Friday, April 6, 2012

Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Part 2

Astounding Firsts and Speculations

The list of authors whose first science fiction stories appeared in Astounding Stories or the renamed Astounding Science-Fiction is impressive. They include:
  • Nelson S. Bond--"Down the Dimensions" (April 1937)
  • Eric Frank Russell--"Seeker of Tomorrow" with Leslie J. Johnson (July 1937)
  • L. Sprague de Camp--"The Isolinguals" (September 1937)
  • Lester del Rey--"The Faithful" (April 1938)
  • Robert A. Heinlein--"Life-Line" (August 1939)
  • Theodore Sturgeon--"Ether Breather" (September 1939)
  • William Tenn--"Alexander the Bait" (May 1946)
Fletcher Pratt and Frederik Pohl were also published in the pages of Astounding, though their first efforts saw print in other magazines. In any case, every one of these authors was also published in Weird Tales. I will cover them all in the third part of my article while saving other contributors to Astounding and Weird Tales--Anthony Boucher, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, Ray Bradbury--for another time.

I should note that most of these authors were first published in Weird Tales during Dorothy McIlwraith's tenure as editor and mostly after World War II. There may be some significance in that. Alternative markets may have shrunk away in the postwar period. That was certainly the case with comic books. The general public's interest in science fiction may have grown as well. After all, science fiction--which had predicted atomic power, rockets, and so on--had become science fact. Weird fiction by that time may have seemed a little old-fashioned. You might ask, "Did Dorothy McIlwraith actively seek out science fiction writers for her magazine?" I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer to that question. On the other hand, maybe these tales written by science fiction writers were simply leftovers from Campbell's Unknown, which had ceased publication in 1943.

I should also note that two of John W. Campbell's stable--A.E. van Vogt and L. Ron Hubbard--were not published in Weird Tales. Is that fact significant? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe van Vogt and Hubbard's brand of science fiction was simply not suited to “The Unique Magazine.” Then again, maybe Weird Tales didn't pay well enough. Or maybe van Vogt and Hubbard weren't interested in writing weird or horror fiction, despite the fact that they--like their editor, John W. Campbell--were believers in Dianetics.

In any case, two religions have grown out of science fiction of the Golden Age. You can make a case that the first was the invention of Raymond A. Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures and cofounder of Fate. During the mid 1940s, Palmer had latched onto the Shaver Mystery as a way to sell magazines. Even as the Shaver Mystery faded away, Palmer discovered a much more powerful and compelling modern myth upon which to build a belief system: flying saucers. That system is with us today.

The second religion, Scientology, originally Dianetics, was invented by L. Ron Hubbard and advanced by John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science-Fiction. A.E. van Vogt and Theodore Sturgeon were just two of the many thousands of men and women who believed in Dianetics. Whether Hubbard had studied Raymond Palmer’s successes and failures, or whether he discovered the appeal of a belief system based on science fiction on his own, his new religion has thrived, at least financially. It too is still with us.

For those who care to consider it, there is some irony in the fact that Raymond Palmer and John W. Campbell--two authors and editors at the helm of prominent science fiction magazines--would lend themselves to the genesis of religious or pseudo-religious beliefs. Weird Tales--a magazine of fantasy, horror, weird fiction, and the supernatural--was by comparison sensible and hard-headed. The only religion to grow out of its pages, the Cult of Cthulhu, was fictional and the creation of a materialist, H.P. Lovecraft.

To be concluded . . .

Raymond Palmer launched The Shaver Mystery in this issue of Amazing Stories with a cover story by Richard S. Shaver entitled "I Remember Lemuria." The date was March 1945, the artist, Robert Gibson Jones. It's worth noting, as Robert Weinberg did in his book, The Weird Tales Story, that Shaver's Deros were presaged by the Shonokins, a race of beings created by Manly Wade Wellman in the pages of "The Unique Magazine."
Next in this gallery of Shaver Mystery covers: Amazing Stories for November 1946 with a cover story, "The Return of Sathanas," by Shaver and Bob McKenna and cover art by Arnold Kohn.
The title "The Shaver Mystery" finally made the cover of Amazing in June 1947,  the same month in which Kenneth Arnold sighted the first flying saucers near Mount Rainier. Shortly thereafter, Raymond Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories, contacted Arnold and asked him to investigate the Maury Island Incident. That same summer, the one and only crashdown at Roswell happened and the flying saucer era was off to a running start.
The Shaver Mystery ran concurrently in Palmer's Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. Here's a cover for Richard Shaver's "Slaves of the Worm" from February 1948. The cover artist was the reliable Robert Gibson Jones. 
Even as late as 1958, when this issue of Fantastic arrived on the newsstand, Shaver and Palmer were still at it. "Dangerous Nonsense!" shouted A.J. Steichert. "A Defense," retorted Richard S. Shaver. "The Facts Behind the Mystery," explained Raymond Palmer. By then, Palmer was concentrating on flying saucers. The cover art by the way was by Leo Summers. 
In spring 1948, Palmer launched Fate, a digest-sized magazine investigating Fortean phenomena. Palmer knew on which side his bread was buttered: the cover story was "The Truth About Flying Saucers" by Kenneth Arnold. I hope someone can tell me who the cover artist was.
L. Ron Hubbard may well have been watching all this, for his "new science of the mind," Dianetics, and its successor, Scientology, look suspiciously like swipes, not only from the mythology of flying saucers, but also from The Shaver Mystery, hard science fiction of the 1940s, and space opera from an earlier era. Other probable sources include psychoanalysis, the culture of self-help, and Aleister Crowley's beliefs and practices.

Richard S. Shaver was probably mentally ill, perhaps schizophrenic. Raymond Palmer on the other hand seems to have been shrewd and a bit of a huckster. Those traits would seem combined in the person of L. Ron Hubbard, who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. By the way, the artist on this cover of Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1950, was named Brush.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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