TT: Deeper Into the Magic Box

JANE:  When we finished last time, you promised to tell me about how you came to feel that the different magazines had distinct identities – so much so that you could often guess where a story was originally published.

Galaxy in the Magic Box

ALAN: Yes indeed. One of the magazines seemed to specialise very much in what these days I suppose we’d call hard SF. I recall greatly enjoying the stories I read in it but, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you any of the titles now… However, I do recall that the magazine seemed to take itself very seriously. The stories were often very solemn and humour was in short supply.

I found the name of this magazine a bit puzzling. Sometimes it was called Astounding and sometimes it was called Analog and sometimes it was called both those things at the same time. I learned later that the editor, John W. Campbell, wanted to change the name from Astounding to Analog for mysterious reasons of his own, and he introduced the change gradually over several issues so that people could get used to it.

JANE: Analog continues to have a reputation for publishing hard SF.  Indeed, its official title is Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  Their guidelines require the story to be firmly related in science of some sort – not just science as window dressing.

ALAN: I think that’s been a never-changing policy ever since the glory days of John Campbell, and clearly it’s been a successful one. Even in these internet days, the magazine continues to sell very well indeed.

I felt much happier with a magazine called Galaxy. The stories had a broader range than those in Astounding/Analog. Whimsy and satire were very welcome in its pages. It was in Galaxy that I first came across Harry Harrison’s marvelously funny anti-war satire Bill the Galactic Hero. Harrison told me that he’d actually first submitted the story to Campbell at Astounding and that Campbell had said he’d be happy to publish it if Harrison would take all the jokes out. Since that would have destroyed the whole point of the story, Harrison took it to Galaxy instead where it was welcomed with glad cries of glee. And the rest, as they say, is history.

JANE: I have a fondness for Galaxy.  In fact, I sold a short story to a later incarnation of Galaxy.  It’s called “Behind the Curtain of Flowers.”  Since the magazine is very hard to find these days, I included it in my short story collection, Curiosities.

ALAN: I’m sure the magazine is in a box on a market stall somewhere in the multiverse.

There was a third magazine that often turned up. It was called The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (F&SF for short.) As the name implies, the stories it published spread right across the spectrum and they also had an elusive quality that seemed absent from most of the stories in the other magazines. They had more depth, more structure. They were, if you like, more literary. F&SF quickly became my favourite of the magazines and I still remember the stories and the authors with great fondness – Avram Davidson and Zenna Henderson, for example, seemed to publish nowhere else! In later years, I deliberately sought out books by those two authors solely on the strength of the stories I read in F&SF.

And I’ll never forget my first encounter with the wonderful Richard McKenna. The opening line of “Casey Agonistes” took my breath away, and I still think the story is one of the most powerful I’ve ever read:

“You can’t just plain die. You got to do it by the book.”

Richard McKenna died far too young. What glorious stories he would have written had he lived.

F&SF was far and away my favourite of the magazines I found lurking in that market store box.

JANE: Except for Galaxy, the magazines you’ve mentioned are still going. But over the years a lot of other magazines have fallen by the wayside. Did you come across any of those other magazines in your magic box?

ALAN: Yes, there was a rather puzzling magazine called Worlds of If.

JANE: Puzzling?  How so?

ALAN: It didn’t seem to have a style of its own; rather the stories it published seemed to be an amalgamation of the styles of stories from the other magazines. Frederik Pohl was the editor (this would be some time in the early to mid-1960s) and it wasn’t until I read his autobiography (The Way The Future Was, Del Rey, 1978) many years later that I discovered the reason for this curious style.

Pohl’s budget for buying stories was very small – about a third of what the other magazines were paying. Naturally writers would submit their stories to the highest paying markets first. But if the stories were rejected, they would send them to Frederik Pohl next. However, editors are not infallible, of course, and many of the stories that Pohl accepted would really have felt quite at home in Analog or Galaxy or F&SF.

JANE: Magazine pay rates continue to vary.  I will admit, I try those that pay “professional” rates before I try those that don’t.

ALAN: Pohl also had a deliberate policy of publishing one new writer in every issue and that too added a curious stylistic flourish to the magazine. One of those new writers was Larry Niven…

JANE: Good choice!

Pohl must have been doing something right because Worlds of If won the Hugo for best professional magazine three years in a row from 1966 to 1968.

ALAN: Although my “magic box” contained American magazines, not all SF magazines were American. There was a British SF magazine being published in the 1950s and 1960s called New Worlds.  I have quite a lot to say about. Perhaps we can discuss it next time?

JANE: You bet!

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2 Responses to “TT: Deeper Into the Magic Box”

  1. Scot Says:

    Growing up, I always had the impression that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was the revered elder of the group. At this point I don’t remember why, but it was my perception. I wonder what readers today think of a mix of fantasy and science fiction in the same magazine. Do modern readers want a focused specialty, like, for example, a Steam Punk magazine, or does enthusiasm remain for a broader range of imaginative fiction. I tend to have eclectic tastes myself and and am drawn to compelling stories in many genres.

    And by the way, I’m really enjoying this series on the old magazines.

    • janelindskold Says:

      It’s interesting. Based on last week’s comment about single author anthologies, there is some desire for focus. Certainly theme anthologies did very well for a while. I wonder if maybe part and part… A “theme” section, but eclectic for those who don’t care for the theme.

      Steampunk (as Alan and I discussed a while back)would not be a recommendation for me, but some people adore it.

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