Category: vacation in the golden age

Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 14: August 1940

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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”.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 13: July 1940

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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.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 12: June 1940

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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…

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 11: May 1940

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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.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 10: April 1940

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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.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 9: March 1940

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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.
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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 8: February 1940

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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.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 7: January 1940

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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.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 6: December 1939

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Earlier this week, the space shuttle Discovery made its final launch into space. With 38 missions under its belt and more than a year spent in space, Discovery is indeed the workhorse of the space shuttle fleet, and retirement for that fine steed is well deserved. The launch took place while I was vacationing in December 1939 and it made for a fascinating juxtaposition. There I was, reading stories about adventures through space two decades before the first satellite was launched, and yet those stories were every bit as thrilling and exciting as watching the launch of the real thing, on what most people felt was just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill “flit” into space (to borrow a term from Kimball Kinnison). Knowing that many astronauts and scientists were influenced by science fiction in their youth–perhaps some of the very science fiction stories that appeared these Golden Age issues–well, it’s an added bonus, and goes to show that science fiction’s influence is felt far beyond its typical caricature as a backwater genre of little green men and ray guns.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 5: November 1939

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In many ways, this vacation in the Golden Age is the closest I’m likely to come to time travel. I recall back in my senior year in college at the University of California, Riverside, taking a wonderful class on the history of film with a professor named Carlos Cortes. One of the things that he emphasized as we spent hours watching old films was that you could learn much about the society of the time by the films they made. Perhaps this should have been obvious to me sooner, but it resonated with me at that moment and ever since. And indeed, going through these yellowed issues of Astounding, I often try to put myself into the mindset of a youngster reading these issues as they hit the newsstand. But it is difficult to do. Consider this issue, in which the first significant mention of the war in Europe is made. Campbell writes, in the IN TIMES TO COME section:

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 4: October 1939

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

It occurs to me as I start this fourth episode on my vacation in the Golden Age that I haven’t spoken much about my method, which over the course of the first three episodes, has fallen into a kind of pleasant routine. It’s pretty simple: one issue a week, and each day, I try to get in 25 pages, often at lunchtime and just before turning in for the night. I read from cover to cover and I try very hard not to skip around. I jot down some notes along the way, nothing lengthy or sophisticated, just points that I think will be interesting to mention, or passages that seem particularly quotable. And then Sunday afternoon, when my little boy is down for his nap, I settle down to write the episode. I mention all of this because a particularly busy schedule this week cast most of that aside. I’d only finished about half of the October issue by the weekend, and I crammed in the other half yesterday and today.

The cover of the October issue is a gorgeous Rogers job that at first glance almost looks like something that might have been done by computer–if it wasn’t 1939. Kimball Kinnison in his gray uniform appears sharply in front of his spacecraft, a kind of stoic/heroic look on his face. Gladney’s cover on the July ’39 issue was impressive in its abstraction, but for sheer technique, this Rogers cover is better.

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Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 3: September 1939

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The Golden Age of science fiction lasted nearly 11 years. That’s roughly 130 issues of Astounding. And while many of those issue are classics, there have to be at least a few that are, if not flops, certainly below par. I think that the September 1939 issue is one of those sub-par issues. My favorite parts of the issues was the science article and the letters column. Most of the stories in this issue were mediocre, although a few rose above the rest. But this is just the beginning of the Golden Age. The writers who will become giants in the field have yet to mature and reach their potential, and despite the fact that there are mediocre issues here and there, it is still a lot of fun to follow along, watch those authors evolve and blossom, and watch the Golden Age come into full bloom.

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