Category: vacation in the golden age

Resuming My Vacation in the Golden Age

Very soon, I will be resuming my Vacation in the Golden Age. The first 40 episodes of my Vacation, covered all of the issues of Astounding Science Fiction from July 1939 (the opening of the “Golden Age” of science fiction) through the October 1942 issue.  I described my reasons for taking a vacation in the Golden Age back when I first got started. Why I stopped might not have been as clear, but I think there were three reasons:

  1. The series began to feel like an obligation, rather than a fun exercise in science fiction nostalgia. I began to feel pressure to get each one out, often rushing them, and not enjoying the issues as I might have.
  2. More and more, my time was growing limited. I wasn’t writing as much fiction as I wanted to, and other obligations were squeezing out the time I had to read the magazines.
  3. Burnout. I’d been reading the magazines for close to 2 years, covering 40 issues and hundreds of stories and articles, and writing more than 100,000 words of commentary. I needed a break.

So why start things up again now? Well, I’ve been feeling the desire to get back to the old magazines for a long time, but there were some things that I needed to be sure of. One of those things was my fiction writing. I did not want to sacrifice my writing time for reading old issues of Astounding. I needed to wait until I was sure that I wouldn’t do that. If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve now written every day for the last 174 days, and I’ve missed only 2 days in the last 318. My daily writing habit is well-established now and I don’t worry about missing it. I always write.

Yesterday, I read Jennifer Campbell-Hick’s story, “Malfunction” in the Raygun Chronicles anthology (edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt). Jennifer was a fellow Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop attendee this summer. Her story was magnificent, with echoes of Asimov’s robot stories and reminiscent of  stories from the Golden Age. I think reading her story was what pushed me over the top and decided me on resuming my Vacation.

Still, I needed some ground rules for this new effort. I’d been thinking about these unconsciously for a while, but I formulated them into a set of “rules” that will help guide me through this next phase. They are:

  1. My fiction writing takes precedence. Given a limited time supply and a choice between reading Astounding or getting in my writing for the day, I’ll go with writing first and then reading if there is time left over.
  2. Because of #1, I’m not going to work on a set schedule as I did last time. I started my Vacation trying to read an issue each week, and then went to every other week. For this resumption, I plan on going at whatever pace is the least stressful. The whole point is to enjoy this Vacation, and share that enjoyment, without the pressure of getting an episode out every other week, or on some other set schedule.

In practice, I suspect this means that episodes will come out on fairly regular cycles, although what those are yet, I don’t know. Sometimes, there will be longer delays between episodes, and other times, they will be close together.

This morning, I have started reading (with a great deal of joy) the November 1942 issue of Astounding, and when I’ve finished, I’ll post the episode. When I am close to finishing, I’ll give some warning over various social media, so if you want to keep up, you can follow me on Twitter (@jamietr), follow my new Twitter account dedicated to my Vacation (@goldenagesf), or my Facebook page.

I’m looking forward to getting back into this, and looking forward to the great discussions we had in the comments to the post. And as always, I’m open to suggestions, so drop them in the comments below.

In the meantime, if you want a preview of what’s coming in Episode 41, here’s the table of contents1 for the November 1942 issue of Astounding:

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  1. Yes, it really is signed by Jack Williamson and A. E. van Vogt.

Vacation In the Golden Age Is On Hiatus

You’ve probably noted that I’ve delayed Episode 41 of my Vacation in the Golden Age twice already. The first time was due to a number of deadlines that I had for various paid writing gigs. The second time was to try to find some way of working in the necessary reading I have to do each day so that I could continue with the Episodes, as well as with my fiction and nonfiction writing, both of which have picked up lately. After a total of 4 weeks of delays, I have come to the conclusion that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to make it work. And if there were enough hours, I doubt I’d have the energy to put them to good use. Given the choice of spending what time I have to either the Vacation posts, or my fiction writing, I’ve chosen my fiction writing.

A couple of things about this:

  1. This does not mean the series will not continue at some point in the future. I’d love to complete it through it’s planned course, which was the December 1950 issue of Astounding. It does mean that I won’t be actively working toward that goal for a while.
  2. The existing posts are not going away. I find it fun to read through one or two of them. And I imagine there are many people out there who haven’t yet discovered the posts, but would be interested in them. So they are staying put.

I also wanted to thank everyone who has commented or otherwise contributed to these posts and to my experience in doing them. I was overwhelmed by the feedback I’ve received on the posts and when I can find the time to get them started up again, I’d certainly look to all of you for your keen insights and comments. They added a depth to the experience that I never expected.

Finally, I want to apologize to everyone who might be disappointed by this announcement. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’ve stewed over it for a month, looking for ways to make it work, but if there are any, they’ve eluded me. At least being explicit about it, I am no longer fooling myself about my ability to carry out the amount of work I was attempting to do, and I can go through each day with a little less stress.

Another Rescheduling of Episode 41 of the Vacation In the Golden Age

I‘m going to have to reschedule the next episode of my Vacation in the Golden Age–now set for Monday, November 12. The reason is that I have had a lot more freelance work lately, both fiction and nonfiction. With this work, I’ve found there just isn’t time in the day to read my issues of Astounding. I ordinarily do this reading on my lunch hour, but I have been having to use my lunch hour to work on the freelance work in order to meet my various deadlines. I met two of those deadlines over the weekend, but I have several more coming due before the end of the month.

So, I am punting once again. It would be nice to get back to the smooth biweekly schedule I had for a while, but at the same time, I am pleased that I am getting this freelance writing work. I always stress a little when I have to postpone an episode, but I also stress when I try to squeeze my reading into time that just isn’t there.

Schedule Change to Episode 41 of My Vacation in the Golden Age

Various writing projects, the Little Man’s minor surgery1, and prepping for and attending Capclave this coming weekend are all conspiring against my getting much reading done in the November 1942 issue of Astounding. Rather than stress over it, I’m just going to punt, and push the release date of Episode 41 of my Vacation in the Golden Age back to Monday, October 29. If nothing else, this should give those of you who haven’t caught up with episodes 39 and 40 some extra time to catch up.

  1. Very minor, plastic surgery to remove a birthmark from his forehead.

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 40: October 1942


A variety of writing commitments have been keeping me very busy these last two weeks and so I’ll keep this introduction brief. Here we are, 40 episodes into my Vacation in the Golden Age and “new” writers continue to make their debut in the pages of Astounding. George O. Smith is the new guy this month. And while these new fellows spring on scene, others begin to fade, if only temporarily. This month’s issue contains the last story by L. Ron Hubbard for the next five years.

In between are a good stable of regulars and reliables. And in a rare treat, there are two science articles in this issue, on by Willy Ley and the other by R. S. Richardson–and both are excellent.

Editorial: The Last Stand

Science fiction is not about predicting the future. It is about exploring possible futures, looking at the ways that technological change impacts society. Indeed, outright prediction can be dangerous because in get it wrong, it can lead one to believe the effort is not worthwhile. Bold predictions in turbulent times can be the most difficult to make. So I suppose John Campbell can be forgiven some of the rather remarkable predictions he makes in his editorial for the October 1942 issue. America has been engaged in the war for nearly a year at this point. It’s navy is being reconstructed. So it is, perhaps, natural for Campbell to de-emphasize the importance of naval vessels. For instance, Campbell predicts the end of the battleship because it is so vulnerable to attack by air. He hedges a bit. He says that a battleship with improved technology could make a comeback–and this, too, is understandable. Campbell would want to be in a supportive position at the time the United States Navy is once again fully functional.

Campbell clearly sees the possibility of the airplane and the power it has, but throughout the course of the rest of the editorial, much of which goes into detail on the functional operation of propeller-, jet-, and rocket-driven engines, he makes two predictions which surprised me.

First, Campbell says,

But this war is the last stand of the winged airplane, the flying machine that, like all early developments of a mechanical nature, is a hard, complicated way of doing a simple thing.

Campbell believes that the jet engine will soon take over–and in this he is right–but his caveat has it that the nature of the jet engine will ultimately eliminate the need for the wing. And if you look up into the sky today, you will see that seven decades later, this is still not true.

Second, and perhaps even more remarkably, Campbell offers this prediction of the jet engine:

The increased efficiency of the jet-type ship will have another interesting effect; at lower cruising speeds–down around five hundred m.p.h.–the jet-type ship would be very nearly noiseless, whispering along with not much more than a rustle of wind.

He goes on to argue that at higher speeds, the sounds would be like thunder. As anyone who lives under the approach to an airport knows, jets are not noiseless and it seems an odd prediction to make for someone who has a pretty good understanding of the engineering and physics involved with the engine. And it illustrates why bold predictions like that can be a little foolish, even in hindsight. Campbell lived into the age of the jet plane. I wonder what, if anything, he said about them once they became more common place. Did he ever complain about the noise?

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 39: September 1942


Take a short break and so much happens that it is almost impossible to keep up. Seventy-two years ago this summer, the 1st World Science Fiction Convention took place at a hall in Manhattan. At that convention were the giants of the time, most, if not all of whom have appeared in this Vacation. As I write this, I am less than a week in returning from the 70th World Science Fiction convention, which, as it happened was my first. This one took place in Chicago, more than seven decades after Chicon 1 in 1940. What was truly remarkable to me was that among the legends of science fiction that I got to meet there, were attendees from that very first Worldcon–including David Kyle.

Time does not stop, however, and these connections to the past continue to fade. On June 5, we lost Ray Bradbury, one of the most recognizable science fiction writers outside the world of science fiction. Bradbury, of course, had a Probability Zero story in the July 1942 Astounding (Episode 37), his first piece of fiction in the magazine. At the time that Episode appeared, Bradbury was still alive, making him the first–and so far, only–writer to still be around when a story of his appeared in this Vacation.

Then, on August 25, we lost Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. It was rather incredible to think Armstrong was gone, and I remember wondering, after I heard the news, if any writer in 1942 wondered about the first man to land on the moon, who he (or she) might be, and that there would come a time when they were no longer around.

Editorial: Weapons and War

Isaac Asimov has written that Campbell used to send lengthy rejection letters, spelling out in painstaking (and sometimes confusing) detail what was wrong with a story. Once, Asimov even assumed one of these letters to be a rejection, even though it was merely a lengthy and long-winded request for revision. This month’s 2-page editorial is a good example of this. While the essay was fairly interesting, I’m not certain what Campbell’s point was. Certainly, he wandered a bit astray from where he started.

The editorial starts with a brief discussion of the self-censoring started by scientists beginning about 1940 or so. This was to help ensure that any discoveries that they made that could possibly be of aid to the war effort, would aid our side and not our enemies. From here, Campbell seems to smoothly transition into the manufacturing realm, using as an example how the automotive industry had to convert from making car engines to airplane engines using essentially the same tools they had used before, yet for more sensitive machines. This discussion morphs into a discussion of the square-cube law and how prototypes designed in the laboratory have to account for their full-sized equivalents on the assembly line. (A model tank, Campbell points out, can be dropped from a great height with little structural damage; not so a full-sized tank.) This in turn veers off into the realm of speed of effort and the hands involved. Using as an example, how quickly the automotive industry was able to turn to aircraft as the basis for a quick turnaround under dire conditions, he points out that this isn’t always possible. Throwing more labor at a problem doesn’t always solve the problem more quickly and sometimes more hands just get in the way. From all of this, Campbell draws a rather striking conclusion:

And, be it remembered, while a mechanism in functioning condition may fall into enemy hands, the greater divergence of applied knowledge, the less the chance will be that the mechanism can be duplicated by the enemy.

I think what he is saying is what today we might refer to as “security through obscurity,” but he sure went on a roundabout route to get there.

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My Vacation In the Golden Age Resumes On September 17

I’ve been having a nice summer vacation away from my Vacation in the Golden Age. I’ve been catching up on reading and writing on other things. But I’ve started to get that itch again and I’m looking forward to Labor Day, when I will begin reading the September 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction in preparation for Episode 39 of my Vacation in the Golden Age. Expect to see Episode 39 here on Monday, September 17, and then continuing on its normal 2-week schedule thereafter until I decide I need another break.

Episode 39’s lead story is by Anthony Boucher. And if you need more of preview, here is the cover to the September 1942 issue. It’s like jumping 70 years into the past.


And if you just can’t wait, you can always get caught up with the 38 episodes that proceed this one. Stay tuned.

RETRO POST: Vacation in the Golden Age of Science Fiction

I am on an Internet Vacation this week. I promised one old post and one new post each day while I was on vacation. This is the fourth of my old posts. It was originally posted back on January 5, 2011. I brought this one back because I it is the post that kicked off my Vacation in the Golden Age series, for which at the present moment, I have written 38 episodes. A version of this post also appeared on io9.

Astounding July 1939.jpg

Most long-time fans of science fiction consider the Golden Age to have started with the July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. In that issue was the first Astounding story by Isaac Asimov (“Trends”) as well as A.E. Van Vogt’s first story, “Black Destroyer”. The very next issue included Robert Heinlein’s first story, “Life-Line”. This incredible run of stories and new authors who eventually became giants of the field continued for ten years.

I have always been envious of those people who got to live through these years as youngsters, pouring over each issue of Astounding as it came out. Sure, they lived in dark times, with war in Europe and eventually involving the United States. But science fiction earned its stripes during these years and reached a peak which I don’t think has been surmounted since. I daydream about summer days in the early 1940s, sitting on a stoop with the latest issue of Astounding open on my lap, and it is as close to heaven as my imagination allows me to get.

It occurred to me not too long ago, why not take a vacation in the Golden Age of science fiction?

How does one vacation in the Golden Age? Well, I have this idea… I plan on obtaining each issue of Astounding from July 1939 to December 1949 and then reading them cover-to-cover, as much as possible in the order in which they appeared. I’ve already obtained the July 1939 and August 1939 issues, and I have in my collection about half a dozen other issue from that era. Over time, I plan on getting a complete run of the issues that made up the Golden Age.

Obviously this is a long-term effort, but I can’t quite put into words how much the idea excites me. It is a vacation only in imagination, of course, but I look forward to those brief intervals throughout the week in which I can set aside whatever it is I am doing, and sit for 30 minutes or an hour, flipping through the pages of Astounding, reading the issues in the same way and the same order in which Isaac Asimov read them, in which Clarke and Heinlein and Sturgeon and Kutner and Moore read them. I look forward to reading the original FOUNDATION stories as they first appeared; to reading Del Rey and Hubbard; to reading the original serialized version of Van Vogt’s “The World of Null-A.” I look forward to reading Campbell’s editorials, and the science essays and Brass Tacks and reviews that appear in the magazine. I look forward to skimming the ads, Bob Hope telling me not to spend my extra cash, but to buy war bonds instead.

And of course, I look forward to sharing the experience with you on this blog over the coming months and years.

I’ve read many of the stories that appeared in Astounding during this era, but the truth is there are many more that I haven’t read. Absent a time machine, this is as close as I will ever come to living in the Golden Age of Science Fiction and I can’t wait to get started.

Update: You can find the first 38 episodes of my Vacation in the Golden Age here.

Summer vacation from my Vacation in the Golden Age

Not to bury the lead: I am taking a summer vacation from my Vacation in the Golden Age. I’ve felt this coming on for a few weeks now, and have finally decided to do it. So effective immediately, I am taking a break from my Vacation posts. The posts resume their normal schedule just after Worldcon, on September 17, 2012.

Why take this vacation?

  1. I have struggled lately to keep up with my reading. I think part of it is that I am growing restless. I don’t want this Vacation to be something that becomes a chore or burden. I pushed off Episode 39 once already and still haven’t made much progress, and that tells me it’s time to take a break.
  2. Since beginning my Vacation, I’ve read roughly 3 million words of stories and articles in Astounding in the space of 18 months. I can use a break from that as well.
  3. I do most of my Vacation reading during my lunch hour because there isn’t much other time available to me during the day. However, some recent developments in my fiction and non-fiction writing have made me want to shift gears back to writing. For the summer, anyway, I’d rather swap out the reading and use my lunch hour for writing. (I’m not yet ready to discuss these “developments” but I will in time.)

I want to make it clear that this is by no means an end to the Vacation in the Golden Age. I fully intend to complete the entire run, as I set out to do. But as any ambitious person eventually realizes, the task I set out for myself was a greater effort than I initially realized. The posts will resume in September, once Worldcon is over.

In the meantime, all of the first 38 Episodes remain available and I may do a kind of “summer reruns” thing. This also gives folks who have yet to catch up a fair chance at doing so. The Episodes alone total something like 170,000 words.

REMINDER: Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 39 out on June 11

Just a reminder to anyone who might be curious as to why Episode 39 of my Vacation in the Golden Age is not posted today. I delayed it two weeks to June 11. Hope you are having a relaxing holiday weekend. I’m heading out to plant some new bushes in front of the house. I then hope to spend a good portion of the day reading more of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Rescheduling Episode 39 of my Vacation in the Golden Age by 2 weeks

I am rescheduling Episode 39 of my Vacation in the Golden Age to appear on June 11, as opposed to May 28. While I hate pushing these things back, I am currently just too overloaded and I don’t want to have another stress-out, worrying over whether or not I’ll be able to finish in time. The work I’ve been doing over the Nebula Weekend has been keeping me busy, as has the reading I’m doing for the book review columns I’ll be writing for IGMS. I apologize for the delay but I really think it wil be the last one until possibly Labor Day weekend when I will be at Worldcon.

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 38: August 1942


These last few weeks have been rather busy for me. I’m in the midst of reading several books for the book review column I’ll be writing for InterGalactic Medicine Show in June and July. I’ve also been busy researching in preparation for the interviews of various writers I’ll be doing over the Nebula weekend. And I’ve been squeezing in a little fiction-writing of my own when a few spare minutes present themselves (which is rare, I will admit).

But often the most relaxed part of my day is my lunch hour, when I set aside all of that other business, pick up the issue of Astounding that I happen to be reading, and disappear into the 1940s for an hour or so. I look forward to that hour each and every day.

In case anyone is curious about what my workspace looks like when I am actually writing up these Episodes, here is a photo I snapped while working on this one.


In the photo, roughly from left-to-right, you can see the August issue of Astounding, my iPad which has my notes from the issue. A tube of Pringles, my computer on which I do the actual write-up, a bottle of Dogfish Head 90 minute Imperial IPA, a copy of Alva Rogers’ A Requiem for Astounding, Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion, and Fantasy Commentator, all of which I uses as references during my write-up phase.

Editorial: Life as we know it

Campbell’s 1-page editorial this month discusses the way we perceive things and how our perceptions are distorted by the environment in which we evolve. He uses, as his example, the frequencies of light we can see as oppose to, say, what a creature that evolved under a hotter sun (type O or B) might perceive. His discussion is not uninteresting, but I had some difficulty seeing the point in context to anything else. I suspect it was spurred by a comment I seem to recall in last month’s Brass Tacks column, where someone mentioned the phrase, “Life as we know it.” He concludes, however in typical bold Campbell fashion with the following assertion:

We humans have enough of a problem generating light for our uses; be glad Sol wasn’t a blue-violet sun, for we’d probably never have gotten the necessary technical civilization developed.  No primitive group can evolve light-sources giving ultraviolet light, and I wonder whether a high technical civilization could evolve without any source of artificial light.

It seems to me that this is a bold assertion given the title of his editorial, “Life as we know it.” I’m fairly certain the phosphorescent creatures at the bottom of the sea had not yet been discovered when Campbell wrote his article, but it seems to me he should have known better than to call attention to “life as we know it” and what it means, and then make an assertion based solely on “life as we know it” without leaving room for life as we may not know it.

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