Astounding Day in Browne Popular Culture Library

Notes from the archives: I spent day one in the pulp archives with John W. Campbell’s run of Astounding Science Fiction. In Campbell’s notes from the editor, he often suggests timelines for the future of atomic energy that feel prescient and nonsensical simultaneously considering what was to come just a few years later. In the editor’s note from September 1940, Campbell attempts to position Heinlein’s short story “Blowups Happen” within the realm of current scientific knowledge about nuclear energy. First, he refers to an article by Arthur McCann from the last issue which suggested “blowups needn’t be feared” according to “the latest knowledge” about nuclear power. Campbell, then, corrects McCann and Heinlein stating that the latest nuclear knowledge suggests a balance between the fears produced by Heinlein’s story and McCann’s lack of fear. McCann, though, is Campbell’s own pen name. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to correct your own mistakes at the distance of third person, even mistakes of nuclear proportions? I really ought to get a pen name…

It has been a day of atomic energy, mutants, and fan letters.

Also whatever this is:

A headline reads “Toward the Superman.” A Figure on the left is a muscular, tall Caucasian man. The figure on the right is a small, large-headed Caucasian man.
A headline reads “Toward the Superman.” A Figure on the left is a muscular, tall Caucasian man. A figure on the right is a small, large-headed Caucasian man.

Some old-fashioned American eugenics, perhaps? There was a lot of that today….If you’d like to learn more about the eugenic history of the word “moron” found in today’s title image, perhaps start here.

As these posts are meant to be a skim through my time in the archive rather than a deep dive, I want to pivot away from the nuclear and the eugenic to the bad ass women readers of science fiction who have been there all along.

Each pulp I read today had a section called “Brass Tacks” where readers wrote in criticizing and celebrating everything from the scientific im/possibility of a story’s content to the cover art to the paper texture to the magazine’s size. Among the commentaries, I came across a gem of critique from one Ursula of Los Angeles, who wanted to take a moment and tell the editor that she doesn’t spend her extra a quarter a month on “lipstick” or “a long trolley ride.” Instead, her money goes to what she expects to be serious science fiction not “a kindergarten tale.”

More to follow tomorrow. It’s sure to be an Amazing day!

Cover of Amazing Stories, January 1926: In the foreground, anthropomorphic apes ice skate in front of two ice mountains upon which masted ships, possibly frigates, are perched. In the background is a large red planet with rings in a yellow sky.


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