Locus Magazine from the 1980s

If the golden age of science fiction is age 12, then my personal golden age arrived in the 1980s. That was the decade when I fell under the genre's sway, reading older SF classics while also searching out hot new writers like David Brin and William Gibson.

However, while I read SF religiously during the 1980s I wasn't aware of the larger SF literary and fan culture which existed at the time. So imagine my excitement to discover a free cache of 1980s Locus magazines at this weekend's Marcon. The issues provide a fascinating backstory to the science fiction I read at the time while also showcasing the changing styles of the genre's magazine of record.

LocusJuly1980 In fact, as shown in the July 1980 issue, back then Locus wasn't the "magazine" of record. Instead, it called itself the "newpaper of the science fiction field." This issue was a 20 page black and white fanzine which was folded but not stapled and laid out with actual cut and pasted typewriter copy. This resulted in extremely uneven copy at times. 

The big news story was the 1980 Locus Award results. Inside, other news included Harlan Ellison reaching a "new and, with luck, final settlement in his plagiarism battle with ABC/Paramount" and a mind-blowing essay by Norman Spinrad on why the literati hate science fiction. The essay was titled "Stayin' Alive" after that classic Bee Gees hit and showed a picture of Spinrad with long curly hair, looking very much like he could have been doing some disco dancing himself.

LocusApril1982 By April 1982, Locus was already morphing from a newspaper-style fanzine to an actual magazine. There were now 32 pages stapled in the classic saddle-stich fashion, and blue had been added to the black and white copy. The big news was the death of Philip K. Dick. Other news included Frank Herbert selling his latest Dune novel for $1.5 million, while Robert Silverberg also sold a three-book contract. FYI, this was right at the beginning of the 1980s science fiction boom, where major SF authors began pulling down massive payments for their books.

In other news, on page 7 was the notice that Douglas Adams sold the third book in his Hitchhikers series and ABC optioned the books for a TV series, due that fall. "ABC is having the show re-adapted for American TV because they want it open-ended." Yeah, that really worked out for ABC.

LocusJuly1985 By the July 1985 issue Locus still called itself a newspaper but for all purposes was now a magazine with a slick, full-color cover. The copy was still typewriter cut and paste but at 58 pages it would not have looked out of place on any magazine rack of the time. The front cover announced several new genre magazines, including Night Cry and the Hubbard-sponsored To the Stars. Theodore Sturgeon was memorialized after his recent death while the biggest news was the naming of a 38-year-old Gardner Dozois to edit Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Locus noted that Dozois was "primarily a short story writer and has won two Nebulas in that category."

LocusDec1989 The final issue of the 1980s came with the Dec. 1989 edition, by which time Locus had completed the transition to an actual magazine. The copy was no longer created by typewriter but instead utilized one of the early word-processing programs. In fact, with the full-color covers and inserts and the almost 70 pages of content it's hard to tell this issue from a current one. Except, I should add, for the bright orange on the cover. The bright red covers of the modern Locus wouldn't appear until the 1990s.

The big news was the list of World Fantasy Award winners. In Charles Brown's "Editorial Matters" column he described how the Locus offices survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake with only their 1971 Hugo Award being knocked over.

However, the biggest news in the issue was from a full-color slick cardboard ad, which folded out from the center spread to announce that Penguin Books and New American Library were launching Roc Fantasy and Science Fiction Books. What's most interesting is that while Roc promotes their "visionary" 1990 line-up, the only notable book there – aside from a few minor works by Isaac Asimov – is Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. All of the other visionary novels have been largely forgotten by time.