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 . . .

(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

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to the continuation of this. Lowndes' Magazine of Horror and its companion titles did much in the late 1960s to give me access to the golden-age tellers of Weird Tales long before so many of their stories became popular with the paperback anthologists of the '70s and later.

    Lowndes' magazines had character. He provided most of the key details of the stories he was reprinting from WT and elsewhere. Additionally, he would often include more info and perceptive comment in replies to the readers' letters he published.

    Just last month I published an ebook, Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales. In its introduction Lowndes is mentioned more than once, my two stories being very much in the tradition of the original WT. One story, Black Art in Vyones is set in Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne. I quoted what Lowndes had to say about pastiches: “Pastiches may be burlesques, spoofs, or works of sincere appreciation.” My one is the last, although not without the touches of black humor in which CAS himself indulged.

    Another of my favorite quotes from the always-perceptive Lowndes is this: "...styles of writing, presentation, etc., change; and of course the young reader who wants to be completely modern and up to date in everything becomes super-sensitive to stories that other people might say are old-fashioned. Unfortunately, this is the sort of reader who is likely to make most noise -- write frequent letters to the editor -- while a much larger section of the readers may be neither afraid nor ashamed to recognize and enjoy a good story just because it does not conform to the latest fashions and fads in writing. Nor again do most readers feel compelled to define 'good story' according to the 'party line' of the latest trends. But they aren't the noisy ones!"

    Lowndes wrote that way back in 1969, but it's just as pertinent today if not more so. Reprints of genuine WT stories at this late stage are invariably of ones that the fan base has already seen before, while much of the new material purported to be in the tradition of the venerable "unique" magazine just isn't. I hope some of the real aficionados of WT will give my small ebook a try; it's just 99c at Amazon and can be read on a PC if you haven't a Kindle.
    -- Keith Chapman