Posts tagged ‘History’

Scientists have finally figured out where we all came from, and the answer isn’t pretty. Three billion years ago, an organism named LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) inhabited the Earth, and we all — that’s primates and platypuses, sponges and salamanders, diplodocuses and ducklings — every last one of us, of whatever species, are her (or his, or its) direct descendant.

How big was LUCA? Oh, real big. According to Gustavo Caetano-Anolles of the University of Illinois, it lived in the ocean and filled all of Earth’s global ocean with its mass. Then — after maybe a hundred million years or so — LUCA began to split up One fraction became the ancestor to the bacteria. Another gave rise to the archaea, and the final fraction gave rise to what, among other things, things like butterflies and jellyfish and termites, gave rise to you and me.

So we should all send her-him-it a Mother’s Day card! This address might not work, but it’s all we have:

LUCA
On Earth
Everywhere

— should reach her.

Gustave Flaubert

  Gustave Flaubert

 

“Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times. People have always been like this.”

Gustave Flaubert

Bluefin tuna: Threatened with extinction.

Bluefin tuna: Threatened with extinction.

So far in the history of life on Earth there have been five Great Extinctions. One was caused by the giant meteor that hit what is now the coast of Mexico, two by freezing in the oceans and the lowering of the sea levels, one by huge, widespread volcanic eruptions, one (probably) by gigantic meteorite showers.

They were all many millions of years ago — all but the sixth Great Extinction, which has barely started. That is the one the scientists are calling the “Holocene,” and its cause is annihilation of species of birds, animals and — especially, for example — edible fish.

And the cause of that is Us.

How do we cause extinctions? Oh, we have lots of ways. For fish, we harvest the tastiest ones en masse until there are none left (it’s estimated that we have removed nearly 90 percent of large fish from the sea). We destroy habitats. Most of all, we cause global warming. Anyway, our work in this matter has gone far enough for scientist to refer to the present as a new age, the Holocene.

From left, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, me, John B. Michel, Will Sykora, 1936.

From left, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, me, John B. Michel and Will Sykora in 1936.

A congratulations note from Mark Olson reminds me of what I didn’t think of on my own, namely that we just passed the 75th anniversary of that earth-shaking event, the very first science-fiction convention ever, held when a handful of us New Yorkers dared the rail trip to Philadelphia to join with a handful of Philly fans and convene.

Three-quarters of a century! My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

Part 2 of Review of the Campbell-Swisher Letters

John W. Campbell in 1957 (from efanzines.com)

John W. Campbell in 1957 (from efanzines.com)

Fantasy Commentator
Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles Memorial Issue, Special Double Issue, Nos. 59 & 60.

 
On October 5, 1937, John W. Campbell’s world changed. The powers at Street & Smith, on F. Orlin Tremaine’s advice, appointed him to replace Tremaine as editor of Astounding Stories. That must have been a shock to Campbell, who’d been worriedly wondering who would get the job, as well as a solution to the worst of his money worries.

I had guessed elsewhere the his weekly paycheck was probably $35, but I was wrong. Actually it was $30. Yet that was a sum the young Campbells had only dreamed of having — was enough, indeed, to permit him to buy a Ford (presumably on the installment plan), and thus to manage, among other things, that long desired trip back to New England to visit old friends. But that didn’t happen right away. Getting used to his new job kept him jumping

He would have liked to start afresh, with a lineup of stories that he had chosen in the first place, and edited to make them more like the stories he himself wrote, in the second. He didn’t have that luxury. Tremaine had bought a number of stories, which now sat in the magazine’s inventory and had to be published. This appeared to have filled the magazine through its January 1938 issue; Campbell’s first editorial, in the December 1937 number said February would be a “mutant” issue. It didn’t say what part of the magazine would get mutated. It turned out to be the stories.

The magazine did not show the effect of a new hand at the tiller very quickly. That wasn’t John’s fault. No magazine can show the full effects of a new editorial policy overnight. Not only are there the inventory of stories bought under the old policies to work off, but it takes a while to let the contributors know what the new policies are.

What John did with the submissions that kept coming in was first to give each one a fair reading (sometimes this may not be much more than the first page; you can tell), and then divide them into two parts. The ones he didn’t have any interest in got a printed rejection slip. The ones that had something good about them got a typed note from John saying what he liked about the story and what about the story kept him from buying it. Those went back, too. But sometimes they came back again revised to the Campbell prescription and then got bought, and more frequently the next stories Campbell got from that writer were closer to his wishes. (How do I know so much about John’s reading habits? Because he described them to me, and they were so eminently sensible that, when I became a pro editor myself, I adopted them as my own.)

 
There are two points in the letters where John talks about dealings with me. Both of them are wrong. In the first one, he says I bragged to him that my Astonishing Stories sold more copies than his Astounding. That’s incorrect, though. I didn’t know about the difference in sales figures or I certainly would have bragged about it all over town.

The other is in the discussion about putting a non-Jewish pen name on the stories by Milt Rothman that I sold him as Milt’s agent. In the letters, John says he thought it better not to tell me about his reasoning because it might cause misunderstandings. But he did tell me. That led to my advising Milt to do what he said, in fact. On that one, I do have a theory to explain it. I think when he wrote the letter he hadn’t told me his reasoning, but then changed his mind and on a later occasion did tell me.

Well, this got longer and more detailed than a review should. I apologize for that, and in general for taking so long, when all I really wanted to say was if (1) you want to be an editor, or (2) if you’re interested in Campbell as a person, or (3) if you just like a good read on a science-fiction subject — why, then, this is a book for you.

 
Related posts:

Fantasy Commentator 59-60

Fantasy Commentator
Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles Memorial Issue, Special Double Issue, Nos. 59 & 60.
 

When John W. Campbell, Jr., washed out of MIT by failing to pass their German course, he didn’t stay in Massachusetts. Instead, he returned to his mother’s home in Orange, New Jersey. He had left some close friendships behind, though, and one of the first things he did after relocating was to write a letter to his Massachusetts friend Robert D. Swisher, a pharmaceutical chemist working for the Monsanto Corporation.

That was the first letter of many, and they were all carefully preserved, misspellings, factual errors and all, by Swisher, and then by his widow. Now they are published, under the guise of an article in the late A. Langley Searles’ fanzine Fantasy Commentator, published as a memorial tribute by Searles’ widow, Alice Becker, M.D. The issue contains nothing but the letters. Its length — 156 large pages — is within accepted book publishing standards. So let’s call it a book, the two of us, all right?

This book, then, contains all the letters John wrote to Swisher over a period of more than twenty years, from John’s early attempts at writing science-fiction stories of his own through his triumphal masterminding of the world’s best science-fiction magazine and his intoxication with L. Ron Hubbard’s invention of Dianetics, followed by his final rejection of that cause — though not of the validity of many of its principles which, called by one name or another, he apparently subscribed to until his death.

As a document bearing on these matters, this is not merely a good, readable book. It is an invaluable one, and the credit for the clarity and completeness that make it such a pleasure to read belongs in no small part to its editor, the late Sam Moskowitz. The source material Sam had to work with was a clutch of actual letters, many of them handwritten and some not easy to decipher, and a considerable fraction of them comprising little more than technical descriptions of the cameras, lenses and films for which the two correspondents shared an affection. All of that photography material Moskowitz skillfully redacted away. What remains is the next best thing to a detailed personal diary of the life of a stand-out major figure in the field of science fiction.

Continue reading ‘The Campbell Letters’ »