Posts tagged ‘Willy Ley’

(This is a new feature I’ve been wanting to add to the blog, talking about some of the most memorable meetings I’ve attended — meetings about science, science fiction, world affairs, all kinds of things.. Some of them were one-off or by invitation only, so I can’t urge you to try them for yourself. Most, though, are regularly scheduled yearly functions — for example the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Future Society and (of course!) the World Science Fiction Convention. The good part of that is that I’ll try to time the columns about the open ones for a few months before their next meeting and give details of how to register, so that if one takes your fancy you can try it for yourself.)

 
The NASA Conference on Speculative Technology

Ed Mitchell

Ed Mitchell, failed telepath?

This first, and so far only, NASA conference on speculative technology was the brainchild of a NASA man named George Pezdirtz. If I ever wanted to put together a really fun scientific conference of my own would try to hire Mr. Pezdirtz to plan it. He did just about everything right.

To start with, the conference was held on an island off the coast of Georgia. I have come to believe that that is the very best kind of site for a conference that wants to explore new possibilities in its mandate. You see, the only way in or out for most of the participants was a single-engine propeller plane that commuted between the Atlanta airport and the island. In most conferences that feature a lot of high-profile participants, the superstars generally fly in just in time for their performances. Then they fly right out again as soon as they’re over. At Spec Tech they couldn’t do that. There weren’t enough seats on the plane. So nearly all of the conferees hung around for the duration, mingling with the others, to the great enrichment of the discussions that followed each paper.

Of course another factor that made that work so well was that so many of them were in fact superstars themselves.

Before we go any farther, let me make a confession. I had some personal reasons for particularly enjoying it. One was that, during a break in the proceedings, Arthur Clarke found some bicycles nobody was using, and attempted a spot of bicycle jousting — I pedaling, Arthur on the handlebars. (That was about the last time both Arthur and I were spry enough for that sort of juvenile delinquency.)

And then there was the question of Wernher von Braun. He and I had been aware of each other’s existence, but the only tangible connection was that he did keep inviting me to watch rocket launches at the Cape. This troubled some mutual friends, Willy Ley in particular, who thought that Von Braun and I could be good friends, but he never offered any one-on-one invitations, and I couldn’t get past the fact that he had been an officer in Hitler’s SS to take the initiative.

But then came an evening at Spec Tech when we had all been invited to a barbecue on the far side of the island. It was an automobile road away, and there weren’t enough cars to go around. So we doubled up. And for half an hour there I had Wernher Von Braun sitting in my lap. . . . Oh, it didn’t overtly change much, but after that I couldn’t help thinking of him less as a Nazi slave-labor driver and more as a human being who shared the same interplanetary ambitions as I did. I don’t think I would have done what he did to get there. But I wouldn’t have got as far as he, either.

Continue reading ‘Great Conferences I Have Attended, No. 1’ »

Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley.

Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley at the Queens Science Fiction League, 1948.

Will Sykora, along with James Taurasi and Sam Moskowitz, were the leaders of the anti-Futurian wing of New York fandom. They had way more members than we, so on votes they had no trouble cutting us off from even things that originally had been our ideas, like the 1939 Worldcon No. 1.

Willy Ley in his natal Germany was a member of the circle of early German rocket enthusiasts, including Wernher von Braun, which were largely responsible for encouraging the research which produced the V1 and V2 flying bombs. By then, however, Ley, a confirmed anti-Nazi, had escaped to America where he became a writer on that and related subjects.

Sykora had no particular connection with Ley. They just both happened to sit at the same table, and there was somebody with a camera.

* * *

The Early PohlThe Early Asimov

 
The funny story about The Early Pohl:

It was the idea of some of the Doubleday editors to publish a book of the first (and generally the worst) stories ever published by a number of sf writers, including Isaac Asimov and me. As it happened, two of Isaac’s earliest stories had been collaborations with me, and he wanted to include them in The Early Asimov. So to pay me for my contribution to the work, I received a 5-percent share of the income from Isaac’s book.

The funny, if embarrassing to me, part of it:

We kept on getting royalties on these books for some time, and in every royalty period the money from my 5-percent share of Isaac’s royalties was always more than my 100-percent share of my own.

* * *

By the way and P.S:

Did you notice how trivial were the dreadful effects of technology that I was trying to worry the reader with? From jet planes, I warned of sonic boom; from cars, the corroding of stonework.

How ignorant we were even when we thought we were cutting-edge smart!

 
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Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley at a meeting of the Queens Science Fiction League in 1948.

Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley at a meeting of the Queens Science Fiction League in 1948.

 
Introduction

This arrived without warning from my old friend Andrew Porter, once the editor and publisher of Algol/Science Fiction Chronicle, the only real competition Locus ever had. Andy didn’t say why he sent it, but I guess he just thought I would like to see it again — it’s a part of a chapter taken from a book of mine called The Early Pohl that I haven’t looked at in years. Well, I did get a kick out of some of it (although other parts did just repeat things I’ve written here and elsewhere). Considering how many said that you had enjoyed the chapter I inadvertently reprinted from The Way the Future Was, some of you might like this, too, so I’m going to take a chance and reprint this as well. (Having cut out much, though probably not all, of the stuff that already was in the earlier piece.)

The title of the piece is Andy’s. (It refers to the fact that if you wanted to start an sf club in New York in the ’30s, it helped to have a basement that you could hold the club’s meetings in.) It was also Andy’s decision to include a picture of Will Sykora and Willy Ley at the beginning, although only Sykora has anything at all to do with the piece, and then not much. So I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. As afterwords I’ll attach a little bit about who they are, and I’ll also tell you a funny, if a bit embarrassing to me, story about The Early Pohl, the book this piece came from.

 
BASEMENT AND EMPIRE
From the book The Early Pohl, copyright ©1976 by Frederik Pohl. (Abridged.)

In the winter of 1933, when I was just turned thirteen, I discovered three new truths.

The first truth was that the world was in a hell of a mess. The second was that I really was not going to spend my life being a chemical engineer, no matter what I had told my guidance counselor at Brooklyn Technical High School. And the third was that in my conversion to science fiction as a way of life I Was Not Alone.

All of these new discoveries were important to me, and in a way they were all related. I had just started the second semester of my freshman year at Brooklyn Tech. It was a cold, grimy winter in the deepest depths of the Great Depression. There was not much joy to be found. Men were selling apples in the streets. The unemployed stood in bread lines and prayed for snow — that meant there would be work shoveling it off the sidewalks. Roosevelt had just been elected President but hadn’t yet taken office — Inauguration Day, still geared to the stagecoach schedules of 1789, had not yet been moved up from March 4. Banks were going broke.

There was not much money around, but on the other hand you didn’t need a lot. Subway fare was a nickel. So was a hot dog at Nedick’s, which was enough for a schoolboy’s lunch. You could go to the movies for a dime or, sometimes, for a can of soup to be donated to the hungry.

Brooklyn Tech was an honor school, which is possibly why I decided to go to it in the first place. Like many of my colleagues, I regret to say that as a kid I was always something of an intellectual snob. (I do not wish to discuss what I am now.) Tech had been born in an ancient factory building, next to the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge in the grimiest part of Brooklyn’s industrial riverside district. It had outgrown that and was now spread around a clutch of decrepit ex-grammar schools in the same area. We commuted from building to building, class to class.

I found myself walking from my Mechanical Drawing class in P.S. No. 5 to my Forge and Foundry class in the main building in the company of a tall, skinny kid named Joseph Harold Dockweiler. Along about the third time we crossed Flatbush Avenue together I discovered that we had something of great urgency in common. He, too, was a Science-Fiction Fan, Third Degree. That is, he didn’t merely read the stuff, or even stop at collecting back issues and searching the secondhand bookstores for overlooked works. He, like me, had the firm intention of writing it someday.

Six or seven years later Joseph Harold Dockweiler renamed himself Dirk Wylie. Later still, he and I went partners in a literary agency and later, but tragically not very much later, he died, at the appalling age of twenty-eight, of the aftereffects of his service in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

Dirk was the first person I had found like myself. Having learned that we were not unique, we contemplated the possibility of finding still others who would be able and anxious to compare the merits of Amazing vs. Wonder Stories and discuss the galaxy-ranging glamour of E.E. Smith’s Skylark stories. In a word, we went looking for science-fiction fandom.

The bad part of that was that fandom did not yet quite exist.

The good part was that it was just about to be born, when Wonder Stories started a circulation-boosting correspondence club called the Science Fiction League. We joined instanter, and began attending club meetings as soon as a local chapter was formed, where we met others like ourselves.

 
More to come. . . .

 
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Arthur C. Clarke, photo by Amy Marash, www.marash.tv

Sir Arthur C. Clarke at home in Sri Lanka, 2005. Photo by Amy Marash.

I first met Arthur C. Clarke in the 1950s, on the occasion of his first cross-Atlantic visit to New York City By then Arthur had established himself as a first-rate science-fiction writer and he did what sf writers do in a strange city: He looked for other sf writers to talk to.

He found them in the rather amorphously shaped group that called itself the Hydra Club, where I was one of the nine heads that had been its founders. We became friends. We stayed that way for all of the half century that remained of Arthur’s life. We met when chance arranged it — at a film festival in Rio de Janeiro, at an occasional scientific meeting, at assorted “cons” — sf-speak for science-fiction gatherings — in many places at many times.

In the early days Arthur spent a lot of time visiting New York, usually staying at the Chelsea Hotel on West 23d Street, and when possible I would join him for dinner or a drink — that was all expense-account money and happily paid for by my publisher, because I was an editor in those days and eager to publish as much Clarke as I could get my hands on. But by the turn of the millennium our friendship had reduced itself to a desultory correspondence and the odd phone conversation. I had given up editing to concentrate on my own writing. What Arthur had given up was ever leaving his island home in Sri Lanka, where I had never been. (Although I visited a number of other countries, Sri Lanka wasn’t one of them.)

Then, in one of his letters in the early part of 2006, Arthur rather offhandedly mentioned that, a couple of years earlier, in a fit of exuberance, he had signed publishing contracts for several books that, he was now convinced, he would never be able to write himself. Most of them he had arranged for some other writer to finish, but there was one, called The Last Theorem, for which he needed a collaborator.

Continue reading ‘Sir Arthur and I’ »