Sunday, February 4, 2018

FFM: SF magazines, Fall 1978

painting by Ron Barber; James Sallis misspelled
As I've mentioned from time to time on the blog, I fell in thoroughly (back) in love with fiction magazines in the last few months of 1977, managing to snag new issues of crime fiction and fantasy fiction magazines for the first time in those months and early 1978, but I didn't stop with those...throughout 1978, the eclectic fiction magazines and the one western fiction magazine available got attention, and had Harlequin magazine not just folded, I probably would've given it a looking over just to check it out (or if I knew how much good fiction Redbook still published...). I was reading, spottily, such fiction-publishing magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Yankee, EsquirePlayboy, National Lampoon...when I had access (TNY and Yankee mostly in libraries)...and certainly what issues of Short Story International and Far West I could find and afford, and this new thing, with inks that would get all over your fingers, called Omni (and at least one low-budget item riding briefly on its coattails, Elan Vital--though both annoyed me with their credulity when it came to UFOlogy, New Agey mysticism, and the like) (the newsstands and libraries I had available to me didn't quite extend themselves to the little magazines in sf or outside it, so no The Paris Review nor Eternity Science Fiction nor their ilk, unless I somehow overlooked them). Getting a lift as a 13-year-old, usually with my mother, to the Book Corner in Derry, NH, a good-sized independent bookstore with an excellent newsstand, and being
painting by Robert McCall; the repro unfocused...
or at least it looks blurry as printed--not the photo...
given up to five dollars or so, I'd buy a book or three, and as many fiction magazines as I could harvest (most running $1.25 a pop, the fiction magazine industry standard new for 1978)... including the sf magazines. And with the attention brought to sf by the megahit sf movies of the then recent months...Star Wars, Close Encounters, to a lesser extent Invasion of the Body Snatchers and others...there was some hope that some of that audience would turn to magazines...which some did, to a/v media magazines such as Starlog and Cinefantastique, rather than the fiction magazines.

Some changes were going down with the fiction magazines I was just catching up with, in 1978, as well. The editors of Amazing (Ted White), Analog (Ben Bova), and Galaxy (John Jeremy Pierce, who'd just  succeeded James Baen in 1977) were all on their way out the doors...this November issue of Analog in fact features Bova's farewell editorial, "Aloha" magazines were popping up,
such as the Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine spinoffs Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Anthology and Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine, and Baen's new magazine in paperback book format, at his new gig as Ace Books editor, Destinies. (There were others I wasn't getting to see much, if at all, such as Cosmos, Galileo and UnEarth... despite the latter two being based in Boston, of which southernmost New Hampshire was and is a suburb.) In another year or so, Conde Nast would sell Analog to Davis Publications, whence it began its long career as a stablemate of Asimov's and Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's mystery magazines, Galaxy would fold, and in 1982 George Scithers and his assistants would relocate from Asimov's to the newly TSR-purchased Amazing, incorporating Fantastic. Ben Bova became fiction editor at Omni, Ted White editor of Heavy Metal,  and things got a bit less interesting in sf magazine land...Davis Publications had long published Ellery Queen's Anthology as a fat semi-annual reprint-oriented magazine, and they began offering
similar offshoot titles for their other digest-sized fiction magazines as they bought (Hitchcock's in 1975, with Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology launching in late '76 with a cover date of 1977) or launched them (Asimov's in late '78, dated 1979; Analog's anthology issues soon followed). Davis made a deal with Dell Books hardcover imprint The Dial Press to release hardcover versions of the magazine issues, essentially for the library and specialist collector trade, and this went on for some years. What struck me as sad about Asimov's Anthology #1 was that it indicated to me how Asimov's SF magazine was already worse in its second year than it had been in its first...the first year had featured good John Varley, Barry Malzberg and Brian Aldiss stories, decent ones by Randall Garrett and others, and the new issues of IASFM were featuring mostly dull and trivial stories...the only memorable story for me in November/December 1978 Asimov's was the Jack Williamson contribution to the Medea: Harlan's World anthology project, the cover story; not even the story by the usually
excellent Phyllis Eisenstein did much for me; I'll admit I don't remember Malzberg and Pronzini's joke story, and I tend to remember theirs. (Medea stories were popping up in several magazines that season...Thomas Disch's in F&SF, Frederik Pohl's in the previous issue, and Poul Anderson's noted on cover above, in Analog, Williamson's in Asimov's and several in Omni...) Asimov's SF Adventure started reasonably well, also better than the run of IASFM already, with good long stories by Poul Anderson (a lightly rewritten Planet Stories novelet) and an abridged form of a Harry Harrison "Stainless Steel Rat" novel sandwiching forgettable if inoffensive short stories. 

While Galaxy was definitely on a losing streak, as the publishers UPD Publications were apparently not putting any profits back into the business, to the extent of not paying contributors. The September issue had a reasonably handsome cover, a novelty for the magazine in 1978 (it had been running some very ugly covers indeed), but was also the first of three issues to have ditched the distinctive logo the
magazine had had since founding in 1950. And while it had the last installment of a Gregory Benford novel (which I didn't read, since I had never seen the July issue, with the second installment), most of the content was either left over from Baen's inventory, or by Baen regulars still offering some fiction to the magazine (columnists J. E. Pournelle and Richard Geis also continued to publish in the magazine), or newcomers with little to recommend them (Pat Murphy was a notable exception, but she wasn't too happy with her first story there). Editor Pierce being a scholar of Paul Linebarger's work, and an associate of his heirs, led to probably the great coup of his editorship, publishing one of the last, previously unfinished "Cordwainer Smith" stories, "The Queen of the Afternoon", in the magazine, but things were Not going well. Frederik Pohl, an ex-editor, offered serial rights to his novel Jem, which began in the November/December issue and dragged out for a couple of year's worth of irregularly published issues, finally publishing a last installment some two years after the complete novel had appeared, lagging behind even the paperback reprint. The last two UPD issues had been edited by Hank Stine, now Jean Marie Stine, and were attempts to draw the Star Wars audience with a more down-market approach to the same space opera fiction (mixed with the last two installments of Jem) and similar material, only not as good, as that Asimov's SF Adventure featured.

Meanwhile, James Baen was able to launch the paperback magazine Destinies, which for all the world felt like a more prosperous version of his Galaxy magazine, featuring most of the same writers and illustrators, with a few thrown in (such as Dean Ing or the legendary Clifford Simak) who were more likely previously (or then-recently) to have written for Analog. It was nice to see Spider Robinson's book reviews, a fixture of Baen's Galaxy and briefly having appeared in Analog, find a new home in Baen's new magazine...though the messianic tone of Baen's approach, even given also his undercurrent of support for literary experimenters, made his magazine a little off-putting at times. And while there were several anthology series devoted to publishing new fiction in science fiction in 1978 (Damon Knight's Orbit, Judy-Lynn Del Rey's Stellar, Robert Silverberg's New Dimensions, Terry Carr's Universe, Kenneth Bulmer's New Writings in SF, Roy Torgeson's Chrysalis), some even offering nonfiction features as magazines did, only Destinies blatantly advertised and formatted itself like a magazine, in the same manner the fantasy periodical Ariel: The Book of Fantasy or what had dropped New from its title to become American Review did in their fields. Among the fiction, the Ing story was notable for its take on the emerging face of political terrorism, and good stories by Gregory Benford and Charles Sheffield were also offered. 

Meanwhile, the two oldest titles, Amazing and Analog, featured not-bad issues, with the most interesting work in Ted White's magazine running as usual to the rather experimental (James Sallis's "Exigency and Martin Heidegger") and the humorous (Eileen Gunn's "What Are Friends For?" or Jack C. Haldeman II's "Last Rocket from Newark") or close-focus near-future stories (Glen Cook's "Ponce").  In the Analog, the Poul Anderson Medea story was good, and the conclusion of Jeanne and Spider Robinson's Stardance II serial was interesting, if rather more sophisticated in describing how zero-gravity dance might develop than in delineating the political crisis that took up much of the plot (the most important characters involved in the latter  were alternately Noble or Venal cardboard)...the serial would be incorporated with the earlier novella "Stardance' to make up the novel Stardance, as published in book form. Orson Scott Card and Robert F. Young lived down to their usual poor 1978 standards in their contributions to the issues...which, sadly, were still less unreadable than a typical Barry Longyear "Momus" story in Asimov's.

  • Destinies, November-December 1978
  • Editor: James Patrick Baen
  • Date: 1978-10-00
  • ISBN: 0-441-14281-8 [978-0-441-14281-1]
  • Publisher: Ace Books
  • Price: $1.95
  • Pages: 316

including fantasists Carter, Chappell, Coover, McEwan, Roszack et al....


Paul Fraser said...

I remember this period well and recall I wasn’t impressed by any of the magazines at the time. Analog had always published dross alongside the gems, even more so in the last couple of years of Bova’s editorship. IASFM was still finding its feet—I think they wasted a lot of energy on side projects, the anthologies, the digest (or was that later?), ASFAM. Galaxy was just awful, in its death throes, and even F&SF, with the exception of a couple of notable issues, wasn’t up to much. I wonder if 1978 was just a poor year, in that late seventies/early eighties dead zone between the post-New Wave and the Cyberpunks.
I should really go back and dig some of these magazines out. Never read the Jem serial (by the time I had all the parts, I had lost interest despite really liking both Man Plus and Gateway). I’m not sure I ever entirely read ASFAM (that Anderson reprint really put me off picking up the mag). I read Destinies but maybe later on, and found all that High Frontier proproganda quite wearying (conversely, I am now developing an interest in Space-X, and may watch the Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday).
Interesting post, hope you do another of these period periodical reviews soon.

Todd Mason said...

It probably helped that I was discovering all these magazines in their then-current form simultaneously...along with the non-sf magazines I mention and provide photos of here, and the horror anthologies and magazines I was also discovering. And even as it was a wonderful new world for me, I did note how much mediocre and worse material each of these magazines was running...particularly ASIMOV'S, which was running one terrible Longyear "Momus" story after another, and other material which was at least as trivial if less dire (the worst attempts to emulate Jack Vance since the depths of E. B. Cole in ASTOUNDING in the late '50s). I think they were actively reaching for that kind of material by 1978, and I stopped reading the magazine for the most part except when they ran an Avram Davidson piece until Scithers left (his work at AMAZING and WEIRD TALES was better). I don't think SCIENCE FICTION DIGEST distracted anyone too much when it rolled in later, and didn't last too long. I do seem to have enjoyed Poul Anderson's retouched PLANET story better than you or Mike Ashley did. ANALOG happily ran less OC Card after Stanley Schmidt rolled in, but he almost immediately made the magazine more boring as a rule.

But F&SF and FANTASTIC running at least one brilliant story for every terrible one, and generally averaging well, I was happy to continue reading them as long as they were available. Horror magazines such as WHISPERS and its anthology series and such other antho series as SHADOWS were averaging very good indeed...and the crime-fiction magazines were doing well in that era...

I think you might find some better work than you remember if you return to those issues now. And I have done one post some time back on the fantasy magazines, and one on the range of magazines that I read then and caught up with later...