Jamie Todd Rubin had just embarked on reading the issues of Astounding edited by John W. Campbell when it occurred to him to write Campbell a fan letter from the future. Commenting on the first four issues in Campbell’s tenure (July-October 1939) Rubin praised those up-and-comers Asimov and Heinlein and made many other comments designed to amuse those of us reading over his shoulder in 2011, not the least of which is:
How I wish I could tell you how and when the moon landings actually unfold, but that is against regulation. Needless to say when it finally does happen, you’ll find that the reality is just as good as the fiction.
Rubin came up with this idea without ever having heard of the original fan letter from the future – the legendary missive Richard A. Hoen wrote to Campbell in 1948. He was surprised to learn about Hoen’s famous bout of wishful thinking, purporting to review ahead of time a 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction with stories by Don A. Stuart (Campbell’s pen-name), Anson MacDonald (Heinlein’s pen-name), Lester Del Rey, A. E. Van Vogt, L. Sprague DeCamp and Theodore Sturgeon, and fact articles by Willy Ley and astronomer R. S. Richardson.
Campbell ran Hoen’s letter in the November 1948 issue of Astounding and laughed it off, saying “Hm-m-m — he must be off on another time-track.” But his reaction behind the scenes was something else entirely. He went to work contacting the writers and acquired all the stories required to fulfill Hoen’s prophecy in the following November’s issue. (See full details in Andrew May’s analysis of the issue, “Science Fiction Prophecy.”)
Fandom was reminded of this story by Steven H Silver after he discovered Hoen died last year. Richard A. Hoen, 20 years old when his letter appeared in Astounding, passed away at the age of 81 on August 2, 2010 in New York State.
Many fans have speculated how hard Campbell worked to bring off this coup. It would make a nice research project for someone with access to the Campbell letters. And the Heinlein letters, too, because at the time Robert Heinlein would have been solicited by Campbell, Heinlein was in the midst of what would become a nearly 10-year span where he refused to sell to Street & Smith (Astounding’s publishers) due to the difficulty of getting his rights reverted! He made an exception for Gulf. The question is – why?