Visions of Paradise

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Robert H. Davis

Editors have always been a major influence on the shape of science fiction. Editors such as John W. Campbell, Jr., Hugo Gernsback, and Donald A. Wollheim have been major influences on the shape of modern science fiction. Perhaps the most obscure blue-pencil wielding titan who guided the careers of talented writers while greatly influencing the reading taste of young readers was Bob Davis.


Although Bob Davis is almost unknown among the names of science fiction's leading editors, his influence was second to none in the era when the field was first developing its loyal readership. Davis was a newspaperman who left San Francisco in 1896 for New York City. There he became a feature writer on such major publications as The New York World and The New York Journal. Eventually he caught the eye of Frank Munsey who made him fiction editor of the influential Munsey’s Magazine.

With the advent of the all-fiction pulp magazines around the turn of the century, Davis soon became editor of Munsey's All-Storv Magazine. Soon afterwards he also took on the editorship of The Cavalier, another fiction pulp which eventually merged with All-Story Weekly as All-Story Cavalier Weekly in 1915.

The period from 1905-1920 was the Golden Age of pulp magazines. Under Davis All-Story Weekly was the leading publisher of science fiction in that era (known as “pseudoscience stories”, a phrase created by Davis himself). Davis' most successful writer was Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose Under the Moons of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes both appeared in All-Story. The vast majority of Burroughs' output was published by Davis over the next decade.

But Burroughs was just one of many important science fiction writers published by Davis. The entire list reads like a Who's Who of pre-Gernsback science fiction: A. Merritt, Garrett P. Serviss, George Allan England, Charles B. Stilson, J.U. Giesy, Max Brand, Ray Cummings, Homer Eon Flint, and Austin Hall.

Davis was not a passive editor who merely sat back and waited for stories to cross his transom. He was as active an editor as John W. Campbell himself, providing many authors with the plot outlines of stories. George Allan England even dedicated his classic trilogy Darkness and Dawn to “Robert H. Davis, Unique Inspirer of Plots.”

In 1920 All-Story Weekly was absorbed into part of Argosy All-Story Weekly. Shortly thereafter, without any fanfare, Bob Davis abruptly left Munsey and vanished completely from the genre, never to be heard from again. Yet he was the main shaper of a large readership that was tapped by Hugo Gernsback a decade later. Modern fans and writers of science fiction should all be familiar with his name.

1869 / Born March 23 in Brownsville, Nebraska
1904 / Becomes fiction editor of Munsey's Magazine.
1905 / Becomes editor of All-Story Magazine.
1908 / Becomes editor of The Cavalier.
1911 / Garrett P. Serviss' The Second Deluge published in The Cavalier.
1912 / Under the Moons of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published in All-Story.
1912 / George Allan England's Darkness and Dawn published in The Cavalier Weekly.
1914 / All-Story Weekly begins weekly publication.
1918 / The Moon Pool, by A. Merritt, published in All-Story Weekly.
1919 / Ray Cummings’ The Girl in the Golden Atom published in All-Story Weekly.
1920 / All-Story Weekly merges with Argosy to form Argosy-All-Story Weekly.
1920 / Bob Davis leaves Argosy-All-Story Weekly.


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