Sometime in the early 1950s, I was putting together Beyond the End of Time, an anthology for one of Doubleday’s subsidiary imprints. That was something I liked doing, so I did it fairly often.
It was an easy thousand dollars or so, because I had already read about a zillion stories that I liked well enough to be willing to package for some new readers and because all those old issues of Astounding, Amazing and Wonder had not yet been mined by so many other anthologists that every good story had already been reprinted by six or seven anthologists in six or seven books. I needed to include a bunch of those old superstars, because my editors felt that the names were what sold the books, but I also liked to include a couple of pieces that would be new to almost everyone. And I had one candidate in mind from the very beginning.
It was a story that had appeared in a semi-pro sf magazine from California called, if I remember aright, Fantasy Book. Its title was “Scanners Live in Vain.” It was about a bizarre kind of spaceflight, set in a bizarre future world, and it was signed as by someone named Cordwainer Smith. So I included it in my lineup, and then had the problem of finding out who could sign a permission for the use of the story and accept the payment for it. “Cordwainer Smith” smelled very much like a pseudonym to me. But for whom?
At first I thought it likely that it belonged to one of the existing pros because it just seemed to be too professional in quality to have been written by an amateur. However, stylistically it was very unusual, and not a bit like the style of any writer I could think of, So, as deadline time grew close and I had no signed permission I fell back on Plan B.
Plan B was Forrest J Ackerman. Forry knew just about everybody who was or ever had been connected with science fiction and had set up a literary agency of his own that capitalized on that fact. So I got my permission, the author got his money when Forry had tracked him down, and one day when I happened to be in the office, a man named Paul M.A. Linebarger showed up to thank me for publishing his story and to ask if I would be interested in some others he had written.
His timing was perfect. I had become editor of Galaxy when Horace Gold’s health made it impossible for him to go on with the job, and I was looking for strong new writers. Paul was just what the doctor ordered. Not only was he a welcome new voice in that every-issue cantata I tried to conduct, he had one trait I appreciated in particular. He liked to write. He did it in volume. And the stories were all good. Some I liked better than others, but I don’t think I ever turned down a single word he wrote. . . .
Well, except for titles. When Paul was on target, his titles were unlike anyone else’s, and better, but sometimes the muse seemed to have deserted him. I changed fairly many — not by any means a majority, but a significant fraction.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember most of them. If I could go through a complete file of the magazines, I could probably pick them out, but I don’t have one. The only instance I can remember for sure was “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell.” I don’t remember what Paul had called the story, but I thought it dreary … while what I do remember is that on the very next page of the ms., in another context, he had written the phrase “The Ballad of Lost C.Mell,” just begging to be made the title.
(If anyone is desperate to know which is which they probably could satisfy themselves by visiting Syracuse University’s library. After I left, I believe Bob Guinn, Galaxy’s publisher, donated all of the magazine’s papers to the university for a tax break, and the stories should all be there. If you come across a manuscript in which the original, typed title has been crossed out and a new one penciled in, that’s one.)
Writing science fiction was of course not Paul’s sole enterprise. He spent a lot of time on his main job, which was something weighty for the American State Department. I don’t know exactly what. He didn’t volunteer much, and I didn’t press him because I had learned, in the years when I was wandering the Earth to lecture on American science fiction as a sort of ice-breaker for the working diplomats, that there were things they didn’t want to talk about. You’d be chatting amiably with somebody in Washington — or in some embassy or consulate in Moscow or Leningrad or Stockholm or or Singapore or Auckland and at some point they would kick the conversation into a ninety-degree turn and, if you asked why, they’d just say, “Well, we’re not supposed to talk about that.”
Paul did say that the principal reason they considered him indispensable in Foggy Bottom was that they needed him to lecture to some groups of foreign diplomats. These were the people with not quite adequate command of English, and what they liked about Paul was that he could speak u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-y S-L-O-W-l-y, so the foreigners had time to translate his remarks in their minds. But what those lectures were about he never said.
And then he would go home and write stories for me for relaxation.
If you would like to know everything that Paul was writing in those days, just look at my magazines. Up to a point, at least, it’s all there., just about every story Paul wrote in the mid-’60s, because he sent them all to me, and I couldn’t make myself reject any of them. . . .
Well, that’s true with one exception. At that time, Paul’s agent was Harry Altshuler, and one day Harry got in the mail an envelope from Paul that contained not one but two new stories. The bad part of that was that for reasons I can only guess — psychosis? Alcoholic delirium? — Harry had long ago imposed on himself a truly loopy rule prohibiting ever sending to an editor more than one story by a single author at a time. So he sent one story to me — which, whatever it was, I bought and published — and the other, a piece called “On Alpha-Ralpha Boulevard,” which, obediently to his maniacal Rule No. 1, he shipped off to Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Which, of course, not being incompetent, they bought and also published.
When I found out about it, I had words with Harry. This led him to suspend that rule for the duration of his life. But it was too late to prevent the loss of a story I really wanted. The damage was done.
To be continued.
Cordwainer Smith, Part 2