Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Richard Matheson and Hell House

Last week I wrote about Dark Shadows, Star Trek, Richard Matheson's novel Hell House, and how fantasists use the material vs. the non-material in their storylines. In House of Dark Shadows (1970), Dan Curtis used a materialist explanation for Barnabas Collins' vampirism. That was a neat and acceptable solution to the problem of the supernatural in an age of the merely natural. In Star Wars (1977), George Lucas implied that the Force, which holds the universe together, is non-material, and if not spiritual than at least mystical. We accepted that explanation without a word of reservation. Then, in the second Star Wars trilogy (1999-2005), Lucas reversed himself and explained the Force again as a merely material phenomenon. Lucas is a notorious tinkerer. (I'm not sure any of his tinkering has made an improvement on the original.) But we had already accepted his original explanation for the Force. We didn't need another explanation, especially a materialistic explanation. That's why I used the word disheartening in my comments the other day. I also used the word cynical. What I meant was that Lucas turned off his imagination and swallowed the materialist air of our times. He became a follower instead of a leader, that is, a leader in matters of taste, which is one of the roles of the artist. I suppose he thought he was being clever and scientific. His inspiration was obviously the existence of mitochondrial DNA within our own cells. But when he resorted to a high school biology textbook, he turned his back on the sense of awe and wonder we feel when we ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Material vs. non-material. Are they irreconcilable opposites? In his book Hell House (1970), Richard Matheson attempted an answer and created two characters to represent the material and the non-material approach to hauntings. Dr. Lionel Barrett, a scientist, believes that hauntings are merely physical or biological in nature. Florence Tanner, a spiritualist and medium, believes they are non-material and spiritual. The two become part of a four-person crew investigating the haunting at Hell House, "the Mount Everest of haunted houses." Barrett and Florence are immediately set against each other, mostly because of Barrett's dismissal of the supernatural. If you're planning to read the book, you might not want to read any further, although I won't give very much away. As it turns out, Matheson split the difference: the haunting of Hell House is both a material and a non-material phenomenon. A machine and a medium are both necessary to bring the haunting to an end.

In my research for the entry on Richard Matheson as an author for Weird Tales, I learned that he was a believer in paranormal or parapsychological phenomena. His knowledge of those fields comes through with ringing authenticity in Hell House. His catalogue of "Observed Psychic Phenomena at the Belasco House [Hell House]" runs for nearly a full page of dense type. The list is almost comic in its excess. (It reminds me of Major King Kong reading the contents of his survival kit in Dr. Strangelove.) If you know what half those words mean, you deserve a medal. Knowing that Matheson was a believer made me a little biased in my reading of Hell House. As readers, we willingly suspend our disbelief. Maybe the writer has an equal obligation to suspend his belief. Towards the end of the book, Matheson seems to speak through Dr. Barrett when Barrett calls parapsychology "science" and proceeds on a brief discourse in its defense.

I won't quibble. I enjoyed Hell House, despite its sensationalism and its attempts to shock the reader. (Like The Exorcist, Hell House uses sex as a shocker and sexual perversity or depravity as a representation of evil. Maybe there isn't any quicker way to get there, but I can think of more real and palpable evils. Any history of the twentieth century is full of examples.) Matheson's explanation of hauntings as simultaneously material and non-material phenomena is a perfectly acceptable one. In the end, we have two acceptable explanations--House of Dark Shadows and Hell House--and one unacceptable explanation--George Lucas' latter-day Star Wars.


Text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Robert A.W. Lowndes (1916-1998)-Part 4

Robert W. Lowndes had his first science fiction published when he was a teenager. That was in 1935 when Wonder Stories printed "Letter: Report of the Plutonian Ambassador" on its letters page. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, his first paying work would have been the poem "Lurani" (as by Paul Dennis Lavond) in Unknown Fantasy Fiction for February 1940. Lowndes' first paying short story was "My Lady of the Emerald" (as by Wilfred Owen Morley) in Astonishing Stories from November 1941.

Lowndes wasn't an especially prolific author, but over the next couple of decades, he wrote several dozen stories and poems and a few novels. He was busier as an editor, essayist, and reviewer. His credits as editor include the following:
  • Future Fiction (and variant titles, 1941-1960)
  • Science Fiction (1941)
  • Science Fiction Quarterly (1941-1958)
  • Dynamic Science Fiction (1952-1953)
  • Science Fiction Stories (1953-1960)
  • Magazine of Horror (1963-1971)
  • Famous Science Fiction (1966-1969)
  • Startling Mystery Stories (1966-1971)
  • Thrilling Western Magazine (1967)
  • World Wide Adventure (1967)
  • Weird Terror Tales (1969)
  • Bizarre Fantasy Tales (1970-1971)
  • Sexology

I should point out that these dates are not necessarily inclusive of all years within those dates. Also, some dates and titles come from conflicting or not entirely reliable sources and are in question. 

In the 1940s and '50s, Lowndes worked for Columbia Publications, mostly in science fiction magazines. Lowndes' titles of the 1960s and '70s were published by Health Knowledge, Inc. Most prominent among them was Magazine of Horror, a digest-sized homage to Weird Tales. The website Vault of Evil has what I think is a complete listing of stories, plus images of the covers of Magazine of Horror. Vault of Evil is well worth a look.

Robert A.W. Lowndes continued working as a writer and editor even after Health Knowledge, Inc., went under. In 1981, Lin Carter began editing a third incarnation of Weird Tales. (The first was the original run, from 1923 to 1954; the second was Sam Moskowitz's four-issue revival of 1973-1974.) Robert Lowndes contributed half a dozen poems to a series that lasted just four more issues between Spring 1981 and Summer 1983.

It has taken me a month to draw this discussion of Robert A.W. Lowndes and The Futurians to a close. This four-part series has led me to another series of postings in which Lowndes' name will appear again. Before closing I will add that Robert Lowndes died on July 14, 1998, in Newport, Rhode Island. He was eighty-one years old.

Robert A.W. Lowndes' Poems in Weird Tales
"The Courier" (Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 1981)
"The Worshippers" (Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 1981)
"The Guardian" (Vol. 48, No. 2, Spring 1981)
"Liberation" (Vol. 48, No. 2, Spring 1981)
"The Summons" (Vol. 48, No. 3, Fall 1981)
"The Viola" (Vol. 48, No. 3, Fall 1981)

Text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Robert A.W. Lowndes (1916-1998)-Part 3

On September 18, 1938, Isaac Asimov wrote in his diary: "I attended the first meeting of the Futurians, and boy, did I have a good time." The meeting took place in "a sort of hall which is also a Communist Party headquarters at other times." In attendance were Asimov, Rudolph Castown, Jack Gillespie, Cyril Kornbluth, Walter Kubilis, Herbert Levantman, Robert W. Lowndes, John B. Michel, Frederik Pohl, Jack Rubinson, and Donald A. Wollheim. "After the meeting," Asimov wrote, "we all went down to an ice cream parlor. . . ." The young men splurged on $1.90 worth of "sodas, banana splits, and sandwiches." Every couple of weeks thereafter, the group met in various places, at Jack Gillespie's house or Dick Wilson's house. Seventeen-year-old James Blish attended the third meeting. By the end of the year, there were even women joining The Futurians in their revelry. (1)

Isaac Asimov made his first sale that fall. "On October 21, 1938," he recorded, "Amazing accepted 'Marooned Off Vesta', the third story I wrote." (2) A prodigy perhaps among prodigies, Asimov was among the first of The Futurians to become a professional. Others followed in rapid order.

Isaac Asimov (1919 or 1920-1992)--Author, editor, anthologist, chemist, teacher. First published science fiction: "Marooned Off Vesta" in Amazing Stories, Mar. 1939.

James Blish (1921-1975)--Author, critic, editor. First published science fiction: "Emergency Refueling" in Super Science Stories, Mar. 1940.

Rudolph Castown (1920-1982)--Member of The Futurians. No index entry in The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz or All Our Yesterdays by Harry Warner, Jr.

Jack Gillespie (Dates unknown)--Member of The Futurians and science fiction fan.

Cyril Kornbluth (1923-1958)--Author. First published science fiction: "The Rocket of 1955," in Richard Wilson's fanzine Escape (Aug. 1939).

Walter Kubilis, later Kubilius (1918-1993)--Author. First published science fiction: "Trail's End" in Stirring Science Stories, June 1941.

Herbert Levantman (Dates unknown)--Member of The Futurians and science fiction fan. He is called by this name in The Futurians by Damon Knight. Sam Moskowitz called him Herman Leventman. I did not find records for a Herbert Levantman, but there was a Herman Leventmen (1920-2009), who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942.

Robert W. Lowndes (1916-1998)--Author, poet, editor. First published science fiction: "Letter: Report on the Plutonian Ambassador" in Wonder Stories, Sept. 1935. Editor: Future Fiction (and variant titles, 1941-1960); Science Fiction (1941); Science Fiction Quarterly (1941-1958); Dynamic Science Fiction (1952-1953); Science Fiction Stories (1953-1960); Magazine of Horror (1963-1971); Famous Science Fiction (1966-1969); Startling Mystery Stories (1966-1971); Bizarre Fantasy Tales (1970-1971). (3)

John B. Michel (1917-1968)--Author, poet, editor, publisher, artist. First published science fiction: "The Menace from Mercury" with Raymond Z. Gallun in Wonder Stories Quarterly, Summer 1932. Editor of various fan magazines, including The Fantasy Amateur.

Frederik Pohl (b. 1919)--Author, poet, editor, literary agent. First published science fiction: "Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna," a poem as by Elton Andrews, in Amazing Stories, Oct. 1937. Editor: Astonishing Stories (1940-1941); Super Science Stories (1940-1941); Star Science Fiction (1958); Galaxy (1961-1968); If (1962-1969); Worlds of Tomorrow (1963-1967); International Science Fiction (1967-1968).

Jack Rubinson, aka Jack Robins (Dates unknown)--Member of The Futurians and science fiction fan.

Richard "Dick" Wilson (1920-1987)--Author, editor. First published science fiction: "Murder from Mars" in Astonishing Stories, Apr. 1940.

Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990)--Author, editor. First published science fiction: "The Man from Ariel" in Wonder Stories, Jan. 1934. Editor: Cosmic Stories (1941); Stirring Science Stories (1941-1942); Avon Fantasy Reader (1947-1952); others. (4)

Note that some of the first published science fiction by these authors was printed in magazines edited by other Futurians.

That's a long list containing a lot of information. The point is that the members of The Futurians made their mark on science fiction, some primarily as authors (Asimov, Blish, Kornbluth), others primarily as editors (Wollheim), and some as both (Lowndes, Pohl). Some were published before forming The Futurians, others shortly afterwards. In any case, by 1940, they were on their way, occupying a place as up-and-coming science fictioneers.

To be concluded . . .

Notes
(1) Quotes and other details are from The Futurians by Damon Knight, pp. 16-21.
(2) The story was published in Amazing Stories in March 1939. Quoted in The Futurians p. 19.
(3) These dates are not necessarily inclusive of all years within the dates.
(4) Most of the author's and editor's credits come from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dark Shadows, Star Wars, and Richard Matheson

I have been away and still have much to do. I would like to acknowledge gifts received by email and to say thank you to the senders. It may be awhile yet before I write again.

I watched House of Dark Shadows tonight for the first time I think since I saw it as a child at the movie theater. (I should say since I saw most of it at the theater--part of the time I spent under my seat.) Watching the movie tonight brought back vivid memories of the last time I watched House of Dark Shadows. The scene at the old swimming pool where David Collins sees his dead cousin Carolyn stands out among them. It was and is a chilling scene. (Before moving on, I would just like to say how beautiful are the women of Dark Shadows, especially Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played the Gothic heroine Maggie Evans.)

I watched Dark Shadows the TV series as a child but don't remember it very well. In the movie, Doctor Julia Hoffman discovers that Barnabas Collins is suffering from a biological condition that causes his vampirism. He has some kind of cell infecting his blood. She attempts to cure him of the infection. I don't know if that also occurred in the show. In any case, what started out as a Gothic romance became science fiction of a sort--like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein now that I think about it. In House of Dark Shadows, the existence of the vampire, a creature of supernatural horror, is ultimately explained in material terms. I suppose it would have been an innovation to make the supernatural merely natural (though highly unusual) in Dark Shadows. The screenwriters must have been faced with the problem of the weird tale in the twentieth century, namely, how do you present the supernatural monster of centuries past when supposedly sensible people no longer believe in the supernatural? The writers of House of Dark Shadows disposed of the problem pretty neatly.

Seven years after that movie was released, another movie showed up on the big screen, a movie that started out as one thing and more recently ended up as another. Despite attempts to classify it as science fiction, Star Wars (1977) is a fantasy, perhaps even a fairy tale. It may have the trappings of science fiction, or more accurately, space opera, but the story is underlain not by science but by a mystical force called--what else?--the Force. Of course the world and George Lucas were different in 1977 than they were in 1999 when the second trilogy got underway. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Force was no longer mystical. It was in fact material, more specifically, biological, as vampirism was in House of Dark Shadows. There is a big difference between those two developments however. In House of Dark Shadows, vampirism is made material in order to tell a story, a more or less positive development. In the second Star Wars trilogy, a largely dreary affair, the Force is made material, I sense, to reflect the materialist air of the twenty-first century. In other words, we simply can't have a supernatural force that "surrounds us, penetrates us, [and] binds the galaxy together." Believing in such a thing is, after all, unsophisticated--a display of ignorance and backwardness. I think George Lucas betrayed his own beliefs when he abandoned the spiritual and made the Force merely material. Maybe he was only reflecting the beliefs of his age.

Anyway, House of Dark Shadows has led me to Hell House, a novel by Richard Matheson set in the same year that House of Dark Shadows was released. I have had that book on the dresser waiting to be read for awhile. Both stories take place in a house in Maine. Both of course tell of supernatural events. I was moved to write this evening by something the author, Richard Matheson, wrote on the second page of the story: the man who initiates the investigation into Hell House is eighty-seven-year-old Rolf Rudolph Deutsch, "bald . . . skeletal" and on his deathbed. He wants to know if anything survives. I suspect the makers of Dark Shadows would say yes. George Lucas might have a different answer. The reason I took note of Rolf Rudolph Deutsch's age, however, was that Richard Matheson died only a month ago . . . at age eighty-seven.

P.S. (July 27, 2013): As everyone knows, Dan Curtis (1927-2006) was the creator and executive producer of Dark Shadows, which ran on ABC-TV from 1966 to 1971. After Dark Shadows came to an end, Curtis collaborated with Richard Matheson (1926-2013) on the television movies The Night Stalker (1972), The Night Strangler (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and Dead of Night (1977). Matheson wrote the screenplays for all of those movies, while Curtis served as producer.

Copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Robert A.W. Lowndes (1916-1998)-Part 2

According to the Speculative Fiction Database, Robert W. Lowndes' first published science fiction was "Letter: Report of the Plutonian Ambassador" in Wonder Stories for September 1935. The byline was "Sir Doc Lowndes," and "Letter" was actually printed on the letters page and not as part of the main contents of the magazine. The issue in which Lowndes' story appeared came out just in time for his nineteenth birthday. Years of poverty and obscurity still lay before him, but nothing could have detracted from the joy the young author must have felt in seeing his name in print.

That same year, Donald Wollheim, already a published author, began attending meetings of the Brooklyn Science Fiction League. Robert W. Lowndes was already there, as were John B. Michel and Frederik Pohl. As the Great Depression ground on, and "[h]aving no real prospects, Wollheim and his friends immersed themselves more and more deeply in the worlds of their imagination." (1) The four wrote poetry and fiction and printed their own fan magazines. Lowndes' contributions in that arena included a journal called Le Vombiteur, which commenced on December 1, 1938, with a statement of policy, followed by a contradictory disclaimer: "No statement of policy expressed either here or hereafter is to be taken as binding." (2) There was joshing and foolishness, in-jokes and nonsense. I suppose there was also preparation for professional writing and editing.

"For people of Lowndes's generation," Damon Knight wrote, "the Great Depression was something that had always existed; it was just the way things were." (3) Donald Wollheim, whose father was a doctor, thus a little better off than most, remembered:
The problem was psychological. The problem was that you had no future. I mean you were eighteen, nineteen, and there were absolutely no jobs, no openings, no anything. It was an endless futility--you knew what you wanted to do, but there wasn't a chance in the world. (4)
Times may have been hard, but would science fiction fandom have prospered were it not for the Depression? A generation of young men (and a few women) sat idle. Reading, writing, meetings, trips, conventions, and endless talk filled their days. Fandom and future writers were born from all that activity. Beyond that, science fiction gave those early fans a means of escape from a harsh reality--and hope for a better future. Their lives and their art were focused on that future.

On September 18, 1938, two weeks to the day after his twenty-second birthday, Robert W. Lowndes was on hand for the first meeting of The Futurians, a group of science fiction fans and budding writers. The charter members of the group were John B. Michel, Donald A. Wollheim, Rudolph Castown, Robert W. Lowndes, Frederik Pohl, Jack Rubinson, Walter Kubilis, Jack Gillespie, Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, and Herbert Levantman. In 1938, after nine long years, the Great Depression still had not receded. At the same time The Futurians were conducting their initial meetings, other meetings were taking place in Europe, meetings by which Hitler would be appeased, Czechoslovakia dismembered, and the seeds of war planted. But what is now called the Golden Age of Science Fiction had begun, and the members of The Futurians were on the cusp of new lives as professional authors and editors.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) From The Futurians by Damon Knight, p. 8.
(2) I can only assume that the title Le Vombiteur was a reference to Clark Ashton Smith's story "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," published in Weird Tales in May 1932.
(3) From The Futuriansp. 8.
(4) Quoted in The Futurians, p. 8.

Revised July 5, 2013.
Copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sammy Terry, RIP

Sammy Terry died again this week. No one knows how old he was. For anyone not from Indianapolis or central Indiana, Sammy Terry was the onscreen persona of Bob Carter, an actor and television personality in Indianapolis and Bloomington. From 1962 to 1989, Sammy hosted Nightmare Theater, a late-night television show that broadcast old horror movies from the studios of WTTV, Channel 4. When we were kids, Nightmare Theater was on Friday nights until late. Science Fiction Theater (which did not have a host but--if I remember right--played a jazzed-up version of "Dancing in the Darkness" as its theme) followed on Saturday nights. I can't count the number of classic (and not-so-classic) horror movies, monster movies, and science fiction movies I saw on those two shows.

Bob Carter was born on December 4, 1929. He arrived in Indianapolis in the late fifties or early sixties. Along with Janie, who showed early morning cartoons, and Cowboy Bob, who showed cartoons at lunchtime or in the afternoon, Mr. Carter, in the guise of Sammy Terry, became a fixture in his adopted home town. If you weren't scared by Sammy Terry and his ghoulish laughter (as my sister was), you most assuredly loved him, being as he was a part of your childhood. Bob Carter died on June 30, 2013, at age eighty-three. You can see his official website by clicking here.

RIP, Bob Carter and Sammy Terry.

I couldn't have asked for a better picture: Cowboy Bob, Janie, and Sammy Terry, together, probably signing autographs. I don't know the date or the occasion, but those look like Sharpies on the table, and Cowboy Bob is graying at the temples, so not contemporaneous with their respective shows. The current issue of Traces, the magazine of the Indiana Historical Society, has an article about the personalities from Channel 4.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Robert A.W. Lowndes (1916-1998)-Part 1

Aka Doc Lowndes
Author, Essayist, Poet, Reviewer, Editor
Born September 4, 1916, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Died July 14, 1998, Newport, Rhode Island

The original Weird Tales ran for 279 issues between 1923 and 1954. Sam Moskowitz revived the magazine in 1973-1974 for four issues approaching the original format. In 1980-1981, Lin Carter edited four more issues in a series of mass-market paperbacks. I haven't covered any of the authors from Lin Carter's Weird Tales until now. Robert A.W. Lowndes is the first.

Robert Ward Lowndes was born on September 4, 1916, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His father was Harry Irving Lowndes, an electrician by trade. Lowndes' mother was, I believe, Fanny R. Stevens Lowndes. That will be my assumption here. Fanny Lowndes died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. "At that point," Lowndes remembered,
my father, who was tremendously broken up, sort of disappeared; I was put in the care of various relatives, and for several years, until my father remarried, was shuttled from one to another. As a result, I never felt I belonged anywhere. (1)
In the 1920 census, Robert Lowndes was enumerated in the household of his wife's parents, Ward B. and Annie S. Stevens of Redding, Connecticut. (They had earlier lived in Stamford.) Harry I. Lowndes was then living in New York City. By 1930 the Lowndes family was back together. Harry Lowndes and his new wife, Naomi, shared their home with Robert and two of his half-siblings, Harry I. Junior and Ruth. They lived in Darien, Connecticut, throughout the 1930s.

In looking into the life of Robert A.W. Lowndes, you're faced with questions of names. Like I said, I believe Lowndes' mother was named Fanny R. Stevens. Her brother was named Robert, her father Ward. It's easy enough to assume that Robert Ward Lowndes was named after two of his mother's family members. So where did the "A" come from? According to Damon Knight, Lowndes became an Episcopalian in the 1960s and adopted the name Augustine, hence Robert A.W. Lowndes. Lowndes earned the nickname "Doc" from his friends when they learned that he had worked in a hospital, as a porter, in the late 1930s. 

Lowndes used other names as well, all in his writing, alone or in collaboration with others. His pseudonyms included (in addition to his own initials or combinations of initials and his surname): Doc Lowndes, Sir Doc Lowndes, Jacques DeForest Erman, S. D. Gottesman, Carol Grey, Carl Groener, Henry Josephs, Mallory Kent, Paul Dennis Lavond, Wilfred Owen Morley, Richard Morrison, Michael Sherman, Peter Michael Sherman, and Lawrence Woods.

Finally, I should point out that Ward (which sounds a lot like a surname used as a Christian name) and Stevens are two surnames associated with H.P. Lovecraft and his family. It makes me wonder now if Lowndes was related to Lovecraft, a writer he admired and with whom he corresponded, if only briefly.

"Damon Knight says that, as children, all we science fiction writers were toads." The quote is from Frederik Pohl (2), but note his use of the first person plural. You could argue that toadishness in science fiction writers doesn't end in childhood. Reportedly, Cyril Kornbluth didn't brush his teeth and they were in fact green. (A simple solution: brush your teeth.) Raymond Palmer was deformed in a childhood accident. According to Knight, Robert W. Lowndes was born prematurely and with a club foot. (As a child he wore a high shoe; his foot was partially corrected through surgery.) Knight continues:
Lowndes grew up awkward and ungainly, with buck teeth that embarrassed him and made his speech difficult. His arches fell when he was in high school, and it was years before he found out about arch supports. He lurched a good deal; it was not safe to walk beside him. He covered his insecurities with an affected aristocratic manner; I think he must have practiced his sneer in front of a mirror. (3)
After graduating high school, Lowndes served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and  attended Stamford Community College briefly before returning to the CCC. By the late 1930s, out on his own again, he was living in poverty, staying at the YMCA or sleeping in subways and eating by way of handouts from friends. But he was also writing science fiction stories and in contact with others who shared his interests, the group of New York science fiction fans called The Futurians.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) Quoted in The Futurians by Damon Knight (1977), p. 7.
(2) In The Way the Future Was (Ballantine, 1978), p. 2.
(3) From The Futurians, p. 7.

Original text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, July 1, 2013

Katherine Maclean (b. 1925) and Mary Kornbluth (1920-2007)

Katherine Maclean
Author
Born January 22, 1925, Glen Ridge, New Jersey

Mary Kornbluth
Née Mary G. Byers
Author, Editor
Born September 23, 1920, Clark County, Ohio
Died June 1, 2007, Florida

Katherine Maclean and Mary Kornbluth wrote one story for Weird Tales, "Chicken Soup" from the Winter 1973 issue under the editorship of Sam Moskowitz. Once again, I should have included Katherine Maclean in my list of "More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction." Her first published story was "Defense Mechanism" in Astounding Science Fiction for October 1949. Katherine is a much admired writer, especially for her talent of combining so-called "soft" sciences with the hard science fiction of the 1940s and '50s.

Her collaborator, Mary Kornbluth, was the wife of science fiction writer Cyril Kornbluth (1923-1958). Kornbluth also went by the name C.M. Kornbluth. According to Frederik Pohl, the "M" was for "Mary." Mary Kornbluth was born Mary G. Byers in Clark County, Ohio, on September 23, 1920. She was orphaned or abandoned by age nine and reared by her grandparents, Timothy A. and Anna T. Chaney, in Springfield, Ohio. The Chaney household was a large one and consisted of several uncles (who will figure in her story later) and an aunt who worked as a bookbinder at a local publishing house. Mary Byers became interested in science fiction at a young age and began corresponding with other science fiction fans. According to Damon Knight in his memoir, The Futurians, Mary showed up in New York City early in January 1941, aged twenty, and met Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, John B. Michel, Donald A. Wollheim, and Robert Lowndes before being fetched back to Ohio by her uncle. Mary Byers was not one to be kept down on the farm, however. She returned to New York later that year. Although a number of the Futurians were smitten by her, she married Cyril Kornbluth in 1943.

Frederik Pohl has written several entries about Mary Kornbluth on his blog, The Way the Future Blogs. You can begin reading about her by clicking here. You will learn soon enough that Mary Kornbluth and her husband Cyril struggled with alcohol abuse and that Cyril Kornbluth died impossibly young--aged thirty-four--of heart problems. With Pohl's help, Mary Kornbluth assembled a memorial anthology for her husband. Science Fiction Showcase, published in 1959, was the result. It included stories by Damon Knight, Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, James Blish, Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, Philip K. Dick, and Richard Matheson, and a poem by Robert Bloch. (Most of those writers also contributed to Weird Tales.) Pohl introduced the volume with an essay called "For C.M. Kornbluth." According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, "Chicken Soup" was Mary Kornbluth's only story.

Mary G. Byers Kornbluth lived nearly half a century as a widow. She died on June 1, 2007, in Florida at age eighty-six.

For Weird Tales
"Chicken Soup" (Winter 1973)

"Incommunicado," Katherine Maclean's third published science fiction story, made the cover of Astounding Science Fiction in June 1950. The artist was Miller. If you read science fiction from the 1950s, you might think how far off writers were in their predictions. Punch cards (or punch tape, as in this illustration) are now museum pieces. No one smokes anymore. Business is not conducted on paper. I think that desire for science fiction as a predictor misses the point. Science fiction puts the man or woman of today into a universe in which futuristic science and technology hold sway. The purpose is to see how he or she reacts, how people live. Likewise, any belief that human beings will somehow be magically transformed by the future--that there will be Utopia--is hopelessly naive. 
Missing Man, "A Science fiction novel by Nebula Award winner Katherine Maclean," was published in 1975 with cover art by Richard Powers. 
Mary Kornbluth served as editor of Science Fiction Showcase, a memorial to her husband, Cyril Kornbluth.  Here is the cover of the Curtis Books edition from 1969.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley