An interview with Gideon and Janice Marcus of the Galactic Journey blog, by Rebecca Inch-Partridge
Rebecca sat down for an interview session with the founders and perpetuators of one of Fandom’s more interesting blog projects – The Galactic Journey.
Galactic Journey is a fanzine like no other. It doesn’t simply review science fiction from the past; it transports readers backward in time by sharing events from 55 years ago as if they were happening today. As I write this, their website lists the top stories of October, 1966. This includes “Martial Law in San Francisco (Hunters Point Riots)” an article about rioting that broke out after police shot and killed a 16-year-old boy who was joy-riding with friends. There are also multiple reviews of the original STAR TREK’s episode, “What Are little Girls Made of?” some of which are rather unflattering.
It’s an Amazingly (pun intended) immersive e-zine that has won The Sterling Award and been nominated for a Hugo three times. However, this project came about almost by accident after Gideon Marcus inherited his father’s enormous collection of classic SF magazines. In 2009 Gideon began reading the magazines month by month starting with the April 1954 issues. Four years later his wife Janice asked for recommendations of stories she might find interesting. Gideon decided to share his lists on a blog maintaining the time shift of 55 years.
He explained during this interview: I’ve been a professional space historian since 2006 and my specialty is the early robotic space program, particularly our first shot to the moon in 1958 through 1960. So we had just gotten into my field of expertise, so I’m like, “I will start a blog where I document the life of a geek living 55 years ago. I’ll primarily cover the three science fictions magazines I have a lot of, and I’ll talk about the space shots.”
Rebecca Inch-Partridge for Amazing Stories: How did it go from something as simple as a blog to what it’s become?
Gideon: I started the blog on Deamwidth and ran it for a year and a half… Very early on we discovered that 55 years ago was that very special time that had relevance and echoed strongly today. Also, I was discovering all these great marginalized authors, particularly women, that I’d never heard of before who were writing really good stuff but somehow hadn’t gotten remembered today. That was motivation for me to keep going.
In terms of how we became really big, I can pinpoint the exact moment. We were getting like 30 readers a day and a few loyal commenters. Then all of a sudden Charlie Jane Anders wrote a piece and we blew up.
ASM: What made you decide to do Galactic Journey from the perspective of someone 55 years ago instead of someone looking back from our current time?
GM: There’s two main points for that. First, when most people time travel, they always hit the highlights. They go back to save Kennedy or Lincoln, or to watch the Gettysburg address … If you go on a blog or a news article it’s, “The Top Ten Important Things that Happened in the 1960s.” And it’s always the same things and it’s always recycled.
I wanted something deeper than that. There’s nothing deeper than doing a day by day dive into the past where you’re living back then…
The second reason is with a retrospective you forget what things were like back then…There’s all sorts of ways you appreciate history when you experience it in context. That means warts and all.
ASM: Janice, when did you first join the project? And how do you feel about something that’s become so engrossing in every aspect you your family’s life?
Janice: Gideon used to be a reporter, and I’d read his articles before he submitted them. So editing is not new to me. At first, because the blog was a very casual thing, I wouldn’t do every article. He’d tell me about an article coming out, and I’d read it because it was fun. If I came across a grammatical or spelling error, I’d let him know.
As time went on, and the Blog grew… I ended up taking a more active role as an editor. Finally, we reached a point where I actively edit every single article that goes out. I try to make sure to catch any problems with them. Not just spelling and grammar but HTML errors and broken images. Things like that.
For us, this has become a very interesting family hobby… It’s something we do together as a family. He watches movies from the time with her. And I really enjoy many aspects of it. I always enjoy reading the articles. Between Gideon and all the other people who volunteer on the on the Blog, we have an amazing group of writers who are all extremely talented. Their insights and the context they bring to the time is fascinating and wonderful. It gives a whole new perspective on the past that you just don’t get from what you’re taught in school…
GM: I always tell people 55 years ago is our world just crappier. It’s our world with a sepia filter. It’s recognizable. So when we talk about the things that were important back then we can still see them now.
JM: I think, too, there is value in understanding where we come from and how much things have changed. Sometimes it can feel very discouraging to look at the news today and see what’s going on. It can feel like things aren’t getting any better and they’re only getting worse. Looking at the past and comparing where we are now allows us to see how much better things have gotten.
If you were gay in 1965, you could go to jail. Things were terrible for gay people. Some people talk about how things were better back then. The only people who say things like that are white men and maybe white women who grew up in that time. But particularly for women of color and queer people– anybody who didn’t fit a very narrow definition of “normal”– life was a lot harder. Even with all of the difficulties many people have today–gay marriage is legal. That would have been absolutely inconceivable in 1964 and 1965.
ASM: I know from our earlier conversation that diversity is an important aspect when it comes to your all volunteer staff.
GM: The diverse people that we have is a deliberate choice… I did a panel at WorldCon about the importance of diversity in an editorial staff, and I said, “Look these things don’t happen by accident, because you tend to pull your friends in and … end up with a bunch of people who look like you.” In our case, we were already a fairly diverse group, so it wasn’t that big of a danger. But I deliberately went looking for people in certain countries.
It was very important that we had a West German correspondent, a couple of U.K. correspondents, a Soviet correspondent. Recently we got an Australian space science expert. If there is anyone on the staff who has more clout in the space history industry than me, it would be her.
We also prioritized female writers, and people with interesting backgrounds. I don’t know if it’s a majority, but many of us in the Journey are queer to some degree or another… I want as many interesting perspectives on the blog as I can get.
JM: I think these things tend to feed themselves. If you make your publication interesting, and women do not feel excluded, then you’ll have more women fans. From them comes contributors and volunteers.
ASM: So Janice, do you ever get frustrated about being out of touch with the present because you spend so much time in the past and can’t to keep up with what’s currently going on in fandom and science fiction?
JM: Somebody at a convention once asked us how far do you take living in the past? “Do you boil your coffee?” I said, “No we have an espresso machine.”
The types of things we focus on tend to be the media of the period, music, movies and the printed word. Gideon reads the newspapers of the time and things like that. But it doesn’t keep us from consuming modern things when we choose to.
GM: There’s something I want to make clear: There are people that for whatever reason decide they want to live in the past…I’m not that guy. I live firmly in both worlds and that’s intentional. The main purpose of my blog, aside from entertainment–and I hope people are entertained–is education. And I can’t educate the present if I don’t know it. So when I’m reading the past, I’m also making sure I’m highlighting things that are going to be of interest to the modern day…
In terms of whether I miss out on modern fandom: Probably, but it’s been my experience that modern fandom is exactly like old fandom. There are schisms and fights and frankly I’m glad that I completely missed the sad puppy outrage. On the other hand, I had to live through the Breendoggle. I’m sure you’re familiar with the whole thing when Walter Breen was banned from the 1963 WorldCon. For the sake of your readers we won’t go into it now.
ASM: Well let’s talk about how Galactic Journey has gone from the Golden Age to the Silver Age of science fiction. Can you explain the differences?
GM: Actually, it’s gone from the Silver Age to the New Wave. So the Golden age was when Astounding reigned supreme, call it the Mid 30s through WWII. By the late 40s and beginning of the 50’s the Silver age starts with Fantasy and Science fiction and Galaxy Magazine.
By 1953 you’ve got forty magazines coming out every month.
Then comes the New Wave. Particularly in magazines, like Galaxy and F&SF, stories are no longer emphasizing the ridged, hard science fiction and are talking about the psychology of it and what the effect on The Human Condition will be. We start to get more women writers. By the mid-50s you see dozens of women writers emerging. The science becomes almost secondary and the emphasis is on the psychological. It’s almost mood pieces. So you get J.G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss. In America you get people like Roger Zelazny, Katherine MacLean, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Of course, there was a huge backlash. People of the Astounding (now Analog) generation were like, “What is this nonsense? This stuff is fluff.” Then other people were like: “No, this is great. Give us more.”
JM: Sometimes by making the story more about how people are affected by technology, instead of about the technology itself, you can make a story that stands the test of time… For example, the ones we put together for our anthology, Rediscovery, we feel have a more timeless quality because they are not dated by the technology.
ASM: Let’s talk about Rediscovery. Your website states your mission is “to recover lost voices.” Is that why you launched Journey press with Rediscovery, an anthology of female science fiction writers from 1958 to 63?
JM: When you ask, “How many women science fiction writers before 1970 have you heard of? Most people will say, “Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, and James Tipree Jr. They might know Andre Norton. But for the most part, it’s always the same names…But there were many female authors that got lost in the mists of time. And their stories are so good it seemed ashamed to let them be forgotten.
What’s particularly delightful about launching Journey Press with this anthology is that it’s very much in keeping with the original mission of Galactic Journey… It’s an extension of Gideon recommending stories from the time. Now we can share those stories with anybody who wants to buy the book or download the e-book. They can check out his recommendations–his curated set of stories…
ASM: Gideon, you’ve recently published your YA science fiction. So what’s the next project in the pipelines for Journey Press?
GM: Next year, we’re going to come out with a collection of our science fiction stories, called Clairvoyages…I think I can also disclose we’re working with the representative of Rosel George Brown to reprint her collection of works, particularly her novels.
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Readers wanting to travel back fifty-five years into the past can do so by visiting galacticjourney.org