magazines

The Very Best of one of the Greatest Magazines

Most people of my generation who grew up reading science fiction know there are exactly three great SF magazines out there (this isn’t necessarily correct, because there are many more new and old, but this is what we know in our bones). Those magazines are, in chronological order of launch: Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s.

Two of these are deeply tied to specific immortal colossi of the genre – Analog is Campbell’s magazine, Asimov’s is… well, it’s pretty obvious if you think about it).

F&SF is not so intimately linked to any specific figure which, ironically, allows it to be linked with almost everyone who was ever anyone in the field. So when I saw a book entitled The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Volume Two, I had to snap it up and immediately began searching for volume 1 (I still don’t have that one, BTW).

As I started reading this one, it quickly became apparent that F&SF is one of the greats for a very good reason. Of the first twelve stories, I’d read ten or so before in one or another “greatest” or “best of the year” compendiums. SO this isn’t just a magazine tooting its own horn–independent editors have been selecting these stories for “greatest” volumes for a long time. And remember, this is volume TWO. These are the stories that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the first volume. The fact that they’re among SF’s acknowledged greats is mind-blowing.

But the thing that stunned me the most is that the immortal Ellison tale “Jeffty is Five” got held over to volume 2. This is one of THE greatest stories ever according to pretty much everyone. That gives you some idea of the quality of fiction that F&SF has published over the years.

As we got into the more modern stories, from the eighties on, I found work that I wasn’t familiar with. Another thing that is lovely about this book is how the style changes as the years go on. All the stories that made it here are obviously well-written with excellently drawn characters, but in the early stories, the idea is front and center while in the later ones, you get a more character-centric vision. Some people (like me) will marvel at the Golden Age stuff, while others will admire the newer work, but everyone will be treated to the most pleasant way to see the evolution of the genre: by reading wonderful stories.

Of the newer ones, I’d have to say that George Alec Effinger’s “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” was the one I enjoyed most. It’s funny without being slapstick and memorable besides.

Of the old ones, I have to admit that, despite my love for idea fiction and Golden Age SF, I love Zenna Henderson’s “The Anything Box”. It’s just so well executed that the slightly weak concept is saved. Beautiful story.

For the record, I hate the ending of “Jeffty is FIve”, but it’s certainly a must-read.

And now, off to search, again, for Volume One. There are probably copies on Goodreads.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose collection Off the Beaten path does exactly what the cover says. It collects work outside the obvious settings of the US and Europe to uncover the fantastic (and science fictional) in the rest of the world. You can check it out here.

Road & Track’s 30th Anniversary

A couple of years ago, I read the very first issue of Road & Track (as it was then called, without the ampersand): June 1947. Now, in my pile of 1970s and 1980s issues, I’ve reached the June 1977 edition.

No mathematical genius is required to realize that June 1977 is the magazine’s 30th anniversary issue and, as such, it’s quite an important one. As the sticker on the cover above illustrates, it was the magazine’s largest issue ever to that date (for all I know, it may still be the largest ever). It even had that original 1947 issue bound in.

Of course, I bought R&T every month from 1989 to the mid 2010s, so I’d seen quite a few anniversary issues in my time. They are wonderful, nostalgic things which universally highlight the best of R&T‘s history as well as including some new stuff.

The best part of this is that R&T was, until recently, a magazine that gave space on its pages to quirky writing. In later years it was Peter Egan who carried that banner, but before that, Henry N. Manney III was the idol of the noncomforming multitudes. In the late 70s, his output seemed to be winding down, but the history was there to mine.

This issue was similar to the ones I’d seen, but even better in some ways as many of the early players were still alive. John and Elaine Bond, the publishers who saved the struggling magazine in its early days and turned it into the world’s foremost car mag, were not only alive, but only recently retired and willing to talk about the olden days.

Modern news was a little less pleasant than the reminiscences, as the report on the 1977 South African Grand Prix not only touched on the death of Tom Price in the race but also commented that Carlos Pace had been killed in a light aircraft accident a couple of weeks later. One thing that was very nice, however was to see that, despite the death of Pryce and a marshal (whose carelessness killed them both) during the race, the competition went on. Nowadays, you’d have it red-flagged and the race cancelled. Now this might sound callous, but we need to remember that the men who strap themselves into a race car have always done so willingly, knowing that there is a real (if lessened, nowadays) risk of death. This isn’t a soccer match–it’s a serious proposition, and the participants understand. Cancelling a race because of a death is an insult to the memory of the dead man. Modern audiences, unfortunately, do not understand this, with the result that, except for on the Isle of Man (where the organizers and the crowd actually get it), dead racers are insulted often.

Other modern reports included the launch of the Porsche 928, a brilliant V8 GT which never did manage to replace the immortal 911 and several road tests.

But it’s the nostalgia that carried the day here. A great walk down memory lane.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel, Test Site Horror, is a romp through a dinosaur-infested valley in southern Russia. Action-packed and fast-paced, this one is ideal for people who still like to be entertained when reading. You can check it out here.

The Immortal Towns Lagonda

Back when I was a kid, I played with the local version of Top Trumps (I have a feeling my American readers will have no clue what that is. All I can say is google it). One of the cars included (this was in the eighties) was the Aston Martin Lagonda. It was a crap card to have when playing, as that deck was full of Ferraris and Lamborghinis that would kick its ass. So I always assumed it was a terrible car.

Only years later did I come to appreciate the pure seventies style and class the car exudes. Even today, rolling up in one of these will pick you out as a man of wealth and taste, someone who knows that Ferraris are only for carving up back roads, Lambos are for rich butchers or soccer players–they reek ghetto taste–Rolls Royces are a cliche and anything else is just for the poor. The fact that few people will know what it is is just a bonus.

This misunderstood machine made R&T’s cover in April 1977, and it looks wonderful.

But this issue wasn’t just about a single Rolls-Royce competitor. It also heralds the welcome start of coverage of the 1977 motor racing season, has a wonderful Bugatti Salon and even a feature on model cars.

Most interesting to me is a piece that I thought was non-fiction but was actually a well-disguised piece of short fiction that fit the style and beats of the magazine perfectly enough that I only realized it wasn’t journalism a fe paragraphs from the end. This piece was Miss Deborah’s Rolls by John Lamm (Lamm was a longtime editor of R&T, which added to the illusion). Back then, R&T would sometimes run these adjacent pieces, and they were always decent.

The other thing that comes to light is that automotive engineers were beginning to get a handle on the raft of regulations so haphazardly introduced in the 1970s. Car designers are smarter than politicians, of course, but the sheer moronic shortsightedness of the way smog and safety rules were imposed in the mid-70s had them on the ropes for a few years. But there’s just too much engineering talent in auto manufacturers to be able to knock them out.

So an eclectic, entertaining mix of stuff here, mixed with some hope. The eighties, a much better decade for cars (and music, of course), was just around the corner, and you can feel it here.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is entitled Test Site Horror, and shows a Russian special forces unit desperately fighting an invasion of genetically-built dinosaurs (and other monsters). Action packed and fun, it’s a perfect read if you enjoy being entertained. You can check it out here.

Sadly, the Offseason Comes Every Year

Recently, I expressed my sadness at the fact that car magazines from the 1970s were nowhere near as fun when racing was on its annual yearly hiatus.

Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that happens every year, and the March issue seems to be the main non-beneficiary. The March 1977 issue of Road & Track is no exception. Interestingly, this one also contains a Z-Car report (5 speed gearbox for the 280Z), just like the previous March writeup I linked above that had a 260Z 2 by 2 on the cover.

The best part of this issue is actually the end-of-year report for the Formula 1 season. It is written, of course, by the inimitable Rob Walker, a guy who will criticize sternly when warranted and who has only one drawback: he was too nice to his friends, and he was friends with everyone. As it dealt with James Hunt’s championship season, a lot of film buffs will enjoy it, too.

The sports sedan test is interesting mainly in that Alfa Romeo was still competing with BMW on approximately equal footing, something you’d be surprised to read today. I’ve never been a fan of R&T‘s road tests. The features, to me are much more interesting… but I suppose that’s because I’m nearly never looking to buy a car built for the US market.

The features in this one were decent, if not memorable, with the highlight being the Salon feature (there’s an explanation on what that means, here) on the 1921 Sunbeam GP car from the Donnington collection.

Normally, auto show reports are fun, but the shows in late 1976 apparently were crap. February’s edition had bad ones in London and Paris, while this issue had an only slightly better one from Turin (when an Italian car show is bad, you know the world is borked).

The one good thing I found was that this one didn’t have a huge technical discussion of technology that isn’t relevant any longer.

Still, I find myself echoing what I say in real life: I can’t wait for the racing season to restart!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel, Test Site Horror, pits Russian special forces troops against monsters created illegally in a biological weapons lab. It’s nonstop, fast-paced action that you can check out here.

Timelessness, Thy Name is Classic and Sportscar

As you already know, I read old car magazines and write about them here when not complaining about the writing world or reviewing SF and Fantasy (and other) books. Each magazine has a personal style, a feeling you get when reading the thing.

So when I picked up the very first issue of Classic and Sportscar (it was originally published as Old Motor, and I hope to review some of those magazines in the future, too), I expected the April 1982 Edition to continue some of the trends I love from the modern editions of this magazine, namely spectacularly clean design, tight editing and a wonderful, lush feel – I honestly believe the modern C&SC is the world’s most beautiful and luxurious magazine.

I was quite surprised to find that wasn’t the case in April 1982. The first thing that jumps out is that there is a lot less color than in the spectacular modern editions, but I suppose in the austere conditions in England in the early ’80s, you couldn’t expect much. The editing was… let’s just say I spotted a few errors that would not be there today.

But it still felt like C&SC. The quirkiness of the writing was evident (perhaps even moreso than today… it’s a sad state of affairs when British eccentricity begins to fall by the wayside), of course, but that wasn’t it. Only as I sat down to write this piece did I realize what it is: updated with color pics and better design, the entire issue, except for the time-based club events pages, could be published today and no one would be the wiser. Just update the values and the names of the specialists that deal with keeping each kind of car on the road and presto, a 2021 edition of C&SC.

This is amazing to me, immersed as I’ve been in the perusal of old Road & Tracks. The American mags just ooze seventies (I wanted to say charm, but the seventies had no charm) essence while this magazine is timeless. The subject matter helps, of course: classic cars are not built in the period in which they are written about, so it should make little difference if you’re writing in 1982 or 2002 or 2022.

But that’s not all. It’s a question of the culture outside the magazine permeating into the writing of one while being blocked from the other. The writing, the colors, the ads are all less period-influenced in the British mag than they are in the US one. In C&SC‘s case, even the ads seem a little less period garish (one of the wonders of old R&Ts are the cigarette ads, so 70s it hurts).

That’s a pretty special quality, and a key ingredient for one of the world’s best magazines. In fact all the ingredients were there… the overall quality just needed to be tweaked a little to achieve the spectacular results you can find on the newsstand today.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a monster novel entitled Test Site Horror. If international intrigue, nonstop action and genetically-modified creatures are something you enjoy, then by all means check it out, here.

How do they keep it up, week after week?

We’ve spoken about The New Yorker here before. As was probably evident from that post, I am not a subscriber to the magazine, but I am an enjoyer. Essentially, I buy the available issues whenever I’m in the US and read them when they cycle through my TBR pile (apparently, it’s currently sitting at a year and a half).

While some of the news items in The New Yorker are obviously not going to be relevant all that time later (I’m clearly not going to make it to the July 2019 premiere of Midsommar), most of the content can be enjoyed whenever. Even the political stuff doesn’t change that much from one year to the next.

For a magazine that prizes itself for getting high-quality hot takes into its readers’ hands, one thing I admire is how enjoyable it is much later. Long-form journalism of this type appears to be a dying breed and where it isn’t, it is so skewed by the writer’s (or the editor’s) political leanings that to be almost unreadable. The New Yorker has a political lean, of course, moderate left, but they attempt to avoid letting that skew get in the way of the truth.

Take this issue’s cover story, for example: “Faith & Other Drugs”. It could have been an attack on Christianity, especially hyper-organized big-church Christianity in the US, but it wasn’t. It was an introspective piece on the comparative effect of religion and drugs on the mind and persona of one specific person. As such, it’s readable by all, alienating no one.

The thing that amazes me most is how they manage to sift through the reams of submissions to find the nuggets that work, and to print an eclectic selection that keeps everyone engaged. I can only imagine what kind of a constant tornado the TNY offices must be.

Of course, no one is perfect, and the fiction I’ve seen has been uninspiring at best and depressing at worst. Now, I can’t say that this is a constant because I read maybe three or four issues a year. I may just be unlucky. This issue’s story, unfortunately, is not among the best fiction I’ve read this year by any stretch of the imagination. I may be suffering from excessive expectations – I assume that TNY has access to the best work from the best writers… but I never seem to see that in the published work. It’s also possible that I may simply prefer a very different kind of fiction, and the problem is in the reader in this case. But I find the fiction–and only the fiction–pretty much pointless.

But other than that, it’s invariably a great read. Snobbish and elitist? Perhaps, but that is part of the enjoyment. I like nodding along when I’m in on the subject as much as the next person… and when I’m not, I’ll learn something. Win-win.

A subscription wouldn’t make it to Argentina, and I don’t have time to read one of these cover-to-cover every week, but I will continue (and have continued) to buy them whenever I travel. Watch this space for more thoughts as they get to the top of the pile.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction appears in Love and Death, a novel told in short story form which, he hopes, isn’t quite as pointless as the fiction he’s encountered in TNY so far. You can check it out here.

The Offseason Blues

Just like live is awful in those terrible months when there is neither baseball nor football on TV (the unimaginable suffering that has made basketball, of all things, popular), auto magazines from the 1970s are at their dreariest when reporting on the offseason.

The problem is that while motorsport in the mid-seventies was wonderful, dangerous and technologically interesting, road cars were not.

March 1974 Road & Track.jpg

The March edition, which usually came out in February, lands pretty much in the dead center of that offseason, with the result that the only big racing report is on the SCCA Runoffs which, while fun, is not the same as reporting on Formula 1, Le Mans or the Can Am (raise your hand if you think it’s time for another no-rules formula so race cars can actually go fast again).

So the editors of Road & Track dedicated the space to technical articles (the one about hydrogen fuel was very interesting if misguidedly optimistic, the one about insurance truly enlightening), road tests (argh) and the Tokyo Motor Show (not the most optimistic show ever).  The fuel crisis, now with more Arabs, was on everyone’s mind, adding to the mess already created by US regulators.

Dark days indeed, but not without their silver lining, which took the form of a profile of James J. Bradley, Head of the Automotive History Collection at the Detroit Public Library (now the National Automotive History Collection).  A wonderful article that shows how one man can guide an institution’s collecting philosophy and make it a worldwide treasure.

I now have a reason to visit Detroit someday!

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is Jungle Lab Terror in which genetically modified monsters battle communist revolutionaries in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere.  If that sounds like fun, you can learn more here.

 

The Elephant in the Room

I’ve been reading some Road & Track magazines from the early seventies, and I’ve been enjoying them enormously.  I finally realized that was strange.

After all, I HATE any discussion of politics… so why am I enjoying what, in at least part of every issue, seems to be a running battle between the entire automotive industry, (including magazines) and the US government because of the overzealous, rushed and clueless application of safety and pollution legislation.  There was a war on the automobile in the early 1970s–a war that the automobile ultimately won, but at a huge cost to the consumer, the US auto industry and even, ironically, the environment (lowering smog in the 1970s meant that a LOT more CO2 was released).

Road & Track November 1972

So why in the world am I enjoying these?

To answer that, we need to fast forward to 2020.  Over the past month, I got emails about Black Lives Matter from several newsletters I subscribe to and saw related content on a bunch of websites.  I didn’t open any of those newsletters and I didn’t read any of those articles.

Why?  Am I a racist?

Not at all.  The problem was that the sites (and newsletters) were sports sites, automotive sites, and the SFWA newsletter.  None of these are sources I look to for political news and opinion.  When I’m reading the news, I definitely click on those articles.  But when I’m on your literature site, I will click away if you’re doing politics.  And if you’re a professional organization dedicated to working for writers, I’m not looking for affirmative action from you unless there is a specific case of discrimination, in which case, I’d expect the organization to protect its minority members with the utmost ferocity.  But I’m a member for purely professional and not political reasons. So I didn’t open their Black Lives Matter announcement.  SFWA’s opinion is irrelevant in these matters.

Road & Track April 1973

The thing Road & Track did extremely well in the 1970s is focus on the places where their opinion WAS relevant.  Regulation that affected the auto industry in such a negative way was definitely something I look to R&T for.  Other politics aren’t.

You know which word hasn’t appeared once in any of the magazines from the period I’ve read so far (including the two pictured in this post, which are the most recent I’ve read)?

I’ll let you think about it.

Got it?  No?

OK.  The word is ‘Vietnam’.

Think about that for a second.  Journalists focusing on the stuff they actually know about and giving readers what they want instead of talking about politics.

Our modern everyone-has-to-give-their-opinion-or-suffer-the-consequences society could learn so much about professional journalism and giving people what they want from these guys.

Someday, hopefully, unrelated media will stick to what they’re good at and not publish content no one visits their site to see.  Wouldn’t that be a radical departure?

I, for one, will welcome the day.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who doesn’t take his own advice.  Probably best known as a science fiction writer, he also writes literary fiction.  His book Love and Death is an excellent example.  You can check it out here.

Who Says Cyberpunk is Dead?

To the general public, literary cyberpunk means William Gibson (to others, perhaps The Matrix, although Johnny Mnemonic is much more true to the genre), specifically Neuromancer.

But in the world of SF literature, there exists another truism: Cyberpunk is dead and we’re in the era of post-apocalyptic dystopias (created, if you don’t want to go to ideological jail, by corporations or capitalist governments).  If you want a change of pace from that, we can do some identity politics speculation.  Fun!

Of course, this is nonsense, except in the very tiny area spanned by certain critics in the deepest corners of the genre gutter.

Readers don’t want that stuff, as evidenced when you walk into a random Barnes & Noble.  Neuromancer is ALWAYS on the shelves, as are Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke.  Of the modern ones, you’ll find Alastair Reynolds, James S.A. Corey, Iain M. Banks, etc.  Very few examples of what is supposed to be the modern focus of the genre (although Banks is definitely political, but at least he isn’t dogmatic, boring and predictable ALL the time).

Readers still love cyberpunk.  And now, there’s a magazine that caters to this preference.

Write Ahead : The Future Looms Volume 2

Write Ahead / The Future Looms is a full-color publication unlike anything else in the SFF genre today.  It is simply gorgeous in design and execution, on glossy paper and a very modern cyberpunk-ey feel to it.

I recently read Volume 2 (full disclosure – my story “A Local Matter is in this one”) and I was hyper-impressed.  Contributor copies sometimes have stories one needs to dig deep to finish.  That wasn’t the case in this mag–cyberpunk is always fun.

Favorite story here was “The Proxy” by Alexander Hay, but they were all entertaining reads and all gave a different take on our electronic future.

This is one of those publications that I recommend without any reservation whatsoever.  Go forth and read one.  I think you’ll like it, and it certainly makes a wonderful break from the formulaic state of other magazines in the field.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose fiction spans many genres, from literary fiction to comic fantasy.  His SF novel Outside is a study of what happens when humans and early-stage post humans interact.  You can check it out here.

Weird Imports, Technical Savvy and Bumbling Regulators

As we continue reading through our 1970s Road & Tracks, absorbing the culture of the times and trying to note the differences with today, there’s one thing which truly stands out: foreign cars in the US were often spectacularly unsuited for the market.

I’m not talking here about Ferrari, Mercedes or BMW.  Like today, those factories knew what they were doing, offering a superior product at a premium price.  Likewise, Japanese imports, taking advantage of the weak Yen and effective quality procedures, had a chokehold on the lower end of the market which they only relinquished to Korea in the 2000s, mainly because Japan had more profitable fish to fry (or to fillet and eat as sushi, I guess).

But in 1972, a road test of a Renault 15 was included on the cover.  I assume it was supposed to be a selling point, but it might simply have been for the comic relief.  I can hardly think of a worse car to try to sell in the US, unless it’s a Peugeot 304 or a Saab Sonett (see the other cover).  Simply stated, peopel were much quirkier and individual back then, apparently enough to buy a Saab Sonett of all things.  That’s probably why there were fewer tattoos and personalized iPhone protectors in evidence: people actually had real, as opposed to manufactured, individuality.

Still, though we respect individuals, some of these were really crappy cars.

Road & Track July 1972

Another point of interest is just how much technical knowledge the editors assumed on the part of its readers.  These are mass-market magazines, remember.  Today, while adolescent readers might know exactly how many valves a Lamborghini has, most of them would never know how to gap a sparkplug or how to build one’s own head gasket… but 1972’s readers apparently did.  So the technical analysis of components (tires, for example) and race cars is wonderful.

Road & Track October 1972

Finally, the cluelessness of legislators was once again gleefully put into evidence, as two safety cars with airbags (1972, remember) were put to the test… and failed miserably.  In part due to these tests and also because of the fact that the proposed safety car rules were utterly stupid, that particular initiative was eventually abandoned (sadly too late to save the MGB’s chrome bumpers).

But other legislation went forward.  The clean air act controlled Nitrous Oxides (NOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and unburnt hydrocarbons.  I think we all agree that it was a good thing for air quality.

Ironically, however, the same rules meant that cars were getting worse as manufacturers scrambled to meet these massively-quickly applied regulations.  By getting worse, I’m not just talking about things like losing power, becoming more complicated and more unreliable and gutting the Detroit car industry.  Those are actually minor things in the big picture–people just needed to suck up and take it.

The bad part is that fuel economy also suffered, so cars were burning more fuel to get less power and work worse (the reasons have to do with compression ratios and fuel octane, mainly).  When a car burns fuel, one of the INTENDED emissions is Carbon Dioxide.  By burning more fuel, you create more carbon dioxide… so it meant that, until the Fuel Crisis caused regulators to clamp down on economy, the application of the clean air act actually meant that countless more tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air.

Of course, thirty years later we all realized that carbon dioxide, as the main greenhouse gas, was not really a good thing.

The road to hell and all that…

But in 1972 no one knew about those things.  All they cared about was that the suits in Washington seemed determined to extract all the joy from the automobile, preferably to kill it altogether.

I, for one, am delighted that they failed.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His novel Outside also deals with unintended consequences, of the kind that could shatter entire civilizations.  You can check it out here.