Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Before the Golden Age-Lloyd Arthur Eshbach

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach
Science Fiction Fan, Author, Publisher, Salesman, Pastor
Born June 20, 1910, Palm, Pennsylvania
Died October 29, 2003, Myerstown, Pennsylvania

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach was born on June 20, 1910, in Palm, Pennsylvania, and grew up in nearby Reading. He started reading science fiction at the golden age of fifteen and read the first issue of Amazing Stories, published in 1926. Eshbach sold the third science fiction story he ever wrote to Science Wonder Stories in 1929. (1) He began collecting science fiction magazines in the 1920s and wrote letters to them as early as 1930. That early fan activity qualified him for membership in First Fandom, an association formed in 1959 among those who had been active in science fiction fandom since before January 1, 1938, in other words, before the Golden Age. The name of the organization refers to Olaf Stapledon's novel Last and First Men, another example of science fiction's claim to the British philosopher. (2)

Eshbach wrote a number of stories and poems published in science fiction magazines from the 1930s to the 1950s. His publishing career began in the early 1930s with two magazines, Marvel Tales and The Galleon. He continued in publishing after World War II with the founding of Fantasy Press in 1946. If Wikipedia's list of books published by Fantasy Press is correct, the first and last books under that imprint were by E.E. "Doc" Smith. Other authors included some of whom I have written these past few days, Arthur Leo Zagat, Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, and Stanton A. Coblentz. Eshbach also issued Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing (1947), the first book about the writing of science fiction, written by science fiction authors. Another first attributed to Eshbach: the term speculative fiction, co-created with Robert Heinlein.

Be warned: L. Ron Hubbard is about to rear his ugly head again, this time in relationship to the author at hand. In his memoirs, Over My Shoulder: Reflections on a Science Fiction Era (1982), Lloyd Arthur Eshbach reported that Hubbard told him, "I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is," in 1949. (3) "Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science" appeared in Astounding Science Fiction and in book form the following year. Coincidentally or not, 1950 is cited as the end date of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. 

John W. Campbell, Jr., editor of Astounding, endorsed Dianetics. That endorsement could only have hurt the cause of hard science fiction. But did science fiction fans who had so recently expressed hostility towards The Shaver Mystery have anything at all to say about Dianetics? John W. Campbell, Theodore Sturgeon, and A.E. van Vogt were involved in Dianetics in varying degrees from the beginning. But did Raymond Palmer win any well-known authors over to his twin mysteries, The Shaver Mystery and The Flying Saucer Mystery? Or were they too incredulous? (4) Compare the reputations of John W. Campbell and Raymond Palmer. Which is the god and which is the goat, at least in the minds of some science fiction fans? Say what you will about Raymond Palmer, at least he knew when he was peddling nonsense.

Speaking of religion . . . after 1958, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach was a publisher of religious material, a salesman for the Moody Bible Institute, and a pastor in the Evangelical Congregational Church. That church was founded in and based in Eshbach's home state of Pennsylvania. Its members are mostly of German descent. That may explain why the German Wikipedia entry on Eshbach is longer and more informative than the English version. Later in life, Eshbach returned to writing science fiction. His last book published within his own lifetime was The Scroll of Lucifer (1990). Lloyd Arthur Eshbach died on October 29, 2003, in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, at the age of ninety-three.

For Weird Tales
"Isle of the Undead" (Oct. 1936)
"The City of Dread" (Summer 1983) (5)

(1) This according to Wikipedia. However, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database doesn't seem to list a story published before 1930.
(2) Lest you think First Fandom is bound to get smaller year by year, there are other categories of membership to allow for fans from after 1938.
(3) Eshbach wasn't the only witness to statements like that coming from the inventor of Dianetics and Scientology. Theodore Sturgeon was also supposed to have been present at the birth of the idea, as were--by different accounts--Robert A. Heinlein and Harlan Ellison.
(4) Donald E. Keyhoe and Wilma Dorothy Vermilyea, aka Millen Cooke, believed in flying saucers. Millen Cooke wrote for Palmer's science fiction titles during the 1950s. Neither Keyhoe nor Cooke was a well-known science fiction author, however.
(5) Eshbach is the first author of whom I have written to be published in the 1980s revival of Weird Tales.

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach wrote one story for the original Weird Tales and it made the cover in October 1936.  I can't tell whether the nude figure on J. Allen St. John's cover is a man or a woman. If it's a man, he would have been a rarity on the cover of Weird Tales if not pulp magazines in general. Either way, St. John should have worked on his draftsmanship a little harder.
Although his byline was on the cover, Eshbach's tale for Wonder Story Annual in 1952 wasn't the cover story. Alex Schomburg was the cover artist however, and that's enough for me. 
Tyrant of Time, one of Eshbach's books for his own Fantasy Press. Note the robot at the press as the logo.
The motif of the printing press returned on the cover of Eshbach's memoirs, Over My Shoulder.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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