Aliens, demons, rocket ships, barbarians, monsters, robots and all things strange slithered within the parched pages all around his house, ready to burst once he read one.
Robert Stock, a retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln English professor, collected these futuristic or creepy creatures in literary magazines. Stock spent much of his time and shelf space to find and collect issues of “Weird Tales” or “Galaxy” magazine because of his love of science fiction and horror. He now rereads many of the stories by a variety of authors.
In fact, he rereads stories by authors both well known today, such as H.P. Lovecraft, and authors not so well known. This appreciation for the obscure authors shows that in the literary world of today with self-publication and e-books, recognition may sadly not arrive when the author is alive or when they deserve the praise. However, as Stock’s collection shows, they’ll be known and remembered by appreciators and fans such as Stock.
He started collecting in the 1950s, when a person could plop 25 cents onto the counter for a “pulp magazine,” or literary magazines made from cheap pulp paper. As a kid in the suburb of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Stock grew to admire magazines such as “Weird Tales” that he bought at bookstores in nearby Cleveland and Akron. These magazines allowed Stock to escape the modern world and enter a different time.
“It’s the feeling … of taking me into the past or into a conception of the future,” Stock said.
He admired the magazines and their stories so much he began to collect issues.
“I just collected them as a hobby,” said Stock. “I found collecting them exciting – just as any collector does. Collecting magazines has the appeal of collecting objects, but also the added appeal of reading.”
By the 1960s, the pressures of higher learning in college and scarce funds prevented Stock from expanding his collection. His hobby required Stock to shell out somewhere between $10 and $500, depending on each issue. However, by the start of the 21st century, he started collecting once again through an eBay account, making collecting easier and more convenient.
“The Internet really revolutionized the collecting of anything,” Stock said. “I had about half of my collection of ‘Weird Tales’ due to eBay by 2000.”
Now, magazines of all sizes and styles fill more than half a dozen of Stock’s shelves. His complete “Weird Tales” collection, which he prides over more than any other collection, occupies half the shelves, a little nook in the upstairs study and in various locations around the house.
Through the years, Stock sold his “Astounding Science Fiction” and other very scientifically accurate literary magazines. However, because their stories of dark horrors and science fiction explored the psychology and “pseudo-science” in fiction, as Stock referred to it, the issues of “Weird Tales” stayed on Stock’s shelf.
“I’d put it this way: ‘Weird Tales’ combined human elements with the element of difference,” Stock explained. “They don’t depend on contemporary science. They depend on human nature and internal and basic fears. Basic human experience still seems kind of new.”
Stock talked about Lovecraft, a famous horror writer and prominent author in “Weird Tales.” He used Lovecraft’s story, “The Colour of Space,” which ironically ran in a different literary magazine called “Amazing Stories,” as an example for how horror can sometimes endure with much more influence than science fiction.
While the story, Stock said, includes standard science fiction elements such as a meteorite and an alien that terrorizes a rural family, the story isn’t remembered for its scientific accuracy.
However, the emotional impact of a family dying horrifically by the alien in the story can be forever relative. This, according to Stock, is what readers remember the story for, like many others by Lovecraft and other authors in “Weird Tales.”
“It’s not still read because of its science; it’s because of its style and atmosphere,” Stock said. “There is something about horror that attracts our attention.”
In fact, Lovecraft and his mythos fleshed out in “Weird Tales” about cosmic monsters, such as the octopus-dragon, Cthulhu, or the tentacle-god, Yog-Sothoth, became popular because of its focus on human behavior and psychology rather than pure science. Stefan Dziemianowicz, a writer on the Publisher’s Weekly website, wrote that Lovecraft macabre stories weren’t only reprinted in anthologies and caught the attention of many publishers after his death, but also inspired graphic novels, a board game and other forms of entertainment.
“Lovecraft is so expert in his use of language and his atmosphere of wonder,” Stock said. “He wanted to be what Poe was for the 19th century. I think he did make it, but he just didn’t live to see it.”
Lovecraft and other authors went largely unnoticed by the majority during their lifetime.
Even though he gained more popularity than most pulp writers, Lovecraft suffered financial problems as well as limited appeal because of the medium where he published his stories, according to “Lovecraft: A Biography” by L. Sprague de Camp. Pulp magazines stories more often sought out to entertain rather than puzzle or encourage deep thought. Thus, none of Lovecraft’s stories became a cover story and, even when he gained popularity, the most famous of “Weird Tales” writers wasn’t Lovecraft but a repetitive hack writer named Seabury Quinn, de Camp wrote.
Eventually a poor and frustrated Lovecraft suffered from depression and even contemplated suicide, de Camp wrote.
In a letter to a personal friend, James F. Morton, Lovecraft describes his frustration with “Weird Tales” after sending five stories, writing that “I’ve … slipped five of my hell-beaters. And what I’m betting is that the editor … doesn’t bother to write a personal letter to accompany the returning manuscripts …”
“The interest [in literary magazines] is that there are obscure authors – obscure then and obscure now – who cranked out really good stories,” Stock said.
For writers such as Joshua Sterns, an UNL administrative technician also a self-publishing science fiction and horror author, the challenges of earning recognition while staying unique still stand.
“The reason I became a writer was to engage in a mode of expression that had the fewest boundaries and the least friction,” Sterns said. “It’s a challenge [to get your name out]. It’s a significant challenge.”
Sterns has experienced and learned how to take advantage of anything on hand. E-books – or the “new pulp” as he refers to them – and online publication sites are mediums he uses to publish his stories.
In some ways, the competitive world Sterns experiences is similar to the one that involved the authors that insulate Stock’s home with paper and ink. And, regardless of success, Sterns wishes to keep expressing himself and his sense of wonder.
“I dislike being misunderstood,” Sterns said. “But I hate to fail to express my own vision or art in a way that I myself am not satisfied with.”
But appreciation for the unique and obscure exists. It exists, for example, in a living room, a study and lounge in a single home.
“I think what is important about what Robert Stock’s doing is that he’s preserved the magazines,” said Michael Page, friend of Stock and UNL English professor. “I applaud him for keeping everything intact.”
Stock showed off magazine after mice-chewed magazine. He described odd stories he reread from issues and discussed the history behind editors and writers with a smile beaming from his face. Stock said the “Weird Tales” collection would be one of the hardest things to part from. He appreciated not only owning but also reading and “feeling like a time-traveler” in his literary magazines as he explored different ideas from different and largely unknown people.
“I read all stories and give them a try,” Stock said. “It’s good to expose yourself to different cultures, but it’s also good to expose yourself to the past. Speaking as a reader, my idea of hell would be in a state where I could only read immediate, contemporary books.”
Lovecraft’s eventual fame shows that talent from writers can be appreciated, in time. Stock’s collection supports this idea.
He shows that, if writers don’t make a large impact while they live to see their work go largely unnoticed in the Amazon Kindle store, they can still receive the recognition they fought for eventually. As a fan of science fiction and horror, Stock will always be intrigued by the fresh awe and wonder that stories can give as a reader reads and rereads.
“Wonder. That would explain my fascination,” he said. “The sense of wonder at some new experience …”