Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 23: May 1941

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Twenty-three episodes into this Vacation and I think I am finally beginning to get the hang of these columns. I altered my approach to this issue and you will have to let me know if it shows. Up until now, I would take notes as I read the issue, and then, on Sunday morning, I’d gather all the notes, along with the issue and a few other reference books and sit down to write the Episode–all 4,000 words or so (the present one is nearly 5,000 words making it the longest thus far.) This process presented me with some difficulties:

  1. There was the stress of having to produce a 4,000 word column on a Sunday morning
  2. There was the stress of being able to remember everything I wanted to discuss from the notes I took.

Also, given my busy schedule, I wasn’t always able to get in some reading every day and that meant that I often found myself playing catch-up a few days before having to write the Episode.

This time, I did things differently. First,I kept apace of my reading so that I never really fell behind. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I did the write up for each story as I finished reading the story. That meant that today, all I had to do was write the other items (this intro, Brass Tacks, In Times To Come, etc.) and put the whole thing together. I hope that it means my observations are a little more clear and that I touch on things I might have otherwise forgotten if I had waiting until the end to write up the whole thing. You’ll have to decide if you notice any difference.

In any event, this issue was a treat, one of the better issues I’ve come across in this Vacation so far. It is unusual for having seven pieces of fiction and no articles whatsoever. There are two novelettes, four short stories, and the conclusion of a serial. And it all beings with Campbell discussing the future…

Editorial: The Future to Come

Campbell’s 2-page editorial this month discusses Heinlein’s Future History explicitly. Campbell is clearly impressed by the fact that Heinlein has outlined his future history of stories in some detail. It allowed Heinlein to write the stories out of order, for instance. And after some prodding, Campbell convinced Heinlein to allow him to print a part of that Future History and that part appeared in this issue:

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Planning out a history like this works for some writers–clearly it worked well for Heinlein–but not for all writers. In the first volume of his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, Isaac Asimov discusses this in the context of his own Foundation series. After pitching the idea for the original Foundation story to Campbell, the editor immediately thought of it as an open ended series of stories. As Asimov writes:

“I want you to write an outline of the future history. Go home and write the outline.”

There Campbell made a mistake. Robert Heinlein was writing what he called the “Future History Series.” He was writing various stories that fitted into one niche or another of the series, and he wasn’t writing them in order. Therefore he had prepared a Future History outline that was very detailed and complicated, so that he would keep everything straight. Now Campbell wanted me to do the same…

I went home, dutifully, and began preparing an outline that got longer and longer and stupider and stupider until finally I tore it up. It was quite plain that I couldn’t work from an outline.

Now, some will argue that the discrepancies that show up in the Foundation stories reflect this, and that may be true, but I also think that the discrepancies add a unique realism to the stories–something I will discuss in more detail beginning in Episode 35.

Universe by Robert Heinelin

A NOVA story of the strangest world in space–a world where men could not learn the laws of Nature for they did not apply!

Heinlein is back in this issue with two stories. The first, a novelette (bordering on a novella, I think) called “Universe” is part of his Future History framework and its place in the history is identified in the chart above. Strangely, I’d never read this story before. It wasn’t included in The Past Through Tomorrow which is where I read much of Heinlein’s Future History the first time around. I have mixed feelings about the story. I enjoyed it, but I also found it somewhat flawed. However, I will admit that for a contemporary reader, the “breakthrough concept” in the story is pretty staggering, and probably new and my guess it is for that reason–the idea, as opposed to the story-telling–that Campbell gave the story the NOVA label.

This is the story of Hugh Hoyland, a member of an odd community living in a world where it seems some of the basic laws of physics don’t apply consistently. For instance, gravity is different at different levels of the world. The world is collected into various “villages” and there is a mythology built up around the culture whereby when people die, they make the “Trip”. The cultural aspects of the story are a nice touch and make the culture (with its curses to Jordan) seem realistic. However, being a modern reader, and having read numerous stories involving generation starships, it was pretty obvious to me at the outset that this was the story of a people who were on a generation starship, but had forgotten that to be the case.

This doesn’t make the story any less interesting. Knowing this, I still wondered how Hoyland would figure it out. That, of course, came with the help of the mutes, in particular, the two-headed mutant, Joe-Jim. What I found to be the weakest part of the story was, given how the relationship between the muties and the colonists were portrayed, that the muties were so accepting of Hugh Hoyland in the first place. Sure, he did spend a period of time as a slave, but this was glazed over and he felt no real resentment for it. I understand that these feelings were built into his culture to begin with but it was just a little hard to swallow.

Still, I think this was a better than average Heinlein story. For one thing, it was a story in which he was exploring an idea as opposed to exposing some political point. He wasn’t trying to convince his audience by example and analogy. And his idea–that of the generation starship–was indeed a mind-expanding one. I checked the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and found that while this wasn’t the first of what we’d call, in the modern sense, a generation starship story (that, according to Peter Nicholls, goes to Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage the Lasted 600 Years” in Amazing Stories, 1940), it was the first story to suggest that the crew of such a ship might eventually forget their purpose. In that sense, the story presages many wonderful science fiction stories. Robert Reed’s “Marrow” as it appeared originally in Science Fiction Age. But there are plenty of others.

Heinlein does a nice job of weaving some literary references into the story, as when describing some of the differences of taste between the Joe-head and Jim-head of Joe-Jim:

This led to their one major difference of opinion. Jim regarded Allan Quartermain as the created man who ever lived; Joe held out for John Henry. They were both inordinately fond of poetry; they could recite pages after page of Kipling, and were nearly as fond of Rhysling, “the blind singer of the space ways.”

There is also a pretty remarkable scene in which Hugh Hoyland sees the stars for the first time:

Creation. Faithfully reproduced, shining as steady and serene from the walls of the tellurium as did their originals from the black deeps of space, the mirrored stars looked down on him. Light after jeweled light, scattered in careless bountiful splendor across the simulacrum sky, the countless suns lay before him–before him, over him, under him, behind him, in every direction from him. He hung alone in the center of the stellar universe.

This passage immediately called to mind the climax of Asimov’s “Nightfall,” which we will encounter just a few months hence in the September 1941 Astounding (Episode 27).

And there is a nod to Galileo as well as Hoyland tries to convince those from his village that things are not what they seem. They don’t believe him and charge him with treason and he defiantly mutters (as Galileo is alleged to have said), “Nevertheless–it still moves!”

Asimov and Greenberg selected two pieces from the May 1941 for inclusion in their 1941 retrospective anthology, and “Universe” was not among them, despite its NOVA rating. The story, coupled with a sequel which appears in a future issue, made up Heinlein’s novel Orphans of the Sky. Nevertheless, I think “Universe” is one of Heinlein’s better stories to-date and I can only imagine what it must have read like to someone in 1941 who had never conceived of a generation starship before. This story is a classic example of what, in science fiction, we call a “conceptual breakthrough” and what often gets translated as Sense of Wonder.

Liar! by Isaac Asimov

A beautifully logical tale of a robot who simply couldn’t tell the truth!

Asimov’s second Robot story for Astounding (and second appearance in two months) introduces what he considered to be his first successful female character, Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist. I wouldn’t consider Susan Calvin a well-rounded character in this story, but her ongoing appearance in later robot stories does provide her with a kind of charm not typical of Asimov’s characters. This charm reaches a peak, in my opinion, in Harlan Ellison’s 1977 screenplay of I, Robot, which unfortunately never made it to the big screen 1.

“Liar!” is an interesting story on a couple of levels. First, it sets a template for the type of story that Asimov became very good at: stories with a common background and familiar characters. Establishing the setting and characters and eventually the rules of the road early on goes a long way to allowing later stories to simply assume the background, giving more room to focus on the stories and puzzles. Then, too, many of the characters, Susan Calvin, Lanning, Donnovan and Powell, for instance, become familiar to the reader. This is also true (to a lesser extent) in the original Foundation stories. But it is certainly true for Asimov’s later mysteries like his Black Widower stories. “Liar!” is probably Asimov’s earliest attempt at providing such a framework for future stories.

More importantly, “Liar!” introduces the concept that will provide the puzzles for the bulk of his future robot stories: how robots live within the Laws of Robotics and what can go wrong with them. The Laws of Robotics are not yet explicitly stated in this story; they are yet to come. However, the first law is almost explicitly stated in this story:

She faced them and spoke wearily, “You know the fundamental law impressed upon the positronic brain of all robots, of course.”

The other two nodded. “Certainly, said Bogert. “On no conditions is a human being to be injured in any way, even when such an injury is directly ordered by another human.”

The story in “Liar!” hinged upon this law. A robot that can read minds is turned out from the factory. Despite this amazing ability, all it seems to do is tell lies to those around it. The reason, it turns out, is because the robot, in reading minds, can sense the desire of humans and telling the truth would mean sometimes hurting their psyche–and hurting their psyche is a form of mental injury. Asimov’s exploration and argument in this story is that psychic injury is well within the realm of “any injury” as covered by this fundamental law.

In the end, the robot cannot take any action. Not telling the scientists what they want to know hurts them, but telling them will hurt them, too. Susan Calvin takes advantage of this to drive the robot insane, after which it is scrapped.

I think it is important to note that the fact that the robot could read minds probably helped sell the story to Campbell. Campbell was a big pursuer of psionic abilities and including such an ability in the story probably helped to make the sale.

I enjoyed “Liar!” although I think it is more important for the foundation it lays than as a story in and of itself. The introduction of Susan Calvin and the first Law of Robotics are key to this foundation. Asimov and Greenberg selected this story as one of two pieces included in their retrospective anthology for 1941 from the May issue. You can tell that Asimov is still a novice writer at this point in his budding career, but there is also the glimmer that maybe there are big things to come from him. Certainly Campbell felt this way and thank goodness he did.

Solution Unsatisfactory by Anson MacDonald

This story presents a challenge to the reader, a problem that must be solved soon in the world of grim fact if there is any logic in events of history–the problem of the irresistible weapon.

Heinlein, in his Anson MacDonald guise, makes his second appearance in this issue with another long story–indeed between this story and “Universe” Heinlein counts for almost half of the fiction in the issue! “Solution Unsatisfactory” is science fiction in the barest sense, more alternate history along the lines of Hubbard’s “Final Blackout.” Like his previous story as MacDonald, “Sixth Column,” this current piece explores the use of an ultimate weapon, one for which there is no defense. Unlike the weapon in “Sixth Column,” this weapon in “Solution Unsatisfactory” turns out to be a very legitimate weapon: radioactive dust; or what today we might call a dirty bomb. Even today physical defense against such a weapon would be difficult. The story follows the course of World War II and how the United States uses such a weapon against Germany–and then forces the world to give up on war lest others will soon learn how to use this weapon and destroy the planet.

This was my first time reading “Solution Unsatisfactory.” Isaac Asimov, in writing about Heinlein in his memoir I, Asimov, said of his writing

I always wished that he kept to the style he achieved in such stories as “Solution Unsatisfactory,” which he wrote under the pseudonym of Anson MacDonald, and such novels as Double Star, published in 1956, which I think is the best thing he ever wrote.

With this recommendation, I looked forward to “Solution Unsatisfactory” but the story didn’t live up to my expectations. The story is essentially written as a history text with very little in the way of character–exactly what you might find in reading a history of World War II with the key players mentioned in passing and not much in the way of introspection. Especially after the bombing of Berlin, the narrative falls off and the history takes over.

That said, the problem Heinlein portrays is a fascinating one to consider at the dawn of the atomic age. As Heinlein describes the problem in the story:

“It’s like this: Once the secret is out–and it will be out if we ever use the stuff!–the whole world will be comparable to a room full of men, each armed with a loaded .45. They can’t get out of the room and each one is dependent on the good will of every other one to stay alive. All offense and no defense. See what I mean?”

What Heinlein is describing is what we later called Mutually Assured Destruction. The world-wide dictatorship that Heinlein proposes is one solution–the only one he can see–but as is implied by the title and as Campbell reiterates in his editor’s note at the end of the story, it is unsatisfactory.

The thing is–as we now know–we have lived with this very “indefensible” weapon since the end of World War II. Democracy has survived and we are all still here. In fact, the weapon has not been used since. We have found a solution, not a perfect one, but one more satisfactory than what Heinlein proposed, and it is based on brinkmanship and game theory surrounding mutually assured destruction.

Jay Score by Eric Frank Russell

He had no friends, only respect, but the terrible test of the sun proved him a friend to have.

“Jay Score” is the second story in this issue that Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg selected for their inclusion in their retrospective anthology for 1941. When I first started the story, which is about a mission to Venus gone awry, I enjoyed it but I struggled somewhat to figure out why Asimov and Greenberg through it stood out so much. I thought perhaps it had to so with the handling of race in the story. The three races on the spaceship are all treated equally, each contributing their own special abilities and skills for the good of the mission. It is one of those rare early Golden Age stories that acknowledges racial differences while still treating all of the characters equally as human beings. However, this is only a small part of the story and it certainly couldn’t be just for this that Asimov and Greenberg selected the piece.

Then I read the last paragraph. Those of you who have read the story know what I am talking about. Those of you who haven’t read the story should. I imagine it is still in print in some anthologies and is worth the read for some of the hard science it includes. But the ending provides a paradigm shift that makes you read the whole story in a new like. It is like what critics often praised in van Vogt’s stories–except that I think Russell pulls it off better in “Jay Score”. The ending is important enough to mention, but I am going to include it in a “spoiler box” below. You can click to expand the box and read the spoiler if you want. But a warning: if you are reading this post on an RSS feed, I can’t guarantee this spoiler box will work, so assume that some spoilers will follow.

[spoiler]Jay Score is the name of the emergency pilot brought onto the ship before it makes its flight to Venus. He is a big man, but muted. He does his job when called upon, and does it well. Indeed, on several occasions during the mission, it is left to Jay Score to come to the rescue and save the day. There are Martians on board the ship because they are good at handling repairs. They are also good at a form of chess and no one can beat them–but Jay Score gives them a run for their money during their games. In fact, he does manage to play them to a draw and even to a couple of wins. A collision with some space debris causes problems with the rocket and instead of entering an orbit around Venus, the rocket goes plummeting toward the Sun. Once again, Jay Score helps to save the day, barely surviving in the process.  But he does survive and in the final paragraph of the story, we find out why:

I returned my attention to where all the others were directing their attention, and the victim [Jay Score] sat there, his restored eyes bright and glittering, but his face immobile despite the talk, the publicity, the beam of paternal pride from Johannsen. But after tan minutes of this, I saw J.20 begin to fidget. Don’t let anybody kid you that a robot can’t have feelings!

Suddenly, we discover that Jay Score was a robot and the story makes even more hints, particularly the frequent descriptions of the light in his eyes and the fact that he could beat the Martians at chess. Even his name hints at his origin: J-20, twenty being one “score.” And I will admit that I fell for it and I’m glad I did–it gave a new meaning to the story, made it better on several levels, and I think it is for that reason above any other that it was selected for the anthology.[/spoiler]

This story was also a pretty good one from a “hard science” perspective.It proposes the use of a slingshot around the sun, for instance, and making use of the sun’s own gravity to prevent from getting pulled into the star.

According to Alva Rogers in A Requiem for Astounding, Jay Score “was the first in a quite good series of stories which included the better known ‘Mechanistria’ and ‘Symbiotica,’ which appeared later.”

I enjoyed the story very much and I am eagerly awaiting Eric Frank Russell’s next appearance in Astounding.

Fish Story by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts

As a yarn, it’s wasn’t plausible even if it was logical.

This is the second collaboration we’ve seen so far in this Vacation, and also happens to be the second collaboration of Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts. (The first was “Putsch”, March 1941, Episode 21) and that one I didn’t manage to get through. “Fish Story” is the shortest piece in the issue, and I did finish it. If the story had appeared in another issue, I might have thought less of it, but part of the genius of Campbell seems to be balancing out the content of the issues. And after four strong stories, it was nice to get a break from the serious and add a little levity into the mix.

The story is just what the title describes, a barroom fish story in which Colonel Chutley-Clavenger describes to a passerby professor his adventures at capturing the rare and ferocious Porgills from the lakes of Venus. As the beast is described:

“They are covered with viciously sharp spines like the quills of a porcupine. In its raw state, y’know, Porgill oil is one of the deadliest poisons known to science. A single drop on any bare skin can cause a terribly painful death in a matter of hours, and there is no known antidote. The merest scratch from the spines of a Porgill would be the finish of a man.”

The story is clearly told tongue-in-cheek, not only by the characters telling the story, but by the authors writing it. And in the end, through a creative use of chemistry, they manage to capture dozens of the creatures whose oil will bring untold riches. Still, as the somewhat skeptical professor asks at the end,

“You must have made a considerable amount of money out of that expedition–”

“We did. Most certainly we did. But the price of refreshment as it is– Good night, gentlemen.”

Subcruiser by Harry Walton

The subcruisers were dangerous enough without a drunken skipper and a treasonous mate!

Harry Walton’s “Subcruisers” is probably my least-favorite story in the issue, but even at that it is not too bad. It has the bad fortune of being placed in an issue with some exceptional stories and they make it look weak in comparison. “Subcruisers” is your run-of-the-mill naval procedural in space–with a few minor exceptions to the similar kinds of stories we’ve seen so far.  I think there are two notable things about this particular story:

First is some of the notions of cloaking that are used in the story. The “subcruiser” refers to the fact that the ship passes through “subspace” which seems to be made up of “negative energy” or what I interpreted to be hyperspace. Portions of the plot centered around the ability to move in this “subspace” to avoid enemy ships from Venus. Reading it vaguely reminded me of the Klingon cloaking ability from Star Trek.

Second, I think Captain Paul Wythe was portrayed as a fairly realistic character. He was not overzealous and he was flawed–or so it seemed. At the end of the story we find out he really wasn’t a drunk, but that he had been drugged. Nevertheless, he had a certain amount of introspection that is often lacking in these procedural stories–and why not? The point of these procedurals is to emphasize the technology and the scale of things transferred from the oceans of Earth into space.

The Stolen Dormouse, Part II by L. Sprague de Camp

The second and concluding part of a novel of a wacky and feuding future world.

The last piece of fiction in this issue was the conclusion of L. Sprague de Camp’s two-part serial, “The Stolen Dormouse.” I wasn’t overly impressed by this story because I feel like I’ve seen its like before. However, as a contemporary reader it might have come across as unique and de Camp certainly does a good job of infusing his fiction with humor that works well, something that I haven’t seen too much of in this Vacation.

In this concluding segment, we follow Juniper-Hallett as he continues to investigate what happened to the stolen dormouse in hopes of getting his status returned to him. In doing so, he comes across his arch enemy, against whom he fought in part 1 and who was also demoted, Lane-Walsh. It turns out that Lane-Walsh has been sent upon the same mission with the same promises and it only makes sense that two enemies team up toward a common goal.

In this part, we learn why these people in suspended animation are called dormice. As Juniper-Hallett describes them:

“…Matter of fact they’re named after some kind of mouse they have in Europe. It goes into a very deep sleep when it hibernates.”

Eventually, they discover that the dormouse wasn’t really stolen after all, but was revived for his knowledge. His name is Arnold Ryan and he hold court in a secret chamber beneath one of the crypts where the dormice are stored. Their ultimate goal is to dismantle some of the corporate structure of society in America so that there is somewhat more freedom–specifically for the engineers.

Brass Tacks

Heinlein’s Future History charts discussed above were included at the beginning of the Brass Tacks section. The letters in this month’s issue were the usual run-of-the-mill, but I wanted to call out one letter by a Mr. Richard Rafael, who asks what I think is a good question in reference to Nelson S. Bond’s “Magic” (February 1941, Episode 20):

But for the life of me I can’t see  why our social-science fictioners like Bond and Heinlein so often throw the world back to primitivism. Can’t they imagine a non-machine culture without talking in terms of hairy apes? What about Egypt, Syria, the Hellenic world, Crete and China? Couldn’t a civilization emerge along the cultural lines of one of these? Why must we always have Reousseau’s Noble Savage, with his biceps, his stone ax and his mate crawling around the ruins of might Nywak or Chikgo? After all, don’t you think a post Euro-American age would at least start in on the level of say, Rome?

I think this is a good question, but my knowledge of “post-apocalyptic” stories is somewhat limited. Stories such as A Canticle for Leibowitz don’t go quite as primitive as things go in “Magic City” but I agree with Rafael that the notion people have is that a collapse of modern society would instantly revert us to pre-civilized nations, when going back to earlier civilizations like Rome seems more realistic. Campbell felt the letter writer had a good point as well. He wrote, “This man has something there. Not straight Graeco-Roman, but on that order–”

Analytical Laboratory and Ratings

Here are the results of the AnLab for the March 1941 issue of Astounding:

Title Author AnLab My Rating
1. Sixth Column (Part 3) Anson MacDonald 1.56 3
2. Logic of Empire Robert Heinlein 2.37 2
3. Poker Face Theodore Sturgeon 4.10 1
4. Eccentric Orbit D. B. Thompson 4.40 6
5. Masquerade Clifford D. Simak 4.90 4

 

And here are my ratings for the present issue:

  1. Universe by Robert Heinlein
  2. Solution Unsatisfactory by Anson MacDonald
  3. Liar! by Isaac Asimov
  4. Jay Score by Eric Frank Russell
  5. The Stolen Dormouse, Part II by L. Sprague de Camp
  6. Fish Story by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts
  7. Subcruiser by Harry Walton
I’d put “Liar!” and “Jay Score” at almost a tie, but I gave “Liar!” the benefit of the doubt because of its impact on Asimov’s future robot stories. And after “Jay Score” I think the quality of the stories falls off quite a bit. The strength of this issue (and it is a strong one in my opinion) rests on the strength of the first four stories.

Other items of note

There is an interesting pseudo-ad in this issue titled, “Unknown Announces a Book.” The half-page, all text ad pushes the new book, which happens to be a novelized version of L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall.”

In times to come

Campbell’s entire In Times To Come section discusses Ross Rocklynne’s latest story, “Time Wants a Skeleton.” I’ve never read the story but his description makes it sound interesting. Also in the June issue are stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Nat Schachner, Harry Bates, Malcolm Jameson, Robert Moore Williams, and a writer with the strange name of E. Waldo Hunter–a pseudonym for someone above. But we’ll talk about that next time.

See you back here in two weeks.


Notes

  1. And for those who think the awful Will Smith movie with the title I, Robot was the movie in question, you need to go read this.

30 thoughts on “Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 23: May 1941

  1. Now, some will argue that the discrepancies that show up in the Foundation stories reflect this, and that may be true, but I also think that the discrepancies add a unique realism to the stories–something I will discuss in more detail beginning in Episode 35.

    Looking forward to that.

    I do find the Heinlein vs. Asimov approaches interesting.

    I also think that Heinlein could not have envisioned MAD. I recall something about him telling the attendees of a Worldcon that Nuclear War was coming and nothing could stop it.

    Thank God, he had egg on his face.

    1. Paul, I’ve been looking forward to write about the original Foundation trilogy for a long time. This Vacation gives me the perfect opportunity to do it. I’ve read the whole series 6 or 7 times (and I’ve read Benford/Bear/Brin’s Second Foundation Trilogy twice). Indeed, just yesterday I finally got hold of the May 1942 issue of Astounding containing “Foundation”–the first hole I’d had in my Vacation collection so far. I’ll post more about that later.

      It’s interesting that neither Heinlein nor Campbell could envision MAD. But at the time these stories were appearing, an atomic weapon had yet to be detonated so people hadn’t yet witnessed the sheer terrifying power yet.

  2. Oh, and the thing that bugs me about Universe, despite its seminal nature, is that the ending of its sequel, Common Sense, is definitely a case of the author loading the dice.

    But that is going to have to wait until October 1941, I think…

    1. You are correct, “Common Sense” appears in the October 1941 issue (Episode 28, coming November 14). Also in that issue is a story by Heinlein’s alter ego, Anson MacDonald, “By His Bootstraps”.

  3. Here’s the opening paragraphs of Alan Dean Foster’s Introduction to THE BEST OF ERIC FRANK RUSSELL (1978).

    ———-

    Once upon a time a brash young fan of science fiction named Foster, Alan D., was engaged in rapt conversation with a brash, legendary editor of science fiction named Campbell, John W. The year was 1968, and the setting was a restaurant table at the World Science-Fiction Convention in Oakland, California. Foster was twenty-two and had done little. Campbell was fifty-eight and had done much.

    Said Foster to Campbell after fifty minutes of impassioned rhetoric concerning the war in Vietnam, “You know, my all-time favorite science fiction writer is Eric Frank Russell.”

    Said Campbell to Foster in reply, with a sage nod and gentle smile, “Mine too. I wish to hell I could get him writing again.”

    You are about to begin a collection of stories written by a man capable of working the above effect on two disparate personalities quite different in background, political viewpoint, and many other aspects including a thirty-six-year gap in age. I am now somewhat older and have achieved a bit more than little. Many things have changed for me. One has not.

    Eric Frank Russell is still my favorite writer of science fiction…

    ———-

  4. At WorldCon one of the top things I hunted for in the book vendors’ offerings was an Ace Double – Eric Frank Russell’s “The Space Willies” with Six Worlds Yonder”. EFR was and is one of my top classice SF authors. And remember – F-IW. An Eric Frank Russell story will solve the mystery to that cypher…

  5. Not to refute the point being made by the Brass Tacks letter, but Nelson S. Bond’s “Magic City” world does not completely descend into pre-Civilization primitivism. In the second of the three ‘Meg’ stories, the Jinnia Clan must ward off invaders from the South who carry rayguns and utilize force fields to wage war. As told in “The Judging of the Priestess”, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES April 1940.

    And in the first story, “Pilgrimmage” (AMAZING STORIES October 1939), Daiv relates to Meg a mad tale of a group of Ancient Ones who fled from the War (and Earth) to the Evening Star “…in the bowels of a metal bird that spat fire.”

    And Bond did indeed write that story too, “The Fugitives from Earth” (AMAZING STORIES December 1939).

    1. Mark, it’s hard to say if the letter writer had read the previous stories in the sequence. Even so, there is some truth I think to his premise about post-apocalyptic stories–generally speaking–going back to a kind of primitivism that predates ancient civilizations. In thinking about it a little over night, I decided that, in part, it’s probably due to the fact that it makes for a better story. Although even here my premise is suspect. I enjoyed a story like de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall” which took place right smack in the midst of the Roman Empire.

  6. I doubt that Mr Rafael read the earlier stories before writing his letter. While the first ‘Meg’ story has been anthologized (including THE GREAT SF STORIES:1 (1939))several times over the years, there are reasons the second has never seen the light of day since its original appearance. Shoddy plotting being the primary fault. Along with a tinge of “condescension” directed towards the villians, who are a mix of Mexican and Japanese stock— The Maycans!

    And if the textual rascism should be a bit too subtle for some to pick up, the story’s illustrations will bludgeon that point across to even the most oblivious reader.

    All in all, the middle story is a very, very inept bridge between “Pilgrimmage” and “Magic City”.

  7. “Incidentally, did you know there was a biography of Russell out?”

    Yes, I had to order a copy from the UK last spring; Amazon didn’t offer it at that time. To an EFR fan, it is priceless. Three hundred pages of biography in very small text with lots of photos mixed in. Plus a 50-page bibliography to wrap things up. A real dream come true.

    To quote from the final chapter— “More than 80% of Russell’s 117 novels, novelettes and short stories first appeared in American magazines, over half of them going either to the top-rated ASTOUNDING STORIES (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, as it later became) or to its sister magazine UNKNOWN/UNKOWN WORLDS. At the very beginning of his writing career, and also at the end of it, Russell published almost exclusively in ASTOUNDING.”

    If you should become enamoured with EFR’s work during your ‘Vacation in the Golden Age’, you may be inclined to stay for the complete ASF run to 1961. EFR was quite prolific in the 1950′s for JWC.

    1. Wow, that is one prolific writer! I just noticed that EFR has a lengthy letter in the June 1941 Astounding. Will be interesting to read that. But first, “Time Wants a Skeleton” by Ross Rocklynne.

  8. The Eric Frank Russell that Alan Dean, Mark and Willis mention is not the Eric Frank Russell who will appear on your vacation (with the possible exception of DREADFUL SANCTUARY). That Eric Frank Russell flourished in the post-vacation Astounding of the mid-1950s.

    And as delightful as those yarns of the British outfoxing the Nazis and the Home Office brass (sorry, I meant to say the Space Patrol outfoxing the aliens and bureaucrats) those Kelly Freas illustrations which almost always accompanied them were even more so.

    Too bad F-IW shows up 6 months after your vacation concludes.

  9. Mark S. is right. Open NESFA’s MAJOR INGREDIENTS: THE SELECTED SHORT STORIES OF ERIC FRANK RUSSELL and the majority were published in the 1950′s ASF.

    But “Hobbyist”, “Late Night Final”, “Metamorphosite”, and “The Timid Tiger” are all ASTOUNDING stories from the post-WWII 1940′s and (based on the JTR Reading Scale) High-Rating\High-Memory caliber. Implying that they are among my EFR favorites, and quite frequently re-read.

    And all are included in MAJOR INGREDIENTS too.

  10. Good point Mark. I was so focused on EFR in his PLUS X / Allamagoosa vein, I plum forgot about these other stories – including the great “The Undecided”. You have some good years of reading ahead of you Jamie.

    1. Mark and Mark, like I said in the post, I’ve enjoyed both EFR stories that I’ve read so far. A few people have suggested I go beyond 1950 in this Vacation. I say: one step at a time. But Barry Malzberg has insisted that if I want to go beyond 1950, I should switch over to Galaxy. It’s so far into the future right now, I’m just taking it one issue at a time. :-)

  11. Jamie, a word on the inclusion of Heinlein in the Asimov/Greenberg Great Science Fiction Stories anthologies: there are no Heinlein stories in any of them. They editors only say that arrangements for their use could not be made, but they still list them and I think Asimov still blurbs them. I’ve never been able to find out what the sticking point was.

    At any rate, the 1941 volume does include five Heinlein stories in its list of the best of the year: “And He Built a Crooked House”, “They”, “Universe”, “Solution Unsatisfactory”, and “By His Bootstraps”.

    1. Fred, thanks for the clarification. I got the list from Barry Malzberg who I suspect listed the stories included in the volumes and excluded the ones just mentioned. As I understand it, Heinlein’s agent wanted too much money for the stories and wouldn’t negotiate with Asimov and Greenberg on a lower rate.

  12. I misspoke–Heinlein’s “life-Line” is in the first volume of the anthology but his works never appear after that. In my opinion Asimov’s little memoir of Heinlein for the intro to that story was not very kind–he tells the story of how Heinlein gave Asimov his first and apparently only alcoholic drink. It was not a flattering reminiscence and really doesn’t reflect well on the teller either.

    1. Asimov and Heinlein had that kind of relationship throughout their lives. The incident referred to in the intro to the story is recounted in more detail in the first volume of Asimov’s autobiography. Asimov was a teetotaler and was at a gathering where others (notably Heinlein and de Camp, possibly Hubbard and Campbell as well) were around. Asimov writes that Heinlein handed him a drink. When Asimov asked what it was Heinlein said, “a Coke.” But it was spiked with rum or something.

  13. Campbell gave up the true identity of ‘Anson McDonald’ in the Aug/Sept 1941 ASTOUNDING issues. But earlier, by printing the FUTURE HISTORY Chart in the May 1941 ASF, JWC (and Heinlein???) let slip another RAH pseudonym- ‘Lyle Monroe’.

    The was the name Heinlein used to sell stories to the downmarket. The second FUTURE HISTORY story is “Let There Be Light”— rejected by Campbell and eventually published (as by Lyle Monroe) in the May 1940 issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES.

    RAH probably did not appreciate the unmasking. It was in this period (1941-1942) that he sold his three notorious “stinkers” under the Lyle Monroe by-line. Beyond Doubt, “My Object All Sublime”, and Pied Piper were not allowed to be reprinted during Heinlein’s lifetime. Or his wife’s. In 2005, they finally reappeared in the SFBC Heinlein collection, OFF THE MAIN SEQUENCE.

  14. “Beyond Doubt, “My Object All Sublime”, and Pied Piper were not allowed to be reprinted during Heinlein’s lifetime. Or his wife’s.”

    Correction, of sorts. According to Bill Patterson (THE HEINLEIN JOURNAL), all three stories were written in the spring of 1939 and all were promptly rejected by JWC. While Heinlein considered Pied Piper and “My Object All Sublime” to be ‘utter dogs’, Beyond Doubt appeared in three anthologies during Heinlein’s lifetime but never in any of his own collections.

    And James Gifford (ROBERT A. HEINLEIN: A READER’S COMPANION (2000)) notes that Heinlein’s “..literary executor continues to refuse reprint permission for these three works.”

    Virginia Heinlein died in 2003 and OFF THE MAIN SEQUENCE was published in October 2005 with all three stinkeroos included.

    1. [Sarcasm]Campbell rejected Heinlein!![/Sarcasm]. In his autobiography, Asimov wrote that Campbell and Heinlein quickly became good friends, “although it was a condition of that friendship, apparently, that Campbell never reject Heinlein.” I could never understand why science fiction writers, at least, worried about not wanting their early stories to be reprinted. Sure, they might be bad, but they also illustrate growth. I don’t think anyone would have begrudged Heinlein of, say, 1950, for stories he wrote in 1939.

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