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How Galaxy Magazine Saved Robert Silverberg from a Life of Smoking

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

galaxy-issue-1-smallI’ve been neglecting Galaxy magazine in my recent Vintage Treasures articles. I’ve covered some of the great fiction in Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Worlds of If, but the truth is that Galaxy was on its last legs by the time I started reading science fiction and fantasy in 1976, and it folded in 1979.

But I’m not wholly ignorant of the contribution Galaxy made to the field, especially under the editorship of H.L. Gold (1950 – 1961) and Frederik Pohl (1961 – 1969). Until 1950 the field was almost entirely dominated by John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, who was legendary in his ability to spot talent, but also held a fairly narrow view of what kinds of SF and fantasy would sell. Gold was interested in tales of social and psychological upheaval, not just the hard science puzzle fiction in Astounding, and quickly proved that readers would buy stories with that bent — as well as satire, humor, and tales where mankind didn’t always triumph in its march to the stars and inevitable conflict with alien races.

Mike Ashley, one of our field’s finest historians, credits the success of Galaxy for the huge boom in science fiction and fantasy in the fifties, when the field grew from a handful of magazines to over two dozen, saying Galaxy “revolutionized the field overnight.”

Author Robert Silverberg, however, has a more personal tale of how Galaxy changed his life. He writes:

It was the founding of Galaxy that saved me from a life of smoking. It was September, 1950, and I was a teenager with about forty cents in my pocket. A pack of cigarettes cost about a quarter then. So did the first issue of Galaxy, which had just come out. I went into a newsstand thinking I might buy some cigarettes (I had been smoking a few, not with any pleasure, but simply to make myself look older) and there was the shiny Vol One Number One Galaxy. I could afford one or the other, not both. I made my choice and lived happily ever after.

While I was too late to buy more than a handful of issues of Galaxy on the newsstand, I rectified that later in life, amassing a fair collection going back to that famous first issue in 1950. I’ve been enjoying them over the last few years, and will report in here with the very best stories I find.


  1. The Baen Galaxy/If zines (later the same zine) were just hitting their stride when I started buying magazines. I still have a lot of those issues. I especially like the serials (The Org’s EggSign of the Unicorn & its sequels–OrbitsvilleInferno…) Good stuff.

    Comment by James Enge - July 25, 2012 3:04 am

  2. I’d not heard that Silverberg anecdote. It’s a good one.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - July 25, 2012 8:03 am

  3. Aside from buying it at the time of release, how are you guys getting these older issues? I’ve mentioned some titles to my wife to look for at garage sales (which is a shot in the dark, I know). And I suppose there’s always eBay. There are probably reprints of the better works in various anthologies, but I really want to get my hands on the originals.

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - July 25, 2012 1:03 pm

  4. @Matthew: I compiled complete collections of F&SF (all the way back to the first issue from 1949), Analog, Asimov’s, and Galaxy using eBay. Searching every day helps, and buying up large collections when you can find them: I got an almost complete collection of Analogs thanks to a closet someone’s wife wanted cleaned out ;-).

    If you do that, learn how to snipe. You’ll get much better prices than you would from bidding early.

    Comment by awsnyde - July 25, 2012 8:22 pm

  5. Oh, and though I disagree with him about “Dhalgren” ( ;-), smiley meant to indicate that it really had nothing to do with it), I bought quite a few back issues from Darrell Schweitzer on eBay.

    Comment by awsnyde - July 25, 2012 8:25 pm

  6. Some conventions have dealers selling back issues of magazines, especially at worldcons. Back in the 90s I bought several dozen out of the hundreds and hundreds this one dealer was selling; most for a quarter on up to a dollar. If I’d had more money… :)

    Comment by Dave T - July 25, 2012 8:33 pm

  7. James — ah, I wish I’d read some of those serials in Galaxy!

    But you know, your note jogged a very old memory for me…. one of the very first SF magazines I ever purchased was the November 1976 issue of Galaxy, with the first installment of Frederik Pohl’s GATEWAY. I was 12 years old and the narrative both confused and fascinated me.

    I took that issue with me during a family road trip that year (possibly our move from Nova Scotia to Ottawa in fall 1976), and I have a very clear memory of reading it in the car. Thanks for jogging those particular brain cells!

    Comment by John ONeill - July 27, 2012 2:02 am

  8. Hey Matthew,

    To reiterate what awsnyde and Dave have said… the best way to accumulate vintage SF digests is to buy collections, either on eBay or from a dealer at a convention.

    The economics are a lot better. Expect to pay $10 – $15 for single issues of 1950s – 60s era digests, especially if they have popular authors on the Tables of Contents… you’re competing with collectors who need just a few issues to complete their Ellison, PK Dick, or Le Guin collections. However, I’ve purchased hundreds of digests in the past year, most pre-1970, and rarely paid much more than a buck each. I do that by buying 30-50 issues at a time. Search for “lot” or “collection” in science fiction magazines on eBay.

    An interesting thing about eBay… if you’re interested in sampling a bunch of different vintage magazines, you can often get collections VERY cheap. For example, here’s an auction for 22 different mags from 1950-1970 that sold for $2.52 (about 10 cents each!)

    Or 10 issues of F&SF, all from 1952 – 1956, for $4.26 ($7.46 with shipping):

    Note these aren’t all high grade issues, but that’s another nice thing about buying collections… you’ll often find a few issues in really great condition hiding amongst some that are a little more rough.

    Good luck… and let us know what you find!

    Comment by John ONeill - July 27, 2012 2:26 am

  9. My wife is well acquainted with eBay. I mentioned what I’m looking for, and she’s now tracking certain types of auctions and will make bids on collections that sound interesting to me. We’ll see if we end up with something soon. I’m pretty excited! Now, to find the time to read these gems… :-)

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - July 29, 2012 6:28 pm

  10. Matthew,

    > Now, to find the time to read these gems…

    Yeah, that’s the biggest challenge!

    We’re always on the lookout for reviews of vintage fantasy, though. If you do find the time, drop me a note and I’ll see about getting you a slot on the blog to report on what you’ve found.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 30, 2012 2:56 pm

  11. Thanks. I’ll keep you posted. :-)

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - August 1, 2012 12:19 pm

  12. …and my wife won the first auction we tried for. A stack of Galaxies (around 20) from the ’50’s and ’60’s are now mine. Mwa ha ha ha!

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - August 4, 2012 9:21 pm

  13. Matthew,

    Well done! And I’m glad I wasn’t bidding against you. :) I won a separate auction for 15 vintage 50s SF digests, plus 5 additional digests from the 60s:

    Post the link to your auction if you like – I’d love to see what you took home.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 4, 2012 11:24 pm

  14. […] short time later John O’Neill posted the article How Galaxy Magazine Saved Robert Silverberg from a Life of Smoking, so I posed the question on how one might acquire an issue. One of the answers was eBay, and John […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Discovering Galaxy Science Fiction - August 15, 2012 5:29 pm

  15. […] Robert Silverberg (who credits the first issue of Galaxy with saving him from becoming a smoker) offers his own comments on the […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Robert Silverberg on the First Year of Galaxy Science Fiction - March 10, 2015 10:47 pm

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