Sunday, June 29, 2008

Should Analog Become Astounding?

Analog Science Fiction and Fact is not simply the oldest science fiction magazine around. It is also one of the few remnants from the era of the pulps, alongside the few remaining confessional and mystery magazines. Of course, it wasn't always called Analog Science Fiction and Fact. When it was first published in January 1930, it was called Astounding Stories.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science was originally published by Clayton Magazines (which also published such titles as Jungle Stories, Cowboy Stories, and Ace-High Magazine). Astounding Stories of Super-Science paid much better than its rival, Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories and soon attracted the best pulp writers, among them Paul Ernst, Murray Leinster, and Jack Williams. Even so, in the beginning its primary focus was on action-adventure with just enough science to add plausibility. It was while the magazine was still published by Clayton that it underwent its first change in title. In February 1931 it was shortened from Astounding Stories of Super-Science to Astounding Stories.

While Astounding Stories was very successful, Clayton Magazines was not. At first the company tried to make up for its financial problems by changing its publication schedules. With the June 1932 issue, Astounding Stories went from monthly to bimonthly. Unfortunately, this helped very little. An attempt by Clayton Magazines to simply buy their printer proved disastrous, as they hadn't the money to complete the transaction. In October 1932 Clayton Magazines decided to stop publishing Astounding Stories, with January 1933 planned as the last issue. When it was found that there were more than enough stories in their inventory, they decided to make the March 1933 issue the last issue. That April Clayton Magazines went bankrupt and sold their titles to Street and Smith, the legendary giant of pulp magazine publishing. Street and Smith published their first issue of Astounding Stories in October 1933.

Street and Smith was easily the largest pulp magazine publisher on the market. Their magazines included some of the most popular titles, many of which are still well known today (The Shadow and Doc Savage among them). Street and Smith was able to take Astounding Stories where Clayton Magazines never would have been able to. By the mid-1934, the circulation for Astounding Stories was 50,000, twice that of rival Amazing Stories. Street and Smith also brought other changes to Astounding Stories. The first editor Street and Smith appointed, F. Orlin Tremaine, took the magazine in a much more serious vein. Rather than simply writing adventure stories with a bit of science, he encouraged writers to write more purely science fiction stories.

Other editors would continue on the course set by Tremaine, but it would be John W. Campbell (perhaps best known as the author of Who Goes There, the novella upon which both versions of The Thing were based) who would take Astounding Stories into its Golden Age. Campbell renamed the magazine again in March 1938, giving it the name Astounding Science-Fiction. He also made Astounding Science-Fiction much more of a hard science fiction publication, encouraging writers to consider how technology and science would develop in times to come and how such technology and science would change society. It was while Campbell was editor that Lester del Rey, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt were all first published in the magazine.

It was while Campbell was editor that Astounding Science-Fiction underwent one of its biggest changes. Costs rose for pulp magazine publishers so that by 1941 many magazines would make the change from the standard pulp size to a digest size (5 1/2 by 8 1/4 inches). Starting with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 1941, many pulp magazines would follow suit. It was in 1943 that Astounding Science-Fiction went to the digest size, becoming the first science fiction magazine to do so. In a much more minor change, Astounding Science Fiction would lose the hyphen between "science" and "fiction" with the November 1946 issue.

Astounding Science Fiction would only undergo minor title changes until 1960. It was that year that Joseph W.Campbell finally changed the magazine's title. Campbell has always thought that the name Astounding was both too juvenile and too sensational. As early as 1946 he has started printing "Astounding" in a smaller script than the words "science fiction," effectively deemphasising it. In 1960, then Campbell changed the magazine's title to Analog. From February to September 1960 the logo changed, with the letters "A" remaining the same but the letters "stounding" fading while the letters "nalog" became more and more visible.

While I disagree with John W. Campbell regarding the name Astounding, given his dislike of the name I can understand why he fell upon the word "analogue." It resembles the word "astounding" to a very small degree. And at the time the word probably seemed very futuristic. It brings to mind analogue signals, analogue computers, and the term "analogue" from chemistry. But in these days of the digital revolution, the word "analogue" sounds old fashioned. After all, all broadcast television stations in the United States will cease broadcasting in analogue after February 17, 2009, after which they will only broadcast in digital. And most of us know that when it comes to cell phones, a digital signal is far better than analogue (You can't even text using analogue!). The term "analogue" now sounds antiquated and even quaint. It is hardly the name one would expect of a premiere science fiction magazine.

It then seems to me that the time may be right for Analog to return to its original name of Astounding. Joseph W. Campbell may have thought the name was juvenile and sensational, but I think instead it has a more timeless appeal. It certainly brings to mind the magazine's Golden Age, when men such as Heinlein and van Vogt were writing for it. At the same time, however, it is an adjective signifying astonishment, amazement, wonder...reactions one might reasonably expect to the miracles of science. This gives the term "astounding" a much more timeless quality than "analogue," which now sounds very old fashioned. Maybe it is time for Analog Science Fiction and Fact to become Astounding Science Fiction again.


Bobby D. said...

I used to work on EQ! filling in between editors, helping read submissions. great fun.

Unknown said...

Where did you get Joseph from?

John Wood Campbell, Jr. 1910-1971 was the editor of ASF.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thanks for pointing that out Greg! I don't know why I didn't catch that mistake earlier. Guess I had the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell on my mind! It's corrected now.