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:

Words by Episode.PNG

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.

Community discussion

I know from looking at Feedburner that a lot of folks read the Vacation posts via RSS. I don’t have good RSS numbers at the moment, so the numbers that follow are based on direct views of the posts on my blog.

  • Most discussed episode: 23 (May 1941) with 21 comments3
  • Least discussed episode: 22 (April 1941) with 3 comments4
  • Average comments per episode: 10
  • Most viewed episode: 1 (July 1939)5
  • Least viewed episode: 9 (March 1940)6

Content-related stats

  • Number of stories and articles covered in the first 26 episodes: 2007
  • Number of unique bylines: 718
  • Number of women authors: 39
  • Number of non-fiction articles: 30
  • Number of serials: 9
  • Number of words per issue: ~67,00010
  • Total words read in the first 26 episodes: 1.7 million or the equivalent of about 19 science fiction novels11.

Author-related stats

The following table lists the top 10 contributors to Astounding in the first 26 issues. The numbers include any pieces that appear under the authors’ pseudonyms as well. The “Best in issue” is the number of times I rated a story by that author as the best story in the issue. The “Avg” is, like a batting average, the frequency with which the author has a “best story in issue.”

Author Pieces # Best in issue Avg.
Robert Heinlein 18 6 .333
L. Ron Hubbard 12 4 .333
L. Sprague de Camp 12 0 .000
A. E. van Vogt 10 2 .200
Theodore Sturgeon 8 3 .375
Lester del Rey 7 2 .286
Nat Schachner 7 2 .286
Willy Ley 7 1 .143
R. S. Richardson 7 0 .000
Nelson S. Bond 6 1 .167

 

Willy Ley and R. S. Richarson should probably be caveats since they write mostly articles, although Ley did write “Fog” under the pseudonym Robert Willey and that was my favorite story in that issue. You can see that Heinlein has everyone beat as far as pieces go. And he has the most stories that I selected as the best in the issue. But when you look at the average, Heinlein and Hubbard tie for second place. First place goes to Theodore Sturgeon who, with 8 stories so far, has had the best story in the issue 3 times. This surprised me when I looked at the numbers.

It will be interesting to see how these numbers change and evolve over the next 25 issues or so. I’ll probably revisit the numbers after Episode 50 (August 1943, approximately November 1, 2012).


  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.”
  3. Contains Heinlein’s “Universe” and MacDonald’s “Solution Unsatisfactory”
  4. Contains Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God” and Asimov’s “Reason”
  5. Keep in mind that the number of views varies with how long the post has been out. The July 1939 issue has been out the longest and it is also the first episode of the Vacation so I’d expect it to be the most-viewed episode.
  6. Contains “If This Goes On–” by Heinlein and “Cold” by Nat Schachner
  7. Does not include Campbell’s editorials
  8. Includes pseudonyms
  9. C. L. Moore and Amelia R. Long in Episode 1, and Leigh Brackett in Episode 8 and Episode 10
  10. I estimated this using standard word count estimation practices. Keep in mind this is for the standard-sized issue. A separate count will be needed for bed sheet sized issues beginning in January 1942.
  11. Assumes an average length of 90,000 words for a novel.

5 thoughts on “Vacation in the Golden Age by the numbers

  1. Pretty interesting stuff. You’ve forgotten the third woman author, Amelia R. Long from Episode One (“Where the Half Gods Go–“).

    There is an extensive website devoted to Long that includes an interview and bibliography. Her second published story, in WEIRD TALES (“The Thought Monster”, March 1930), was filmed as FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958). She transitioned from short SF to detective novels in 1940 where she achieved her greatest success.

    Interesting bit from the interview—

    …When I asked Miss Long if she felt that being a woman had held her back in the pulp market, she replied: “I don’t think being a woman held me back with any of the science fiction magazines, but I’ll tell you where it does hit you — on the translation rights of certain countries, especially the Spanish-American countries…if they know something is written by a woman, they’ll simply give your initials and make believe you’re a man. That used to annoy me. I know there was always that buggaboo of a woman writing for a man’s magazine, but in WEIRD TALES and the science fiction magazines, I don’t think it ever did make much difference. I know it never did in my case, and I don’t think it did with any of the others.”

    http://amelialong.tripod.com/index.htm

    Another Amelia R(eynolds) Long story from ASTOUNDING STORIES (“Scandal in the 4th Dimension”, February 1934) can be read at

    http://spacerubbish.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/scandal/

  2. By the end of your Vacation, A. E. van Vogt will dominate the Author-Related Stats. In that eleven year span, van Vogt will have produced over a million words for JWC.

    ASF – 911,500 words
    UNKNOWN WORLDS – 96,000 words

    And that doesn’t include the contributions made by Mrs van Vogt.

    ASF – 101,000 words
    UNKNOWN WORLDS – 24,500 words

    The above numbers are taken from the bibliography that concludes the autobiography REFLECTIONS OF A. E. VAN VOGT.

  3. Man, I guess I was so busy yesterday I didn’t even see these comments come through. I’ve corrected the count for women–and good catch there, Mark. Interesting that “Where the Half Gods Go–” was her only story to appear in Campbell’s Astounding–despite having had numerous stories in Astounding before Campbell. Asimov described Campbell as “awkward” around women. Also interesting that the July 1939 issue contained stories by two of the three women that have appeared so far in this Vacation.

    Long’s quote from the interview reminded me of something Katherine MacLean said at this past Readercon–where she was the first living recipient of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. She was an engineer and had been writing science fiction stories for Astounding in the late 1940s. She was trying to sneak into a society of engineers meeting, but she didn’t have a badge. She got past reception and into the building and eventually one of the many men there asked her who she was. She figured she was going to be thrown out of the place, but she told them her name. “You mean THE Katherine MacLean? The science fiction writer?” the man said. He called everyone over and she ended up being the star of the show.

    I had no idea that Mrs. van Vogt wrote for Campbell. What name did she write under? (It’s funny how that happens. I believe it was Barry Malzberg who told me that one of Theodore Sturgeon’s girlfriends also wrote for Campbell.)

  4. E. Mayne Hull.

    There is a bit of a controversy over who actually wrote the stories under that name. A. E. van Vogt always claimed in interviews that they were his wife’s work. Though he did admit to some editorial assistance.

    Van Vogt’s Ottawa war job ran a year and a half, from Fall 1939 to May 1941. During this time, Van Vogt would write one 800-word scene in long hand at night after work. And Edna would type up his efforts the next day. “…It turned out that as a result of this secretarial task she began to have science fictional and fantasy ideas of her own.”

    “…when we were in Ottawa, and she got her first science fiction idea – after seeing the motion picture CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS– I encouraged her to write it in scenes. What was my sadness to discover that she had done her usual of just sitting at the typewriter and letting the story flow onto the pages. What I did to the so-so (not bad) result was, I marked off where I thought the scenes began and ended. It took awhile, but presently she had the story fairly well organized. However, the end result was too sparingly written– it was slick paper style. For me, it didn’t have in it what I called the great pulp music. So
    I sat down one evening, and marked up her manuscript by inserting adjectives and phrases like that “bright glowing moon.”

    “She retyped it once more, and sent it to Campbell under the title “The Flight That Failed.” It was published under the by-line “by E. M. Hull.” As writers well know there’s always some reader who takes note of an oddity. So someone duly wrote in and asked, “Is this the same E. M. Hull who wrote THE SHEIK? (Rudolph Valentino starred in the movie version of this old novel.) Because of that question the name E. Mayne Hull came into the science fiction writing field.”

    The above quotes are taken from the van Vogt piece in FANTASTIC LIVES: AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAYS BY NOTABLE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS (1981), edited by Martin H. Greenberg. Katherine MacLean and Barry Malzberg are also contributors.

Comments are closed.