Edward M. Wysocki, Jr.
Just the Facts:
How Articles Came to Astounding
by Edward M. Wysocki, Jr.
Published in the November/December 2020 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact. Copyright ©2020, Edward M. Wysocki, Jr. All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced in any form without the explicit permission of the author.
The first issue of Analog that I encountered was for February 1968. What attracted my attention to it on the newsstand was the Kelly Freas cover for the first part of “The Horse Barbarians” by Harry Harrison. When I looked at the Table of Contents, I saw the article “To Make a ‘Star Trek’” by G. Harry Stine. As this was when the original series was being aired, the article was most likely the reason I decided to purchase that issue. Of course, I did eventually get around to reading the fiction, which is what brought me back for the next issue and the next and so on. But it all started with the article.
The nature of my first connection with Analog led me to wonder if articles had always been a part of the magazine. A bit of research showed me that articles had not been a part of Astounding from the very beginning or even for a number of years that followed. Additional research will allow me to show how and when articles first came to Astounding. I will also look at a number of articles and authors that appeared in Astounding and Analog while John W. Campbell was editor.
Why should there be any non-fiction in a science fiction magazine? To answer that question, we must look at how different magazines, including the pre-Campbell Astounding, handled such material.
If we go back a number of years, we encounter the early magazines of Hugo Gernsback. The first was Modern Electrics, which began in 1908. According to Gernsback, the purpose of the magazine was “to teach the young generation science, radio and what was ahead for them.” Along with the technical articles, the issues sometimes included works of science fiction, usually by Gernsback.
Shortly after selling Modern Electrics in 1913, Gernsback created a new magazine, The Electrical Experimenter. In addition to technical articles, it contained both speculative non-fiction and science fiction. This pattern continued after it became Science and Invention in 1920.
When Gernsback created Amazing Stories in 1926, he could have inverted the pattern of his previous magazines and included some non-fiction to go with the fiction. But he did not do so initially. Except for his editorial, each issue contained only science fiction. In response to a reader’s suggestion in the February 1927 issue that the magazine include a feature to report interesting technical items, Gernsback said “Amazing Stories is a purely fiction magazine, and for the present we intend to keep it as such.”
In spite of his comment, Gernsback included a filler in that same issue. In science fiction magazines, these very short articles or notes are usually used to present some scientific or technical fact. This filler was about a real plant that was similar to one featured in a recent story. There was also a short article about H. G. Wells.
Gernsback then decided to include a feature, first appearing in August 1927, called “What Do You Know?” It was a list of science questions, giving the page where each answer could be found in a story. This feature was continued in Amazing Stories even after it passed out of Gernsback’s control in 1929. Fillers disappeared from Amazing Stories at that time, only to reappear in 1934.
When he created Science Wonder Stories, Gernsback had a similar feature to the one introduced in Amazing Stories, called “What is Your Knowledge of Science?” He then added another feature called “Science News of the Month,” followed by yet another called “Science Fiction Questions and Answers.” By the time we get to Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1936, “Science News of the Month” had vanished, but the other features remained. Fillers also appeared from time to time in both Wonder Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories.
In addition to these features, however, there were only a couple of articles. One was a three-part article “The Problems of Space Flying” by Captain Hermann Noordung that began in the second issue of Science Wonder Stories in July 1929. This was a translation of certain chapters of his book that had been published in 1928. In the February 1930 issue of Science Wonder Stories, there appeared “Can Man Free Himself from Gravity?” by someone only identified as “Dr. Th. Wolff of Berlin.” In the article, Wolff stated that calculations showed that the highest a rocket could rise was 400 km above the surface of the earth. One of the responses was by Dr. Robert H. Goddard, who had created and successfully launched the first liquid fuel rocket in 1926. Goddard stated that this calculation did not take into account the use of a multiple stage rocket, a concept he had proposed in 1916.
Now let us look at the early years of Astounding, published by Clayton Publishing and with Harry Bates as editor. Unlike Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories, there were no science quizzes or pages of general science news. There were no articles either. Almost from the beginning, however, there were fillers presenting various scientific facts. These existed until the end of the Clayton Astounding in March 1933.
When Astounding Stories appeared in October 1933 as a Street & Smith magazine, the editor was F. Orlin Tremaine. Much has been written about Campbell as editor of Astounding, but very little about Tremaine. After his graduation from Valparaiso University in 1921, Tremaine worked on the staffs of magazines from a variety of publishers. In 1929, he came to Clayton Publishing, where he edited Miss 1929 and Miss 1930. He left Clayton when Miss 1930 was sold to another publisher. He returned to Clayton in 1932 to edit the humor magazine Bunk and My Love Story Magazine.
Tremaine joined Street & Smith as editor of three magazines that had been acquired from Clayton: Astounding Stories, Clues and Cowboy Stories. With Tremaine’s responsibility for these and later four additional magazines, much of the initial work on Astounding should be credited to Desmond Hall. He had also been at Clayton where had been assistant editor to Harry Bates on Astounding. But Hall was only associated with the Street & Smith Astounding until both he and Tremaine became involved with the launching of the magazine Mademoiselle, which appeared in 1935.
The action usually identified with Tremaine was the introduction of the “thought variant” into Astounding. It was meant to cause authors to present new ideas rather than to simply repackage old ideas that the readers had seen many times before. Whether or not they were called thought variants, the stories that appeared during Tremaine’s term as editor increased the popularity and standing of Astounding. Not much has been said, however, about what Tremaine did with regard to the introduction of non-fiction into the magazine.
In the first Street & Smith Astounding, the fillers had been replaced by short items relating strange and mystical occurrences. This experiment lasted for only one issue. The technically focused fillers started again in November 1933, but lasted for only three issues.
The next appearance of something other than fiction was the presentation, in eight installments, beginning in April 1934, of Charles Fort’s book Lo! Fort’s book may be described as an un-critical presentation of strange and unexplained phenomena from all over the world. Not science fiction, but not very scientific either. Following the completion of Lo! and the appearance of a filler, both in November 1934, there was another interval during which no items of non-fiction appeared in Astounding.
This interval ended in 1936. In a letter to his friend Robert Swisher, Campbell said:
I have a new assignment, a sort of job, guaranteed to pay me $25 a month, anyway. Tremaine has ordered a series of articles from J. W. C. Jr., to be about 1800 words per issue, one article a month.
Campbell’s series of articles on the Solar System began in June 1936 and ran for 18 installments. The articles, containing a mixture of fact and speculation, were very popular. In his editorial “About Brass Tacks” in October 1936, Tremaine said:
It has been most pleasing to note the approval which has greeted the science articles on the solar system. It has been almost universal, and that guides my thoughts along a promising channel of interest.
Other articles began to appear in Astounding before Campbell’s series had finished. There was “4th Dimensional Possibilities” by Harry D. Parker in the December 1936 issue, “New Frontiers” by Thomas Calvert McClary in the February 1937 issue, “The Dawn of the Conquest of Space” by Willy Ley in the March 1937 issue, and then others.
When Campbell succeeded Tremaine as editor, he continued what he knew to be a popular feature of the magazine. In October 1939, in his editorial “Invitation,” Campbell said that the articles were “steadily gaining in importance and interest.” His efforts to obtain technically accurate yet readable articles on a wide range of topics were emphasized in his April 1940 editorial “Let’s Make It Stronger.”
The difference in how non-fiction was presented was based on the audience to which each type of magazine was aimed. A quote from Sam Moskowitz stated:
Amazing’s more sensational adventures for the younger readers, Thrilling Wonder’s slightly more thoughtful stories for the older teenagers, and Astounding’s sensitive and mature approach for adults.
Although Moskowitz was referring to fiction, we may also apply such reasoning to the presentation of non-fiction. The quizzes and similar features were aimed at the younger readers and the serious technical articles aimed at the more mature readers. Another distinction was that Gernsback felt that he was addressing a mass audience, in contrast to Tremaine and Campbell, who both felt that science fiction should be aimed at technically-minded people. Although articles did begin to appear regularly in other pulp magazines, this was only after the popularity of such a feature had been established by Astounding.
Let us now look at the articles that appeared from June 1936 to December 1971, which is the date assigned to the end of Campbell’s term as editor. This is a total of 427 issues.
The basis for my analysis was the Internet Speculative Fiction Data Base, www.isfdb.org. The analysis was based on the Table of Contents listed for each issue in the data base. If there was a question regarding what was in the data base, that issue was checked, either by a physical copy or online archive.
The result was a list of authors, identifying each issue in which an article by that author appeared. I did not count any article that was specifically credited to The Editor. I also did not count any uncredited article. This means that I did not count most of the fillers, which began to appear in Astounding again starting in March 1938. Fillers for which an author was given were counted. Multiple authors of an article were each credited. Each installment of a multi-part article was separately counted.
The result was 563 entries, representing 171 authors. You will note that the number of entries is greater than the number of issues. My way of counting multiple authors and multi-part articles, and the presence of more than one article in some issues explains the difference.
It was a surprise to me that there were 36 issues that contained no credited article. A small portion of the 36 did contain uncredited articles or works of fiction presented as articles. But the greater number of these 36 issues contained no article at all.
Now that the issues with no articles have been disposed of, what can be said about the rest?
Slightly over half of the entries were for articles by minor authors. Many of these had one or only a few articles in Astounding or Analog listed as their published works. Some may also have had fiction published in Astounding or Analog or elsewhere, but were not well-known authors.
Now we come to the authors of articles who were best known as authors of science fiction. These can be placed into two groups. Those in the first group had only one or a very small number of articles. The names in this group should all be familiar: Poul Anderson, Ben Bova, A. Bertram Chandler, Hal Clement, Gordon Dickson, Randall Garrett, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Malcom Jameson, Raymond F. Jones, Murray Leinster, Eric Frank Russell, E. E. “Doc” Smith, George O. Smith, and Jack Williamson.
The topics of a few of these articles are worth mentioning. We do not have to guess the topic of Robert Heinlein’s sole article, “Shooting ‘Destination Moon’,” which appeared in the July 1950 issue. Two of Malcom Jameson’s seven articles, “Military Explosives” (January 1942) and “Dispersion” (March 1942), drew upon the expertise in naval gunnery acquired during and after World War I. In a similar manner, Jack Williamson’s two-part article “Unpredictable” (February and March 1946), was clearly inspired by his World War II training and service as a U.S. Army weatherman.
The second group of authors were as well-known for their fiction as their articles. The two that I placed in this group were Isaac Asimov, with 17 articles, and L. Sprague de Camp, with 23. Asimov’s articles in Astounding were among his earliest works in what became an incredibly large amount of non-fiction that he generated throughout his life. As might be expected given Asimov’s education, most of the 17 articles were concerned with chemistry or biochemistry. Some of these were “Hemoglobin and the Universe” (February 1955), “The Whenabouts of Radioactivity” (December 1957), and “Microdesign for Living” (March 1960).
De Camp’s articles covered a more diverse range of topics. His total of 23 includes 6 two-part articles. One such article was “The Sea King’s Armored Division” (September and October 1941), which looked at Hellenistic science. “Get Out and Get Under” (December 1942 and January 1943) presented the evolution of weapons leading to the tank. His article “The Space Suit” (March 1948) was based on some of the work he performed in the testing of high-altitude pressure suits during World War II when he was stationed at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia.
It should probably not be a surprise that the person with the largest number of articles was John Campbell. Even if we ignore works credited to The Editor or uncredited works for which he was no doubt responsible, there were 61 articles credited to either Campbell or his alter ego, Arthur McCann.
Some of articles that appeared as by Campbell concerned concepts that he had encountered and which, for a short period, were the focus of his attention. One such concept was the Dean Drive: “The Space Drive Problem” (June 1960) and “Instrumentation for the Dean Drive” (November 1960). Another was the Hieronymus Machine: “Psionic Machine – Type One” (June 1956), “Unprovable Speculation” (February 1957), and “Addendum on the Symbolic Psionic Machine” (June 1957). In spite of his interest in Dianetics, no article by Campbell on that topic ever appeared in Astounding. As editor, however, he published three articles on the subject by L. Ron Hubbard: “Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science” (May 1950), “The Analytical Mind” (October 1950) and “Dianometry” (January 1951).
Another idea that briefly fascinated Campbell was presented in an article that appeared in May 1944. In “Beachhead for Science,” Campbell reported the results of Dr. Felix Ehrenhaft, a refugee Austrian physicist who claimed to have experimental evidence for the magnetic monopole – an isolated magnetic charge. Unfortunately, whatever Ehrenhaft observed and Campbell described were not magnetic monopoles – it has yet to be shown that such particles exist.
Ehrenhaft did manage to find his way into works of science fiction. In “Tricky Tonnage,” a short story by Malcolm Jameson in the December 1944 issue, an inventor finds a way of siphoning off some of the gravitational mass of an object to make it lighter. At one point, he says “It was Ehrenhaft’s work with magnetics that got me to thinking about it.” Another mention of Ehrenhaft occurred in one of the John Grimes stories by A. Bertram Chandler. In “Spartan Planet,” a discussion of spaceship propulsion refers to the “rather unreliable Ehrenhaft Drive.”
As pointed out by Alec Nevala-Lee in his book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Arthur McCann was created to let Campbell insert his ideas into articles, fillers and letters that appeared in Brass Tacks. McCann was supposed to be a Harvard-trained endocrinologist, originally from the Midwest. To maintain the deception, letters responding to people who had written to McCann were forwarded by Campbell to his friend Robert Swisher so that they could be mailed with a misleading postmark. McCann’s first appearance was in June 1937 and his last in December 1943.
Gernsback felt that science fiction magazines could be used to educate the readers about science. Campbell was less interested in educating the readers and more interested in providing them with ideas for stories. His interest in such a use of articles can be seen in a single column filler by McCann that appeared in the January 1940 issue. It discussed the use of new types of steel as opposed to all sorts of fictional exotic metals and was titled “Watch This Creep Up In Stories Now!”
Beginning in 1939, Campbell used some articles by McCann to discuss the latest results following the discovery of nuclear fission. In the August 1940 issue, the article “Shhhhh – Don’t Mention It!” looked at the possibilities of atomic power and atomic weapons. Campbell downplayed the idea of an atomic bomb, but suggested the use of radioactive dust to be dispersed over the territory of the enemy. Although a letter from Campbell to Heinlein was also involved, the dust concept presented in Campbell’s article led to the creation of Heinlein’s novelette “Solution Unsatisfactory.”
Then there were a number of authors better known for their non-fiction rather than their science fiction.
The next most prolific author after Campbell was Willy Ley with a count of 53 articles. As he was growing up in Germany, Ley was interested in many areas of science, such as astronomy, physics, zoology and paleontology. His attention then focused on rockets and the possibility of space travel. He became a member of the Society for Space Travel along with Wernher von Braun. Ley left Germany in 1935 and came to the United States.
I had previously mentioned Ley’s first article in Astounding, “The Dawn of the Conquest of Space.” This article correctly presented the basics of rocket propulsion. The January 1938 issue contained the article “Rocket Flight” by Leo Vernon. He was somewhat less successful in presenting the material correctly. A letter appeared in the May 1938 issue by a science fiction fan named Arthur C. Clarke who corrected some of Vernon’s errors and suggested that a more efficient approach would be for people to just go back and read Ley’s earlier article.
His articles reflected his earlier interests as well as rocketry. He wrote about paleontology in “The Fatal Coloration” (April 1942) and “Tyrannosaurus Was No Killer” (April 1943). Zoology (and biology and bacteriology) were covered by “Witnesses of the Past” (June 1938), “Botanical Invasion” (February 1940) and “Extraterrestrial Bacteria” (December 1943). In addition to discussions of the V-2 rocket, Ley had articles on the history and principles behind other weapons in use during World War II. These included “Bombing is a Fine Art” (August 1942), “Death Under the Sea (September 1942) and “Torpedo!” (July 1944).
The small amount of fiction that he wrote appeared as by Robert Willey.
Robert S. Richardson was right after Ley with 50 articles. Richardson received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from Berkeley in 1931. As a professional astronomer, his interest was in the Sun. To the best of my knowledge, all of his articles considered some aspect of astronomy or astrophysics. One article that was a bit different was “Turn on the Moon – Make It Hotter!” in the November 1943 issue. It presented the difficulties faced by Richardson as technical adviser for a romantic comedy starring William Powell and Hedy Lamarr called “The Heavenly Body,” in which Powell played an astronomer.
One of Richardson’s articles also had a connection with a work of fiction. In July 1943, his article “The World of 61 Cygni C” appeared. This article was concerned with the discovery of what we now call an exoplanet – a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. The article described the process of discovery and gave the details of the size of the planet. It turns out that Dr. Kaj Strand at Swarthmore College, who made the discovery, was mistaken. The first exoplanet was not discovered until 1995, and subsequent studies of the 61 Cygni system indicate that there is no planet there.
Hal Clement used the characteristics of the planet as the basis for his novel Mission of Gravity. How do we know this? Clement had an article “Whirligig World” in the June 1953 issue that explained how he came up with the planet Mesklin. In his article, Clement does not mention the source for his information. I think we may safely assume, however, that he first came across it in Richardson’s 1943 article.
The stories written by Richardson appeared as by Phillip Latham. One example of a work of fiction presented as an article, as previously mentioned, was “The Aphrodite Project,” which appeared in the June 1949 issue. It described a project that had obtained images of the surface of Venus through a break in the clouds. Although it was listed as an article in the Table of Contents, an indication that it was actually fiction was that the author was Phillip Latham.
John R. Pierce had 21 articles. He received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Cal Tech in 1936. I will mention one incident that occurred at Bell Labs, where Pierce worked from 1936 to 1971. In 1947, a team at Bell Labs invented a solid-state device that could amplify a signal in the manner of a vacuum tube. Several names had been suggested for the device, but no one cared for any of them. One of the inventors, Walter Brittain, called Pierce into his office. Pierce was then a member of a group working with the new device. When the problem was explained, he thought for a bit and then came up with the name by which we know that device today: TRANSISTOR.
Pierce reversed the usual method of using a pen name. All 21 of his articles appeared as by J. J. Coupling, and most of his fiction as by Pierce. As one might expect, many of Pierce’s articles were related to various electronic devices. Among these were “Universes to Order” (February 1944), “Activity” (November 1946), “Less Light, Please” (March 1947) and “Broad Band” (August 1947). In spite of his familiarity with the device that he was responsible for naming, it was not until June 1952 that Pierce’s article “Transistors” appeared.
Three of Pierce’s articles were based on the work of his friend and colleague Claude Shannon. In 1948, while at Bell Labs, Shannon presented his paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” to the world. Shannon showed how it was possible to digitize information and then transmit it with a very small and acceptable amount of error. Without Shannon’s monumental discovery, our entire digital world of today would not be possible.
Pierce’s articles based on Shannon’s work were “Chance Remarks” (October 1949), “Ergodic Prediction” (February 1950) and “Don’t Write – Telegraph!” (March 1952). In the book A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, mention is made of an unpublished spoof in which an escaped Nazi scientist developed a machine that automatically generated statements that were indistinguishable from human propaganda. It appears that Soni and Goodman were mistaken, as this spoof appeared in “Ergodic Prediction.”
G. Harry Stine had 13 articles. Stine received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. He worked for a time in the aerospace industry, but is best known for his development of the field of model rocketry. Most of his articles between 1960 and 1971 were concerned with rockets and space exploration. Two exceptions were the Star Trek article that I mentioned at the beginning and “Topological Electronics” in the August 1971 issue. This brief article described a way that had been found to construct a resistor with very low capacitive and inductive reactances. The solution was to construct the resistor using what many would consider a mathematical curiosity, the Möbius strip. Those with an interest as to how this may be done can either access the Analog article or download a copy of U.S. Patent No. 3,267,406 “Non-inductive Electrical Resistor.”
Stine’s number of articles within my range of interest is small, but his connection with Analog continued with additional essays and in “The Alternate View” feature until his death in 1997. His fiction appeared under the name of Lee Correy.
I have attempted to give an overview of the conditions that led to articles being introduced into Astounding. It has not been possible to locate any information that would indicate why Tremaine decided, in addition to his other actions as editor, to begin such a series of articles. Although some articles had appeared in other science fiction pulp magazines, Astounding was the first to present a series of articles. This action led to such articles becoming a regular feature. There also seems to be no way to know why he chose Campbell to write the articles. Although the articles began under Tremaine, they are properly identified with Campbell. His series of articles may be seen as the prototypes for those that followed. As editor, he was responsible for continuing to present articles on a very wide range of topics to the readers of Astounding and Analog.
With the large number of both articles and authors that appeared, a detailed examination would have resulted in an article that might have filled most of this issue. My only alternative was to present a sampling that conveyed as much as possible on the authors and their range of topics. I was fortunate that I was able to find a few cases where the connection of a topic presented in an article and a subsequent story could be shown. It only requires more searching to see if other cases exist.
This article is based on a presentation made at a Symposium held at the New York City College of Technology on December 12, 2019. The title of the Symposium was “An Astounding 90 Years of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.” The Hugo Gernsback quote may be found in The Gernsback Days by Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes. The Campbell quote from the letter to Swisher is from “Inside John W. Campbell” by Sam Moskowitz, which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Fantasy Commentator. The Moskowitz quote is from The Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the beginning to 1950 by Mike Ashley. In addition, I made use of Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson, A Requiem for Astounding by Alva Rogers and The Mechanics of Wonder by Gary Westfahl.