The Asimov store and apartment were just off one corner of the immense Prospect Park, on Windsor Place. I lived, with my mother, on the opposite corner, on St. John’s Place near where Eastern Parkway runs into Grand Army Plaza. It was a neat neighborhood to live in, with not only the Park but the fine Brooklyn Museum just across the street. I spent a lot of time roaming the park, which is a beauty, sometimes with Cyril Kornbluth or some other Futurian, more often alone.
Sometimes I would find myself at Isaac’s end of the park, and if the hour was respectable (as sometimes it wasn’t, since several of us Futurians had devil-may-care attitudes about sleep, and in those years Prospect Park was never closed), we might walk the extra block or two to drop in on Isaac. (Two notes here in the interests of full disclosure. I did also have some thoughts of the free malted that Mrs. Asimov was likely to offer me. And I did sometimes suspect that Cyril’s interest involved Marcia, Isaac’s sister. But maybe I was wrong about that. I don’t think anything came of it.)
As his brother, Stanley, began to mature into the role of full participant of candy-store chores, Isaac’s responsibilities began to ease a little. That was a good thing, since he had a busy life. In addition to his interest in science fiction, he had taken on another challenge. His father had given him a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. That was a gift that might have perplexed some teenagers, but not Isaac. He knew what books were for, so he picked up Volume 1, turned to the beginning of the A’s and began to read. He told me it was his intention to read all the way to the end of the Z’s, but whether he made it all the way, I don’t know.
Isaac and I were pretty much of the same age. (We couldn’t be sure just how close, because neither of his parents was sure when his birthday was — sometime in the fall to mid-winter of 1919–1920, while mine was November 26th.) When we were both seventeen, we both made a major change in our educational status. Isaac graduated from high school and began college (and kept on with schooling until he reached the Ph.D. — one of the only two Futurians to get that far, the other being Jack Robins). While I quit school entirely and never went back.
Around about then, both Isaac and I formed the habit of visiting science-fiction editors in their offices. Isaac concentrated on a single one, John Campbell, who had recently replaced F. Orlin Tremaine as editor of Astounding.
What Isaac did was write an actual story, leave it with Campbell and come back a month later to get the rejected manuscript (which he then mailed off to Amazing Stories, who bought it right away), along with a thirty-minute lecture on what Isaac did wrong and what he should have done right. So Isaac wrote a second story, trying to do it as Campbell had described. That got the same treatment; bounce with lecture from Campbell, acceptance by Amazing. And the third story was the charm. It was accepted by Campbell, as were scores of others over the next decades.
While I had followed a different course entirely, visiting nearly all the sf magazine editors there were — now a couple of dozen, as science fiction was having an unexpected boom. Nominally I was an agent offering them stories by my clients. I don’t think I made any actual sales, but when I confided to one of the new editors, a kind man named Robert Erisman, that I, too, would like to be an editor, he pointed me in the direction of Harry Steeger’s pulp chain Popular Publications, currently in the process of adding a number of new titles to their list.
I went there and offered my services to Steeger. Wonderfully, he took me on, allowing me to create two new science-fiction magazines, and suddenly Isaac had a new fallback market for the stories John Campbell didn’t want, and I had a prolific contributor.
That was quite a happy time for both of us, but what then came along was World War II.
That affected more people than just the two of us. Campbell suddenly discovered that editing the best science-fiction magazine in the world was no longer enough to satisfy him. Through friends, he found out that the Navy was willing to set up a small research facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to take on problems that the established teams weren’t handling, and set himself to help the war effort by recruiting people to staff it. Robert A. Heinlein was an easy choice: former Annapolis man himself, invalided out as a j.g. and desperate to get back into uniform. L. Sprague de Camp because he, too, couldn’t pass the physical for actual combat. Isaac was a natural. And there was also a good-looking female lieutenant better known by the name she acquired a few years later, Ginny Heinlein.
I’m not sure the team ever made much progress in their researches, but they did give it the old Navy try. Especially Isaac, who was yearning to find some kind of high-tech career to follow, since he had learned he was never going to be a doctor. No medical school would accept him, because there was a sort of gentlemen’s agreement to limit the number of Jewish doctors threatening to convert the whole practice of medicine into a Jewish specialty. So quotas had been established, and they were all filled.
(Many more parts to come.)