Contents and reception
The cover of the March 1933 Astounding
, by Wesso, originally painted to illustrate E.E. Smith's Triplanetary
The first incarnation of Astounding was an adventure-oriented magazine: unlike Gernsback, Bates had no interest in educating his readership through science. The covers were all painted by Wesso and similarly action-filled; the first issue showed a giant beetle attacking a man. Bates would not accept any experimental stories, relying mostly on formulaic plots. In the eyes of Mike Ashley, a science-fiction historian, Bates was "destroying the ideals of science fiction". One historically important story that almost appeared in Astounding was E.E. Smith's Triplanetary, which Bates would have published had Astounding not folded in early 1933. The cover Wesso had painted for the story appeared on the March 1933 issue, the last to be published by Clayton.
When Street & Smith acquired Astounding, they also planned to relaunch another Clayton pulp, Strange Tales, and acquired material for it before deciding not to proceed. These stories appeared in the first Street & Smith Astounding, dated October 1933. This issue and the next were unremarkable in quality, but with the December issue, Tremaine published a statement of editorial policy, calling for "thought variant" stories containing original ideas and not simply reproducing adventure themes in a science-fiction context. The policy was probably worked out between Tremaine and Desmond Hall, his assistant editor, in an attempt to give Astounding a clear identity in the market that would distinguish it from both the existing science-fiction magazines and the hero pulps, such as The Shadow, that frequently used sf ideas.
The "thought variant" policy may have been introduced for publicity, rather than as a real attempt to define the sort of fiction Tremaine was looking for; the early "thought variant" stories were not always very original or well executed. Ashley describes the first, Nat Schachner's "Ancestral Voices", as "not amongst Schachner's best"; the second, "Colossus", by Donald Wandrei, was not a new idea, but was energetically written. Over the succeeding issues, it became apparent that Tremaine was genuinely willing to publish material that would have fallen foul of editorial taboos elsewhere. He serialized Charles Fort's Lo!, a nonfiction work about strange and inexplicable phenomena, in eight parts between April and November 1934, in an attempt to stimulate new ideas for stories. The best-remembered story of 1934 is probably Jack Williamson's "The Legion of Space", which began serialization in April, but other notable stories include Murray Leinster's "Sidewise in Time", which was the first genre science-fiction story to use the idea of alternate history; "The Bright Illusion", by C.L. Moore, and "Twilight", by John W. Campbell, writing as Don A. Stuart. "Twilight", which was written in a more literary and poetic style than Campbell's earlier space opera stories, was particularly influential, and Tremaine encouraged other writers to produce similar stories. One such was Raymond Z. Gallun's "Old Faithful", which appeared in the December 1934 issue and was sufficiently popular that Gallun wrote a sequel, "Son of Old Faithful", published the following July. Space opera continued to be popular, though, and two overlapping space opera novels were running in Astounding late in the year: The Skylark of Valeron by E.E. Smith, and The Mightiest Machine, by Campbell. By the end of the year, Astounding was the clear leader of the small field of sf magazines.
Astounding's readership was more knowledgeable and more mature than the readers of the other magazines, and this was reflected in the cover artwork, almost entirely by
Howard V. Brown, which was less garish than at Wonder Stories or Amazing Stories. Ashley describes the interior artwork as "entrancing, giving hints of higher technology without ignoring the human element", and singles out the work of
Elliot Dold as particularly impressive.
Tremaine's policy of printing material that he liked without staying too strictly within the bounds of the genre led him to serialize H.P. Lovecraft's novel At the Mountains of Madness in early 1936. He followed this with Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time" in June 1936, though protests from science-fiction purists occurred. Generally, however, Tremaine was unable to maintain the high standard he had set in the first few years, perhaps because his workload was high. Tremaine's slow responses to submissions discouraged new authors, although he could rely on regular contributors such as Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, Raymond Gallun, Nat Schachner, and Frank Belknap Long. New writers who did appear during the latter half of Tremaine's tenure included Ross Rocklynne, Nelson S. Bond, and L. Sprague de Camp, whose first appearance was in September 1937 with "The Isolinguals". Tremaine printed some nonfiction articles during his tenure, with Campbell providing an 18-part series on the solar system between June 1936 and December 1937.
A sketch of John W. Campbell from 1932
Street & Smith hired Campbell in October 1937. Although he did not gain full editorial control of Astounding until the March 1938 issue, Campbell was able to introduce some new features before then. In January 1938, he began to include a short description of stories in the next issue, titled "In Times To Come"; and in March, he began "The Analytical Laboratory", which compiled votes from readers and ranked the stories in order. The payment rate at the time was one cent a word, and Street & Smith agreed to let Campbell pay a bonus of an extra quarter cent a word to the writer whose story was voted top of the list. Unlike other editors Campbell paid authors when he accepted—not published—their work; publication usually occurred several months after acceptance.
Campbell wanted his writers to provide action and excitement, but he also wanted the stories to appeal to a readership that had matured over the first decade of the science-fiction genre. He asked his writers to write stories that felt as though they could have been published as nonscience-fiction stories in a magazine of the future; a reader of the future would not need long explanations for the gadgets in their lives, so Campbell asked his writers to find ways of naturally introducing technology to their stories. He also instituted regular nonfiction pieces, with the goal of stimulating story ideas. The main contributors of these were R.S. Richardson, L. Sprague de Camp, and Willy Ley.
Campbell changed the approach to the magazine's cover art, hoping that more mature artwork would attract more adult readers and enable them to carry the magazine without embarrassment. Howard V. Brown had done almost every cover for the Street & Smith version of Astounding, and Campbell asked him to do an astronomically accurate picture of the Sun as seen from Mercury for the February 1938 issue. He also introduced Charles Schneeman as a cover artist, starting with the May 1938 issue, and
Hubert Rogers in February 1939; Rogers quickly became a regular, painting all but four of the covers between September 1939 and August 1942. They differentiated the magazine from rivals. Algis Budrys recalled that "Astounding was the last magazine I picked up" as a child because, without covers showing men with ray guns and women with large breasts, "it didn't look like an SF magazine".
The period beginning with Campbell's editorship of Astounding is usually referred to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction, because of the immense influence he had on the genre. Within two years of becoming editor, he had published stories by many of the writers who would become central figures in science fiction. The list of names included established authors like L. Ron Hubbard, Clifford Simak, Jack Williamson, L. Sprague de Camp, Henry Kuttner, and C.L. Moore, who became regulars in either Astounding or its sister magazine, Unknown, and new writers who published some of their first stories in Astounding, such as Lester del Rey, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, and Robert Heinlein.
The April 1938 issue included the first story by del Rey, "The Faithful", and de Camp's second sale, "Hyperpilosity". Jack Williamson's "Legion of Time", described by author and editor Lin Carter as "possibly the greatest single adventure story in science fiction history", began serialization in the following issue. De Camp contributed a nonfiction article, "Language for Time Travelers", in the July issue, which also contained Hubbard's first science-fiction sale, "The Dangerous Dimension". Hubbard had been selling genre fiction to the pulps for several years by that time. The same issue contained Clifford Simak's "Rule 18"; Simak had more-or-less abandoned science fiction within a year after breaking into the field in 1931, but he was drawn back by Campbell's editorial approach. The next issue featured one of Campbell's best-known stories, "Who Goes There?", and included Kuttner's "The Disinherited"; Kuttner had been selling successfully to the other pulps for a few years, but this was his first story in Astounding. In October, de Camp began a popular series about an intelligent bear named Johnny Black with "The Command."
The market for science fiction expanded dramatically the following year; several new magazines were launched, including Startling Stories in January 1939, Unknown in March (a fantasy companion to Astounding, also edited by Campbell), Fantastic Adventures in May, and Planet Stories in December. All of the competing magazines, including the two main extant titles, Wonder Stories and Amazing Stories, were publishing space opera, stories of interplanetary adventure, or other well-worn ideas from the early days of the genre. Campbell's attempts to make science fiction more mature led to a natural division of the writers: those who were unable to write to his standards continued to sell to other magazines; and those who could sell to Campbell quickly focused their attention on Astounding and sold relatively little to the other magazines. The expansion of the market also benefited Campbell because writers knew that if he rejected their submissions, they could resubmit those stories elsewhere; this freed them to try to write to his standards.
In July 1939, the lead story was "Black Destroyer", the first sale by van Vogt; the issue also included "Trends", Asimov's first sale to Campbell and his second story to see print. Later fans identified the issue as the start of the Golden Age. Other first sales that year included Heinlein's "Lifeline" in August and Sturgeon's "Ether Breather" the following month. One of the most popular authors of space opera, E.E. Smith, reappeared in October, with the first installment of Gray Lensman. This was a sequel to Galactic Patrol, which had appeared in Astounding two years before.
Heinlein rapidly became one of the most prolific contributors to Astounding, publishing three novels in the next two years: If This Goes On—, Sixth Column, and Methuselah's Children; and half a dozen short stories. In September 1940, van Vogt's first novel, Slan, began serialization; the book was partly inspired by a challenge Campbell laid down to van Vogt that it was impossible to tell a superman story from the point of view of the superman. It proved to be one of the most popular stories Campbell published, and is an example of the way Campbell worked with his writers to feed them ideas and generate the material he wanted to buy. Isaac Asimov's "Robot" series began to take shape in 1941, with "Reason" and "Liar!" appearing in the April and May issues; as with "Slan", these stories were partly inspired by conversations with Campbell. The September 1941 issue included Asimov's short story "Nightfall", probably the most famous U.S. science-fiction story ever written, and in November, Second Stage Lensman, the next novel in Smith's Lensman series, began serialization.
The following year brought the first installment of Asimov's "Foundation" stories; "Foundation" appeared in May and "Bridle and Saddle" in June. Van Vogt's "Recruiting Station", in the March issue, was the first story in his "Weapon Shop" series, described by critic John Clute as the most compelling of all van Vogt's work. Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore began to appear regularly in Astounding, often under the pseudonym "Lewis Padgett", and more new writers appeared: Hal Clement, Raymond F. Jones, and George O. Smith, all of whom became regular contributors. The September 1942 issue contained del Rey's "Nerves", which was one of the few stories to be ranked top by every single reader who voted in the monthly Analytical Laboratory poll; it dealt with the aftermath of an explosion at a nuclear plant.
Campbell emphasized scientific accuracy over literary style. Asimov, Heinlein, and de Camp were trained scientists and engineers. After 1942, several of the regular contributors such as Heinlein, Asimov, and Hubbard, who had joined the war effort, appeared less frequently. Among those who remained, the key figures were van Vogt, Simak, Kuttner, Moore, and Fritz Leiber, all of whom were less oriented towards technology in their fiction than writers like Asimov or Heinlein. This led to the appearance of more psychologically oriented fiction, such as van Vogt's World of Null-A, which was serialized in 1945. Kuttner and Moore contributed a humorous series about an inventor, Galloway Gallegher, who could only invent while drunk, but they were also capable of serious fiction. Campbell had asked them to write science fiction with the same freedom from constraints that he had allowed them in the fantasy works they were writing for Unknown, Street & Smith's fantasy title; the result was "Mimsy Were the Borogoves", which appeared in February 1943 and is now regarded as a classic.[notes 1] Leiber's Gather, Darkness!, serialized in 1943, was set in a world where scientific knowledge is hidden from the masses and presented as magic; as with Kuttner and Moore, he was simultaneously publishing fantasies in Unknown.
Campbell continued to publish technological sf alongside the soft science fiction. One example was Cleve Cartmill's "Deadline", a story about the development of the atomic bomb. It appeared in 1944, when the Manhattan Project was still not known to the public; Cartmill used his background in atomic physics to assemble a plausible story that had strong similarities to the real-world secret research program. Military Intelligence agents called on Campbell to investigate, and were satisfied when he explained how Cartmill had been able to make so many accurate guesses. In the words of science fiction critic John Clute, "Cartmill's prediction made sf fans enormously proud", as some considered the story proof that science fiction could be predictive of the future.
In the late 1940s, both Thrilling Wonder and Startling Stories began to publish much more mature fiction than they had during the war, and although Astounding was still the leading magazine in the field, it was no longer the only market for the writers who had been regularly selling to Campbell. Many of the best new writers still broke into print in Astounding rather than elsewhere. Arthur C. Clarke's first story, "Loophole", appeared in the April 1946 Astounding, and another British writer, Christopher Youd, began his career with "Christmas Tree" in February 1949. Youd would become much better known under his pseudonym "John Christopher". William Tenn's first sale, "Alexander the Bait", appeared in May 1946, and H. Beam Piper's "Time and Time Again" in the April 1947 issue was his first story. Along with these newer writers, Campbell was still publishing strong material by authors who had become established during the war. Among the better-known stories of this era are "Vintage Season", by C.L. Moore (under the pseudonym Lawrence O'Donnell); Jack Williamson's story "With Folded Hands"; The Players of Null-A, van Vogt's sequel to The World of Null-A; and the final book in E.E. Smith's Lensman series, Children of the Lens.
In the November 1948 issue, Campbell published a letter to the editor by a reader named Richard A. Hoen that contained a detailed ranking of the contents of an issue "one year in the future". Campbell went along with the joke and contracted stories from most of the authors mentioned in the letter that would follow the Hoen's imaginary story titles. One of the best-known stories from that issue is "Gulf", by Heinlein. Other stories and articles were written by some of the most famous authors of the time: Asimov, Sturgeon, del Rey, van Vogt, de Camp, and the astronomer R. S. Richardson.
1950s & 1960s
By 1950, Campbell's strong personality had led him into conflict with some of his leading writers, some of whom abandoned Astounding as a result. The launch of both The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction in 1949 and 1950, respectively, marked the end of Astounding's dominance of science fiction, with many now regarding Galaxy as the leading magazine.[notes 2] Campbell's growing interest in pseudoscience also damaged his reputation in the field. Campbell was deeply involved with the launch of Dianetics, publishing Hubbard's first article on it in Astounding in May 1950, and promoting it heavily in the months beforehand; later in the decade he championed psionics and antigravity devices.
Although these enthusiasms diminished Campbell's reputation, Astounding continued to publish some popular and influential science fiction. In 1953, Campbell serialized Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity, described by John Clute and David Langford as "one of the best-loved novels in sf", and in 1954 Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" appeared. The story, about a girl who stows away on a spaceship, generated much reader debate, and has been described as capturing the ethos of Campbell's Astounding. The spaceship is carrying urgently needed medical supplies to a planet in distress, and has a single pilot; the ship does not have enough fuel to reach the planet if the girl stays on the ship, so the "cold equations" of physics force the pilot to jettison the girl, killing her.
Later in the 1950s and early 1960s writers like Gordon R. Dickson, Poul Anderson, and Harry Harrison appeared regularly in the magazine. Frank Herbert's Dune was serialized in Analog in two separate sequences, in 1963 and 1965, and soon became "one of the most famous of all sf novels", according to Malcolm Edwards and John Clute. 1965 marked the year Campbell received his eighth Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine; this was the last one he would win.
Bova, like Campbell, was a technophile with a scientific background, and he declared early in his tenure that he wanted Analog to continue to focus on stories with a scientific foundation, though he also made it clear that change was inevitable. Over his first few months some long-time readers sent in letters of complaint when they judged that Bova was not living up to Campbell's standards, particularly when sex scenes began to appear. On one occasion—Jack Wodhams' story "Foundling Fathers", and its accompanying illustration by Kelly Freas—it turned out that Campbell had bought the story in question. As the 1970s went on, Bova continued to publish authors such as Anderson, Dickson, and Christopher Anvil, who had appeared regularly during Campbell's tenure, but he also attracted authors who had not been able to sell to Campbell, such as Gene Wolfe, Roger Zelazny, and Harlan Ellison. Frederik Pohl, who later commented in his autobiography about his difficulties in selling to Campbell, appeared in the March 1972 issue with "The Gold at the Starbow's End", which was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and that summer Joe Haldeman's "Hero" appeared. This was the first story in Haldeman's "Forever War" sequence; Campbell had rejected it, listing multiple reasons including the frequent use of profanity and the implausibility of men and women serving in combat together. Bova asked to see it again and ran it without asking for changes. Other new writers included Spider Robinson, whose first sale was "The Guy With the Eyes" in the February 1973 issue; George R.R. Martin, with "A Song for Lya", in June 1974; and Orson Scott Card, with "Ender's Game", in the August 1977 issue.
Two of the cover artists who had been regular contributors under Campbell, Kelly Freas and John Schoenherr, continued to appear after Bova took over, and Bova also began to regularly feature covers by Rick Sternbach and Vincent di Fate. Jack Gaughan, who had had a poor relationship with Campbell, sold several covers to Bova. Bova won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor for five consecutive years, 1973 through 1977.
Stanley Schmidt was an assistant professor of physics when he became editor of Analog, and his scientific background was well-suited to the magazine's readership. He avoided making drastic changes, and continued the long-standing tradition of writing provocative editorials, though he rarely discussed science fiction.[notes 3] In 1979 he resurrected "Probability Zero", a feature that Campbell had run in the early 1940s that published tall tales—humorous stories with ludicrous or impossible scientific premises. Also in 1979 Schmidt began a series of columns titled "The Alternate View", an opinion column that was written in alternate issues by G. Harry Stine and Jerry Pournelle, and which is still a feature of the magazine as of 2016, though now with different contributors. The stable of fiction contributors remained largely unchanged from Bova's day, and included many names, such as Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, and George O. Smith, familiar to readers from the Campbell era. This continuity led to criticisms within the field, Bruce Sterling writing in 1984 that the magazine "has become old, dull, and drivelling... It is a situation screaming for reform. Analog no longer permits itself to be read." The magazine thrived nevertheless, and though part of the increase in circulation during the early 1980s may have been due to Davis Publications' energetic efforts to increase subscriptions, Schmidt knew what his readership wanted and made sure they got it, commenting in 1985: "I reserve Analog for the kind of science fiction I've described here: good stories about people with problems in which some piece of plausible (or at least not demonstrably implausible) speculative science plays an indispensable role".
Over the decades of Schmidt's editorship, many writers became regular contributors, including Catherine Asaro, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Michael Flynn, Geoffrey A. Landis, Paul Levinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Charles Sheffield and Harry Turtledove. Schmidt never won an editing Hugo while in charge of the magazine, but after he resigned he won the 2013 Hugo for Editor Short Form.
Schmidt retired in August 2012, and his place was taken by Trevor Quachri, who mostly continued the editorial policies of Schmidt. Starting in January 2017, the publication became bimonthly.