BOOKS IN REVIEW
- The Gregg
Press Science Fiction Series (George Tucker. A
Voyage to the Moon: With Some Account of the Manners and Customs, Science and Philosophy,
of the People of Morosofia, and Other Lunarians. By Joseph Atterley [Narrator]; Mary
W. Shelley. Tales and Stories; Richard Adams Locke. The Moon Hoax: or, A
Discovery That the Moon Has a Vast Population of Human Beings; Mary Griffith. Three
Hundred Years Hence; Mary E. Bradley Lane. Mizora: A Prophecy. A Mss. Found Among
the Private Papers of Princess Vera Zarovitch; Being a true and faithful account of her
Journey to the Interior of the Earth, with a careful description of the Country and Its
Inhabitants, their Customs, Manners and Government. Written by Herself. [In the
Cincinnati Commercial]; Chauncey Thomas. The Crystal Button; or, Adventures
of Paul Prognosis in the Forty-Ninth Century; William N. Harben. The Land of the
Changing Sun; Jules Verne. An Antarctic Mystery; Charles Romyn Dake. A
Strange Discovery; Jack London. The Science Fiction of Jack London: An Anthology;
Van Tassel Sutphen. The Doomsman; G. McLeod Windsor. Station X;
Eugene Zamiatin. We; Edmond Hamilton. The Horror on the Asteroid and Other
Stories of Planetary Horror. [Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories,
Wonder Stories 1926-35]; Thea von Harbou. Metropolis; Olaf Stapledon. To
the End of Time; H.G. Wells. Things to Come; Karel Capek. War with the
Newts; Alfred Bester. The Stars My Destination; Walter M. Miller, Jr. A
Canticle for Leibowitz) (R.D. Mullen)
- The SF
Writer as a Young Man (Isaac Asimov. Before the Golden Age; Isaac Asimov. The Early Asimov; Lester
del Rey. Early del Rey; Jack Williamson. The Early Williamson) (R.D. Mullen)
Garland Library of Science Fiction (J..D.
Beresford. The Hampdenshire Wonder; Olaf Stapledon. Odd John; Karel
Capek. The Absolute at Large; Charles Fort. The Book of the Damned; New
Lands; Lo!; Wild Talents; E.E. "Doc" Smith. The
Skylark of Space; Skylark Three; Skylark of Valeron; Skylark
Duquesne; Otto Willi Gail. The Shot Into Infinity; Stanton A. Coblentz. After
12,000 Years; Hidden World; Ray Cummings. Tarrano the Conqueror;
Neil R. Jones. Planet of the Double Sun; John Taine. The Time Stream; Jack
Williamson. The Legion of Space; Jack Williamson. Darker Than You Think; A.E.
van Vogt. Slan; L. Ron Hubbard. Final Blackout; George O. Smith. Venus
Equilateral; Henry Kuttner. Mutant; George U. Fletcher. The Well
of the Unicorn; Cordwainer Smith. You Will Never Be the Same; Alfred
Bester. The Demolished Man; Theodore Sturgeon. More Than Human; Frederik
Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. Wolfbane; Philip José Farmer. Night of Light; The
Maker of Universes; H. Beam Piper. Space Viking; Lord Kalvan of
Otherwhen; Roger Zelazny. Four for Tomorrow; This Immortal; Edgar
Pangborn. Davy; Ursula K. Le Guin. Rocannon's World; Planet of Exile;
City of Illusions; Samuel R. Delany. The Einstein Intersection; R.A.
Lafferty. Past Master; Christopher Stasheff. The Warlock in Spite of Himself) (R.D. Mullen)
Illustrated History of SF (Patrick
Books for Bradburians, Burroughsians, and All Fans (R.D. Mullen)
on Linguistics in SF (Myra Edward Barnes. Linguistics and
Language in Science Fiction-Fantasy) (Jack Williamson)
SF Film: Metropolis and Things to Come (Fred Chappell)
Ash's Faces of the Future (Patrick Parrinder)
Book-Review Index (R.D. Mullen)
The Gregg Reprints
The Hyperion reprint series was reviewed in SFS ##4-5, and the Arno series in SFS #6.
Here in SFS #7 we have the Gregg and Garland series, together with four books in an
interesting series of "autobiographical collections" developing at Doubleday.
Excluding the non-fictional works and four duplications, the four reprint series give us a
total of 129 volumes of fiction.
For the edition reprinted, if it was issued in hardback by a mainline publisher, I have
given only city and year, but for hardback editions issued by the fan press, and for all
paperback editions, I have given the name of the publisher. I have also given bracketed
data for the first edition (if the one reprinted is other than the first) and for magazine
publication (if it was an SF magazine).
The Gregg Press Science Fiction Series
- George Tucker. A
Voyage to the Moon: With Some Account of the Manners and Customs, Science and Philosophy,
of the People of Morosofia, and Other Lunarians. By Joseph Atterley [Narrator].
- Mary W. Shelley. Tales and Stories.
- Richard Adams Locke. The Moon Hoax: or, A Discovery That the Moon Has a Vast Population
of Human Beings.
- Mary Griffith.
Three Hundred Years Hence.
- Mary E. Bradley Lane. Mizora: A Prophecy. A Mss. Found Among the Private Papers of
Princess Vera Zarovitch; Being a true and faithful account of her Journey to the Interior
of the Earth, with a careful description of the Country and Its Inhabitants, their
Customs, Manners and Government. Written by Herself. [In the Cincinnati Commercial]
- Chauncey Thomas.
The Crystal Button; or, Adventures of Paul Prognosis in the Forty-Ninth Century.
- William N. Harben. The Land of the Changing Sun.
- Jules Verne. An
- Charles Romyn Dake. A Strange Discovery
- Jack London. The
Science Fiction of Jack London: An Anthology
- Van Tassel Sutphen. The Doomsman.
- G. McLeod Windsor. Station X.
- Eugene Zamiatin. We.
- Edmond Hamilton. The Horror on the Asteroid and Other Stories of Planetary Horror.
[Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, Wonder Stories 1926-35].
- Thea von Harbou.
- Olaf Stapledon. To the End of Time
- H.G. Wells. Things
- Karel Capek. War
with the Newts.
- Alfred Bester. The
Stars My Destination.
- Walter M. Miller, Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz.
##1-20. The Gregg Science Fiction Series.
David G. Hartwell, Editor; L.W. Currey, Associate Editor. Gregg Press, 70 Lincoln St.,
Boston, MA 02111. The prices given below include for each volume a 50˘ handling charge.
This is an extraordinarily handsome set of books, a set that you might want to have
complete just for the impressive display it would make in your bookcase. It is also a
comparatively well-edited series, with each of the volumes having an apparatus of some or
great value. I have no hesitation about recommending 14 of the volumes; of the other six,
one is abridged, two are of works for which no new edition seems to be needed, and three
are hardly worth reading (a factor that grows more and more important as reprints
#1. George Tucker.
A Voyage to the Moon: With Some Account of the Manners and Customs,
Science and Philosophy, of the People of Morosofia, and Other Lunarians.
Atterley [Narrator]. NY 1827. With a New Preface by David G. Hartwell [and
an 1828 review of the book as an appendix]. ix+294. $13.50. Though this book, which draws
heavily on Swift and Johnson, is hardly original enough to be recommended for its satire
or social commentary, its two chapters on the history of "Okalbia, the Happy
Valley," where the method of preventing overpopulation is evidently coitus
reservatus, would probably be of some interest to students of American utopian
communities. In addition, such SF elements as this depiction of the effects of lesser
gravity--"I was astonished at first at this seeming increase in my muscular powers;
when on passing along a street...and meeting a dog, which I thought to be mad, I proposed
to run out of its way, and in leaping over a gutter, I fairly bounded across the
street" (p 111)--are original enough and extensive enough to make the book required
reading for students of the history of SF.
#2. Mary W. Shelley.
Tales and Stories. [In the annual Keepsake
and other serials, 1829-39]. With an introduction by Richard Garnett. L 1891. With a New
Introduction by Joanna Russ. xvii+xv+386. $18.50. While it is good to have a new edition
of this book, especially one with this splendid introduction by Joanna Russ, it must be
noted that of the 17 stories only one, "The Mortal Immortal," can be called SF
in any sense.
#3. Richard Adams Locke.
The Moon Hoax: or, A Discovery That the Moon Has a Vast Population of
Human Beings. [As a newsstory in the New York Sun, 1835].
[With an Appendix, The Moon as Known at the Present Time]. NY 1859. With a New
Introduction by Ormond Seavey [and two new appendices: a story from the New York Herald,
1835, burlesquing the Sun story, and Poe's note to "Hans Pfaall" on
Locke's hoax]. xxxvi+vi+74. $8.00. This is of course the famous hoax perpetrated under the
headline, "Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.,
D.F.R.S., Ec., at the Cape of Good Hope." The introduction by Ormond Seavey (an
excellent account of the origins and effects of the hoax), together with the remainder of
the apparatus, make this book a highly valuable contribution to the study of SF.
#4. Mary Griffith.
Three Hundred Years Hence. [In her Camperdown,
NY 1836]. With an Introduction by Nelson F. Adkins. Philadelphia 1950. With a New
Introduction by David G. Hartwell. vi+131. $8.50. If Mary Griffith had had her way, this
would be a world without war, duelling, slavery, or poverty; with no dogs, horses, or
other dangerous or useless animals; with Shakespeare and other great writers properly
expurgated; with no tobacco or spiritous liquors; with clergyman properly provided for;
with steam engines replaced by engines of some marvelous new kind (so that there would no
longer be the constant danger of exploding boilers); in sum, a world fit for ladies and
gentlemen of sensitivity and good will. Although this well-known tale of the future is
required reading for all students of SF (if only to remind us that our ancestors were
often as foolish as ourselves), I am not sure that we need this new edition, for the pages
on which the story appears in Camperdown are photographically reproduced in
Arthur O. Lewis's indispensable anthology, American Utopias: Selected Short Fiction
(Arno Press, 1971, $12.00 if the price hasn't been raised).
#5. Mary E. Bradley Lane. Mizora: A Prophecy. A Mss. Found Among the Private Papers of Princess
Vera Zarovitch; Being a true and faithful account of her Journey to the Interior of the
Earth, with a careful description of the Country and Its Inhabitants, their Customs,
Manners and Government. Written by Herself. [In the Cincinnati Commercial,
1880 and 1881]. NY 1890. With New Introductions by Stuart A. Teitler and Kristine
Anderson. [Reset; i.e., not a photographic reprint]. xiii+147. $14.50. Mizora is a world
inhabited only by women, their female ancestors having long ago learned the "secret
of life" and thereupon having decided to "let the race [of men] die out" (p
103). It is a utopia partly because of the elimination of men and partly because of other
equally stringent measures; e.g., the elimination of dark-skinned and even dark-haired
women and of all animals. The uncompromising radicalness of the book in biological matters
(it is rather vague with respect to politics and economics) makes it one of the most
original of all SF novels.
Published anonymously, the book is "Copyright 1899 by Mary E. Bradley" and is
attributed on the LC card to "Mary E. Bradley Lane," but it seems that no one
now alive has any idea who this woman was. The preface, which tells us that the story
appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial "in 1880 and 1881 [and] attracted a
great deal of attention" and that the author "kept herself in concealment so
closely that even her husband did not know that she was the writer who was making this
stir in our limited literary world," is signed "Murat Halstead, 1889."
Despite this, the Cincinnati Public Library "could furnish [Mr. Teitler] no
information about Mrs. Lane, except that she was probably not an Ohio author...[and] no
information about reader's comments on the serial" (p ix). On the other hand, Mr.
Teitler tells us that the story "ran in four installments." The contradictions
and ambiguities in all this should be apparent. Have or have not files of the Commercial
survived? If so, has anyone gone through those files to identify "Murat
Halstead" (the editor of the Commercial?) and to hunt for
letters-to-the-editor on the story that was "making this stir in our limited literary
world"? Has anyone gone through the files of the Commercial and other
Cincinnati papers for 1889 and 1890 to see if there were stories on the publication of the
book? Has anyone compared the text of the newspaper serial with that of the book?
Mr. Teitler is to be congratulated for recognizing the importance of the book and for
bringing it to the attention of the editors of this series, for as with the In the
Future of the Arno series (SFS 2:185), we have here nothing less than the recovery of
a long-lost near-masterpiece of SF. But much work remains to be done before we can say
exactly how this book fits into the history of science fiction.
#6. Chauncey Thomas. The Crystal Button; or, Adventures of Paul Prognosis in the
Forty-Ninth Century. Boston 1891. With a New Introduction by Ormond
Seavey. xiii+ xiv+302. $15.50. Like several tales of the future published in the wake of
the great success of Looking Backward, this book has a preface asserting that it
was written some years before the publication in 1888 of Bellamy's book. Its depiction of
a socialist world of the future is perhaps closer to the Wells of A Modern Utopia
than to Bellamy. It is also of some technical interest in its framing device: the dreaming
of a man who sleeps for ten years (the dreams being influenced to some extent by what goes
on around his bed) and who, when he finally awakes, is not sure which world is the dream
and which the reality.
#7. William N. Harben.
The Land of the Changing Sun. NY 1894. With a New
Introduction by L.W. Currey. xiv+233. plus 1 plate. $12.00. Two hundred years before the
events of our story, a group of explorers discovered a vast quantity of gold and a
circular cavern, one hundred miles in diameter, with very rich soil, and with an
atmosphere of such "remarkable salubrity" that it gave them perfect health,
lengthened their lives, and increased their mental powers. Having thought the situation
over, they decided that since "the laws and restrictions of different countries
prevented men of vast wealth from really enjoying more privileges than men of moderate
means," they would "light the great cavern from end to end and make it an ideal
place where they could live as it suited them" (pp 102-03). So they established their
kingdom and set about recruiting people who would be the common folk over whom they would
rule. We learn about all this through the eyes and ears of two adventurers who stumble
into this forbidden world, but the trouble is that they kept so busy fighting, courting
princesses, and running for their lives, that they never have any time to explore this
presumably remarkable land in any detail, and the story as a whole is one of the dullest,
one of the least imaginative, of all those in the Hyperion, Arno, Gregg, and Garland
#8. Jules Verne. An Antarctic Mystery. Translated by Mrs. Cashel
Hoey [from Le Sphinx des Glaces, 1897]. Philadelphia 1899. With a New
Introduction by David G. Hartwell. ix+(9)+336 with 17 plates. $15.50. Of the narrator's
conviction that The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was a true story (with Poe
having served merely as an editor); of how Captain Len Guy, brother to the Captain Guy
under whom Pym sailed, came to share that conviction; of their penetration of the great
ice barrier; of what they found on Tsalal Island and Captain Guy's decision to abandon the
search; of how one of the sailors revealed that he was Dirk Peters, Pym's faithful friend,
and persuaded them to continue; of the loss of the ship and most of the crew; of the
discovery of William Guy still alive; of the discovery of the Sphinx of the Ice Fields,
the magnetic mountain, and Pym's body; and of their escape from the Antarctic in a small
boat. As would be expected from Verne, this is a rousing good adventure story; it is also,
as Mr. Hartwell argues in his introduction, a work of the first importance in the history
#9. Charles Romyn Dake. A Strange Discovery. NY 1899. With New
Introductions by Thomas D. Clareson and L.W. Currey. xiv+(2)+310 plus 3 plates. $14.50. A
discussion novel set in 1877 in a small town in Illinois. The discussants are an
Englishman in Illinois on business (the narrator), a crotchety old physician, a sensible
young physician, and a bibulous bellboy. In about two-thirds of the book the banalities
flow thick and fast on such topics of the day as the greatness of Byron as a poet, the
absence of a class system in the USA, the great respect felt by all Americans of the
better sort for the English royal family, etc., etc. In the remaining third, the topic is
provided by the young physician's account of the adventures of one of his patients, old
Dirk Peters, who fifty years earlier was a companion of A. Gordon Pym in Antarctica (see
#8 above). Beyond that "white curtain" depicted in the last paragraph of Pym's
narrative, lay an open sea, heated and lighted by a great lake of boiling lava, with a
number of islands inhabited by descendants of 4th-century Romans who had fled across the
oceans to escape the barbarians. Their society was at the moment in a state of political
crisis arising from the question of whether young men should be allowed to play rough
games (cf the great college-football debate of the turn of the century). These latter-day
Romans are much like our next-door neighbors, and just as dull, and if this is not the
dullest book ever written, it is certainly the dullest in these four series of reprints.
#10. Jack London. The Science Fiction of Jack London: An Anthology. [A composite photographic reprint of pages excerpted
from eight of London's books, 1904-1918]. Edited with a New Introduction by Richard Gid
Powers. xxiv+506. $15.50. This volume is a model of what a composite reprint should be,
and with its excellent introduction (the best treatment of London's SF that I have yet
seen) is a real bargain for anyone who does not already possess many of the stories in
other editions. The stories--"A Relic of the Pliocene," "The Minions of
Midas," "The Shadow and the Flash," "A Curious Fragment,"
"Goliah," "The Dream of Debs," "The Unparalleled Invasion,"
"When the World was Young," "The Strength of the Strong," The
Scarlet Plague, and "The Red One"--offer a wide variety of themes, points
of view, and narrative techniques. For The Scarlet Plague and "The Red
One" see SFS 2:191, 2:194.
#11. Van Tassel Sutphen. The Doomsman. NY 1906. With a New Introduction by
Thomas D. Clareson. xiii+viii+295 plus 8 plates. $14.00. In its depiction of a
post-catastrophe, deurbanized world, with the ruins of New York City serving as a base
from which a society descended from criminals makes raids against the people of farming
and small-town communities, this novel stands between Jefferies' After London
(1885; see SFS 2:189) and Pangborn's Davy (1964; see #66 below). A survey of
stories of this kind would be of considerable interest. Of those I am familiar with, this
is one of the best imagined, except in the last few chapters where its romanticism becomes
sentimentality and melodrama.
#12. G. McLeod Windsor. Station X. L 1919.
With a New Introduction by Richard Gid Powers. xii+317. $14.00. The wicked Martians
attempt an invasion of Earth by psychic means, but with psychic aid from the Venerians we
turn them back. Mr. Powers finds great social significance in this story, but I find his
#13. Eugene Zamiatin. We
. Translated and with a Foreword by Gregory
Zilboorg. [NY 1924]. With Introduction by Peter Rudy; [an addendum to the forward by
Zilborg]; Preface by Marc Slonim. NY 1959. With a Critical Afterward by Vasa D.
Mihailovich. (4)+xxix+236. $13.50. As one of the masterpieces of 20th-century literature,
this novel requires no comment from me in this place (though I might refer you to the
essay by Patrick Parrinder in SFS #1). Although this reprint of the first version of the
work to appear in any language (the Russian original having remained unpublished until
1927), together with its extensive apparatus, doubtless has some value as a supplement to
the translation by Mirra Ginsburg (Viking hb and Bantam pb 1972) and the recent critical
and biographical work of Ginsburg, Shane, and others, I can't see much point to its
publication in this series.
#14. Edmond Hamilton.
The Horror on the Asteroid and Other Stories of Planetary Horror.
[Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, Wonder Stories 1926-35]. L 1936. With a New Introduction by Gerry de la Ree.
ix+256. $13.00. Although Edmond Hamilton had a certain popularity with magazine readers in
the 20s and 30s and even later, very few have ever thought his stories of more than
passing interest, and he never made any appreciable mark in "modern SF" of the
40s and later. This being so, and the stories in this book having little literary merit, I
can see no point in its inclusion in the Gregg series, though it would be appropriate in
Garland Library reviewed below.
#15. Thea von Harbou. Metropolis. See the review by Fred
Chappel elsewhere in this issue.
#16. Olaf Stapledon. To the End of Time [contains
Last and First Men, L 1930, abridged; Odd John, L 1935; Starmaker, L 1937;
L 1944; The Flames, L 1947]. Selection and Introduction by Basil Davenport. NY
1953. With a New Introduction by Curtis C. Smith. xi+xiv+775. $35.00. When Basil Davenport
(an officer of the Book-of-the-Month Club and SF enthusiast) edited this volume in 1953,
he felt that American readers would find certain sections of Last and First Men
boring or offensively anti-American (i.e., those dealing with the immediate future as of
1930 and hence falsified by the events of the intervening years), and so he deleted
1:2-4, 2, and 3:3, about one-tenth of the whole novel. While it is convenient to have
these novels (all of the first importance in SF) in a single volume with Dr. Smith's
excellent introduction and while one can easily supplement the volume with other editions
of Last and First Men, I still cannot bring myself to recommend any volume that
contains an expurgated text. For comment on the novels themselves, see Dr. Smith's essay
in SFS #4.
#17. H.G. Wells. Things to
Come. See the review by Fred
Chappel elsewhere in this issue.
#18. Karel Capek.
War with the Newts. Translated by M. and R.
Weatherall [from V·lka smloky, Prague 1936]. L 1937. With a New Introduction by
Darko Suvin. xviii+348. $15.50. For me personally the best thing about these four series
of reprints has been the opportunity to read Capek, whom I had unaccountably neglected all
these years. I expressed my enthusiasm for The Absolute at Large in SFS 1:304,
and for Krakatit in SFS 2:193. In the present novel we have the story of how
mankind discovers a new species of rational animals, sets out to exploit them, and is
eventually overwhelmed. Here as in the earlier books we have great events treated in a
comical-farcical fashion, resulting in what might be called tragical satire. Since the
book mixes direct narration from several points of view with documents of various kinds,
it requires a wide variety of styles; how well the various styles were handled in the
Czech I cannot know, but the English of the present version is sometimes less than
convincing. Even so, this book certainly belongs to the first rank of SF novels. The
introduction by my co-editor is up to his usual high standard.
#19. Alfred Bester. The Stars My Destination. [Galaxy
1956-57; as Tiger! Tiger!, L 1956]. Rev edn, NAL ph 1957. With a New Introduction
by Paul Williams. xv+197. $10.50. This book of course belongs in every SF library; what I
have to say further about Bester can best be said in connection with the Garland Library:
#20. Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Canticle for Leibowitz [Shorter versions of
the three parts, Fantasy and Science Fiction 1955-57]. Philadelphia 1959; 2nd
impression 1960. With a New Introduction by Norman Spinrad. xii+320. $14.00. This story of
the preservation of the records of civilization by the monks of the Leibowitz Monastery
during the first centuries that followed the flame deluge and of the canonization of the
blessed Leibowitz; of the rebirth of knowledge and the clash of church and state; and of
the new technological civilization which in its turn destroyed itself--this story comes as
close to being an undisputed masterpiece as any that has come out of the science-fiction
movement. Any library that does not have a copy of the original edition will surely want
one of this new edition with its excellent introduction by Norman Spinrad.
The SF Writer as a Young Man: Asimov,
del Rey, and Williamson
##21-24. Doubleday has followed its two books on the young Asimov with similar books on
Lester del Rey and Jack Williamson, and will in the coming months publish at least two new
books in this series, The Early Pohl and The Early Long (Frank Belknap
#21. Isaac Asimov. Before the Golden Age. Doubleday 1974; reprinted
in 3 pb volumes, Fawcett 1975. A collection of the stories that the young Asimov enjoyed
most in the SF magazines of the 30s, together with an introduction on his earliest years,
and with intercalary sections on Asimov as clerk in his father's candy store, as
high school and college student, as SF fan and would-be writer, ending in 1938, the year in
which he sold his first story and in which he first ventured into the office of John W.
Campbell, the new editor of Astounding.
#22. Isaac Asimov. The Early Asimov. Doubleday 1972; reprinted in 2
pb volumes, Fawcett 1974. Contains the 27 stories written by Asimov before 1950 not
previously collected in his ten volumes of short fiction (i.e. the two Robot volumes, the
three Foundation volumes, and five others), together with an introduction and intercalary
sections on his relationship with Campbell and other SF editors and writers, and on the
circumstances under which each story was written.
#23. Lester del Rey. Early del Rey. Doubleday 1975. 424p. $7.95.
Contains all the 24 stories written by del Rey before May 1950 (when he finally decided to
become a professional writer), except for "Nerves" (expanded as Nerves,
1956) and those collected in three volumes published by Ballantine, 1958-65, together with
an introduction and intercalary sections on his childhood and youth, his relationship with
Campbell and others, and how each story came to be written.
#24. Jack Williamson. The Early Williamson. Doubleday 1975. xvi+199.
$5.95. A somewhat more modest volume than the del Rey, containing only 11 stories, but
more interesting and informative in the introductory and intercalary portions, which deal
with his life through 1933. And while the del Rey stories are somewhat better written, the
Williamson stories are more interesting in their concepts and more rewarding for the
student of the history of SF.
Each of the three lived his early years in what was close to dire poverty; on this
matter Asimov is humorous, Williamson detached but often eloquent, and del Rey blandly
uncommunicative (indeed, if it were not for Moskowitz's Seekers of Tomorrow, one
would imagine that del Rey's life, to use an expression that seems appropriate to his
account of it, has been just a bowl of cherries). Williamson was born in 1908, del Rey in
1915, Asimov in 1920; but an important event in the life of every SF fan brings them
closer together: Williamson discovered his first SF magazine in 1927 and Asimov and del
Rey theirs in 1929. Since I discovered mine in 1928, read many of the same stories, and
had much the same reactions to the stories, I have for all of them a strong kindred
feeling. But in their accounts of growing up and coming to terms with the world, there is
one event I look for in vain, for just as the discovery of science fiction was liberating
for me, so was the discovery, two or three years later, of realistic fiction, especially
stories and novels concerned with childhood and adolescence: Sherwood Anderson, Ernest
Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage,
Michael Gold's Jews Without Money (which might have been of special interest to
Asimov), and Floyd Dell's Moon-Calf (ditto for del Rey). Was it possible for
these young intellectuals to grow up at the same time I did without reading such
books--or, if they did read some of them, without being profoundly affected by them?
Perhaps it was, and perhaps the heading for this series of notes should be "The
Unexamined Life." But that would be to make a judgment for which I really have no
evidence, and it is obvious that at least the young Williamson did examine his life,
though perhaps without much help from literature, and that these books are intended less
as literary autobiography than as cautionary and exemplary tales for SF fans hoping to
become SF writers.
Asimov, the child prodigy, grew up in New York City, had all the books in the world
pretty well available to him, graduated from high school at 15, and prepared to enter
college. Del Rey grew up in rural Wisconsin, a fairly prosperous and well populated area,
graduated from high school at sixteen, and escaped to Washington, D.C., to live with an
uncle of some intellectual attainment. Williamson grew up on a "dryland" farm in
New Mexico, far from any centers of population or culture, had only six years of formal
schooling, and had to make do with a comparatively small number of books and magazines.
Nineteen years old, with a high-school diploma in hand but seeing no way to escape from
the barrenness of his life, he discovers Amazing Stories and thereupon decides to
make his living writing science fiction.
What begins now for Williamson is also the beginning of what may well be called the
Science-Fiction Movement. He not only writes stories and submits them to Amazing Stories,
he also begins to correspond with the SF readers and writers whose addresses appear in
letter columns of the magazine, thus coming to know people like Edmond Hamilton, who will
be his good friend for many years, and Miles J. Breuer, a physician who writes SF as a
hobby and with whom he will collaborate on several stories. That is, he becomes a part of
a new and small but growing intellectual community that has a kind of center in Amazing
Stories with outposts in Weird Tales and Argosy All-Story Weekly.
But although this community has a center in such magazines, it has no intellectual
leadership, and young would-be writers like Williamson have to find their way pretty much
on their own.
In 1928, his father having had a sudden access of good fortune (a few hundred dollars
from the sale of oil rights on the homestead), Williamson goes off to College, but not
like Asimov at 15 to Columbia, or like del Rey at 16 to George Washington University, but
at 20 to West Texas State Teachers College. Having made a number of submissions to Amazing
Stories, he now learns that he was won a $50.00 guest-editorial contest and that one
of his stories has been published. (There was no letter of acceptance, just the
publication of the story in the magazine, for which he some months later received $25.00).
With this encouragement he devotes his spare time and vacation periods to his writing and
his correspondence, and at the end of his sophomore year, having sold a number of stories
and earned several hundred dollars from them, he decides to abandon college for full-time
Williamson was determined to make his living writing science fiction. The markets
readily open to him in 1928-29 were Amazing Stories, Science Wonder Stories,
and Air Wonder Stories, but these paid only half a cent a word or less, and paid
not on acceptance or on publication but when they got around to it, and you couldn't make
a living that way. But there was also Weird Tales, which paid "an honest
cent a word on publication," and off in the distance was Argosy, said to pay
fabulous rates to those skillful enough to make its pages. Then in 1930-31-32 there was
the Clayton Astounding Stories, with for a brief time its companion Strange
Tales, which paid two cents a word on acceptance--a living wage. So Williamson wrote
his stories primarily for Astounding or Strange or sometimes Weird
Tales (with an occasional attempt at Argosy, where he had no success at this
time), sending those they rejected to Amazing and Wonder. In 1932 Astounding
passed from Clayton to Street and Smith, and its rate dropped to one cent a word. But even
so Williamson was now selling enough to earn something like $1500.00 a year, enough for a
country boy to live on--indeed, a little more than enough, so that the isolated Williamson
could make occasional forays into the great world outside.
In all this Williamson's apprenticeship was not different from that of many a
struggling writer for the pulps, where there was seldom any editorial advice other than
"read what we publish and write stories of the same kind." Those who would make
Hugo Gernsback the "Father of Science Fiction" are correct in regarding his
magazines as important in the history of SF, but are wrong in that they fail to see the
limited nature of that importance. Gernsback was never an innovative editor other than in
establishing magazines devoted exclusively to science fiction. He occasionally sought
stories from well-established writers (whom he presumably paid a decent rate), but for the
most part he edited his magazines simply by reading such unsolicited manuscripts as were
submitted to him by writers too unsophisticated to know how low his rates were or too
unskillful to sell to the better-paying markets. I have yet to see any evidence that he
collaborated in any way with his writers, and can see no reason to believe that he had any
appreciable influence on the ways in which science fiction developed as an art form.
Gernsback was there at the right time, and he did provide a shelter--an unheated house
with very skimpy meals--for writers like Williamson, E.E. Smith, and John Campbell, and
for that he perhaps deserves to be called the Stepfather of Science Fiction. But the
inchoate science-fiction movement needed something more than shelter and a place to meet,
it also needed intellectual leadership, and that did not emerge until 1938.
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