Bombastic Humility

Stories from Universe #1 June 1953

In June 1953 Ray Palmer launched Universe Science Fiction from 139 North Clark Street in Chicago, under the editorial name of George Bell and Bell Publications, Inc. Here’s an excerpt of his opening editorial with typical Palmer grandiloquence:

“We have been a fan and student of science fiction for more than 20 years. We have our ideas of what a good science fiction magazine ought to contain and they are very simple. This first issue of UNIVERSE will show you how well we have met this simple objective. It is only this: To give you the best science fiction stories published in America today!”

Robert Bloch’s “Constant Reader” is first up. A small team of space explorers land on 68/5 planet. “We waited while the roboship did its job. It was our star reporter, our roving photographer, our official meteorologist, our staff geologist, our expert in anthropology and mineralogy, our trusted guide and—most important, on many occasions—our stalking-horse.” It soon discovers 68/5 planet is rather like Earth, oxygen and gravity-wise. But it’s lifeless, its dusty surface a flat, slate-colored desert.

Each crewman has his own quirks. George Dale’s is books. “Yes, real books, the old-fashioned kind that were printed on paper and bound together between leather or board covers.”

When the crew disembarks they relish leaving the cramped space of their ship to bask in the warmth of 68/5 planet’s sun. All is well for at least two paragraphs until all five crewmen simultaneously black out. Despite the robotship’s report, the place is inhabited by an alien intelligence that enjoys a good book, and has the ability to transform the fictive world into reality.