Astounding Stories v20n05, January 1938

ISFDB link

Editor, John W. Campbell Jr.

Ormoly of Roonerion • novelette by Nelson Tremaine [as by Warner Van Lorne]
The Voice out of Space • short story by Clifton B. Kruse
Dead Knowledge • novelette by John W. Campbell, Jr. [as by Don A. Stuart] ∗∗∗
Pithecanthropus Rejectus • short story by Manly Wade Wellman ∗∗∗+
Red Heritage • novelette by John Russell Fearn ∗∗
Whispering Satellite • short story by John Russell Fearn [as by Thornton Ayre]
Galactic Patrol (Part 5 of 6) • serial by Edward E. Smith ∗∗
The Mental Ultimate • short story by John Russell Fearn [as by Polton Cross]

Cover • by H. W. Wesso
Interior artwork
• by Jack Binder (7), H. W. Wesso (4), Elliott Dold, Jr. (2)
In Times to Come
Power Plants of Tomorrow: Harnessing the Sun’s Rays
• essay by Willy Ley
Rocket Flight • essay by Leo Vernon
Mutation • editorial by John W. Campbell, Jr. [as by The Editor]
Science Discussions and Brass Tacks • letters

When I recently wrote a review of the October 1937 issue of Astounding it was with a “70th anniversary of the beginning of John W. Campbell’s editorship” fanfare, only to quickly discover that Alva Rogers’ claim that it was Campbell’s first was incorrect.1
With this issue Campbell is a visible presence—one of the letters in Brass Tacks is actually addressed to him by name. The writer, Louis Kuslan, mentions that he heard of the new editor’s appointment in The Science Fiction Fan.
On p. 4 there is also a new feature started by Campbell (and one that still runs in the magazine today), In Times to Come:

There is also an editorial by Campbell, Mutation:

Normally an editor’s first issue is described as the one that has their name on the masthead of the magazine (the part that lists the editors, publishers, etc.), regardless of whether they acquired the stories or prepared that issue for publication.2 However, at that time Street & Smith did not print a masthead on their magazines. My contention is that—given the above—Campbell’s name would also have been on the masthead of this issue if there was one. Your view may vary.3

The fiction leads off with Ormoly of Roonerion by Nelson Tremaine, who presumably used the Warner Van Lorne pseudonym as he was the brother of the previous editor, and the then new Editorial Director at Street & Smith, F. Orlin Tremaine.4 The story’s protagonist, Jack, sees a strange light in the sea and he is repeatedly drawn back to search for it over the next few days. When he eventually spots it again he realises that it is coming from a tiny cigar-shaped vessel:

Slowly the water receded until the bright spot lay on the sand — and it was growing larger! It expanded as the man watched until it was several inches long. It seemed to draw slowly away at the same time, and Jack took several hurried steps forward.
He almost fell and discovered he was standing on rocks larger than his feet! He could not understand; there was little room for anything in his mind, but that he must absorb as much of the strange light as he could.
When the object had grown in size, so that he looked straight ahead, he stepped forward again. It appeared to be metal now, and almost cigar-shaped. The light came from many small openings in the silvery material.
Once more Jack started forward, but now he had to climb over boulders so huge that the ship was almost out of sight when he dropped into the hollows between. A few feet from the ship he stopped on top of the highest. The strange hull was enormous now. It stood fully sixty feet high and several times that length.
Port holes, a foot in diameter, were visible, with rays coming from several. As the ship ceased to expand, the lights faded until they gave only a faint glow.
p. 9

What is really happening here is that Jack (spoiler) is shrinking. This is eventually revealed as a surprise twist at the end but is obvious from the detail here and further on in the story.
When Jack finally goes on board he meets two green-skinned, golden-haired people (an older man and attractive woman). There is then a long undersea journey where Jack learns their odd customs and language and, later, how to run the ship.

When the ship reaches its home port they find war has broken out with the neighbouring Salikans. Jack plays a pivotal role in defeating them before he is told that he is the Ormoly, the man chosen for the woman on board the ship (apparently their ‘vibrations’ match).
This is relatively clearly written but uninspired, formulaic stuff.5
The Voice out of Space by Clifton B. Kruse is another clunker, although it starts quite well with two scientists in a high-altitude balloon taking photographs of the stars. Then they hear an odd sound shortly before they are hit by a meteorite and lose one of their ‘helium-radiants’ (balloons).
The rest of the story is about their return to Earth and the discovery of an electrostatic alien life form in the recovered meteorite.
Dead Knowledge by John W. Campbell, Jr. is about three spacemen who come upon an abandoned city on an alien planet.6 When they start exploring they find that the humanoid inhabitants have committed suicide by poisoning themselves. They fly to another two cities and find a similar situation.

They retreat back into their spaceship and lift into orbit, where they discuss the situation, and agree that they should spend three months exploring and investigating the planet before returning to Earth. However, just as they are away to eat a long overdue meal, two of them find the third dead. He has used the same poison that the aliens used in the cities . . . . Later, another of the two also kills himself.
The climax comes when the last crew member realises (spoiler) he is being taken over by an alien intelligence. There is no poison left for him, but we find out at the end that (a) he had booby-trapped the ship to explode when the FTL drive shut down on arrival at Earth and (b) he has left a message about the alien menace in a heat proof container.
On the plus side this is an atmospheric and at times eerie story; the negatives are that it is a bit slow-moving to start, and the last couple of pages are a little unclear.
Note that this idea of an almost undetectable alien menace taking possession of humans would be reused by Campbell in his classic story Who Goes There? a few months later (Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1938).
Pithecanthropus Rejectus is by Manly Wade Wellman, whose work of this period was standard pulp fare, or at least that was what I thought from both the little I’ve read and what I’ve gleaned from Science Fiction Encyclopedia. This story belies that assumption with a work that is not only the stand out of the issue, but which is also an early example (possibly one of the earliest) of an ‘Uplift’ story (Science Fiction Encyclopaedia: ‘[Uplift] tends to denote an assisted leap of Evolution – specifically, the raising of nonsentient or otherwise handicapped beings to a level of Intelligence or technological capability comparable to or exceeding humanity’s.)7

The narrator in this story is a surgically altered ape called Congo, who is raised in a human family by the doctor who performed the changes. The doctor is an unsympathetic character, but his wife isn’t:

Once or twice Doctor scowled, and once I overheard him talking to Mother just beyond the nursery door. I understood pretty well even then, and since that time I have filled in details of the conversation.
“I tell you, I don’t like it,” he snapped. “Showering attentions on that creature.”
She gave him a ready laugh. “Poor little Congo!”
“Congo’s an ape, for all my surgery,” he replied coldly. “Sidney is your son, and Sidney alone. The other is an experiment—like a shake-up of chemicals in a tube, or a grafting of twigs on a tree.”
“Let me remind you,” said Mother, still good-natured, “that when you brought him from the zoo, you said he must live here as a human child, on equal terms with Sidney. That, remember, was part of the experiment. And so are affection and companionship.”
“Ah, the little beast!” Doctor almost snarled. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t begun these observations.”
“But you have. You increased his brain powers and made it possible for him to speak. He’s brighter than any human child his age.”
“Apes mature quickly. He’ll come to the peak of development and Sidney will forge ahead. That always happens in these experiments.”
“These experiments have always been performed with ordinary ape-children before,” said Mother. “With your operations you’ve given him something, at least, of human character. So give him something of human consideration as well.”
“I’m like Prospero, going out of my way to lift up Caliban from the brute.”
“Caliban meant well,” Mother responded, reminding him of something I knew nothing about. “Meanwhile, I don’t do things by halves, dear. As long as Congo remains in this house, he shall have kindness and help from me. And he shall look to me as his mother.”
p. 68-70

Nevertheless Congo is eventually sold to the world of show business and tours the world as an exhibit. At one point he escapes into the African bush and finds his own kind.

After more days, I found my people, the Kulakambas.
They were as they had been in the dream, swinging in treetops, playing and gathering food. Some of the younger ones scampered through the branches, shrilling joyfully over their game of tag. They talked, young and old—they had a language, with inflections and words and probably grammar, I could see a little village of nests, in the forks of the big trees; well-made shelters, with roofs over them. Those must have been quickly and easily made. Nothing troubled the Kulakambas. They lived without thought or worry for the next moment. When the next moment came they lived that, too.
I thought I would approach. I would make friends, learn their ways and their speech. Then I might teach them useful things, and in turn they would teach me games. Already the old dream was a reality and the civilization I had known was slipping away—like a garment that had fitted too loosely.
I approached and came into view. They saw, and began to chatter at me. I tried to imitate their sounds, and I failed.
Then they grew excited and climbed along in the trees above me. They began dropping branches and fruits and such things. I ran, and they followed, shrieking in a rage that had come upon them from nowhere and for no reason I could think of. They chased me all that day, until nightfall. A leopard frightened them then, and me as well.
I returned, after many days, to the town by the sea.
p. 73

The climactic scene occurs when Congo is playing the part of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Before one of the performances the Doctor visits, and he tells Congo of his plan to repeat his experiment with many more subjects. Congo (spoiler) kills the doctor and the police take him away. The fact that he is only an animal and not subject to, or protected by, human law leads to his tragic end.
This is an impressive piece, and holds up quite well. Apart from the mature treatment of the theme, and a repeated reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the prose is a definite cut above the usual pulp product.
The second half of the magazine has no less than three stories by John Russell Fearn, two under pseudonyms. They are all pretty awful so I will try to be brief.8 The first, Red Heritage, is under his own name, and starts with two chapters where an alien scientist on Venus speaks to an assembled group about the environmental disaster they are experiencing. Rather than move to Mars (which may involve fighting the locals), the plan is to steal their water and air instead.

At length Kil-Dio spoke: “Gravity, as we well know, is as much a force as cosmic rays, light or heat. It has definable limits and its power can be increased or decreased at will—that we know from our levitators, which lift easily against the pull of gravitation. Also, we know it from our space machines which shield gravity and hurl us away from any gravitational field. We know that, even as ordinary radio waves can be heterodyned, so can a correct force operate to ‘heterodyne’ gravitational fields and render the part in question entirely free of gravitation. This, then, is our plan:
“Across space, directly to [Mars], we shall project a heterodyning beam, which, when it strikes [Mars], will encompass some one thousand miles of surface area. This heterodyning beam will be the exact center of what we might call a sudden uprushing vortex of water and funnel of force. That is to say, this funnel will be a beam having walls of vibration solid enough to withstand the sudden uprushing vortex of water and air. Obviously, with part of [Mars] degravitated and this force funnel immediately over that part, the air and oceans will be sucked up our force tunnel by the normal process of following the line of least resistance. But for our force tunnel they would spew Sunward, hence the presence of the tunnel to hold them in one fixed path, until they deluge down on the surface of this world.”
p. 80-82

Fortunately, this turgid data-dumping stops when the third chapter switches to the viewpoint of a Martian called Petlo, who is underground when the force tube strikes. He gets home to find his wife and son sheltering in the cellar.
After the attack ends, Petlo organises the survivors. In time he works out what has happened, and plots his revenge. A rocket is sent to Venus’s moon to blow it up, and send the spore infested debris to Venus. Meanwhile, Petlo puts huge anodes and cathodes into the poles of the planet and sends a pair of survivors to Earth with a racial memory that will enable them to trigger the device many generations later.
The last part of the story has one of the descendants recover those implanted memories. He watches Venus, and then, conveniently, sees the post-spore survivors of Venus head for Mars, where they aim to settle and this time hoover off the atmosphere of Earth. The Earthman sends a radio signal to turn on the polar battery: the remaining Venusian survivors fry.
The Martian section is more readable than the beginning and has a certain narrative verve, but the ridiculous plot has more holes than a colander.
Whispering Satellite is the second offering by Fearn and appears under his Thornton Ayre pseudonym. This actually has a good hook:

“Rocked in the cradle of the deep, I lay me down in peace to sleep—”
The flawless, basso-profundo voice ceased. Clark Mitchell stopped humming the tune that had prompted those notes and looked up across the crude table toward the great, heavy-stemmed flower standing in the Saturnshine streaming through the window.
Sometimes he rather regretted the time two earth-years before when he had taught this particular product of Titan’s Whispering Forest to sing. He knew it did it by air suction through its broad yellow face, vibrating in turn on hairlike vocal cords, but he’d never quite gotten over the uncanny effect of it.
p. 97-98

It then goes downhill with one of Fearn’s characteristic opening astronomical data-dumps (there is one in the previous story, too: ‘Venus, revolving once in 720 hours, was a world without clouds, without protection from a Sun only 63,000,000 miles away’):

Two years on Titan had done much to orient Clark into the strangeness of this little satellite flying round its primary in 15 days, 22 odd hours—a little desert island of a world, bathed in the torrid heat of Saturn 770,000 miles distant. Unlike Jupiter, the ringed world has cooled less swiftly and pours its warmth on its whole retinue of moons. p. 98

The potboiler plot involves Clark’s crashed spaceship, his having been framed for murder on Earth by a woman he still loves, her appearance on the planet with her drunken father, and their perilous journey to the latter’s spaceship before the native ‘blue-biters’ nibble them to death.
The last Fearn story, this one as by Polton Cross, is The Mental Ultimate. This is another potboiler with a lot of makey-up super science, this time about a man with a massive intelligence who works his way through all the sciences, making various profound discoveries. Later, the narrator finds he can kill with a thought and manipulate matter. He then time-travels before eventually ending up in the far-future where he meets the last man on Earth, who proceeds to drone on about the narrator’s intelligence before telling him why he is shrinking—oh yes, I should have mentioned that daftness earlier.

This penultimate part of Galactic Patrol by Edward E. Smith has a mixture of good and bad parts, but mostly the latter. Kinnison passes out when he gets back to his ship after fighting the wheel-like aliens, but manages to contact the Admiral who organises a rescue. When Kinnison wakes up he finds himself in hospital, where he is a terrible patient (and, it would seem, a fourteen old one at that):

In a few days Kinnison was fully and alertly conscious. In a week most of the pain had left him, and he was beginning to chafe under restraint. In ten days he was “fit to be tied,” and his acquaintance with his head nurse, so inauspiciously begun, developed even more inauspiciously as time went on. For, as Haynes and Lacy had each more than anticipated, the Lensman was by no means an ideal patient. In fact, he was most decidedly the opposite.
Nothing that could be done would satisfy him. Ail doctors were fatheads, even Lacy, the man who had put him together. All nurses were dumb-bells, even—or specially?—Mac, who with almost superhuman skill, tact and patience had been holding him together. Why, even fatheads and dumb-bells, even highgrade morons, ought to know that a man needed food!
Accustomed to eating everything that he could reach, three or four or five times a day, he did not realize—nor did his stomach—that his now quiescent body could no longer use the five thousand or more calories that it had been wont to burn up, each twenty-four hours, in intense effort. He was always hungry, and he was forever demanding food. And food, to him, did not mean orange juice or grape juice or tomato juice or milk. Nor did it mean weak tea and hard, dry toast and an occasional softboiled egg. If he ate eggs at all he wanted them fried—three or four of them, accompanied by two or three thick slices of ham.
He wanted—and demanded in no uncertain terms, argumentatively and persistently—a big, thick, rare beefsteak. He wanted baked beans, with plenty of fat pork. He wanted bread in thick slices, piled high with butter, and not this quadruply-and-unmentionably-qualified toast. He wanted roast beef, rare, in great chunks. He wanted potatoes and thick brown gravy. He wanted corned beef and cabbage. He wanted pie—any kind of pie—in large, thick quarters. He wanted peas and corn and asparagus and cucumbers, and also various other worldly staples of diet which he often and insistently mentioned by name.
But above all, he wanted beefsteak. He thought about it days and dreamed about it nights. One night in particular he dreamed about it— an especially luscious porterhouse, fried in butter and smothered in mushrooms—only to wake up, mouth watering, literally starved, to face again the weak tea, dry toast, and, horror of horrors, this time a flabby, pallid, flaccid poached egg! It was the last straw.
“Take it away,” he said, weakly; then, when the nurse did not obey, he reached out and pushed the breakfast, tray and all, off the table. As it crashed to the floor, he turned away, and, in spite of all his efforts, two hot tears forced themselves between his eyelids.

It’s hard to know what to make of this ridiculous (but highly entertaining) passage, and I don’t know if I was more struck by (a) that hundreds of years in the future humans are still eating exactly what they did in the late 1930s, or (b) the image of a Lensman lying in a hospital bed blubbing because they bring him a poached egg on toast for breakfast and not something more to his taste. That said, I would wager this food fantasy passage read very differently to Astounding’s post-depression era audience.
After Kinnison recovers he goes to speak to Admiral Haynes:

“Well, sir, I am feeling a trifle low, but if you and the rest of them still think—”
“We do so think. Cheer up and get on with the story.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and before I go around sticking out my neck again I’m going to—”
“You don’t need to tell me, you know.”
“No, sir, but I think I’d better. I’m going to Arisia to see if I can get me a few treatments for swelled head and lame brain. I still think that I know how to use the Lens to good advantage, but I simply haven’t got enough jets to do it. You see, I—” He stopped. He would not offer anything that might sound like an alibi; but his thoughts were plain as print to the old Lensman.
“Go ahead, son. We know you wouldn’t.”
“If I thought at all, I assumed that I was tackling men, since those on the ship were men, and men were the only known inhabitants of the Aldebaranian system. But when those Wheelmen took me so easily and so completely, it became very evident that I didn’t have enough stuff. I ran like a scared pup, and I was lucky to get home at all. It wouldn’t have happened if— “He paused.
“If what? Reason it out, son,” Haynes advised, pointedly. “You are wrong, dead wrong. You made no mistake, either in judgment or in execution. You have been blaming yourself for assuming that they were men. Let us suppose that you had assumed that they were the Arisians themselves. Then what? After close scrutiny, even in the light of after-knowledge, we do not see how you could have changed the outcome.”
It did not occur, even to the sagacious old admiral, that Kinnison need not have gone in. Lensmen always went in.
“Well, anyway, they licked me, and that hurts,” Kinnison admitted, frankly. “So I’m going back to Arisia for more training, if they’ll give it to me. I may be gone quite a while, as it may take even them a long time to increase the permeability of my skull enough so that an idea can filter through it in something under a century.”
“Um-m-m.” Haynes pondered. “It has never been done. They are a peculiar race, incomprehensible—but not vindictive. They may refuse you, but nothing worse—that is, if you do not cross the barrier without invitation. It’s a splendid idea, I think; but be very careful to strike that barrier free and at almost zero power—or else don’t strike it at all.”
p. 126-127

When Kinnison gets to the planet, the Arisians let him through the barrier and he then undergoes a period of mental gladiatorial training, until such time as he can block his Arisian sponsor’s mental attacks. This section is the best part of the instalment as we find out more about the enigmatic Arisians.
Kinnison then goes and tries out his expanded powers on a nearby pirate base, as well as back home, where he mind-wrestles four other Lensmen and wins. Later, he tries two other men for murder, reading their minds and executing the guilty one. This latter is another example of the almost casual brutality of the so-called good guys in this novel, a trait I’ve mentioned before in a review of an earlier instalment.

The last chapter has Kinnison back at the pirate base, where he overhears that a hospital ship has been captured. He discovers, by mentally taking over the comms guy, that Mac the head nurse is on it. He rescues her from the captain while letting Mac know it’s him. He then foments a fight between the base commander and the comms guy.
One of the weaker of the six instalments.

The crude Cover is by Wesso, who also contributes Interior artwork along with Jack Binder (brother of Eando Binder), and Elliott Dold, Jr. Wesso’s illustrations look the best to me but I also liked a couple of Binder’s.
Power Plants of Tomorrow: Harnessing the Sun’s Rays by Willy Ley is an interesting science article looking at, believe it or not, alternative power sources, and for the usual reasons:

Professor Bernard Dubos had studied the problem of harnessing solar energy for many years before he delivered his famous lecture. He had studied the steadily increasing energy demands of civilization. He knew that the natural resources were dwindling rapidly. At the World Congress of Geologists, in 1913, it had been estimated that there would be no coal left in about a thousand years. In England and in Germany the resources would last only for about 200 years; in America for a little over 1500 years; in other countries for even shorter periods of time. This statement had been called pessimistic by others, because there are certainly still large unknown coal deposits in Africa, Asia and possibly on the Antarctic Continent. On the other hand, the demand for power had increased much more rapidly than it had been thought. It appeared probable that the World Congress of Geologists had even been optimistic. p. 64

An estimate which has to be called conservative says that 1,000,000,000 h.p. will yell for fuel in 1970. Another 1,000,000,000 h.p. in automobiles, airplanes and ships is to be added to this figure. In 1970 there will be hardly any natural oil left and the coal deposits will probably be reserved for the chemical industries that need them much more badly than anybody else. In short, the situation is serious. New sources of power will have to be found and exploited to the utmost. p. 65

The article concentrates on two proposed solar power projects, one of which is a direct application:

His power plant utilizes the fact that air on a hot plain, say an African desert, is hotter and denser than that one or two miles above the plain.
Actual measurements show that there is a difference of pressure of not less than 6.5 inches of mercury between sea level and 6500 feet altitude. If it were possible to build a large chimney, 6000 feet high, on such a plain, the “compressed” air at set level would try to escape through it. It would rise upward in the chimney with a speed about three times as fast as that of the strongest natural cyclones.
Such a chimney is a technical impossibility, if one thinks of it as standing free. But Dubos does not propose a free-standing chimney, even though his demonstration before the French Academy of Sciences may suggest the thought. He thinks of a long tube leaning against a steep mountain slope. The wind tube is to have a diameter of about 35 feet. At its bottom it is to flare out into a glass roof like that of a large hothouse, so that additional heat is built up. Since it is essential that the air, while rushing upward in the tube, does not lose much of its heat, the tube should not be constructed of metal. Light concrete suggests itself, therefore, because it has all the features desired: heat insulating properties, low price, light weight and sufficient resistance.
Dubos’ invention is not only amazingly simple, it also has the advantage of being easy to construct. There are no technical difficulties at all involved in the construction of wind tube and glass roof. One might only say that wind turbines of the size and of the capacity needed have not been built before. Unfortunately, the invention is not generally applicable. It assumes a mountain of medium height in the immediate vicinity of a deep-lying hot plain.
But these conditions prevail on many parts of the Earth where electric power would be welcome; Dubos himself thought principally of the Atlas Mountains in North Africa.
The session of the French Academy of Sciences ended with unanimous approval of Dubos’ ideas and a recommendation of his plans as a feasible means to harness solar power.
p. 65-66

The other project involves pumping water from the Mediterranean over the mountains to the Sea of Galilee (208 meters lower) or the Dead Sea (394 metres lower), producing hydroelectric power on the way down, with the water finally evaporating from the Dead Sea, or being used for irrigation.
Rocket Flight by Leo Vernon is another interesting article, this time on the mathematics of space flight. I didn’t follow all the algebra (my differential calculus days are long behind me) but it is fascinating to see this pre-spaceflight number-crunching, and the practical conclusions the author manages to deduce from the math:

First we might try putting more fuel in the rocket, but probably everybody will agree that it would be unreasonable to have more than the original weight made up of fuel. The second is that it will be best to try to increase the exhaust velocity. The third is the observation that it is advisable to get up and away as quickly as possible. The slower the rocket starts, the better chance gravity has to act on it and pull it back—with the consequence that still more fuel will be needed to build up to a high velocity.
It really looks as if the vital factor is exhaust velocity. With the present experimental values given by Ley, it would be possible to get a rocket up at fair velocity. But it couldn’t go very far out and have enough fuel left to make a decent landing. That won’t prevent us, though, from using our imaginations. It is always possible that in the not-too-distant future experimenters will find that higher exhaust velocity.
p. 112

A practical conclusion drawn by the author is that for actual flight into space, with a chance of getting back safely to Earth, he would want to be guaranteed an exhaust velocity of at least 160,000 feet per second before entering the rocket. p. 114

I looked to see if I could find an exhaust velocity figure for Vostok 1, but the data provided uses different measures. In any event the author’s calculations are challenged in later letter columns.
In Science Discussions there is a letter about time-travel, followed by Campbell’s reply (as Arthur McCann) to his own article on atomic power plants. He discusses the economics of power supply before philosophically musing about the benefits of research:

Research is not wasted human effort, because it can never be truly called unsuccessful. Though the desired goal may not be attained, the knowledge that the attempted course is a blind alley is valuable wisdom; it may, for instance, prevent the building of that unsuccessful atomic power plant that would stand a useless monument to human effort honestly expended, and forever lost to Man’s advancement.
Capital is concentrated human effort: interest the measure of its return in lightened labor. That is the only way to determine whether a thing is an advancement or a retrogression in Man’s evolution.
p. 153

Brass Tacks has a number of letters welcoming the return of the column (which has not appeared recently), and there are comments about the fiction and artwork. Galactic Patrol, and Arthur Burke’s novella, The Golden Horseshoe (November 1937), draw praise; de Camp’s The Isolinguals (September 1937) gets a couple of pans.

In conclusion, not a particularly good issue but an interesting one.
P.S. The reason there is a seasonal advert below is that I had originally planned this post on the 21st of December, which I thought was the magazine’s 70th anniversary until I noticed that I’d looked up the copyright date for the January 1939 issue and not the January 1938 one (the 15th December 1937). There is nothing like a missed deadline to take the wind out of your sails. . . .

1. Alva Rogers states in A Requiem for Astounding:

The September, 1937 issue of
Astounding was to be Tremaine’s last as editor.
[. . .]
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.
p. 48-49

There is much more specific information about Campbell’s early editorship in Fantasy Commentator #59/60, Spring 2011, by Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles (available at and highly recommended). It has one article, Inside John W. Campbell, which uses his letters to Searles between 1936 and 1952, ‘as interpreted and annotated by Sam Moskowitz’:

For the sake of history, Campbell establishes beyond rebuttal the date he became editor of Astounding Stories. On Astounding Stories stationary, labeled “Editorial Department”, dated October 5, 1937, a letter was received by Swisher which said simply: “Dear Mr. Swisher; Hiya, Bob!” and signed “Sincerely, John W. Campbell, Jr., Editor.”
Swisher, his closest friend, had no indication that Campbell had been negotiating for the position. Tremaine, promoted out of the editorial capacity, needed a replacement in a hurry. Campbell was always under foot, and having been tutored by Mort Weisinger in some of the technical aspects of editing, as well as known to be on an almost desperate search for a job, was a likely candidate. Later information indicated that his starting salary was $30 a week.
p. 60-61

2. Avram Davidson’s first issue as editor of F&SF (April 1962) used stories bought by the previous editor Robert P. Mills. See footnote 4 here.
3. Fantasy Commentator #59/60 has this on what Campbell was doing in his first weeks in the job:

[Oct. 24] “I’m working on the editorial for the January, 1938 issue (apparently the first that Campbell had any editorial involvement with) and I’m announcing that the next issue, February, 1938, will be a ‘mutant’ issue, and the first of others to come. Watch for it! Ballyhoo! Hey-hey! And so forth…The change in this case is going to be the cover: For some months, I’m going to try to run a series of covers that will be genuine art-work, first-class work with none of the lurid-color idea that mags have been using. The subject of the first cover will be, for instance, Saturn as seen from Mimas (a moon) in accurate, astronomically calculated representation. It will illustrate a story, too (That cover was actually the Sun as seen from Mercury illustrating ‘Mercutian Adventure’ by Raymond Z. Gallun).” p. 61-62

[Oct. 24] “I have finished Galactic Patrol.
[. . .]
“You know, one of the problems of editing is correction of the author’s manuscript. Now, what should one do with ‘space ship’? Should it be spaceship, space ship, or space-ship? And rocket tube? And rocket ship? And should “Earth” be capitalized? And can you have an earthquake on Mars? And do Martian plants grow in rich, black earth? And is Kinnison Kimball a gray Lensman, or a Gray Lensman?
“For awhile, I’m tied down by editing policy used in Galactic Patrol, which must be consistent, and with which the mag has to be consistent. But after February (1938). I’m going to cut loose and do some high and mighty deciding.”
p. 62

[Oct. 24] “We’re running a Fearn novelette in the January (1938) Astounding (‘Red Heritage’). It isn’t perfect, we know— I’ve tried to eliminate most of the utterly cracked ideas—but remember, we have to fill the mag, and that a lot of birds who pay two solid silver dimes for it like Fearn’s stuff.” p. 62-63

[Oct. 30] “Re Fearn: I delighted in bouncing one of his wilder maunderings, “Wanderers of Ray” in which he had a super-science race build the solar system as a matter of convenience, then gave them space-ships so weak they had a helluva time pulling out of the gravity of Saturn. I took one of his, ‘Red Heritage,’ (Astounding Stories, January 1938), that really wasn’t too bad.
[. . .]
“I’m going to pass some. I know now I’ll have to. For instance: Binder’s new story, ‘The Anti-Weapon’. Actually, I’m allowing his anti-weapon—which happens to have an inconsistent, but actually unimportant explanation—as motivation for an interesting story.”
p. 65

Moskowitz’s observation about the January issue being the first that Campbell had any editorial involvement with is contradicted earlier in the same letter:

[Oct 30] “That ‘Time Contractor’ thing was purchased, edited, and set in type before I came along (by Eando Binder, Astounding Stories, December, 1937). Tremaine didn’t realize that (Dr. Ernest Orlando) Lawrence was a genuine, living character (the inventor of the cyclotron, 1931). I went over the pages and did some drastic and expensive rearranging on that thing as it was. What came out was real mild to the little honey Binder originally had (the entire incredibly dull story read like one of Campbell’s scientific explanations in one of his super science epics). Binder had his character discovering radio-elements, positrons, and various other things several years before Lawrence, and beat the Englishman to the neutron (the Englishman was named— I’ve forgotten it)…” p. 65

So there is also an argument for the December issue being Campbell’s ‘first’. Other people point to the March 1938 issue—when the magazine changes its name from Astounding Stories to Astounding Science-Fiction (see also Campbell’s comments from October 24th about his intention to ‘cut loose and do some high and mighty deciding’ after the February issue). You could also point to later in 1938:

[May 18] “Street & Smith got a new president. The new president tired Mr. Blackwell, ex-Editor-in-Chief and Mr. Tremaine, ex-assistant-Editor-in-Chief. Rearrangements and changes followed, naturally, with the result that I am now all of Astounding. There isn’t any more. No assistants, no readers, no nobody. For a week or so me and the cat with flypaper on all four paws were about equally busy.
“Anyhow, that began to simmer down and quiet, when I found it necessary to stir it up a little more and wish some work on the ‘staff.” (That meant that until October, 1938 the strong influence of Tremaine’s direction would continue to be felt, after that it would be predominantly Campbell. His letters confirm what I wrote in my article ‘The Face of Facts,’ in Redd Bogg’s magazine.
Skyhook, for Summer, 1952. At the time it was believed that Tremaine had left Astounding when Campbell was brought aboard in October, 1937. Tremaine extended his stay until May, 1938. This was also supported by an interview included in the above-cited article. Until Tremaine left, Campbell was acting as first reader on the choice of stories, submitting those he thought best to Tremaine who made the final decision. Of course, if Campbell slipped up on a good story and rejected it without ever showing it to Tremaine, a competitor got it. Tremaine’s reasons for leaving were exactly those stated in Campbell’s letters.) p. 87

4. According to ISFDB F. Orlin Tremaine also used the Warner Van Lorne pseudonym on one occasion.
5. Whether it was the quality of his work or other factors, Nelson Tremaine’s short career as an Astounding writer was coming to an end: he would appear once more in the magazine with The Blue-Men of Yrano in the January 1939 issue. There were a few appearances in other magazines and that was it.
6. Fantasy Commentator #59/60 has Campbell explaining to Swisher the genesis of his story in this issue:

[Oct 04] Tremaine, when I last called on him, suggested that he needed a 12,000 word story within six days—would I please oblige. Ye Gods! I hadn’t an idea on tap—having just finished ‘Cloak of Aesir’, and having it home waiting, I felt all caught up. Stewed for three of the six days trying to get an acceptable idea to start with. A Don A. Stuart story plot wanted—in a hurry. Try it sometime. The harder you want ideas, the blanker your mind gets. Finally I got one, and set to work. High pressure work, but working kinda latish. Of course, to add to the fun Dona rejected the first five starts, by which time we were both groggy with words. p.59

7. The ‘Uplift’ page at SFE is here. Wellman’s story doesn’t get a mention but last issue’s Mana by Eric Frank Russell does, even though the Uplift theme only surfaces at the end of what is essentially a last-man-on Earth piece. I’d also reference Wellman’s story ahead of de Camp’s soon to appear (and also mentioned at SFE) ‘Johnny Black’ stories too.
8. Fearn has three stories in this issue and one in the next, then, as far as I can see, never appears in Astounding again. Initially, I thought this was Campbell dumping all the pulp writers he didn’t like (as mentioned before Van Lorne was another who would contribute only one more story) but Campbell’s comments above would seem to belie this idea.

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