Friday, December 6, 2013

Alan Nelson (1911-1966)

Né James Alan Nelson
Author, Screenwriter
Born December 11, 1911, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Died September 9, 1966, San Francisco, California

In tracking down the writer Alan Nelson, I started with the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, which gives his dates as 1911-1966. From there, it was to Ancestry and the only man named Alan Nelson with the same dates. If that's the right man, then he was born on December 11, 1911, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to James W. Nelson (1873-1925), an agricultural agent and professor of agriculture, and Mary Blanche (Hayden) Nelson. Even as a child, James Alan Nelson went by his middle name, and he kept doing so even after his father's death in 1925.

Alan Nelson grew up in Oakland, California. In the 1940 census, he was an interviewer for the state employment agency. If this is our man, then he was thirty-two years old when his first story was published. And if the listing on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database is complete, then Alan Nelson's output was not large:
  • "Man in a Hurry" in Weird Tales (May 1944)
  • "Professor Pfaff's Last Recital" in Cosmopolitan (June 1946)
  • "Narapoia" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Apr. 1951)
  • "Cattivo" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Aug. 1951)
  • "The Gualcophone" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Aug. 1952)
  • "Soap Opera" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Apr. 1953)
  • "Silenzia" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Sept. 1953)
  • "The Shopdropper" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Jan. 1955) (1)
Despite their small number, Nelson's stories were reprinted repeatedly in book form. Alan Nelson is also credited as the writer of the teleplay for "The Horn" for the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow, broadcast on October 10, 1952, and featuring Franchot Tone, Stephen Elliott, and Barbara Joyce.

James Alan Nelson died on September 9, 1966, in San Francisco at age fifty-four.

Alan Nelson's Story in Weird Tales
"Man in a Hurry" (May 1944)

Further Reading
Alan Nelson's stories were collected in Doctor Departure and Others (Gryphon Books, 1989) with cover art by Brad W. Foster and an introduction by Gary Lovisi. That book is the place to start if you want to know more about Alan Nelson. Unfortunately I don't have access to it and can't say with certainty that I have the right Alan Nelson.

(1) Note the two Italian titles, "Cattivo" (badevil, or naughty) and "Silenzia" (mutes [?]). I don't want to make too much of it, but there could be some connection to a man who lived in Oakland, which was known for its Italian population. Update (Oct. 4, 2017: Alan Nelson in fact married an Italian woman, Gina Maria Bin (1919-1973) in 1951 in San Francisco.

Updated: October 4, 2017
Text and captions copyright 2013, 2017 Terence E. Hanley


  1. I noticed that Wildside Press just recently published for Kindle: 'Man in a Hurry and other Fantasy Stories' which has all the stories you mentioned, plus a few more. It also has an introduction by Gary Lovisi.