Posts tagged ‘John W. Campbell’

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

In the 1950s, a story bearing the name of a brand-new author, Walter M. Miller, Jr., showed up in John Campbell’s magazine, now known as Analog. It was quite a good story and was soon followed by another written by the same hand and just as good. And then another.

They didn’t all appear in Analog. A few weren’t even science fiction, but they were coming out in considerable volume and the science-fiction world had begun to take notice that an unheralded major new writer had appeared.

At lunch one day, the man who became Miller’s principal editor, John Campbell, talked about him with mock embarrassment: “He keeps sending them in one after another,” he said, “and I just can’t stop buying them.”

They weren’t merely good, either Some among them were immediately hailed as great — A Canticle for Leibowitz, for instance. Before long it was evident that a strong new force had emerged in American science fiction, and its name was Walter Miller, Jr.

 
All right, friends. Now we come to the hard part, because I’m doing my best to tell the sometimes unpleasant truth. Miller wasn’t just a writer I respected He was also the man my estranged wife Judy Merril had taken up with.

At first we all acted pretty civilized about it. Then, when Judy and I got into our endless Annie Wars over the custody of that very nice little baby, Ann Pohl, that the two of us had jointly brought into the world, Miller totally took her side.

I don’t mean just in verbal encounters. I mean that once when I went to the house Miller and Judy had rented — my daughter Ann living with them because we were all trying to make a system of taking turns in having Ann live with us work — and went to their house to pick Annie up because it was my turn, the two of them refused to give her up.

What happened then was just about what you would expect to happen: disagreement, followed by yelling. But then Miller got tired of talk. He went into their bedroom, and when he came out he was carrying a rifle pointed at my face. He ordered me to leave.

Continue reading ‘Walter M. Miller Jr.: My last fist fight’ »

 

Detail: Cover by Ean Taylor for 'The Way the Future Was' (1983 Granada edition)

 

Fred’s death was reported and mourned all over the world. Here are excerpts from just a small selection of the remembrances from fans, friends and the media.

  • “Grand master passes through the final Gateway.” —Simon Sharwood, The Register.

  • “On Monday, September 2nd, 2013, one of the last remaining great figures in the science fiction genre passed away. Frederik Pohl was 93 years old, with a long and distinguished career writing, selling and editing science-fiction stories.” —Andrew Liptak, Kirkus Reviews.

  • “Like some magnificent sequoia, he was both a vibrant, majestic, respirating presence and a token of a distant, almost unimaginable past. He was given a Grandmaster Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America twenty years ago, but that tribute hardly begins to do justice to his immense accomplishments.” —Paul Di Filippo, Barnes and Noble Review.

  • “Frederik George Pohl, Jr. (Nov. 26, 1919 – Sept. 2, 2013) was almost a living artifact of a bygone era in science fiction, as well as one of the genre’s most fertile and perennially refreshed talents. Born in the immediate aftermath of World War I, he died in the epoch of Google Glass and the Large Hadron Collider, without ever losing his imaginative spontaneity or intellectual curiosity, or his ability to upset and disturb the genre consensus.” —Paul St John Mackintosh, TeleRead.

  • “弗雷德里克·波尔是为数不多的可以担当起“科幻小说大师”头衔的科幻作家.” —The Beijing News.

  • “Frederik Pohl was a science-fiction author of extraordinary longevity and accomplishment. In hundreds of stories between 1940 and 2010, and dozens of longer works from 1953, he became the sharpest and most precise satirist in the science-fiction world. Kurt Vonnegut may have created greater myths of the awfulness of America, and Philip K Dick may have had a profounder understanding of the human costs of living in a unreal world; but Pohl — from experience garnered in the field of advertising — knew exactly how to describe the consumerist world that began to come into being after the Second World War.” —John Clute, The Independent (UK).

  • “In all, he published more than 60 novels. His most lauded effort was Jem: The Making of a Utopia (1979), which remains the only science fiction title to have won the National Book Award.” —The Independent (Eire).

  • “La ciencia ficción tiene nombres que cualquier que se diga fanático tiene que saber. Uno de ellos es Frederik Pohl, y si su nombre no te suena, en este artículo te contamos por qué este hombre que acaba de pasar a la inmortalidad a los 93 años contribuyó a que cientos de miles se hagan fanáticos de este género.” —Nico Varonas, Neoteo.

  • “Described as prickly and stubborn (he was married five times and divorced four), Pohl resisted the Internet for years, according to family and friends, but in 2009 launched a blog called ‘The Way the Future Blogs.’ Like much of his writing throughout his life, it was funny, skeptical and perceptive and it won a Hugo Award.” —Ben Steelman, Star News Online.

  • “科幻黄金时代硕果仅存的科幻大师之一的Frederik Pohl于9月2日因呼吸困难(respiratory distress)去世,享年93岁。Frederik Pohl以科幻期刊编辑和作家的双重身份闻名,他在60年代作为科幻期刊的编辑连续多年获得雨果奖,之后又以作家身份获得了多次雨果奖和星云奖。” —Chinese Writers Network.

  • “A stickler for detail, Pohl was determined to get as much science correct as possible in his books. His research took him all over the world and he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004, when he published the final novel in the Heechee saga, he apologised to his readers for having suggested, in Gateway, that aliens might have taken refuge in a black hole. With the physics of black holes having been more fully understood in the intervening years, Pohl acknowledged that nothing and no one could exist within a black hole.” —The Telegraph.

  • “Avec un coup d’avance et l’humour noir qui caractérise son style, son œuvre dé voile , pour l’humanité, un avenir inquiétant en partie advenu: omniprésence de l’informatique, montée du terrorisme, raréfaction des ressources, pollution, surpopulation, crise du logement, fanatisme religieux. . . . Après Jack Vance et Richard Matheson , c’est la troisième figure majeure de la SF américaine qui s’éteint cette année.” —Macha Séry, Le Monde.

  • “Despite being 93, he worked to ‘Safeguard Humanity’ to the end.” —Eric Klien, Lifeboat Foundation.

  • Continue reading ‘Obituaries and Tributes to Frederik Pohl’ »

super_science_stories-1

 

If you’re among that large and growing fraction of our blog readerrs who never miss anything in the blog and never forget anything you haven’t missed, you may recall an occasional musing from me about how much fun (and also how much labor) editing Galaxy and If was. Pay was putrid, work was unending, but it was the best job I ever had, and if someone made me a comparable offer today I’d have a really hard time turning it down.

Well, no one has, but something is stirring in that general area. Lately I’ve been going over the problems involved in starting a new magazine. It would be called Super Science Stories, which is the name I christened one of the two magazines I created for the giant pulp house of Popular Publications when they gave the kid me his first editorial job.

It would use all reprints, swiping the idea from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, the magazine Mary Gnaedinger piloted for the Munsey group in the ’40s. Pulp paper. 4-color cover. 128 pages. Price somewhere around $1.95. Lettercol and, in every issue, a truculent J.W. Campbell-like editorial. Sound like fun? It does to me — with, of course, some other distinguishing traits I don’t want to talk about right now.

Retrome, Satanas!

I know I shouldn’t give it a thought, but if an offer got real, how could I say no?

The Man Who Gave Me His Wife

Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton Pohl, 1966.

Carol Metcalf Ulf
Stanton Pohl, 1966.

During World War II, Jay Stanton signed on as radioman with several convoys on the Murmansk run. This was one of the most dangerous jobs there were but Stanton survived. After the war he settled for some years in the largely sf community in Manhattan.

I didn’t really discriminate Jay from others in the community until he married a tall, blonde, very good-looking woman named Carol Metcalf Ulf. (At the time I admit I thought Jay might be running a little luckier than he deserved.) The two settled down in a small apartment in Chelsea. Jay took a job as an assistant to John Campbell on the stumbling science magazine Air Trails and Science Frontiers, and began showing up in evening sessions with his guitar, accompanying anybody who wanted to be accompanied in anything they wanted to sing.

Often his wife, Carol, was singing with him; she had an untrained but quite good soprano voice. However, what she preferred to do, most evenings, was walk over to the Village and sit in one of the bars for a few hours, listening to music and chatting with the musicians.

The most outstanding character of Jay Stanton, you need to realize at once, is that in some ways he was an almost pathologically kind and generous man. Many a husband would prefer to have his bride stay home at night instead of inhabiting Greenwich gin mills without him. Jay apparently accepted it with calm. If this woman he wanted to make happy preferred the gin mills he let it be so. Of course, most people would begin to suspect that this sort of thing was warning of a marriage in trouble.

Most people would be right, too. I wasn’t very surprised when one night I came home to Red Bank — Judy hadn’t thrown me out of the house yet — and discovered 386 West Front Street had a new boarder. Apparently Carol had applied to Judy for shelter and Judy had been generous. It did have one, I believe, unanticipated result, though. Carol and I became friends. It started, if I remember, one morning when Judy wasn’t around and I was out on that grand porch singing to the river, and the next thing I knew we were singing duets. Singing them pretty well, too.

And it went on from there. It went on sufficiently well that, a few months later, when Judy did at last kick me out and I moved into a tiny flat in New York’s East Village, Carol moved with me.

That was not the most amazing thing, though. The most amazing thing was that Jay accepted the changed circumstances with good grace, and, actually, tangible help in moving into and furnishing the flat.

Does that strike you as odd?

Most people would say yes, for abandoned husbands do not commonly behave as amiably and kindly as Jay was wont to do, But Jay was a far kinder organism than the rest of homo sapiens. If there were any areas of greed, or rage, or regret anywhere in his soul I never saw them betray themselves in acts.

Ben Bova

Ben Bova

In the beginning of his career, young Ben Bova had a good job writing about the hardware his employer, Avco-Everett Research Laboratory, dealt with, but a yearning to write something less confining, particularly science fiction. When he began trying his hand at that he got a welcome from John Campbell, arguably the top editor in the field, who was fond of nuts-and-bolts science fiction anyway. But even that wasn’t quite satisfying.

In Milford, Pennsylvania, three established writers — James Blish, damon knight and Judy Merril — had just banded together to start the first in the long subsequent series of Milford Science-Fiction Writers Conferences. Ben signed up and became one of their early graduates.

For those unfamiliar with writers’ conferences, it often seems that even the best of them appear to be almost as much encounter groups as writers’ tutorials. Enrollees are expected to spend one or more weeks in shared housing, to each write a new story of some kind at regular intervals, and then to sit in a circle setup to have other participants discuss his or her story, sometimes to the point of exploring what hidden emotions had caused him or her to write it. It is a pressure-cooker environment and it was my personal observation that many writers who had gone through the experience — Cyril Kornbluth and Algis Budrys — for example, went through post-Milford periods of writing little or nothing for a time.

I still think that is a danger for those attending writers’ conferences, but as far as Ben Bova was concerned I could not have been more wrong. Whether because of Milford or simply because some of the synapses in his brain re-hooked themselves into new patterns, beginning around that period, his fiction began to show deeper insights into his characters, and thus were better books.

Or it simply may have been that he went through an even more demanding tutorial when John Campbell unexpectedly died, and Street & Smith hired Ben to replace him. I have long held that being an editor of other people’s stories is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. (I’m pretty sure it helped for me.)

Anyway, Ben was a great disappointment to Street & Smith. Not as an editor; he kept up the standing of the magazine. May even have improved it, as when Ben manumitted the writers from the I-hate-smut fervor of John Campbell’s (and also Ben Bova’s) associate editor, Kay Tarrant, who had made it her calling to expunge anything that hinted at the possibility of excretion or intercourse from every story, a step which added some parle to the magazine. No, what disappointed the elder gods was just tenure. They had hoped for an editor who would stay on the job for thirty or forty years, like Campbell, and through all that period continue to act as the small but welcome cash cow Astounding/Analog had always been for them. That didn’t happen. Bob Guccione came along with an offer Ben couldn’t refuse to become fiction editor (later managing editor) of Omni, where he stayed until the magazine itself died

Which was probably a good thing for Ben’s writing career, because it freed him to put in his time writing the more than 100 successful books that now grace his shelves.

A.E. van Vogt

A.E. van Vogt

A.E. van Vogt, who was born in Canada on this date in 1912 but moved early to Southern California and never left, became a major sf writer with almost his first story and remained so through the rest of the Campbelll revolution.

That first story was “Black Destroyer,” in the July. 1939 issue of Astounding, and it did almost what Stanley G. Weinbaum had done with his first story, “A Martian Odyssey.” It revolutionized science fiction’s treatment of aliens. Weinbaum’s character Tweel had been the first successful attempt to describe an alien creature not merely as a threat to humans but as a character — not human in any way, but with as much personality and individuality as any homo sapiens. Van Vogt completed the process by telling his story from the Black Destroyer’s point of view.

And that was only the beginning. For the next decade Van Vogt was among Campbell’s most prolific contributors, with stories that delighted most of the readers — novels like Slan, The World of Null-A and many more. True, there were some that felt less than delight, perhaps especially sf’s iconoclast-in-chief, Damon Knight. Damon went over some of Van Vogt’s most famous stories, pointing out that they could hardly be called science fiction because Van had not provided any science at all for some of his most important story inventions. He never said what the ten points in ten-point steel measured, only that it became s really steely kind of steel, et cetera.

Not long after the publication of Knight’s review, Van Vogt’s production began to slow down and nearly to stop entirely. By the time I was editing the Galaxy magazines and trying to get a new trail-blazer from Van he was friendly but not productive.

Indeed Van Vogt was not entirely unwilling to use actual science — that is, what he considered science — in his stories. He was deeply attached to many of the principles set forth by Alfred Korzybski, and even more so to the “scientific” work described as “the Bates eye cure,” a putatively revolutionary system for improving vision problems by — if I understood it aright — taking in as much light as possible by gazing at the sun. And there is no doubt that Van bought into L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics from the beginning, not only following its precepts for himself but setting up as a sort of mentor for converts who wished to attain the status of “clear.”

He would not, however, have anything to do with the changeover to the religion, Scientology, that Hubbard developed when Dianetics began to have problems with the government. He wouldn’t say why, either, though I asked him more than once.