|Intro||Luxembourgian American inventor, writer, editor, and publisher|
|Was||Writer Inventor Editor Novelist|
|From||United States of America Luxembourg|
|Field||Business Journalism Literature|
|Birth||16 August 1884, Luxembourg|
|Death||19 August 1967, New York City (aged 83 years)|
Hugo Gernsback (August 16, 1884 – August 19, 1967), born Hugo Gernsbacher, was a Luxembourgish-American inventor, writer, editor, and magazine publisher, best known for publications including the first science fiction magazine. His contributions to the genre as publisher were so significant that, along with the novelists H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called "The Father of Science Fiction". In his honour, annual awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention are named the "Hugos".
Gernsback was born in 1884 in Bonnevoie (Luxembourgish: Bouneweg), part of Luxembourg City since 1920, to Berta (Dürlacher), a housewife, and Moritz Gernsbacher, a winemaker. His family was Jewish. Gernsback emigrated to the United States in 1904 and later became a naturalized citizen. He married three times: to Rose Harvey in 1906, Dorothy Kantrowitz in 1921, and Mary Hancher in 1951. In 1925, Hugo founded radio station WRNY which broadcast from the 18th floor of The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City and was involved in the first television broadcasts. He is also considered a pioneer in amateur radio.
Before helping to create science fiction, Gernsback was an entrepreneur in the electronics industry, importing radio parts from Europe to the United States and helping to popularize amateur "wireless". In April 1908 he founded Modern Electrics, the world's first magazine about both electronics and radio, called "wireless" at the time. While the cover of the magazine itself states it was a catalog, most historians note that it contained articles, features, and plotlines, qualifying it as a magazine.
Under its auspices, in January 1909, he founded the Wireless Association of America, which had 10,000 members within a year. In 1912, Gernsback said that he estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. were involved in amateur radio. In 1913, he founded a similar magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, which became Science and Invention in 1920. It was in these magazines that he began including scientific fiction stories alongside science journalism—including his own novel Ralph 124C 41+ which he ran for 12 months from April 1911 in Modern Electrics.
He died at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City on August 19, 1967.
Gernsback started the modern genre of science fiction in 1926 by founding the first magazine dedicated to it, Amazing Stories. The inaugural April issue comprised a one-page editorial and reissues of six stories, three less than ten years old and three by Poe, Verne, and Wells. He said he became interested in the concept after reading a translation of the work of Percival Lowell as a child. His idea of a perfect science fiction story was "75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science.". He also played a key role in starting science fiction fandom, by publishing the addresses of people who wrote letters to his magazines. So, the science fiction fans began to organize, and became aware of themselves as a movement, a social force; this was probably decisive for the subsequent history of the genre. He also created the term “science fiction”, though he preferred the term "scientifiction".
In 1929, he lost ownership of his first magazines after a bankruptcy lawsuit. There is some debate about whether this process was genuine, manipulated by publisher Bernarr Macfadden, or was a Gernsback scheme to begin another company. After losing control of Amazing Stories, Gernsback founded two new science fiction 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 Gernsback 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.
Gernsback was noted for sharp (and sometimes shady) 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."
As Barry Malzberg has 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 Guest of Honor 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.
Jack Williamson, who had to hire an attorney associated with the American Fiction Guild to force Gernsback to pay him, summed up his importance for the genre:
At any rate, his main influence in the field was simply to start Amazing and Wonder Stories and get SF out to the public newsstands—and to name the genre he had earlier called "scientifiction."
Gernsback wrote fiction, including the novel Ralph 124C 41+ in 1911; the title is a pun on the phrase "one to foresee for many"("one plus"). Even though Ralph 124C 41+ is one of the most influential science fiction stories of all time, and filled with numerous science fiction ideas, few people still read the story. Author Brian Aldiss has called the story a "tawdry illiterate tale" and a "sorry concoction" while author and editor Lester del Rey called it "simply dreadful." While most other modern critics have little positive to say about the story's writing, Ralph 124C 41+ is still considered an "essential text for all studies of science fiction."
Gernsback's second novel, Baron Münchausen's Scientific Adventures, was serialized in Amazing Stories in 1928.
Gernsback's third (and final) novel, Ultimate World, written c.1958, was not published until 1971. Lester del Rey described it simply as "a bad book," marked more by routine social commentary than by scientific insight or extrapolation. James Blish, in a caustic review, described the novel as "incompetent, pedantic, graceless, incredible, unpopulated and boring" and concluded that its publication "accomplishes nothing but the placing of a blot on the memory of a justly honored man."
Gernsback combined his fiction and science into Everyday Science and Mechanics magazine, serving as the editor in the 1930s.
The Hugo Awards or "Hugos" are the annual achievement awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention, selected in a process that ends with vote by current Convention members. They originated and acquired the "Hugo" nickname during the 1950s and were formally defined as a convention responsibility under the name "Science Fiction Achievement Awards" early in the 1960s. The nickname soon became almost universal and its use legally protected; "Hugo Award(s)" replaced the longer name in all official uses after the 1991 cycle.
In 1960 Gernsback received a special Hugo Award as "The Father of Magazine Science Fiction."
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted him in 1996, its inaugural class of two deceased and two living persons.
Gernsback's importance to science fiction was acknowledged by video game developer BioWare, who named a vessel after him in the game Mass Effect 2 as well as a character's name in the 2015 Disney motion picture Tomorrowland.
Influence in radio electronics and broadcasting
Gernsback made significant contributions to the growth of early broadcasting, mostly through his efforts as a publisher. He originated the industry of specialized publications for radio with Modern Electrics and Electrical Experimenter. Later on, and more influentially, he published Radio News, which would have the largest readership among radio magazines in radio broadcasting’s formative years. He edited Radio News until 1929. For a short time he hired John F. Rider to be editor. Rider was a former engineer working with the US Army Signal Corps and a radio engineer for A. H. Grebe, a radio manufacturer. However Rider would soon leave Gernsback and form his own publishing company, John F. Rider Publisher, New York around 1931.
Gernsback made use of the magazine to promote his own interests, including having his radio station’s call letters on the cover starting in 1925. WRNY and Radio News were used to cross-promote each other, with programs on his station often used to discuss articles he had published, and articles in the magazine often covering program activities at WRNY. He also advocated for future directions in innovation and regulation of radio. The magazine contained many drawings and diagrams, encouraging radio listeners of the 1920s to experiment themselves to improve the technology. WRNY was often used as a laboratory to see if various radio inventions were worthwhile.
Articles that were published about television were also tested in this manner when the radio station was used to send pictures to experimental television receivers in August 1928. The technology, however, was primitive and required sending the sight and sound one after the other rather than sending both at the same time. Such experiments were expensive, eventually contributing to Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing Company going into bankruptcy in 1929.
List of magazines edited/published by Gernsback
- Air Wonder Stories — July 1929 to May 1930, merged with Science Wonder Stories to form Wonder Stories
- Amazing Detective Stories
- Amazing Stories
- Aviation Mechanics
- Electrical Experimenter — 1913 to 1920; became Science and Invention
- Everyday Mechanics — from 1929; changed to Everyday Science and Mechanics as of October 1931 issue
- Everyday Science and Mechanics — see Science and Mechanics
- The Experimenter — originally Practical Electrics, the first issue under this title was November 1924; merged into Science and Invention in 1926
- Facts of Life
- French Humor — became Tidbits
- High Seas Adventures
- Know Yourself
- Life Guide
- Modern Electrics — 1908 to 1914 (sold in 1913; new owners merged it with Electrician and Mechanic)
- Motor Camper & Tourist
- New Ideas for Everybody
- Pirate Stories
- Popular Medicine
- Popular Microscopy — at least thru May–June 1935 (vol 1 #6)
- Practical Electrics — Dec. 1921 to Oct. 1924 — became The Experimenter
- Radio Amateur News — July 1919 to July 1920 — dropped the word "amateur" and became just Radio News
- Radio and Television
- Radio-Craft — July 1929 to June 1948 — became Radio-Electronics
- Radio-Electronics — July 1948 to January 2003
- Radio Electronics Weekly Business Letter
- Radio Listeners Guide and Call Book [title varies]
- Radio News — July 1919 (as Radio Amateur News) to July 1948
- Radio Program Weekly
- Radio Review
- Science and Invention — formerly Electrical Experimenter; published August 1920 to August 1931
- Science and Mechanics — originally Everyday Mechanics; changed to Everyday Science and Mechanics in 1931. "Everyday" dropped as March 1937 issue, and published as Science and Mechanics until 1976
- Science Fiction Plus — March to Dec. 1953
- Science Wonder Stories — June 1929 to May 1930, merged with Air Wonder Stories to form Wonder Stories
- Science Wonder Quarterly — Fall 1929 to Spring 1930, renamed Wonder Stories Quarterly and continuing to Winter 1933
- Scientific Detective Monthly
- Short-Wave and Television
- Short-Wave Craft — merged into Radio-Craft
- Short-Wave Listener
- Superworld Comics
- Technocracy Review
- Television News— March 1931 to ?
- Tidbits, originally French Humor
- Woman's Digest
- Wonder Stories — June 1930 to April 1936
- Your Body
- Your Dreams
Gernsback held 80 patents by the time of his death in New York City on August 19, 1967.