II. THE PERIOD OF INFLUENCE
W. Campbell, Jr. became editor of
in September 1937 and still edits it today under its present title,
Whatever else may be said about
this strange, overwhelming man, whenever he has cared to put his considerable
energies into his editing -- something he has never done consistently
-- there have been few editors to equal him. Perhaps his most successful
period was in his first years as editor. He found new writers --
Heinlein, Asimov, de Camp, and Sturgeon -- guided them, and with their
aid presented a new, more scientific, more adult science fiction.
Most often, up until then, scientific science fiction had been plain dull
and adventure science fiction had been childish. Campbell pushed
for a higher standard. How much any editor is responsible for the
work of his writers is always open to question. What is unquestionable
is that Campbell did offer an opportunity to his writers and did buy good
work when he saw it. That in itself is considerable to take credit
developed immensely from the time
that Campbell became editor until the advent of World War II, which took
away most of his best writers. This period is now looked back on
by fond science fiction fans as a Golden Age. You can tell it was
a Golden Age -- many of the stories of the period are still readable.
This period coincided with Heinlein's finding his
own stride. If 1941 was the peak of the Golden Age in
of the reason may be that some twenty per cent or better of the words in
year were written by Robert Heinlein under three names.
I said that the stories were readable, and that
is all I meant to say. In terms of the body of science fiction or
the body of pulp literature as a whole, perhaps some of these have
In terms of literature as a whole, many of even the best suffer from bad
writing and melodramatic thinking. No matter how good the ideas,
no matter how well-presented they are, no matter how well-told the story
is, a novel about seven men using super-science to stage a war that throws
out 400,000,000 invaders, who are, of course, PanAsians -- the old Yellow
Peril again -- is bound to suffer simply because its issues are oversimplified
to an incredible degree. It is easy to read a story like this but
very hard to take it seriously.
example just given
is an actual novel,
serialized in the January, February, and March 1941 issues of
The author was given
as "Anson MacDonald," but the name was a Heinlein pseudonym. All
of Heinlein's stories in
up to this point had been fitted
into a common pattern of "Future History." He apparently felt --
for the usual wrong reasons -- that he ought to reserve the Heinlein name
for those stories that could be fitted into this pattern.
Using pen names for their own sake usually makes
no particular sense. A writer's name and record is about all that
he owns in the way of credentials, and whatever he publishes under pen
names is lost opportunity to add to the name and record. I have used
a pen name myself, but would not do it again.
the course of
Heinlein's pen names is a confusing business since he never was very consistent
about it. For all that Emerson had it that "foolish consistency is
the hobgoblin of little minds," there is such a thing as unfoolish consistency.
Heinlein pen names
I am aware of are Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, John Riverside
and Simon York. The first name derives from his first wife's maiden
name and his own middle name. The "Lyle" of Lyle Monroe was his mother's
maiden name. Caleb was the first name of a good friend of Heinlein's
at Annapolis, Caleb Laning, with whom he collaborated on a 1947 Collier's
article and to whom he dedicated
Beyond This Horizon.
comes from Riverside, California. I have no idea where Simon York
comes from -- in fact, I have no idea of the stories the name was used
on except that they were not science fiction.
and large, Heinlein used his own name on Future History stories in
"Anson MacDonald" was used on non-Future History stories in
"Lyle Monroe" was used on stories that appeared outside of
name was used on the story " 'And He Built a Crooked House,' "
originally fitted into the Future History, but not included when all the stories of
the series were eventually collected. And " '--We Also Walk
Dogs' " by Anson MacDonald
included in the Future History.
Anson MacDonald and
Lyle Monroe actually were was not kept a very close secret. Anson
MacDonald was exposed when the upcoming story "By His Bootstraps"
was announced one month as being by Heinlein, and then appeared under
the MacDonald name.
Lyle Monroe, that writer for second-rate magazines, was exposed in May
1941, when John Campbell printed a list of the Future History stories to
date and included " 'Let There Be Light.' "
MacDonald was Heinlein's pen name for non-Future History stories in
but in September
1941, John Campbell printed a story there by "Caleb Saunders" entitled
"Elsewhere." In a letter to me, Campbell said simply that this was
the name that Heinlein placed on the manuscript without explanation to
also had a novel in
in 1942 under
the name of John Riverside, a name that he planned to use on fantasy stories
from then on, the war and the demise of
the end, then, the Riverside
and Saunders names were each used just once. I'm not certain of the
Simon York name, but I suspect that it may have been used on the mystery
stories Heinlein was writing in the 1940's.
I hope this has been even slightly clear.
If it has not been, take it as further evidence that the use of numerous
pen names is a dead end. In any case, Heinlein dropped his pen names
after the war, which has made things much simpler.
He Built a Crooked House' " --
February 1941 -- is a bit of mathematical
foolery about the building of a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract
-- a super-cube. An earthquake jolts it into its "normal" shape,
and it is hide-and-seek in the fourth dimension from then on. This
brings me to a point about Heinlein's writing. " 'And He Built a
Crooked House' " is good fun, but it is not funny. This is true of
most, if not all, Heinlein stories.
This seems to be the time for minor points, so perhaps
I should mention another, a constant minor irritation noticeable in early
Heinlein stories. This is his habit of achieving "realistic" dialogue
by the use of contorted spellings, mental lapses, and slang. Graduate
architects who are made to say things like "Huh? Wha' d'ju say?"
make my flesh crawl. This may well be a carry-over from pulp magazine
conventions, and even a little of it is an intrusion and a distraction.
of Empire," in the March
is, like "Coventry," a pure example of the man
who learns better. In this case, the man is a lawyer who doubts that
there is slavery on Venus and then has his nose rubbed in the fact.
1941 -- was a collaboration between Lyle Monroe and Elma Wentz. It
explains the Easter Island monoliths as political caricatures in Mu.
The story, Heinlein's only fictional collaboration, is tedious and trivial
and of interest only to Atlantis and Lemuria fans. The collaboration,
I suspect, was done as a favor, and the story has not been reprinted in
any Heinlein collection.
Unsatisfactory" in the May
is about atomic war and is more dramatized
essay than story. Heinlein had the benefit of knowing Dr. Robert
Cornog, a physicist who was later part of the Manhattan Project, and who
helped draw Heinlein's attention to some of the possibilities of atomic
power. The story was somewhat in advance of its time, but as a work
of fiction it isn't at all important.
I sometimes think that all writers have something
of the solipsist about them, particularly science fiction writers.
Certainly it takes a touch of strange for a man to spend his time creating
his own worlds. Beyond this, however, Heinlein has always shown an
interest in solipsism as a theme. This, too, is discussed at some
length in Chapter Seven.
Heinlein's second story in
published in April 1941, is about a man in an
insane asylum who is either suffering from delusions of persecution or
is an immortal being about whom the universe centers, his attention being
distracted from this fact by a set of antagonists. The second of
these turns out to be the case. This story has been a staple item
for horror anthologists, but I am not at all sure why. The situation
is an uncomfortable one, but in an odd way it is a reassuring one at the
same time. The central character has both purpose and importance,
something that most of us are less than certain of, and he is in no danger
of suffering physical harm. He suffers only from being distracted.
story and " '--We Also Walk Dogs' " (Astounding,
July) are the two most important stories
in Heinlein's second year of writing. "They" is important because
of its theme and because it is a good story; " '--We Also Walk
Dogs' " is important because it is a very successful story. It
is a story of a process rather than of people, but the story is short, the
process is clearly defined, and the story was obviously plotted before it
was written. Since it combines intelligent thinking, interest,
meaning and plot, I think it can stand as a demonstration that Heinlein
had by this time learned most of the technical skills that he was lacking
when he first began to write.
The idea for the story is a good one -- a business,
"General Services," that will do anything, with an emphasis on an ability
to find answers for difficult situations. Heinlein begins the story
by showing how the company handles a standard problem -- a rich, useless
woman torn between a dinner party and being at the bedside of her son who
has broken his leg half a continent away playing polo. Then he presents
the company with a real problem to solve: arranging physical circumstances
so that representatives of every intelligent race in the Solar System can
be comfortable at a conference on Earth. If this were all, the story
would be trivial, but the solution is given not in terms of licking the
physical problem, but in terms of getting people to be willing to lick
the problem, a different thing altogether.
may sound obvious,
but stories have to be judged in terms of what they are, not in terms of
what we wish they might have been. A short story simply cannot be
judged on the same terms as a novel. Though "Universe" and "Common
May and October) are about as closely connected
as two stories can be, though the second story develops from the first
rather than merely ringing changes on it, though the stories have recently
been published together under a common title (Orphans of the Sky,
1964), they do not add up to a novel. In fact, they make a book only
by courtesy of large type and wide margins; the book runs 187 pages and
45,000 words -- by contrast, Heinlein's 1941 novel
in revised and expanded form by Gnome Press in 1958, contains close to
70,000 words in 188 pages, a much more normal length. If the two
stories together made a novel, it would be an extremely weak one.
Instead, what we have is one strong novelette, and another interesting
but incredible one.
the first and
stronger story, was reprinted in 1951 as part of an abortive line of ten-cent
paperbacks that Dell was trying to establish. The stories are about
a ship to the stars that has taken the long way there. Originally
the ship was meant to arrive after the people in it had lived for several
generations, since at the time it was launched no method had been found
for exceeding the speed of light, but the original purposes have been lost
sight of, and are remembered now only as allegory.
"Common Sense" has a good deal of melodramatic hugger-mugger
culminating in three men and their women leaving the giant ship and landing
on a planet that conveniently happens to be close at hand. Heinlein
concludes with a catalog of the bits of luck that enable them to be
The catalog is three pages long. This is not excusable. Life
may be full of luck, but literature requires closer causal connections
than life does, and a list of lucky happenings that goes on for three pages
is just too much to accept. "Universe" is much better. It is
simply the story of one man finding out the real nature of the ship, being
disbelieved, and then demonstrating that nature to another. That
is a real story. The background and even the plot of this story have
been used by any number of writers since Heinlein first set it down.
It is too bad that "Common Sense" was ever written -- its very existence
in July, August, and September, involves a sister ship to the one in
Orphans of the Sky.
Both stories are set
against the common background of the Future History. However, the
crew of this particular ship is less susceptible to forgetting its purposes
than the crew in
Orphans of the Sky
since all its members are extremely
long-lived, are fleeing from persecution, and have the benefit of a far
more efficient propulsion system whipped up in a spare moment by Andrew
Jackson Libby, the young genius from "Misfit," now grown up.
story was originally to be called
While the Evil Days Come Not.
In his discussion of Heinlein's Future History that appeared in the May 1941
Campbell mentioned the novel under this title and said the title would
probably be changed before the story was published. The tentative
title stems from a quotation from Ecclesiastes used as a password on the
second page of the story. The final title does seem better.
These children of Methuselah are a group of families
who, starting in 1874, have been interbred to produce descendants who live
up to three times as long as most people. They make the mistake of
letting their presence in the population be known, and the Covenant --
remember that? -- is suspended for an all-out hunting season on them.
The general reaction seems to be, "The rats! They won't tell us their
secret. Kill!" The poor long-lived people, who have no secret,
see nothing to do but run. They grab a ship that is being readied
for an interstellar expedition, spend time among the stars, and then come
home to find that the normal people have discovered the secret that never
existed and have solved the problem of aging for everybody.
are a number of
small changes from magazine to book, mostly a matter of detail and name
changes. One of these turns an important female character's name
from Risling to Sperling. George Price of Advent suggests that this
was done to avoid association with Rhysling, the blind singer in Heinlein's
later story "The Green Hills of Earth," and this seems likely to me.
In many ways this is an important book. For
one, its main theme, the problem of escaping death, is one that keeps cropping
up in Heinlein stories, and for another, an amazing number of brilliant
ideas are tossed out along the way. Still, for some reason, as often
as I have read the story I cannot feel close to it. I suspect that
the reason is that the story belongs to 100,000 people as a group, not
to any individual, and I cannot identify with a nation. What happens
is interesting but lacks all personal meaning.
Heinlein's last three stories of 1941 are all less
worthwhile, not because they aren't entertaining, but because they aren't
about anything important. Setting forth artificial problems and then
inventing artificial solutions to them is not what makes science fiction
His Bootstraps" (Astounding,
October) is convincing evidence that Heinlein had mastered
the art of planning his stories. It is an intricate bit of foolery
involving a man's meeting himself half a dozen times along the path from
Time A to Time B. It is an amusing set piece, logical and beautifully
also involves traveling in time. This is a mystical story in which
traveling to any time or any possibility is simply a matter of thinking
properly. This is a truly vapid story and I'm surprised that Heinlein
wrote it, and even more surprised that John Campbell bought and printed
"Did you ever eat that
cotton candy they sell at fairs? Well, philosophy is like that --
it looks as if it were really something, and it's awful pretty, and it
tastes sweet, but when you go to bite it you can't get your teeth into
it, and when you try to swallow, there isn't anything there. Philosophy
is word-chasing, as significant as a puppy chasing its tail."
She might have been talking instead about these last
two stories. The difference between them is that "By His Bootstraps"
is tightly constructed, as intricate as a bit of musical comedy choreography,
and arrives at a destination, while "Elsewhere" slops every which way and
simply ends. Neither has anything to get your teeth into.
"Lost Legion" (Super Science,
November) has nothing obvious to do with the story
to which it is attached, which has some nice young people developing super
powers under the tutelage of Ambrose Bierce. Heinlein later included
it in one of his collections under the title "Lost Legacy," which is more
apt. The reason for the earlier title seems to have been nothing
more than editorial idiocy.
The story has much to recommend it. It is
interesting and entertaining, and the people in it do things for recognizable
reasons. Still, I am not satisfied for two reasons. The story
conflict is given by Heinlein as being a struggle between pure good and
pure evil, and I can't feel comfortable with that, even in a slight bit
of popular fiction. Secondly, this is a parapsychology story where
the conflict is solved by parapsychology. The other side thinks evil
thoughts and does evil deeds, so we blast them down mentally, as much as
if to say, "Look, Ma, no hands." A story like this in which parapsychology
is everything -- meat, dressing, salad, and dessert -- is an artificial
business artificially resolved, like a snipe hunt in which the hunter comes
back with a snipe in his bag.
*"Lost Legacy." Assignment
in Eternity, Fantasy Press ed., p. 140. [
Border courtesy of
The Humble Bee