A few weeks ago we brought you news of a fantastic new blog (well . . . new to us!) wherein the SF digest magazines of 55 years in the past are reviewed as if they had only just arrived through the letterbox. It’s a terrific window on yesterday’s tomorrows when they were still today’s tomorrows (think about it), and today, we’re delighted to bring you an interview with the intrepid time traveller, himself, Gideon Marcus . . .
Could you please briefly explain the basis of your blog to our readers?
Welcome to Galactic Journey, your portal to exactly 55 years ago, day-by-day. The Space Race is heating up. Science fiction, sublime and schlock, is on our big and small screens. Science fiction and fantasy magazines have dwindled in number, but increased in consistency of quality. Books on science, science fiction, and fantasy are coming out every month.
On a bigger scale, it’s a time of massive change. The complacent post-War days of Ike and Colonialism are over, swept away by a wave of African and Asian nationalism, of a heat up of the Cold War over places like Berlin and Havana. Two new titans of politics, Dick Nixon and Jack Kennedy are the likely contenders to reign over the free world for the next four to eight years.
So there’s a lot to cover, and as a professional space historian and veteran journalist, I’m excited to be your personal guide through this interesting time. Not only do I offer written articles, pertinent pictures, and links to the stories I cover (copyright permitting), but I have started recording broadcasts using my “radio” voice, so you can enjoy Galactic Journey on the go as well as on the screen.
What prompted you to act as a kind of literary time machine?
Most often, time travel is a quick jaunt sort of thing. “Oh! Let’s see Abe Lincoln get rubbed out. Now let’s see the sacking of Troy!” Taken out of context, like some chronological smorgasbjord, history is just a big jumble. One can’t really appreciate it that way, and one certainly can’t understand what it was like to live in a particular time.
But if you go back a certain distance and really spend some time there, you start picking up the subtle nuances of past life. You understand the terminology, both literal and symbolic. There is a holistic joy to reading these books and magazines “as they come out.” The review columns cover the same books; the science articles discuss similar topics. It’s an immersive experience.
Why 55 years?
Because 60 would be too many, and 50 would be too few!
Less flippantly, the past is really a foreign land. There is an alienness to it. Its peoples speak a similar language, but it’s technology is cruder, its politics are less culturally sensitive, its media primitive. The further you travel back in time, the harder it gets to relate (though there are, of course, commonalities whenever you go). Had I started the project in 1953, as I had originally thought of doing, I think the subject might have been unapproachable to the general public. On the other hand, because of the vagaries of our copyright laws, there is a lot of stuff in the public domain through 1963. Had I started my project in 1963, I would have missed out on the chance to share many of these stories, since post-1964 stories are often out-of-print and unavailable.
Also, the Space Race began in 1957, so beginning shortly after the launch of Sputnik ensured there would be lots of space shots to discuss.
What’s with the ‘news’ updates, from 55 years ago? Are they to add background/context to your reviews? Or are you really stuck in the past . . . ?
Again, it’s the holistic thing. People generally had more interaction with the real world than their monthly magazine subscriptions. Moreover, science fiction fans are generally science fans, and you’d have to look under a big rock to find someone who wasn’t following the Space Race in 1960.
And since I’m reading the newspaper every day (google news archive is your friend!) I often come across other interesting tidbits.
You are reviewing stories by ‘new’ writers from the privileged position of knowing how their careers have developed over the last half century; how difficult has it been to put that out of your mind when reading ?
I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing things. It would be hard to do a project like this otherwise (and this isn’t my only one…)
Do you already own all these magazines or are you having to purchase them every month as you go along? If the latter, how hard is it to locate the issues you need?
My father bequeathed to me a very large stack of magazines (this makes me sound old; he actually passed away quite young). In fact, when you hear me talking about my “nephew,” David, that’s actually my dad, born in 1942. I know about his particular tastes both from conversations we had and from his peculiar habit of highlighting (as in marking with a Hi-Liter) the stories of which he was fond.
This collection I inherited includes items from as early as the mid-’40s, but it doesn’t become relatively complete until about 1956, another factor that decided when I’d start my column.
As for acquiring new copies, they are around, but they are deteriorating and becoming more expensive with every passing day. It’s a shame that these stories are disappearing from the public ken, which is why I not only link to digitized copies, but I often digitize my own (copyright permitting). I could rant for quite some time about the deleterious effects our copyright laws have had on our ability to find and read these works, but that’s a story for another time.
What is the best story you’ve read by an author you hadn’t previously heard of?
I adore Omnilingual, by H. Beam Piper. That’s why its protagonist, Dr. Martha Dane, graces one half of the current Galactic Journey masthead. The other half is Pioneer 1, a probe with which I’m rather intimately familiar.
In some of your reviews you make a point of noting when significant characters are people of colour and/or women, which is certainly not a consideration that would have been mainstream in the period you’re reviewing. Is this your way of highlighting the historical iniquities of SF publishing or is it a “stepping out of character” that you allow yourself because of the importance of the issue? Or is there another motivation?
The feminist and anti-racist focus of the column did not arise intentionally. After living in the 50s for a while (I actually began the day-by-day reading project several years before I started writing about it), it hit me just how white, male, and straight our relatively recent past was. Yet despite this, there were woman and minority writers, woman and minority engineers, woman and minority protagonists. I wanted to showcase them, to show how they were the precursors to what we have today.
Moreover, while my attitude may have been rather enlightened for the day, it was hardly unheard of. After all, the Civil Rights movement began in the ’50s, and a new wave of feminism is just starting to crash as I write in 1960. I have taken particular care to stay in character, while at the same time spotlighting items of interest to our modern audiences. After all, it is for them that I am writing.
And finally: This must take an extraordinary amount of time every month – how do you manage to fit it in around your day job?!
When you’re a professional, you become very efficient. It doesn’t take as much time as you’d think, and I’ve automated many of the processes. However, it does mean that I don’t have time to read or watch much else than the material I’m reviewing for my articles.
On the other hand, and as I hope I’ve shown, there is enough good material that came out 55 years ago to keep one happily occupied. In fact, my daughter and I are just about to catch up on this week’s Twilight Zone…
On a parting note:
Thank you for the opportunity to chat about Galactic Journey. From the very outset, it was my intention to gather fellow travelers: fiction fans, space enthusiasts, and just plain retro-buffs. It has been gratifying to collect comrades along the way, many of whom leave lovely comments (in character!) on my articles. You are the reason I’m doing this. I hope you’ll stay on board and bring as many friends as you can.
The Traveler (Gideon Marcus)
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