Posts tagged ‘The Way the Future Was’

Some good friends and blog people have been telling me that, while they’re all totally on my side in my struggle with the forces of evil, they made up their minds long ago, and they wish I would stop talking about those hateful libels and lies. I am proud and happy to tell you that — with your help — I may have found a real way of accomplishing that.

It isn’t hard, either. It takes just two actions, one by you and one by me.


The Way the Future Was

Part One, my part, is the part that’s not exactly easy because it’s going to take a lot of work from me, but I’ve already started it. That is to prepare a new edition of The Way the Future Was to clear up a lot of the parts that were unclear in the first edition. The reason they were unclear was that, although I did my best to Tell All about my own actions, even the ones I wished I hadn’t done, there were parts where I couldn’t Tell All about me without Also Telling All about some other person, and that I wasn’t ready to do.

Please understand me. I’m not going to tell about who was sleeping with whom for the sake of sexual excitement but things like why it was that one famous author pulled a gun on me and aimed it at my face, after which we wound up in a fist fight. And things like that.


That’s my part, quite a lot of which I’m going to release on the blog well before the book comes out. What’s yours?

What I am asking you to do is, whenever you attend a party, a con or whatever and someone repeats one of those lies about me as though it were fact, you pull out your copy of my wife’s birthday present, Gateways with an s, and show him what reputable people have to say the subject..

Can you do that for me?

I know it would cost you money to buy a copy if you don’t have one already. But it would make it possible for me to get off this distasteful subject. Please.

Judith Merril

   Judith Merril

For the first couple of years after World War II, I was living in Greenwich Village, as a civilian, along with my second wife, Dorothy Louise LesTina (about whom see The Way the Future Was.). We had a pretty busy life, the two of us, and although I had heard that there was a whole new science-fiction fandom in the city I was overfull of self-affairs (as the Bard put it) and myself did lose it.

Anyway, then Tina, visiting her parents in California filed for divorce. (There, too, check my writing about Tina for details.) In any case, I suddenly wasn’t married any more, and so I had time to get around to seeing if I and this new NYC fan community had any reason to get together.

It turned out that we did. I began making friends with young Robert Silverberg and young Charles Brown (yes, the Locus man, although all that was still very far away) and a bunch of other people who became close, long-time friends. And there was one really interesting thing, unprecedented in pre-war fannish history, and that was that quite a few of these new New York fans were female.

That was an unexpected but very, very welcome development. I soon became friendly with some of this new breed of femmefans, as they were (briefly) termed, and with one in particular. That one’s name was Judy Zissman. She was divorced and with an enchanting little girl whom she had named Merril. Judy wanted to be a writer and the two of us got along just fine.

Before I tell you some of the things that happened next, there is one thing you need to know about Judy right now, and that is the nature of her beliefs about sexual conduct. One of them was that females had as much right to sleep around as males do, and that that right was considerable..

That was one of the things I didn’t really want to discuss when I was writing The Way the Future Was. The good news is that now I don’t have to discuss it at all. In the last years of her life, Judy was writing her own memoir, and in it she was quite open about her views and her experiences.

Judy died before she could finish the memoir, but the two of us had begun having some of our children’s children growing up and taking over some things. One of them was our well-beloved granddaughter Emily Pohl-Weary, who, having herself become a writer, finished the book for her. (It was published as Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril. And listen, our kids and grandkids don’t fool around. It won a Hugo Award.)

So by all means, read all you like about Judy’s private business. Only read about it from her.

Before long, Judy and I had settled down to cohabitating in her gigantic New York apartment on East 4th Street.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The place certainly was gigantic, at least four big bedrooms, but it was also on the basement level of the apartment building To get to it, you took the elevator down one flight. It had been designed, and built, with the expectation that it would be occupied by the building’s janitor and his family. In America’s postwar boom, though, your average janitor didn’t care to be treated like an inferior. The present incumbent and family lived in modest prosperity, rent-free, in a perfectly rentable apartment above-ground. Judy had discovered the situation and grabbed the underground space for a pitiful rent, which I think may have been less than $25 a month.

For us it was perfect. Plenty of room for us each to have space to live and write, and space for little Merril and for the child’s pet dog, Taxi Driver, and even for Judy to rent out one of the extra rooms to the occasional single woman who needed a cheap place to stay. One was Gerry Schuster, rehearsal pianist for the New York Ballet. Another, at a different time, described herself as “the white New York girlfriend” of a famous musician — and proved it by getting us all comped seats to his Carnegie Hall appearance, and a visit to his dressing room after.

And, in particular, the one thing that the place was perfect for was parties. We had a lot of them.

We were quite prosperous at that time, you see. I was book editor and advertising copywriter for the rich Popular Science Publishing Company at a steadily increasing salary. While Judy had got herself an editorial job with Bantam Books, working for Ian Ballantine, who at that time ran it.. Between us we earned quite a lot, we didn’t really spend all that much, and God was good. Not only that. Bantam gave Judy the chance to edit her first very own science-fiction anthology (but entitled Shot in the Dark to disguise the fact that it was sf as much as possible).

And even that wasn’t the very best of it. There was the fact that Judy had, without warning and all by herself, had unexpectedly written a story of her own that just knocked the socks off everyone who read it.

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 1: ‘That Only a Mother’’ »

Dear People:

As you know, I have a problem, and its name is Mark Rich. For some reason, and I have no clue as to what that reason is, it is quite obvious that he hates me.

Now, I don’t particularly care whether someone named Mark Rich hates me, since as far as I know, I’ve never met the man. The difficulty, however, is that he has written a book about it, and it comes at a bad time. I’m not young, and I’m not in particularly good health, and there are a number of things that are important to me that I want to get done. Dealing with the attacks of this man was not one of them

But I really can’t let him go on unchecked. It isn’t just that he hates me. He makes up whole scenarios that never happened to hate me for, like the one I wrote about last week in this blog. And honestly, Mr. Rich, that’s pathological.

So I am going to have to do some setting of the record straight.

This presents a big problem for me, one I thought I had faced and settled 25 years ago.

You see, when I first began writing the autobiographical sort of material that ultimately turned into the book The Way the Future Was, I had to decide just how much truth I wanted to tell. What I decided was that I would try to be as candid as possible about everything I had done, even the things I wished I hadn’t. The trouble with that was that I was not the only person involved in those matters. If I chose to Tell All about everything I did, it unfortunately would sometimes involve simultaneously Telling All about others, which I had no right or desire to do.

Understand that I am not saying that that sf community in New York in the 1950s and ’60s was riddled with vice and degeneracy. It wasn’t. Well, not a lot, anyway. But these were young people who did a fair amount of drinking and sometimes a modest amount of drugs. That is to say, in those respects they were quite like young adult bridge clubs, church groups and party-givers all over America. Only in their cases some of them got kind of famous.

There was, for all these reasons, a lot of stuff I didn’t write about concerning some of the other people involved because I didn’t want to embarrass them. In particular, that applied to my one-time wife, Judy Merril. We had just begun being good friends again as I was writing that book, and that was a good feeling. It gave us a chance to enjoy our increasing numbers of grandchildren together, and it let us remember, as Judy said to me once, “Why I liked you in the first place.”

Rich however seems to think that I persecuted Judy, and I will take that up.

He also all but states that I embezzled some of Cyril’s share of the earnings from The Space Merchants. I’ll deal with that one, too, and with several others of his very bad guesses. But I want to do something else first.

Rich apparently believes that, apart from dishonesty, my career in science fiction has been marked by general incompetence in just about everything I tried, as agent, as editor, as collaborator and as author. If I left anything out, he thinks I was lousy at that, too.

In the scheme of things entire, I would like not to care what somebody I never heard of thinks of me. This time, though, I don’ have that privilege, because Rich went and wrote this damn book. Lots of people do care about Cyril Kornbluth and are likely to want to read about him. (Even more, I think, may be likely to hear of our present differences and want to see what he said for themselves.) Some of them may know very little about me, or about what the rest of the world thinks of me, and how that contrasts with Rich’s opinions and flights of fantasy.

That would be a pity, so let’s look at the record.

Start with this: I have seven Hugo Awards.

That’s not a remarkable number, but I won three of them for writing (four if you count the new one I unexpectedly got this year) and three as editor, and I would like to point out that in all the years Hugo Awards have been given out, nobody else in the world has ever won the Hugo in both those major categories. (The editing awards were for If, and the fiction awards included those for my novel Gateway and a short story, “Fermi and Frost.”)

One Hugo Award I shared with Cyril, posthumously, for a short story, “The Meeting,” and that’s of interest here. When Cyril died, his widow, Mary, gave me some scraps and fragments of stories that he had left behind, apparently because he got that far and bogged down and couldn’t figure where to go with them. I agreed to try to make complete stories out of them, sell them for publication and split whatever they earned fifty-fifty.

One of those fragments was a scene set in a parents’ association for a school for handicapped children. Like almost everything else Cyril was writing in those days, it was beautifully done, but there was no story. I gave it a story. I believe Rich thinks I screwed that up, too, but I don’t have the patience to go back and reread his dizzy-minded remarks.

So I will just say that what actually happened is that it won a Hugo — the only Hugo, I am sorry to say, that Cyril’s writing ever earned.

Possibly in Arizona? Possibly late ’60s?

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

For some time now, I’ve been putting on paper recollections that I think will sooner or later go into what will be either an expanded new edition of my autobiography, The Way the Future Was, or a new book which is a sort of sequel to that one. The trouble is that for some of the most interesting events, including some obscure cons, I’ve forgotten a lot of important details, even such matters as when and where they were held.

Take, for instance the one I think of as the “Johnny Weissmuller Con.” It was in many ways a great con, with a terrific cast of guests — Robert Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Gordie Dickson and many another writer (including me) and even such rarely observed media people as Johnny Weissmuller and Tarzan’s favorite Jane, Maureen O’Sullivan.

Maureen O’ had been one of my most-loved stars ever since she starred in that early, and pretty sappy, sf film, Just Imagine. Getting a chance to talk to her was pure gravy. (When you saw the two of them on the stage at the con, it seemed that the personalities of their roles in the Tarzan movies were drawn from the real-life personalities of the pair of them. Smart, competent Jane had to help musclebound but tongue-tied Tarzan come up with answers to the questions in their on-stage interview.)

So if any of you remember anything about that con, I’d be grateful if you dropped me a line.


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.


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.

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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Robert A. Heinlein

    Robert A. Heinlein

I mentioned that greatest of Campbell-era sf writers, Robert A. Heinlein, a while ago, and that got me to thinking about the man and what it was like to be his editor, at least for the magazine publication of a lot of his work. So I went poking around some musty old papers (and some of the even mustier crevices of my brain) and produced some memories to share with those of you who are interested.

As many of you (especially the ones who have read The Way the Future Was) already know, at the age of nineteen, principally because of dumb luck, I found myself the editor of two professional science-fiction magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super-Science Stories, and one of my contributors was that same Robert Heinlein.

I hasten to add that that statement conveys an implication which is unjustified. In such a relationship, it is supposed to be the editor who makes the buy-or-bounce decisions, and therefore it is the editor who dominates it.

In this case, that was incorrect. It happens there is a member of my immediate family who exemplifies the Pohl–Heinlein relationship of that period more accurately. Her name is Milly. She is a nine-year-old Jack Russell, and at every meal she sits at my feet, waiting for me to finish so she can lick the crumbs off my plate. This well describes how things were between Robert and me around 1940. Everything he wrote went at once to John Campbell. The few stories that John rejected went to me — to be run only under a pseudonym, to be sure, because that was how John had decreed it.

Still, it wasn’t too bad either for Milly or me. Milly makes a decent living out of my dinner plates (she also gets regular dog food, of course, but I know which she prefers), and I got some nice stories that John had been too opinionated to publish.

Of course, later on things improved for me. By the time I was editing Galaxy and If in the 1960s, John and Bob had suffered some sort of cooling off, and so I got the choice of everything Bob wrote. I didn’t buy it all, but I did buy quite a lot.

For years I was under the impression that the explanation for this was that Robert, for whatever reason, had told his agent not to offer anything to John. I’ve since been told that that’s wrong; the novels were indeed submitted first to Campbell and he rejected every one. If this is true, as I am forced to believe, then it just proves that even the best of editors has occasional fits of idiocy.

Anyway, I was, I admit, a little rueful about the Heinleins I was publishing because Robert had by then apparently begun to run out of steam. Novels like Podkayne of Mars were reasonably cute, but a long way below the products of his glory years. Then, without warning, along came The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, not only right up there with his best but maybe his very best novel ever. I began running it at once.

Naturally it won that year’s Hugo (so did the magazine I ran it in, largely because I had been lucky enough to get such good serials), and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

More to come. . . .

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