Sunday, October 20, 2013

Austin Hall (1880-1933)

Farmer, Ranch Hand, Watchman, Author
Born July 27, 1880, Santa Clara, California
Died July 29, 1933, San Jose, California

Austin Javen Hall was born on July 27, 1880, in Santa Clara, California. He was the son of J.S. Hall, a blacksmith, and Isabelle or Belle Hall. I don't know what happened to Austin Hall's father, but by 1900, Hall's mother had remarried. She and her son were living in Brecksville, a small town located south of Cleveland, Ohio, with Belle's husband and Austin's stepfather, Wallace McCreery. Austin was nineteen and attending school at the time. According to a 1933 interview with Forrest J Ackerman, Hall attended Ohio Northern University, Ohio State University, and the University of California. Whether he graduated or not (or attended or not), Hall was in the right place at the right age to have done what he claimed. By 1910, the McCreerys and the Halls were back in California, Wallace McCreery in Oakland, Austin Hall in Soquel Township, Santa Cruz County. Hall was married by then and employed as a farmer. His young wife was named May or Mae and she had just borne a son named Javen. That was one turning point. Another would come in the next decade of Austin Hall's life.

Austin Hall's first story, called "Almost Immortal," was published in the October 7, 1916, issue of All-Story Weekly.  The author was working on a ranch at the time. He recounted how the story came about:
One of the cowboys picked up a story half-written [and] made me finish it. Those same waddies carried it into town, had it typewritten, and sent it to the editor of the old All-Story Magazine. The editor called it the damnedest lie ever concocted, and bought it. (1)
Austin Hall's output as an author of science fiction and fantasy was small, but like most of what he wrote, "Almost Immortal" has been reprinted again and again.

I don't know where Hall was when he wrote his first story, but when he filled out his draft card a couple of years later, he was working as a farmer and a watchman in Mendota, in central California. During those last years of the 1910s, Hall built up a short list of pulp fiction credits:

  • "The Rebel Soul" in All-Story Weekly (June 30, 1917)
  • "Into the Infinite" in All-Story Weekly (serial, Apr. 12-May 17, 1919)
  • "The Man Who Saved the Earth" in All-Story Weekly (Dec. 13, 1919)

In all, Hall claimed to have written over 600 stories. Most of those were Westerns published in the 1920s and '30s.

I have written about Austin Hall's movements in detail for a reason, for he was on a course to meet another writer with whom he would collaborate on their most famous story. That writer was Homer Eon Flint (born Flindt), a shoemaker in San Jose, California. Like Hall, Flint was a westerner. Born in 1888 in Oregon, he arrived in California no later than 1904. Flindt married a schoolteacher who encouraged him in his writing. In 1912, he began selling scenarios to Vitagraph and other filmmakers. Flint's first science fiction story was "The Planeteer," published in All-Story Weekly, March 9, 1918. Like Hall, Flint sold several more stories to All-Story as the decade was coming to an end.

By 1920, Austin Hall was living in San Jose and calling himself a writer for magazines. I don't know how he and Flint met. Perhaps it was initially through correspondence; perhaps it was in person. In any case, Forrest J Ackerman told about the origins of their most famous story:
One day when Hall was with Homer Eon Flint, Hall held his finger up before one of his eyes and said, "Couldn't a story be written about that blind spot in the eye?" Not much was said about it until four days later at lunch; then Hall outlined the whole classic to Flint; asked him to write it with him.
The story that grew out of Hall's idea was called "The Blind Spot," and it was a true collaboration, for the beginning and ending chapters were written by Hall, while the middle chapters were Flint's work. The story, which concerns a world parallel to Earth, was serialized in Argosy-All-Story Weekly from May 14 to June 18, 1921. "The Blind Spot" was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries/Fantastic Novels in 1940, and in book form at least nine times.

Both authors followed up their collaborative work with stories on their own. Austin Hall wrote the serial "People of the Comet" for Weird Tales (Sept.-Oct. 1923). He also wrote a sequel to "The Blind Spot" called "The Spot of Life," serialized in Argosy from August 13 to September 10, 1932. It, too, was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1941) and in book form. Hall wrote that story alone, for his partner in writing had died many years before. Homer Eon Flint is known for his part in writing "The Blind Spot." There is also intrigue in his death (in April 1924) behind the wheel or under the wheels of a car owned by a known criminal and perhaps connected in some way to a bank robbery. You can read more about Flint's mysterious death on the websites listed below.

Austin Hall made many claims in his life. He recounted his last meeting with Homer Eon Flint:
[W]e had just come back from a ride. It was a foggy night--two o'clock in the morning, weird and ghostly. Homer stepped away, into the mist--I can see him yet--his dim figure and his voice floating back to me: "Well, so long. I'll speak to you from the Blind Spot." (2)
Whether or not Flint ever spoke to Hall again, "The Spot of Life" was Austin Hall's last science fiction credit. He died the year after it was published, on July 29, 1933, in San Jose, California. He had just passed his fifty-third birthday.

Notes
(1) Quoted in Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of "The Scientific Romance" in the Munsey Magazines, 1912-1920, edited and with a history by Sam Moskowitz (1970), p. 269.
(2) Ditto, p. 270.

Austin Hall's Story and Letter in Weird Tales
"People of the Comet" (two-part serial, Sept.-Oct. 1923)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Nov. 1923)

Further Reading
Both Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint are in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Speculative Fiction Database, and Wikipedia. There are also websites or web articles devoted to Flint:

"Homer Eon Flint: A Legacy" by Vella Munn on Strange Horizons, at this URL:

The website Homer Eon Flint, at this URL: http://www.homereonflint.com/

A poor reproduction of People of the Comet, a hardbound edition of Austin Hall's earlier novel. This is the Griffin Publishing edition from 1948. The cover artist was Jack Gaughan.
Two years later, the story was adapted to the comics as "La com├Ęte rouge" in the Belgian magazine Bravo
Austin Hall is most well known for his collaboration with Homer Eon Flint on the serial "The Blind Spot." Here is the cover for a reprint in Fantastic Novels, July 1940. The cover artist was Virgil Finlay. I think this was my first encounter with Finlay's art.
Here's another reprint, the Ace paperback edition of 1976. I don't know who did the cover art.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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