Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, July 11, 2019


A Requiem for Astounding by Alva Rogers (1964)

Just about everything you need to know about this book can be viewed in the brief article about the author in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:  "Alva Rogers (1923-1982)  US author and artist, nicknamed "Red" for the colour of his hair and politics.  Long involved in sf Fandom, he drew the covers for a number of 1940s Fanzines as well as for some of the (UK) American Fiction series.  His Requiem for Astounding (1964), though nostalgic and largely critical, provides a valuable history, rich in story synopses, of Astounding Science-Fiction before the name change to Analog, which it convincingly deplores."  (Malcolm J. Edwards/John Clute)

Well, I think I'll add just a bit more to that.

In 1929, William Clayton, publisher of a number of pulp magazines, decided for technical reasons that he could add a few magazines to his stable at a fairly low cost.  He had in mind a historical adventure pulp.  Harry Bates, one of his ablest editors, was called in to discuss the plan.  Bates left the meeting, mulled it over, and decided that it would be nest to go with a science fiction  magazine since, with the exception of Amazing Stories and two newly launched Gernsback magazines, Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories, there was no competition in the field.  And all three of those magazines had a stodgy, almost clinical, feel to them, emphasizing science and technology with a variety of footnotes and such.  Bates wanted a different magazine -- an adventure magazine -- filled with thrills instead of technical data.   Clayton bought into the idea and in December 1929,  Astounding Stories of Super-Science (dated January 1930) hit the stands.  The magazine's title changed a few times over the next three decades, but always included the word Astounding, and then -- thirty years to the month -- then editor John W. Campbell changed the title to Analog.

This book is a highly personal paean to those first thirty years.

Starting the book off are three pieces by the past and then-current editors of the magazine:  Harry Bates (1930 to 1933), F. Orlin Tremaine (1933 to 1937), and John W. Campbell, Jr. (1937 to his death in 1971).  The pieces by Bates and Campbell were written specifically for this book; Tremaine died in 1956 and is represented by a previously published piece.  The Bates tenure ended when Clayton's publications went bankrupt and Astounding appeared dead until it was revived six months later by its new owner, Street and Smith with Tremaine in charge.  In 1937, Tremaine was promoted to editorial director of a number of Street and Smith magazines and appointed Campbell as the new editor of Astounding -- a risky move as Campbell was a young and highly popular writer with no editorial experience.

The book itself is a sometimes leisurely, sometimes hurried, almost issue-by-issue trek through the magazine from inception to change of title away from Astounding.

A Requiem for Astounding was never meant to be a critical look.  It began as a fan project, continued as a fan project, and was published as a fan project by the fannish publishing house
Advent, run by Ed Wood (not the cashmere, Hollywood Ed wood!) and Jack Chalker.  (I bought my copy from Ed Wood himself at a SF convention in the early 70s.)  It is a personal look at thirty years of publishing wonder, of the stories and artwork that worked for Alva Rogers and the stories that didn't.  The author's own personal sense-of-wonder were in the mid-Thirties, during the Tremaine reign, although due credit is given to Campbell a mature new life to the field.  The names covered will give each reader their own sense of frisson depending on their own personal experience with both the field and the magazine itself:  Victor Rousseau, Ray Cummings, Murrary Leinster, Anthony Gilmore, E. E. Smith, Nat Schachner, Charles W. Diffin, S. P. Meek, Jack Williamson, C. L. Moore, Raymond Z. Gallun, Donald Wandrei, Stanley G. Weinbaum, H. P. Lovecraft, John W. Campbell/Don A. Stuart, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, Clifford D. Simak, L. Ron Hubbard, Robert A, Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Anthony Boucher, Henry Kuttner, George O. Smith, Raymond F. Jones, Hal Clement, Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poulanderson, James Blish, Gordon R. Dickson, and so many more.  Today's reader may scratch his or her respective head over some of these names, but in their time each provided fully entertaining, mind-stretching fiction (some, admittedly clunkier than others).

The changing physical appearance of Astounding -- its size, its edging, its covers and their use of color, its letterhead, its interior illustrations, its various departments -- is also covered and is designed to bring back a sense of nostalgia.

Fan boy that he was, Rogers does not hesitate to give us his opinion on which story knocked him out of his seat, which story worked for him and which didn't.  This may be seen as the book's greatest weakness -- he glosses over some stories which maybe he shouldn't have and gives higher praise to tales that might not actually deserve it.  But this is a book of personal opinion and this perceived weakness is also a strength.

One thing that I did find grating, however, was the author's frequent use of the word excellent.  A story is either excellent or it is not.  To call a story excellent and then to point out its faults tells me that the author, with his fannish enthusiasm, just does not know what excellent really means.

When discussing the year 1950, Rogers had to cover L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, the philosophy (?) that eventually morphed in Scientology.  Campbell had given Dianetics a big editorial push and printed a lo-o-ong (16,000 words) article about it which caused an uproar (both fer and agin) among Astounding readers.  Rogers tries to tread a fine line here, using words like quack in quotation marks, but he does let us know his opinion when  he calls Scientology "mumbo jumbo."

The last decade of Astounding is covered in one rushed chapter, as Rogers is more interested in the Golden Age of the magazine and what led up to it.  Nonetheless, he does cover the major stories, authors, and artists of the 50s.

The book is heavily illustrated with photos -- all black and white -- of covers and interior illustrations.  Sadly, there are no photos of authors or people involved.

I found the entire book fascinating but, then, I'm a fanboy myself.


  1. Cool. Doesn't SFE's duo write "largely uncritical?"

  2. I came to Astounding in 1951, my older brother subscribed at that point and I (very carefully) read his issues. Later they became mine and I bought the year 1950 as well. At one point I had every issue, 1950-1970. Sadly I lost them to theft, but I really enjoyed them while I had them, reading and reading over the years. This looks very interesting.

  3. I found a copy, but it will come by dog cart from back east, so who knows when I will have it in hand?

  4. Jerry, you might want to consider setting comment security here. I've been getting scads of spam from trolls attaching their Viagra ads to old posts of yours. I get them from having subscribed to the posts way back. I don't remember precisely what I did on my blog when they started hitting my posts, but I adjusted something in "settings" that stopped it.

  5. Matt--all you Have to do is look at your Comments screen. That's how I kill them...and it's a Lot less hassle (and comment-suppressing) than comment moderation.

  6. Sadly, a connection between this FFB and the one Patti archived three weeks ago by the recently late Andi Shechter...who was married to Alva Rogers for a while.