Welcome to the premiere issue of the webzine version of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination.
Fantastic Stories has a wonderful history that I will do my very best to live up to. As many of you know, it was launched in 1952 by Ziff-Davis to be a companion to Amazing Stories, which they’d acquired in 1938. It never really lived up to its name until Cele Goldsmith was hired to edit it in 1958. I fell in love with Fantastic Stories because Cele Goldsmith published a lot of stories by my favorite author, Roger Zelazny. She also helped me find Ursula K. Leguin and Fritz Leiber, thus sealing the direction my adult life would go in.
The magazine ceased publication in 1980. When TSR purchased Amazing Stories in 1982 they “combined” Fantastic Stories into Amazing and ran the name on the masthead and occasionally on the spine. At the time the editor of Amazing was George Scithers, who would later work for me editing Weird Tales.
People find the genre field in a variety of ways, for me it was short fiction. When I was 13 years old I was glancing through a Publishers Clearing House packet and I noticed an offer for a charter subscription to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The covers grabbed my attention–I didn’t know why but something about them was speaking to me. I talked my parents into letting me get the subscription. My life was about to change.
The first issue arrived and I read it cover to cover twice. I’d never experienced anything like it before. But now I had to wait another month for more? Within a day or two I received an offer from the Science Fiction Book Club. It was like the answer to my prayers. This time I didn’t even ask my parents, I just filled it out and sent it in. I had a paper route, I could afford books! A few weeks later I received The Foundation Trilogy, The Dragonriders of Pern, Songmaster, and The Chronicles of Amber. I read them all over the weekend. I loved every one of them, but the Amber books filled me with a sense of awe that I can’t put into words even now. I went down to my local bookstore, World Eye Book Store, and purchased Lord of Light and This Immortal by Roger Zelazny; now I had a favorite author. Somewhere along the way I learned that Zelazny also wrote short stories, so I started haunting used book stores (damn, I miss those), looking for magazines that had his stories.
And that’s how I came to treasure Fantastic Stories. Fast forward fifteen years and I’d become the publisher of Weird Tales, Absolute Magnitude, and Dreams of Decadence. A friend of mine, Edward McFadden, was editing a magazine he called Pirate Writings. He asked me if I’d be willing to take over the publishing end so he could focus on editing. I agreed to buy the magazine from him, but only if we could change the name as I thought it was holding the magazine back. From there I had to decide on a name. I remember discussing my problem with George Scithers. I wished out loud that TSR hadn’t purchased Fantastic Stories when they’d purchased Amazing. Then George dropped a bomb, he said, “They didn’t, they didn’t want to pay the extra money for a magazine that they probably weren’t going to publish. They just put the name on the masthead to see if they could get away with it and make everyone think they owned it.”
Armed with that knowledge, I trademarked Fantastic Stories of the Imagination and put out our first issue. Our claiming the abandoned name raised a few eyebrows, but nothing more, and we happily published under that name for the next few years. Unfortunately, the magazine business changed and I was forced to close the parent company, DNA Publications, and find other work. I spent a year working in the tech support field while I worked on building up my new book company, Wilder Publications. That was a long year, but at the end of it I was once again going great guns, this time publishing books.
Primarily I published self help and religious books. I was amazed by how fast the sales went up. Two years out and I was grossing considerably more than I had been when I’d had nine magazines all publishing at the same time. But I really missed science fiction. So I launched Fantastic Books and started buying genre books. I purchased books by James Gunn, Michael Moorecock, Tanith Lee, Norman Spinrad, Gregory Benford, and Allen Steele, just to name a few. Now I had to promote the books. I looked over the prices for advertising in the genre magazine and realized I could publish my own magazine for those prices. Publish my own magazine? I certainly knew how to do that so I announced that I would be reviving Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. That same week Realms of Fantasy, the largest-circulation genre magazine, announced that it would be ceasing publication. I immediately picked up the phone and called Sovereign Media, Realms‘ parent company, and suddenly I owned Realms of Fantasy.
This unfortunately put my plans for reviving Fantastic Stories on hold. In retrospect I rather wish I’d soldiered on with Fantastic. Ultimately I put out nine issues of the glossy, full-color Realms of Fantasy. I ran ads in Realms for Fantastic Books and was very surprised to find the ads were ineffectual at best. Back in the day an ad in Weird Tales or Absolute Magnitude always returned far more in orders than the cost of the ad. Things had changed, it would seem. Realms had been losing circulation and money, but I was able to stop that. By the ninth issue I had the magazine back to breakeven. But that wasn’t making me happy as I was neglecting my core business, Wilder Publications, just to break even with Realms. So I made the hard choice and sold both Realms of Fantasy and Fantastic Books.
I thought that was the end of my time in genre publishing. But then the twentieth anniversary of my publishing career approached. I decided I wanted to celebrate the milestone and nothing outside of genre publishing could really do that. So I announced that I would be editing Fantastic Stories of the Imagination as a hardcover anthology. You can find the e-pub version in our e- commerce store. I really enjoyed editing that anthology, and it made me realize that I was not done with genre publishing.
I’ve been kicking around the idea of a webzine for years. The experience of putting together the Fantastic anthology brought home to me how much I enjoyed editing genre fiction. With Realms I wasn’t the editor, and while I enjoy being a publisher, what I really love is editing. So I’ve been planning and plotting this webzine for a couple of years. I hope you enjoy it and welcome to the newest incarnation of Fantastic Stories. We plan to have a long exciting run. Buckle up.
—Warren Lapine, Editor