Malcolm Jameson –

A Mostly Astounding Career


While the title to this introduction is a rather bad pun, there is a lot of truth in it . . . There aren’t many authors who have managed as distinguished a body of work in a career that lasted only seven years. In fact, Malcolm Jameson’s career could be characterized as “astounding” for that reason alone. As for the pun . . . Well over half of his output of science fiction stories sold to John W. Campbell at Astounding Stories, far and away the top market at the time. Another eleven pieces (the bulk of his fantasies) sold to Astounding’s sister magazine, Unknown, the top marketplace for supernatural fiction. This serves as pretty clear evidence that Malcolm Jameson was very much in demand in both the fantasy and science fiction genres from the get go.

Of those stories that appeared in other markets, many do not appear to be rejects from the two Campbell-edited magazines as much as they are just not the sort of story that would appeal to Campbell (one of the most opinionated editors that the field has ever seen). Included in this collection are two stories that appeared in other markets and both are a mystery to me as to why they didn’t appear in Astounding and Unknown, respectively. The science fiction piece is “Murder in the Time World”, an early story from 1940 that would certainly have been right at home in Astounding as many of Jameson’s tales dealt with time travel and all but this one were snapped up by Campbell. The other story, “The Man Who Loved Planks” a poignant fantasy is even more of a mystery to me, as not only would it have been at home in Unknown, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s my favorite Jameson fantasy tale, ranking just a hair above the much more well-known “Blind Alley”. Of course, “Blind Alley” benefits from being adapted for The Twilight Zone and “The Man Who Loved Planks” would have been difficult to translate to television with 1950s technology, a shame since it was overlooked by the folks doing the more recent anthology series of weird tales such as Amazing Stories or Night Gallery. As to why this tale which seems tailor-made for Unknown wound up in the lower-paying Weird Tales will have to remain a mystery.

One of the sad discoveries in researching Jameson was learning that all of his papers, including manuscripts and correspondence with other authors, agent Oscar J. Friend and fans, were all destroyed in a fire back in the 1980s. I really mourn the loss of the letters, particularly those exchanged with John W. Campbell as they would be a fascinating window on Campbell’s development of both Astounding and Unknown as Malcolm Jameson was such an important piece of that puzzle.

The remaining stories in this book all hail from Jameson’s major markets, Astounding Stories and Unknown. “Philtered Power” is from 1940, early in Unknown’s run and a fine demonstration of how adept Jameson was as a fantasist as well as an author of science fiction. That this was his first attempt at fantasy is truly remarkable, as it is a slick urbane fantasy, very much the archetype of the “Unknown” style of modern fantasy, a very different thing than the sort of story seen in Weird Tales. For a relatively new writer to hit the nail on the head so perfectly the first time out is a pretty amazing feat.

Another example of just how polished an author Jameson became in a very short period of time is shown by a curious coincidence in the assembly of this book . . . It was purely unintentional, as I try and assemble collections of this sort with an eye to aesthetics and variety is something I strive for, but as we were laying out the story order I realized that I had selected no less than five stories that appeared in a span of six months! The quality and variety of all five makes the fact that they were written shortly before the author’s death in April of 1945 all the more poignant. What might a healthy Malcolm Jameson with the normal life-span of seventy+ years have accomplished? I can’t think of any other author in the genre other than R.A. Lafferty who began writing so late in life (mid-forties), and I assume that most readers are familiar with the amazing work that Mr. Lafferty produced. Surely, Malcolm Jameson would have had the same sort of success as Mr. Lafferty. It’s pretty easy to imagine Jameson as one of the major authors of the 1950s and science fiction’s first boom period.

One thing that I’m unable to do as introducer to these stories is to provide any anecdotes about the author himself . . . I’ve learned from conversation with his granddaughter that Jameson was an accomplished artist, primarily as a landscape painter, and as an engineer helped design a rather famous bridge . . . However, she, like myself was born many years after the author passed away and doesn’t have any first-hand recollections of him. Sadly, most of his contemporaries are gone now and one would have to ferret out correspondence and early fanzines for a glimpse of his interactions with other writers and the fan community. That he interacted with fandom is pretty well documented, but absent his correspondence, there doesn’t seem to be much material relating to the author directly.

Malcolm Jameson would certainly have been an elder statesman among the Campbell authors, most of whom were young men in their early twenties, with only a couple of the group such as L. Ron Hubbard, Arthur J. Burks and Frank Belknap Long surviving from the early years of the magazine and being able to adapt to Campbell’s reshaping of the genre. Jameson of course, was part of the wave of new blood ushered in when Campbell ascended to the position of editor of Astounding, though he was a good twenty years or more senior to the rest of the group brought in as the new collective face of imaginative literature.

Jameson’s stories as a whole share the attitude common to the Campbell stable of a vast optimism, mankind would conquer the stars, and of more immediate concern, the Allied forces would prevail over the Axis. Such an outlook is to be expected of the young men such as L. Sprague de Camp, Cleve Cartmill, and Robert A. Heinlein who were mainstays of the Campbell magazines; such an outlook from a man who was well aware that he was dying when he launched his second career as a writer is nothing short of remarkable and a testament to the sort of man Malcolm Jameson was. The first volume in this series was blessed with rave reviews, and I imagine that this collection and the two volumes yet to come will be similarly regarded . . . During the life of his agent, Oscar J. Friend, Jameson’s stories featured regularly in anthologies, but have been overlooked for close to forty years . . . I’m honored to be able to rectify this oversight and introduce the work of this remarkable writer to a new generation of readers.


John Pelan

Somewhere Close to Area 51

January 2012