Fan Mail from the Future

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?

John Schoenherr (1935-2010)

When I became an avid sf reader in the late 1960s every prozine on the local library shelves was digest-sized and there wasn’t a hint that the case had ever been any different.

Then I met LASFSian Ed Cox and saw his pulp magazine collection, filled with perfectly preserved copies of Thrilling Wonder, the pages inside still looking as white as the day the magazine appeared on the newsstand.

Another friend impressed me even more with the news that my favorite prozine had experimented with a large format during WWII — collectors called them “bedsheet Astoundings” — and had briefly revived the format (as Analog) just a few years before. I found them for sale in used bookstores and soon owned a copy of the most dramatic prozine cover ever, John Schoenherr’s depiction of a sandworm for the March 1965 Analog.

Now the artist has passed away at the age of 74. He died April 8. His son Ian mourned him, saying:

He was a man of many talents and I can’t say what he was best at, but he was, among countless other things, a great artist, a great husband to my mother for almost 50 years, and a great dad to my sister and me.

For science fiction fans the physical passing of John Schoenherr will represent perhaps the third time we’ve mourned his loss, because of the times he’s left the sf magazine field. The first came in the late 1960s when he stopped doing covers for Analog. John W. Campbell said in a 1967 letter: “We’re losing him now; we can’t match Reader’s Digest’s $3000 offers — nor the book illustration rates the big publishing houses give him. The man is good.”

However, following Campbell’s death in 1971, Ben Bova became editor of Analog and Schoenherr resumed working for the magazine. He produced 22 more covers in the next six years. That association ended again when Bova moved to Omni. Also, around that time Schoenherr began to focus on wildlife painting.

He would win a Caldecott Medal in 1988 for his work in Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon.

Schoenherr’s death has prompted some fans to wonder why an artist whose sf work was so esteemed practically never won awards and was never Worldcon guest of honor. John W. Campbell, in that same 1967 letter, bluntly answered: “Jack Schoenherr, probably the best artist science fiction ever had, got one Hugo once. He never attended a convention, never did any artwork for the fan magazines, never made personal friends.”

He did not court fandom, which may be all the answer needed. But he did make personal friends elsewhere as Carl Zimmer testifies in his reminiscence for Discover: “Everyone always joked that Jack was a great bear. It wasn’t just his ursine cast that earned him that name; it was also his combination of grouchiness and loyalty.”

Edd Cartier Passes Away (1914-2008)

Cartier illustration for Hoka story

Edd Cartier, who created some of the signature images from the Golden Age of Astounding Science Fiction, including the one above for Dickson and Anderson’s Hoka tales, died on Christmas Day at the age of 94. Robert Greenberger’s obituary for ComicMix reminds that Cartier not only was John W. Campbell’s favorite artist, he also did hundreds of illustrations for Street & Smith’s other magazines, such as The Shadow, Red Dragon and Super-Magician Comics.

Here is a link to a gallery of his art, including images collected and published as a 1950 calendar by Gnome Press:


[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link.]