Category Archives: vacation in the golden age

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 37: July 1942

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I took advantage of the extra two weeks to do my annual April re-read of Isaac Asimov’s massive autobiography. I have now done this 15 times, reading first the retrospective volume, I, Asimov, published posthumously in 1994, and then jumping back to In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt. Despite having the books virtually memorized, they never wear on me. I didn’t get to do it last spring and so it was particularly nice to get back to them this year.

And since this is the first time I read them while doing my Vacation, it was of special interest, especially Asimov’s observations of the Golden Age as he lived through it. Many of the names he mentioned were suddenly familiar to me. He would head off to Fletcher Pratt’s war games and meet people like Hubbard and Heinlein, of course, but he also met Malcolm Jameson there, a name that, before this Vacation, meant nothing to me. He stopped by Huber Rogers’ apartment to pick up an original painting–and that name also meant nothing to me before this Vacation. You will find at least one more of these below–one I encountered just today making my way through more of In Joy Still Felt.

Then, too, there his insight into the creation of his own stories; his relationship with Campbell; his friendship with Frederik Pohl, and countless other facets that made the read so much more pleasurable this year. And there were lots of tidbits that I captured for future Episodes as well.

It is worth noting that the cover this issue, credited to Rogers, is of an American flag with the words “United We Stand” just above it. As I mentioned in the last episode, this is something that magazines across the country were doing in July 1942 and Street & Smith included their magazines in that patriotic display. The Smithsonian Institution has an online feature about the July 1942 magazine covers for those who are interested.

Editorial: Diode to Pentagrid

For the first time in a while, Campbell’s editorial completely baffled me. It was a 2-page spread on how the klystron tube was already outdated. The editorial seemed like a kind of apology by Campbell for being wrong about the Klystron, except Campbell doesn’t really apologize so much as explain how quickly the technology evolved and why. Stanley R. Short had an article about the Klystron back in the February 1941 issue (Episode 20) and that too, was out of date. Beyond that, I couldn’t make heads or tales of what Campbell was talking about.

This issue is packed with stories: 4 novelettes, include two long ones. Three short stories. A brief science article. And count them, seven Probability Zero pieces. And at least two of the PZ items are written by names familiar to many science fiction fans today–and one name who is familiar even outside of science fiction.

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Reminder: Episode 37 of my Vacation in the Golden Age delayed to April 30

Just in case anyone missed the earlier announcement and was looking for Episode 37 of my Vacation in the Golden Age today: it has been delayed 2 weeks to April 30. I’ve updated the schedule accordingly.

Episode 37 of my Vacation in the Golden Age delayed to April 30

I’ve had a busy week and I’m behind in my Vacation reading. I’ve got a busy couple of days ahead of me and rather than stress over whether or not I’ll get my reading done in time for Sunday’s post, I’ve decided to use one of my chits and delay this Episode until April 30.

As I wrote in my post on the schedule for my Vacation this year, I aim for 26 Episodes a year, but plan for 24. The realities of life sometimes creep in and as much as I hate delaying these Episodes, sometimes it’s the only way to stay sane.

So Episode 37–which, incidentally is the first Episode of the 4th Vacation year–will be posted on April 30. I will update the schedule to reflect the changes going forward. And I apologize for the delay, although I must admit that, being behind, it feels like the right decision. Already a small weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

In the meantime, this is a good opportunity to catch up on any Episodes that you may have missed. And don’t forget, links to all of the episodes are also now available on Pinterest.

Vacation in the Golden Age now on Pinterest

In an effort to keep up with the cool kids, I’ve created a Vacation in the Golden Age pinboard on Pinterest. The board contains the covers for each of the magazine/episodes I’ve done so far with links back to the original episodes. You can continue to find the Episodes in the same place as always. And if you prefer Pinterest, you can find them there as well.

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 36: June 1942

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When I started this Vacation back in January 2011, I was 38 years old. I celebrated my fortieth birthday while reading the June 1942 issue in preparation for this episode. By my calculations, I’ll be a month shy of 44 years old when this Vacation finally comes to an end on Leap Day 2016. It’s a bit hard to believe that we’ve now made it through 3 complete Vacation years, 36 consecutive issues of Astounding. It seems like each issue is better than the last. Another trend I’ve noticed (and you may have, too, is that each Episode seems to get longer and longer. Indeed, this episode sets a new record, pushing nearly 8,000 words, or almost 1/10th the length of the magazine in question itself. Sometimes, I can’t help it, especially when Isaac Asimov’s Foundation stories are involved. Then, too, Hal Clement makes his debut in this issue an his debut story, “Proof” rather took me by surprise. I hope, therefore, you will forgive me the length.

Editorial: Post-War Duty

Campbell’s 2-page editorial this month discusses what he feels will be the effects of the war on post-War economics. One side-effect, Campbell points out, is that “We are going to be immensely richer after the war is over than we were before.” Campbell defines wealth as both physical capital and “wealth in the form of knowledge,” or what today we’d call “intellectual property.” He argues that with production cranking up to unheard-of levels in order to support the war effort, there will be a necessary improvement in process and production that will carry over into the post-War era. As an example:

They had to find some way to air condition army tanks; men couldn’t fight efficiently in hot climates in the baking interior of a metal box. You can bet we’ll have air-conditioned cars when the war’s over.

Campbell was certainly right about that. He goes onto reason that at these high production levels and high consumption levels (remember all of this stuff being produced is being used as well), there will by necessity be increased wages or lower prices after the War. He argues for increased wages with prices staying about the same. A new car will still cost $700, but a man who made $35/week will now bring home $120/week.

Campbell then explores how the shortages (and accompanying rationing) caused by the War effort will affect industry–in particular the use of metals, of which the war effort needs huge quantities. Silver, he argues, is a terrible “jewel metal” and has much more application in practical manufacturing than could ever be gained from jewels. He goes on to say “There are ninety-two elements in the table–and we haven’t really used a good full half of them.” While he does argue that we could be making better use of titanium, I think he’s glossing over the fact that some of the elements are not used for practical reasons: safety, expense in obtaining them, expense in processing them. Just because it is in the table and fills a certain need does not mean it is easy to use.

That said, I do agree with Campbell that the massive increase in production that happened during the war could have happened at any time if people weren’t as lazy as they tend to be, if they weren’t as focused on doing the same thing in the same way that it’s always been done; if there was more incentive for innovation. Clearly, what was achieved in terms of production in World War II was possible–because it was done! The real question is: can that same kind of innovation in process and production be harvested outside the threat of war?

This issue is just packed with fiction: four novelettes, and five short stories, to say nothing of a science article and the usual mix of departments.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 35: May 1942

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Sitting down to read this issue–and most especially, Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” story–was some of the most fun I’ve had in quite a while. This is the Golden Age at its best and it is sometimes difficult to remember that the United States was at war when these stories were being written. But in picking up the issue and reading the stories, I was immediately lost to the world around me and I can imagine (and hope) that contemporary readers of the time found some hours of escape from the news of the day.

I also wonder whether or not anyone recognized “Foundation” as the classic that it would become. I might guess that some readers felt it was a very good story, but to become a classic takes time. The story must seep into the collective consciousness of fandom. Even today, when I read a story in Analog or Asimov’s or Lightspeed, I don’t necessarily think of it as a classic, even if I really like it. Still, I wish I knew someone who read “Foundation” when it first hit the newsstands and can remember their immediate reaction to the story. I’d love to know what that was like.

This is a bit of an unusual issue. Despite being the large-sized Astounding, nearly 100,000 words, there are only five pieces of fiction in it. Three novelettes, at least one of which would be considered a novella by today’s standards; one very short story; and the conclusion of Anson MacDonald/Robert Heinlein’s serialized novel, “Beyond This Horizon–”

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 34: April 1942

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The beginning of the month is always a fun time. These days, a number of the science fiction magazines to which I subscribe send out their electronic version on the first of the month. (Interestingly, I still receive Analog and Asimov’s two-to-three months ahead of their cover date. Thus, I already have the May Analog and April Asimov’s.) When I get a new issue, the very first thing I do is skim the contents page to see if there are any of those authors I truly admire listed. Today, it’s authors like Jack McDevitt and Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg and Joe Haldeman and Nancy Kress  and Barry Malzberg whose names I look out for. I also look for those writers whom I know personally. I carefully review the contents page and then turn to the “Coming Attractions” department to see who will be appearing in the coming months. Sometime, the anticipation of knowing that a new Barry Malzberg or Connie Willis story is on the way is as exciting as the anticipation leading up to a vacation.

I can only imagine that fans in the 1940s felt the same way. When the latest issue arrived at the local newsstand, or in their mail box, they’d open it up and turn at once to the contents page, looking down the line to see if the issue contained any stories by Heinlein or Asimov, de Camp or del Rey, Jameson or Hubbard. And upon seeing their favorite authors with stories in the issue, they’d then turn to that story and start reading at once, delighted at the notion that there was something brand new by one of these writers. Of course, not every story by a favorite writer is a good one, but there is a kind of quantum state that is formed, the moment when you turn to a new story by a favorite writer but have not yet read it. Will it be a good one? Will it become a classic, a story that fans will talk about for years or decades?

It is impossible for me to wonder this with stories that appear in this Vacation. But I sometimes read a story today, a novella like Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” and wonder, will this story be talked about 70 years from now as a classic of the genre, in the same way that Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children” or Asimov’s “Nightfall” is spoken about today? Can we really recognize a classic when it first appears, or does time and criticism make it a classic?

Editorial: Too Good at Guessing

Campbell’s 1-page editorial this month touches on the sensitive subject of military secrets and science fiction. Campbell wonders whether, during a time of war, science fiction writers, who are often apt at guessing uses of future technology, should be making those guesses after all. Put another way, should science fiction writers be self-censoring in the same way that scientists were self-censoring about work on the atomic bomb?

Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 34: April 1942

Some more Golden Age reference books

I arrived home from work today to find two wonderful books sent to me by frequent and insightful Vacation in the Golden Age commenter Mark McSherry. He’d sent along a copy of Fantasy Commentator with all kinds of good stuff about Campbell-era Astounding:

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In addition, he sent along a copy of James Gifford’s Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion. The Heinlein book in particular comes in particularly handy as I have just finished he first part of MacDonald/Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon– for Episode 34 of my Vacation in the Golden Age. Both books should prove to be valuable reference guides throughout the remainder of my Vacation.

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So a big THANK YOU goes out to Mark. It is really amazingly cool that there are others out there who take the time to comment on and otherwise participate in this little project of mine. It makes it a lot more fun than going through it all by myself.

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 33: March 1942

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When I finish my lunch every other Monday and carefully take the “new” issue of Astounding out of it’s wrappings and gaze at the cover, I often wonder if the folks reading the magazine in its day got the same kind of thrill. Did they return from the newsstand and find some quiet corner in which to start skimming through the magazine? Did they wonder what opinions Campbell would offer today? Did they turn first to the Brass Tacks to see if their letters had been printed? I think of how I read the science fiction magazines I subscribe to today. I usually read the nonfiction first: editorials, letter columns, book reviews, regular columns, etc., before moving onto the fiction.

Regardless, I always look forward to glancing at the cover art for a moment or two, and then turning my attention to the contents page and getting a preview of what to expect from the issue. Each new issue is full of exciting possibilities and that excited feeling I get skimming the contents must be a common experience for science fiction readers, whether reading the magazines printed today, or those printed seventy years ago.

Editorial: Science fiction and war

Last month, Campbell made overt references to the war in his In Times To Come column, focusing on those writers whose might not be able to write for some time because of war work. His editorial this month talks about science fiction and war in a different context: American know-how. Campbell starts by pointing out that American’s have an advantage over almost any other nation in their mechanical abilities. He is not arguing that we are all engineers, but he points out that we’ve had access to things like (relatively) cheap cars for so long that we all know how to tinker with them. We all know how to handle them in various conditions. Compare this to the people of Europe, he argues, who might drive cars, but never make attempts to repair them themselves; they take them to experts. This kind of experience can serve well on a battlefield.

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Why the July 1942 Astounding will be an important moment in my Vacation in the Golden Age

Today, I get started with my reading of the March 1942 Astounding in preparation for Episode 33 of my Vacation in the Golden Age, which will appear two weeks from today, February 20. (Episode 32 was just released.) But it is the July 1942 issue of Astounding (Episode 37) that will provide a truly significant moment in this Vacation of mine.

Up until now, through 33 Episodes, corresponding to nearly 3 complete years of Astounding (July 1939-March 1942), every writer who has appeared in the pages of the magazine, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, is no longer alive. These issues first appeared 70 years ago, which means the youngest writers were, perhaps, 19 or 20. There hasn’t been an instant yet where I’ve come across a story or article by a writer who is still alive.

But the July 1942 issue (Episode 37, to-be-posted on April 16) contains a story by a writer who is, at this moment, still very much alive. That writer’s name: Ray Bradbury.

The July 1942 issue contains a Probability Zero story by Bradbury titled “Eat, Drink and Be Wary.” Assuming Mr. Bradbury can hang in there for a few more months, he’ll take the place of being the first writer to appear in this Vacation who is still alive.

And it’s quite a coincidence, really, because he will also be the only writer to appear in this Vacation that I have ever met in person.

I just thought this was a cool enough thing to be worth mentioning.

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 32: February 1942

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War finally makes its way into the pages of Astounding, beginning with issue. As you will see in Campbell’s In Times to Come department at the end of this Episode, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war affected all aspects of life in this country–including science fiction.

War brings uncertainty and that uncertainty has been an undercurrent of many of the stories we have seen in this Vacation. It manifests in this Episode in C. L. Moore’s lead novella, “There Shall Be Darkness.” Nevertheless, Campbell maintains his optimism both in his selection of stories, and his opinions, as you shall soon see.

Editorial: Supernova Centaurus

Campbell surprised me this issue with a single–as opposed to 2-page–editorial. I expected with the new space, he’s continue with his lengthy 2-pagers. This month’s editorial is all about supernova. Campbell tries to illustrate the strength of these phenomenon by describing them in terms of absolute magnitude. There is not much to distinguish the piece one way or another, but its historical value may be of some amusement. He describes the potential of a supernova in the Alpha Centuara system as being a boom to tourism in the southern hemisphere, once the light from the explosion reached us. What he fails to mention (and which most scientists probably didn’t realize at the time) was the threat that would accompany the display in the form of high energy radiation.

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Golden Age lunches

I often Tweet about or refer to my Golden Age reading at lunch. I thought folks might like a window into what those lunches look like.

I do most of my reading for my Vacation in the Golden Age on my lunch hour–at least during the work week. I pack my lunch, so I grab it out of the refrigerator and bring it into my office. I shut my door and spread my lunch out across my meeting table. Then I proceed to eat and read as much as I can in the hour that I have. I try to read at least 10 pages every lunch hour (10-pages for a 130 page issue means I can read the issue in 13 days, and have a day to put together my write-up).

Here’s what a typical spread looks like:

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I am a creature of habit and my lunch rarely changes. You can see the current issue of Astounding (today, I finished reading Leigh Brackett’s “The Sorcerer of Rhiannon”). Peanut butter and jelly is my absolute favorite lunch, has been since I was a kid, and that’s usually what I pack. Along with it, I’ve got 3 Oreos (with double-stuff); a pack of fruit snacks; a chocolate chip granola bar; and a cherry Dr. Pepper.

Kelly got me the sandwich wrappers. They are reusable packages for wrapping up sandwiches and snacks. You can see the one spread out beneath my sandwich and the other holds my Oreos. And I use a cloth napkin. I bring all of it in a plastic grocery bag–the same bag I’ve used all month long and so most of the packaging in my lunch is reusable. This is a lot more environmentally friendly than when I used to pack sandwiches and cookies in sandwich bags that would get tossed every day.

These lunches are great because they get me away from my work, take my mind off my tasks and frustrations and give me an hour of stress-free reading from the Golden Age. I look forward to these lunches every day and on those rare days when I have to skip them (because of a meeting) it throws off the rest of the day for me. I discourage lunch meetings for this reason. My lunch hour is blocked off on my calendar with a note indicating to call me first before scheduling a meeting during this time. Some time is worth going to extra lengths to protect.

I take notes when I’m reading, using Evernote on my iPad, and at the end of each story, I’ll do my write-up for the story then and there while it is fresh in my mind. That way I’m not trying to remember the details of a story 2 weeks after I first read it. It also means that come the Sunday that the Episode is released, all that’s left for me to do is put together what I’ve written into a blog post.

Mostly, this lunch hour gives me an hour of peace. I can sit in my quiet office, eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich while being transported to other worlds and times, and for an hour, I really am in a Golden Age.