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Uncanny Tales was a Canadian science fiction pulp magazine edited by Melvin R. Colby that ran from November 1940 to September 1943. It was created in response to the wartime reduction of imports on British and American science-fiction pulp magazines. Initially it contained stories only from Canadian authors, with much of its contents supplied by Thomas P. Kelley, but within a few issues Colby began to obtain reprint rights to American stories from Donald A. Wollheim and Sam Moskowitz. Paper shortages eventually forced the magazine to shut down, and it is now extremely rare.
By the end of the 1930s the science fiction magazine field was booming, with multiple new magazines launched in a short period. Most of the publishers also printed versions of their magazines for the Canadian market, but with the outbreak of World War II, paper shortages and import restrictions reduced the availability of these magazines in Canada. Uncanny Tales was begun in response to these conditions; the editor was Melvin R. Colby, and the first issue was dated November 1940.
The first issue was digest-sized, and was printed in green ink. Colby initially focused on weird fiction, with Thomas P. Kelley, a Canadian writer whose work had appeared in Weird Tales, a prolific contributor. For the first four issues the format remained unchanged, and almost all the stories were by Kelley or other Canadian writers. Colby subsequently began to obtain reprint rights to U.S. stories from both Donald A. Wollheim and Sam Moskowitz, though Wollheim's and Moskowitz's accounts of the events differ. In Wollheim's account, he happened to meet Colby early in 1941 in New York; Wollheim had been editing Cosmic Stories and Stirring Science Stories but both magazines had ceased publication at the time of the meeting. Colby, who worked for a Toronto newspaper, told Wollheim that he was editing Uncanny Tales to make extra money, and asked if Wollheim knew where he might be able to obtain stories at a low word rate. Since Stirring and Cosmic had never been distributed in Canada, Wollheim was able to offer him Canadian rights to the stories in those magazines, and Colby agreed to pay a quarter of a cent per word. According to Moskowitz, Wollheim heard rumors of the new magazine, perhaps via Nils Frome, a Canadian fan whom he knew. Wollheim obtained more details from Chester Cuthbert, a Canadian author he was in correspondence with, and contacted Colby to arrange reprints of stories from Stirring and Cosmic. Moskowitz had also heard of Uncanny Tales and wrote to him separately, arranging reprints at a tenth of a cent per word. He sent Colby several stories, which were duly printed, but subsequent correspondence with Colby failed to elicit payment, and eventually Colby stopped responding to his letters. The manuscripts were never returned. A few months later, Moskowitz spoke to John B. Michel—an author associated with Wollheim's group of writers—and found out that a long-standing feud between Wollheim and Moskowitz was at least partly responsible for his problems. Wollheim and many of the group of writers he represented held very left-wing political positions; Moskowitz was strongly opposed, and Michel told Moskowitz that Colby was politically left-wing and had been put off by indications from Moskowitz that he was anti-communist. However, the main reason that Colby stopped responding, according to Michel, was that once Wollheim found out that Moskowitz was also supplying stories, he offered Colby further material for free on condition that Colby stopped accepting Moskowitz's submissions.
The sixth issue saw a story by Wollheim appear, and in the seventh issue there were three by Wollheim and one by Robert W. Lowndes. In total, 37 stories from Uncanny Tales have been identified as reprints from either Stirring or Cosmic. There were also a handful of new stories from the same group of authors, including three by Wollheim and two by Lowndes, one of which, "Lure of the Lily", had been rejected by Wollheim for the American magazines for being too risqué. The stories supplied by Sam Moskowitz included Moskowitz's own "The Way Back" (reprinted from Comet), which appeared in the February 1942 issue; Stanton Coblentz's novel After 12,000 Years, and James Taurasi's story "Magician of Space", which was not a reprint. Canadian writers continued to appear in the magazine, including C.V. Tench, who had sold a story to the very first issue of Astounding Stories in January 1930. The stories of Canadian origin were generally unmemorable, and in some cases the stories may have been plagiarized or rewritten versions of other works.
Paper shortages caused by the war forced the magazine to a bimonthly schedule in 1942, and only four more issues appeared. The last issue was dated September–October 1943. Over the lifetime of the magazine its focus shifted from weird fiction to include both science fiction and fantasy. The magazine is now hard to find and complete runs are very rare.
|All issues of Uncanny Tales, showing issue number. The editor was|
Melvin R. Colby throughout.
Uncanny Tales was published by Adam Publishing Co. of Toronto for the first 17 issues, and by Norman Book Co. of Toronto for the last four issues. The publisher may have been owned by Valentine, of the Toronto publishers Valentine, Koniac and Chamberlain. The editor, who was not credited in the magazine, was Melvin R. Colby. The first four issues were digest-sized and 64 pages long; the format then switched to a large pulp size with 96 pages for all the remaining issues except the last, which had 128 pages. The price was 15 cents throughout except for the last issue, which was 25 cents. There was no volume numbering. A complete index by Dennis Lien of the contents of all issues can be found in issue 9 of Megavore, a science fiction and fantasy bibliography magazine.
In the early 1950s an anthology titled Brief Fantastic Tales appeared from Studio Publications in Toronto; it consisted mostly of reprints from Uncanny Tales, and despite the difference in the name of the publisher it is likely it came from the same editor and publishers as Uncanny Tales.