I mentioned that greatest of Campbell-era sf writers, Robert A. Heinlein, a while ago, and that got me to thinking about the man and what it was like to be his editor, at least for the magazine publication of a lot of his work. So I went poking around some musty old papers (and some of the even mustier crevices of my brain) and produced some memories to share with those of you who are interested.
As many of you (especially the ones who have read The Way the Future Was) already know, at the age of nineteen, principally because of dumb luck, I found myself the editor of two professional science-fiction magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super-Science Stories, and one of my contributors was that same Robert Heinlein.
I hasten to add that that statement conveys an implication which is unjustified. In such a relationship, it is supposed to be the editor who makes the buy-or-bounce decisions, and therefore it is the editor who dominates it.
In this case, that was incorrect. It happens there is a member of my immediate family who exemplifies the Pohl–Heinlein relationship of that period more accurately. Her name is Milly. She is a nine-year-old Jack Russell, and at every meal she sits at my feet, waiting for me to finish so she can lick the crumbs off my plate. This well describes how things were between Robert and me around 1940. Everything he wrote went at once to John Campbell. The few stories that John rejected went to me — to be run only under a pseudonym, to be sure, because that was how John had decreed it.
Still, it wasn’t too bad either for Milly or me. Milly makes a decent living out of my dinner plates (she also gets regular dog food, of course, but I know which she prefers), and I got some nice stories that John had been too opinionated to publish.
Of course, later on things improved for me. By the time I was editing Galaxy and If in the 1960s, John and Bob had suffered some sort of cooling off, and so I got the choice of everything Bob wrote. I didn’t buy it all, but I did buy quite a lot.
For years I was under the impression that the explanation for this was that Robert, for whatever reason, had told his agent not to offer anything to John. I’ve since been told that that’s wrong; the novels were indeed submitted first to Campbell and he rejected every one. If this is true, as I am forced to believe, then it just proves that even the best of editors has occasional fits of idiocy.
Anyway, I was, I admit, a little rueful about the Heinleins I was publishing because Robert had by then apparently begun to run out of steam. Novels like Podkayne of Mars were reasonably cute, but a long way below the products of his glory years. Then, without warning, along came The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, not only right up there with his best but maybe his very best novel ever. I began running it at once.
Naturally it won that year’s Hugo (so did the magazine I ran it in, largely because I had been lucky enough to get such good serials), and I couldn’t have been more pleased.
More to come. . . .