Astounding Science Fiction, February and March 1953: A Retro-Review

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

astounding science fiction February 1953-smallI thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at John Campbell’s Astounding, from the early ’50s, after its dominance of the market had been shaken by Galaxy and F&SF. So here are two 1953 issues.

I bought these two issues because the March issue has John Brunner’s first story for a major market, “Thou Good and Faithful.” I noticed that that issue also has the second part of a Piper serial that I hadn’t read, so I bought the February issue to get part 1.

Details, then. The February cover, for H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire’s serial “Null-ABC,” is by H. R. Van Dongen, a pretty good one with a skull on a reddish background (flames and smoke, I think), and books and test tubes in the foreground.

The March cover, for “Thou Good and Faithful,” is less to my taste. It’s by G. Pawelka, an artist with whom I am unfamiliar, and it features a robot with a monkey-like creature on his shoulder, holding a globe of sorts — a very accurate depiction of a scene from the story, but not a picture I fancy much.

The features in each issue are the usual: Campbell’s editorial (“Redundance,” about information theory, in February; and “Unsane Behavior,” about war and the naivete of both those who think it works very well, and those who think stories of Atomic Doom will prevent it, in March); In Times to Come, The Analytical Laboratory, Brass Tacks, and P. Schuyler Miller’s review column.

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The Original Science Fiction Stories, November 1958 and May 1960: A Retro-Review

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

The-Original-Science-Fiction-Stories-November-1958-small2Recently, our esteemed editor John O’Neill blogged about having bought a set of copies of The Original Science Fiction Stories… so it occurred to me that a Retro-Review of a couple of those issues might be interesting. And here it is — something I wrote a few years ago, slightly polished.

Perhaps a long article about Robert A. W. Lowndes’s editorial career would be interesting. His career was rather odd. Off and on for some two decades, he edited two magazines in various combinations: Future, and Science Fiction Stories. For a time, they were the same magazine, called Future Combined With Science Fiction Stories.

Actually, for a couple of different times, they were the same magazine under that title. Charles Hornig was editor for the first few issues of both magazines, from 1939-1941, then Lowndes took over and, as far as I can tell, he was the only editor until the magazines finally limped to an end in 1960.

There were two main phases of publishing these titles: from 1939 through 1943, then from 1950 through 1960. I don’t think there is another example of a single editor being associated, for so long, through so many title changes and hiatuses, with the same publications. He apparently never had much of a budget to work with, either. The publisher, I suppose throughout these magazines’ history, was Columbia Publications. (In the 60s, Lowndes edited one more magazine, the Magazine of Horror.)

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Amazing Stories, July 1962: A Retro-Review

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories July 1962-smallBack to Cele Goldsmith’s tenure at Amazing/Fantastic. This is a pretty strong issue, with, notably and perhaps surprisingly, a strong “Classic Reprint” novelet, and a strong serial opener. (The shorter fiction is less impressive.)

The cover is by Lloyd Birmingham, a semi-regular at Amazing/Fantastic throughout the ’60s, who also had one cover for Analog, one for an Ace Double, and a couple more. But he was never well-known in the field. It illustrates the serial in this issue, part one of Keith Laumer’s A Trace of Memory, competently but not particularly specially. Interiors are by Birmingham again, Leo Summers, Virgil Finlay, Dan Adkins, and Austin Briggs.

Norman Lobsenz’s editorial discusses some evidence that may or may not support the Big Bang theory. (This was a couple of years before the discovery of the 3 degree background radiation of the universe.) The lettercol, “ … or So you Say”, features a long letter by Julian Reid complaining about two recent Mark Clifton stories (“Hang Head, Vandal!” and the serial Pawn of the Black Feet), following a very long defense of his work by Clifton himself.

This response may be the last thing Clifton ever published. (He died in 1963, and I am sure he published no more stories after “Hang Head, Vandal!”) I think Clifton gets the better of the argument, pointing out for one thing that Pawn of the Black Fleet (aka When They Come From Space) is a spoof, which Reid took altogether too seriously.

S. E. Cotts’s book review column, “The Spectroscope,” covers Damon Knight anthology A Century of Science Fiction, with very high praise for the stories, but some quibbling about Knight’s categorization of different aspects of the field; and J. F. Bone’s The Lani People, which Cotts considers not very original, but quite fun. There is a very brief “Benedict Breadfruit” squib by “Grandall Barretton” (Randall Garrett) … these are decidedly sub-Feghootian to begin with and this one is worse than usual. Ben Bova (or “Ben Ben Bova” as the TOC has it) contributes an article on “The Three Requirements of Life in the Solar System,” second in a four-article series on the possibilities of alien life, this one covering possibilities for life on other planets in our system.

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Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966: A Retro Review

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantasy and Science Fiction April 1966-smallI called the last magazine I covered (Fantastic for April 1960) “determinedly minor.” This issue of F&SF seems much more significant to me.

The cover is by Jack Gaughan, illustrating Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever novelet “The Sorcerer Pharesm.” The features include a Gahan Wilson cartoon, a poem by Doris Pitkin Buck, a very short science snippet by Theodore L. Thomas, Judith Merril’s Books column and Isaac Asimov’s Science column.

Asimov’s column is one of his lesser ones: little but a list of the Nobel Prize winners in the Science fields by nationality. That’s a long list, so it takes up most of his page count. He does a tiny amount of analysis of the numbers, but not much.

Merril begins by reviewing two very ’60s-ish popular science books: LSD: The Consciousness Inducing Drug (edited by David Solomon, with contributions from those you’d expect, like Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Timothy Leary), and Games People Play by Eric Berne. She recommends the LSD book, but is quite negative about Games People Play.

In the way of SF, she begins by looking at two John Brunner books, The Day of the Star Cities and The Squares of the City. She identifies the first as “up there with the best of his earlier work” and the second as a step beyond, building on his growth that started with The Whole Man. I think that jibes with the consensus view of Brunner’s career. She ends up saying, “[I]t leaves me very eager to see Brunner’s next.”

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Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, April 1960: A Retro-Review

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Science Fiction Stories April 1960-smallI’d rank this as a determinedly minor issue of this magazine, from fairly early in Cele Goldsmith’s tenure. It has a bland cover by an artist I’ve never heard of, Jack Faragasso. The feature list is slim. Norman Lobsenz’s editorial, very brief, is about an idea to put a ring of dust around the Earth so that it is always light. (What a dreadful idea!)

There is also the lettercol, with no contributors I recognized – the names are Miles McAlpin, James W. Ayers, Wesley Sharp, Billy Joe Plott, Frank P. Pretto (perhaps a typo for Prieto), and Michael W. Elm – and their usual small “Coming Next Month.” Interior illustrations are by [Leo] Summers, Varga, and Grayam.

So, what about the stories?

The cover story is “Doomsday Army,” by Jack Sharkey, an entirely too long story about a National Guard captain who ends up being the main intermediary to a bunch of (as it turns out) very small alien invaders. He’s portrayed as a fairly ordinary suburban husband, prone to taking shortcuts in solving problems his wife brings to his attention: so of course his solution to the alien problem will be a dangerous shortcut. And so it is, with an implausible solution.

There’s joke enough here for maybe 3,000 words at the outside, and this drags terribly at some 13,000 words. (I wonder if it was written to the cover, which does portray a scene from the story but in a very generic fashion.)

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New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014, edited by Rich Horton

Saturday, July 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014-smallIt’s been so busy around here for the past few months that I haven’t had time to read my favorite Year’s Best book — Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014.

This is the sixth volume and it collects a whopping 35 stories, including C. S. E. Cooney’s “Martyr’s Gem” (originally published in Giganotosaurus) and fiction from Alex Dally MacFarlane, Howard Waldrop, James Patrick Kelly, Ken Liu, Robert Reed, Lavie Tidhar, Carrie Vaughn, and many others. Rich has collected stories from a wide range of top-notch publications, including Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and anthologies like Fearsome Journeys and Old Mars.

Here’s the complete table of contents.

“Social Services” by Madeline Ash (An Aura of Familiarity)
“Out in the Dark” by Linda Nagata (Analog)
“The End of the World as We Know It, and We Feel Fine” by Harry Turtledove (Analog)
“The Oracle” by Lavie Tidhar (Analog)
“Call Girl” by Tang Fei (Apex)
“Ilse, Who Saw Clearly” by E. Lily Yu (Apex)
“They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s)
“The Wildfires of Antarctica” by Alan De Niro (Asimov’s)
“The Discovered Country” by Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov’s)
“A Stranger from a Foreign Ship” by Tom Purdom (Asimov’s)

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New Treasures: Space Opera edited by Rich Horton

Saturday, May 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Space Opera Prime Books-smallHallelujah! Rich Horton’s Space Opera anthology is finally here. And it’s massive.

I’ve been waiting for this book since it was announced over six years ago, back in April of 2008. Rich shared his proposed table of contents at the time (and it was groundbreaking enough to be picked up as a news story at places like SF Signal, and listed at ISFDB), but the volume was eventually canceled. I thought that was the end of it, until I saw it back on the Prime Books schedule last year.

I am delighted to finally have it in my hot little hands. The project has become much more ambitious over the years. Did I mention it was massive? Rich’s original TOC listed 11 stories — the finished product has twice that many, from authors like Greg Egan, James Patrick Kelly, Chris Willrich, Kage Baker, Jay Lake, Alastair Reynolds, Ian McDonald, Aliette de Bodard, Robert Reed, Ian R. MacLeod, and many others.

Rich also provides a fascinating introduction, exploring the genesis of the term “space opera” in early SF and the way perceptions of it have changed over the years — as well as a survey of overlooked classics. Here’s a taste:

The term space opera was coined by the late great writer/fan Wilson (Bob) Tucker in 1941, and at first was strictly pejorative… Even so, much work that would now be called space opera was written and widely admired in that period…. most obviously, perhaps, the work of writers like Edmond Hamilton and, of course, E.E. “Doc” Smith…

It may have been Brian Aldiss who began the rehabilitation of the term with a series of anthologies in the mid-70s: Space Opera (1974), Space Odysseys (1974), and Galactic Empires (two volumes, 1976). Aldiss, whose literary credentials were beyond reproach, celebrated pure quill space opera as “the good old stuff,” even resurrecting all but forgotten stories like Alfred Coppel’s “The Rebel of Valkyr,” complete with barbarians transporting horses in spaceship holds. Before long writers and critics were defending space operas as a valid and vibrant form of SF…

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Galaxy, September 1972: A Retro Review

Friday, May 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy September 1972-smallI don’t usually look at magazines quite this recent in these reviews… though now that I think about this, this issue appeared well over 40 years ago! It’s a fairly significant issue in context, though coming from a period in Galaxy’s history usually disparaged.

This period was the editorship of Ejler Jakobsson, which extended from 1969 to 1974. He succeeded Frederik Pohl, and preceded Jim Baen, two extremely important figures in SF editing. Indeed, the only other editor of Galaxy before Pohl was H. L. Gold, yet another absolutely central SF editor. So Jakobsson was bound to have a hard time being compared to that crowd. A number of writers complained that Jakobsson was an editorial meddler (ironically, the same complaint was often made of Gold).

I confess I have never thought much of Jakobsson’s reign myself. I began reading Galaxy in October 1974, shortly after Baen took over. And I loved Baen’s Galaxy. The few issues of Jakobsson’s I’ve seen before this one have been rather dull.

I often have read words to the effect that he knew little or nothing about SF, but that’s not quite true. He was Finnish and emigrated to the US in 1926, aged 15. In the ’40s, he worked on the magazines Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, and indeed edited the latter for a couple of years starting in 1949. But he had been out of the field since that time – so perhaps it was more accurate to say he knew little about then contemporary SF.

He did have a couple of important assistants: Judy-Lynn Benjamin was Managing Editor and Lester Del Rey was Features Editor. (Del Rey and Benjamin married later, of course, and co-founded the Del Rey Books imprint.)

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C.S.E. Cooney’s “Martyr’s Gem” Acquired for Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014

Monday, January 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014We were very pleased and proud to hear reports this morning that editor Rich Horton has acquired C.S.E. Cooney’s novella “Martyr’s Gem” for his annual collection, The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014.

Yay!! Drinks are on us!1

“Martyr’s Gem” was originally published in Ann Leckie’s online magazine GigaNotoSaurus in May of last year. Giganotosaurus publishes one longish fantasy or science fiction story every month, including the Nebula nominees “All the Flavors” by Ken Liu, and “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers” by Katherine Sparrow. If you can’t wait for the book, you can read the complete “Martyr’s Gem” here.

There’s a marvelous animated excerpt narrated by Ms. Cooney, “The Epic of Shursta Sharkbait,” here. Sara Norja at Such Wanderings pretty much summed up our feelings when she said:

It’s a gorgeously written story with characters that jumped off the screen and will linger in my mind for a good while, I suspect. The island culture she’s created is fascinating and vibrant. Sharks and gemstones! Bantering, loving sibling relationships! A society where men and women are pretty equal! An interesting oral storytelling culture and stories-within-stories! I love pretty much everything about this novella. Go forth and be immersed!

It’s fairly unusual for a 19,000-word novella to make it into a Year’s Best volume, so this is something to celebrate. Rich Horton’s volumes are our favorite Year’s Best anthologies out there; the 2014 edition is due in May. We covered the 2013 edition here.

We published C.S.E. Cooney’s novella “Godmother Lizard,” which Tangent Online called “a delightful fantasy… [it] entranced me from the beginning,” and the sequel “Life on the Sun” — which Tangent called “bold and powerful… this one captured a piece of my soul. Brilliant.”

1. Must be of legal drinking age. Must realize we’re joking. Offer not valid outside the continental U.S.A. Or anywhere that serves alcohol.

Satellite, December 1956: A Retro-Review

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Satellite Science Fiction December 1956-smallThis is one of a great many ’50s digests. It began publication in October 1956 as a bimonthly, and became a monthly in 1959 for its last four issues (the last was May). 18 issues total. (Apparently the June and July issues were assembled at least to some degree.)

The publisher was Leo Margulies, and the editor for the first two issues was Sam Merwin, who had done good work with Startling Stories/Thrilling Wonder Stories.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Margulies took over after that– although the ISFDB credits Cylvia Kleinmann for a number of the later issues. I tend to trust the SFE here, especially with Malcolm Edwards and Mike Ashley responsible for the entry.

That said, Kleinmann (Margulies’ wife) was also for a time editor of Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine (also published by Margulies) so very possibly she was the editor, or perhaps it was a collaborative effort, and, as Todd Mason notes, Margulies had a long history of fronting anthology projects (under his name) that were actually edited by others.

Frank Belknap Long edited the final four 1959 issues, which were letter-sized instead of digest.

For most of its run, Satellite featured “A Complete Novel in Each Issue” (according to the SFE, to compete with paperback novels). Based on the TOCs I’ve seen, these really were reasonable-length novels for the day – in the range of 40,000 words.

The December 1956 issue, the magazine’s second, has a promising TOC – stories by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Algis Budrys, and Michael Shaara among others. Indeed, the first few issues of the magazine were pretty promising, though it never really became a top market.

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