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Fiction editor left mark on more worlds than one

The home of George H. Scithers near 44th Street and Larchwood Avenue in West Philadelphia gave birth to lots of scary stories.

The home of George H. Scithers near 44th Street and Larchwood Avenue in West Philadelphia gave birth to lots of scary stories.

From 1976 to 1982, it was where Mr. Scithers edited Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, until he resisted the publisher's requirement to move to Manhattan.

From 1982 to 1986, Mr. Scithers made his home the editor's office for the magazine Amazing Stories, until the publisher insisted that he move to Wisconsin.

If Mr. Scithers was going to live with ghosts and goblins, he wanted their sepulchral stench to be softened by the aroma of hot-from-the-grill cheesesteaks, sitting at his elbow.

On Monday, April 19, Mr. Scithers, 80, whose editing earned him four Hugo Awards, died of cardiac arrest at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He had lived in Rockville, Md., for the last four years.

The World Science Fiction Society gave its Hugo for "best fanzine" in 1964 and in 1968 to Amra, the amateur publication that Mr. Scithers edited for more than 20 years beginning in 1959.

The Hugo Web site also shows that the society gave him its "best professional editor" Hugo in 1978 and in 1980, while he was with Asimov's.

Stephen Segal, executor of the Scithers estate, wrote in an e-mail, "If I walk into any fantasy writers' convention in America tomorrow and swing a cat, I guarantee it will hit three people who received their first personalized story critiques from George and were encouraged enough to keep on writing until they became professionals."

Segal said Mr. Scithers had shared with the renowned writer and editor Asimov "an appreciation for clear, straightforward narratives, a conversational voice, and gentle touches of light humor."

Shivers on the page

Mr. Scithers didn't just edit stories about raising the dead to life. He himself raised one.

In 1987, The Inquirer reported that he was about to resurrect the magazine Weird Tales as a quarterly.

"From 1923 to its death in 1954," the story said, "Weird Tales published hundreds of ghost stories, occult mysteries, horrific nightmares, swashbuckling adventures, and creepy visions" by such writers as H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury.

Mr. Scithers told the interviewer that the magazine had become known as the Thing That Wouldn't Die "because after it ceased publication in 1954, various people, more out of a sense of duty than an understanding of publishing, kept trying unsuccessfully to bring it back."

"None of the revivals lasted more than two years. Ours is actually the fifth incarnation."

For that incarnation/resurrection, Mr. Scithers joined fantasy writers Darrell Schweitzer of Strafford and John Betancourt of Moorestown to establish Terminus Publishing Co., raise $30,000, and with only two word processors and a copying machine in his home produce 10,000 copies of a 150-page edition costing $3.50 each.

In 2010, the resurrected Weird Tales is still alive.

In a 1983 Inquirer interview, Mr. Scithers remarked that science fiction "is trying to get away from its pulp-magazine beginnings, but will never fully succeed."

The best of science fiction and of mainstream fiction are not that far apart, he suggested.

"The deepest concerns of science fiction are the same" as mainstream fiction, "but are set in places and times that are imaginary [and] deal with objects that are imaginary in some sense."

But "the ultimate concerns" of science fiction "are always people learning something about themselves, becoming emotionally attached and detached, which is the subject of all fiction."

Segal, senior contributing editor at Weird Tales and an editor at Quirk Books in Philadelphia, said Mr. Scithers had moved to Rockville from Philadelphia to be close to the offices of the current publisher, Wildside Press.

In 2007, Mr. Scithers became editor emeritus.

He continued "as editor of the Cat Tales fiction anthologies and a number of reprinted editions of pulp-fiction classics," Segal said.

He also ran Owlswick Press, publisher of science fiction and fantasy hardcovers, which he had begun in 1973.

Service in a uniform

Mr. Scithers grew up in San Rafael, Calif., Segal said, and graduated in 1946 from a high school in Dallas. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1950.

He was a Signal Corps officer in Korea, Segal said, and while in the military earned a master's degree in engineering at Stanford University in 1954.

From 1969 until his retirement in 1973, Mr. Scithers was assigned to an Army engineering office in Philadelphia.

Mr. Scithers talked in later years of working with SEPTA on the Center City commuter tunnel during that time, but none of his documents states what he did, Segal said.

Mr. Scithers earned his Hugos for Amra even though he was in the military until 1973, Segal said, because it "was a hobby."

Like primordial ooze in some of the stories that he edited, some of Mr. Scithers' dates are elastic.

Though he said he had begun editing Asimov's in late 1976, the first publication did not appear until early 1977.

Though he dated his work with Weird Tales from 1987, Segal said, the first edition came out in 1988, dated 1987.

Mr. Scithers is survived by several cousins.

A funeral service is planned for an undetermined date at Arlington National Cemetery.