Category Archives: Astounding

Astounding Stories v20n02, October 1937

ISFDB link

Editor, F. Orlin Tremaine

Out of Night • novelette by John W. Campbell, Jr. [as by Don A. Stuart] ∗∗
Mr. Ellerbee Transplanted • short story by Jan Forman ∗∗
Rule of the Bee • short story by Manly Wade Wellman
Galactic Patrol (Part 2 of 6) • serial by Edward E. Smith ∗∗
A Menace in Miniature • short story by Raymond Z. Gallun
Penal World • short story by John Russell Fearn [as by Thornton Ayre]
Stardust Gods • novelette by Raymond Z. Gallun and Robert S. McCready [as by Dow Elstar and Robert S. McCready]

Cover • by Howard V. Brown
Interior artwork • by uncredited (x2), Elliott Dold, Jr. (x3), H. W. Wesso (x3),
Into the Future • editorial by F. Orlin Tremaine
Ra, the Inscrutable • science essay by R. DeWitt Miller
Sleet Storm • science essay by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Science Discussions • letters

With this issue of Astounding Stories things started to change. F. Orlin Tremaine1, who had been the editor for five years and had made it the leading SF magazine of its day, was promoted to become an editorial director at Street & Smith, the publisher of the magazine. Between this issue and the November one John W. Campbell2 took over the editorial reins. At the time Campbell was one of SF’s major writers, and he would go on to become probably the most important editor that the science fiction field would ever have. That said, the changes he made at Astounding were gradual, and the next few issues saw only minor alterations.3 The Golden Age period that started in July 1939 was still some way off.

The Cover by Howard V. Brown is a fairly garish, crude affair that was, for the time, a fairly typical Astounding cover. It would be a year or so before Campbell managed to improve the quality of the magazine’s cover and interior art.4
On opening this issue I was struck by the amount of advertising—apart from the contents page there are eight pages of adverts before you get to the first story, and for the usual stuff, ‘Train for a Good Job in Radio,’ correspondence schools, medication for your prostate, fistula, kidney, ‘glands,’ and so on.

The fiction leads off with Out of Night by John W. Campbell, Jr., writing under his Don A. Stuart pseudonym, a story presumably bought (like the contents of the rest of the issue) by outgoing editor F. Orlin Tremaine. It takes place on a far-future Earth dominated by the alien Sarn. It opens with Grayth, the representative of humanity, being told by the alien Sarn-mother that, to limit the future population of humanity, from now on there is to be a five to one ratio of women to men. There are two pages of talking head data-dumping done during this meeting, and I initially missed a key part, which is Grayth’s warning to the Sarn-mother about the ‘Aesir:’

Grayth looked at her steadily, deep-set iron-gray eyes unwavering on jewel-flecked golden ones. He sighed softly. “Your race does not know of the ancient powers of man; you are a race of people knowing and recognizing only the might of the atomic generator, the flare of the atomic blast as power. The power of the mind is great.
[. . .]
“But a crystallization has taken place during these forty centuries, a slow uniformity has built up. The mighty, chaotic thought wills of five hundred million men during three thousand generations were striving, building toward a mighty reservoir of powers, but their very disordered strivings prevented ordered formation.
“During a hundred centuries of chaotic thought, turbulent desire, those vast reservoirs of eternal, indestructible thought energies have circled space, unable to unite. During these last four millenniums those age-old forces have slowly united on a single, common thought that men destroyed by your race during the conquest have sent out.
“We of our race have felt that thing in these last years, that slowly accreting oneness of age-old will and thought, developing reality and power by the gathering of forces generated by minds released by death during ten thousand years. He is growing, a one from many, the combined thought and wisdom and power of the fifteen hundred billions of men who have lived on Earth. Aesir, he is, black as the spaces in which he formed. p. 12

Grayth returns to the human settlement, sets up a jamming device to prevent the Sarn-mother from listening in, and meets with the other leaders. After some discussion they conclude that she hopes to foment a civil war that will decimate humanity, and will then intervene to impose her will. Grayth knows that the other side will be led by Drunnel, an old rival in politics and love, and realises the only way to stop the Sarn-mother is to develop a device that will augment humanity’s developing telepathic powers.
In due course Drunnel gets various weapons from the Sarn, and discovers that the headbands they have received project a force-field that will protect the user not only from other humans but from the aliens as well. Civil war breaks out between the two sides, and this is engagingly described in a good fight scene where glow wands and force shields are repelled by a hail of bricks and rocks, and water, which short circuits the headbands providing the force shield. The fight continues but Grayth’s side cannot win. He agrees to surrender and stand trial if his men are freed.
Needless to say, at Grayth’s trial, Aesir finally turns up. Despite all the energy weapons the Sarn have, Aesir prevails. The Sarn mother changes her mind; all ends well.
Overall, this is a bit of a mess: the Aesir idea isn’t placed in the story particularly adroitly, and his appearance at the end couldn’t be more of a deux ex machina. Also, why is the Sarn mother allowed to survive? For the sequel? On the other hand, these shortcomings are offset by some good action, and the appearance of the Aesir at the end is quite dramatic. This was more of an action tale than I had expected from Campbell’s ‘Don A. Stuart’ pseudonym.

Mr. Ellerbee Transplanted by Jan Forman5 has a Mr Ellerbee at an exposition with his wife when he decides to slip off on his own:

Not only was he tired, not only was it hot, not only did his feet ache, but he thought that he was ill, and angry, too. Perhaps the last batch of hateful rollercoaster rides?, accompanying his flushed and shrilly screaming wife—she had a passion for roller coasters—had indeed upset his stomach. Or perhaps it had been the stifling heat at the dress parade his wife had made him sit through, possibly pleasant enough if he had been nearer to the models. Or perhaps he was irked at his wife’s attitude toward his suggestion that they go and visit Mlle. Sonia, who danced sensationally in the midway.
But now there was respite. For a brief and all too fleeting moment his wife was nonexistent, having retired to fix a shoe buckle which had given way under her enthusiastic promenading. Mr. Ellerbee stood ruminating, holding his hat in his hand and wiping the sweat from his nearly bald head with a large crimson handkerchief. And now, suddenly, his mind was made up. Very well, then, he would go and see this Mile. Sonia. And he sincerely hoped this dereliction would goad his wife. Frightened by this last thought he hurriedly put his hat back on his head and ducked into the crowd.
As he headed in the general direction of the midway, his spirit slowly ebbed. True, there was the midway, with its glamour, the raucous voices of its barkers, and the shrill confusion of its music; but afterward there would be questions, cross-examinations, there would be anger and recriminations, and, above all, his tearful wife in agonies of martyrdom and deep self-pity. Better to return, better to put temptation far away. But already in his mind’s eye he could see her sweeping out of the rest room, looking for him, and finding not a trace of him ; he could see her mouth harden into the familiar thin line, and the cold, glittering look come into her eyes; and he knew it was much too late to retrace his steps. In for a penny, in for a pound, thought Mr. Ellerbee, furtively advancing in the direction of Mile. Sonia. p. 40

He ends up not at Mlle. Sonia’s, but in the Future City exhibit next to it. He ends up at the top of the Power Tower in a room marked ‘Private,’ where his nosiness takes him to the actual future.
Here he runs in to varying degrees of trouble, and his strange behaviour eventually gets him taken to a ‘Euthanatkin,’ before he is arrested and put on trial. The interrogation he undergoes from the judges has one or two interesting aspects—they are disgusted by his claim to have been born naturally—and they eventually send him away to be used for experiments:

So much had happened to Mr. Ellerbee during the last forty-eight hours that he was numb. Nothing mattered any more, neither the pain nor the fear. Even his memory was slowly fading from his consciousness. He barely remembered being dragged out of the courtroom, the terrifying journey in the rocket plane, halfway round the earth it seemed, the cold wastes that surrounded the tall towers of the First City, the grim buildings of the First College of Science, the humiliating tests, the countless pricks of hypodermics, the strange rays that made him reel and faint. Even the incredible sight of seeing all his entrails spread out along a table was fading into the growing haze of his subconscious. p. 48

At the end he somewhat arbitrarily ends up back in the present, where he learns that a madman placed what he claimed was a time machine in the Power Tower. His wife is not impressed by his absence.
This is a fairly standard plot but it’s a well told and very well written story with a some nice touches, and it reminded me of the little H. G. Wells I’ve read.
Rule of the Bee by Manly Wade Wellman is a reminder (to me anyway) that this writer was writing pulp SF long before he became better known for the likes of his ‘Silver John’ folklore fantasy in F&SF.
Unfortunately this story shows little if any of his later prowess—it is mostly a load of nonsense about a Dr Geiger and an experiment to increase the size of a honeybee to that of a horse. Geiger does this with a ray device:

The ray burned for another hour. Twice during this hour Geiger went to a bench stacked with bottles and there mixed carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other materials. Carefully weighing and checking them, he poured them into the great tank just above the glowing lens. In proportion as the bee grew to kitten-size, cat-size, dog-size, the mixture in the tank dwindled. When the doctor again switched off the power, the prisoner had increased to fill its soap box. p. 52

The enlargement takes place in stages, and Luther (Geiger’s black assistant) suggests to the doctor three times that they remove the creature’s sting. Needless to say, the Good Doctor pooh-poohs this suggestion, stating bees are ‘social animals,’ ‘easily domesticated,’ etc., etc. After this it is just a matter of waiting to see who gets shanked first, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying it isn’t the Good Doctor . . . .
There is a moderately interesting twist at the end where the bee hypnotises Shimada (Geiger’s other, Japanese, assistant) with its big multifaceted eyes, and it later brings back a beehive so the occupants can receive the same treatment. An acid attack by Geiger stymies its plans.
This is written in a readable enough style even if it does ignore the inverse-square law and, initially at least, have an idiot plot.

The undoubted highlight of the issue for fans of the time would have been the start of the new ‘Lensman’ series by ‘Doc’ Smith. Galactic Patrol began in the previous issue, and recounts the graduation and further adventures of Kimball Kinnison, a Lensman and member of the Galactic Patrol. He is implanted with a Lens, a pseudo-living telepathic jewel matched to its wearer by the enigmatic Arisians. Lensmen (eventually) have unlimited authority and scope to combat crime in a galaxy overrun with pirate ships that are controlled by the evil Boskone.
I was curious to see how I would get on with this as in my teens I picked up a copy of Triplanetary and made no progress. When I recently started reading some of the Golden Age Astoundings I deliberately started not with the July 1939 issue but the February 1940 one, so that I wouldn’t have to read the sequel to this, Gray Lensman. Now I am sort of looking forward to it: I was pleasantly surprised with this one; not only did I find it a reasonably easy read (it probably helped that I only read one of the half-dozen twenty to thirty page instalments every few days), but some parts are quite entertaining. You can actually lose yourself in some of it—the story can be quite breathless and exciting—and I also found out where a lot of those fan expressions came from (‘Clear Aether,’ ‘have the jets for it,’ ‘Boskone,’ etc., etc.). On the other hand Smith has a multitude of bad habits: excessive violence, squirm inducing banter between the Kinnison and his allies, a habit of describing things as ‘undescribable’ so he doesn’t have to bother, etc., etc.

This episode places Kinnison on the planet Delgon after he and his sidekick VanBuskirk have managed to get vital information about the new power source that the pirate spaceships have, and which is causing problems for law enforcement. The pair are pursued by many pirate ships and are trying to hide on the planet. However, they are attacked by Catlats, before being unexpectedly saved by Worsel, a dragon-like alien. He is a scout for his species, who live on the neighbouring planet of Valentia, and who the sadistic Delgonians prey upon. Worsel soon teams up with Kinnison and VanBuskirk.
The pair listen to Worsel’s account of how all of the earlier scouts from Valentia have disappeared, and Kinnison uses his Lens enabled telepathic power to find out what happened to them. This passage shows the degree of violence in the novel, which sometimes tends towards the sadistic:

In a dull and gloomy cavern there lay, sat, and stood hordes of things. These beings—the “ nobility” of Delgon—had reptilian bodies, somewhat similar to Worsel’s, but they had no wings and their heads were distinctly apish rather than crocodilian. Every greedy eye in the vast throng was fixed upon an enormous screen which, like that in a motion-picture theater, walled off one end of the stupendous cavern.
Slowly, shudderingly, Kinnison’s mind began to take in what was happening upon that screen. And it was really happening, Kinnison was sure of that. This was not a picture any more than this whole scene was an illusion. It was all an actuality—somewhere.
Upon that screen there were stretched out victims. Hundreds of these were Velantians, more hundreds were winged Delgonians, and scores were creatures whose like Kinnison had never seen. And all these were being tortured; tortured to death both in fashions known to the Inquisitors of old and ways of which even those experts had never an inkling.
Some were being twisted outrageously in three-dimensional frames. Others were being stretched upon racks. Many were being pulled horribly apart, chains intermittently but relentlessly extending each helpless member. Still others were being lowered into pits of constantly increasing temperatures or were being attacked by gradually increasing concentrations of some foully corrosive vapor which ate away their tissues, little by little. And, apparently the piece de resistance of the hellish exhibition, one luckless Velantian, in a spot of hard, cold light, was being pressed out flat against the screen, as an insect might be pressed between two panes of glass. Thinner and thinner he became, under the influence of some awful, invisible force, in spite of every exertion of inhumanely powerful muscles driving body, tail, wings, arms, legs, and head in every frantic maneuver which grim and imminent death could call forth. p. 65

The three of them subsequently go to the city and, as a result of various pitched battles (which are nearly all fights to the death), they manage to destroy the Delgon overlords. Then they take their ship to Valentia. On arrival they set work building a communications jammer (a device that didn’t exist before they dreamt it up), capture half a dozen pirate ships (more fights to the death), and set off for Earth.
This section isn’t the best part of the novel6 (the episode on Delgon is little more than an unnecessary subplot) but, overall, it is okay.

I’ve never been that impressed by the little I’ve read of Raymond Z. Gallun (too crude, too pulp), and the two contributions he has in this issue didn’t change my mind. His solo effort is A Menace in Miniature, which starts with an overwrought data-dump from one of the members of a spaceship crew who are exploring a rogue planet that has entered the solar system:

“Paxtonia is just another name for hell!” he whined into his ether phone, addressing his two companions. “It’s just a broken piece of an inhabited world that exploded maybe ten billion years ago! It was shot away from that world’s parent star! Why did it have to wander into our solar system, and establish itself in an orbit around our sun? Nothing could live on it except the spirit of death!
“That’s what it must be—the spirit of death! Those ships that blew up when they got too close to Paxtonia— Some smart people think that maybe there’s an intelligent agent here who did that by exploding the old-type rocket fuel. But there’s nothing here that anybody can find, except the ruins of buildings and machines, and a lot of empty silence! Still, a week ago there were twelve men in this expedition—and now there are only three of us left alive. Please! There isn’t any sense in our staying on Paxtonia! We’ve got to get out of this devil’s paradise—at once!” p. 88

His forebodings prove prescient as he is almost immediately killed, leaving two crewmembers alive, the pilot and a scientist. As the atmospheric pressure is dropping they deduce they must be under attack from tiny projectiles, so they retreat to the war turret with the Scarab, their mini-probe. They use this to build a tiny, sand grain size probe to hunt for the invaders. They release this into the spaceship and find, and partly destroy, them. This, of course, completely overlooks the fact that a tiny probe looking for similar objects in a spaceship would be nigh-on impossible to find given the vast relative volume to be searched.
The pair then follow the few surviving projectiles back to the tiny alien operators, at which point the scientist trots out some eugenics nonsense about how they bred themselves to their diminutive size. Pretty awful.
Penal World by John Russell Fearn is almost as bad. A prisoner on Jupiter sees a small ship land some miles off and decides to make for it and escape the planet. The rest of the story details his journey to the ship. He meets the governor’s daughter along the way—who also has plans to leave the planet—and saves her from the local wildlife. Later, they meet an intelligent telepathic Jovian who helps them on their way: his payment is the smelling salt crystals that the prisoner used to revive the daughter.
Stardust Gods by Raymond Z. Gallun and Robert S. McCready starts with a meteorite, a ‘green star’ landing beside a small town. It knocks out the power, suspends all life and movement, and makes a ‘copy’ of the town which it then takes into deepest space. There it meets up with three other green stars that have been to Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
Meanwhile, Bill, who lives outside the town, wakes up to the whiff of phosgene, something he recognises from his time in the Great War. He goes outside and sees a changed environment:

Now Bill surveyed what lay beyond the smeary window. The mountains were there beyond doubt, even though, to the best of his knowledge, they must have sprouted overnight. At their bases, visible through a greenish-yellow murk, was a jagged plain of gray, pumicelike stone. Nearer, the plain ended in an abrupt drop, forming a sort of cliff, the face of which was glassy and smooth, as if fused by terrific heat.
[. . .]
Then he saw a sun, huge and red, rising in the gap between two monster mountain peaks. A little higher up, and apparently smaller, though this latter condition was probably due to a greater distance, was a second orb, quite like the first. Both were fuzzy and blurred; nor was this entirely an atmospheric phenomenon, caused locally by the murk in the air. These twin, or binary, suns were not ruddy because they had passed the hot glory of their prime; rather, as the age of stars is measured, they were very new, having just contracted from the tenuous nebular stage. Wispy rings of nebulous matter still belted the equators of both. In ages to come, these suns would contract farther and grow hotter. p. 128

The rest of the story falls into two sections. The first has Bill teaming up with a neighbourhood inventor to solve the phosgene problem. After this they go to organise shelters for the townspeople.
The second section forms the bulk of the story and has Bill, the scientist and his female assistant travelling by car to a nearby airfield (fortunately the inventor is also a pilot). At this point a swarm of flying crystal like aliens appear and one breaks a window and enters the car. During this contact, and a later one, we learn that the aliens have brought the townsfolk here to torment them for a bit of ‘fun.’
As they explore the other domes they have various adventures until, eventually, their gas mask filters become contaminated. Fortunately Bill’s dog turns up wearing a gasmask (!) with a bottle of chemicals to refresh their filters. How the dog manages to smell anything in a mask, or cover the distance and terrain so quickly, is not explained.
Finally, the aliens get bored and leave—which was pretty much how I was feeling by this point.
Despite the description above, the first three-quarters of this is an okay read, but when the dog turns up any remaining credibility vanishes.

The Interior artwork, like the cover, is primitive stuff although I thought there were a few illustrations by Wesso7 that have a certain charm, and maybe one of Dold’s. (The illustrations here are all Wesso’s apart from the uncredited illustration for Campbell’s own story.)
Into the Future by F. Orlin Tremaine is a rather high flown editorial:

Ra, the Inscrutable by R. DeWitt Miller is a science article on Radium that is full of hyperbole but not much detail. There is some interesting information on the uses of Radium to treat cancer, but some of it is just mad:

Atomic bombs are not yet a reality in warfare of man against man, but they are already in use in the struggle of man against cancer. Strangest of all, patients who have had within their bodies the ultimate force—subatomic power—feel no pain. In fact, some patients seem to feel a strange exhilaration. One woman in whose body four grams of radium had been placed overnight, refused to sleep. “I didn’t want to lose a moment of that strange feeling of joy and exhilaration,” she explained. p. 105-106

Sleet Storm by John W. Campbell, Jr. is an interesting science article about meteorites and whether they will be a threat to spaceships during their voyages.
Science Discussions hasn’t yet become Brass Tacks, and is exactly what it says. It is subtitled ‘An Open Forum of Controversial Opinion.’ The letters begin with discussion about Atlantis, pro and con. Other subjects include déjà vu, magnetic pole location, and lightning. There is a lot of amateur theorising going on.

Overall, reading this essentially Tremaine-period issue7 was an educational as much as a pleasurable experience. If the Golden Age of SF interests you then it is probably worth reading a few of these transitional issues to see the changes that occur between Campbell’s first issue and the acknowledged beginning of that period, the July 1939 issue of Astounding.

  1. F. Orlin Tremaine at SFE.
  2. John W. Campbell Jr. at SFE.
  3. As Alva Rogers notes in A Requiem for Astounding, p. 49:
    At first there was nothing to intimate to the average reader that a change in editors had taken place: the magazine in those days did not list the name of the editor on the contents page as it was to do later. The “flavour” of the magazine in the last three issues of 1937 was still that of Tremaine, and remained so, substantially, until Tremaine left Street & Smith in May of 1938 and his backlog of stories was used up.
    Mike Ashley offers more details in The Time Machines, p. 107:
    Campbell began at Street & Smith in October 1937, which meant that he started to have an editorial impact from the December issue, although he did not take over the full editorial reins until March 1938. Nevertheless his presence was rapidly noticeable in a variety of changes. In the January 1938 issue Campbell instigated ‘In Times to Come’, whetting readers’ appetites for the next issue. With the March issue he began ‘The Analytical Laboratory’, reporting back on the popularity of stories in previous issues.
    There are other changes that have been pointed out to me. The January editorial mentions that the February issue will be the first of a series of occasional ‘mutant’ ones, an example of evolution in practice. These issues will test out ‘genuinely new’ ideas, the Brass Tacks letter column will be used to test them, and any successful ideas will be retained. More significantly perhaps, the magazine changes its name from Astounding Stories to Astounding Science-Fiction with the March issue.
  4. If you look at the ISFDB galleries of covers for 1937, 1937, 1938 and 1939, you will see a huge improvement in quality at the end of 1938, helped by a more modern cover redesign on the December issue of that year.
  5. A cursory search revealed no further information about Jan Forman. It is hard to believe that this is the only story from this writer.
  6. For the record (as I’ll probably never read the all of these mags) the sections of the serial I liked the best were the first (an almost Leni Reifenstahl-ish graduation ceremony followed by space battles with pirates), part three (this one has a couple of chapters that are from Boskone’s henchman Helmuth’s point of view, and has an interesting part where he meets the Arisians), part four (more space battles) and part six (more interesting aliens on the way to a satisfying conclusion. The ending is rather abrupt though).
  7. According to SFE, Campbell eventually replaced Wesso with other artists. According to ISFDB, after a short spell illustrating elsewhere he appears to have stopped altogether. This may have been partly to do with a 1940-onwards staff artist job at the New York Times, which is mentioned in his Pulpartists page. Just over a decade after these illustrations appeared he died, age 53.

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Revised 17/09/2017 to remove the references about this issue being Campbell’s first as editor.