Malcolm Jameson —

Admiral of the Spaceways


I doubt that any readers familiar with Malcolm Jameson’s science fiction need to be told that Jameson had a military background (U.S. Navy). A reading of Bullard of the Space Patrol or nearly any of his short stories in Astounding Science Fiction readily confirms this. Whether it was due to his duties in the Navy or some other factor, Jameson did not begin writing fiction until relatively late in life, his first story appearing in Astounding in August of 1938, when he was forty.

That’s right; his first sale was to the top magazine in the genre, there was no painful apprenticeship at the low-paying Gernsback group. From the very start Jameson was turning out high quality work and establishing himself as one of John W. Campbell’s most dependable regulars. When Camp­bell launched his fantasy magazine, Unknown, Jameson came on board with “Philtered Powder” (which will be included in the next volume of Jameson short stories) in the March 1940 issue. From that point on, Jameson varied his output; science fiction remained his mainstay, but he also found time to author well over a dozen excellent fantasies, most of which were published in Unknown.

Making the switch from science fiction to fantasy was likely a very easy task for Jameson, as some of his science fiction yarns could just as easily with a few minor tweaks been turned into fantasies. In fact, his classic “Children of the Betsy B.” (included herein) has a scientific base so wildly improbable that the story could have just as easily appeared in Unknown without raising any eyebrows. The story is excellent, but if one is looking at it with the expectations of finding a logical extrapolation based on current science, one will be sorely disappointed.

From his debut in 1938 until his death in 1946, Jameson sold almost exclusively to Campbell. Of a total of nearly sixty stories, only a handful appeared in other markets. Of those, we can assume that “Train for Flushing” was originally authored for Campbell and wound up in Weird Tales. The same is likely true of “The Man Who Loved Planks” which was featured in the March 1941 issue. The titular story of this volume was likely written with Weird Tales in mind as there really wasn’t another viable market at the time for a story of this type. The intent of this volume is to showcase Jameson’s excellence as both a writer of science fiction and as a fantasist of the first rank. It’s obvious that Jameson was an important member of Campbell’s stable of writers, even if he rarely got cover billing over his compatriots such as de Camp, Del Rey, van Vogt, Cartmill, etc.

So how is it that it took sixty-five years for this book (or one very like it) to see print? After all, Bullard of the Space Patrol saw hardcover publication, why not a collection of short stories? In the early 1950s the small press publishers such as Gnome, Fantasy Press, Shasta, etc. were very busy issuing hardcovers of science fiction and fantasy from the 1930s and 1940s, with Campbell’s war-time issues of Astounding and Unknown being a major source of material. With even minor authors such as A.M. Phillips being published and obscure early works by major authors such as Murray Leinster’s Murder Madnesss finding their way into print how did Malcolm Jameson’s short fiction get overlooked?

Probably for the very simple reason that Malcolm Jameson lost his long battle with throat cancer in 1946 and wasn’t on hand to prepare a collection. The authors published by these small presses were for the most part still active in the field, the most notable exception being Robert E. Howard, and Howard’s estate had a very active executor to promote his work. It seems that the only major Campbell authors that were overlooked in this frenzy of publishing were Jameson and Cleve Cartmill. Cartmill was very much alive, but writing very little and showing a growing disinterest in the genre as his regular job demanded his full attention and Jameson was dead with apparently no one to speak for him. After all, it’s much easier for a publisher to have the author on hand to prepare a manuscript than it is for the publisher to have to dig through a stack of magazines and put together a collection. Jameson was simply a victim of too much material on hand that required no effort to publish and thus did not appear in print save for a few anthology appearances.

It’s interesting to speculate what the 1950s might have brought, had Jameson lived another ten or fifteen years. I can’t see Jameson slavishly turning out psi stories for the increasingly eccentric Campbell. It’s much more likely that he would have done the majority of his work for Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Or, perhaps like Robert Heinlein he would have cashed in on the demand for science fiction novels. Tarnished Utopia stands as proof that Jameson was quite comfortable working at long pieces. Whatever the future would have brought, it’s clear that the field was deprived of a major talent far too soon. With the exception of Tarnished Utopia being published in the Galaxy Novels series and Andre Norton collecting the Bullard stories for book publication, Malcolm Jameson pretty much vanished from the public eye.

Then in the 1960s, D.R. Bensen published two anthologies, The Unknown and The Unknown Five. Both books consisted of stories gathered from Unknown and Unknown Worlds. I was just beginning to collect books and I was bowled over by the quality of the stories. The collections included work by Anthony Boucher, Henry Kuttner, Jane Rice, Theodore Sturgeon, Cleve Cartmill, Malcolm Jameson and others. Then and there the direction of my collecting efforts was defined. I would collect Unknown (after all, this was a much easier target for a teenager with limited funds than to go after a set of Weird Tales, which I had been considering.) Further, I would also collect books by those authors that appeared in Unknown!

Back then (the 1970s) this was a reasonable and affordable framework for a collection, with only the Hubbard volumes commanding high prices. However, I was disappointed to see that other than Bullard of the Space Patrol, there wasn’t anything available with Cartmill, Jameson, or Rice stories save for the original pulp magazines; which I began assembling.

Some years later when my pipedream of being an editor/publisher suddenly became a reality, I looked back at those files of pulp magazines with color-coded stickers on their storage bags indicating the presence of work by certain authors . . . It was around 1987 that I resolved that books by Cartmill, Jameson, and Rice should exist and if no one else threw their hat into the ring, I’d publish the books myself! Sadly, market conditions took Axolotl Press in other directions and I became too busy publishing contemporary authors to spare any attention to the authors of a bygone era. However, when at the end of the last century, the advent of Midnight House and the re-birth of Darkside Press gave me the opportunity to rectify this situation, and volumes of stories by both Jane Rice and Cleve Cartmill were published (and are still available; contact for ordering information). Only Malcolm Jameson remained to be done.

So, in a way this book has been in the works ever since I read “Doubled and Redoubled” so many years ago. While not the most prolific of authors, Jameson still left us with enough top-notch material to fill several volumes. While we were able to include the Anachron trilogy in this volume, there are still the excellent “Probabilty Zero” stories to be collected as well as another four-dozen tales. Our second collection will be much like this one, a mix of science fiction and fantasy, the third volume, (Probability Zero) will focus almost exclusively on early stories from Astounding and the titular series. Expect to see books #2 and #3 of Malcolm Jameson’s selected stories some time next year. A fourth book, focusing on his more obscure work from sources such as Thrilling Wonder, Planet Stories, Super Science, Astonishing Stories and other pulps will appear in 2013 (assuming of course that the Mayan’s were wrong and that we’re all still here.)

In the meantime, we have a selection of a dozen of his best stories for you to enjoy. While we don’t have any additional volumes of Malcolm Jameson scheduled for this year, we do have some fantastic collections by authors such as Richard Wilson, Robert F. Young, and William F. Temple on deck. Remember, the best way to assure not missing any of this series is to subscribe! We’ll be back next month with a collection by the great Richard Wilson, featuring his final and previously unpublished masterpiece “At the Sign of the Boar’s Head Nebula”! Future volumes include collections by Richard Wilson, Robert F. Young, William F. Temple, Arthur Leo Zagat, Raymond Z. Gallun and many more. We’ll see you next month; until then . . . keep watching the skies!

John Pelan

Somewhere Close to Area 51

August 2011