Anthopology 101: The Deans' List(s)

By Bud Webster

In a middlin' long life of reading sf (starting at nine, and I'm AARP-fodder now, so that's...middlin' long. Let's keep it at that, shall we?), there have been two writers blessed by their publishers with the appellation of "The Dean of Science Fiction." Chronologically, the first was Murray Leinster (pseudonym of Will F. Jenkins), the title having been bestowed by that very stfnal of periodicals, Time Magazine. The second, and the one I personally recall best as titular dean, was Robert A. Heinlein (RAH).

Now, let's define our terms so we'll all be on the same page. Neither of these gentlemen ever, to my knowledge, held a university post as TA, let alone as head of a department. Nor did either man supervise a district of a diocese that I've been able to ascertain. Not that they couldn't have, I hasten to add, but the fact remains that they held neither high church office nor college post. The title was nothing other than a marketing gimmick. There were no ceremonial robes, no speeches, and no duties of office other than turning in books on time, and they'd have been stuck with that in any case.

What their publishers meant was that they had both, in turn, reached the position of doyen - Grand Old Men. Elder Statesmen. Or Old Farts, depending on how seriously you take these things. Back in the day, "The Dean of Science Fiction" on the cover of a book obviously meant something, at least to the marketing departments. These days, marketing would more likely flee in terror at the very idea of such a phrase being used to sell books, and so there are no more "deans" (although Fred Pohl and Jack Williamson would certainly qualify, and I'm sure you could come up with a dozen more).

What's more, both Heinlein and Leinster compiled one sf anthology apiece. Well, that's a half-truth, but we'll get to that later.

1951 was a pretty good year, anthopologically speaking: it saw two August Derleth titles, a Bleiler & Dikty best of the year, Kendall Foster Crossen's Adventures in Tomorrow, a YA anthology by Donald Wollheim, Martin Greenberg's second Gnome Press anthology, Raymond Healy's original anthology New Tales of Space and Time, the inestimable Groff Conklin's Possible Worlds of Science Fiction, and, from above the plane of the stfnal ecliptic, Barthold Fles's Saturday Evening Post Fantasy Stories.

But the Heinlein and Leinster (HeinLeinster?) contributions were books assembled, at least on paper, by writers with no background in editing, either in the magazine or book fields. What's that all about? Well, it's about celebrity, I suppose, and the hopes that their names would carry their anthologies into the libraries and, even more important, into the mass market. This indeed happened in the case of the Heinlein (inevitable, I suppose), but as far as I can find out, there was never a mass-market paperback edition of the Leinster.1

Why these two authors, rather than better-known anthologists, or even two other authors? I think the answer is in their relative positions in the field - at the time, there were few who could match both their prolificity and their popularity, and their publishers were literally banking on that to make the books successful.

Makes sense, really. Why take a chance on someone whose work is lesser-known than the Deans' when you can get the real thing? Can you imagine Miles Breuer or Stanley Weinbaum editing an anthology? I'd love to have seen them, believe me, but they almost certainly wouldn't have had the cachet with librarians that the Deans had.

At this remove, it's practically impossible to dig up the facts behind the Leinster book. I don't know that he ever wrote about it, and the few contemporary reviews I've read dealt solely with the stories and not the process. But we do know something about how the Heinlein book came about, because Frederik Pohl tells us in chapter 8 of his essential autobiography, The Way the Future Was (del Rey 1978):

"Brad [managing editor Walter Bradbury] had asked Bob Heinlein to do [an anthology] for Doubleday, and Heinlein had objected that he didn't know enough about what had been published or how to secure permissions. Brad asked me if I were willing to ghost it, and I was, provided I could share it with Judy [Judith Merril, Pohl's wife at the time]; and so the two of us put out Tomorrow, the Stars."

I will hasten to point out that this was no major secret, for all that there's no official mention in the book that Pohl and Merril were sub-editors, collaborators, or ghost-editors. Heinlein almost certainly read and approved of the choices his friends had made before turning the book in to Doubleday, so he did, in fact, act as editor, even if only to sign off on it.

Now, Heinlein does acknowledge four other editors at the end of his introduction, interestingly enough: Truman Talley, Judith Merril, Fred Pohl and Walter Bradbury. We know of three of them from the paragraphs above, but what of Talley? Why is he credited, however peripherally, as one of the editors, and why isn't he mentioned by Pohl?

As it turns out, this is fairly easy to check, as Talley is still active in publishing with his own eponymous imprint through St. Martin's Press. He was RAH's editor at NAL/Signet at the time, as well as a personal friend of the Heinleins, and his recollection is that he originally pitched the idea for the book to RAH with the idea that it be a paperback original. Heinlein demurred, citing his contract with Doubleday. They worked it out so that Doubleday (and Walter Bradbury) would have the book first for hardcover sale, then Signet would get the paperback rights rather than Doubleday's in-house paperback imprint, Perma-Books. In addition, there was already precedent for papernack rights to Doubleday authors being transferred to Signet during this period, not the least of which was Isaac Asimov's Currents of Space. The rest came about as Pohl described it. It's worth mentioning that Talley was unaware of the Pohl-Merril participation, and so it's entirely possible that Pohl was unaware of the true origin of the book.

But how about Leinster? Well, there are clues, if not hard irrefutable evidence, that he did his own editing. Leaving aside his preface, which proves nothing in and of itself (RAH wrote one for "his" book, too), there are the individual story introductions, a recommended reading list certainly compiled by Leinster, and acknowledgements to "...Julius Unger, Grof [sic] Conklin, Abe Klein, Oscar Friend, T. E. Dikty, Mel Korshak, Theodore Engel and Captain Charles Benjamin. And I owe thanks to others without number for looking over my shoulder and arguing about what belonged in the book." Again, I have no direct evidence of this, but I strongly suspect that Leinster had kept up with science fiction far better than Heinlein had, and so would feel no reluctance from that standpoint. RAH at this time was probably more focused on writing and publishing novels, both juvenile and adult; Leinster continued to write short fiction right up until the mid 1960s.

But enough of this. Let's look at the contents of the Heinlein book first:

Tomorrow, the Stars
Preface - Robert A. Heinlein
I'm Scared - Jack Finney
The Silly Season - C. M. Kornbluth
Report on the Barnhouse Effect - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Tourist Trade - Bob Tucker
Rainmaker - John Reese
Absalom - Henry Kuttner
The Monster - Lester del Rey
Jay Score - Eric Frank Russell
Betelgeuse Bridge - William Tenn
Survival Ship - Judith Merril
Keyhole - Murray Leinster
Misbegotten Missionary - Isaac Asimov
The Sack - William Morrison
Poor Superman ["Appointment in Tomorrow"] - Fritz Leiber

The earliest story in the bunch, Russell's "Jay Score", dates from 1941, but seven of the remaining thirteen are from the year of the book's publication, the latest (ironically enough, Leinster's "Keyhole") from the December issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Even given the fact that most monthly magazines were dated a couple of months in advance, this is pretty fast work. One suspects, in fact, that Fred-Pohl-the-Agent pulled a number of these stories from his clients and sold them to Fred-Pohl-the-Editor, much as he later did with the Star anthologies.

Merril's influence might be seen in the choices of stories from Colliers and Saturday Evening Post (the Vonnegut and Reese, respectively), if nowhere else; I'm reasonably sure that neither author was a client of Pohl's agency.

There's also evidence of Astounding's gradual fade as the top market and showcase for sf; three stories from upstart Galaxy (Tenn, Asimov and Leiber), a pair from Damon Knight's Worlds Beyond (Tucker and Merril), and a singleton from F&SF (Kornbluth's classic "The Silly Season") are more than fair indications that ASF finally had more real competition than it could handle. Perhaps as important is the very real probability that Pohl and Merril gravitated to Futurian/ex-Futurian sources to fill the pages; I count at least half a dozen Futurian names in the table of contents. It's almost certainly no accident that many of the Futurians were also Pohl's clients, either.

Many of the stories here would be reprinted over and over, both in commercial and academic anthologies, but it should be pointed out that all of them were reprinted from their original ephemeral appearances in this book for the first time, for which all due props to Pohl, Merril and Heinlein should be given. This is far more important than you might think at first, especially considering the extremely ephemeral nature of the source material. There were paper drives here in the US well into the 1960s, and had been since the war years; thousands of old magazines were recycled in these drives, not counting the ones that were simply tossed out after reading, or the collections "cleared away" by well-meaning mothers when their sons and daughters went off to college. Were it not for the anthologies and their editors and publishers, much of the science fiction we grew up reading and wondering over might never have been reprinted.

But I digress. Of the fourteen stories in the Heinlein book, I count at least eight that I would consider "classic" stories. I will not list them here, since my criteria will differ from almost anyone else's, and my eight might not be your eight. But take Vonnegut's "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," for example. Arguably the best known (counting non-sf readers) of the lot, it's been reprinted no less than seven times in the US, and included in the author's best-known collection of short fiction, Welcome to the Monkey House. I doubt that book's been out of print since 1968, and I read it first in a high school literary text several years after that.

Asimov's "Misbegotten Missionary" (and I agree with the late Doctor that his original title, "Green Patches," was better) was also anthologized at least seven times, and Leinster's "Keyhole" no less than eleven. Hell, these days you're lucky to sell a story once.

Having said that, let's look at the contents of the Leinster:

Great Stories of Science Fiction
Introduction - Clifton Fadiman
Let's Call It a Hobby - Murray Leinster
The Fascinating Stranger - Michael Fessier
Liquid Life - Ralph Milne Farley
Symbiosis - Will F. Jenkins
Number Nine - Cleve Cartmill
Blind Alley - Malcolm Jameson
In Hiding - Wilmar H. Shiras
No Woman Born - C. L. Moore
The Strange Case of John Kingman - Murray Leinster
The Impossible Highway - Oscar J. Friend
Open Secret - Lewis Padgett
The Chronokinesis of Jonathan Hull - Anthony Boucher
The Chromium Helmet - Theodore Sturgeon
Recommended Other Stories Murray Leinster

How unlike the Heinlein book, in so many ways! Pohl and Merril made a point of casting their net widely, pulling in material from nine different magazines in what I can't help but think was an attempt to produce a book that would have the broadest possible appeal. Leinster, on the other hand, concentrates on the ASF/Unknown axis, filling in with a couple of yarns from Thrilling Wonder (Farley and Friend) and one each from the mainstream Colliers (his own "Symbiosis" - no surprise there) and Saturday Evening Post (the Fessier)2.

Also in contrast with the Heinlein, the earliest story here is from 1936, the latest from 1950. This represents a broader chronological range, perhaps, but is clearly less an attempt at offering an objective overview of sf than it is simply a measure of Leinster's own taste. Not, I hasten to add, that this is a bad thing at all; I like these stories, and Leinster performed a valuable service by making them available in permanent form. If truth be told, the best anthologies (at least the ones to which I return time and again) echo their editors' taste rather than their idea of what the reading public wants, but that's perhaps the subject of another column.

Perhaps because of the preponderance of ASF stories, only half of the dozen in this book had never been reprinted before Leinster chose them; when you examine the tables of contents of anthologies up to this period, a significant number of the stories appeared first in Campbell's magazines, as befit its status as the top market. Over the next few years, however, as the stands once again began to fill with sf/fantasy magazines, there would be a more even spread of periodicals represented anthopologically.

And look who did the introduction! Radio host, raconteur, editor, essayist and apparently unabashed reader of fantastic literature Clifton Fadiman. How cool is that? Of course, that this particular anthology was done under the aegis of Random House didn't hurt, but nailing this respected writer and editor to do the intro must certainly have evened out the playing field for these two books. Whatever mining of the mainstream Pohl and Merril did to attract library sales (certainly the primary market at the time for any hardcover sf anthology) is surely equaled by Random House's choice of Fadiman to introduce the book.

The introduction itself is erudite, invoking Virgil, Verne, Wells, Stapledon and Orwell in the first page, and both Max Eastman and W. H. Auden later on. What parent, coming across this book in their child's bookbag, could read this and call it "kid stuff?" What librarian could resist purchasing a copy for the stacks? What fan wouldn't swell with pride at the lofty company Fadiman was eager to place them in? It was a brilliant stroke on Random's part.

Leinster's own preface to the book is highly personalized, in contrast to Heinlein's rather stiff one. He talks about the fun of both reading and writing science fiction, tells several anecdotes, and discusses the role of prophecy in sf (he were agin it). He also contributes perfectly readable prefaces to each story, including one for his own "Symbiosis" in which he extols the writer's skills and talents, but never mentions that he and Will F. Jenkins are the same man. The sneak.

Having said above that the Heinlein could boast at least eight stories I consider to be classics, how does the Leinster fare? Well, of the dozen stories here, I'd say about half make the nut, with the clear standouts being Moore's "No Woman Born" and Shiras' "In Hiding." I see nothing remarkable in both of these stories having been written by women, other than that they were both remarkable stories written by remarkable writers. The Shiras story had an intense effect on me as a kid, as it did for many another bookish castoff; I saw myself as Timothy Paul, for all that I wasn't nearly as smart, the same way so many other readers identified with Jommy Cross.

And I note, oddly enough, that there is no cross-over of authors from one book to the other: of the 26 stories in the two books, only Leinster is represented in both (with three stories, I might add two as by Leinster and one under his real name).

And so, the Deans' List(s). What are we left with, after this (admittedly less than exhaustive) examination? Clearly these are both perfectly satisfying books. Neither of them breaks any new ground, not in the same way that Merril did a decade later with England Swings SF. Neither of them, taken solely story by story, has the staying power or importance of Adventures in Time and Space or The Best of Science Fiction. Nevertheless, the time you spend reading the stories herein is certainly not wasted, not by any definition. They're just as readable now as they ever were, and while the introductory material may date a bit, there's no denying that it's still entertaining.

But there's an intrinsic inequity here, too. Tomorrow, the Stars stayed in print for at least 35 years, bouncing from publisher to publisher as RAH changed houses. It stayed in the mass market that whole time, with at least one trade paperback edition from Berkley.

As I mentioned above, though, Great Stories of Science Fiction never had a paperback printing, and it's doubtful if Random House ever went back to print on the hardcover. Why?

The answer is simple, if not particularly flattering: for all his accomplishments, Leinster never had the broad name recognition both inside and outside the field that Heinlein did, especially post-Stranger in a Strange Land, and although Leinster did a much more than credible job assembling Great Stories and did so with far less help than Heinlein got, it just never did well enough to keep it in print.

Some might make the case that while Heinlein was in the first decade or so of a 50-some year career, Leinster was in the last decade of his, and that this was a determining factor; I can't help but feel, though, that this requires a perspective that nobody in 1950 had. I don't think anyone at the time could have said where either man was in his career, and whereas we can clearly see the lines of demarcation now, they were at the time utterly invisible.

Ah, well, it's of some comfort that this small non-success (I refuse to count it a failure) had little or no effect on his career, and I think he was happier writing stories than in assembling them. There are Deans and there are Deans, and some are just more Deanish than others.

1There were two UK issues, however, both hardcover: the 1953 Cassell edition, and the 1955 S.F. Book Club. The Heinlein, by comparison, went to mass-market publication in 1953 and probably hasn't been OP for more than a few years at a time, if at all, since.

2This is clear evidence that the mainstream "slick" magazines were publishing more and more straight-forward genre fiction, due perhaps to the successes of Heinlein, Bradbury, Bond, and a handful of others who were finding greater exposure there, as well as larger paychecks.