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?

4 thoughts on “Fan Mail from the Future

  1. Question: Does anyone know what happened to Hoen’s copy? The one autographed by all the authors, that is.

    Also, while most sources say the idea of doing the “trick issue” was Campbell’s, Bill Patterson, after access to Heinlein’s letters, says that Heinlein thought it up.

  2. @Joseph T. Major: I ran a search on my Kindle copy of Patterson’s Heinlein biography to come up with the info here about Gulf and it being an exception during that 10-year span when Heinlein wasn’t selling to S&S. I’d love to read what Bill has to say, where can I find it? Is it in the bio or somewhere else?

  3. It’s in THE MARTIAN NAMED SMITH, his book about STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, on Page 11.

  4. Re: “Black Hole” The Oxford English Dictionary notes the following, regarding the use of “black hole” in the astronomical sense, as opposed to the “Science Fiction Prophecy” article cited above:

    a. A circumscribed region of the sky seemingly devoid of visible stars; = coal-sack n. 2. Cf. vacuity n. 8b.

    1876 E. Beckett Astron. without Math. (ed. 6) v. 324 There are patches [of the Milky Way] like black holes in it which contain no stars or scarcely any.
    1876 tr. J. Verne Voy. round World: S. Amer. xxv. 290 Last of all he showed him the ‘black hole’, where all stellary matter seems absolutely wanting.
    1919 Adolfo Stahl Lect. Astron. (Astron. Soc. Pacific) 167 ‘Black holes’ have long been known in certain regions of the Milky Way.
    1995 A. Kerle Uluru iii. 51 It is so opaque that it hides the stars behind it and gives the impression of a black hole in the sky.

    b. A region of space within which the gravitational field is so strong that no matter or radiation can escape, except perh. by quantum-mechanical tunnelling (cf. Hawking radiation at Hawking n.2), and which is thought to be due to a very dense, compact mass inside the region.Black holes are thought to be formed when a massive star exhausts its nuclear fuel and collapses under its own gravity. If the star is massive enough it will collapse and produce a singularity (singularity n. 9e). Before this stage is reached, within a certain radius (the event horizon) light itself becomes trapped and the object becomes invisible.

    massive, Schwarzschild, supermassive black hole, etc.: see the first element.

    1964 Sci. News Let. 18 Jan. 39/1 As mass is added to a degenerate star a sudden collapse will take place and the intense gravitational field of the star will close in on itself. Such a star then forms a ‘black hole’ in the universe.

Comments are closed.