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two Evaporating Genres Genre Coalescence For the first several years of their history, the major publishers of American mass-market paperback books numbered each new title sequentially, providing what is now a fascinating chronicle of popular reading habits during the 1940s, as well as a valuable resource for tracing the prehistory of what we now regard as the major market genres of popular fiction. In May 1943, Donald A. Wollheim’s anthology The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction appeared as Pocket Book #214, following close upon the heels of #212 (Raymond Chandler’s Farewell , My Lovely) and #213 (The Pocket Book of True Crime Stories), and tucked into a wildly eclectic list of titles that included not only Shakespeare’s Five Great Tragedies (#3) and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (#68) but also a more specialized list targeted at specific audiences. These latter volumes, which characteristically followed the proprietary title formula ‘‘The Pocket Book of — — —,’’ began with broadly generic topics such as The Pocket Book of Verse (#62) or The Pocket Book of Short Stories (#91), but soon began to include such extraliterary oddities as The Pocket Book of Boners (#110)—mostly a collection of humorous schoolboy mistakes—The Pocket Book of Vegetable Gardening (#148), The Pocket Book of Crossword Puzzles (#210), and The Pocket Book of Home Canning (#217). This is the context in which the first American mass-market science fiction anthology, and probably the first American commercial book to use the term ‘‘science-fiction,’’ appeared. It seems clear that publisher Robert F. de Gra√ and the editors of Pocket Books—which began its mass-market publishing program in May of 1939 with a fantasy novel, James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (following a 1938 test market edition of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth)—were, by the mid1940s , still tentatively groping toward defining a variety of specialized readerships . Some of these readerships, like mysteries and Westerns, had crystallized Evaporating Genres 19 long since as popular genres; nearly a quarter of the first one hundred Pocket Books published were classified as ‘‘mystery and detective stories’’ and given a separate list in the pages of promotional material that appeared in the back of each Pocket Book. Science fiction, on the other hand, was relegated to those specialty topics, like vegetable gardening and home canning, which presumably could be covered adequately in a one-shot publication. (Bantam Books, another mass-market paperback publisher that came to prominence in the 1940s, proved even more tentative in dealing with the field when it tried to market its first science fiction anthology, Judith Merril’s A Shot in the Dark [1950], as ‘‘a di√erent kind of mystery thrill,’’ not mentioning science fiction at all in the book’s front-cover copy, but including in the back pages a mail-order o√er for several specialty-press hardcovers, presumably as a kind of market test.) Prior to the advent of Ballantine Books in 1952, according to paperback historian Kenneth C. Davis, science fiction ‘‘barely existed in book form at all. It was viewed by publishers as a sort of fringe genre that they knew or cared little about.’’∞ While this may have been true of paperbacks, the claim is more problematical in terms of the major hardcover fiction publishers. By 1949, Wollheim himself could publish an article in the New York Times heralding ‘‘a specialized class of novel called generically ‘science-fiction’.’’ Doubleday, for instance, announces that they are readying a title to head o√ their new science-fiction classification. Frederick Fell, Inc., announces a half-dozen such titles, an anthology and several novels, in a special science-fiction series with a colophon all its own. Other companies have slipped science-fiction into their line with less fanfare but no less prescience. Many book stores, among which are counted Scribner’s and Brentano ’s, have pushed clear corners of their detective novel counters to make way for a host of strangely titled and fantastically jacketed volumes.≤ The year after this article appeared, according to the New York Times, nearly fifty identified science fiction titles were published in the United States, with that number increasing again in 1951.≥ As of the mid- to late 1940s, science fiction had yet to emerge as anything like an identifiable genre in terms of the rapidly expanding paperback book market—the market that would largely supplant cheap magazines within the next two decades as the principal medium...


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