Archive for March, 2018

TT: Deeper Into the Magic Box

March 8, 2018

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!

Three Heartbeats (Maybe Five)

March 7, 2018

This week’s installment is going to be very short because I can’t think of anything to say.

Hearts of Stone

I’m writing.  I’m doing a bunch of interviews.  I’m proofing.

Writing, proofing, taking care of business are the three heartbeats of my life.

Oh, and taking care of cats and guinea pigs.

And trying to reserve my evenings to spend with Jim.

But over and over: writing, proofing, and taking care of business.

Bah-dum, Bah-dum.  Bah-dum.

FF: Found Things

March 2, 2018

Needed some lighter stories to balance the darker – but all of them had depth, which is nice.

Persephone Wants to be Harriet for Halloween

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

Whiskerella (Hamster Princess 4) by Ursula Vernon.

No Such Thing as Ghosts (Dragonbreath 5) by Ursula Vernon.

In Progress:

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small, Book 4) by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.

Also:

Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold.  They’ve opened the door and let Truth out.

TT: In An Astounding Galaxy

March 1, 2018

JANE: Alan, I know in your formative years as a reader of SF/F, you read a lot of SF/F novels and short story collections, but did you read any of the SF magazines?

Magic Box

ALAN: Yes and no. In my younger days I got my SF books from the library and from the occasional paperback that I bought with my saved up pocket money. I was vaguely aware that SF magazines existed, but I’d never actually seen one. None of the shops I haunted sold them.

JANE: But you said “Yes” as well as “No.”  How could you say “Yes” if none of the shops you haunted sold them?  I sense a deep mystery here.

ALAN: Ah. Thereby hangs a tale… The major book and magazine distributor in the UK was (and probably still is) W. H. Smiths. They have a branch in pretty much every town and city. So the only things on sale are the things they choose to sell. And they didn’t choose to sell American magazines.

JANE: Perhaps it was too expensive to import them?  After all, unlike books, magazines were considered low priced items.

ALAN: Probably so. And there might have been legal difficulties as well.

Anyway, one day I was browsing around a table of second hand books on a market stall. There was a cardboard box on the table, and it seemed to be full of rubbish – things with torn covers and broken spines and some that seemed to have suffered extensive water damage. I  dug around in the junk and found something called Galaxy. I flipped through the pages and found, to my great excitement, that it had nothing but science fiction stories in it. And it only cost tuppence (two pennies, for those unfamiliar with the English currency of the era). Even I could afford tuppence. My pocket money was a whole shilling a week!

JANE: Remind me about English currency. How much is a shilling?

ALAN: A shilling is twelve pennies, so if I used up my whole shilling I could have bought six magazines.

JANE: I don’t think I’ll ever come to grips with English money…

ALAN: Fortunately for your peace of mind, they don’t use it any more. These days everything is nicely decimal.

At the time I had no idea how the magazines had ended up in the box, but later in life I learned that American magazines which had been returned unsold to the publisher were supposed to be sent off to be pulped, (they were pulp magazines after all!), but sometimes they never arrived at the pulping mills. Instead the magazines ended up as ballast on merchant ships sailing from America for exotic destinations like Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Magazines that survived the journey without getting too waterlogged ended up in boxes on market stalls up and down the country, where they sold for derisorily low prices.

And so in my early teens, I discovered the joy of American SF magazines. Astounding/Analog  and Galaxy and Fantasy and Science Fiction and Worlds of If … The list goes on.

JANE: Ah!  Mystery solved.  I’ll admit, despite being American, and despite there being many more SF magazines on the newsstand than there are today, I never really got into them.  My pocket money was very short, so I read what the library had.  My school library didn’t have SF/F magazines and, if our public library did, I never saw them.

It seems to me that at least some of your reading should have crossed the time period where the magazines were particularly influential.  What did you think of them?

ALAN: It was at one and the same time a fantastic and frustrating experience. Fantastic because I got to read a lot of wonderful stories, and frustrating because the magazines ran very long stories as serials and I almost never got all the installments. There was absolutely no rhyme nor reason to what turned up in the box on the table of my local market stall. Everything in it was a completely random selection from the hold of a merchant ship.

Eventually, of course, the serials were published as novels, and over the years I think I finally managed to catch up with them all. But I still remember the cliff-hanging frustration of those missing episodes.

JANE: Oh…  I can sympathize with your frustration… but for a sort of funny reason.  When I was young, I used to read articles and stories on my mother’s magazines.  Many of them ended with “con’t.”  I was young enough that I thought this was a contraction for “could not,” and thought they hadn’t had room to finish the piece in that magazine and I’d need to wait for the next issue – I’d already encountered serialized fiction by then, so it made sense.

You can imagine my relief when, purely by accident, I came across the rest of an article in the same issue and realized the “con’t” was a contraction for “continued,” not “could not.”

ALAN: At least you got some sense of completion when you found the rest of the article, which is more than I often managed to achieve.

Nevertheless, despite the frustration, I continued to haunt the box on the market stall and I soon owned quite a selection of (sometimes rather battered) SF magazines. It became clear to me that the different magazines had what I suppose I ought to call their own house style. If you’d handed me the stories in isolation, I think I could have made a very informed guess as to which of the magazines had originally published it. Perhaps we could delve into that can of worms next time?

JANE: A can of bookworms?  Perfect!