Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: The Early Years

Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine Fall 1977

I started reading science fiction in the 1970s.  The first SF related novel I can remember reading as a kid was the Tom Swift Jr Adventures series, utterly fantastic tales about about a kid genius building robots and atomic earth blasters.  Later I graduated to real SF novels like Dune.  Eventually I discovered Analog SF magazine on the newsstands, learned about famous SF authors like Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, and Isaac Asimov.  In 1977, the good doctor got his own publication: Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.  On a recent trip to Bookbuyers in Mountain View, I snagged a couple of early issues for the heck of it.  The cover above is from the third issue in 1977.  The first few issues had Asimov prominently displayed on the cover, and if you had ever seen him, there was no mistaking that famous face! 

Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine Jan-Feb 1978

George Scithers was the editor for the first 5 years of Asimov’s SF magazine.  He lined up quite a staggering roster of talent for these early issues.  The one above, cover dated Jan-Feb 1978, was the fifth issue published in sequence, and featured stories by Stanley Schmidt, Keith Laumer, L. Sprague de Camp, Nancy Kress, Lisa Tuttle, and a rising star named John Varley.  Varley’s lead story was an excellent SF detective story, The Barbie Murders.  Scithers had decided to switch from full Asimov portraits to cover paintings with this issue, putting the Doctor’s image in the O of the logo, a cute touch.  Can you tell how much of an Asimov fanboy I am?  I read both volumes of his autobiography, each the size of Kentucky.

Back Cover of Asimov's SF Magazine 1977

The advertisements in any old publication are extremely interesting to me.  The back covers usually had an ad for the Science Fiction Book Club, tantalizing readers with Any 4 Science Fiction Best Sellers for Just 10 cents!  I joined and received the book shown here, The Hugo Winners, an 800+ page tome with short stories, each with a introduction by Asimov.  Sometimes the introductions were more entertaining than the stories themselves—Asimov would usually reveal some history of early SF history or fandom.  I also received Dangerous Visions, Foundation Trilogy, and a lot of other classic SF books.  I amassed a large SF library out of this book club, which I sold off over the years.  If you are feeling nostalgic over these book club editions, Bookbuyers in Mountain View has a special section devoted to them, in addition to a great selection of old Asimov’s, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines.

Some of the other ads are interesting.  Ads for records, such as Asimov’s Nightfall.  Berkeley Books, which had an impressive author line up.  Deus Irae, by Philip K Dick and Roger Zelazny, published by Dell Books.  I find the classified ad section in the back of these publications extremely fascinating.  Some of them are primitive prototypes of email scams, others are pyramid schemes, while a few are targeted at self-publishing.
I am sure that I bought the first few years of this magazine and threw them all away at some point.  What was I thinking?  These are classic SF collectibles.  Nuff Said!

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