While scrolling on mastodon, I learned an incredibly amazing and astounding story.

Just for context, the following response was offered in connection to a conversation about #ChatGPT bot recommending book titles to students with real authors, but generated titles. Apparently, this is a known issue with the #ChatGPT world.

In 1948, a fan wrote into Astounding Science Fiction magazine with reviews of the stories from the November, 1949 issue, more than a year in the future.

The editor ran with it, and solicited stories with those titles from the listed authors, then published them in that issue.

Clearly, someone needs to do this with a ChatGPT reference list.

And then linked the two editions in the chat! because of course the wonderful was on it!

Archive. org has both issues:

This story tickles me pink – not least because it’s a cracking one that I’ve never encountered, but also that it’s for a magazine I have a deep and abiding adoration for!

Now you might me thinking ‘jeeps Niamh, you look good for your age!’, but let me reassure you – I wasn’t about in 1948 (though of course, that’s what I want you to believe, so I have to say that!).

When I was about ten, we took a holiday to the seaside town of Swakopmund, Namibia – there was the sea on one side, desert sand dunes on the other and a bank of mist between them!

We stayed in an A frame chalet – the height of sophistication for us regular tent based campers – and I saw my first ever pelican. Not as friendly as children’s books had implied – for the record.

More importantly for this anecdote however, there was a second hand book and magazine seller. And they had everything! But a special love of science fiction.

For what little pocket money I’d saved, I picked up dozens of Astounding Science Fiction magazines – they even let me go through the trunks looking for runs once I’d agreed on how many I was purchasing. Getting 4 months in a row was a joy I can’t really explain to the internet enabled generation.

I had stories from the 30’s through to the 60’s. My first Anne McCaffrey – 60’s; obscure snippets from L Ron Hubbard (before and during the dianetic phase) – 40’s; Vonda N McIntyre – 50’s; Robert Heinlein and Issac Asimov both had first or second stories published in this little magazine, Frederik Pohl, Arthur’s C Clarke, EE Smith… a veritable who’s who of the early 20th century’s SF writers.

Anyway, I loved these and read the stories over and over – later able to recognise where the roots of a short story were developed into a longer arc by authors, but also seeing the hints of social shifts before the event.

No women authors, then one of two, then more. No female characters – except as non-people type of roles – then, slowly, they started to appear. No inter-racial relations, until… you get where I’m heading with this.

Issues of race, gender, age, ability – all these unfolding before me – courtesy of spaceships, aliens, dragons and soldiers. Astounding indeed.

Massive thanks to Scooby Shakespeare for the reminder and hat tip for the story – I look forward to catching up with this old friend again soon.

PS here is the rather dry snippet about this from Wikipedia

In the November 1948 issue, Campbell published a letter to the editor by a reader named Richard A. Hoen that contained a detailed ranking of the contents of an issue “one year in the future”. Campbell went along with the joke and contracted stories from most of the authors mentioned in the letter that would follow the Hoen’s imaginary story titles. One of the best-known stories from that issue is Gulf, by Heinlein. Other stories and articles were written by some of the most famous authors of the time: Asimov, Sturgeon, del Rey, van Vogt, de Camp, and the astronomer R. S. Richardson


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