|Publisher||New English Library|
|First issue||February 1974|
|Final issue||May 1976|
Science Fiction Monthly was a British science fiction magazine published from 1974 to 1976 by New English Library (NEL). It was launched in response to demand from NEL's readers for posters of the art on the cover of NEL's science fiction paperbacks, and was initially very successful, with circulation reaching 150,000 by the third issue. It reprinted artwork by Chris Foss, Jim Burns, Bruce Pennington, Roger Dean, and many others. Well-known writers who appeared in its pages included Brian Aldiss, Bob Shaw, Christopher Priest, and Harlan Ellison. The high production costs associated with colour reproduction meant that a high circulation was necessary to sustain profitability, and when circulation fell to about 20,000 after two years NEL decided to cancel Science Fiction Monthly. A new magazine, S.F. Digest, was launched in its stead, but lasted only one issue.
In the early 1970s, the London-based publisher New English Library (NEL) published a successful line of science fiction (sf) paperbacks that included well-known authors such as Frank Herbert and Robert A. Heinlein. The covers were popular with readers, and NEL frequently received requests for copies of the paperback cover art, without the overprinted material such as the title. They decided to produce a magazine to make the magazine available in poster form; and by the middle of 1973 the decision was taken to add fiction and non-fiction features, though NEL still considered it primarily a vehicle for their art. The first issue appeared at the end of January 1974; the issues were always numbered and never dated. The art director, Michael Osborn, had responsibility for the magazine's appearance, and fiction was initially acquired by Aune Butt and Penny Grant, and from the eighth issue by Julie Davis.
Interest in science fiction and fantastic art was growing at the time Science Fiction Monthly was launched, and sales were initially strong, with circulation reportedly at 150,000 by the third issue. This could not be sustained: Mike Ashley, a science fiction historian, suggests that poor economic conditions in the UK in the 1970s contributed to falling readership. Inflation meant that the price rose rapidly from 30p in late 1974 to 50p only eighteen months later, by which time circulation had fallen to under 20,000. Ashley also suggests that the readership was in "two factions: those who wanted the art did not want the fiction, and vice versa". The magazine was expensive to produce, meaning that it required a higher circulation than a typical digest magazine, and NEL decided to cancel it and replace it with a lower-cost version. The new magazine, S.F. Digest, lasted only one issue before NEL's magazine department was cut in the course of a merger with Hodder & Stoughton.
Contents and reception
The magazine was in tabloid format (40 by 28 centimetres (16 by 11 in)), with high-quality colour reproduction; it was not stapled, so that it could be disassembled and the artwork used as posters. The first issue included four full-page reproductions, and another five double-page spreads, at 40 cm x 56 cm, including Bruce Pennington's depiction of the spaceship Discovery from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was also used as the cover art for the issue. Artists featured in subsequent issues included Tim White, David A. Hardy, Roger Dean, Jim Burns and Josh Kirby; the artwork depicted was not limited to works published by NEL. Chris Foss contributed the cover for the second issue; the sf historian David Kyle describes it as "a cross between the technologically reasoned, deep-space vehicle of 2001 and the inspired gimcrackery of artist Richard Powers", adding that it illustrates a trend in the 1970s towards "heavily pseudo-technological" artwork for science fiction paperback covers.
There were no other science fiction magazines in the UK in the mid-1970s, so the volume of fiction submissions was very high—about 400–500 stories a month. Terry Greenhough and Chris Morgan both made their first fiction sales to Science Fiction Monthly, and Garry Kilworth and David S. Garnett also had early sales to the magazine, but it was a difficult market to break into: in addition to the intense competition, it only published two or three stories per issue, and usually at least one would be by a well-known writer. None of the winners of a short-story competition, run in 1974 with categories such as best foreign story and best Commonwealth story, went on to do any substantial work in the genre. Well-known British writers who appeared in the magazine's page included Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, Ian Watson, Robert Holdstock, and Bob Shaw. Stories by American writers included both reprints and some original material, such as Harlan Ellison's "Shatterday", and Jack Williamson's "The Highest Dive".
The non-fiction features included a series of articles by Mike Ashley on the history of sf magazines, later expanded into an anthology series. A series of author interviews, accompanied by stories by the author, included profiles of Samuel Delany, Harlan Ellison, J.G. Ballard, and Harry Harrison. Walter Gillings provided articles about established figures in the field such as Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham, A.E. van Vogt, and Olaf Stapledon, and under the pseudonym "Thomas Sheridan" ran a column called "The Query Box" in which he answered questions about science fiction.
The publisher was New English Library, based in London. The magazine never carried cover dates: the first issue appeared on 30 January 1974, and is usually indexed as either January or February as a result. The monthly schedule was completely regular. There were two volumes of twelve issues and a final volume of four issues. Each issue was tabloid-sized, and 28 pages; the price began at 25p, and went up to 30p with the October 1974 issue; to 35p in April 1975; to 40 p in January 1976, and to 50p for the last two issues. Patricia Hornsey was editorial director. Fiction was initially the responsibility of Aune Butt and Penny Grant, who were listed on the masthead as editorial assistants; Julie Davis took over as fiction editor with the eighth issue. The team responsible for the look of the magazine was art editor Michael Osborn, art director Cecil Smith, and designer Jeremy Dixon.
The publisher, New English Library (NEL), also sold binders for the magazine; these were dark purple and could hold 12 issues.
- Ashley (1985), pp. 539-540.
- Ashley (2007), pp. 108-110.
- See the individual issues. An index of all issues is available at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, here.
- Kyle (1977), p. 163.
- "Summary Bibliography: Thomas Sheridan". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
- Davis, Julie (January 1976). "News". Science Fiction Monthly. 2 (12): 20.
- Ashley, Mike (2007). Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1-84631-003-4.
- Kyle, David (1977). The Pictorial History of Science Fiction. London: Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-38193-5.
- Stone, Graham (1985). "Science Fiction Monthly (1974-1976)". In Tymn, Marshall B.; Ashley, Mike (eds.). Science Fiction, Fantasy and Weird Fiction Magazines. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 539–540. ISBN 0-3132-1221-X.