by Mike Ashley
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Mike Ashley has taken it upon himself to become a one-man chronicler of the history of the science fiction magazines. His three volume The History of the Science Fiction Magazine covers the evolution of the magazines from 1926 through 1955 and includes several short stories as examples. His book The Gernsback Days is an in depth look not only at Hugo Gernsback, but at the over all evolution of science fiction from 1911 through 1936. Transformations, which follows Time Machines, is the second of three volumes which cover the history of the magazines. Transformations specifically tackles the period from 1950 through 1970.
Ashley covers all the science fiction (and related) magazines published in the United States and the United Kingdom during this period. Not only does he look at the magazines, but he also discusses the editorial philosophies behind them, the stories they included, and the authors they published. This gives the reader a much better feel for the contents of each of the magazines and how they might have differed from each other, rather than simply noting that Galaxy was known for edgy stories and Impulse tried to avoid mysticism.
In discussing the individual authors and stories, Ashley provides one sentence synopses of many of the stories. These are so inviting, the reader wishes Ashley could have included some of them in the book, as he did with The History of the Science Fiction Magazines, or at least issue a companion volume to Transformations. While many of the stories he discusses are easily available in reprint editions, the majority of them are difficult to find.
The magazines, as presented by Ashley, display their own personalities, as surely as their editors do. Venture or Authentic are as much individuals as Kyril Bonfiglioli or Samuel Merwin are. It becomes clear that while there was a definite magazine pecking order, with Astounding, Galaxy and Fantasy and Science Fiction at the top, the second, or even third tier of magazines generally had something to recommend them to a specific category of reader.
As the two decades covered by Transformations progress, it is interesting to see how many of the names keep surfacing. This isn't only limited to the authors and editors who have demonstrated ability, but also to the individuals Ashley refers to as opportunist publishers. This latter group came out of the woodwork when it looked like science fiction was on the upswell and easy money could be made. Their magazines were frequently underfinanced and, Ahsley claims, in some cases the stories weren't even read before being purchased by the editors.
Transformations, as with Ashley's other writing on the history of the science fiction magazine, is an enlightening and informative study. Occasionally opinionated, Ashley's knowledge of the field as he demonstrates time and again gives him the right to be opinionated. Moreover, when Ashley offers an opinion, he is able to support his opinions with facts so the reader has a way of assessing the worth of the opinions.
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