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.
As I go through this Vacation, I’ve noticed something that I think fans of the era might also have noticed: Campbell’s blurbs for the stories often seemed to give away the story. This isn’t always a bad thing: you wonder how the story will work out, but on some occasions, it really seems as if the blurbs spoil the story. I wrote a post a few days ago in which I talk about this at greater length. But I recognize that (a) I am not a reader from the era in question and times change; and (b) I may be reading too much into his blurbs. So I have decided, as if this episode, to include Campbell’s blurbs for each story and let you decide for yourselves if you think Campbell gives too much away. For stories which you are not familiar with, this is obviously tricky, but for those which you know, I’d be interested to know what you think of his blurbs.
I write episode 16 on the heels of two science fiction events, one big and one small, but none the less fun. Last weekend, I attended the Nebula Awards Weekend in Washington, D.C. It was my first time attending that particular event and I had a blast. It was also the first time I was eligible to vote for the Nebula Awards, and I’m pleased to say that I went 2-for-4. All of the works were distinguished, but I was particularly pleased to see Eric James Stone and Connie Willis take home Nebulas. There was a surreal moment for me at the banquet dinner. My wife was with me and she was engrossed in deep conversation with Michael Whelan’s wife–and seeing Michael Whelan sit across the table from me, I could barely speak. However, at some point during the meal, the conversation came around to poorly cropped art work and I was at least able to bring up that infamous cover for Lester del Rey’s story “The Luck of Ignatz” and how it was poorly cropped. Such things have been happening since the dawn of our genre.
The second event was Balticon, which I attended two days of and the highlight for me was a panel on “Name Dropping” where the panelists talked about their interactions with the writers of the genre that are no longer with us. There were stories about golden-agers like Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and Dickson, and it was nice to see their names still remembered, the old guard passing those memories onto the newest generation of fans and writers. That is as it should be.
Welcome back to this Vacation in the Golden Age on it’s new biweekly schedule. I want to apologize again for the schedule change but two things prompted it:
- I was really cramming trying to get an issue read and a write-up done each week. Given my other obligations, there was little time for anything else.
- With the pending arrival of our second child in August, I figured that realistically, the schedule was going to have to change anyway.
As it turns out, this schedule has worked out much better for me. I can read the issue much more easily without feeling rushed; and I can get in some additional reading besides. While I hadn’t done any other reading outside the issues of Astounding through May, in the last two weeks, in addition to reading the September 1940 issue, I’ve already read most of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. So again, I apologize for the change in frequency of these episodes. It extends things out somewhat, but in the end, it is more manageable for me, and I think more realistic, too. Now onto our regularly scheduled Episode…
On the plane ride home from L.A. on Saturday I was reading the August issue of Astounding and the woman sitting next to me on the plane said, “I can’t help but notice what a cool cover that is on your magazine.” The cover this month, by Rogers, is for Lester del Rey’s lead novelette, “The Stars Look Down” and it really is one of those cool Golden Age rocket-ship covers that people outside the genre tend to recognize. She told me her husband was a huge science fiction fan and I briefly explained my little project. She seemed more impressed that the magazine I was holding was 71 years old than about the project itself. I pointed to the Camel cigarette ad on the back of the magazine and I think she got a laugh out of that, too. And with that quick bit of socializing complete, I was able to return my Vacation, which turned out to have a few good stories this time around.
The August 1940 issue contains 7 pieces of fiction and 2 non-fiction articles. There are two novelettes, four short stories, and of course, the conclusion of the two-part serial, “Crisis in Utopia”, which I will admit at the outset I didn’t even attempt to read. (Those of you following along from last Episode will recall I couldn’t get very far into this piece.) One of the two articles, is part 2 of L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Science of Withering”.
Happy new year! I started this Vacation with the July 1939 issue and we have now arrived at the July 1940 issue, making this the first issue of my second year in the Golden Age of science fiction. July brings to mind summer, and today is the first summer-like day here in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. All of the windows in the house have been thrown open, and warm summer-like breezes are blowing through, providing a perfect setting for sitting and reading science fiction stories.
The Golden Age opened with that rather remarkable July 1939 issue. A year later we have, in my opinion, a mostly mediocre issue, with a few nice yarns thrown in for good measure. Reading through this issue, it was almost as if Campbell was trying to push out some less recognizable names (at least to me) all at once. It was almost the opposite of the star-studded May 1940 issue in which virtually every name was a Grand Master of the genre. Then, too, the July issue feels as if it is another “theme” issue, the theme this time being the perfect forms of government or governing. That might also explain the mishmash of names that appear in this issue.
Schedules don’t always cooperate. Although I say that these episodes come out on Mondays, I generally get them out on Sunday afternoons or evenings. But this week, my schedule simply didn’t cooperate with me. I put in a significant amount of extra time at the day job as I am in crunch time on a big project that wraps up at the end of April. This included being in the office all day on Saturday. Then too, the little boy was sick and I started feeling sick Saturday evening and through the day Sunday. None of this is meant as a complaint. In fact, it is a great example of why a Vacation in the Golden Age can be so valuable. It allows me small, temporary escapes from the stresses of the day job, allows me to disappear into a different time, jump back some seventy years into the past and fall into a story that takes me seven hundred years into the future.
But at the same time, it slowed me down a little this week and so this Episode isn’t getting posted until the very early morning hours of Monday, and for that, I beg your forgiveness. Hopefully you won’t mind. After all, this is another interesting issue…
Sometimes, it seems, that a theme develops within an issue. These days, those tend to be called what they are, “themed issues” of one kind or another. But I haven’t run into this explicitly so far in my little Vacation. However, in the May 1940 issue, two themes seemed to emerge, neither of which is specifically called out anywhere in the issue. But they are there if you look for them. The first theme is stories involving asteroids and the second theme is stories involving narrators who are, well, not very nice people. Don’t worry, I’ll point them out when I get to them.
This week’s episode appeared at 3:15pm Eastern Daylight time. I wrote the episode last night and scheduled it for early release today. I am completely offline today, taking my one opportunity each year to free myself from the bonds of the Internet and give myself 24 hours to not think about it. I’ve done this recently on my birthday and today happens to be my Jack Benny birthday. I was born at 3:15pm and this post was scheduled to be symbolically “born” at the same time. Since I’ll be offline today, I won’t see any comments until tomorrow, but rest assured I will read them eagerly first thing tomorrow morning.
We are now 10 episodes into this Vacation in the Golden Age, and I must say that the Rogers cover for the April 1940 issue is one of my favorites so far. It was pained for the lead serial, L. Ron Hubbard’s “Final Blackout” and it conveys much of that power of that story . I’ve noticed that I am beginning to be able to spot Rogers’ covers without peeking at the credits. Aside from the soft tones he tended to use, the figures in his images are the key giveaway in my mind. And in this cover, the small band of survivors are just so tiny compared to the dark and dangerous world that surrounds them.
There is a satisfying symmetry, reading the March 1940 issue in the month of March. It makes me feel somehow more connected with a fan who, 71 years ago may not have gotten his or her hands on the issue the instant it hit the newsstands, but may have gotten it in time to read it during its cover dated month. Somewhere, 71 years ago this very instant, some fan was reading the final letter of that issue, and who knows, perhaps prepared to do a writeup of their own.
The March 1940 issue was a fun issue. There were no remarkable stories, but there were not bad stories either. Instead there was a wonderful mixture of six pieces of fiction that made for delightfully entertaining reading. And when you get right down to it, that’s what Vacations in the Golden Age should be all about.
Vacations as wonderful as they can be, often seem trivial when held up against world crises. Here I am romping through the Golden Age while the people of Japan are facing a disaster not seen since 1945–the very middle of the Golden Age that I am exploring. I wanted to take a brief moment, therefore, to provide a link or two to organizations which are accepting donations to aid in the disaster relief:
Science fiction spans the world and it was only about 4 years ago when the World Science Fiction convention was last help in Japan. And now, back to our regularly scheduled episode.
History can be brittle. The cover of the January 1940 Astounding shown above is my copy and you can see it is rather worn. It is much worse off now than when I started. Of all of the issues I’ve read so far, this one was in the worst condition with the cover flaking in endless cascades of pulpish snow, many of which are now embedded in the seats of a couple of United Airlines A320 aircraft. And this, despite my usual practice of keeping the issue that I am reading in a zip lock freezer bag at all times, except when I am actually reading the issue.
Nevertheless, despite the condition of the cover and the slightly waterlogged pages, I liked the January 1940 issue a lot. It is certainly a promising opening to a new year in science fiction and the first full year of the Golden Age. The issue contains 6 pieces of fiction: two novelettes, three short stories, and of course, the conclusion of Smith’s “Gray Lensman” which, I’ll be honest up front, I was underwhelmed by. There was also a nonfiction piece, “Transmutation, 1939” by Jack Hatcher and a book review by L. Sprague de Camp.