Reading Around in Old SF Magazines

dask

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Okay, I tried to get hold of an older year of If, as Dask supported, but I couldn't locate any of the years I wanted for less than a small fortune, so I had a rummage around to see what I already had and fill in an issue here or there to complete a year. I managed to locate the complete year of Analog from 1973, this time. So its back to Analog from 48 years ago. Ben Bova editing, and the likes or Martin, Pournelle, Effinger and Haldeman just starting to make their mark. Here we go -

Analog 1973:

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January 1973
Norman Spinrad - A Thing of Beauty
A much anthologised Nebula Award-nominated short story. Spinrad is perhaps most famous for his novel Bug Jack Barron, and was quite a controversial figure in the 70's and 80's. This was an engagingly-written story about a Japanese industrial magnate who visits a post-'insurrection' (i.e. largely devastated) USA to buy an old architectural marvel from US history to add some art and glory to his land back home. While the story wasn't mindblowing, it was a fine example of how good the great old SF authors were at holding a reader and presenting a snappy tale.

February 1973
Spider Robinson - The Guy with the Eyes
This story is notable for being the very first Callahan's Saloon tale and it would become the first story or chapter in the initial Callahan book, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, published in 1977. Robinson would go on to publish ten Callahan books between 1977 and 2003. In this tale we are introduced to Callahan's Saloon, a drinking establishment for many and varied ethical, friendly and garrulous clients. Set somewhere on Earth (in 'Suffolk country' is all we know), the rule is you pay $1 for any drink, publicly give a toast or oath and then you throw your glass in the fire once you've finished your drink. After an ex-heroin addict throws both his glass and then his heroin in the fire, rejecting the path of self-destruction (much to the approval of the saloon's clientele), a strange and very tall 'man', with unblinking eyes and his shoes on the wrong feet, rises and pronounces an awful doom upon humanity. This was a nice tale - I like Spider Robinson's writing - and it set up future Callahan tales enticingly.

March 1973
Jerry Pournelle - He Fell Into a Dark Hole
Hugo Award nominee for best novelette. This story concerns a starship captain, mourning his lost wife and child who's ship went astray in interstellar space. A renegade scientist thinks she can help find and return several ships that went missing in the same bit of space, and suggests a mysterious black hole caused the spaceships to drop out of hyperspace. Interestingly, black holes are presented as obscure theoretical constructs that navy captains of the future have never heard of. Now, I understand black holes were implied by general relativity, proposed to exist in the manner we understand them in 1958 by Finkelstein, and one was first indirectly observed in 1964 (Cygnus X-1). They got the name 'black holes' in 1967. By 1971, Stephen Hawking had proved they not only exist but evaporate, giving off Hawking radiation. Which makes me wonder why in 1973 Pournelle suggested in his fictional future they were an obscure and forgotten theory. Anyway, the story is quite entertaining, despite being a bit dated - the sexism that was common at the time is on show here (the wife of the protagonist has little input into her choices or future) - but it's well written and well paced. Interestingly, it's set in Pournelle's CoDominium universe, the setting for many of his books, including The Mote in God's Eye co-authored with Larry Niven.

April 1973
Tom Purdom - Moon Rocks
No stories exactly leapt out at me from this issue, but after a bit of research I see that Tom Purdom has published more than the other authors featured in this issue and was later nominated for a Hugo Award for his novelette Fossil Games (Asimov's 1999), so I semi-randomly chose his short story. Purdom's still writing and publishing, incidentally, now aged 84. This story tells the tale of a US military man with a damaged reputation who accepts the difficult job of stealing gold on the moon from the enemy European's lunar territory. He undertakes the task using automated 'gun buggies', alongside his own command vehicle; it's a 'civilised war' that's waged on the moon and no-one is supposed to get killed. It's no classic, but I rather enjoyed the story.
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May 1973
George R. R. Martin - With Morning Comes Mistfall
This was Martin's first award-nominated piece of fiction, and helped to launch his reputation and career (it was the Hugo runner-up for best short story in 1974). It is evident that as early as 1973 George R. R. Martin could write well - this is a superior story. An expedition travels to Wraithworld, where great mists rise each evening and fall each morning, to look for evidence of the fabled wraiths of the mists. Not only is it beautifully written, it's about something. Should we try to explain everything we see and hear about, or is there value in the mysteries of the cosmos remaining mysteries?

George Alec Effinger - Naked to the Invisible Eye
A second story from one issue - a break from the plan, surely! But there's method behind the madness in this instance. George Alec Effinger and George Martin became friends and acquaintances around this time, as Martin was breaking through on the SF scene. Indeed, it was in 1973 that both Martin and Effinger were nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. They lost out to Jerry Pournelle, as they fully expected (and who I featured above from the March 1973 Analog), but they were nonetheless becoming well-established around this time. The arrival of George Martin on the SF convention scene added another George to the mix, and so Gardner Dozois decided Martin would need a nickname. George Zebrowski had already taken 'George', and as a consequence George Effinger was stuck with his childhood nickname 'Piglet'. George R. R. Martin became 'Railroad', on account of his middle initials - a nickname Jack Dann apparently still uses. So, upon seeing that Effinger had a story published in this same issue of Analog, I thought it would be nice to read one story from 'Railroad' and one from 'Piglet'. This story by Effinger is a baseball tale (Effinger loved his sports and wrote many sports-based stories). A young Venezuelan pitcher in the US minor league can influence whether batters swing at a pitch. But if he uses his extra-sensory power all the time, it looks very odd and suspicious. An ambitious coach and catcher work together to make their fortune in the big leagues by schooling the prodigy. Effinger writes very well, and this was a well-paced and enjoyable tale. It's not a classic by any means, and it's rather low on 'science' as fiction, but I enjoyed reading it.

June 1973
J. R. Pierce - The Whimper Effect
This issue contained Notebooks of Lazarus Long, an excerpt from Robert A. Heinlein's 1973 novel, Time Enough for Love, but it's not a story per se, it will already be familiar to many and I recently read the book; so I chose the J. R. Pierce story, instead. John R. Pierce (1910-2002) was more famous as an engineer and scientist than a writer, though he wrote SF from 1930 through to 1973 (this was his last published story). As an engineer at Bell labs and Caltech he won numerous awards including the IEEE Medal of Honor and the Marconi Prize. He became Chief Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1971. This was an interesting tale, both in plot and structure. The protagonist (a SF writer) visits the Soviet Union to see a fellow writer and at a party there encounters a man who warns him of the gradual dangers of a commonplace technology that could affect people psychologically. The story's title and plot refer to Eliot's famous poem The Hollow Men, which ends This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper. The interesting structure I referred to is that the lead character at one point goes to Bell labs (where J. R. Pierce worked for many years) and visits J. J. Coupling - a clever pseudonym Pierce used for some of his earlier fiction. In other words the protagonist visits the author. All in all it's quite erudite and I liked it.

July 1973
Anne McCaffrey - A Bridle for Pegasus
This novella is one of the four stories that comprised McCaffrey's 1973 book, To Ride Pegasus, about a center for psionic 'talents' - the titular pegasus being a symbol for these talents. It takes few pages to get going, but improved as I got more into it. Set in a somewhat dystopian future, where rioting is apparently a perennial problem, the center for psionic talents educates and protects latent psychics to hone their empathy, telepathy, or pre-cog skills - providing a 'bridle' for their 'pegasus'. A young woman musician and psychic of extraordinary abilities is spotted wowing the crowd at one of her concerts, and is recruited to help bring in another uncontrolled latent psychic. This latter character is a social activist and has been trying to use the young woman to foster social unrest. It's quite an interesting idea, but I didn't find it entirely engaging, and I felt it was a touch long and could have been crisper in it's execution.

August 1973
Gordon R. Dickson - The Far Call
This was the first part in a three-part serial, and The Far Call would subsequently be published by Dickson as a novel in 1978. I don't normally select a serial in these explorations, but none of the shorter fiction pieces were noteworthy or eye-catching, so I figured I'd split from tradition on this occasion. I read parts 2 and 3 from the subsequent issues in September and October 1973, but this review is for the complete serial. This novel is great hard SF and if you like reading tales of realistic solar system exploration in the near future, you would enjoy this. The action is split almost 50:50 between scenes on Earth (Kennedy control and the political difficulties behind a manned-voyage to Mars), and the action on board two spaceships who are making the first Mars-bound trip. This story is as much about the way in which political pressures can adversely affect practical outcomes as it is about going to Mars. And yet, there is plenty of action to enjoy too. Due to an over-crowded experimental schedule, agreed to by political committee, the astronauts ('marsnauts') are over-worked and start to make minor mistakes. When disaster strikes, their problems are compounded. The serialised version of this story is I believe only available from Analog, but the expanded 1978 novel (well reviewed upon its publication) may be easier to find. Warmly recommended.
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September 1973
George R. R. Martin - Override
This was the first in a short series of stories from Martin known as The Corpse Handlers. This was a neat idea: in the future manual workers can engage corpse crews - dead men with an implanted 'synthbrain' - who they can control with a controller device. It enables them to undertake hard manual labour that cannot be done well by machine (such as, in this story, excavating valuable 'swirlstones' from caves on the world of Grotto). But a local businessman hates the corpse handlers and wants to shut them down. This is a good story - well paced and interesting, with an exciting conclusion.

October 1973
Vonda N. McIntyre - Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand
Nebula award winner and Hugo award runner-up for best novelette. I undertook this with trepidation, as I've struggled with McIntyre in the past, finding her writing style to be dense and uninviting, and the stories not to my taste. This certainly started that way, and I would normally have given up on it, but as I'm trying to explore the good and bad of Analog 1973, and as it won a Nebula award, I stuck with it (somewhat through gritted teeth). A travelling healer 'Snake' arrives in a village from across the desert to heal a small boy using snakes (called Mist, Grass and Sand) with altered 'venom'. It's quite a nice idea, but it's effectively a fantasy tale and feels set in an alternate past, rather than SF. It improved from the start, but it's probably my least favourite story from this year.

November 1973
Sonya Dorman - The Sons of Bingaloo
This issue included the novella We Are Happy Here, by Joe Haldeman, which was very tempting, but it later became one fourth of his award winning novel, The Forever War (which I've read) so I chose this short story by Sonya Dorman. Dorman published over two dozen SF stories between 1961 and 1980 and her story Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird, was part of Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology. Dorman also published volumes of poetry, and this story concerns poetry also. A man goes to a visiting fair on licensing day to undertake his re-licensing test. In the assessment tent, his brainwaves are computer-scanned for 'quality' during his creation of a poem. It's short, but nicely done, and a novel idea. Interestingly, this is not the sort of story Analog would probably publish (or receive) these days - it was more catholic in its contents in the 1970's I think.

December 1973
Ron Goulart - The Hellhound Project
This was a pretty good novella. Ron Goulart is not an author I'm very familiar with, but he's prolific, having written many novels and over a hundred short fiction stories since 1952. He's also an historian, and expert on comic books. This story, set in a dystopian, post-viral America, concerns the infiltration of a wealthy industrial family by a lookalike of the family patriarch, Robert Walbrook I. The original Walbrook was put into suspended animation in 1979 due to sickness, and fifty years later our protagonist pretends to be the newly awoken Walbrook, in an effort to learn about the family's mysterious Hellhound Project. It's clearly and engagingly written, tense and well-paced.

Overall Conclusions
This was an excellent year for Analog, I think, and it seems little surprise that Ben Bova won the Hugo for Best Editor. Highlights were the Gordon R. Dickson serial novel and the George R. R. Martin stories, but special mention should be given to the Spider Robinson, the J. R. Pierce story and the Ron Goulart novella.

Incidentally - all these 'year reviews' of Analogs can be found on my website under the 'magazines' tab, where there is also a review of Analog 2014, in which I compare and contrast a recent year, with these older years.
I agree with Vince W, great bunch of reviews. Put all these stories in one book and you’d have a Hugo winning anthology. Pretty sure I have a fair number of these issues, will have to look some of them up.
 

Bick

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I agree with Vince W, great bunch of reviews. Put all these stories in one book and you’d have a Hugo winning anthology. Pretty sure I have a fair number of these issues, will have to look some of them up.
Thanks Dask - yes - it would make a cracker of an anthology. I might even contact Analog and see if they are at all interested in the idea...
 

Vince W

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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.
I finished reading January 1983 which included "Taking the Fifth" by Hayford Pierce, "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" by Mary Caraker, and "Cultural Exchange" by Bill Hays. I couldn't read the serial by Robert L. Forward as it's part two and I don't have part one.

As Bick mentions in his review of "Taking the Fifth" it examines what it would take to create a police state that voters would find acceptable in the US. It offers some interesting ideas and while it was interesting the ending left me feeling unsatisfied and unpleased. For me it was very thin on the science fiction and is more sociological speculation.

The next two stories are variations on the same theme. "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" and "Cultural Exchange" both examine how alien alien cultures and perceptions can be. Both are quite well written an offer entertaining looks at what our interactions with aliens could be like but for me "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" was the better of the two. It had me interested pretty much from the start and kept my attention. "Cultural Exchange" took a while to really grab me but in the end it got there.
 

Bick

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I finished reading January 1983 which included "Taking the Fifth" by Hayford Pierce, "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" by Mary Caraker, and "Cultural Exchange" by Bill Hays. I couldn't read the serial by Robert L. Forward as it's part two and I don't have part one.

As Bick mentions in his review of "Taking the Fifth" it examines what it would take to create a police state that voters would find acceptable in the US. It offers some interesting ideas and while it was interesting the ending left me feeling unsatisfied and unpleased. For me it was very thin on the science fiction and is more sociological speculation.

The next two stories are variations on the same theme. "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" and "Cultural Exchange" both examine how alien alien cultures and perceptions can be. Both are quite well written an offer entertaining looks at what our interactions with aliens could be like but for me "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" was the better of the two. It had me interested pretty much from the start and kept my attention. "Cultural Exchange" took a while to really grab me but in the end it got there.
Fascinating to hear what you think of them, Vince. I agree the end of the Pierce story was rather weak, and on another day I might have been more critical overall. It wasn't among the better stories I read in my exploration, for sure. So did you rate the stories from Jan 1983:

1. "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" by Mary Caraker
2. "Cultural Exchange" by Bill Hays
3. "Taking the Fifth" by Hayford Pierce

Did I get that right?
I chose particular stories from each issue based on a number of factors in the following order: awards won, awards nominated, number of times anthologised, reputation of author, amount of SF output by author. Even doing this, I will have picked some stories that were relatively weak compared to others that month, which may have happened for this month, Jan '83. For the Pierce, I think I selected it as the Hays and Caraker stories were neither nominated for anything, not have ever been anthologised, and the authors have a lower profile. In fact, did you realise you have now read the entire SF published output of the great Bill Hays - he only ever had a single short story published in his 'career'; this one!
 

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Fascinating to hear what you think of them, Vince. I agree the end of the Pierce story was rather weak, and on another day I might have been more critical overall. It wasn't among the better stories I read in my exploration, for sure. So did you rate the stories from Jan 1983:

1. "The Vampires Who Loved Beowulf" by Mary Caraker
2. "Cultural Exchange" by Bill Hays
3. "Taking the Fifth" by Hayford Pierce

Did I get that right?
I chose particular stories from each issue based on a number of factors in the following order: awards won, awards nominated, number of times anthologised, reputation of author, amount of SF output by author. Even doing this, I will have picked some stories that were relatively weak compared to others that month, which may have happened for this month, Jan '83. For the Pierce, I think I selected it as the Hays and Caraker stories were neither nominated for anything, not have ever been anthologised, and the authors have a lower profile. In fact, did you realise you have now read the entire SF published output of the great Bill Hays - he only ever had a single short story published in his 'career'; this one!
That is indeed how I would rank the stories in this issue.

I can understand your reasonings for choosing the stories you do in your read arounds. Perfectly sound. I feel that if the Pierce story has a higher profile it may come down to the subject matter. As for Bill Hays, I congratulate him as his publication history is 100% greater than my own. :)
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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1973 was a year when I was buying Analog regularly, so all those issues look familiar to me. I can actually recall almost every story you list, with the exception of the Pierce and the Dorman. That doesn't mean I liked them all. I was not very impressed with the Pournelle, the Purdom, the McCaffrey, or the Goulart. (I don't know Purdom very well, but the other three authors are ones with whom I usually have trouble, as you do with McIntyre. A matter of taste, I suppose.) My favorites are the Spinrad, the first Martin, and the McIntyre (to each her own.)
 

Bick

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1973 was a year when I was buying Analog regularly, so all those issues look familiar to me. I can actually recall almost every story you list, with the exception of the Pierce and the Dorman. That doesn't mean I liked them all. I was not very impressed with the Pournelle, the Purdom, the McCaffrey, or the Goulart. (I don't know Purdom very well, but the other three authors are ones with whom I usually have trouble, as you do with McIntyre. A matter of taste, I suppose.) My favorites are the Spinrad, the first Martin, and the McIntyre (to each her own.)
Amazing memory, Victoria! I can't recall what I had for lunch by the time I get to the evening. We agree on With Morning Comes Mistfall though - the best story in those I read, and then I'd 'place' the Dickson serial. When it comes to the Purdom and Pournelle - I don't think they're especially good stories, but I found them very readable, which excuses a lot of sins for me.
 

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These old magazines like K. Riehl's are tangible links to a past very different from ours. I often think of Jack Williamson on a remote ranch in New Mexico. I don't suppose there was a public library near him, and if there was its fantasy and sf holdings were probably scanty at best. But every month brought new sf magazines that one might be able to get on a trip to some town. I don't mean to imply that Jack and others lived miserable lives in their small towns, etc. and that the magazines were a lifeline of escape from that misery. Rather, the sf magazines could be a part of a positive experience in living in that time and place.
 

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As well as reading from complete years as I have been, I also like to take an old magazine and read it cover-to-cover, warts and all, to explore SF of the time. This is my review of Thrilling Wonder Stories, from December 1946:

Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1946

Thrilling Wonder Stories ran from mid-1936 until the start of 1955, with 5-6 issues per year for most of that run. Thrilling was started by Beacon publications after it bought out the original Wonder Stories from Hugo Gernsback in 1936. It was then run as more of a 'juvenile' title until Sam Merwin took over editorship in 1945, who did his best to make it more adult and contemporary. This issue from the end of 1946 contains stories from a stellar cast of famous authors, including an early Jack Vance and other stories from Kuttner, Leinster, de Camp and Pratt.



I am Eden - Henry Kuttner
Kuttner started publishing stories in large numbers from 1936 and continued doing so until about 1955. More than half his writing was in collaboration with his wife C. L. Moore, though this novella was by Kuttner alone. This is best described as pseudo-science fantasy. A small band of treasure-seeking adventurers trek deep into the Brazilian rainforest in search of a rich lode of radium. Arriving at the epicenter of their search, they find a land in which the animals, plant life and even the land and rocks are joined into a cohesive living thing. Strange animal-plant-stone 'things' abound. The scientific basis of all this is non-existent of course, and it's all very daft. But on a more positive note, it's written with the pulpy exuberance of the early sword-and-sorcery type adventure tales, and also with a degree of professionalism by Kuttner, that make it not only bearable, but strangely enjoyable. It's not great, indeed in some ways it is awful, and yet it's not without merit as a fun read, very much of its time.

The End - Murray Leinster
Another giant of the pulp era, Leinster (1896-1975) started publishing SF in 1918 (Atmosphere, published in The Argosy) and continued until shortly before his death. It's perhaps a result of his generation (born in the 19th century), but the ingrained sexism in this story is hard to pass over. I'm usually pretty tolerant of outdated cultural mores, but others of the time wrote of women and included key female characters, so it wasn't impossible. In this novelette, Leinster takes us to the end of days on Earth, now a frozen and abandoned planet with a dying red sun. Researchers have gone back to try to find a way to stop a galactic collapse that will signal the end of the universe in less than five years. The destructive force moves much faster than light, apparently. And pirates come and attack them, so they need to find a way to leave the universe sharpish. Scientifically its very silly of course, and while this was also the case with the Kuttner, that story was presented as a boys'-own kind of fantasy adventure and got away with it. This didn't work so well for me. I'm not so sure Leinster is one of my favourite golden age authors.

Grim Rendezvous - Arthur Leo Zagat
Zagat (1896-1949) was prolific and wrote a lot of SF stories, mostly sold to the pulps in the 1930's and '40's. I'm not too familiar with his work, but he was successful enough to give up work as a lawyer to write full time in the last two decades of his life. This short story was a good deal more successful than the Leinster for me. A young physics researcher identifies something heading on a collision course for Earth by radar, but which cannot be seen by telescopes. What can it be, and should he tell anyone? This was nicely done, being entertaining, and quite a neat idea. The girlfriend of the protagonist also had some agency and spirit, which was nice to see.

The Ghosts of Melvin Pye - L. Sprague de Camp
A major and prolific figure in SF and fantasy, of course, de Camp won the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1979 and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984. This short story was a well-written and entertaining hoot. It's a fantasy ghost story; a penny-pinching landlord has ghosts scaring off his tenants and so he hires various people to try and get rid of them. The conversations, scenarios and final solution are comedic and entertaining. Recommended if you can find it, as a fine example of an amusing ghost story.

Phalid's Fate - Jack Vance
This was only the third story of Vance's to be published. Immediately the quality of Vance's writing is apparent - smooth, uncluttered, and yet evocative. This was by some margin the best story in this issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, and seemed more modern than the other longer works by Kuttner and Leinster. Wratch, a dying soldier in Earth's war with the alien Phalid, has his brain transplanted into a captured Phalid, so he can go undercover to determine the location of the home-world of the warring aliens. Exciting and intriguing, Vance paints a rounded picture of the aliens through Wratch's new compound eyes, describing their advantages and perspective. The only negative to this story would be that it was a touch short. It's actually a novelette of decent size, but its starts more like a novel and ends up a little rushed perhaps. The idea would suit a novel well.

Illustration (Marchioni) for Jack Vance's Phalid's Fate

Pardon My Mistake - Fletcher Pratt
Pratt was well-published in the pulp years and perhaps was most famous for his collaborative stories written with de Camp, and for his fantasy novel The Well of the Unicorn. This was a very short story about a man looking to get revenge on his ex-wife and her new husband, but he makes an unfortunate mistake. Filler, really.

Life on the Moon - Alexander Samalman
Samalman published only 6 stories between '38 and '51, though he became editor of Standard Magazines in 1954 (including Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories). Unfortunately the title didn't survive more than a couple more issues under Samalman's editorship and he died in Jan '56. This is another very short tale, which reads more like an Edwardian tale such as Wells or Verne might have penned, but as a joke. It has a twist at the end and is quite readable, but otherwise has little recommend it.

Overall Thoughts
An interesting exploration. Reading whole issues of magazines this old really brings to life the state of SF of the time, the prevailing cultural mores, and tells us a lot about what was considered good and what was not. It's also interesting to compare with Astounding of this time. Astounding was of higher quality in general I'm sure, with more science in the SF and fewer daft and implausible scenarios. Thrilling was still trying to offer 'boys'-own' style space adventure, in a pulpy-Howardesque manner, and this style is starting to creak a bit, judging by this issue. The first two stories are not the best here - though the Kuttner is better than the Leinster - despite their prominence on the cover. Vance offers the best novelette by some margin - a newer writer in 1946, with a newer, fresher style. The de Camp was also fun, and the Zagat was really quite good.

This review appears on my website, along with a few other similar reviews.
 

Extollager

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I appreciate reviews of the sf magazines, especially those before 1980 or so. You didn't overlook letters, editorials, reviews -- ?
 

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OK, thanks. It's always interesting to know a little about such features, particularly (in my case) the early reviews of The Lord of the Rings!
 

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I'm slowly reading through Asimov's Science Fiction from 1986 now. I'm reading all the short stories, novelettes and novellas that have garnered any reputation, either from awards, award nominations, being anthologised, etc. Here are my thoughts on Asimov's from January 1986:

1608582242242.png


January 1986 marked the first part of the three-part serialisation of William Gibson's novel Count Zero. An obvious thing to read... except that I'm not a fan of cyberpunk, and this exercise is really a short story, novelette and novella exploration, so I've not included this famous novel in the read-through at this point. Asimov's editorial in this edition is bouncily written as always; he comments on the fact the magazine reached 100 issues, and introduces Gardner Dozois as the new editor of the magazine (Asimov's role was always as "Editorial Director" of course, not as the actual editor who selected the content). Also in this issue, there is an obituary feature to Theodore Sturgeon, who sadly passed away the previous year, with short eulogies by Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Stephen King and Somtow Sucharitkul, which make for interesting reading.

Pat Cadigan - Pretty Boy Crossover
This 'cyberpunk' short story was nominated for the Nebula and Locus Awards for best short story. It wasn't especially to my taste, being cyberpunk, and also as it was written in a stylised manner for effect, I felt, rather rather than to its merit. A Pretty boy (capital P) depends on attention for his sense of worth and encounters another such 'Pretty boy' in a club who has crossed-over into becoming a computer representation of himself (SAD, or 'self-aware data'). The protagonist is encouraged to follow suit, as virtual entities are so popular and cool with the masses. The story was ahead of its time, in the sense that there are parallels here to how social networking has taken over many peoples sense of value, while not being 'real' the immediate physical sense. I can see there is quality here, but it just isn't my kind of story.

Lewis Shiner - Jeff Beck
A blue-collar sheet metal worker, with a love for the music of British guitar ace Jeff Beck, takes a drug that he is assured will gives him whatever he wants. In this case, he wishes for Jeff Beck's ability with an 'axe'. It's a short tale, well written, and I enjoyed it, though it's a little light on content, really. I know Shiner best from his work in George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards books, to which he frequently contributed key stories and characters. This short story came from the year before he started collaborating with Martin, but it's interesting to see that6 he was already mixing real-world celebrities and SF - a recurring feature of the Wild Cards universe. This story was nominated for a Locus award and collected by Dozois in his "Year's Best" anthology for the year.

Isaac Asimov - The Eye of the Beholder
This is an Azazel fantasy story about the titular 2 cm high alien/demon; one of 18 such stories written by Asimov that were published in this journal between 1982 and 1988. A very 'plain' women ultimately marries a similarly ugly man, but wishes she were prettier for her fella. Azazel is called upon to 'help'. It's entertaining enough, as Asimov always writes so breezily, but its a bit of fluff really and wouldn't be seen as very politically correct these days. Moreover, the end is signposted from the start, so as a short story it's relatively weak.
 

Vince W

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I'm slowly reading through Asimov's Science Fiction from 1986 now. I'm reading all the short stories, novelettes and novellas that have garnered any reputation, either from awards, award nominations, being anthologised, etc. Here are my thoughts on Asimov's from January 1986:

View attachment 73953

January 1986 marked the first part of the three-part serialisation of William Gibson's novel Count Zero. An obvious thing to read... except that I'm not a fan of cyberpunk, and this exercise is really a short story, novelette and novella exploration, so I've not included this famous novel in the read-through at this point. Asimov's editorial in this edition is bouncily written as always; he comments on the fact the magazine reached 100 issues, and introduces Gardner Dozois as the new editor of the magazine (Asimov's role was always as "Editorial Director" of course, not as the actual editor who selected the content). Also in this issue, there is an obituary feature to Theodore Sturgeon, who sadly passed away the previous year, with short eulogies by Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Stephen King and Somtow Sucharitkul, which make for interesting reading.

Pat Cadigan - Pretty Boy Crossover
This 'cyberpunk' short story was nominated for the Nebula and Locus Awards for best short story. It wasn't especially to my taste, being cyberpunk, and also as it was written in a stylised manner for effect, I felt, rather rather than to its merit. A Pretty boy (capital P) depends on attention for his sense of worth and encounters another such 'Pretty boy' in a club who has crossed-over into becoming a computer representation of himself (SAD, or 'self-aware data'). The protagonist is encouraged to follow suit, as virtual entities are so popular and cool with the masses. The story was ahead of its time, in the sense that there are parallels here to how social networking has taken over many peoples sense of value, while not being 'real' the immediate physical sense. I can see there is quality here, but it just isn't my kind of story.

Lewis Shiner - Jeff Beck
A blue-collar sheet metal worker, with a love for the music of British guitar ace Jeff Beck, takes a drug that he is assured will gives him whatever he wants. In this case, he wishes for Jeff Beck's ability with an 'axe'. It's a short tale, well written, and I enjoyed it, though it's a little light on content, really. I know Shiner best from his work in George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards books, to which he frequently contributed key stories and characters. This short story came from the year before he started collaborating with Martin, but it's interesting to see that6 he was already mixing real-world celebrities and SF - a recurring feature of the Wild Cards universe. This story was nominated for a Locus award and collected by Dozois in his "Year's Best" anthology for the year.

Isaac Asimov - The Eye of the Beholder
This is an Azazel fantasy story about the titular 2 cm high alien/demon; one of 18 such stories written by Asimov that were published in this journal between 1982 and 1988. A very 'plain' women ultimately marries a similarly ugly man, but wishes she were prettier for her fella. Azazel is called upon to 'help'. It's entertaining enough, as Asimov always writes so breezily, but its a bit of fluff really and wouldn't be seen as very politically correct these days. Moreover, the end is signposted from the start, so as a short story it's relatively weak.
I read this issue (and all of 1986) way back when. As an ardent cyberpunk fan it's one of their best for me. I hope you find the rest of the year more to your taste, Bick.
 
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