Unknown (magazine)

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"Sinister Barrier" by Eric Frank Russell

Unknown (also known as Unknown Worlds) was a pulp fantasy magazine, edited by John W. Campbell, that was published from 1939 to 1943. Unknown was closely associated with the science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which was also edited by Campbell at the time; many authors and illustrators contributed to both magazines.

In keeping with its relation to Astounding Science Fiction, the style and approach of the stories in Unknown was a hybrid between those of fantasy and science fiction. The premises of many of the stories were caused by unexpected, and often humorous, situations in which a traditional fantasy creature or concept is introduced into an otherwise ordinary world. For example, in de Campís "Nothing in the Rules" the manager of a swimming team tries to win a race by including a mermaid on the team.

Other stories take the opposite trope of applying a scientific logic in a traditional fantasy setting; the Harold Shea series is based upon the premise that traditional fantasy worlds, such as those in Norse mythology, are based upon the rules of mathematical logic. (See rivets and sorcery.)

Unknown also included some science fiction which used the themes of traditional fantasy. For example, Darker than You Think uses the premise that werewolves exist, but that they are not supernatural, and explains the traditional beliefs about them without using fantasy.

Publication details

From its first issue until the end of 1940, the magazine was published on a monthly basis. From February 1941 through its demise, Unknown came out bi-monthly. From February 1940 through August 1941, the magazine went by the title Unknown Fantasy Fiction, and for the rest of its publication run, it was known as Unknown Worlds. Money was saved on the last few issues by printing them without an illustration on the cover. Wartime paper shortages were blamed for the cancellation of the magazine.

Shortly after the magazine's demise, a hardbound anthology of the same size called From Unknown Worlds was published.

Notable contributions

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"The Roaring Trumpet" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
"The Book of Ptath," by A. E. van Vogt
"The Castle of Iron," by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Harold Shea, or Incompleat Enchanter Series)
"Darker Than Your Think," by Jack Williamson
"Etaoin Shrdlu," by Fredric Brown
"Fear," by L. Ron Hubbard
"The Gnarly Man," by L. Sprague de Camp
"Lest Darkness Fall," by L. Sprague de Camp
"Divide And Rule," by L. Sprague de Camp
"Magic, Inc.," by Robert A. Heinlein
"The Mathematics of Magic," by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Harold Shea, or Incompleat Enchanter Series)
"The Roaring Trumpet," by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Harold Shea, or Incompleat Enchanter Series)
"Sinister Barrier," by Eric Frank Russell
"Slaves of Sleep," by L. Ron Hubbard
"Snulbug," by Anthony Boucher
Early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories including the first, "Two Sought Adventure," by Fritz Leiber
"The Ultimate Egoist," by Theodore Sturgeon
"It" by Theodore Sturgeon
"Typewriter in the Sky," by L. Ron Hubbard
"The Wheels of If," by L. Sprague de Camp
"Trouble with Water" by Horace Gold

Unknown also published the first science fiction or fantasy stories by Leiber ("Two Sought Adventure"), Sturgeon ("A God in a Garden"), and James H. Schmitz ("Greenface").


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