Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The Cleve Cartmill Controversy - Did Story "Deadline" Leak Atomic Bomb Secrets?

Cleve Cartmill (1908-1964) was a newspaper journalist and freelance science fiction
writer who contributed some fifty novellas, novelettes and short stories to the sf and f pulp magazines of the time. His earliest work appeared in the pages of the legendary 1940s fantasy publication, Unknown Worlds. Today, many of his contributions to this magazine, particularly the short novels "Hell Hath Fury" and "A Bit of Tapestry" (which Robert Silverberg, himself a multi-award winning sf/f writer recently hailed as "nicely done fantasy novellas"), are considered minor masterpieces.
However, Cartmill was a double-threat man, and was equally adept at writing science fiction, consistently placing stories with John W
Campbell, the most demanding editor of his day. Campbell's magazine, Astounding – which spawned the careers of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and other Golden Age giants – almost single-handedly moved science fiction from shoot-'em up space opera to serious scientific, sociological and psychological speculation. Campbell brought out the best in Cartmill, resulting in a series of memorable stories that still retain great vigor and resonance today, among them a norish outer space mystery, "Some Day We'll Find You," an attempted revolution against a future theocracy, "With Flaming Swords," the story of a man whose desire to
be a normal, patriotic citizen inadvertently lead to a society's "Overthrow," and an androcentric but highly-amusing meditation on a possible turning point in dim prehistory, "The Link" (all of which you will find in this first-ever collection of his work).
Yet, today Cartmill's memory and reputation rest on one single story, "Deadline," and the controversial events that swirled around its publication in the March 1944 issue of Astounding. In fact, it is possible to make a case for "Deadline" being the most controversial science fiction story ever published – considering that its appearance provoked a full-scale investigation by the FBI. As the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction describes the event: A year before the
explosion of the first atomic bomb, at a time when the weapon's existence and workings were World War II's most closely guarded secret, Cartmill's story described the principle behind the bomb as well as the exact means by which it was exploded.
Someone somewhere in military intelligence must have been a science fiction reader, for not long after the issue of Astounding containing the futuristic spy story, "Deadline," hit the stands, a pair of FBI agents appeared in the office of editor John Campbell demanding everything he knew about the story and its author. It soon became apparent that they suspected Cartmill, and perhaps Campbell, of being an enemy agent who had received classified information from another agent and was using the pages of Astounding to pass this information along to Hitler's Third Reich. Moreover, the agents had discovered that both Campbell and Cartmill had suspicious connections with a trio of men, two of whom worked in research at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and whom might have been in a position to learn something from someone somehow about the
bomb, while the third member of the trio was involved in suggestive experiments.
As a recently declassified intelligence document discussing the connection between these three men seems to suggest that there is more to their association than met the eye. "It is established that Cartmill is very friendly with [ ], Retired U.S.N.R., who is associated with [ ] at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This [ ] formerly was doing research work at Columbia University, and he is said to have accepted some material thought to be atomic copper from [ ] in order to measure it in the mass spectroscope at Columbia University. [ ] was advised by [ ] that the device was broken. He never received the material back from [ ]. One [ ] who has written for [ ] Magazine is said to be working with [ ] also. The possibility of the transmittal
through [ ] to Cartmill has not so far been resolved..." (The names were blacked out in the document.)
Who were the members of this suspicious cabal? Here is the document with the names filled in: "It is established that Cartmill is very friendly with [Robert A. Heinlein], Retired U.S.N.R., who is associated with [Isaac Asimov] at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This [Asimov] formerly was doing research work at Columbia University, and he is said to have accepted some material thought to be atomic copper from [Will F. Jenkins (Murray Leinster)] in order to measure it in the mass spectroscope at Columbia University. [Jenkins] was advised by [Asimov] that the device was broken. He never received the material back from [Asimov]. One [L. Sprague de Camp] who has written for [Astounding] Magazine is
said to be working with [Heinlein] also. The possibility of the transmittal through [Heinlein] to Cartmill has not so far been resolved..."
Well, of course, a pair of more loyal supporters of the U.S. in the war against Hitler's Third Reich than Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov would be hard to find, and it is not likely that Campbell, Cartmill, de Camp, and Jenkins were far behind. 
[From the top down: Campbell, Heinlein, Asimov, De Camp, Leinster. Sadly no photo of Cartmill could be found.]

Don't miss the concluding part of this blog entry, detailing the outcome of the FBI investigation.  

But you don't have to wait to read "Deadline" the story that started it all. You can read it now in Deadline and Other Controversial SF Classics by Cleve Cartmill - on sale at halfprice, just $2.99 for Kindle at Amazon.

You may also want to read his other two books from FuturesPast Editions:

(from Thrilling Wonder Stories)
(a classic from the legendary pulp Unknown)
both also on sale at halfprice, only $2.99!

Monday, January 6, 2014


Henry Bott's almost back to back 1954 reviews, in his column "Science Fiction Library" in the sf magazine Imagination, of the newest novels by Isaac Asmov, Second Foundation and The Caves of Steel had been, in Bott's own words, "venomous." He had slung around terms like "insipidity and dullness", and termed Asimov as "neither a writer nor a story-teller", "heavy-handed and ponderous",  a producer of "elephantine prose". Bott had found not one redeeming quality in what were hailed then and recognized now as two keystone classics of science fiction. Asimov , rarely one to fly off the handle, had held his peace after the first review. But with a second hatchet job following so closely on the heels of the first, even the good doctor felt he was entitled to protest, abet in his usual mild and cognitive form. Below, from the fanzine Peon, published by Charles Lee Riddle, Nov. 1954, is the Asimovian response:

by Isaac Asimov

   I suppose there comes a time in the life of every novelist when he feels brought face to face with the messy problem of what to do about the critic who feels he has a license to indulge in personal insult, and does not feel bound by accuracy and simple fact.
   When that time comes, what can the His book is out. Custom allows it to be fair game for anyone who can crank up a pencil and make legible marks on paper. Custom draws no hard line between legitimate professional criticism on the one hand and fishwifery on the other.
   The science-fiction novelist, I am glad to say, is more fortunate than most. Such reviewers as Groff Conklin, P. Schuyler Miller, Villiers Gerson, Anthony Boucher, Damon Knight, J. Francis McComas, Robert L. Lowndes, L. Sprague de Camp, Mark Reinsburg, Sam Merwin, and George O. Smith, are gentlemen who have cut. their eye-teeth on science-fiction. What they do not know about the field has not been yet thought up. Most of them have the inestimable advantage of being able to write science fiction themselves, and they have turned out first-class stuff, too.
   In discussing a novel of which they disapprove, they point out succinctly what it is of which they disapprove. They balance that by such merits as they believe the novel to possess. Their language is restrained and they feel no need to salvage their own ego by personal attacks against a target which they know in advance to be in a poor position to defend itself.
   Unfavorable reviews from a reputable and capable critic are of the utmost service to the novelist. I have myself learned a great deal, by carefully considering some of the thumbs-down reviews of my own books, notably Anthony Boucher's comments on my Foundation books and George O. Smith's remarks on The Currents of Space. I did not agree completely with what they said, but I was very grateful to them for having said it. 
    Damon Knight, in particular, is a dissector of novels who has no parallel in science fiction. The pains he takes to illustrate his points, the care with which he achieves objectivity, and the cogency of his reasoning, makes every one of his reviews a virtual course in writing technique. His remarks may make the writer wince, but so does iodine on a cut.
    Unfortunately, we now come to a reviewer whom I shall refer to only as The Nameless One. The Nameless One, safe behind his barricade as "Critic" aspires, apparently, to be as witty and fearless as Damon Knight. He doesn't succeed, of course, because he substitutes invective for reasoning and personalities for analysis. He manages (and this be does admirably) to be inaccurate and insulting.
   In a review of one of my books, for instance, he states that although I am educated and articulate, I am neither a writer nor a story-teller. He doesn't say that Isaac Asimov is not a good writer; he says he is not a writer.
     He is welcome to his opinion, but how does he define the word "writer" now? Certainly I put words on paper. Certainly I sell my fiction. In the last thirteen years of my sixteen-year writing career, I have sold every word I have written, and to decent markets. On the whole, reader comment and reviewer comment has been kind to me. Will The Nameless One tell me what else I must do to be classed a "writer"? Not a "good writer" mind you; I lay no claims to that. Just a writer.
   In a review of another one of my books, The Nameless One states in rather shrill exasperation that someone must like my books because they pour out in an endless stream. He admits that some people may claim they like the book, but he insists they can't have waded through it. The implication, to me, is that no one can both have read the book and liked it; that The Nameless One does not understand how I could possibly get the book published. A person who knew nothing of me or my work but what he read in the review by The Nameless One might easily conclude that I got my books published by a combination of threats and bribery.
   What arc the facts? The novel he denounces in this manner was liked well enough by Horace L. Gold to be serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction. It was liked well enough by Walter
I. Bradbury to be published as a Doubleday novel. It was liked well enough by Truman M. Talley to be slated for publication as a Signet paperback. These three gentlemen read the books they buy, and they are not as easy to fool as The Nameless One may think.
    Do the readers approve of the book? In its first three months after publication, 28,000 readers bought the book. I dare say some of them knew what they were doing.
    Do the reviewers approve of the book? With Lee Riddle's kind permission, I would like to quote a random handful of reviews of [The Caves of Steel]. Bear with me.
    "...accomplishes something various science-fiction writers have been trying to do for a long while--it tells a first-class detective story in terms of a future and very advance technology. Even his robots are completely believable..."
    "...a good fast-,moving murder mystery which will hold your interest right up to the last page. This is one you shouldn't miss."
    "...a first-class thriller--- The book has a fast pace and the inventiveness is logical and mentally stimulating."
    "...fascinating glimpses of the world to come."' -
    "...the first wholly successful balanced blend of science fiction and the strict detective story."
"It's a first rate detective...story, too---a suspense novel that will leave you breathless."
"...the an excellent suspense type thriller..."
"...If you want reading to set you free from the shackles of every day drudgery, try this prescription...a copy...a comfortable chair and about four hours of reading time."
"...It has remained for Isaac Asimov to write the purest sciencefiction-detective-story exceedingly good one."
"...not only thrilling, but believable."
    You may think all this is beside the point and in a way it is. Even if everyone in the world loves a book, .a reviewer would have a perfect right to dislike it and say so.
    My point is that his dislike ought not to extend to the point of untruth. He ought not imply that the author is an imposter. He ought not imply that no one likes the book when that is palpably false. For God's  sake, he ought at least read the book, rather than the book jacket. The Nameless One devotes very little of his review to a description of the plot, and that very little is ludicrously wrong. 
    For instance, he states that in the book, the author takes the entire Galaxy, no less, for his sphere. Had he as much as glanced through the book, he would have noted that not only is the scene of action confined to Earth;. it is confined to New York City.
   Why am I writing all this? For a specific purpose. In writing this for PEON, I am addressing a small and reasonably select audience, an audience of fans interested -in Science-fiction.
    I have a question for them. What can an author do that will serve to point up gross inaccuracies in a review, perhaps downright malice, without laying himself open to the charge of being a sorehead?
    It's a problem that is particularly galling to me, since it has never been my practice to skulk in the corner with my finger in my mouth when someone is waving a fist in my direction.
    Oh, well....
     -Isaac Asimov

(Visit this blog again soon for the next installment of this account of the Bott-Asimov feud, for Bott's reply and that of Imagination's publisher, William L. Hamling. And wonder along with us if it was all a put-on to increase circulation.)

Friday, January 3, 2014


In 1936 Hugo Gernsback lost his second set of science fiction magazines, and barely escaped another bankruptcy, by selling Wonder Stories and it's companions to Ned Pines' Standard Publications. A streamlined publisher of successful pulp magazines, Pines put a savvy young man who had been a reader and fan of science fiction since childhood, Mort Weisinger, in charge. Weisinger jettsoned Gernsback's preoccupation with with Victorian gagetry and scientific lectures on how everything worked for the kind of juvenile whiz-bang ray guns and monsters slant Ray Palmer would later be pilloried for taking (often by authors who had grown up writing for Weisinger). A decade on, in the more ambitious hands of Sam Merwin Jr., Standard's line of pulps shot high in the field virtually overnight, becoming second only to John W. Campbell Jr.'s Astounding.

When [in 1936] Standard Publications bought Wonder Stories and renamed it Thrilling Wonder Stories, they had a man on their editorial staff just made for the magazine, Mort Weisinger. Weisinger was one of the early group of fans, including Ray Palmer, Julius Schwartz, and Forrest J. Ackerman, who published the legendary fan mag, Fantasy Magazine. Mort had had a few stories sold and wanted nothing more than to edit a stf magazine. He was given the assignment and carried on until he left in 1941 for an editorial position with the Superman comic magazine group. But this didn't end his stf editing career. Today, with Julius Schwartz, he co-edits two stf comic magazines, Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space, produced by the publisher of Superman.

Oscar J. Friend ran Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, from 1941 until 1945, when Sam Merwin Jr., took them over.

Sam Merwin Jr. took over a tough job when TWS and Startling were handed to him. They were in a sad, sad state. Though Merwin didn't know too much about science-fiction, he is a darn good editor and knows a good story when he sees one. Slowly he built the mags up until when he left them only a few months ago, they were (and are) among the best of their types. Sam is a big man, about six-foot, heavily built and with an extra strong sense of humor. He left
the Standard mags to free-lance in writing science-fiction and other "pop" was doing. Young Merwin assured me his father was hard at work on a stf novel.types of stories. I had the pleasure of meeting his teen-age son at Steve Takacs' book shop only recently and inquired what his

Merwin leaves his stf magazines in good hands—in the hands of his silent partner, Sam Mines, who will carry on the policies of Merwin and add some of his own. Mines is an old-time stf fan. He started reading our favorite brand of literature during the early days of Gernsback, got sidetracked into westerns when he started writing, but now he's with his old love, scientifiction. Merwin paid him the greatest compliment possible when, at the 1st Fan-Vet Convention in New York, in April, he stated that Mines is the man who should have gotten the job of editing the Standard stf mags in the first place, "as he knows more about stf than I'll ever know." [Mines would purchase Philip Jose Farmer's The Lovers, for the first time bringing science fiction to a truly adult level.]

Sam Mines, back left. Ted Dikty (Best SF of the Year editor), back center, Jerome Bixby, back right.
Sitting left, Phil Farmer, sitting right Melvin Korshak. Circa 1950.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014




J. D. Crayne's bestselling science fiction romp is a rollicking and hilarious space adventure that pays unabashed homage to science fiction greats of the past. Here is a book with touches of Terry Prachett's Diskworld, E. E. Smith's Lensmen, and Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella. Tetragravatron is classic interstellar adventure, with a bit of a feminist twist, and its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The Earth hovers on the brink of destruction as black robed Phanot, evil ruler of an alien empire, aims an artificial quasar at the solar system! The only person who can save the world from this horrific threat is gorgeous, red-headed, emerald-eyed Captain Spycer of the Command Fleet. Accompanied by her trusty companions -- Peter, a pain-in-the-rear robot, Colonel Krabchake, a scaly red alien with attitude, and the pickled head of her astrophysics teacher, plus a naive little anthropologist named Brian -- Captain Spycer must rocket straight into the enemy's clutches and allow herself to be captured, in hopes of discovering the secret of Phanot's awesome weapon. With time running out and the fate of the solar system hanging by a thread, our courageous heroine finds herself helpless behind dungeon walls. Can Captain Spycer and her companions escape from the Phanot's prison in time to thwart his fiendish plot and save the Earth? Can the gentle six-legged hargs save themselves and their world from the Phanot's retribution? And, will innocent young Brian ever understand the words to that indelicate song the pickled head was singing? Follow the pulse-pounding, comical, and always bizarre adventures of Captain Spycer's determined but motley crew as they do their level best to save civilization from destruction!

And if you like Tetragravitron, and we are sure you will, the next two novels in Crayne's Captain Spycer trilogy are just $2.99 each in Kindle at The stakes get bigger in each book until Captain Spycer must undertake the most dangerous and difficult challenge of her life - and save the universe - if a mere human being can avert cosmic disaster on so vast a scale. Buckle in for thrilling space battles, mind-boggling alines, daring deeds, and a plucky heroine, with a zany crew, who will steal your heart away.