Posts tagged ‘Hugo Gernsback’

Amazing-June 1936

 

The development of a professional writer is marked by a number of stages, each identified by a particular event. My own development was accelerated by the fact that by the time I was 14 or so I had come to know people — Johnny Michel and Don Wollheim — who had actually sold works to professional science-fiction magazines.

(Well, “sold” is putting it a bit strong, since neither of them had really been paid for their work. In fact, that’ s why they had come to Geegee Clark’s Brooklyn Science Fiction League in the first place; to put pressure on Hugo Gernsback to pay the writers for his Wonder Stories by denouncing him to his most loyal fans, the ones who had joined his club.)

Anyway, I listened to them reverently, and in fact learned a great deal. One of things I learned was that, surprisingly, the editors of science-fiction magazines were in some ways indistinguishable from ordinary human beings. They went to offices to work — well, I knew that because I had discovered on my own the existence of writers’ magazines that actually gave addresses for those offices. I had even experimentally tried mailing one or two of my early stories to one or two of those sf markets. What I learned additionally from Donald and Johnny was that you could go in person to some of those offices, and that some of those editors, sometimes, would actually talk to you.

That particular nugget of information was worth actual cash to me. As I had learned from my study of Writers Digest, I could mail in my stories — and had done so. The catch to that was that I was required to enclose postage for the return trip in the (likely) event of rejection. That had amounted, in the last story I had submitted by mail, to 9¢ in stamps each way, total 18¢. While the cost, if I delivered them in person, would be only a nickel each way for the subway. (Plus, of course, whatever price could be put on my time for the 45 minutes each way it would take for me to do it — but, then, nobody else was offering to buy any of my time at any price.)

That represented a nearly 50-percent reduction in my cost of doing business, or even more — much, much more! — if I had enough stories to submit to make a continuing process out of it. I could, say, take the subway to editor A’s office to pick up rejected story X and at the same time submit new story Y, then walk (no cost for walking) to the office of editor B to try story X on him. And there was no reason for me to limit myself to a single story each way at each office.

The only thing that could prevent me from working at that much greater volume was that I hadn’ t written enough stories to make such economies of scale pay off, and that, boys and girls, is how I became a literary agent.

 
Continue reading ‘Early Editors’ »

Donald Wollheim, 1937.

Donald Wollheim, 1937.

When Don Wollheim and Johnny Michel came to convert the Brooklyn SFL to the cause of annihilating Hugo Gernsback, Donald was all of seventeen years old. I was twelve, and to a twelve-year old seventeen looks nearly indistinguishable from grownup. He acted and talked that way, too.

He and Johnny, in fact, were at that BSFL meeting on the very grownup mission of trying to persuade us to join them in punishing Hugo for the cardinal sin of not paying his authors, of which Donald and Johnny were, sort of, two. Gernsback had published Donald’s first story, “The Man from Ariel,” concerning an alien whose home world was so puny that you could pretty nearly jump right off it into space; Gernsback had promised to pay $25 for the right to publish, and had in fact come through with part of it, but was dodging Donald’s attempts to collect the balance.

It wasn’t the case that Donald was hurting for the money. The Depression still lingered, but Donald’s father was a very successful heart doctor with a large and comfortable apartment in the expensive part of West End Avenue. But, though he didn’t actively need the few dollars involved, Donald had the right to collect them and Gernsback was definitely in the wrong.

As we got to know Donald better, I came to have a lot of respect for the frequency with which he generated ideas. He was definitely a leader. I was happy to follow his ever-changing leads … at first.

Later on we sometimes became competitors. But we always remained friends, sometimes off on ventures that excluded even Johnny Michel, to whom Donald otherwise often seemed spot-welded at the spinal column.

 
More when I get around to writing it. . . .

The conclusion of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

Alfred Bester, 1979 (Photo by Frank Olynyk).

Alfred Bester, 1979 (Photo by Frank Olynyk).

Audience: What’s it like to start writing the next book after you have written, say, The Demolished Man?

Bester: I’ve just finished a book about a month ago and I’m absolutely pooped — there’s nothing left. It happens with me when I’ve finished something big like a novel. Not a script — with a script or a short story, next week you write another one. But with a book, I’m exhausted.

Now at my advanced age I know better — I leave it alone and the next thing I know, a few weeks, a couple of months maybe, an idea begins to niggle me and the next thing I know I’m beginning to dream and think about it. Who’s as surprised as me when there’s something in my head and there’s my legal pad, and a book is formed? You just have to wait for the battery to recharge. I just wait patiently and it starts all over again. There are so many ideas that one has.

I may think, “Ah yes, there’s that play that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time and I’m going to start on that play,” and the next thing I know it’s going to turn into a novel. You don’t know what will happen — you’re constantly surprised.

Pohl: You’re a much more organized person than I am. I don’t work on one thing at a time. I usually have eight or 10 projects going at one time. I work on one until I’m bored, and don’t know what to do next. Then I put it away and work on another. So the point never really comes where I have to say this day I start from scratch with something new, but each day, to the extent possible with the vicissitudes of travel or something, I do some writing!

Every day. I find that sometimes it gets a little treacherous though because I want to write the same scene in three different novels. There are two novels that I’m working on now and I’ve got a great scene and I want it in both of them.

Bester: I’ve stolen scenes from myself many a time and been ashamed.

Audience: Do you consider the increasing commercialism of science fiction will have a detrimental effect on the future?

Pohl: The increasing commercialism of science fiction has worried me sometimes because it seems to me that the prices have got pretty high and it’s a sort of South Sea Bubble thing that is going to bust before long. But I don’t think it’ll affect any writer seriously. Writers that are good enough to command the sky-high prices that are going on, especially science-fiction writers, are generally also so damn stubborn that they’re going to do what they want to do anyhow. And not too many of the first-rank writers that I know are going to worry about commercialism. They will do their thing.

From time to time I’ve flirted with things like television where you can’t really do your thing unless you have a commanding position and have spent 20 years earning it, but I don’t want to do that, even though I could make much more money and reach a wider audience. It’s not my thing. And most of the writers I know will not do what they don’t want to do, no matter what sort of money is about.

Bester: I agree completely. I do an occasional science-fiction special, but I can’t write for any of the standard shows. The coast — Hollywood — is impossible.

There’s a little gag: What is a camel? A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Out on the coast, it is all committee work.

Pohl: Yes, all these people have to justify their salaries by having an opinion! If they don’t have an opinion, they’re fired.

Bester: Which they impose on you. I’m all kinds of author, but I’ve never yet written anything in which I’ve not been in complete control. And I just will not put up with committee work.

Audience: Another person who comes to mind as somebody who has tried very hard to do his own thing within the framework of media work is Harlan Ellison!

Pohl: Harlan does his own thing. Harlan chooses for reasons not known to me to flagellate himself by going back and writing episodes of The Flying Nun from time to time. Why he does this I don’t really know; he doesn’t need the money.

Bester: Harlan did a Star Trek script and it was the one good script that they had. Harlan’s a marvelous writer, there’s no doubt about it.

Pohl: The reason I don’t get involved in film and top TV, is neither that I’m allergic to money nor above that sort of thing. It’s just that I don’t want to deal with all those people. One maniac editor is all that I can handle at one time; 27 lunatic network executives would just drive me insane.

AD: But Fred, now you’ve achieved enough clout to get away with it.

Pohl: I can get away with it until they come back and say, “NBC loves your idea but they won’t allow you to do what you said you want to do.” And then I walk away.

A couple of years ago, I was coming to Los Angeles and my Hollywood agent called me up and said: “When you come, I’ve got somebody for you to meet. He’s a producer and he wants you to write a script for him.”

And I said: “What kind of script?”

“It’s a Japanese monster movie!”

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 8: Hollywood and the Name Game’ »

Elizabeth Anne Hull, me, the Hugo and Steven Silver. (Photo by Cathy Pizarro.)

Elizabeth Anne Hull, me, the Hugo and Steven Silver. (Photo by Cathy Pizarro.)

I didn’t get over to the Worldcon in Australia, so when I won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer, my friend Bob Silverberg accepted it for me. Here is what he said at the ceremony:

“A couple of weeks before I left for Australia I received an e-mail from Fred Pohl asking whether I would accept the Best Fan Writer Hugo for him if he won. This is what I replied:

“‘Of all the goddamn crazy things. Here we are in 2010, you are 90 years old, I’m no kid myself, the worldcon is in Australia, and you are sending me some kind of newfangled electronic message about the possibility that you might win the Best Fan Writer Hugo. What would Sam Moskowitz say about all this? Don Wollheim? Hugo Himself? Are we both trapped in the future, swept off into this nonsense by some inexorable force? Of course I will accept that Hugo for you. It will be one of the great moments of my life.’

“And it gives me immense pleasure now to accept the Best Fan Writer Hugo for my friend of more than fifty years, Fred Pohl.”

After Silverbob accepted the Hugo Award, the trophy was ferried back to Chicago by Helen Montgomery, who passed it along to Steven Silver, who brought it over last week. Thanks to everyone concerned!

Thanks, also, to everyone for all the congratulatory messages, of which this one from Encyclopedia Britannica might be the most extraordinary. I wrote their entry on Tiberius in the 1960s!

Murray Leinster

    Murray Leinster
 

Will F. Jenkins, who sometimes chose to sign his stories with the pseudonym Murray Leinster and sometimes didn’t, was one of the most influential science-fiction writers ever, and I want to write something about him. What’s wrong with that simple ambition is that I didn’t know him very well. In fact, I don’t think —

  1. that he and I were ever in the same room, or,

  2. that I ever bought a story from him during the decades in which I was successively working as an editor for Popular Publications, PopularScience/Outdoor Life, Galaxy, Ace and Bantam, and was regularly buying work from just about every other significant sf writer alive.

But I do have some special knowledge of Jenkins/Leinster from other sources. One of them is the same for me as it is for any other fan. I’ve read a lot of his stories, and what stories they are! There’s “Sidewise in Time,” from the June, 1934, Astounding, which was the very first parallel-time story, and so provided interesting new story explorations to be made in all of the hundreds and thousands of paratime stories that followed. There was “A Logic Named Joe,” which got just about everything right about the most important invention of the 20th century except one thing, the name of the logics. (When they came true, we called them computers.) And there was “First Contact,” the first science-fiction story to think through the problems you encounter when your exploration ship comes across a ship of intelligent aliens exploring the same planet.

The thing about Will Jenkins’s stories is that there are so many of them, over 1,500 short pieces, both articles and short stories, that we forget just how good they are. He even started near the top, making his first sale, a short story called “The Foreigner,” to the classiest magazine of the time, the legendary The Smart Set, edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. He kept on appearing in it, too, so frequently — indeed sometimes with more than one story in and issue — that he had to create the pen name “Murray Leinster” to attach to the surplus. Science fiction wasn’t common in America yet, but Will began writing it early with stories for Argosy like “The Runaway Skyscraper,” which canny old Hugo Gernsback reprinted in Amazing as soon as he started it.

 
As I’ve said, I never met Will Jenkins and, to tell the truth, I’m not at all sure that we would ever have become close friends if I had. After all, his choice for the greatest man who ever lived was the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, while my own would have been President Abraham Lincoln. We might have had to fight The War Between the States over again a few times first.

All the same there’s a lot to admire in Will Jenkins, as I’ve discovered in reading the unpublished biography of the man that two of his daughters, Jo-an J. Evans and Wenllian J. Stallings, have just finished writing. That is my source for a good deal of what I know about him.

What I know is that, in addition to being a talented and seminal writer, he was a good father, a kind human being and a talented inventor. Perhaps his most successful invention was a system of forward-projecting surround scenes when shooting a movie, which sounds to me a lot like what Stanley Kubrick was experimenting with when he shot the opening ape-men scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I’ll tell you one thing. If I were still drudging away as a book editor, I would quickly write a contract for this book, perhaps plumping it out by adding “Sidewise in Time” and “A Logic Named Joe” to show what I was talking about. Then I would get it out in the stores so everybody could read the facts about this commendable man, including his reasons for giving his four daughters such, ah, distinctive names.

Isaac Asimov, ca. 1934

    Isaac Asimov, ca. 1934.

The way I met Isaac Asimov was the way I met almost everybody else who became not only important to me as a teenager but a lifelong friend. Like every other kid in the world, I met a lot of other kids in those years from, say, 14 to 19 — in school, in the neighborhood, in the YCL, in the (don’t laugh) Olivet Presbyterian Church Thursday afternoon teenagers’ class, which I attended until I was 17. But those friends came and went and were gone, while many of the ones I met through fandom were friends all their lives — Isaac, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Dirk Wylie, Dick Wilson. In fact, there are one or two — Jack Robins, Dave Kyle — whom I still count as friends, seventy-odd years later, although none of us are very mobile these days and it’s been a while since we got together.

I digress. (In fact, you may have noticed, I do it often.) In those days, the thing was that we kids had been captured by science fiction. And when a burgeoning fandom gave us a chance to meet other captives, we signed up at once.

Like most of us in the New York area, Isaac’s first clue that there was a way to join others came from reading Hugo Gernsback’s magazine, Wonder Stories. In an effort to improve sales, Gernsback had started a correspondence club, the Science Fiction League, and allowed some members to charter local chapters. One, the Q (for Queens) SFL, was in the New York area and was the point of first contact for most of the area’s newbies because they’d read about it in the magazine.

So the QSFL was where Isaac first showed up, but we Futurians kept an eye on their new blood. Anyone who turned up with an interest in writing sf as well as reading it, we kidnapped; that was one of the reasons the QSFL’s heads, James Taurasi, Will Sykora and Sam Moskowitz, weren’t real fond of us. And Isaac made it clear that he was definitely going to become an sf professional writer, as soon as he figured out how.

 
At that time Isaac didn’t give many indications that he would achieve that ambition, much less that he would become I*S*A*A*C  A*S*I*M*O*V. He was, if anything, deferential. Isaac was born Russian-Jewish, brought to America as a small child when his father, who had immigrated early, was at last able to send for his family.

Many of the Futurians had already begun to write sf stories, showing the mss. to each other and talking about the stories’ successes (few) and flaws (many). One or two of us had actually made some tiny sales. (Including me. I had had a truly sappy poem published in Amazing Stories.) A few of us had begun teaming up as collaborators. Isaac yearned, but he had to miss most of that. His parents owned a candy store at the eastern edge of Prospect Park, and their children had to help with the work of running it. Isaac got to our meetings when he could, but seldom to the writing sessions.

 
Continue reading ‘Isaac
Part 1 of I don’t know how many’ »