WHAT MANNER OF MAN?
Malcolm Jameson was a late bloomer. No fault of his own. He never intended to be a science fiction writer, or any other kind of writer for that matter. He was a career naval officer.
Born in 1891, as a young man he obtained a commission in the United States Navy. Details of his early life are spotty, and as yet no full-scale biography of Jameson exists. According to John W. Campbell, Jr., writing In Memoriam following Jameson’s death in 1945, Jameson was instrumental in developing modern naval ordnance.
In an interesting parallel with his contemporary and sometime colleague Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), Jameson was forced to abandon his naval career prematurely, due to health problems. Why he turned to science fiction is uncertain, but the stories that he wrote reflect a thorough familiarity with and understanding of the field, causing one to surmise that he stepped into science fiction gracefully and with ease.
His first published story was the oddly-titled “Eviction by Isotherm,” in Astounding Science Fiction for August, 1938. From the outset, Jameson’s writing was naturalistic and smooth. A further remarkable parallel with Heinlein: the latter’s first published story, “Life-Line,” appeared in the same issue of the same magazine.
Jameson was an immediate success, and his production soared. By my count, he published two stories in 1938, five in 1939, eleven in 1940, fifteen in 1941, and twenty-three his peak year of 1942. By this time, however, one infers that his health was failing, and his production flagged. He published thirteen stories in 1943, eight in 1944, and five in 1945, the year of his death. One previously unpublished story remained, and appeared in 1946.
The amazingly prolific output of those peak years meant that Jameson had to spread his works over numerous outlets. His stories appeared in Astounding, in that periodical’s fantasy-oriented companion magazine Unknown, in Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Astonishing Stories, Super Science Stories, and even, on one occasion, in the pages of a semi-professional magazine, Stardust.
The two short novels included in the present volume were both published in Startling Stories, a pulp magazine whose sensational covers and sometimes adolescent editorial personality belied a remarkable array of first-rate science fiction. A series of editors ran the magazine. During the era of Jameson’s contributions these included Oscar J. Friend and Horace Gold.
Jameson’s first book publication was Atomic Bomb, issued by Bond-Charteris Publications in 1945. It is based on Jameson’s Startling Stories novel The Giant Atom, originally published in the issue for winter, 1943. The atomic bomb was very much in the news in 1945, following the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by this weapon, and the surrender of Japan which brought the Second World War to a close. The text of the novel is slightly tweaked to give it more currency, but the novel is not seriously altered from the magazine version.
Bond-Charteris was a short-lived publishing company, little more than a private label for Leslie Charteris (Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin), the creator of the gentleman-rogue-adventurer Simon Templar, better known as the Saint. Some fourteen of the eighteen books issued by the company were either authored by Charteris or were anthologies edited by him. Another was a western novel written by the editor of Startling Stories, Oscar J. Friend. And another was Malcolm Jameson’s novel.
Jameson’s second book, Tarnished Utopia, was a Galaxy Science Fiction Novel. A companion series to Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, founded and initially edited by Horace Gold, the Galaxy Novels included many outstanding books. The format, like that of the Bond-Charteris books, was similar to that of a digest-sized magazine. Most were reprinted from earlier hardbound editions; a few were original publications including Arthur C. Clarke’s Prelude to Space; still others were resurrected from the back issues of pulp magazines. This was the case with Tarnished Utopia, which had originally appeared in Startling Stories for March, 1942.
In later years, Horace Gold spoke of his experience editing the Galaxy Novels. He told me that his budget allowed him to pay a flat fee of $500 per novel, whether it was a reissue of a previously published book, a reprint from a magazine, or an original publication.
It would be superfluous to summarize the plots of the two novels in the present volume, but some comments might not be out of place.
Atomic Bomb starts like a throwback to the classic space operas of Edward Elmer Smith. Jameson presents a genius loner scientist who has designed and built a spaceship single-handed. As the novel opens, the inventor is showing his creation to a lovely young lady, the object of his affection. One immediately sees the parallel to Smith’s pioneering Skylark of Space. Jameson’s Stephen Bennion stands in for Smith’s Richard Seaton. Seaton’s sweetheart, Dorothy Vaneman, becomes Katherine Pennell. And Smith Skylark is Jameson’s Katherine.
But Jameson pulls a surprising switch on any reader who thought he was about to settle in for a good old-fashioned space opera. Bennion’s private laboratory is taken over by a corporate raider or “vulture capitalist” of a type with which we are all too familiar in present times. Bennion had been working on a new power source for his spaceship and the greedy corporate managers seek to pursue an abandoned experiment of Bennion’s.
The disastrous result is the so-called “giant atom” — an almost perfect prediction of the black hole. The only difference between the giant atom and the modern conception of the black hole is the Jameson’s atom emits brilliant light and searing heat while the black hole absorbs light and heat. Still, it grows continuously and threatens to destroy the entire planet Earth and eventually the entire solar system.
Some of the scenes in Atomic Bomb are reminiscent of Lester del Rey’s story Nerves (1942). But one need only think of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima to see real world analogs of Jameson’s creation.
Tarnished Utopia first appeared in Startling Stories for March, 1942. It only book publication prior to the present edition came as a Galaxy Novel in 1956. Closer to conventional science fiction than The Giant Atom, this novel harks back to the “long sleep” theme previously utilized by H.G. Wells in the Sleeper Wakes, by Philip Francis Nowlan in Armageddon 2419 A.D., and by Edgar Rice Burroughs in Beyond Thirty, which short novel it most closely resembles. Other influences on Jameson are obvious, the most striking one being Stanley G. Weinbaum’s Martian Valley of Dreams (1934).
Starting with an American aviator escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp and caught in an Allied bombing raid, Jameson transports his protagonist into a future world in which Asian conquerors rule the world. Not only this, they have built permanent colonies on the moon and established commercial relationships with the planets of the solar system.
Jameson’s protagonist, Allan Winchester, is captured and enslaved by the overlords of the future, and soon seeks to organize and lead a revolution against them. While fairly predictable in plot, the book is surprising in its political content. No information has surfaced to suggest that Jameson was himself a Marxist, yet in the Utopian society which Winchester strives to establish in place of the despotism of the future: Each did, for the good of all, what he could; each received, according to his nature, his proper needs.
Not long after this astonishing outburst, Winchester colludes with the Asian ruler, Prince Lohan, to round up and annihilate everyone who might possibly be considered disloyal or a threat to the ruling clique. The parallel to the infamous Stalinist purge and show trials of the 1930s. One can hardly imagine that Jameson say Allan Winchester as a stand-in for Stalin’s chief prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky, and yet the parallel is hard to avoid.
Jameson wrote at least one other novel, Quicksands of Youthfulness, serialized in Astonishing Stories in the winter of 1940-41. It is to be hoped that the installments of this novel will be gathered and the book will be made available to modern readers. In addition, Jameson’s series of novelettes about a future spacefaring hero, Bullard of the Space Patrol, were gathered into a “fix-up” novel in 1951. Very popular in its time, a new edition of this book is planned by Surinam Turtle Press.
In addition, a series of collections of Jameson’s shorter fiction has been initiated by our sister imprint, Dancing Tuatara Press, under the talented editorship of my friend and colleague, John Pelan.
One is tempted to speculate on Malcolm Jameson’s present stature in the world of science fiction had he not died after so short a career. Had he continued to write for another ten to twenty years, it seems entirely possible, even likely, that he would have become as influential and would be remembered with as much respect as Robert A. Heinlein. The reappearance of his many fine works in new editions, one hopes, will lead to his recognition, however belated, as one of the premier talents of his generation.
— Richard A. Lupoff