[Cinvention Memory Book]
[S-F Comes of Age]

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L.A. Eshbach

{ n a v i g a t i o n   m e n u }

Thank you, Mr. Tanner, and how do you do, fans?

First of all, I want to read a few letters -- that is, excerpts from a few letters; an interchange of correspondence between Don Ford and myself:

"Since you're going to be at the convention," -- this is a letter from Don Ford to me -- "can we also persuade you to be on the program? I can see you throwing up your hands now. You were the first to put stf in hard covers; that should make an interesting story in itself. You could also talk about your early fan days and when you started writing, etc. What do you think? And now here's something to really scare you. We'd like to have you be Guest of Honor. Thank Charlie Tanner and myself for that last fiendish idea. When we brought it up before the rest, they all thought it was a good idea. What do you think?"

My reply; "Boy, am I puffing out my chest. Seriously though, I think you guys are crazy. It's alright for you to ask me to appear on the program and I'll be glad to do it; I don't think I'll disgrace you. But this business of being one of the guests of honor; there are certainly a lot of famous people who would be available and I think you should ask them. Now understand, I'm not turning you down flat; just giving you time to reconsider. I appreciate the honor, honestly, but I don't want you to be in a position where you guys decide you made a mistake and feel as though you'll be hurting my feelings if you correct the error. So, if after you've weighed the matter further and surveyed the available material, you still feel like sticking out your necks, okay. In the meantime, give the matter some heavy thought."

His reply: "As they say in the Army, you're in like Flynn. You still deserve to be Guest of Honor and I don't think anyone in fandom will disagree. Charlie and I got a big laugh out of your saying we're crazy. We've been hearing that ever since we became fans. One of these days, I guess we'll believe it."

So much for that.

In fiction writing, it's customary to use what is known as a "narrative hook". That's the stopper at the beginning of the story to get the reader's attention. In copy writing, advertising copy writing, which I did for a number of years, you use a stopper or something to catch attention. So at the beginning of this so-called speech, I'd like to ask a few questions which I hope to answer in the course of the talk and which questions I trust will serve as stoppers.

What famous science fiction artist of a few years ago preferred the comfort of bare feet to wearing shoes?

What one-time editor of a science fiction magazine had his picture published by Pictorial Review?

What famous science fiction author, present in this assembly, cheated one of the New York subway lines of a nickel by vaulting over the turnstile?

What famous writer -- he was supposed to be here, by the way, and I suppose he may arrive yet -- wrote his part of "Cosmos", the eighteen part serial, in two hours?

What science fiction author, whose work today is considered among science fiction greats, was once given national publicity as having given up writing to turn to raising chickens?

What not so famous writer, present in this assembly, tried to get on the editorial staff of AMAZING STORIES while it was still being published by Tech Publishing Company?

Now it's my intention,as we go along, to answer those questions. If I should forget to do so, one of you remind me.

Now this matter of my being Author Guest of Honor: I imagine there are some people in this room -- I daresay half the people in this room -- have never read a story by L.A. Eschbach. As a matter of fact, I might go so far as to say that nine-tenths of the people in this room haven't read a story by L.A. Eschbach. I hope I have one or two who have.

As a matter of fact, I'm sure I have. I sent Doc Smith a couple, so he, at least, has read one.

At any rate, if you'll pardon the personal reference, just by way of explanation, I have sold in the neighborhood of a million words of fiction. I have written and sold approximately forty science fiction stories. That's not a big production, I realize, but at least, I suppose it qualifies me to be called an author. You notice, I didn't say what kind of an author. Just an author.

But confidentially, and I trust the committee isn't listening, I'm practically certain that I'm Author Guest of Honor today because I'm a publisher. Now that sounds like sort of a paradox, but I think the committee was smart in this respect; if they had made me Publisher Guest of Honor, next year, where ever the convention might be, such fellows as Jim Williams and Mel Korshak and Marty Greenberg would be besieging the committee to be made guest of honor. Why not? Eschbach was last year. So the committee wisely decided to fall back on the fact that a number of years ago I wrote science fiction and today I am Author Guest of Honor.

Actually, my last appearance in a science fiction magazine was in the Summer, 1944 Issue of THRILLING WONDER and my last appearance in the general publishing field was in 1947 in THRILLING LOVE. Maybe I shouldn't've said that .

In addition, though, there was this one old plug that kicked around for a number of years -- ten years, as a matter of fact -- which FANTASY BOOK published. That was last year.

But you know and I know that I'm really here as Publisher Guest of Honor instead of Author Guest of Honor.

Enough of preamble: I'm here, and the committee has given me two hours and a half to talk. I'll try to keep my remarks within the prescribed period, so maybe I'd better get going.

That is, get going on the speech.

I want to say at the outset that I don't plan to say anything profound or significant or important. Maybe it won't even be entertaining. I'm sorry if that's the case, but blame the committee.

I am an old timer in science fiction. I've been around in science fiction circles for a good number of years. I've jotted down some statistics: I began reading science fiction thirty years ago. Now I know when you look at me and see my quite evident youth and innocence, that you'll think that's practically impossible, but actually, I've been reading science fiction for thirty years. I began writing it twenty-three years ago and sold my third attempt. They didn't have much competition in those days, you know.

And I've been selling them for twenty-two years, and I've been publishing science fiction for approximately the past three years.

Now, in passing, Don Ford in one of his bulletins mentioned that I was at one time editor of a fan publication called "The Gallilean". Was I surprised when I read that! That was the first inkling I had that I had ever put out a fan magazine. The fact of the matter is that I did publish, or rather, edit, one of the so-called "little" literary magazines back in 1935. It was called "The Galleon", not "The Gallilean"; "The Galleon", of course, being a treasure ship. Two of the publications are collector's items today, incidentally, because one of them featured the first appearance of an H.P. Lovecraft story -- very few fans have copies of that in its original appearance -- and a David H. Keller original. So those two are collector's items, but I'm sorry; since I have only a single set, I can't supply any of you rabid collectors with duplicate copies.

So I was not a fan publisher, but an editor of a "little" magazine.

In the line of fan clubs, I joined what I think is the first national fan organization, the old Science Correspondent Club, I recall, by the way, contributing, a so-called scientific article to the club bulletin. I remember I did my research in "The American Weekly". I got all my scientific and technical information from that very learned periodical. The article had to do with the possible end of the world. Tom Gardner, who knew something about science, jumped on me with hob-nailed shoes. He ripped the article to shreds, but I got the better of him; I just ignored his tirade and didn't say anything. I didn't have anything to say.

So, at any rate, I've been active in science fiction for a good number of years. And I plan, or hope, rather, to reminisce a little. It's an indication of old age, but it occurred to me that some of you fans would be interested in the experiences of past years and in some of the people I've met and the circumstances under which they were met; people who were in that day just average fans and who today are famous people.

I recall that one time I made a trip to New York in company with my wife, our first trip. Mort Weisinger, who later became editor of THRILLING WONDER and STARTLING, met us, took us around to meet the editors. We first went to visit Dr. T. O'Connor Sloane.

I don't know how many of you have met Dr. Sloane. I suppose that all or most of you have seen his name on the masthead of the old AMAZING STORIES. Dr. Sloane was a little fellow with a white beard, hard of hearing, and rather absent minded. When I was introduced to Dr. Sloane, he acknowledged the introduction, then he brought, while I was talking to Miriam Ward, a slip of paper and asked me to write my name. After I'd done so, he looked at it, went back to his desk, thought a while, got up and came over to me and said, "Now I remember you. You sold us some stories." Sort of deflating experience, you know.

At any rate, there in that office I met Leo Morey, a Peruvian, as I recall it, who had a little wax mustache, coal black, and who at that time was working on a cover design for one of the magazines.

Well, we went from there to WONDER, where I met Gernsback. That's a name to conjure with in science fiction circles. I was a little on the nervous side as I was introduced to Gernsback because just about three months prior to that visit, I had sued him, or threatened suit, to get a check. Well, he was willing to bury the ax and I had gotten the check, so I didn't have any ax to bury and we had a nice conversation. Then we went out to lunch with Charley Hornig, who was then editor. Charley checked the time -- and I'll never forget this -- by looking into the top drawer of his desk where he had a great big dollar alarm clock. There wasn't a clock in the office, so that was his timepiece.

After that we went to the editor of ASTOUNDING, who was then Desmond Hall, and while in the offices of ASTOUNDING I met, or rather I saw, a tall man with close-cropped hair and white ducks. Mort Weisinger leaned over and said, "Hey! I think that's John W. Campbell, Jr." So we both looked and we checked with Desmond Hall and, lo and behold, it was Campbell.

And Hall said, "What's the matter with that guy? He's a hard man to deal with. We've just accepted a story of his, "The Mightiest Machine", but he wants all kinds of assurances that we'll continue using his stuff. We plan to use his stuff." Then Mort told him that he (Campbell) had been running into some sad experiences over at AMAZING and that he preferred to get things straightened out when he started. Well, as we all know, Campbell later became editor and is really up there these days.

There was another gathering I attended and I think that this one was in Newark; I'm not sure. But a young fellow had come in from the west coast -- a bushy-haired boy, I don't believe he was more than seventeen or eighteen -- he had come from the west coast to introduce the artwork of a friend of his. I recall him spreading out these very striking drawings on the table before Campbell. Campbell said he was sorry, they looked very good, but all our artists must be residents. They must live in New York. The name of the bushy-haired young man was Ray Bradbury who was then just a fan like most of us here. And the name of the artist he was introducing was Hannes Bok, who is here today. So there was a case of two men, today famous in their fields, who were just beginning.

Maybe ten years from now somebody at a science fiction convention will recall this convention where you were present as a fan and at that day, you will have reached the position of eminence you are striving for.

Well, enough of such reminiscences, I guess. Could talk about the World Science Fiction Convention in New York City, the first world science fiction convention I attended and I guess that it was the first one. About all the big people who were there and how Leo Margulies got up and made the classic statement about the fact that the fans were "...so damned sincere." That was his statement which TIME magazine quoted, by the way. And I have a copy of that issue of TIME here today, together with an issue of TIME put out more recently where their attitude was just a little bit different.

So science fiction has come a long way. And I believe in great part that it's due to two things; first, that the young fans who started out with science fiction have grown up and have remained science fiction fans with the result that the magazines have had to publish more mature material and secondly, the recent upsurge in the book publication of science fiction. If I may be permitted the momentary flash of immodesty, I do believe that Fantasy Press has done a little bit to help establish science fiction in its present position.

On my notes here I have one line which I would like to read: "We have seen science fiction pass through the days of rather juvenile fan fussin' and feudin' to the time when a gathering of this sort can take place through the cooperation of the rank and file of fandom." And that, I think, is definitely true; it has grown up.

But now, to get back to those questions:

I first said, what science fiction artist of a few years ago preferred the comfort of bare feet to wearing shoes? Surprisingly, I have here a photograph -- if I didn't lose it -- of H.W. Wesso, or Wessowosky (?), taken when he was barefoot. It's a priceless possession. Not priceless because he's barefoot, but because it's a Wesso.

Secondly, what one-time editor of a science fiction magazine had his picture published by Pictorial Review? Here, I'm afraid that I'm going to disappoint you. That's the picture. It was to identify Mort Weisinger while he traveled around the country selling subscriptions to Pictorial Review.

Third, what science fiction author, present in this assembly, cheated one of the New York subway lines of a nickel by vaulting over the turnstile? That really isn't correct. As a matter of fact, I think the whole thing is a canard, a piece of trumped-up fiction, but I've heard it said that in 1939, Jack Williamson visited New York to go to the world convention. He put a nickel in the turnstile and nothing happened, so he put his hand on the thing and vaulted over and a guard chased him to find out what the trouble was. I don't know if it's true; I'm making this statement with the qualification that maybe it's purely fiction. But I did hear it said.

Now I've the notation that what famous writer, who I said might be here, wrote his part of "Cosmos", the eighteen-author science fiction novel, in exactly two hours? That man was Arthur J. Burks and I had a letter from Burks from Paradise, Pennsylvania, saying that he had planned, or did plan, to be here today with his wife. I don't know if the convention committee knows anything about it, and I don't suppose Burks is in the audience, but there is a possibility that he might make his appearance.

But I have some correspondence here, and I'd like to quote briefly: Here's a quotation from Mort Weisinger in a letter from Arthur J. Burks when he wrote him asking him to write his part of "Cosmos". "Your desire for speed on a super-serial couldn't come at a worse time for me 'cause I've so blamed much work to do that I expect to get paid for, and you send me a part on which I have to do considerable research when I haven't time to do it. However, here it is: I understand that anything from one thousand words to five thousand will pass, so come up to my domicile Thursday at 1:00 P.M., furnish me with enough information about calisthenics or whatever it is you want me to write about and then wait while I do it." And some more of the same.

Then I had a letter later from Mort saying that in exactly two hours, Burks wrote his "Callisto to the Rescue". I think that it's three or four thousand words. The guy was a million word a year man for ten years, so that was just a few minutes' chore for Arthur Burks.

Now I have the question: What science fiction writer whose work today is considered among science fiction greats was once given national publicity as having given up writing to raise chickens? That man was George Allen England. I have a letter from England -- I have it here; I prize the thing for its autograph -- in which he denied the whole thing. I happened to read it somewhere in the newspaper and wrote and wondered what the score was, asking at the same time for information on how I might locate some of his out of print material, which was the chief object of my writing, anyway. He wrote back and said that he had been interviewed either down in New Mexico or Texas and an enterprising newspaper reporter who had interviewed him asked him what were his chances of being a professional writer. He (the reporter) didn't look like a likely prospect, so England told him that if he followed England's advice, he'd raise chickens instead. So the reporter played it up, "George Allan England Forsakes Writing to Establish Chicken Farm". And the NEA or one of the big syndicates picked it up and it was spread all over the country. Good publicity -- of the wrong kind.

Now the last question: What not so famous writer, present today, tried to get on the editorial staff of AMAZING while it was still being published by Tech Publications? This is the first time that I'm telling anybody that I tried to do that. I wrote a special delivery, receipt-requested letter to the big boss at Tech Publishing, laying before him all the reasons why I should take over AMAZING STORIES. Never even got an answer.

I'm almost finished. If this talk should have a name at all, it would be, "Science Fiction Comes of Age", so maybe to establish that title, I'd better say a little about that.

We all of us here know, of course, the recent developments in the field. Some of you may not know that major publishers like Doubleday; Little, Brown, and Company; Dutton; Simon and Shuster, and others, are planning complete lines of science fiction. They wouldn't be doing it if the little fellows like Hadley, Prime, Shasta, FPCI, and Fantasy Press hadn't paved the way. We started this; they're carrying it on. We're not sorry, for the field as a whole will develop, and I think it will not only be beneficial for the readership who get more books, but for the small publishers who'll sell more books.

But that's only one phase of it. Science fiction is growing up in the sense that we're getting better stories. More qualified people are writing; one of the reasons that I'm not writing much science fiction is the fact that I don't have much of a foundation in science. And today, you should have it. And most of the good men do.

Science fiction is growing up, but one thing we should remember; it's still fiction. It's still written just to entertain. It isn't any great factor in our country's development. It isn't any great social force. It's not a lot of things that a lot of people would say it is. It's simply good entertainment and a lot of fun. So let's keep our feet on the ground and remember that we're interested in science fiction -- even though it's growing up -- because it's fiction which is intended to entertain.

Thank you for listening.

{ t o p   o f   p a g e }

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