Posts tagged ‘Horace L. Gold’

The Space Merchants, 21st Century Edition

 

See, the liberating thought that came to me one night was, “Hey, Fred! All those people you and Cyril had so much pleasure making fun of, they’re still around — only worse than ever — and they still need to have somebody point out how contemptible their aspirations are and how wretched they would make our lives if they could.”

Time for a new edition! Some of the brand names had lost their relevance — how many people own a Kelvinator or drive a Nash these days? — but it was an easy chore to replace those names with more contemporary ones.

The one thing that would have made the whole job easier, and a lot more fun, was no longer with us. That was the presence of Cyril Kornbluth himself, eternally graceful in the use of words and even more reliably sardonic in his understanding of the world we live in.

* * *

So, after all this long and eventful half-century since the day I diffidently handed the unfinished manuscript of The Space Merchants over to Horace Gold, what do I think of the book itself?

I think it isn’t exactly a conventional novel, which may be why so many editors declined the chance to publish it. Certainly it wasn’t a conventional science-fiction novel, as the term was understood in those early days, it lacking radar-eyed and multilimbed alien characters, as well as their squadrons of faster-than-light battlewagons. What it was, and is, is what Kingsley Amis felicitously termed a “comic inferno” or a “new map of hell.” As such, readers who shared my and Cyril’s apprehensions about the world of the future heard a voice that shared their concerns, and liked what they heard.

And I would make no stronger claim for the book now.

 
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Galaxy, June 1952, with Gravy Planet by Pohl & Kornbluth

 

Cyril Kornbluth and I had collaborated on a few not very good (but sold and published anyway) stories before the war changed everything. He wasn’t doing a lot of writing now, because he had determined to go straight with his life, by which he meant get a college education. Accordingly, he had moved to Chicago with his new wife, Mary, and signed up at the University of Illinois with the financial help of the GI Bill of Rights. He had time to write very little, but what he had written (and I instantly sold for him through the Dirk Wylie agency) was getting better and better.

I thought he could be tempted. As he had just turned up at our house for a visit, it was easy to put that to the test, so I showed him the partial manuscript, and he was hooked. When Cyril went home, he took the fragment with him. He did some tidying up on that first third of the book, then wrote a draft of the next third on his own and came back to show it to me.

I was happy with his draft. We then wrote the final section turn and about, a four-page segment by Cyril followed by four pages by me und so weiter. Then I went over the manuscript myself for one last time. Then I delivered it to Horace and he started it on schedule, after changing the title to Gravy Planet, right after Alfie Bester’s serial ended.

Gravy Planet attracted a lot of interest in the sf community. For a while, it was held responsible for inspiring a whole new species of science fiction called the “when the garbage men take over the world” stories. And when it was finished in the magazine, I made a neat package of the tearsheets in order to sell a hard-cover edition to one book publisher or another. As an agent, I had been selling a ton of sf novels to the newborn and voracious book market for sf. I didn’t anticipate having any trouble getting a book contract.

I could not have been more wrong.

 
To be continued. . . .

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Horace L. Gold

Horace L. Gold

Over the next few years I gave most of my thinking time to other matters. I finally could not make myself stay on at a 9-to-5 job in advertising, so in spite of pleas to stay and the offers of still more money, I left my good friends in advertising and took over the management of my dying friend Dirk Wylie’s literary agency. I did occasionally have a spasm of writing the novel, putting together a few pages of one false start or another, and then ash-canning them when I read them over.

But then I had an idea — slow in coming but full of promise. What I had become reasonably good at, and seemed to be getting slowly better, was science fiction. So why not write a science-fiction novel about advertising?

I experimentally wrote a few pages, on something to which I gave the title Fall Campaign. Then, as time permitted I wrote a few more, and then a few more than that, and after quite a few such episodes I had about a 20,000-word chunk of what was a recognizable science-fiction novel about advertising.

Although I had {through the Wylie agency agency), been selling a reasonable number of short stories, all under pseudonyms, novels were terra incognita to me. I felt the need of an outside opinion. So I took my 20,000 words over to show to Horace Gold, the brilliant, if sometimes maddening, editor of the new magazine Galaxy. My agency did a lot of business with his magazine and we had become friends. He read it over and said, “Fine. I’m running an Alfie Bester serial now. As soon as that finishes I’ll start this one.”

That caught me unawares. I said, “Horace, did you happen to notice that it isn’t finished?”

He said, “Sure. So what do you do about that? You go home and finish it.”

The trouble with that very appealing idea was that running the literary agency did not leave me enough time to do what Horace wanted, at least single-handed. But I quickly saw that I had a possible solution to the problem right up in the third floor guest room of my recently acquired house in Red Bank, New Jersey. The name of the solution was Cyril Kornbluth.

 
To be continued. . . .

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  • The Story of The Space Merchants, Part 1
Perry Knowlton

Perry Knowlton

Years and years ago—I would say maybe about the 1970s—I happened to think of a mystery novel I would like to write. So whenever I got tired of working on the current piece I was writing for Horace L. Gold to print in Galaxy and needed a break I would write a chapter or so on the mystery, and when I had at least a rough draft maybe three-quarters done I packed it up and shipped it to my agent, Perry Knowlton, who not only ran the Curtis Brown agency but was the president of the Society of Authors’ Representatives and a person deemed to have the magic touch at sorting out great works from yuck.

I waited eagerly for The Word, and then it came. “I don’t see this as a better bet than your new serial for Gold,” said Perry. I had stopped writing on page 303. I never wrote page 304.

Then, some years later, when I was in a quite different place, I began to write compulsively, tirelessly on the tangled lives of some harried people. It was called The Lies We Live By, and I thought I was in touch with some important truths. So I sent it, too, off to Perry, and when it had been over a month since I sent it I called him.

“Oh, right, that,” he said. “I made a good start on it but then a lot of complicated things came up. I’ll try to get back to it as soon as I can.”

So that too went into my bottom desk drawer, and then funny things began to happen. Perry sold something of mine to two different publishers, and I had to calm them myself — and then one day his son Tim came into my office, looking more dejected than I had ever seen him.

“It’s Perry,” he said. “It’s Alzheimers, and it’s progressing fast. He’s going to have to retire.”

And so it happened. I never got back to either of them. I thought they were lost in the wastes of unwanted mss. in the agency’s unclaimed files, but just the other day both of them turned up.

Only what do I do now? I don’t want to read them over, because I’ve got too much on my plate already. (And, remember, I’m not 19 years old anymore. What Arthur Clarke did when he found himself lumbered with commitments for books he no longer knew how to write was get a few friends to write them for him. (Including me, for The Last.) I don’t like that idea, either.

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Marty Greenberg and a couple of the others who were clustered in the Kansas City hotel lobby were coaxing me to stay, and one of those (apparent) teen-age graduate students nailed me down with a comment that was clearly intended to lead to a series of questions, “I understand you know Mr. Heinlein quite well, and I’ve just finished reading his Stranger in a Strange Land,” the apparent teen-ager informed me.

And Marty, eager to put temptation in my way, said, “Tell her the story about the Budrys review.”

Everybody seemed to be listening pretty attentively. Robert A. Heinlein being the Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon, nobody wanted to go home without a few new Heinlein stories to spread around. The one Marty wanted me to tell was a favorite. I had at the time just recently taken on the job of editing Galaxy when Horace L. Gold got too sick to continue, and I had also just made AJ Budrys the book reviewer for the magazine when Stranger popped up. I handed it over to AJ as his first assignment.

I had told him he had a week to do the review, but at the end of the week, and a few extra days, there was no sign of the review. When I got him on the phone he told me that it was a big book and he would need at least another week or ten days to do it justice. That wasn’t really a surprise, or, indeed, much of a problem. I had confidence in AJ’s writing and was pretty sure the review would be worth waiting for. So I pulled a 5,000-word short story out of inventory to replace it, and rescheduled AJ’s first column for the next issue. And when at last he did deliver the review I saw that, ah, yes, no matter what I had expected, there certainly was going to be a problem.

AJ had given Heinlein’s science-fiction novel the sort of close-focused attention that I suppose Bishop Challoner must have given the Vulgate texts when he was preparing the Rheims Bible. It was a splendid review, both erudite and entertaining.

It described all the influences that must have been whirling around in Robert’s head as he was creating the book, as well as everything that could be said about Robert’s background and private life. Among the liberties AJ had allowed himself in writing the review was the privilege of speculating how much of Heinlein’s Naval Academy experience — the discipline, the hazing of first-year men, the prohibitions of marriage and various other distractions affecting young men and so on — had caused Heinlein’s obviously troubled feelings about patriotism, authority and proper behavior.

I was absolutely certain that the readers would love both the book and the review … but even more convinced that I couldn’t allow Robert’s first glimpse of the review to be when, all unsuspecting of what was in store for him, he opened up his subscription copy of the magazine that contained it.

So I pondered the problem for a while, and then I took out a little insurance policy. There were no such things as Xeroxes in our little office so I had my assistant of the moment — I think by then it was Judy-Lynn Not-Yet-del-Rey — type out a copy of the review, which I mailed off to Heinlein, with a note explaining that, due to the importance of this novel, I would like to hear any comments he might have about the review before scheduling it.

And time passed.

Continue reading ‘Arrival, Part 2: Heinlein Stories’ »

International Observer, Jan. 1937

One of my early publishing efforts, the clubzine of the International Scientific Association, which was neither international nor scientific.

So many people were happy when I posted my piece on what it was like to work for a pulp house in the early ’40s that I decided to do the same for every publisher I worked for. That’s a fair-sized list of over a span of four decades — five if you count the fanzine publishing I started with, and I do. This is the list:

1930s Fanzine publishing
Early 1940s Popular Publications
1948–1953 Popular Science books
1953–1960 Ballantine Books
1960–1967 Galaxy
1972 Ace Books
1973–1980 Bantam Books

The list is only approximate, because that’s what some of my jobs were, approximate. I was never on the payroll at Ballantine, but in the course of delivering, let me see, 14 books to them over maybe a dozen years I might as well have been. (And by the way, don’t pay too much attention to the dates. I was actually editing Galaxy for close to ten years before I put my name on the masthead because I thought, or hoped, that Horace would recover from his medical problems and come back. And I wasn’t with Ace for a full year. It was maybe seven months before I just couldn’t stand it any longer.)

 
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