Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Before the Golden Age-Orlin Frederick

Orlin Frederick
Pseudonym of Frederick Orlin Tremaine
Aka F. Orlin Tremaine, Orlin Tremaine, Warner Van Lorne
Editor, Publisher, Author, Poet
Born January 7, 1899, Harrisville, New York
Died October 22, 1956, Glens Falls, New York

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is said to have taken place between 1938 and 1950, the first dozen years of John W. Campbell's tenure at Astounding Science-Fiction. (1) Orlin Frederick is the last of the authors on my current list to have been published before that Golden Age commenced. (2) He would have differed as to its beginning date. In the book A Requiem for Astounding (1964), Frederick, otherwise known as Frederick Orlin Tremaine, wrote: "I believe we can safely call the years 1933-37 the first golden age of science fiction. It came alive in those years and laid a foundation for much of its present popularity as a story medium." (3)

Tremaine must have had good reason for making that claim. I won't argue with him. Claims of firsts and claims of golden ages are easy to make when historical facts are few or where opinion holds sway. It's worth noting however that the years Tremaine cited as "the first golden age of science fiction" were also the years during which he was editor of Astounding Stories, retitled Astounding Science-Fiction by his successor, the revered John W. Campbell, Jr., when Campbell took over in 1938.

Lovecraft fans owe Tremaine a special debt for his publication of At the Mountains of Madness (serialized in Feb.-Apr. 1936) and The Shadow Out of Time (June 1936). Lovecraft was less kindly in his opinion of the editor of Astounding for changes made to the original stories. Those two novellas however have come through as among the finest of Lovecraft's work. Maybe Tremaine wasn't so far off the mark when he claimed precedence in the battle of the golden ages.

Frederick Orlin Tremaine was born on January 7, 1899, in Harrisville, New York. He was descended from a Revolutionary War veteran, and, no, it wasn't Johnny Tremain. Rather, Tremaine's esteemed ancestor was Abner Treman (1761-1823), a long-serving enlisted man in Massachusetts and New York. His unit served with General Anthony Wayne in the attack on Stony Point. After the close of the war and after five years and two months of service, Treman separated as a sergeant major with a Badge of Merit and a grant of 600 acres of land in New York. A long line of Tremans and Tremaines followed Abner Treman. They included Frederick Orlin Tremaine's father, Reverend DeWitt Charles Tremaine, who authored a book called Church Efficiency: A Study of Practical Methods, published in 1914. Like his ancestor, Tremaine served when his country called: he was a veteran of World War I.

Tremaine began his career in 1920 as an editor of the magazine Torch. He followed that with editorships at Brain Power (1921-1924), True Story (1924), Smart Set (1924-1926), True Romances, Metropolitan, Miss 1929, and Everybody's Magazine. Tremaine declared bankruptcy in September 1932. Astounding Stories went into arrears a few months later, then reemerged in October 1933 with Tremaine as editor, although his name wasn't revealed until the December issue. Added to his workload were duties as editor of a whole line of Street and Smith magazines: Clues, Top-Notch, Cowboy Stories, and Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer.

In addition to publishing Lovecraft's work, Tremaine introduced Jack Williamson's Legion of Space series, continued Doc Smith's Skylark series, and brought C.L. Moore to Astounding in October 1934. (She would continue to see her work published in Weird Tales until 1939.) Tremaine helped in the transition from space opera to true science fiction with his "thought variant" concept, introduced in December 1933. His claim to the first golden age seems to be getting stronger as I write.

L. Sprague de Camp and Eric Frank Russell were among the authors who were first published in Tremaine's Astounding. Another young writer taken under the wing of the magazine's editor was Don A. Stuart, pseudonym of John W. Campbell, Jr. Stuart made his mark with a number of stories published in the mid to late thirties in Astounding. "Twilight" (Nov. 1934) was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in the early 1970s. "Who Goes There?" (Aug. 1938) received a similar honor and has been adapted to film three times, beginning with The Thing from Another World (1951). In October 1937, Stuart--as Campbell--began as editor of Astounding under Tremaine. Campbell assumed full editorship in May 1938. And then the Golden Age of Science Fiction began.

Out on his own again, F. Orlin Tremaine formed his own publishing company, in business from 1939 to 1942 and publisher of Comet, a science fiction magazine, 1940-1941. During the war years he edited Plus magazine and later government manuals for the armed forces. Bartholomew House, where Tremaine was also an editor, published the first paperback editions of works by H.P. Lovecraft, The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth (1944) and The Dunwich Horror (1945). A final credit for Tremaine as editor: Southerner magazine.

Tremaine was not only an editor and publisher but also a writer and poet. His first fantasy fiction was "The Throwback," published in Weird Tales in October 1926 under the name Orlin Frederick. He also had stories published in Fantastic Adventures, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and other magazines. He was a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Washington Press Club. After a long illness, Frederick Orlin Tremaine died at Westmount Sanitorium in Glens Falls, New York, on October 22, 1956. He was only fifty-seven years old.

(1) Nineteen thirty-eight was also the year in which Raymond A. Palmer assumed the helm at Amazing Stories and in which Short Stories, Inc., acquired Weird Tales magazine and moved its offices to New York City.
(2) Update (June 5, 2013): I have my chronology mixed up a little bit here. Anthony Boucher, subject of a later posting, was published in Weird Tales in 1927. I should have written about him first. Serendipitously, though, I have written first about Tremaine--who initiated the Golden Age by taking on John W. Campbell as an editor at Astounding--then about Anthony Boucher, who--in publishing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction beginning in 1950--brought about the end of the Golden Age by some kind of faulty logic not his own.
(3) p. xvii.

For Weird Tales
"The Throwback" (as by Orlin Frederick, Oct. 1926)

The cover of Astounding Stories for December 1933, the first issue in which F. Orlin Tremaine received credit as editor and the issue in which Tremaine announced a new editorial policy: the inclusion of a "thought variant" story. "Our purpose," Tremaine wrote, "is to bring to you each month one story carrying a new and unexpected 'thought variant' in the field of scientific fiction. This month you will find it in 'Ancestral Voices' by Nat Schachner. It carries a thought which has been slurred over or passed by in many, many stories."

The thought variant in Schachner's story has to do with time travel and the question: "What happens when one goes back in time and for some reason kills one's own direct ancestor?" The question is in the words of Alva Rogers from his book, A Requiem for Astounding. Rogers concludes his discussion thus: "[T]his was a remarkable story and one of the first of the sociologically oriented type science fiction that dominated the forties." If that's true, then F. Orlin Tremaine can chalk up another development in science fiction in his favor.

Nat Schachner's story was both forward looking and timely. Adolf Hitler had ascended to power earlier that year and was then in the process of building his Third Reich. Alva Rogers wrote: "Schachner attempted in this story to show the imbecility of ancestor worship, but more importantly the fallacy of the rising Hitlerian anti-Semitism and doctrine of Nordic superiority." The ancestor who is killed in the story is a Hun, hence the image of Rome in flames on the cover. The "Huns" were also the enemy during World War I, a fact that would have been fresh in the memories of veterans like Nathan Schachner. (The cover artist was Howard V. Brown.)

I can't help but see an application of Alva Rogers' question to a current news item involving Chelsea Clinton and her great grandparents. It makes you wonder: Do people think about the things they say before saying them? Do they heed the need for F. Orlin Tremaine's "thought variant," or of carrying their thoughts to a logical conclusion? Not, I suppose, when ideology trumps reason.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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