Back in 1937, Street & Smith editors F. Orlin Tremaine and Desmond Hall were being kicked upstairs...founding editors of Mademoiselle and inheritors of Harry Bates's Astounding Stories when it was bought by their employers from a failing pulp chain, Clayton. As they were put in charge of the magazine group, they made good choices in hiring successors: Betsey Blackwell and John Campbell. Both helped revolutionize their respective magazine genres (and both remained editors, through the Street & Smith sale to Conde Nast, and on till 1971). For its part, Astounding was already the best-selling sf magazine shortly after founding in 1930, where Harry Bates slanted his magazine toward rococo adventure (Amazing would outsell it for a while by the late 1940s, as would Startling, Galaxy and, for at least one issue, Fantastic not long after; the corporate clout of S&S and, later, Conde Nast would help ASF in later years); Tremaine and Hall had upgraded the magazine, featuring a lot of adventure fiction as well but also offering a fair amount of pop-science articles and accompanying "thought-variant" stories, some of the most important of these written by young engineering student John Campbell, who was also writing adventure fiction and science articles under his own name, and the more quiet and speculative stories as "Don A. Stuart." He turned out to be an inspired choice to serve as the Astounding (ASF) editor, further improving the general tenor of how sf was written in the magazines, striving even more than the Tremaine/Hall issues to feature what Campbell suggested might read like contemporary fiction of the future. Campbell introduced some of the most important writers in the field (and helped others, such as Clifford Simak and Jack Williamson, and H. L. Gold, find new modes) and was only beginning, in 1950, to demonstrate some boredom with editing the magazine, and a desire to explore "fringe science" in ASF's fiction as well as articles that would become more pronounced over the course of the 1950s. By the late 1940s, some of the best and most innovative sf was appearing in other magazines on a more frequent basis...though the reputation and standing Campbell had achieved in the 1940s made it difficult for fans and some readers to wrap their heads around the concept that All That Was Best about sf wasn't necessarily invented at Campbell's desk. This tendency has persisted. Part of the reason Galaxy would loom so large in fandom in the early 1950s was that at first it was allowing many of the best of the ASF writers to explore themes and approaches that were no longer, or never had been, welcome at Astounding; in the annotations in the Pohl anthology, Budrys notes that his joy at working as editorial assistant at Galaxy was, at first, that it was almost--almost--like helping produce another issue of ASF every month...but when it became clear that editor Gold had different ideas of what he wanted to do with Galaxy than to simply run a more diverse ASF, young Budrys was puzzled, even hurt...and eventually dismissed from his job there. "And high time," Budrys states.
A large part of what Gold wanted to do with Galaxy was to make the magazine's fiction accessible to readers who hadn't been sf readers all their lives...he wanted to draw in Stephen Vincent Benet and Aldous Huxley and George Orwell and Philip Wylie readers, and even readers who wouldn't specifically seek out their sort of non-coterie sf, but did like the Jack Finney as well as John O'Hara or Conrad Aiken kind of writing that could be found in magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post. Campbell had made some similar noises, but his kind of sf still catered to the "insider," who either had read or was ready to read as much previous "in-group" sf as possible, and whose ideas of story construction tended to resemble those of Rudyard Kipling or H. G. Wells more than Flannery O'Connor's. Galaxy wasn't quite as kind to self-conscious literary exploration as was F&SF (which in its turn was very much like a fantasticated version of its stablemate, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in focusing on good prose and reprints from outside the "genre" tradition mixed with new material with similar earmarks), but was certainly interested in new and different ways to offer exciting and often satirical fiction...not least with the technically sophisticated fiction Alfred Bester was publishing with them in the early 1950s. Ray Bradbury, who had never been too natural a fit at ASF, was very much so at both F&SF and, to only a slightly lesser extent, Galaxy. And Galaxy was a natural home for the ex-Futurians, whom, as I'd mentioned last week, often tried (even as young and green writers and editors) to take the innovations of John Campbell's magazine one step further in the direction of mordancy and general literary sophistication, in their own 1940s magazines...and were a natural source of fiction by 1950 even for ASF, but really started to flower in Galaxy.
Galaxy's first decade in PDF format.
Hence, much of what is most striking about the 1980 retrospective anthology, Galaxy, which saw print even as Galaxy the magazine was about to fold, after years of decreasingly adept financial management:
subtitle: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction .
(index courtesy the Homeville/Locus indices)
As one reads over the contents list of this anthology, those who know what Galaxy published might be surprised at how many of the most famous stories are missing; that was intentional on the part of the editors, who were hoping to highlight some of the best of the less-famous fiction the magazine offered. And there is some attempt to reflect the work of each editor of the magazine (Pohl was de facto editor from about 1958, when Gold was dealing with various health and welfare setbacks, through 1969, with help in his last years from Judy-Lynn Benjamin, later J-L Del Rey), but the last three editors by 1980, John J. Pierce, Hank Stine and Floyd Kemske, don't have any selections in the book...Galaxy was in steep decline by Pierce's editorship, though, for example, he was able to publish Pat Murphy's second story and a "lost" Cordwainer Smith novelet, as completed by his widow. Gold, Pohl, Ejler Jakobssen and the latter's second (after Benjamin/Del Rey left) assistant and successor, James Baen (later of Ace, Tor and Baen Books) are the editors whose terms are represented above. The "Galaxy Book Shelf" essay is an abbreviated form of one of Budrys's most famous for the magazine, detailing some of his adventures in the days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and what that event, and its aftermath, meant for the world...and to what degree sf helped shape the perceptions of that event and similar ones. Budrys notes US Rep. Gerald Ford was in a photo Budrys arranged for a trade industry group at one point in the events detailed, and certainly Ford eventually was embroiled in some of the sort of crisis Budrys was treating with here. The stories collected tend to range from the engagingly readable to the brilliant; some of the memoirs are a bit thin or even a little enigmatic without some prior knowledge, but others help provide just that background, not least the accounts of just how demanding an editor Gold was.
But, as I hope to suggest in the balance of the essay as planned, Galaxy, and even Galaxy and F&SF and ASF together, had nothing like a lock on the best of sf and fantasy published even in the magazines on the newsstands with them, nor even the most sophisticated...as, for example, Mary Gnaedinger featured a story by André Maurois in the October 1950 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (even as F&SF ran a different story in their Summer issue), Graham Greene's "The End of the Party" was in the first issue of Damon Knight's Worlds Beyond, and the semi-professional salvage-market magazine Fantasy Book published its best issue early in 1950, featuring the first story by Paul "Cordwainer Smith" Linebarger, "Scanners Live in Vain"...this alongside magazines all over the field featuring notable early stories by Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Margaret St. Clair, John D. MacDonald, Kris Neville and others.
This was an impressive time for the sf and fantasy magazines, the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the new decade; even with the warning signs such as an early "Dianetics" article by L. Ron Hubbard in Campbell's Astounding, and science columnist Willy Ley forced by the publisher for his first Galaxy column to deal with "flying saucers," things would get even better before they got worse....
for more prompt and less foolhardily ambitious (than this one was meant to be, but isn't, yet) FFB entries today, please see Patti Abbott's blog
The previous FFB entry about the similar Worlds of If anthology, from a similar team, and a TriQuarterly retrospective, as well...