Amazed and Astounded: Sci Fi Pulp Magazine Exhibit Explores Culture

by Maureen Wolff '17

Bright colors, bold typography, and whimsical images decorate the glass cases in Azusa Pacific’s Darling Library. Heroes, monsters, and villains alike pose dramatically across magazine covers, promising passersby tales of adventure and fanciful places. Welcome to the world of science fiction pulp magazines.

Through October 3, APU’s Special Collections hosts the exhibit “Amazing and Astounding: Science Fiction Pulp Magazines from 1920 to 1950.” The display belongs to collector William Lomax, P.h. D., the owner of approximately 20,000 volumes of science fiction magazines.

Lomax recalls the moment he became interested in science fiction magazines at just nine years old when he found some volumes of “Amazing!” stories around his home.

“This one magazine had a picture on the cover of a dinosaur eating a man, and it gave me nightmares for months!” said Lomax with a laugh. Hooked on science fiction ever since, he continues to build on his already-sizeable collection.

Lomax emphasized his attraction not only to the detailed original paintings on the magazine covers, but also to the value system embodied in the magazines’ pages, something he believes the evolution of modern science fiction has stripped from the genre. Though the sophistication of the genre’s writing has vastly improved, Lomax said, today’s science fiction often fails to depict honor, courage, curiosity, and other inspirational traits.

Librarian and Curator Scott Rosen, MLS, coordinated the collection exhibit, working with artist Crystal Slaton to create a unified aesthetic for the exhibit. Rosen also planned Lomax’s September 6 lecture in the Darling Library Rotunda, in which the collector discussed the writers, editors, and artists who shaped modern science fiction. According to Rosen, pulp science fiction magazines provide a window into the sociocultural idiosyncrasies of their respective eras.“Racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes exist in some of the material that might be offensive by today’s standards,” Rosen explained. “But it tells us something about the time period in which it was created.”

To complement the exhibit and lecture, Rosen helped organize the “Classic Sci Fi Double Feature” in conjunction with Thomas Parham, Ph.D., APU professor and chair of the Department of Cinematic Arts. Participants watched The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and engaged in a panel discussion led by Lomax, Rosen, and Parham following each film. The September 13 event drew APU students, including some from Parham’s class “Topics in Cinema and History: Sci Fi during the Cold War.”

Though the era of pulp has passed, Lomax emphasized that the magazines can be intellectually provocative in today’s society. “Through these pages, we can see a connection to Christian values and learn something from the old pulps—not only about values themselves, but about American culture and history,” he said. The exhibit is open to all visitors during Darling Library’s regular hours.