Monday, May 01, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Astounding Science Fiction July 1939

Astounding Science Fiction July 1939The Magazine of the Week is the July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Created in 1930, Astounding was the third magazine to enter the science fiction market, and eventually proved the most successful and important. Retitled Analog in 1960, it continues to be the best-selling magazine of science fiction. Wander over to the magazine rack of any major bookstore and you will see the latest issue of Analog magazine, 76 years old and still going strong.

Astounding / Analog became the most important magazine in the field thanks to editor John W. Campbell, Jr., who single-handedly reshaped the genre of science fiction. The quality of writing in the early science fiction pulps was very poor. Like the other SF pulps of the time, between 1930 and 1938, Astounding was largely filled with amateurish work, virtually unreadable to anyone but adolescent boys. That changed after Campbell became Astounding's editor in 1938. (Before that, Campbell had been one of the few competent authors in the genre, best remembered for his classic "Who Goes There?", twice filmed as The Thing.) Campbell insisted on competent writing and believable science. Finding few writers in the field who could meet his standards, he set about molding a generation of new writers who could. Campbell discovered and/or heavily influenced nearly every important science fiction writer of the 1940's and 50's, including in particular Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and A.E. van Vogt. The era that Campbell ushered in is to this day referred to as the "Golden Age" of science fiction.

The Golden Age of science fiction unofficially began with the July 1939 issue of Astounding, our Magazine of the Week. This issue featured the first published story by A.E. van Vogt and the first story in Astounding by Isaac Asimov. The August issue then printed the first published story by Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age was off and running. The van Vogt cover story for the July 1939 issue, "Black Destroyer," was the first of his tales of the crew of the starship Space Beagle, an important inspiration for Gene Roddenberry's creation of Star Trek, as well as the movie Alien (whose producers van Vogt sued for plagiarism). The July 1939 issue also included a story by C.L. Moore, an underappreciated Golden Age author and another of the earliest women to write science fiction.

Beginning in 1939, the Golden Age of science fiction saw dozens of new science fiction magazines come to press. It is sometimes said that before then, between 1926 and 1938, Amazing, Wonder, and Astounding were the only professional science fiction magazines in existence. This is untrue, as you will see next week.

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