What I found in the 1942 issues of Astounding Science Fiction

I raced home from work today hoping that I’d have the June issue of Analog in my mailbox. The issue contains my story, “Take One for the Road” and I’ve already heard from Steven H. Silver  and Michael Burstein that they had received their copies. It seemed as if every other magazine to which I subscribe was in my mailbox (two issue of New Scientist, the April Scientific American, AOPA Pilot). But not Analog.

However, when I got to the front door, I had a box and I could tell it was from a bookstore that I ordered an almost-complete set of Astounding Science Fiction from 1942. (The set is missing the May and June issues, key issues for sure, but what follows makes up for that, and the fact that the June Analog didn’t arrive today.)

I unpacked the issues and made the first surprise discovery: they are all in very good condition. This was followed by the second discovery, which is that the 1942 issues, all of them, are bedsheet sized–that is, about the size of TIME magazine, larger than what it used to be. But I didn’t discover the other gems until I started going through the issues.

The first, of course is the January 1942 issue, pictured below.


For comparison, here is the bedsheet-sized January 1942 issue compared the the standard-sized July 1939 issue:


The real surprise came when I opened up the January issue to scan the contents page:


Yes, that is Jack Williamson’s autograph signed on the lead novelette, “Breakdown.” (You can click on the image to zoom in.) A Jack Williamson autograph in a January 1942 issue of Astounding! Now that seems like a pretty rare find, right? But wait, there’s more. The February 1942 issue looked marvelous:


And the March 1942 looked equally gorgeous:


The lead story in the March 1942 issue is A. E. van Vogt’s “Recruiting Station” and when I turned to the contents page of this issue, I discovered this:


I believe the inscription reads, “Peacefully yours, Lydea & A. E. Van Vogt”. How cool is that!

Next up was the April issue, the cover story for which was “Beyond This Horizon” by Anson MacDonald (Robert Heinlein):


And when I turned to the contents page, I saw this:


I believe it reads, “All best wishes, Lydea & A. E. Van Vogt”.

The May and June issues were missing from this particular find. (Those issues include Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” and “Bridle and Saddle” and are probably more difficult to locate. But the July issue was in pristine condition:


And on the contents page, for the July issue, something even more remarkable:


That is A. E. Van Vogt’s autograph next to “Secret Unattainable” and Jack Williamson’s autograph next to “Collision Orbit” by Will Stuart, which of course was one of Williamson’s pseudonyms.

The August and September issues were both in excellent condition:

photo.JPG photo.JPG
August 1942 September 1942

The October 1942 issue was next with its cover for Lester del Rey’s “Lunar Landing”:


An on the contents page for this one, another A. E. van Vogt autograph, this one, “For Joseph…”


The November 1942 issue contains stories by both van Vogt and Stewart (Williamson):


And the contents page once again contains autographs by both men.


Finally, there is the December issue with one of van Vogt’s most famous stories, “The Weapons Shop” for which the cover illustration was done.


And inside, next to his story in the contents, was one more autograph by van Vogt.


What are the chances that I could stumble upon such a find? That the issues were in very good condition was one thing. That many of them are signed by two of the more famous writers in the genre–both of them are Grand Masters–is more than I could hope for. I more than made up from the fact that the June Analog was not in my mailbox today.

In fact, it puts the whole thing into rather stark perspective: who am I compared to the men and women who appeared on these treasured pages?

20 thoughts on “What I found in the 1942 issues of Astounding Science Fiction

  1. Excellent and congratulations on an excellent purchase.

    Van Vogt’s signature on the Weapon Shop issue (that is in VG+ condition) is an absolute diamond.

    (That’s a pretty hot issue all by itself!)

    You have managed to generate several gajillion megawatts of jealousy out there in collector’s land.

  2. Steve, I was stunned when they arrived. Nowhere did it indicate that I was buying signed issues. And incidentally, these weren’t signed in the 40s. Barry Malzberg tells me that Lydia was van Vogt’s second wife whom he married sometime in the 1960s, so these were clearly signed a few decades after the stories appeared. I’m still nearly half a year away from reading these issues in my Vacation, but I’ve been skimming them since last night.

  3. Campbell had no shame in printing a bald faced lie to sell his mag. In the July issue Will Stewart is introduced to the unsuspecting readers as a “new author”, rather than that old-time Legion of Space guy. In fact, one of the selling points of ASF was that JWC was publishing new authors, so he had to maintain the illusion.

    Anyway “Collision Orbit” was JWC’s second attempt to get a seetee series going. In that ever useful Patterson Heinlein biography there is a letter from Campbell dated April 1941 – significantly addressed to “Dear Anson” – requesting from Heinlein a half-dozen novelettes on the topic of contraterrene matter.

    After nothing came of it for half a year, Campbell passed the idea over to Jack Williamson. Jack was such a professional, he wrote to Heinlein asking for permission to go ahead with the series since “he didn’t want to trespass on another writer’s territory” [Patterson, chpt 21].

    Speaking of RAH, I wonder when it became generally known that Anson MacDonald, Caleb Saunders, & John Riverside (not to mention that hack Lyle Monroe) were the same person.

  4. It’s astonishing that the seller didn’t notice all those autographs. If he had, the price would have resembled NASA’s budget for the whole of the 1960s! Congratulations on such an incredible once-in-a-lifetime find!

  5. Wow! those are terrific. I came across an almost complete set of 1942 “Astounding” but they are in far worse condition. I am just hoping to get my money back out of them… I put them on ebay…

  6. Mark, I’m going to squeeze in the Patterson book somewhere. I’ve had it on my Kindle since the day it came out, but just haven’t had a chance to get to it. Sounds like it is definitely worthwhile. I was really impressed by Mark Rich’s biography of Kornbluth, although Fred Pohl took some lumps in that one.

  7. Isaac, I don’t know if they knew or not. I’ve been in touch with them and they indicated they were glad to see that magazines went to a science fiction fan. Maybe they didn’t advertise the autographs for that reason?

  8. What a lovely find, Jamie: and they’re fantastically preserved copies to boot. Amazing (or dare I say it, Astounding!) to think they’re nearly 70 years old.

    I also love that 1940’s art, never mind the stories! Gives me a thrill just to look at it.

    Am very jealous, but it sounds like they couldn’t have gone to a more appreciative owner!

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mark Y., 71 years old, actually, and yes, “astounding” to think that they are still in such good condition. Someone took very good care of them. The art is pretty amazing (and even the ads are interesting), but I think there was more of a focus on the art back then because there wasn’t television to give people glimpses of rocket ships and alien worlds. The art was the only way readers could see images of scenes presented in the various stories. It will be interesting to see how the art changes over the course of the decade as television is slowly evolving.

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