sequence. Brackett’s best-known work for the magazine was a series of adventures featuring Eric John Stark, which began in the summer of 1949. Brackett and Bradbury collaborated on one story, “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, which appeared in 1946; it was generally well-received, although one letter to the magazine complained that the story’s treatment of sex, though mild by modern standards, was too explicit. The artwork also emphasized attractive women, with scantily clad damsels in distress or alien princesses on almost every cover.
Although science fiction (sf) had been published before the 1920s, it did not begin to coalesce into a separately marketed genre until the appearance in 1926 of Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine published by Hugo Gernsback. By the end of the 1930s the field was undergoing its first boom Fiction House, a major pulp publisher, had run into difficulties during the Depression, but after a relaunch in 1934 found success with detective and romance pulp titles. Fiction House’s first title with sf interest was Jungle Stories, which was launched in early 1939; it was not primarily a science fiction magazine, but often featured storylines with marginally science fictional themes, such as survivors from Atlantis. At the end of 1939 Fiction House decided to add an sf magazine to its lineup; it was titled Planet Stories, and was published by Love Romances, a subsidiary company that had been created to publish Fiction House’s romance titles. The first issue was dated Winter 1939. Two comics were launched at the same time: Jungle Comics and Planet Comics; both were published monthly, whereas Planet Stories was quarterly.
Malcolm Reiss edited Planet Stories from the beginning, and retained editorial oversight and control throughout its run, though he was not always the named editor on the masthead; when other editors were involved, his title was “managing editor” The first of these sub-editors was Wilbur S. Peacock, who worked from 1942 until 1945, after which he was replaced by Chester Whitehorn for three issues, and then by Paul L. Payne, from 1946 to Spring 1950. Published science-fiction writer Jerome Bixby, edited the next issue together with Jungle Stories and did much to improve the magazine, persuading the established writers to find unusual variations on the interplanetary adventure theme such as Poul Anderson’s “Duel on Syrtis” which is about an Earthman tracking an alien on Mars, and Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Incubi on Planet X”, which is about aliens who kidnap Earth women. Bixby was replaced by Malcolm Reiss in 1951. Following Bixby’s departure Planet’s major contributor was Philip K. Dick, who wrote five stories including “Beyond Lies the Wub” and “James P. Crow”, in which a human suffers discrimination in a world of robots. Jack O’Sullivan took over in 1952.
The letter column in Planet was titled “The Vizigraph”; it was also very active, with long letters from an engaged readership. It often printed letters from established writers, and from fans who would go on to become well known professionally. Most editions of Planet Stories initially focused on interplanetary adventures,often taking place in primitive societies that would now be regarded as “sword and sorcery” settings, and were a mixture space opera, planetary romances and tales of action and adventure on alien planets and in interplanetary space. Brackett and Bradbury set many of their stories on a romanticized version of Mars that owed much to the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Leigh Brackett wrote a series of stories featuring adventurer Eric John Stark, which began with “Queen of the Martian Catacombs”. Ray Bradbury also wrote “The Million Year Picnic” which was included into The Martian Chronicles and also co-wrote “Lorelei of the Red Mist” with Leigh Brackett. Ray Bradbury often demonstrated his reservations about the advance of technology, particularly in “The Golden Apples of the Sun”. Several other well-known writers appeared in Planet Stories, including Clifford Simak, James Blish, Fredric Brown, Damon Knight and Isaac Asimov whose story, originally titled “Pilgrimage”, appeared in 1942 as “Black Friar of the Flame”.
Almost every story that appeared in Planet could be described as space opera, basic themes included Earth being threatened by aliens or Earthmen being drawn into conflicts on alien worlds, such as Carl Selwyn’s “Venus Has Green Eyes”, which features a Venusian princess who hates humans. Many of Leigh Brackett’s female heroines were also head strong, hot tempered but brave and intelligent and would fight alongside the hero. Stories like “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, also depicted sexuality which caused controversy among readers. As did what the characters were wearing with functional spacesuits worn by the men, while the women wore transparent suits through which bikinis could be seen, this was sarcastically referred to as “sexual dimorphism in space” by many, with many of the covers also emphasizing sex. Hannes Bok contributed much of the interior artwork, and the covers were often by Allen Anderson during the early years. Later, Kelly Freas became a frequent cover artist. One of the best artists to work on Planet was Alexander Leydenfrost, whose work, epitomized much of what Planet Stories represented in the 1940s”. Sadly though despite it’s popularity the Summer 1955 issue was the final edition of Planet Stories.