Two Novels by Malcolm Jameson
An Introduction by Richard A. Lupoff
Astute readers will recall that in my introduction to Tarnished Bomb by Malcolm Jameson I alleged that he had written only two novels in his tragically short career. These were The Giant Atom and Tarnished Utopia. Both appeared first in Startling Stories, reissued in digest-sized paperback editions after Jameson’s death, the former retitled Atomic Bomb. The Surinam Press volume includes both novels.
But—were there really only two? Depends on how you define a novel.
Between 1940 and 1945 Jameson published a cycle of novelettes about one John Bullard, an officer in the Space Patrol. A sort of science fictional Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey, Bullard advances in rank from lieutenant to grand admiral in this very popular series, all of which appeared in the premiere science fiction magazine of the day, Astounding Science Fiction, then edited by John W. Campbell, Junior.
A Bullard story was anthologized in Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas, who described Bullard as “the most successfully drawn series character in modern science fiction.”
Among Bullard’s admirers was one Alice Mary Norton, who would go on to a long and successful career of her own, writing science fiction under the pen name Andre Norton. Eventually she collected and re-edited the Bullard stories. This volume was published in 1951. In a later edition one of the Bullard stories, “The Bureaucrat,” was omitted.
Although Astounding was hardly aimed at juvenile readers—Campbell seemingly believed that his audience was comprised almost entirely of engineers and scientists, or at least college-level engineering and science students—the book was published as part of the World Junior Library. As such, it won the Boys’ Club of America literary award.
Whether one regards Bullard of the Space Patrol as a series of linked stories or as an episodic novel, it surely warrants a high place in the estimation of space opera aficionados.
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If Bullard of the Space Patrol is Malcolm Jameson’s best-known creation, then Quicksands of Youthwardness is by far Jameson’s least known.
To put this story in context, we need to travel through time and revisit the science fiction world as it existed in the 1930s and early ’40s. Hugo Gernsback had discovered early on that he could fill space in Amazing Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and his other pulp magazines, gratis, by publishing letters from readers. In addition, he could recruit these proto-science fiction fans as “missionaries for science fiction”—in effect, unpaid publicists and promoters for those same periodicals! To support and control this movement, Gernsback created an organization called the Science Fiction League with chapters throughout the nation and even overseas.
The readers—the first generation of science fiction fans! —in turn formed their own community, in part under the aegis of Gernsback’s League but soon with increasing independence.
As admirers of the writers and editors whose productions they enjoyed, these early fans proceeded to emulate their heroes. Whole generations of science fiction authors emerged from the ranks of fandom.
Youthful, energetic, ambitious, and talented—in some cases, positively brilliant!—these fans stormed the offices of pulp magazine publishers looking for jobs as editors. And a remarkable number of them found them. Consider this list:
Charles D. Hornig (Wonder Stories)
Robert W. Lowndes (Future, Science Fiction Quarterly)
Donald A. Wollheim (Cosmic Stories, Stirring Science Stories)
Raymond A. Palmer (Amazing Stories, Other Worlds)
William Hamling (Fantastic Adventures, Imagination)
And in later years:
Damon Knight (Worlds Beyond, If)
Larry T. Shaw (If, Infinity, Science Fiction Adventures)
James Blish (Vanguard Science Fiction)
To this list we must add the name of Frederik Pohl. As a nineteen-year-old member of the New York Futurian Society, Pohl made the rounds of publishers’ offices. Eventually he found himself at the offices of Popular Publications, one of the major publishers of the era. Popular was the home base of an array of pulps that at one point included more than forty titles.
Popular was the creation of Harry Steeger. In addition to the titles Steeger created, Popular took over the old Frank A. Munsey company, as well as several other well-established periodicals. Eventually Popular Publications controlled several of the most important pulps—Adventure, Argosy, and Black Mask—as well as The Spider, a clone of Street & Smith’s wildly popular The Shadow.
In later years Pohl said that his timing was fortuitous. Popular was planning an expansion of its pulp line and needed an editor to launch a pair of science fiction magazines to be published in alternate months. These would eventually appear as Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories. The purpose of producing alternating bimonthlies instead of a single monthly magazine was simple: it was hoped that this would garner a little extra on-sale time for unsold copies.
Pohl’s budget was miniscule. His basic pay rate was one-half cent a word to authors. His own salary was ten dollars per week, which he augmented by buying stories from himself. These latter stories appeared under a variety of pseudonyms.
Despite Astonishing’s poor rate of pay, Pohl was able to obtain stories from a remarkable array of authors. These included Alfred Bester, Leigh Brackett, Clifford D. Simak, Edward Elmer Smith, Ray Bradbury, L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, and Henry Kuttner among many others.
Malcolm Jameson had been selling his science fiction since 1938. His first sale—in fact, his first seven sales!—had been to Astounding Science Fiction, at that time the leading magazine in the field. Astounding paid a full cent a word—double the rate that Pohl could offer. Yet Jameson placed several stories with Pohl’s magazines, including Quicksands of Youthwardness.
Although this story was only 28,000 words in length, Pohl described it as a novel and split it into three parts for publication in Astonishing. In an interview in 2012, sixty-two years after the event, Pohl still recalled the incident.
He had met Jameson who, nearly fifty years of age, was old enough to be Pohl’s father if not his grandfather. Pohl described Jameson as “a retired Navy Commander, and he looked it!” He recalled attending parties at Jameson’s apartment and being enchanted by Jameson’s beautiful daughter.
Asked why Jameson sold Quicksands of Youthfulness to him for Astonishing rather than to editor John W. Campbell for Astounding, Pohl replied that he simply didn’t know. “But I’m glad it happened, it’s a good story.”
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Thus, the two “novels”—well, sort-of novels—that make up Astonishing! Astounding!
— Richard A. Lupoff