January 2020 Astounding/Analog celebrates 90 years of publication. That science-fiction magazine has existed my entire life, but I didn’t notice it until 1966. To commemorate their big milestone Analog will publish its six 2020 issues with retro-looking covers and feature one reprint to recall the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The first reprint is the feel-good story “The Astronaut From Wyoming” (1999) by Adam-Troy Castro and Jerry Oltion in the Jan-Feb 2020 issue on the newsstands now. Coming up for Mar-April will be “Noise Level” (1952) by Raymond F. Jones. At first, I was surprised by these selections. They aren’t famous or well anthologized, but then they are stories worth reading. And I can understand unearthing gems from the past. Stanley Schmidt, who used to edit Analog introduces the story.

2020-JanFeb -Analog

During the past two years, I’ve been slowly reading through The Great SF Stories 1-25 edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg that strive to find the best short science fiction published in 1939-1963. And I’ve been reading and collecting old science fiction anthologies. I’ve also read four histories of Astounding. I had not anticipated this 90th anniversary, but I have been preparing for it unintentionally. Actually, what I’ve intentionally been doing is reevaluating a lifetime of reading science fiction.

Two things prompted this navel-gazing. First, I’m getting old. Second, nearly all the old science fiction pulps and digests have been scanned and put online. To save on downloading time I bought several SF titles from sellers on eBay. Their DVDs are cheap and more convenient than weeks of downloading. Many old magazines can be found on the Pulp Magazine Archive. Pulp magazines are rather esoteric reading, and their fans are dying off. Few people know about science fiction magazines, either from the pulp era, or know about those still being published today. Analog and Asimov’s used to have over 100,000 subscribers. Now it’s about a fifth of that. I figure only a couple hundred older fans read the old scanned magazines. One reason for the declining readership of SF magazines is online publishing. Young readers prefer to read for free rather than subscribe to a print magazine.

This makes the print magazines feel rather moribund. That saddens me. But you can’t blame changing times. Online short science fiction is thriving, and it’s getting all the awards and their stories are being reprinted in the annual best-of-the-year anthologies. However, I don’t know if current online SF will be remembered like printed short science fiction before the internet age. People still collect pulps. eBay does a thriving business with them, as do specialty sellers. The digests being printed today, F&SF, Analog and Asimov’s will be collected in the future. But how do you collect digital publications?

I’m half modern and half old fashion. I buy and read Kindle editions of the SF print magazines, but I also buy the print copies to collect. I was disappointed that none of the eight copies of the Jan-Feb Analog were in mint condition at the bookstore. I picked one with a slight tear in the middle of the back cover. Analog/Asimov’s cover paper is so thin that it wrinkles, tears, dents, and creases extremely easily. And I can’t subscribe because they get torn up in the mail, plus the covers are ruined with a big mailing label. I like having paper copies for when I read about something in the issue because I can quickly flip to it. However, even my days of buying print editions might be coming to an end. The Kindle edition is just so much easier to read.

I keep hoping young SF readers will discover the SF magazines like they have LP albums, and admire them for their physical qualities. The digital copies of F&SF, Analog, and Asimov’s don’t have appealing layouts, and the interior illustrations don’t work well on my ebook reader. My F&SF copies come in so wonky that the cover is tiny.

I really love the covers of science fiction magazines. To celebrate Astounding/Analog 90th anniversary I’ve been collecting jpegs and making them into Cover Collections for the Internet Archive. Here are the covers for:

I hope I don’t get into trouble doing this, but I assume since these covers are all over the web that it might be okay to put them in one place.

If you look at these covers in order, they show an evolution of science fictional ideas. Probably young people will find them crude, garish, and quaint. But if you contemplate them slowly, more and more science fiction hopes and fears are revealed. I also start noticing how things change over time. In the 1930s spaceships were vertical, patterned on ocean liners, trains, and planes, but as real rockets were developed, they shifted to the vertical. Back in the 1990s, when a private rocket company launched a rocket that came down on its fins, Jerry Pournelle said it was as “God and Robert Heinlein intended.”

Rockets

I took the 229 covers from the 1930s and 1940s and made a slideshow for my TV. I’ve been playing it over and over. It’s a nice way to remember Astounding for its 90th birthday. If I don’t get trouble for collecting the 1930s and 1940s I might work on collecting the other decades.

For 2020 I plan to shift most of my reading away from older stories to the new SF stories just coming out. It might be nice to be on the cutting edge rather than dwelling sixty years ago. I don’t want to go full geezer always looking at the past. But there is something to comparing science fiction from different generations. It’s funny how so many things stay the same no matter how much we change.

James Wallace Harris, 12/22/19

8 thoughts on “Happy 90th Astounding/Analog

  1. Hi James, I finally finished off the Asimov & Greenberg Short sf series this year—and I’ve kept going! I read the Silverberg & Greenberg one volume continuation (1964), and have now moved on to the Wolheim & Carr World’s Best. Onward to the 1970s and the future! Some time back you mentioned that you are discussing the Asimov & Greenberg Best SF Stories on a forum. Where is that?

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    1. We started here: https://groups.io/g/The-Great-SF-Stories-1939-1963/topics

      But most of the activity has moved here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/472875506624413/

      You must read rather fast. When I got to 1949 I started reading the Bleiler & Dikty volumes too, and in 1951 they added a Best Short Novels of the Year. I’ve been stuck in 1951 for some time now. That was the year I was born. I stopped to read two of the latest best-of-the-year anthologies, and then got sidetracked by Asimov short stories. I hope to get back to 1951 soon.

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      1. I wouldn’t say I’ve read it fast. I started reading the series about four years ago, and have ambled through it with plenty of detours into other collections and writers. For instance I’ve got the first two Bleiler and Dikty collections. I found the 40s a pretty hard slog, but the quality and so too the pace of the read picked up the closer I got to 1950. Pohl’s Star Science Fiction also contains a great swag of 50s sf.

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        1. I’ve wondered if the 1950s isn’t the Golden Age of Science Fiction for Baby Boomers. I found the 1940s slow going too, and wondered why it was always called the Golden Age. Of course, that goes back to 12 is really the Golden Age of Science Fiction. When I was 12 and 13 I read most 1950s science fiction. I tend to think 1950-1975 is the peak of science fiction.

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        2. Well, I was born in 1967 and turned 12 in December 1979, so I’m probably a tad skewed from the Western boomer perspective. Still, I had many older siblings—all boomers!—and as a result my early exposure to sf was by way of the various works of Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov and even Phillip Jose Farmer I found lying around. Though I read a lot of contemporary cyberpunk sf in the 1980s and early 90s. I tend to agree that the true golden age of Anglo American sf is the 1950s and 60s, but I’m still in the midst of testing that theory. That’s why my current project is to continue reading anthologies through—at least—the 70s and 80s.

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  2. If you compare what was appearing in Astounding et al in the early 1940s and later with what had appeared in the previous decade, you’ll see why it is called the Golden Age—there is a bigger step change in quality at that point than between the 1940s and 50s. I also think the picture is muddied by some less than inspiring anthology choices from that period (if the single Dikty/Bleiler volume I’ve read is anything to go by).
    As to “The digital copies of F&SF, Analog, and Asimov’s don’t have appealing layouts, and the interior illustrations don’t work well on my ebook reader.”—have you tried reading them on the Kindle for iPad app (assuming you have a iPad)? Analog and Asimov’s are almost identical to the paper version, and you can get a pdf version of F&SF (albeit an imperfect facsimile of the magazine, missing adverts, etc.) from Weightless Books (the sub is the same price as Amazon).

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  3. I think the big reason for the ’40s being reagarded as the Golden Age is because of the slew of great SF writers that Campbell regime gave a chance to in the late ’30s. Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Bester, Kuttner and Moore, Simak, ect, ect. Not just in ‘Astounding’ but also ‘Unknown’. And it was named by the likes of Asimov and the many fans who grew up in that era with a huge nostalgia factor added to it. What they fail to take into account was that the ’50s added ‘Galaxy’, ‘F&SF’, ‘Beyond’ and even some splendid tales in ‘Planet Stories’ and ‘Startling’, not mention ‘Pohl’s ‘Star’ anthologies.

    I’m not too sure about the present state of the field. I think there has been a demarcation, which might be confirmed as I read more. Some of it has been fantastic, as in Hartell’s ‘The Ascent of Wonder’. But far more outlets probably means a huge slew of slush pile material. Also, although the hard SF of Campbell was supplemented by the soft sciences of Gold’s ‘Galaxy’ and Boucher’s ‘F&SF’ in the ’50s and the ’60s saw ‘the New Wave’ added to it with cyber-punk in the ’80. I think a quiet a large swathe of modern fiction will be ‘social engineering’, ‘social rights’, gender or identity rights fiction. Which if it’s not dramatised with a sense of wonder, gosh-wow factor, will lose the thread of the past. Mind you H. G. Wells did the same with ‘The Shape of Things to Come’. I’m not sure the gate-keepers of the past, with print fiction, would have allowed it. I keep hearing about the diversity of the writers, but I’m more interested in them providing the gosh-wow brilliance and the play of ideas that the field has in the past.

    If we consider the drop in circulation, beyond the huge drop in numbers, we’d also have to factor in the huge increase in the population too. I wonder how much that is? There is a vast increase in the population since the ’30s, yet that’s never taken into account.

    I think pulps and SF is going the same way as classic Tv and the Golden Age of the movies. I grew up on Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Bob Hope and the Marx Brothers, not to mention the many stars of the Golden Age, all shown on the mainstream channels throughout the schedules. All that has been removed and I just don’t think that kids nowadays get the chance to catch them and make them apart of their life.

    The only thing to do is find ways to introduce and once they’ve read something like ‘The Twonky’, ‘Second variety’, Four in One’, ‘Mr. Strenberry’s Tale’ and ‘The Country of the Blind’, they’d be hooked.

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