Category: extras

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.

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:


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.


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.

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.

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:

Skitch-2012-02-01 19:20:17 +0000.jpg

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.

My Vacation in the Golden Age is one year old today

It was one year ago today that Episode 1 of my Vacation in the Golden Age made its debut. In that time, I’ve read 31 issues of Astounding and produced 31 Episodes of my Vacation, totaling over 118,000 words.

To me, it seems rather incredible that a year has already gone by. I remember just before I started reading the July 1939 issue what a daunting task this projected seemed to be. Fun, but daunting. And now, 31 episodes later, I feel like I’ve hit a kind of groove with it and I’m really enjoying every bit of it.

Thanks to everyone who has come along on this Vacation with me. I hope you’ll stick around for more.

(And don’t forget, Episode 31 is hot off the virtual presses.)

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.

Read more

  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.”