Sunday, November 20, 2022

Two Recent Losses--and Recent Gains

These losses have nothing to do with fantasy, science fiction, or weird fiction, but I would rather not let them go by without notice. Thoughts of them lead into further thoughts and speculations.

* * *

First, jazz musician Pharoah Sanders died on September 24, 2022. He was eighty-one years old. In listening to his music, one has ineffable feelings about human life and pain, intimations of suffering, melancholy, joy, triumph, and spiritual transcendence. I am saddened that he is gone.

Second, Gal Costa died on November 9, 2022, at age seventy-seven. She was a Brazilian singer of great sensitivity and charm. Although she was part of the Tropicália movement in her native country, she and her music came out of a slightly older Bossa Nova movement. Her death is also a very sad occasion.

* * *

The phrase bossa nova literally means "new wave" or "new trend" in Portuguese. It was first used in reference to a new musical style in Brazil in the late 1950s. At around the same time in France, cinéastes were involved in a movement called the New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague in French. (1) Shortly after that--all of this seems to have happened in about a two- or three-year period--the term New Wave was applied to science fiction written by British authors and published in the magazine New Worlds. There were American authors of New Wave science fiction, too. By the 1970s, the wave had either subsided or washed over and become a part of a greater science fiction. After a few years, new things aren't new anymore.

Although most people are temperamentally conservative, we also like new things. Newness must have been a hard-driving force in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We can speculate that it had to do with demographics, or populations finally beginning to recover from nightmares of world war. Coincidentally, the idea that science fiction might be dying also came up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Maybe old waves were drawing back as new ones were rolling in.

There has been at least one effort to revive the new waves of the past. That sounds like a contradiction to me. It sounds like the workings of nostalgia, an attempted return to past glories and not at all a progressive or innovative thing. Call it quixotic. Maybe even silly. Alternatively, it might be considered ambitious--or hubristic. We puff ourselves up by imagining that we have made or discovered new things. There's an awful lot of that in this world. Anyway, that new return to the old past is a so-called "New Weird." The term itself first appeared in print in 2002. I suspect it is meant to evoke memory of or an association with the New Wave in science fiction, right down to the initial assonance and monosyllabic construction of the words weird and wave. (In order for it to happen, weird had to be turned back into a noun: another return to the past.) Former editor of Weird Tales magazine Ann Kennedy VanderMeer and her husband Jeff VanderMeer are or were champions of the "New Weird." In 2008, they published an anthology called just that, The New Weird.

Two thousand two was twenty years ago. Two thousand eight was fourteen years ago. What was new then isn't any more. So is there still such a thing as the "New Weird"? Was there ever? Or could it have been an imitation--or a conceit, a self-conscious conceit at that? I can't say. I haven't read any authors of the "New Weird" unless Thomas Ligotti is one of them. I certainly haven't read any literary criticism or any real literary theory behind any of it. I wonder if there are such things. And I wonder if the term New Weird gained any traction at all outside of a small, or medium-sized, circle of writers and editors.

New things are generally made by young people. João Gilberto was still in his twenties when he made his breakthrough as what Antônio Carlos Jobim called "O Baiano bossa-nova." Gal Costa began singing professionally at age eighteen. She was not yet twenty-three when the seminal album Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis was released. Pharoah Sanders made his first record at twenty-four. There are examples after examples. Young people are new in the world. They literally are a new wave. Their elders are less often innovators. Although many of the writers and editors of the "New Weird" were still young adults at the turn of the last century, they are now in middle age.

One of the complications for their generation--Generation X--is that they are outnumbered not only by the generation above them but also by the one below them. Maybe Generation X didn't have all of the opportunities to distinguish themselves that other generations have had. Maybe they didn't have much of a chance to thrive. Then again, maybe that's just bellyaching and excuse-making. Remember that in the 1980s and '90s, Generation X were referred to as the "Slacker Generation."

There's another thing to consider, though, for Generation X is unique in American history. (3) That uniqueness comes from a historical event that came halfway through their generation, possibly at the exact midpoint. Before that, things were normal. After that, all hell broke loose. What happened is that Generation X became prey. Call them instead the Truncated Generation, for millions of their cohorts--their brothers and sisters, their friends, classmates, and coworkers, their lovers, husbands, and wives--were eliminated, tipped in pieces into an enamel pan. Moloch had returned and for decades reigned supreme--until this year. The Truncated Generation were the first to be born into the Moloch State and first to bear the brunt of its murderous violence, its aggressions and depredations. Growing up, they must have been aware of their narrow escape. Is it any wonder, then, that their art is so dark, negative, violent, pessimistic, and nihilistic? That they would create or revive something they have called the "New Weird" in which, apparently, there is an underlying anti-life, anti-human, and anti-child philosophy?

As the wise man of Ecclesiastes wrote, there is nothing new under the sun. One of the claims of the "New Weird"--one of its claims to newness, I think--is that it subverts and combines and mixes the conventional genres and sub-genres that exist under the general heading of fantasy. One thing to consider here is that those conventions may have formed, or at least hardened, during the pulp era. Likewise, the genres and sub-genres of fantasy fiction were drawn apart during that same era and during the paperback era that succeeded it. Before the pulp era, there weren't really conventions within individual genres and sub-genres because those categories had not yet been separated from each other, nor had they been named, described, delineated, or formalized in their conventions. In other words, if there is innovation in the "New Weird," it may just be in the putting back together of things that were drawn apart before living memory began. Proponents of the "New Weird" as both new and a thing unto itself should also consider the fictions and metafictions of writers like Jorge Luis Borges, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut. Could it all have been done before?

Beyond all of that theorizing, there is this question: Where is there left in this world--in our society or in our culture--to make anything new? Technology still leaves us with openings, I guess, and so there appear to be remaining possibilities in science fiction. There are also still openings made by human depravity, which knows no limits. We are witnesses every day to its advances. It runs ahead of us, in fact, each step carrying it, and us, into new territory. Maybe that leaves possibilities for weird fiction, too.


(1) There is a current French pop group called Nouvelle Vague. One of the primary figures in the original Nouvelle Vague, French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, died just this year, on September 13, 2022. He was ninety-one years old.

(2) Many years ago, I met two British birders at a state park in California. They were of an age that they could remember in the early 1960s playing on piles of rubble in London made by the Blitz.

(3) Unique until now anyway, but this new uniqueness goes in the opposite direction. It will be years or decades before we understand just where it goes.

* * *

We're now in the week ahead of Thanksgiving. I write on Saturday, November 19, 2022. It was a cold day today, but sunny. I was out and about. In my very small part of the world, I saw people who seem happy, positive, cheerful, and energetic. Terrible things have fallen behind us this year and we can be happy again now that they're gone. Let us give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving

to the Readers of

Tellers of Weird Tales!

* * *

There was a lot of Americanized bossa nova during the 1960s and '70s, and there are lots of Anglo names on this record cover from 1968. But there is also the name of the great Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida (1917-1995), who, as it so happens, played on an episode of Star Trek in which the late Nichelle Nichols sang "Beyond Antares." To hear influences of Brazilian music on American (and Canadian) popular music, listen to "Undun" by The Guess Who (1969) and "At Seventeen" by  Janis Ian (1975). I have posted this image for its expression: Viva Bossa Nova! 

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Caleb B. Laning (1906-1991)

U.S. Navy Officer, Technical Advisor, Teacher, Writer

Born March 27, 1906, Kansas City, Missouri

Died May 31, 1991, Falls Church, Virginia

Robert Heinlein's friend Cal Laning has come up more than once in this blog. You can find plenty of biographical information on him on the Internet, but it isn't all in one place. And most of what you will find is about his very illustrious naval career--or his death. There is far less on his involvement in science fiction. That information is scattered, too. I'd like to put some of it together here.

Presumably named for his paternal grandfather, Caleb Barrett Laning was born on March 27, 1906, in Kansas City, Missouri, to Levin Dirickson Laning and Jessie Inez (Butt) Laning. For those who know something about the family of John W. Campbell, Jr., there is the birth of a child named Randazzo recorded on the same page as Laning's birth. Sometimes you come upon some very strange coincidences.

Cal Laning graduated from Westport High School in Kansas City in 1924 and attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis from 1924 to 1929. One of his classmates--and his friend--was Robert A. Heinlein. Both men graduated in 1929, and both were commissioned as ensigns. Laning remained in the Navy throughout the 1930s, in fact throughout his career. Heinlein on the other hand was discharged in 1934 for ill health. Would he have become one of the great science fiction authors if it had not been for a case of tuberculosis? Although what-if questions are a staple of science fiction, they are unanswerable in real life.

In January 1932, Laning introduced his girlfriend Leslyn MacDonald to Heinlein. Heinlein proceeded to take her way and marry her. No hard feelings, I guess: Heinlein and Laning remained friends and even collaborated later in life. In fact there is a fifty-year record of their correspondence with each other. We should see those letters, but I can't say where they are or who controls them. The Heinleins, on the other hand, were married for just sixteen years, from 1932 to 1948, and a good deal of that wasn't very happy.

As a Navy man, Laning specialized in microwave radio, radar, electronics, and communications. As executive officer assigned to the destroyer USS Conyngham (DD-371), Laning was there during the attack on Pearl Harbor and helped to fight back against the Japanese. He continued in combat during World War II, participating in the battles of Midway and Leyte Gulf, as well as the campaign for New Guinea. For his actions as commander of the destroyer USS  Hutchins  (DD-476) at the Battle of Surigao Straits, he received the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest award for valor. Laning also twice received the Legion of Merit, as well as the Gold Star. He was promoted to captain late in the war and to rear admiral afterwards. His headstone refers to service in Korea, too, but I don't have anything on that. Laning's last assignment was as chief of communications for NATO forces in Southern Europe. He retired in 1959, afterwards working for Lockheed Electronics Company and System Development Corporation.

In regards to Cal Laning's involvement in science fiction and science fiction-based developments in the real world, I have three items from two sources on the Internet. First, from the French-language version of Wikipedia:

  • Laning "actively campaigned for the transformation of the US Navy into a 'space navy' and, from 1945, for a first unmanned lunar mission."
  • "Always passionate about science fiction, he is [sic] an active member of the Trap Door Spiders, model of Isaac Asimov's the Black Widowers."

Founded by Fletcher Pratt, the Trap Door Spiders were a writer's club active in New York City from 1944 until the 1990s. Other members included Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, George O. Smith, and Theodore Sturgeon.

Second, from the English-language version of Wikipedia:

  • "Laning was involved in the development of the U.S. naval Combat Information Center (CIC) during World War II. The idea was taken 'specifically, consciously, and directly' from the spaceship Directrix in the Lensman novels of E. E. Smith, Ph.D., and influenced by the works of his friend, collaborator, and Naval Academy classmate, fellow Missourian Robert Heinlein, but for bureaucratic reasons the source of the idea was not disclosed." 

Both sources provide documentation, but I don't have access to those original sources.

Cal Laning is also in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb) with two credits:

  • "Flight into the Future," a piece of nonfiction written with Robert A. Heinlein and published in Collier's magazine for August 30, 1947.
  • "System in the Sky," also with Robert A. Heinlein, a sequel to "Flight into the Future" but not put into print until 2011 in The Nonfiction of Robert Heinlein: Volume I.

I haven't read either of these articles. Judging from a letter to the editor of the Bridgewater, New Jersey, Courier-News (Sept. 3, 1947, p. 18), submitted by Herbert M. Merrill (1871-1956), I have the impression that "Flight into the Future" involves the kind of peace-from-above theme common in a certain brand of idealistic and progressive science fiction from H.G. Wells to The Day the Earth Stood StillHere's an article implying a different angle:

(From the Marysville [Ohio] Journal-Tribune, August 22, 1947, page 1. This was actually a syndicated article that went out to newspapers all across America.)

Laning wrote on technical subjects during and after his naval career. According to an article in the Washington Post, published after his death, Laning also wrote unpublished science fiction. At his death, Laning's occupation was, again, writer.

I have one more point about "Flight into the Future," this one regarding the historical context of its publication. Laning and Heinlein's article was published at the end of August 1947. Less than three weeks later, on September 18, 1947, the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947 took effect. These included the establishment of the Department of Defense, the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the U.S. military, and the establishment of the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Conspiracy theorists should note that the summer during which our national security apparatus changed began on June 24, 1947, when the first flying saucers appeared in the skies over America.

Having lost his wife, with his own health in decline and not wanting to go through what she had gone through at the end, Rear Admiral Caleb B. Laning, USN (ret.) died by suicide on May 31, 1991, in Falls Church, Virginia. In doing so, he made a return to the past, for he shot himself while standing in a boat, using the same pistol his mother had used to kill herself more than seventy years before. Cal Laning was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. One final, terrible irony: his place of death is recorded as a hospital on Gallows Road.

Further Reading

"Decorated Rear Adm. Caleb B. Laning Dies" in the Washington Post, June 8, 1991.

"The Story of One Man's Decision" by Laning Pepper Thompson in the Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1991.

Collier's, August 30, 1947, with cover art by Stan Ekman (1913-1998).

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Literary Circles & Literary Cults

Robert A. Heinlein was such a good and prolific writer and such a full and interesting figure that it will be a long time before the subjects of him and his work are finally worn out. It's fitting that there is a literary society devoted to him. As an English major first time around, I would like to see literary societies devoted to just about anybody.

In reading about Heinlein, I get the sense that he is one of those figures of whom criticism may be considered impermissible, at least in certain circles and on certain topics. There are certain things we're just not allowed to say in regards to him, one of which is that the failure of his second marriage may have been equally his fault as his wife's. And who knows about his first marriage? That was so brief and so long ago that everything from it and everything about it is probably lost.

There are other figures that are similarly considered unassailable. The Islamic Prophet is one. He is believed by his followers, I think, to have been the perfect man. A long time ago, I heard a tall-haired, cigarette-voiced women say the same thing about Elvis. One question that might arise here: If those two men were in a cage match, who would win?

Anyway, Edgar Rice Burroughs is probably in the category of untouchable or unassailable authors. His fans won't permit us to say that he was a pretty lousy writer. Great imagination. Great worlds. But not fully human characters and a terrible writing style. Philip José Farmer is another author with his very devoted fan base. Every year, FarmerCon is held in conjunction with PulpFest. Yes, there is a FarmerCon. I have talked to the men at the Farmer table. Maybe it should be called FarmerTable. I have never read anything by Farmer, though, and so I have nothing to say about his writing. Even if I wanted to say something, and if it were not very favorable, his followers might very well go ballistic. Or since we're talking about Farmer here, maybe that should be ball-istic. But that's only if they could muster enough of the non-science fiction fan's masculinity and vigor to defend themselves and their opinions.

(There's a lot of crossover between science fiction and rock music. Both are led by artists, and the artists have their devoted followers. A lot of rock musicians have been keen on science fiction and have created science-fictional music and science-fictional concept albums. That's a topic for another day, though. One difference between rockers and science fiction fans is that rockers tend to be more vigorous and masculine. For example, Pete Townshend, the true inventor of the Internet by the way, might have been a beanpole when he was young, but that didn't stop him from hitting Roger Daltrey with his guitar. And Roger might be a shrimp, but he still knocked out Pete with one punch. Remember that a famous logo for The Who includes the spear-and-shield symbol of masculinity. [It's hidden in the illustration below.] One of my favorite scenes from The Who's performance at Woodstock is when Pete tells some bearded Marxist freak eff off my effing stage! and then hits him with his guitar. That's how we all ought to respond to these people. Eff off our effing stage! Wham!)

There are women writers in the category of those we're not really allowed to criticize. Virginia Woolf may be one of them. I have a friend whose son was forced to read To the Lighthouse in high school. Imagine being a boy and being tortured in such a way. Don't make them read Virginia Woolf. Let them be boys. Let them read--well, Heinlein. I have a feeling, though, that it is impermissible to say such things. After all, Heinlein and all high school boys are fully charged with toxic masculinity. They are part of a patriarchy that must be smashed. These things have to be gotten rid of. We must read women writers. We must begin with Virginia Woolf.

Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling have their devoted fans. There is practically a religion built around The Handmaid's Tale. But neither one of these women is considered untouchable, for both are feminists in the original sense of the word. They're both for, you know, women. And because of that, they must be cancelled, silenced, and erased, the things that, incidentally, women accuse men of doing to women. Women cancelling women. Women silencing women. Women erasing women. Who'd have thunk it? By the way, when I use the words men and women, I mean them in the sense of men and women.

The case of J.K. Rowling reminds me of that of H.P. Lovecraft. When it comes to these two writers, many fans would like to throw out the baby and keep the bathwater. They would rather that Rowling's and Lovecraft's books and stories be anonymous, like the books of the Old Testament, than tolerate the fact that someone has ideas different from their own, or, like Lovecraft, that he has flaws and is therefore human. (Or vice versa.) A reference to babies here is apt.

I don't sense that there are similar circles around writers such as Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury. (In fact, criticism of Bradbury sometimes seems fashionable.) Maybe it's because they and authors like them did not in their corpus of work create fully realized political, historical, sociological, sexual, or religious systems or worlds. And maybe that's the key: the author who may not be criticized is the same author who creates complete worlds of fantasy into which the reader and fan may fully escape, away from the real world, into the fantastic, where the reader and fan is not frustrated and his life not spoiled, where self-fulfillment, exercises of power, realization of meaning, and even spiritual salvation are possible. Remember here that fan is short for fanatic.

Isaac Asimov may have his circle of defenders or believers. If there is such a circle, some of it would seem lighthearted, as Dr. Asimov seems to have been. Some of it, though, appears more serious, in a cultish kind of way. I think that part has to do with the quasi-Marxism of his psychohistory concept. As we know from critical theory, Marx and his acolytes must never be criticized and everything they do must be tolerated. In contrast, their opponents must not be tolerated and criticism of them and their ideas must be relentless. That might be taking a discussion of Asimov and his psychohistory too far, but remember that we have a weird, scruffy, usually wrong, leftist, Nobel Prize-winning economist who has followed the good doctor in his ideas.

L. Ron Hubbard has his circles of defenders, followers, and believers, but his circles are not literary but something else entirely. They will defend his stories and his writing, but what they're really defending is a belief in their leader. He was-is after all perfect, having purged himself of engrams and raised himself to the eleventieth level of transcendence. So maybe here there are similarities between Hubbard and Heinlein. Maybe one way of looking at the problem of Leslyn MacDonald and her marriage to Robert Heinlein is to see her as a kind of suppressive person. We just don't speak of her--at least in a very favorable way--even though her husband said of her:

Mrs. Heinlein and I are in almost complete collaboration on everything. She never signs any of the stories, but I do better if she's there.

There are of course differences between Hubbard and Heinlein. Maybe you could say that the cult of Heinlein, if there is such a thing, is secular, whereas the cult of Hubbard is pseudo-religious. Also, nobody has ever died because of someone else's faith in and devotion to Heinlein.

Heinlein has his detractors to be sure. He once ran for public office as a Democrat. Now people call him a rightwing kook, a nut job, a fascist. They despise him and never fail to get worked up over him and what he wrote. Some of them seem to suffer from a kind of Heinlein Derangement Syndrome (HDS). They should realize that that's not a good look. The flaw here is that, like his circle of fiercest defenders, sufferers of HDS can't seem to manage thinking about Heinlein and his writings in a dispassionate way. Instead they let their feelings get in the way of their judgment. I guess I have two pieces of advice for people like that: First, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. Second, like Duke Ellington said about music, if it sounds good, it is good. An extension to that might be that no human being is entirely good or entirely bad and nothing that any human being has ever made is perfect. Except for Elvis, we are all imperfect. We are all flawed. That includes Robert A. Heinlein, in his personal life and in everything he ever wrote. In short, in your reading, be even, be discerning, be judicious. If it's good, it's good, and if it's not, it's not. And it doesn't matter who wrote it.

Lifehouse, a multimedia, rock-music-and-science-fiction project created by Pete Townshend inside and outside The Who. Art by James Harvey for Heavy Metal, a project announced for publication in 2020 but maybe not published after all? Note the cables and feeds coming from the lighthouse and into every head.

Pete Townshend and recording equipment, an image that echoes a photograph of James Burke that I posted the other day. Photograph by Chris Morphet / Redferns, originally in The Rolling Stone, February 15, 1969. Again, note the cables and feeds. I do not have rights to either of these images and have reproduced them here under the doctrine of fair use. I will remove them at the request of the copyright holders.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Husbands & Wives-Part Four

Robert Anson Heinlein was born on July 7, 1907, in Butler, Missouri. Like his contemporary Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), he was inspired by the sight of Halley's Comet in the night skies of 1910. Both were only toddlers when they saw the comet. Of the two, only Heinlein lived long enough to see it again. (Did he?)

Heinlein attended Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was a lieutenant colonel in the ROTC, president of the Officer's Club, president of the Shakespeare Literary Society, and captain of the affirmative debate team. One reason for his joining the debate team: he hoped it would help him overcome his stammer.

Heinlein graduated from Central High School in 1924 and from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929. He served in the Navy from 1929 until 1934, when he was discharged for ill health. On June 21, 1929, shortly after graduating from the Naval Academy, Heinlein married Elinor Leah Curry (1907-1988) of Kansas City. The place was Platte City, Missouri. The couple were divorced a little more than a year later, on October 15, 1930, in Jackson County, Missouri. (1)

In January 1932, Heinlein was introduced to the woman who would soon become is second wife, this by his Navy friend Cal Laning (later Rear Admiral Caleb B. Laning, USN). She was Laning's girl, but Heinlein took her to bed with him that first night. Her mother announced their engagement at a "smart tea" at the bride-to-be's home on February 28, 1932. (2) She and Heinlein were married a month later, on March 28, 1932. The name of Heinlein's new bride was Leslyn MacDonald. (3)

Born on August 29, 1904, in Boston, Massachusetts, Leslyn MacDonald was a graduate of the University of California, Southern Branch, later known as the University of California, Los Angeles. One of her classmates was Agnes DeMille (1905-1993). (Their pictures are side by side in the university yearbook, and they performed together on stage.) Like Agnes DeMille, Leslyn was an artistic type of person, in her case an actress and a poet. And like DeMille, she would later have connections to L. Ron Hubbard, though in a more direct way, as we'll see--and if you can stomach the thought.

I'm sweeping a lot away by writing that the Heinleins were married for sixteen years. Their divorce came on October 14, 1948, in Los Angeles County, California. Before the year was out, she had married Jules G. Mocabee (1919-1966), another Missourian. (4) I'll sweep more away: Leslyn MacDonald Heinlein Mocabee died on April 13, 1981, in Stanislaus County, California. (5) Her family--father, mother, sister, husband--had all gone before her. I believe that she came to a sad end, but then I think her later life was generally sad in one way or another.

Two days after divorcing Leslyn MacDonald, Robert Heinlein married Virginia "Ginny" Doris Gerstenfeldon October 21, 1948, in Raton, New Mexico. She was a New Yorker born on April 22, 1916, in Brooklyn. They had met in 1944 at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia, where she was a lieutenant in the WAVES. Ginny Gerstenfeld Heinlein had her own career apart from, then together with, her husband's. She was a chemist and an engineer, also an editor of some of Heinlein's works. After his death on May 8, 1988, she established the Heinlein Society, which is still in existence and has its own website.

The saying is that the winners write the history books. Leslyn MacDonald wasn't a winner. Very little seems to remain of her writing, nothing of course of her thoughts and feelings and memories. Most of what we have comes from only one side of all of this. It isn't her side.

It seems like Leslyn doesn't get a lot of sympathy. Actually she seems to catch a lot of grief for being the cause of her husband's failed marriage. Imagine. She is reputed to have been a pretty bad alcoholic, mentally ill, too. The two enjoyed happier times, though. They include what was then or now called Denvention I, the 3rd World Science Fiction Convention held on July 4-6, 1941, in Denver, Colorado. Heinlein was in fact the guest of honor at that event. Leslyn dressed as Queen Niphar, from the work of James Branch Cabell. In his speech, Heinlein said a few words about his wife that we all ought to remember, now and forever:

Mrs. Heinlein and I are in almost complete collaboration on everything. She never signs any of the stories, but I do better if she's there. (6)

Times change.

Heinlein of course was friends with L. Ron Hubbard, another Navy man and another of John W. Campell's stable of writers for Astounding Science Fiction. At around the time that Heinlein first met Ginny Gerstenfeld--that is, in late 1944--Heinlein gave his wife over to Hubbard. Here is Alec Nevala-Lee's very brief account of the affair. I have abbreviated it even more:

     Around this time, Hubbard also slept with Leslyn. Heinlein evidently encouraged the affair, as Hubbard later remarked: "He almost forced me to sleep with his wife." [. . .] Heinlein may have pushed her into it out of pity for Hubbard [. . .]. (7)

Hubbard of course is not a very reliable source for just about anything, but if it's true that Heinlein "almost forced" him to have sex with Leslyn, or if he encouraged the affair, then we have to rethink both Heinlein and Leslyn and the possible causes of their failed marriage.

There's no need to rethink Hubbard. He will always be what he always was: an utterly repulsive figure. It doesn't matter what you think of your wife. You don't give her over to a man like L. Ron Hubbard. It's like John Cassavetes' character giving his wife over to Satan in Rosemary's Baby (1968), just so he can advance his acting career. (8) Okay, so maybe there were already difficulties in the Heinleins' marriage. Maybe Heinlein already had one foot out the door. Maybe he was beginning to a see a future open up for him with this new redheaded WAVE from Brooklyn. But you don't give your wife over to Satan. Leslyn MacDonald didn't deserve it. There isn't anything she could have done to deserve it. I don't really want to hear about Leslyn's alcoholism, mental illness, or anything else. She didn't deserve it.

* * *

The 1980s took away three of the principals in all of this, Leslyn in 1981, Hubbard in 1986, and Heinlein in 1988. Heinlein's first wife also died in 1988. (9) Virginia Heinlein was the last to go, on January 18, 2003. She was eighty-six years old.


(1) Sources for some of this information are in an online family tree.

(2) "Engagement Announced" in the Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1932, page 28.

(3) Like John W. Campbell, Jr., Heinlein used a name from the distaff side of his marriage to formulate one of his pseudonyms, Anson MacDonald. His mother's maiden name was Lyle, thus, perhaps, another, Lyle Munroe.

(4) Early on, Jules Mocabee's Christian name was spelled Jewel. I think that's more likely the correct spelling. People used to give their children names like that. I myself know of two older men named Pearl. Heinlein's own mother was named Bam, but in the Federal census of 1880, when she was still an infant, she was Balm. To a really big part of the country, Balm and Bam--rhymes with Mom--are pronounced the same way. And Balm makes sense as a name.

(5) Also from an online family tree.

(6) Quoted in Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018, 2019), p. 145.

(7) From Astounding, pp. 202-203.

(8) Incidentally, John Cassavetes wrote and directed a movie called Husbands--no wives--released in 1970. It's an interesting movie, a work of ambition and artistry, but ultimately deeply flawed. Long, improvised scenes don't work. Some of them become almost painfully awkward. You'd think that a movie with Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk would work, but this one doesn't very well.

(9) Elinor Curry died on April 25, 1988, thirteen days before her ex-husband.

"Transience," a poem by then seventeen-year-old Leslyn MacDonald, originally in the Los Angeles Times, one hundred and one years ago this week, November 13, 1921, page 149. Her age shows in its composition. There would prove to be transience in her life, as there is in every life. I hope that sunset came to her "with all its peace."

Revised November 16, 2022.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, November 11, 2022

Husbands & Wives-Part Three

John Wood Campbell, Jr., was born on June 8, 1910, in Newark, New Jersey. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from Duke University in 1934. As a student living in the Boston area, he met young Doña Stebbins. They were married in 1931, not long after she graduated from high school. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find the exact date or place.

Doña Louise Stuart Stebbins was born on November 27, 1913, in Ohio, possibly in Akron. Her mother, Mary V. Stebbins, was a Canadian-American and--in 1920 at least--a singer in a theater in Boston. Her mother was Martha Stuart, also born in Canada. So by a combination of a version of his wife's given name and her mother's maiden name, Campbell had his nom de plume, Don A. Stuart.

Doña Stuart, or Doña Campbell, was artistic, a singer, a cook, and a hostess in the Campbell home. Campbell called her "a kindly, gentle, and sweet person." (1) She was outgoing where her husband was not. According to Alec Nevala-Lee, she "changed his writing, although it took years for the full implications to emerge." She retyped his stories and corrected his grammar and spelling. "She became his first reader [. . .], and he submitted ideas and openings for her approval." According to L. Ron Hubbard, she was his "sounding board." (2)

In October 1937, Campbell was elevated to the editorship of Astounding Stories, published by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Within a year or two, he had set off what is now called the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He did this by gathering a stable of young writers, including A.E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Lester del Rey. We remember their names and read their stories even today. Doña, the woman behind the editor, is not so well known.

Campbell and Doña were especially close to Robert A. Heinlein and his wife, Leslyn MacDonald Heinlein. The Campbells' older daughter, Philinda Duane Campbell, called "Peedee" or "Peeds," was born on Leslyn's thirty-sixth birthday, August 29, 1940. Leslyn Heinlein became the namesake of the Campbells' younger daughter, Leslyn Stuart Campbell, born in 1945. The Heinleins were her godparents.

In 1949, Campbell got himself wrapped up in Dianetics. His partner in that work was of course L. Ron Hubbard. That was the end of the line for Doña Campbell, especially, I think, after her husband decided that he should audit their two daughters. She was resistant to Hubbard and Campbell's new brainchild. She warned the Heinleins that Dianetics "would be dangerous 'in the hands of a couple of crackpot world-savers.'" (3) Her insight at that very early date seems to have been rare among science fiction writers. To his credit, Lester del Rey also saw through this newest of pseudosciences.

As people used to say, Doña fled into the arms of another man. He was science fiction author George Oliver Smith. Born on April 9, 1911, in Chicago, Smith was one of Campbell's stable of writers at Astounding from 1942 to 1948. He and Doña were married in 1950. Again, unfortunately, I haven't found the exact date, although the place may have been in Philadelphia. Smith had been married before, too. His first wife was Helen Kunzler (1913-1996). They were married from 1936 to 1948. Smith did not return to the pages of Astounding until 1959. He also had one story in Analog.

John W. Campbell rebounded soon enough after his wife left him, for on June 15, 1951--exactly a week after his forty-first birthday--he married Margaret Winter Kearney. She had been married before. Her marriage to Everett W. Kearney had ended by divorce just two months before, on April 19, 1951, in Gogebic County, Michigan. Nicknamed Peg, she was the sister of Dr. Joseph A. Winter, who had also lent a hand in the development of Dianetics. Peg Campbell was involved in all of that business, too. By coincidence, Dr. Winter died on John W. Campbell's forty-fifth birthday, June 8, 1955.

Campbell remained editor of Astounding Science Fiction, later Analog, until his death, which happened at his home in New Jersey on July 11, 1971. It was Peg Campbell who found him in his chair. She wrote "Postscriptum" in The Best of John W. Campbell, published in 1976.

Doña Louise Stuart Stebbins Campbell White died in May 1974 in Rumson, New Jersey, this according to an undocumented source on the Internet. Margaret "Peg" Winter Kearney Campbell died on August 17, 1979, in Waterville, Maine. George O. Smith wrote a remembrance of the second wife of his second wife's ex-husband. Entitled "In Memoriam: Margaret Winter Campbell," it was published in the February 1980 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. He died a little more than a year later, on May 27, 1981, in Rumson, New Jersey. He was just seventy years old and the last of the main players in these three connected marriages--these three partnerships from which so much science fiction emerged.

Next: The Heinleins


(1) From a letter to Frank Kelly Freas, June 10, 1955, in The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume 1 (AC Projects, Inc., 1985), p. 286.

(2) These three quotes are from Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee, p. 60, a book that I have relied on and quoted from more than once in this series. I fully acknowledge Mr. Nevala-Lee's great job of research, analysis, synthesis, and writing, and I urge you to read his book.

(3) From Nevala-Lee, p. 273.

Cover art by Alex Schomburg. Note the byline of James Gunn.

Thanks to Carrington Dixon for corrections.

Revised November 15, 2022.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Husbands & Wives-Part Two

I remember a TV show from a long time ago called Connections. The host was James Burke. In a goodnatured way, he followed ideas and developments through history like a detective following the clues of a crime. And like a detective story, Connections very often has a surprise ending. One difference is that the viewer arrives at that feeling of pleasure that comes with recognition of something that was previously unrecognized. Connections is a pleasing and edifying kind of show, the kind of thing we were promised when TV began. And James Burke is a good host. You wish that you could have him with you on every trip you make. Burke is a really common name, but Mr. Burke is Irish, and I like to think of him as a distant relative of my own family, which also includes people named Burke.


I started this series in May by writing about Charles Fort, then John W. Campbell, Jr. There were connections between them. Charles Fort didn't know that of course. Campbell's career as a writer and editor came in a post-Fort world.

When you read and write about Campbell, it doesn't take long before you're onto the problem of wacky ideas he held and wacky people with whom he associated himself. Those ideas include Dianetics. Those people include L. Ron Hubbard.

Campbell and Hubbard were like planets around whom lesser bodies orbited. In looking into these two men, I discovered Joseph A. Winter. And in looking into Dr. Winter, I discovered his sister, Margaret Winter Kearney. Better known as Peg, she was, as it turns out, the second wife of John W. Campbell, Jr.

The Internet didn't seem to have made that discovery or to have made the connection between Peg Campbell and Joseph Winter. I thought I was onto something. It turns out I wasn't. In fact, others had made the discovery before I had and they had written about it before I did. One of those people was Alec Nevala-Lee, author of a recent book, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Reading that book was the next link in the connected lives and ideas that have led me to what I write about today and will in the next few parts of this series.

Marriages of course are connections made between men and women. Marriage is not exactly a theme in Mr. Nevala-Lee's book, but it's a theme that arises from the things about which he writes. These connections--these marriages--are a little tangled. It's easy to lose track of them and the people who engaged in them. But I'll give it a go, beginning with Campbell and his wives.

To be continued . . .

There is sometimes a fine line between futurism and science fiction. James Burke is not in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Apparently he is an author of nonfiction only and not at all of fiction, let alone science fiction. And yet he has speculated about the future and about the effects that science and technology, more essentially change, have had and will have on humanity. I have never seen the show, but he was a presenter on the BBC television program Tomorrow's World from 1965 to 1971. Here he is on the cover of Tomorrow's World Vol. 2 (1973), an image that could easily have appeared on the cover of a science fiction novel of that period.

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley