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Authors: Robert Silverberg

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In the Beginning

BOOK: In the Beginning
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In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era

Copyright ©1955, 1967, 1957, 1958, 1958, 2005 by Agberg, Ltd.

 

Dust jacket illustration © 2006 by Bob Eggleton

 

Electronic Edition

 

ISBN

978-1-59606-364-8

 

Subterranean Press

PO Box 190106

Burton, MI 48519

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Introduction

Yokel with Portfolio (1955)

Long Live the Kejwa (1956)

Guardian of the Crystal Gate (1956)

Choke Chain (1956)

Citadel of Darkness (1957)

Cosmic Kill (1957)

New Year’s Eve—2000 A.D. (1957)

The Android Kill (1957)

The Hunters of Cutwold (1957)

Come into My Brain (1958)

Castaways of Space (1958)

Exiled from Earth (1958)

Second Start (1959)

Mournful Monster (1959)

Vampires from Outer Space (1959)

The Insidious Invaders (1959)

 

 

For Howard Browne, William L. Hamling, 

Paul W. Fairman, and W. W. Scott.

And for Randall Garrett, who opened the doors.

Introduction

 

I have to confess, right up front here, that you will not find a great deal in the way of poetic vision in these stories, or singing prose, or deep insight into character. Nor are these stories that will tell you much that is new to you about the human condition. These are stories in what is now pretty much a lost tradition in science fiction, the simple and unselfconsciously fast-paced adventure story of the pulp-magazine era. They are stories from the dawn of my career, which began in the closing years of that era, and are straightforward tales of action, in the main, that were written partly for fun and partly for money.

The money part first: I needed the income that these stories brought in, because I wrote the first of them in 1954, when I was nineteen years old and still in college, and the rest followed over the next four years, when I was newly married and just starting out in the world. Writing was my job. By choice, I had no other. Nor was I being supported by my indulgent parents or by a trust fund that some thoughtful ancestor had established for me. My wife had a decently paying job, yes, so I can’t say I was completely on my own, but we could hardly have lived on her earnings alone. Rent had to be paid; furniture for our new apartment had to be bought; the pantry had to be stocked with food; whatever medical expenses we might have came out of our own checkbooks, not out of any medical insurance plan, since such things were rarities then, especially for self-employed writers. Telephone bills, electricity, the cost of typewriter ribbons and typing paper, a haircut now and then, movie tickets, restaurants, subway fares (we lived in Manhattan, where even back then it was madness to own a car), the occasional new pair of shoes—well, writers have expenses just like everyone else. What they don’t have is regular paychecks. I had not chosen an ivory-tower sort of life for myself.

Since what I had chosen for myself was the next-to-impossible task of earning my living as a full-time science-fiction writer in an era when only two publishers were regularly issuing science-fiction novels in the United States and their total output was something like three or four titles a month, and the handful of science-fiction magazines that existed then paid between $50 and $200 for most of the stories they published, I knew I had to write quickly and to tailor most of my stories to the needs of the marketplace. Coming straight out of college as I was, without any day job to see me through times of thin inspiration or editorial rejection and having no significant savings to draw on, there was no other option. I didn’t want to dilute my energies by putting in eight hours at some mundane job and trying to write science fiction in the evenings, as so many of my well-known colleagues did. I wanted to be a writer, not a public-relations man or a bookkeeper or a shoe salesman. But I wasn’t of the sort of temperament that encouraged me to starve for the sake of my art, either. I have never been much into asceticism. I loved science fiction and yearned to write it as well as those of my predecessors whose work had given me such delight as a reader, but there was time to be an artist later, I reasoned: right now, if I wanted to make a go of it as a writer, I had to write things that editors would be willing to pay me for.

Not that I didn’t
want
to tell you all sorts of profound things about the human condition, or to win your admiration with unique and unforgettable visions of the worlds to come. I would, of course, have been happy to be earning my living writing nothing but searching, weighty stories of unparalleled artistry and power that would rank me with the greats of the field. Certainly that was my ultimate ambition, and in such early stories as “Road to Nightfall” (1954) and “Warm Man” (1957) I took my best shot at it.

The trouble was that the greats of the field were already in place, and I wasn’t remotely their equal. In the early 1950s when I set out to become a writer the science fiction field already had such people as Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, James Blish, Cyril Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, and Fritz Leiber in it, all of whom were fifteen or twenty years older than I was, and who had had first-hand experience of a great many aspects of real life (military service, parenthood, financial or marital crisis, the deaths of parents and friends) that I knew about mainly from having read about such things.

Precocious though I was, I couldn’t begin to match those writers in worldly wisdom and I had nowhere near their level of craftsmanship, either. Now and then one of my “serious” stories would find its way onto a magazine’s contents page, tucked away between the newest work of Sturgeon or Bester or Blish or Leiber, but I had no illusions about which writer would get more attention from an editor if manuscripts by Sturgeon and Silverberg were to show up in the same batch of morning mail. So if I wanted to write science fiction for a living, I was going to have to earn the bulk of that living writing unpretentious stories to order for the unpretentious pulp-style magazines that catered to youthful and/or relatively undemanding readers simply looking for a lively read.

But there was also the fun aspect of writing that kind of action-adventure fiction. I had been reading science fiction since I was about ten years old, and, although I had been an earnest and scholarly little boy who inclined naturally toward the more literary side of science fiction (represented then by the books of H. G. Wells, S. Fowler Wright, Aldous Huxley, John Taine, and Olaf Stapledon and such high-level magazine writers as Sturgeon, Leiber, and Bradbury), my teenage self also had an unabashed fondness for the rip-roaring adventure stories to be found in such gaudily named pulp magazines as
Amazing Stories, Planet Stories, Startling Stories,
and
Thrilling Wonder Stories.
In their pages I found stories by writers like Leigh Brackett, Poul Anderson, Henry Kuttner, and Jack Vance that were every bit as pleasing to me as the statelier kind of s-f (often by the very same writers) that I could read in the three “adult” magazines,
Astounding, Galaxy,
and
Fantasy & Science Fiction.
I loved the colorful, lively work of the best of the pulp writers, and emulated it in many of my own early stories. So my career got off to a schizoid start, back there in the 1950s: one part of me labored over carefully worked tales intended for such demanding editors as John W. Campbell of
Astounding,
Horace Gold of
Galaxy,
and Anthony Boucher of
Fantasy and Science Fiction,
while another reveled in the opportunity to write slam-bang adventure stories in the Brackett-Anderson-Kuttner-Vance mode for the editors of the lesser magazines that were intended for less demanding readers of the kind that I myself had been only five or six years before.

There was nothing very unusual about operating on both these levels of science fiction at once. Such cerebral writers as Blish and Isaac Asimov and Damon Knight, and such poetic ones as Sturgeon and Bradbury, were unabashed contributors to
Planet Stories,
the wildest and pulpiest of all the slam-bang s-f magazines. (I came along just a little too late to join them there: to my great regret,
Planet
went out of business just as I was getting started.) For them, as it would be for me a few years later, the motives were mixed ones—the need to earn some quick dollars, sure, but also the jolly pleasure of turning out an uninhibited action story at high speed. None of them saw any kind of rigid compartmentalizing in what they were doing: a story was a story, science fiction was science fiction, and not everything they wrote had to be something intended for the ages. My own particular hero, Henry Kuttner, who under an assortment of pseudonyms had written dozens of the greatest science-fiction short stories ever conceived, had also, quite cheerfully, given the world reams and reams of pulpy non-masterpieces with titles like “War-Gods of the Void,” “Crypt-City of the Deathless One,” and “Avengers of Space.” If the great Kuttner could do it, I told myself, so could I. Maybe not as well as he could, not then, but in the same mode, at least.

When I was twenty years old, the doors to that pulp-magazine world opened for me (or, more precisely, were opened for me by my friend and collaborator of those days, Randall Garrett) and I was given my own chance to produce reams and reams of stories, all of them accepted and sometimes paid for in advance, for the action titles. Sure, I went into it for the money. As I’ve said, I had the rent to pay, just like everyone else. But also I found real joy in writing at such great velocity, creating cardboard worlds with flying fingers and sweaty forehead—a 20-page story in a morning, a 40-page novelette in one six-hour working day. I had the youthful energy to do that, day in and day out, throughout the year. I was, somewhat to the consternation of my older colleagues, a juggernaut, unstoppable, who was destined to break all records for prolificity in science fiction. And I loved the cognate fun of knowing that I had made myself part of a pulp-writer tradition that went back through those early favorites of mine, Henry Kuttner and Leigh Brackett and Poul Anderson and the rest, to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Max Brand, Robert E. Howard, and the other famous high-volume writers of a pulp generation that had thrived before I was born.

Even as I wrote these stories, I knew them for what they were: work meant primarily to entertain, not to blaze new literary paths or to help establish a place for myself among the great writers of science fiction. I never abandoned my hope of achieving that, of course, and as time went along I concentrated less on the problem of merely paying the rent and more on the challenge of adding something new and memorable of my own to the literature of science fiction. And, by and by, the emphasis on quality overtook the emphasis on quantity for me, and these early stories of mine receded into oblivion, although those readers with a sense of the history of the field remained aware that I had written such things once.

As I reread them for the present book, I felt the temptation to touch up these early works here and there, of course, to add a bit of extra color, to replace this or that semi-colon with a dash, to remove some bit of sensationalizing plot machinery, or otherwise to modify the text in the light of all that I’ve learned about storytelling in the past forty-odd years. But I resisted it. Doing that sort of ex post facto rewrite job would have been unfair to the young man who turned these stories out. I have no business imposing on them the accumulated wisdom, such as it may be, of the veteran writer I now am, and also it would have defeated the main purpose of this book, which is to bring back into view, as an archaeologist might, certain artifacts of the dawn of my long writing career as examples of a certain kind of science fiction, typical of its time, that virtually every one of us chose to write, back then, at some phase of his career.

Here, then, is a group of stories I wrote for long-forgotten magazines, stories written extremely quickly, stories in which, for the most part, I stayed rigorously within the boundaries of the pulp-magazine tradition. By way of deviating from the tried and true narrative formulas I allowed myself only the luxury of killing off my protagonist now and then, something that would have been unthinkable in the pulps of the 1940s but which was sometimes permissible in the decade that followed; but in general, good struggles with evil in them and evil usually (not always) loses.

I will not try to deceive you into thinking that there are any unjustly neglected masterpieces here. I think I’ve made it sufficiently clear that even at the time I wrote them these stories weren’t meant as high art—the magazines that bought them had no interest in publishing high art, only good solid basic pulp fiction—and I offer them here in that archaeological spirit I mentioned a few lines back, delvings into long-buried strata that provide demonstrations of who I was and what I was doing as a writer fifty years ago.

BOOK: In the Beginning
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