Yesterday, I received in the mail the February 1943 issue of Astounding. The issue contains part 1 of A. E. van Vogt’s serial “The Weapon Makers.”
When I turned to the contents page, I noticed another story in the issue that gathered some fame and popularity in the years since. It was even made into a movie (which I will admit I didn’t see). Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, teaming up as Lewis Padgett present a little story called “Mimsy Were the Borogoves.”
And for those who don’t know it, that serial, “Opposites–React!” by Wil Stewart is none other than Jack Williamson in disguise. Looks like a fun issue that will make up Episode 44 of my Vacation in the Golden Age in June of next year.
I’m expecting a few more issues to arrive later this week.
Today I picked up a few more issues of Astounding: April through September 1943, which gives me an unbroken string through the first 50 episodes of my Vacation in the Golden Age and takes the Vacation through the end of September 2012, a year from now. My next gap is October 1943 but I have a year to acquire more issues.
I expect the new issues to arrive within the next week or so. Meanwhile, I am happily making my way through the June 1941 issue of Astounding in preparation for Episode 24 which comes out a week from today.
The magazines I obtained last week arrived today. The postman duly delivered them despite the flooding rains we’re having here and I am grateful to him for that. The big issue in the pack is the May 1942 issue of Astounding. This has been by far the most difficult issue for me to get my hands on. This may be because it contains Isaac Asimov’s story, “Foundation” which is the very first story in his famous series. I have been looking forward to obtaining this issue since I first conceived of my Vacation in the Golden Age. Now I have it:
As part of my Vacation in the Golden Age, I need to obtain the issues of Astounding between July 1939 and December 1950. Many of these I already have and in fact, my first gap wasn’t until Episode 35, the May 1942 issue of Astounding. I obtained the 1942 issues (many of which are signed) in a single block and the block included all of 1942 except for the May issue.
The May issue, for those who don’t know, contains Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation,” the first story in his famous science fiction series and I imagine that has made it difficult to obtain. I have been trying since the outset of my Vacation way back in January. Well, I have some good news to report:
Yesterday, I obtained a copy of the May 1942 Astounding! When the issue arrives in the mail, I will post pictures.
I also obtained the January and March 1943 issues, which means my next gap is February 1943. I’m not too worried, however. I don’t need this issue until the end of June 2012. It represents Episode 44 of my Vacation.
Still, I am very excited to finally have obtained the May 1942 issue and for a reasonable price, too! Expect a photo when it arrives.
Twenty-three episodes into this Vacation and I think I am finally beginning to get the hang of these columns. I altered my approach to this issue and you will have to let me know if it shows. Up until now, I would take notes as I read the issue, and then, on Sunday morning, I’d gather all the notes, along with the issue and a few other reference books and sit down to write the Episode–all 4,000 words or so (the present one is nearly 5,000 words making it the longest thus far.) This process presented me with some difficulties:
There was the stress of having to produce a 4,000 word column on a Sunday morning
There was the stress of being able to remember everything I wanted to discuss from the notes I took.
Also, given my busy schedule, I wasn’t always able to get in some reading every day and that meant that I often found myself playing catch-up a few days before having to write the Episode.
This time, I did things differently. First,I kept apace of my reading so that I never really fell behind. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I did the write up for each story as I finished reading the story. That meant that today, all I had to do was write the other items (this intro, Brass Tacks, In Times To Come, etc.) and put the whole thing together. I hope that it means my observations are a little more clear and that I touch on things I might have otherwise forgotten if I had waiting until the end to write up the whole thing. You’ll have to decide if you notice any difference.
In any event, this issue was a treat, one of the better issues I’ve come across in this Vacation so far. It is unusual for having seven pieces of fiction and no articles whatsoever. There are two novelettes, four short stories, and the conclusion of a serial. And it all beings with Campbell discussing the future… Continue reading Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 23: May 1941→
As you read this latest Episode in my Vacation in the Golden Age, I am likely at the hospital feeding my newborn daughter, or more likely, changing her diaper while my wife recovers from the delivery. Nevertheless, I was determined to see this Episode go out on schedule, and indeed, reading through the May 1941 issue, which I’ve already started is providing a kind of mini-vacation between feedings and diaper changes and rocking the Little Miss back to sleep.
Since we last met, NPR released the results of the votes for the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. More than 60,000 votes were collected, and in looking through the list, I noted something interesting. There are only a few books on the list from before 1950, and as far as I can tell, those from the early 1940s are exclusively by Isaac Asimov. In fact, his collection I, Robot is number 16 on the list and we’ll find the first Astounding story to appear in that collection in the current episode, “Reason.” Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy also appears at #8 on the list and the first Foundation story will appear in the May 1942 issue, just a year beyond our current point in this Vacation. (And if you are counting, that would make it Episode 35, scheduled to appear on February 20, 2012.) There are quite a few books from the 1950s and more as the decades roll on. But it is nice to know that in a sample of 60,000 people, there are some pieces from the Golden Age that are still held in very high regard.
The current issue presents us with–count them!–eight pieces of fiction: a new serial, 2 novelettes, and 5 short stories. There is also a science article and the usual departments.
There is a personal significance to the Rogers cover for the March 1941 issues. It is one of my favorite covers so far but not just for the excellent story for which it was painted. Back when I started acquiring these issues at the beginning of the year, this particular issue sat upright on my desk, leaning against a stack of magazines. My little boy would see it and say, “Airplane!” Every so often he would walk into my office and say, “Daddy, airplane,” and I would find the issue and show it to him. And he would always seem delighted by it. Eventually, I got an idea. I took a high-resolution photo of the cover of the issue and then printed it out on 8-1/2 x 11-inch paper. I found a nice wooden frame and framed the “cover” and mounted the picture on my son’s wall above his crib. That way, when he went to sleep at night, he could look at it.
My son has graduated from crib to bed and from calling it an “airplane” to calling it a “spaceship”, but that cover is still frame and hangs over his bed where he can see it at night. I wonder when Rogers created that cover if he imagined it would fill a two-year old with a sense of wonder some seven decades later?
The March issue contains 7 pieces of fiction this month: two novelettes, four short stories, and the concluding part of Anson MacDonald (Robert Heinlein)’s serial, “Sixth Column”. There is also a science article by R. S. Richardson.
When the Golden Age began with the July 1939 (Episode 1) issue of Astounding, spaceflight of any kind, let along human spaceflight was still a dream of science fiction writers and perhaps a few eccentric scientists. It would be some 23 years before the United States put a man in space. Between Episode 19 and this Episode, the 133rd and last space shuttle flight took place and for the moment, there is a pause in the human spaceflight program in the United States. I recently wrote why I think this pause is temporary, but part of my reasoning involved the fact that we, as humans, have a desire to explore the unknown, and science fiction writers, many of whom appear in this Vacation, were pioneers in imagining just how it might be done.
On the whole, many of the stories written in the Golden Age didn’t really capture the complexities of space flight. On the other hand, some of the stories did manage to imagine some of the realities of it, not just scientific challenges, but social and political ones. For me, science fiction is not and never has been a literature of prediction, but rather one of exploration. It explores the possibilities, examines how technological change impacts society for better or worse, and reports back in imaginative ways the impact of those changes. Hard science fiction stories in particular, which Campbell willingly or otherwise helped introduce, act almost like primitive models for such exploration. Hard science fiction stories today are rather different than what you’ll find in this Vacation–everything evolves over time–but in many ways, they are better. They are written by writers with a better understand of the underlying science and a better ability to assess the impact of technological change in ways that could not be done before the dawn of the space age. The important explorations that these writers today will make are not necessarily those to other world, but instead, how we will overcome our political, fiscal, and bureaucratic challenges of getting to those other worlds.
Will it be governments or private industry or some combination that will get us there? It is impossible to say for certain. But just as the writers of the Golden Age gave us possibilities for getting to, surviving and living in space in the first place, so the writers today will explore our options and challenges in making that next giant leap.
Happy new year and welcome to 1941. And what a year it looks to be. I posted a preview of the covers for 1941 yesterday, and these covers are now also available on the main Vacation index page. Reading the letter columns of the time, fans clearly through the magazine was getting better and better. And 1941 looks to keep that trend going. I think Robert Heinlein has a story in 9 out of the 12 issues in 1941. Isaac Asimov starts his regular appearances in the magazine and we’ll start to see his early Robot stories appear this year. (The first of the Robot stories, “Robbie” appeared in one of Fred Pohl’s magazines and was given the awful title of “Strange Playfellow”.) But it is this year that the Laws of Robotics will be codified for the first time. There are some promising serials by “new” names, as well as serials by old favorites. Doc Smith has a new Lensman serial toward the end of the years. In all, it looks like an outstanding year, marred only, perhaps, by the tragic events that brought the United States into the Second World War during December.
Magazines evolve over time. We’ve already seen some of that in this Vacation, and we will see more of that as the year progresses into 1942, when the size and layout of Astounding changes. Change can be good. You’ll notice some subtle changes in the format of this Episode. While the writing style (I hope) stays the same, I’ve tried to make the organization more obvious and easier to follow. In particular, I’ve tried to make it more clear where in a given episode reader can find a particular piece. This is in preparation for some new features I am hoping to release in the next couple of months that will allow readers to more easily cross-reference authors and stories and see a listing of episodes that a specific author appears in. Keep an eye out for that. One other change: I’ve put Campbell’s blurbs of the stories in boldface type directly below the story titles.
For now, however, relax, take your mind off Google+, the evening news, the boss, the kids, and slip back into the seemingly halcyon days of 1941…
On Monday, I continue my Vacation in the Golden Age of science fiction with the January 1941 issue of Astounding. As good as 1940 was, 1941 looks even better. I think Robert Heinlein has a story in 9 of the 12 issues in 1941. In addition, we start to see more of Isaac Asimov, including the first of his Robot stories, and one of his most famous stories of all time, “Nightfall”. I thought I’d tease you give you a preview this weekend of the next twelve episodes of this Vacation by showing you the upcoming covers for 1941:
I am in the process of working on some new features that will become part of the Vacation in the Golden Age posts. These features should make the various Episodes more useful by allowing you to cross-reference names and titles to specific episodes, and jump to a point in an Episode for a given title. Among the features that will be coming:
Author indexes: author names within the Episode posts will be hyperlinked. Clicking on the link will take you to an index page for that author, listing all of their appearances in the Vacation. Each item in the list will be linked back to the Episode in which it appeared. The index will also contain the AnLab ratings for the author, as well as my ratings.
Title references: references to titles that appear in the Vacation will be hyperlinked and will take you to the specific part within the episode in which my comments on the piece appear
Implementing this requires a number of steps:
Create a database to store the information
Compile and import data into the database
Create a WordPress plug-in to render the author index pages
Go back and place bookmark anchors in the existing Episodes
Hyperlink all authors and titles that appear within the Vacation posts
At present, I am working on Step 2. I am hoping to have the new features completed before August 25–or just in time for Episode 22 (April 1941). Of course, I will announce when the new features are available, although some of them will be pretty obvious once they are in place.
I did a cursory roll call as I prepared for this Episode, which concludes the year 1940. The list of authors that have appeared in the first 18 months of this Vacation brings up two curious facts:
So far as I can tell (and please correct me if I am wrong) none of the authors whose stories appear in the first 18 months of this Vacation are alive today. Fiction or nonfiction.
Of all the authors that have appeared so far, only 3 have been women: Leigh Brackett, Amelia Long, and C. L. Moore. And all three appeared in 1939. No women authors appeared in 1940.
The end of 1940 also brought to a close the 10th anniversary of Astounding. Overall, the issues wasn’t a bad one, but it was not one of my favorites, despite the conclusion of “Slan”.
I wanted to make a brief mention here to the sad news of the passing of Martin H. Greenberg. He, along with Isaac Asimov, collected many stories from the golden age in retrospective volumes organized by year. His passing is a big loss to the science fiction community, and especially to the world of short fiction. Greenberg was science fiction’s premier short fiction anthologist.