Reading Around in Old SF Magazines

Matteo

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Most ?all? of the old Astoundings, and other magazines, are available in eBook format at


(It's better than nothing.)
Indeed! I came across that site a couple of years ago - and think I posted here...in my mad campaign to get everything that Robert Silverberg wrote.

Many other magazines are also available - although finding them is a little difficult and the search function is not very user-friendly.

The covers on many of them are gorgeous.
 

Don

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Indeed! I came across that site a couple of years ago - and think I posted here...in my mad campaign to get everything that Robert Silverberg wrote.
Project Gutenberg is another, more modest, archive, which may be unknown to some. Here's what they offer on Silverberg:


General Internet searches can also help you connect with a fellow fan, who has an archive of their own. For instance, this website apparently offers a complete, or nearly so, van Vogt archive:

 

Bick

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Don - I've been trying to encourage general comments on magazines to be placed on other threads - this is specifically for story reviews from old magazines, preferably following a specific goal or method, such as dipping into all of one year of a specific title.
 

Don

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It showed the impossible difficulties with using uranium, but it gave a short shrift to plutonium. Long story short, or, rather, short story shorter, it convinced me of the infeasibility of using uranium in a Do It Yourself bomb.
 

Don

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"Build Your Own Bomb" was worse than my memory gave it credit for. Is it damage control to contain fallout from John Aristotle Phillips' paper? Phillips probably used plutonium, as is done in The Manhattan Project movie.

"The Reunion" by Nahin (who's primarily known to me via his Time Machines book) follows "Build Your Own Bomb." It's a short story about a soon to be famous college professor who reflects on the hardships meted out by his fellow high school students. And he ultimately chooses the wrong option, if you ask me.
 

Bick

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I didn't ever post my concluding read-through of 1979 Analog issues, so here we go:

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September 1979
Timothy Zahn – Ernie
This short story was not a hit at the time is was published, perhaps because the author was previously unpublished before this story made it into Analog. Yes, this is Timothy Zahn's first published work of fiction. It's about a teenage boy who can teleport very short distances, and only laterally, not up and down. The only use he can think to make of his talent is in the boxing ring, but maybe there's more to life than this... This is a great story, well told, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Zahn would of course go on to become probably the most famous writer of Star Wars 'Extended Universe' novels.

October 1979
Mack Reynolds - The Case of the Disposable Jalopy
Another case of a writer who was popular and well regarded in his day, but who has dropped from the collective SF consciousness almost entirely in recent times. This is a shame as Reynolds writes exuberant and thought-provoking SF with a humorous but critical eye over current social ills. This is an energetic novelette set in a future New York, where a detective is employed by three English employees (called Clarke, Aldiss and Brunner) of a local disposable car company to track down what's sabotaging their car company. It's a biting little social satire.

November 1979
Thomas A. Easton - Movers and Shakers
This was a light, but rather fun little tale of an alien who gives a blue-collar worker a leg up... but for what reason? It reminded me little of Simak, what with the trope of an alien on Earth engaging with a human of little importance. Easton wrote a lot of SF in the 70's and also contributed book reviews to Analog for many years.

December 1979
Dean McLaughlin - Long Shot
A short little tale of what happens when a scientist adds a cultural package to an outbound space probe. A nice idea, but too short to be very much. McLaughlin's SF writing spans several decades with his first short story in 1951, and his last in 2008. His best-known work is probably Hawk Among the Sparrows (1968), which was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella.
 

Bick

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So that wrapped up my exploration of 1979 Analog magazine, reading 1 selected story from each issue.
I have every issue of 1983 Analog too, so I'm now going to undertake the same exploration of that year, and I'll post the reviews once I'm done.

Anyone else want to play the same reading 'challenge' of one story per issue of a complete year (preferably from at least 20 years ago) of a famous SF magazine?
 

Vince W

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I had complete runs of Analog and Asimov's between the years of 1984 - 1990. If I still had them I'd gladly play.
 

BigBadBob141

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Have got four or possibly five of the above 1979 Analogs, sorry guys, must stop boasting about my magazine collection, but I just can't help myself (lol)!
Seriously I do love some of the covers on these, they are true works of art.
 

Bick

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Okay, here's my reading exploration of Analog from 1983, selecting one story or novella from each issue:

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January 1983
Hayford Pierce - Taking the Fifth
I read and enjoyed Pierce's Chap Foey Rider story in my exploration of 1976 Analog issues, so it was good to see another Pierce story published here. In this novella Pierce imagines that a perfect truth 'serum' has been devised, and that in order to enable its use to incarcerate criminals, the the clause on self-incrimination in the 5th amendment of the US Constitution must be repealed. Its a nice juxtaposition of ideas, and for the most part follows the efforts and speeches of lobbyists and candidates in support of a new 29th amendment that will bring these changes into action. Pierce writes well, and the story is entertaining and brisk. However I felt it was let down somewhat by the ending, which seemed less insightful than I was hoping for.

February 1983
Frederik Pohl - Servant of the People

Hugo Award nominee for Best Short Story in 1984. Frederik Pohl started writing short stories with C. M. Kornbluth in 1940 at the start of the 'golden age', of course, and was a giant of the genre, winning 4 Hugo Awards, and 3 Nebula's, edited Galaxy and If for many years, and was named the 12th SF Grand Master by the SFWA in 1993. This is a solid if not great story, telling the story of an aging career politician running for office against a robot competitor. I do like old robot stories (especially Asimov's) but this seemed slightly anachronistic given it was written in the 1980's. It also depends more on the 'twist' at the end than on the actual substance of the story, which perhaps also makes it seem older from a structural perspective.

March 1983
Robert Silverberg - The Election
I really liked this story, as expected, coming as it does from my favourite living SF writer. In the long list of Silverbob's award winning short stories, this one doesn't feature, but it's more considered, insightful and nuanced than either of the previous stories I've read in this 'reading challenge'. One might call it literary. Twenty years after a nuclear war, civilisation is recovering, living basically in a semi-feudal style. One such town, run undemocratically by a local autocrat, is visited by an official announcing an upcoming federal election. The autocrat rejects the proposal for US-wide democracy, with interesting arguments about what progress may really mean, and whether it's the right time for central government or not. Very good.

April 1983
Ben Bova - A Small Kindness
This was an engaging and well told tale, about a US hitman in Athens on the trial of a saintly figure from the World Government. It's hard to say much more without giving away the story's outcome. Bova is now best known for his Grand Tour novels of the solar system, but this story predated those books. Bova edited Analog of course, from January 1972 to November 1978 after Campbell's death in 1971 and he won six Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor.
 

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May 1983
Timothy Zahn - The Final Report on the Lifeline Experiment
This is a superior novelette by Zahn. It asks the question, if a telepath could sense 'humanity' in a person, could he use his powers to sense the same individuality in an unborn baby? And if so, could he accurately identify when a foetus becomes 'human'? Both pro-choice and pro-life lobbyists pressure the experimenter, who insists he's only pro-truth. Its a tricky subject to write about, but Zahn skillfully navigates a contentious issue very well, ending on a SF twist that should satisfy all readers.

June 1983
Greg Bear - Blood Music
One of the all-time great SF stories, and I didn't know until I picked up this issue of Analog and flicked through it that Blood Music was first published here. As I'd previously read the novelette I briefly considered reading something else from the issue, but nothing else in the issue stood out or has been deemed worthy of inclusion in any anthology or garnered any award nominations. It would therefore seem almost perverse to skip Blood Music, so I read it again. An absolute cracker of a story, of course. If you've not read it, find it and read it. Interestingly, Bear's classic didn't get the cover of Analog, which led with a Science Fact article by Gordon Woodstock!

July 1983
Timothy Zahn - Warlord
Another story by Zahn. I've generally tried to read different authors in each month, but some authors seem to crop up a fair bit and deserve repeat attention. This story looked most appealing from the issue, so Zahn gets another entry in the exploration. A novelette set within his Cobra series of stories, which ultimately became a long novel series (see here), this was an exciting tale. While this was more space-opera (or at least far future) than Zahn's more nuanced and careful story from May 1983, it was well done, providing good tension and with characters being well developed. Highly engaging, albeit lighter in substance than 'Final Report...'.

August 1983
Robert L. Forward - Twin Paradox
I was hoping for a quality hard SF short story here, but Forward's tale of an astronauts time dilation going to and from Arcturus to respond to an alien invitation is actually just a bit silly, and was therefore a disappointment. Little details didn't stack up either, such as the Earth population of 10 trillion - surely he meant billion - and the astronaut spending decades in space with nothing to do, all alone, with no psychological consequences at all; he seemed fresh as a daisy upon his return as though he'd popped down the shops. Quite poor really.
 

Bick

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September 1983
Joseph Green - Raccoon Reaction
Green (1914-1990) was a 'golden age' writer, most famous for creating the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet stories and 1950's TV show. This was a solid short story about aliens coming to Earth orbit, with dire ecological consequences. It was nicely done, and quite engaging.

Mid-September 1983
Jack C. Haldeman, II - We, the People
This story placed third in the Analog poll for 1983. 'Jay' Haldeman was of course Joe Haldeman's older brother, with who he collaborated on a few stories. In what is really 'flash fiction', Haldeman imagines a world where you get to decide where your tax dollars go at the end of each year. An old guy decides which funding categories deserve his money, discussing it with his robot-computer as he goes through the IRS form. It's quite nicely done.

October 1983
Vernor Vinge - Gemstone
I've previously only read Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought novels (A Fire Upon the Deep is excellent), so I was glad to find one of his novelettes in these magazines. This novelette starts off like a psychological thriller and gradually turns into an 'alien-on-earth' kind of story. I really rather like it, and characterisation was good.

November 1983
David Brin - Tank-Farm Dynamo
I had a tough choice this issue as their was a Poul Anderson story, but as it was set in Fred Saberhagen's Berserker universe and I've not read any of the original work I left it alone, and opted for Brin's novelette. Brin is most famous for two things: his Uplift series of novels, and for being super-smart (PhD in applied physics; a bit of a polymath). He knows his stuff when it comes to the science of science-fiction. This was hard SF of course, and dealt with a conflict between privately owned orbiting tank farms and government agencies. It was well done, though I confess I didn't really follow the physics behind it.

December 1983
Timothy Zahn - Cascade Point
What's this, a third story by Zahn? I had no intention of choosing stories from one author multiple times, but this is what comes from not planning too far ahead. I like to crack open each issue and then select a story. But in this issue Zahn had Cascade Point published which won the Hugo for best novella in 1984, and is his most well regarded and famous short story - I had to read it. I enjoyed the tale - it's set up like a hard SF story, but as it pertains to a problem with a faster-than-light ship drive, its not really. It is internally consistent through, the new idea for an FTL drive is neat, characterisation is good and it romps along with good tension and pace. I find it fascinating that Zahn was such a fixture in Analog around this time, eight years before he started to publish his famous Star Wars novels.

Overall Conclusion
A terrific year - and how good was Analog back in the day! Blood Music was probably the highlight individual story, but that was a re-read, so I'll also note the high quality of stories from Timothy Zahn (and I didn't even read all his submissions in this year). Silverberg gets a honorable mention for offering a solid and satisfying story that I'd not heard of before. I'm once again reminded that the level of submission in Analog used to be so high - all the big names sent quality material to the magazine. This no longer seems to be the case - do established authors write less short fiction, or do they send it elsewhere these days? Or are the magazines now selecting stories based on different criteria?
 

Vince W

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Great report on what seems to have been a pretty great year for Analog (and science fiction). You make me want to hunt these issues up and read them for myself. I tended to read Asimov's pretty regularly picking up Analog a couple of times a year, usually if I finished Asimov's too quickly.
 

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My impression is that from the 70's through the mid-80's at least, Analog was still the pre-eminent magazine. I think that's probably changed and this century, Asimov's has been in the ascendency and now probably carries more quality stories. This is reflected in the fact that it's received way more award nominations than Analog for many years now. Exactly when that change occurred, or why I don't know. It can't be just editor. Bova was editor from '72 through to '78 when Analog was great, but Stanley Schmidt had been editor for 5 years by the time of the issues reviewed above. I think it comes down to who is submitting what, where. I read Analog from about 2012-2015 and I don't think the quality was nearly as high as from these earlier years. So maybe you are better off reading Asimov's now.

I don't subscribe to any now myself, I prefer buying old 'complete years' on eBay, and delving back into my collection. Another problem with current subscriptions is there are so many online magazines, the quality is stretched too thin across too many offerings. (And so much of the modern award-nominated/winning stuff doesn't appeal to me at all - I think a lot of it is rubbish).
 
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