Reading Around in Old SF Magazines

Bick

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Bick’s Selective Reading Through Analog, 1976

I decided upon a little short story reading ‘exercise’ for myself. I have the paper copies of all the Analog issues from certain years in the 1970’s, and so I semi-randomly chose 1976, and decided to select and read one short story, novellete or novella from each issue in that year. I imagine I’ll select other years in due course and repeat the exercise (1978 or 1979 also look quite inviting). So here we go, working our through the 1976 issues Analog.

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January 1976
Herbie Brennan – Angel
January 1976 saw the start of a 4-part serialisation in Analog of Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune. An obvious choice to read in each issue perhaps, but I have already read the novel, and the idea here was to read a less well-known complete story in each issue. So, to kick things off I selected Herbie Brennan’s short story, Angel. This was a passable story only but benefited from being crisply written and engaging. The messages that a religious cult leader obtain from Venus, from a certain Jesus Christ, are not what they seem. A prolific (and successful) Irish author, Herbie Brennan writes well, but this is not a classic by any means.

February 1976
Greg Bear – A Martian Ricorso
I chose the Greg Bear short story in this issue, though it was a tough choice, as there was actually an Asimov published the same month (but which I think I’d read before). A ‘ricorso’ is a recurrence, I believe, and this is a story of a recurring natural event on Mars that threatens a human mission there. It’s quite nicely done – the interactions between the characters was quite good, and I liked the idea well enough, but this is probably not among his finest work (his finest work being exceptional of course). His Martians were kinda cool though.

March 1976
Keith Laumer – Field Test
A ‘Bolo’ story, making it one of Laumer’s stories about advanced giant tanks, making it early military SF, before the sub-genre became the staple fare of Baen and so on. I quite liked it as it sped along well and maintained interest, with Laumer using a method of jumping around between numerous points of view, including that of the self-aware Bolo Mk XX. I didn’t quite get why there was such a dilemma whether to use the Mark XX tank, when presumably they still had previous models available that would have done the job. The prose seemed a little old-fashioned for 1976 and carried a fairly blunt (hackneyed?) message about the futility of war. A so-so story.

April 1976
Hayford Peirce – Rebounder
This story is one in a series of tales about Chap Foey Rider, an Anglo-Chinese factor to the Galactic Federation, and an anagram of the author’s name. Beautifully written, this is witty and urbane. Hayford Peirce was very popular at one time, I believe, but while he published numerous novels between the late 1980’s and mid-2000’s I don’t know much about him and hadn’t previously read anything by him - sorry Hayford. But that’s why these sorts of random reading exercises are personally worthwhile.
 

Bick

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Continuing...
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May 1976
Gordon Eklund – The Prince in Metropolis
This was a fairly good story (middling, perhaps). It tells how an amputee was aided to become a popular and significant (though flawed) politician through technology. Told through flashbacks at the end of the man’s life, I thought it was quite well structured. Eklund is another author I’m not hugely familiar with, but he won the Nebula for Best Novelette for his 1974 short story If the Stars Are Gods (co-written with Gregory Benford). He may be most famous for writing some of the better known, early, Star Trek novels.

June 1976
Christopher Anvil – Brains Isn’t Everything
A prolific SF author from the late 1950’s through to about 1990, Anvil will be well known to many I suspect, though I’ll admit I’ve only read a few short stories by him. This was an amusing story, well told, and I enjoyed it. I guess it followed a well-worn SF trope by the end, but it was nicely set up. Strange, friendly and tentacular aliens offer the people of each major nation on Earth pills for one great advantage, be it perfect health, or better brain power. But is it an alien trick and what is their motivation?

July 1976
Joe Haldeman – Tricentennial
This was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1977. This is a cracking short story, with more than a whiff of Tau Zero, about it. It’s more somber and serious than some of the stories I’ve read in this 1976 exploration and provided both genuine a sense of wonder (so rare) and had a greater ‘weight’ to it than many stories. The end is terrific, and you don’t really see it developing as it does.

August 1976
Bud Sparhawk – The Tomkins Battery Case
In August, Analog started serialising another famous novel, Shadrach in the Furnace by Silverberg, but again I gave the well-known serial a swerve and selected this short story by Bud Sparhawk. Unfortunately, this is a very light bit of fluff really. Outside of the Silverberg, I’m not sure this issue had much of quality to offer though. This was a humorous piece, where a character is addicted, but not to drugs… A silly piece, which also read as though it was from another era – it’s all rather 1950’s.
 

Bick

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September 1976
Arsen Darnay – Aspic’s Mystery
I liked this story – I struggled to find a story that looked very appealing in this issue, not having heard of the authors (and not being inspired by the cover story), but this was a decent and serious tale, describing how the monitoring and capture of radioactive waste following a holocaust war is carried out by a religious sect. The monks have been brainwashed into following tenets that manage waste disposal and management for centuries. They have lost understanding of why they do what they do, and what radioactivity means, but we see what happened through our understanding of old press clippings on monk archivist finds. Its all quite neat and well done – a solid story.

October 1976
Joan D. Vinge – Media Man
For the astute and/or gender-conscious among you, you may notice that this was the first occasion I read a story by a woman in this reading exploration. I wanted to include work by women in my reading before this time, but until September there were zero stories by women in Analog in 1976! In September, there was a story by Vonda McIntyre, which I thought I’d give a go, but it was dreadful (for me unreadable), so I switched and read the Darsany, discussed above. This then is the first female offering I read. And it was fantastic and was nominated for the Hugo award for Best Novella (its quite long). It tells a great story – rescue of someone from a cold planet in a far solar system and high intrigue, and murder, thereafter – and it’s set in a nice backdrop (the Heaven system, which Vinge used as the location of some of her other stories). Vinge writes well, in an uncluttered direct style I like (the polar opposite of McIntyre) and I’ll look out for more Heaven stories in future.

November 1976
Spider Robinson – By Any Other Name
This was the Hugo Award winner for Best Novella in 1977. It’s a good story, with (I felt) quite a few parallels with Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids – i.e. the conflation of both a human disaster leading to huge loss of life, coupled with a new threat. In this case the human disaster is based on changes to our sense of smell, and the new threat comes not from triffids but from spirit creatures called Muskies. Set in this dystopian future, largely in a now-empty New York city, it’s a very satisfying tale, with a twist at the end, and good crisp pacing. I didn’t entirely approve of some of the ‘science’ in it as it wasn’t all that believable, but if you withhold your disbelief, it’s quite a powerful piece. The title is I expect a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet says, What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

December 1976
P.J. Plauger – The Con Artist
Fascinating tale, and with writing that reminds me of Cordwainer Smith (the protagonist shrugged Italian, then later on shrugs British; and “Lightning was playing down near December cap… Marianne must be doing the weather this month”; little inventive details that derail and expand the sense of difference to our normal). P.J. Plauger seems an interesting figure – he had considerable success with his previous story in the same series (Child of All Ages was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in 1976), he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1975 and he has a PhD in nuclear physics. This short story is great – concerning immortals visiting Earth and threatening the human hearth. Recommended.
 

Bick

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Thanks Logan - why was that issue good? Can you comment on the specific stories in this issue?

The idea of this thread is to provide reviews from particular 'old' magazines (however you define that) - I'd rather this didn't become a place where folk simply recommend stuff or list magazines though. Ideally, more folk might copy my approach of taking up a specific 'challenge' to read specific authors from certain years, or pick a story from each month as I did, or something similar. Cheers!
 

Extollager

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I like your idea, Bick, and your notes and cover illustrations. Did the mag still have interior art at this time?

I might pick something from the May 1953 If.
 
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Bick

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I like your idea, Bick, and your notes and cover illustrations. Did the mag still have interior art at this time?
It did indeed, Dale. If you had several ‘53 IF’s I’d love to see a selection reviewed, but if you’ve only one, pick any story that looks interesting and maybe give a bit of background to the author if they’re a bit obscure perhaps?
 

hitmouse

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View attachment 64351

September 1976
Arsen Darnay – Aspic’s Mystery
I liked this story – I struggled to find a story that looked very appealing in this issue, not having heard of the authors (and not being inspired by the cover story), but this was a decent and serious tale, describing how the monitoring and capture of radioactive waste following a holocaust war is carried out by a religious sect. The monks have been brainwashed into following tenets that manage waste disposal and management for centuries. They have lost understanding of why they do what they do, and what radioactivity means, but we see what happened through our understanding of old press clippings on monk archivist finds. Its all quite neat and well done – a solid story.

October 1976
Joan D. Vinge – Media Man
For the astute and/or gender-conscious among you, you may notice that this was the first occasion I read a story by a woman in this reading exploration. I wanted to include work by women in my reading before this time, but until September there were zero stories by women in Analog in 1976! In September, there was a story by Vonda McIntyre, which I thought I’d give a go, but it was dreadful (for me unreadable), so I switched and read the Darsany, discussed above. This then is the first female offering I read. And it was fantastic and was nominated for the Hugo award for Best Novella (its quite long). It tells a great story – rescue of someone from a cold planet in a far solar system and high intrigue, and murder, thereafter – and it’s set in a nice backdrop (the Heaven system, which Vinge used as the location of some of her other stories). Vinge writes well, in an uncluttered direct style I like (the polar opposite of McIntyre) and I’ll look out for more Heaven stories in future.

November 1976
Spider Robinson – By Any Other Name
This was the Hugo Award winner for Best Novella in 1977. It’s a good story, with (I felt) quite a few parallels with Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids – i.e. the conflation of both a human disaster leading to huge loss of life, coupled with a new threat. In this case the human disaster is based on changes to our sense of smell, and the new threat comes not from triffids but from spirit creatures called Muskies. Set in this dystopian future, largely in a now-empty New York city, it’s a very satisfying tale, with a twist at the end, and good crisp pacing. I didn’t entirely approve of some of the ‘science’ in it as it wasn’t all that believable, but if you withhold your disbelief, it’s quite a powerful piece. The title is I expect a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet says, What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

December 1976
P.J. Plauger – The Con Artist
Fascinating tale, and with writing that reminds me of Cordwainer Smith (the protagonist shrugged Italian, then later on shrugs British; and “Lightning was playing down near December cap… Marianne must be doing the weather this month”; little inventive details that derail and expand the sense of difference to our normal). P.J. Plauger seems an interesting figure – he had considerable success with his previous story in the same series (Child of All Ages was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in 1976), he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1975 and he has a PhD in nuclear physics. This short story is great – concerning immortals visiting Earth and threatening the human hearth. Recommended.
I like the premise of this thread, which might encourage me to dig out some old magazines that havent seen daylight for 30 years.

re Sept 1976. I have novel by Arsen Darney Karma which I read in the early 80s. Reasonably good as I recall. Never seen anything else by that author.
 

Astro Pen

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I miss OMNI magazine. It was a sad day when it put up the shutters. I thought it was a perfect blend of tech and fiction. I still have a few copies around.

Also I have an issue of Destinies which was a sci-fi magazine in paperback book format. It has an interesting piece by Poul Anderson on maintaining scientific rigidity in sci-fi writing, and avoiding adulterating it with fantasy and magic (excepting FTL of course :) )

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Don

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My pulp magazines date back to the 1950s. They're shelved in the so-called "fiction nook" and sometimes a similar spirit moves me to also pick a story at random to read. Older magazines are typically available at archive.org, gutenberg.org, and comparable sites. Allow me to share my review of a Golden Age oldie but goodie.

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Heinlein, Robert A "And He Built a Crooked House" Astounding Feb 1941: 68-83. Print. 20170524.

Keywords: hypercube, oldlosangeles, tesseract, time

This story starts with the premise that the rest of the world views Americans as crazy. It then successively winnows down the scope of crazy to: California, Los Angeles, Hollywood, the Laurel Canyon, and finally Lookout Mountain. At the level of Hollywood the natives don't care what the rest of the world thinks.

The story then offers a very brief survey of Southern California's unique architectures. [1] It mentions The Pup and the Chili Bowl restaurants by name. It alludes to the Feed Rack restaurant.

Then the story moves on to a house built as a three dimensional projection of a tesseract (hypercube). The house looks like Dali's Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) [2] turned upside down. One cube on the bottom, five cubes on the next level, one cube on the next level, and one cube at the top.

When an overnight quake shakes the house it collapses into a stable four dimensional structure. The fourth dimension is time, which introduces the idea of space-time. The house folds space-time back upon itself.

Three people tour the house. As you say, they see the backside of themselves. There's no time travel, only the notion of the intrinsic space-time of a tesseract.

The movie _Cube 2: Hypercube_ [3] is mostly a cult classic. It too shows people who see themselves from behind. In addition, it shows who see themselves in the future and the past.

The mathematics, or physics, or whatever you call it, that pertains to a tesseract is beyond my level of comprehension. In the story RAH mentions the Picard-Vessiot theory, stereochemistry, and homomorphology.

Note.

1. http://www.vintag.es/2016/03/22-vintage-pictures-of-old-los-angeles.html
2. Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) - Wikipedia
3. Cube 2: Hypercube - Wikipedia
 

Extollager

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It did indeed, Dale. If you had several ‘53 IF’s I’d love to see a selection reviewed, but if you’ve only one, pick any story that looks interesting and maybe give a bit of background to the author if they’re a bit obscure perhaps?
Thanks. I have just the one. It's special because it's a copy of the issue that Arthur C. Clarke gave to C. S. Lewis and that Lewis reviewed in a letter to Clarke.

I have some issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the 1950s and 1960s that have Lewis and/or Tolkien connections, etc. When I'm not busy with other things, I'll likely dip into those.
 

Extollager

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People who are enjoying his thread might also want to check the series here:

 

DeltaV

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Interesting thread. 1976 was well before my time as an Analog reader. I was surprised to see Bud Sparhawk listed. Had no idea that he has been writing for Analog for so long.
 

dask

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Great thread. Been thinking about shelving books for a while and concentrating on just sf mags. Since the same stories tend to get reprinted over and over and the genre's history tends to hinge on those stories the lesser knowns and never reprinted almost offer a whole new view on the subject.
 

Bick

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Great thread. Been thinking about shelving books for a while and concentrating on just sf mags. Since the same stories tend to get reprinted over and over and the genre's history tends to hinge on those stories the lesser knowns and never reprinted almost offer a whole new view on the subject.
Indeed, dask. And what I found, is that in each issue there was at least one pretty good story. I checked each issue for award nominees and winners in ISFDB, so that I didn't miss anything great. I really enjoyed the exercise, and will do it again I'm sure. The nice thing of making a challenge out of it, rather than simply reading one story from a random old magazine, is that I was 'forced' into reading a few stories I would never have read otherwise, and they were pretty good. I also found from ISFDB that some authors I didn't know at all, were quite prolific and/or highly regarded in their time. A further good thing with this particular exercise, I think, was that the golden age of around 1939-1960 is highly anthologised and read, and recent work from about 1990-ish and on is well read (due to Dozois, et al), but I wonder if the 70's-80's is a little less well read currently?
 

Bick

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Allow me to share my review of a Golden Age oldie but goodie.

Heinlein, Robert A "And He Built a Crooked House" Astounding Feb 1941: 68-83. Print. 20170524.
Now that's what I call an in-depth and informative review Don - many thanks. I've read a reasonable amount of early Heinlein (incl. all his Future History stories), but was actually not familiar with this one.
 

Don

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And thank you for reminding me of the source of "Future History." On usenet someone noted how Amazon ?erroneously? uses "Future History" in conjunction with the works of Philip Francis Nowlan. The phrase seemed familiar to me at the time, but I couldn't put my finger on it until now.
 

Vince W

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You're still using usenet, Don? My ISP cut off usenet support about a decade ago. I still toy with the idea of paying for access but never seem to make the leap.
 
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