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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 29: November 1941

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Forgive me, it’s been four weeks since my last Vacation episode. Early in my reading for this episode, I caught a cold that was followed by the first ear infection that I can recall since childhood. It made it impossible to do any reading or writing and so I really had no choice but to push this one back two weeks. I was hoping to end 2011 with the December 1941 issue–a kind of pleasant symmetry there, but the December 1941 issue will have to wait until next time.

After two outstanding issues in a row, this one was not quite as good. Part of it may be have been due to my being sick, but I think my sense of things is pretty accurate. In his history of the magazine, A Requiem for Astounding, Alva Rogers writes of this issue:

Because of the total length of “Second Stage Lensmen” (118,000 words), nearly half of the November issue was taken up by the first installment which, of course dominated the whole issue. The only other story in the magazine worth mentioning was Nat Schachner’s swan song in Astounding, “Beyond All Weapons.”

That the other stories were of lesser quality was a small issue, I think. My guess is that no matter what stories appeared in this issue, they wouldn’t have matched up (in Campbell’s mind, or indeed, in the minds of many fans of the time) to Smith. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that Campbell filled the issue with marginal stuff to add focus to the lead serial. More on that shortly. As you will soon see, “Second State Lensmen” was not my favorite story in the issue.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 29: November 1941

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 28: October 1941

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As I finished up the issue at hand, I looked ahead on the calendar and discovered one of those nice little congruities which life sometimes tosses you. I will finish 2011 with 30 Episodes in this Vacation. That isn’t any news, but what is kind of cool is that Episode 30 takes us through 1941 and will come out on December 26, 2011. So 1941 will wrap up at the end of December 2011, some seventy years after the issue appeared. I’ll have more to say about 1942 in Episode 30, but there is an interesting change that takes place in Astounding beginning in 1942. Some of you probably know what it is, but for those that don’t, you’ll just have to sweat it out for 4 more weeks until I report it in Episode 30.

This issue was a mixed bag. Coming off the incredible September 1941 issue, some of the stories were a bit of a let down in this issue, but some of them also turned out to be surprisingly good. You’ll have to judge for yourself, of course, if you’ve read the stories that appear in this issue. I was surprised with what turned out to be my favorite piece in the issue.

A while back I produced an Author’s Index to this Vacation. I am now in the process of working on a Title index as that might be useful to folks who know what story they are looking for, but no necessarily who wrote it. No ETA on when I’ll have this finished, but stay tuned.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 28: October 1941

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 27: September 1941

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A good argument can be made that the issue which you are about to read about is one of the best issues to come out of the Golden Age. The issue contains three stories that have gone on to become classics of the genre. Contained within its pages are names like Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester and Robert Heinlein. The cover for the issue–by Huber Rogers–is probably one of his most famous covers, and in my mind, certainly one of his most striking. I’d been looking forward to reading this issue since my Vacation started and I found myself frequently wondering if a fifteen-year old reading this issue in the summer of 1941 would have an inkling that what they held in their hands was something special. So you will forgive me if this Episode runs a bit longer than usual. There is a lot to talk about.

As I was updating the Author’s Index in preparation for this issue, I made a few interesting discoveries, all of which surround pseudonyms. Pseudonyms were big in the Golden Age for a variety of reasons. The Index that I put together lists stories under the actual author’s name with a reference to the pseudonym. The pseudonym itself is listed in the index with a link back to the actual author’s name. I discovered that three authors–two of which already appeared in the Index, and one new to this Episode–were all pseudonyms that I had missed.

The first is Lee Gregor, who we’ve seen in Episode 2 and Episode 4. It turns out that Lee Gregor is none other than Milton A. Rothman, who under his own name has penned several letters that have appeared in the Brass Tacks.

The second is non-fiction writer Arthur McCann. I was updating my Index adding links to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and when I got to McCann, I was rather stunned to learn that McCann is none other than our editor, John W. Campbell himself. In this issue, we find Campbell with a non-fiction article under his own name, which makes you wonder why he used the McCann pseudonym. Futhermore, Mr. Arthur McCann has also had a few letters in Brass Tacks under the name McCann. This seems a little ethically questionable, if you ask me.

The third and final discovery was made just before I started reading this issue. I’d never heard of Caleb Saunders, who has a story below as you will see, and so I went to look him up to see what else he’d done. Those of you in the know are already ahead of me–but I was again surprised to discover that Caleb Saunders is none other than our prolific friend, Robert A. Heinlein. That gives Heinlein two stories in this watershed issue of Astounding.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 27: September 1941

Vacation in the Golden Age by the numbers

I like stats and numbers and I was culling some data on my Vacation posts the other day and thought it would make for an interesting post itself, so here you go. The numbers below represent the first 26 episodes of my Vacation in the Golden Age, covering the July 1939 through August 1941 issues of Astounding.

Some basic stats

  • Number of episodes: 26
  • Total number of words: 93,154
  • Longest episode: 26 (August 1941)  at 5,294 words1
  • Shortest episode: 14 (August 1940) at 2,737 words2
  • Average length: 3,514 words

Plotted over time, here is what the words per episode looks like for the first 26 episodes:

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Anyone who cares to plot the trend line can see where things are going. Interestingly, that jump beginning in Episode 19 is right around the time I started doing the write up for each story as I finished reading the story as opposed to waiting until the entire issue had been read.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age by the numbers

Notes

  1. Contains part 2 of “Methuselah’s Children” for which I probably wrote a thousand words alone.
  2. Contains del Rey’s “The Stars Look Down” and van Vogt’s “Vault of the Beast.”

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 26: August 1941

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More and more I find myself referring back to things I wrote in these episodes and it was becoming increasingly difficult to quickly locate what I was looking for. For a while, I had in mind a master index, and shortly after Episode 25 was released, I also released the first version of the Author Index to the Vacation in the Golden Age. This index has proven very valuable to me since I first created it. It lists all of the authors who have appeared in the Vacation alphabetically, and then includes the list of stories or articles in the order that they appeared with a reference to the issue and Episode. If the story was written under a pseudonym, it will appear under the author’s real name with a reference to the pseudonym. The pseudonyms do appear in the main listing, but will always refer back to the main entry. In addition, I have put in bold any titles that I rated as the best title of the issue.

I plan to add the data for each subsequent issue just before the Episode containing that information goes live. So you will note that all of the stories contained in this episode also appear in the Index. You can use the search feature in your browser to search for a specific name or title when you are on the Author Index page. Over time, I’m hoping to add some additional features to this index to make it a more useful tool, but for now, I’ve kept it pretty simple. Of course, I am open to any suggestions that you might have.

Editorial: Atomic Power vs. Coal

Campbell’s 1-page editorial this month is exactly what it sounds like: a short discussion of atomic power vs. coal as a source of energy. The numbers presented by Campbell are interesting in a historic context but I think they’ve come to be dwarfed by reality and consumption. There are two interesting items about this particular piece worthy of note:

  1. Campbell predicts (big surprise) that atomic power will ultimately replace the need for coal as far as generating power goes.
  2. Campbell does not expect our need for coal to go away because of the byproducts of its processing: tar, benzol, toluol, etc.

As Campbell says in his conclusion: “Coal’s dirty stuff–but wonderfully useful, atomic energy or not!”

There are six stories and an article in this issue: two novelettes, three short stories, and part 2 of a serial. The Rogers cover for this issue is a nice one, but not an outstanding one, in my opinion. Indeed, as you’ll see later, it is hard to say what story the cover illustration is for. Certainly not Schachner’s “Jurisdiction.” There is a nice symmetry to the image, with the spaceships leaning on one slant and the clouds on the opposite slant, but the cover does not otherwise stand out for me. Not so for Alva Rogers, who writes:

August was distinguished by one of Rogers’ finest covers, a beautiful painting of steel blue space ships nestling in their launching pads, which illustrated “Jurisdiction” by Nat Schachner.

Really? What scene in the story does it illustrate? I can’t figure it out.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 26: August 1941

Introducing the Author Index to my Vacation in the Golden Age

I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now, and I’ve finally got it done! I have put together an Author Index to the Vacation in the Golden Age. The index is a listing of all authors alphabetically. Indexed beneath each author is their stories or articles that have appeared in the Vacation so far, in order of appearance. Each entry lists the issue date and episode, and provides a link to the episode.

It is a pretty simple and barebones interface right now. I’m hoping to add some additional features in the future.

The Author Index is current up to and including Episode 25 (July 1941). It will be updated prior to the release of each new Episode.

Hope you find the index useful. Suggestions are always welcome. Go forth and browse!

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 25: July 1941

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I have just returned from a science fictional weekend spent attending various panels at Capclave up in Gaithersberg, Maryland (a post on this is forthcoming). It’s always fun to attend conventions because you get to talk with people who breath the same kind of air that you breath. And you can talk about old stories, like the stories that appear in this issue of Astounding, and count on at least a few people having read the stories.

If you didn’t see the earlier announcement, these Vacation posts are now being reprinted from the beginning over at Amazing Stories.com. The episodes are coming out every other week, alternating with the appearance of the new episodes. Episode 1 appeared over there  last Monday. It’s nice to get the additional exposure for these posts. Hopefully it means that more people can enjoy them.

And apparently, there are people out there that are enjoying them.  I am starting to hear more and more from people who read these posts and write to tell me how much they enjoy them. That’s always nice to hear.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 25: July 1941

Head on over to the new Amazing Stories magazine…

As I mentioned last week, the newly revived Amazing Stories is going to be reprinting my Vacation in the Golden Age columns from the very beginning. Today, Episode #1, covering the July 1939 issue of Astounding is reprinted there. Episode #2 will follow in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, Episode 25, covering the July 1941 Astounding will be available right here, as usual,  one week from today. It’s pretty cool to think that I have my posts on the Golden Age reprinted in a new incarnation of the original science fiction magazine.

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 24: June 1941

 

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It is hard to believe, but with this Episode, I’ve now completed the first two years of my Vacation in the Golden Age. The schedule has changed slightly and there have been one or two delays in episodes (and I apologize for the most recent delay). But the joy of reading these issues has not diminished, only increased with every turn of the page. And while overall, the June issue is rather lackluster (Alva Rogers called it “mediocre”), there is still important stuff being published by key people in the genre. And it sets up Episode 25, which will be our third venture into the now infamous “July” issues of Astounding, which seem to be exceptional.

Having completely the first two years of this massive vacation, I feel rather what Will Durant must have felt as he completed each book in his Story of Civilization. And so it seems only apropos to quote his concluding remarks at the end of his second book in that series, The Life of Greece. He wrote:

For those who have come thus far, thank you for unseen but ever felt companionship.

Editorial: Interpreters May Still Be Needed

Campbell opens the issue with a 1-page editorial on  the need for translators once mankind has mastered telepathy. I have to admit that when I read “telepathy” I rolled my eyes and thought, here goes Campbell again. And indeed, it was a rather confusing editorial in which he tried to turn on its head the assumption that if you can read someone’s mind, you can de facto understand what they are thinking. I don’t think he was particularly successful in either his argument or his explanation.

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 24: June 1941

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 24 delayed…

I hate doing it, but this last week has been so busy that I haven’t been able to keep up with my reading and because of that, I have to delay the release of Episode 24 by one cycle. We’re juggling newborn and toddler and I go back to the day job on Monday and there has been a lot to do in preparation.

So, Episode 24 won’t come out tomorrow, but will be out on the regular cycle, on Sunday, October 2. I thought about pushing it out next Sunday but I figured I should stick to the current cycle and not rush things. Thereafter, the schedule should resume normally, every two weeks. This just gives me the breathing room I need to catch up with the day job and the two kids.

I apologize for the delay. These things happen from time-to-time, I guess.

The latest batch of Astounding’s have arrived!

This batch includes the April through September 1943 issues. The April 1943 issue is the last of the “bedsheet” issues. Astounding went back to its earlier format after the April issue, and even that would not last for long. Soon the premium on paper during the war would push the magazine down to digest size.

April 1943
April 1943

And here is May through September:

Continue reading The latest batch of Astounding’s have arrived!