Monday, December 26, 2011

Heavy reading

I had the wonderful experience this Christmas day of leafing through a decade's worth of old Galaxy magazines. They'd been donated to SF in SF, the program Tachyon sponsors to raise money for Variety Children's Charity of Northern California. About a dozen people were drinking spiced apple cider, eating cookies and cakes, and poring over the magazines, which spanned about 10 years between 1952 and 1961.

The authors featured in these issues included Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Clifford D. Simak, Philip K. Dick, Robert Sheckley, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Cordwainer Smith, among many others - giants of the field all writing in the prime of their lives. But what drew our attention most of all were all the wonderful covers by Emsh and the science articles by Willey Ley, the German-born scientist whose articles often centered on spaceflight and rocketry. His column ran for 40 years from 1937 (in Astounding) to his death in 1967.

One article that caught my eye was written in October 1952, with the sentence that began "I don't believe in the 'electronic device' which replaces the newspaper. Nor do I think that books will be printed on anything which we would not call paper," Ley continues, "even though it may technically be something else.... In quite a number of stories, the spaceship pilot looks up the characteristics of a planet in an almanac "printed on indestructible metal foil.... But while the paper book, with binding, weighs two lbs., the metal book, if aluminum, would weigh nine pounds!"

It still remains to be seen if ebooks will, in fact, replace the real thing. No matter how powerful it becomes, the Kindle will probably never weight nine pounds. Not all of Ley's predictions in this particular column were off the mark, though. He did predict the advent of answering machine and that helicopters would not replace the automobile.


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