By Rich Lynch: It was back on Christmas day that
an email from an old friend arrived which provided some sad news. Esther Cole let me know that: “You probably
know that Les died in late September. He
had been very sick for a long time. Still,
he hung on, and was 93 when I kissed him goodbye, the night before he died.”
I actually hadn’t known, and apparently neither had anybody else
in science fiction fandom. Esther had
not sent an obit to the local newspaper and Ventura is far enough off the
beaten track, at least for most fans, that I may have been the first person to
learn of Les’s passing. We had been
friends for a long time.
It was back in 1991 that I first
became acquainted with Lester and Esther Cole.
I was doing some research for a new edition of Harry Warner, Jr.’s book A Wealth of Fable, an informal history
of 1950s science fiction fandom, and had contacted them to gather additional
information about the 1954 World Science Fiction Convention, which was held in
San Francisco that year. (Les had been
co-chair and Esther the treasurer.) It
was two years later, at the 1993 Worldcon (also in San Francisco), that Nicki
and I got to meet them – they had attended to participate in several discussion
panels about fandom from that fabulous decade of the 1950s. I was moderator for the panel about the
`54 Worldcon and I remember that it was highly informative and also really
entertaining, so much so that I am hoping that an audio recording will someday
Nicki and I became friends with
the Coles at the 1993 Worldcon, and following the convention we persuaded them
to contribute essays to our fanzine Mimosa. Esther’s appeared in the 16th
issue, in December 1994, and described the half century that she and Lester had
been science fiction fans. It was
titled, appropriately, “I Married a Science Fiction” and evoked a comment from
another fanzine publisher that this was the kind of article he would want to
build an issue around. But it was Les’
article, which appeared in the 18th issue in May 1995, which
was of even greater historical interest because it provided an inside story
about the time, in February 1952, when the Little Men’s science fiction club of
Berkeley, California (of which he was President) had staked a claim for a tract
of land on the moon. It resulted in
mainstream news coverage around the world.
And now he’s gone. Nicki
and I had visited the Coles several times at their home in Ventura in the years
since that 1993 Worldcon, the last time in the summer of 2018 on our way up the
California coast to Worldcon 76 in San Jose.
Les had just returned from a short stay in the hospital and was not
feeling well, so we spent most of our time talking to Esther. We departed fearing that we may not see Les
again, and maybe not Esther either since we don’t get out that way very
often. But when I told her gently that I
this might be the last time we’d ever cross paths, she just smiled and told me:
“We won’t let it be.”
I’m sorry that I won’t be seeing Les again, and I’m missing him. But as for Esther, I’m going to try very much
to make sure she is right.
John Hertz: Encouraged
by John Coker, I went to visit Es Cole. I found her in good
spirits. She’s 95.
introduced me to her two dogs, fed ice cream to me and apple slices to them,
and showed me a life-size reproduction of the Rosetta Stone text, Bob Bloch’s
note about her cheesecake in his introduction to Les’ “Tripod” in the August
1957 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with the
Barry Waldman cover, and Les’ library.
of the shelves you see here are empty
now. The books about the American Civil War, and about Minoans, have
gone to a good home.
I was there she took a phone call. I was eating ice cream, but I
heard her tell someone, firmly but not harshly, “Don’t say he passed
away. My husband died.”
and he co-chaired the 12th World Science Fiction Convention.
Seeing A Wealth of Fable on another shelf, and
turning to the photo of her and Les, I said “That’s how I knew who you were.”
memoir The Second World War,
in hard covers, was on another shelf. I said I’d read it through
four times. She said “That was my war. I was a riveter.”
By John L. Coker III: Lester Hines Cole (1926–2019), the long-time beloved husband of Esther Cole, was
a Bay Area SF fan who co-chaired SFCon, the 1954 Worldcon held in San Francisco
that had John W. Campbell, Jr. as its guest of honor. SFCon activities included a chamber opera
based on a Ray Bradbury short story (narrated by Anthony Boucher), and the restoration
of the tradition of a masquerade ball.
Les was married to Esther Cole, who joined him in many of his fannish
Cole, who died in late September, was a member of the Elves,
Gnomes and Little Men’s Science Fiction and Chowder Society (at one time
serving as its president). The Society
was founded in 1948; meetings and other club activities were always centered in
and around Berkeley, CA. In the early
days, the club published thepopular
fanzine Rhodomagnetic Digest.
Cole published the fanzine Orgasm
(aka The Big O) in 1951, along with
his wife and Clarence Jacobs. Les had
about fifty genre short stories, articles, and letters published, most of which
appeared in Amazing, Astounding,
F&SF, Venture, and Startling. He also wrote several genre novels, including
an alternate history in 2012, Spithead,
in which the two World Wars never happened.
He sometimes used the pen names of Roy Carroll, Les Collins, T. M.
Mathieu, T. H. Mathieu, and Colin Sturgis.
The last was used when Les collaborated with Melvin Sturgis.
An associate member of First Fandom, Les was inducted — along
with his wife — into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2017. A photo of Les (with wife Es) appeared in A Wealth of Fable (SCIFI Press, 1992)
written by SF fan Harry Warner, Jr.
He was a historian; a scholarly gentleman with many interests and great capacities who was a life-long student and a mentor; a true animal lover; someone who had one foot firmly planted in the past with the other striding boldly into the future.
Les is survived by his wife and their two sons, Dana and Lance.
(Prepared by Jon D. Swartz)
By Es Cole: Les was a treasure trove of SF experiences and interactions with the great fans and writers during the glory years. He chaired the Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s SF and Chowder Society and helped produce the 1954 Worldcon. He also captured his bride of 70 years by reading to her The Black Flame (by Stanley Weinbaum), who wore a gown of Alexandrites, rare gemstones that cost more than 15,?000 dollars a carat.
I accepted Les’ marriage proposal on condition the engagement ring
be an Alexandrite. Les, that sneaky,
funny, intellectual, got me the ring, but the Alexandrite was an artificial
My SF relationship with Les
started when we first met. I had been
assigned to run the switchboard of the men’s dorm, and Les walked into that
area, wearing a new hat. He was a wiseass
sophomore, age 18; I was a sophisticated, 20-year-old freshman. This was at Cal, Berkeley. Les spent about two hours hanging about, and
I learned from him about “dry labbing.” First thing Les taught me was how to cheat in
my chem class. Thus, I began my college career. And it worked. Plus I got a boyfriend. And the rest is history — a history of
almost 80 years.
We made our first convention appearance in New Orleans, where Bob
Bloch started a rumor that Es and Les were 15-year-old twin brothers, and we’ve
been gender confused ever since.
No. 1 son, Dana, attended the Worldcon in Chicago at age 4 1/2
months. Both sons – Dana and Lance –
attended the Worldcon in San Francisco in 1954.
Les and Es Cole, Gary Nelson, Tom Quinn and a few other people
produced SFCon 1954. We started out with
almost bare pockets. First, we turned the 2-day event into a 3-day
weekend; we upped the registration from $1 to $2. Fans screamed at the outrageous increase. Our most important accomplishment, which is
still followed today: we voted to have world conventions produced in a
different city each year, moving westward.
Prior to that, conventions had primarily been on the eastern side of the
U.S. We restored the masquerade
ball. Bob Bloch was a judge. Willy Ley’s wife, a professional ballet
dancer, wore a black, filmy, flowing gown with glowing stars. She was “deep space”.
We arranged for a wonderful museum in San Francisco to display
some original sf art, including Chesley Bonestell originals. Additional entertainment included a chamber
opera based on a Bradbury short story narrated by Anthony Boucher.
Les was president of the Little Men, he, and several other people, hatched an
idea to involve the United Nations to claim to have authority over ownership of
idea for the Moon Claim, originated, with the owner of the bookstore where The
Little Men held their meetings.
people who executed the Moon Claim were pros or near pros. Les wrote about the geology of the area of the
moon; a graduate student in astronomy was able to outline the area of the moon
being claimed; Les’ father was studying law, so he was able to write a proper
claim. They picked a date to local papers,
describing the attempt to claim a portion of the Moon, by filing such a claim
with the Legal Department of the United Nations. And yes, it worked. Press releases went out, written with a slant
that would appeal to each Bay Area newspaper. The response was far greater than we expected.
The local Berkeley paper tore up their
original front page for that day and ran the Moon Claim story. Les received a phone call in his place of work
from a reporter from England, calling from New York. The reporter was
interested in the ramifications of such a claim.
as president of the Little Men had the responsibility of fielding the phone
calls, hoping for a legal way to determine the ownership of part of the moon.
Les authored about 50 SF short stories, published in F&SF, Amazing, Startling; an
article in Astounding; and 6
novels. His letters to sf magazines were
published regularly from when he was about 13.
After we married in 1947 he added my name – thus was born Les and Es, or
Es and Les.
by Les Cole: The Sea Kings, Lion at Sea, The Sea People (a prehistoric arch-aeological adventure trilogy,
also available in Greek); Baker’s Dozenth
(a spy novel set against the American Civil War); Spithead (an alternative universe spy/adventure novel where WWI and
WWII never happened because the British Navy sailed out of Spithead, England
Judith Merrill played a big part.
Long distance by mail and phone she helped Les hone his writing skills,
gave advice about character development, dialog. Les passed on this help to other aspiring
writers, an important obligation.
Les was never boring. I
don’t think he could be boring; he knew too much, his sense of humor never
stopped. His use of language was always
interesting, thoughtful, and unique. And
he could write; short stories, science fiction, historical novels.
was younger than I, and insisted that I had to marry a younger man because
women live longer than men. He was right
about so many things. Smart and funny,
and knew so much. He was never
is still in our house. In every corner:
his books, his photographs, his little notes tucked into books. We made each other laugh. He taught me stuff and I may have taught him
a few things, too.
Can someone own land on the Moon? That was the question before the house at the Luna Philosophie on August 20. Luna Philosophie is the “salon and discussion” hosted by NASA’s CoLab at every full moon in San Francisco. Steve Durst from the Board of Directors of the International Lunar Observatory Association and Dr. William Marshal of NASA Ames each took a crack at the answer. Surprisingly, they both got it wrong! Neither seemed to know that two science fiction clubs already claimed the Moon. (See their video.)
It’s quite appropriate that the meeting happened across the bay from Berkeley, historic home of the Bay Area Elves’, Gnomes’ and Little Men’s Science Fiction, Chowder, and Marching Society. It was the Little Men who, in 1951, filed a claim for mining rights to 2,250 sq. mi. of the Moon. Their claim was widely reported in the media – even by Time magazine. Les Cole told the whole story in Mimosa 18:
Incidentally, filing a claim on the moon was old hat; the Bureau of Mines had hundreds of claims on file. But the Little Men’s claim was different in two ways: we would file before the U.N. — anyone of any sense could see that the U.S. Bureau of Mines had no jurisdiction on the moon — and we would file for a very small piece, not all of the moon; we weren’t greedy…
And then came The Letter. Don [Fabuns] and I worked on that one at some length. It was to be sent to the head of the U.N. Legal Department, and in it, we offered to cede back 85% of the mineral rights, all of any radioactives found (this was 1951, remember, and the romance with them had not yet fizzled), and perpetual U.N. rights to a presence in the triangular area. All the U.N. had to do was recognize our claim.
According to Les, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon his wife, Es, wanted to bill NASA $0.90/hour for parking.
Unfortunately, the governments of the world bigfooted all over the Little Men’s claim in January 1967 when they signed the Outer Space Treaty declaring that the Moon belongs to all mankind.
Science fiction fandom did not take this lying down. At a December 1970 meeting of the New England Science Fiction Association, “[Tony Lewis] showed the moon map from the Nov 1970 issue of Sky and Telescope. Hugo Gernsback crater was identified, as were Wiener, Ley, Verne, Wells, etc. As a result of this increase in cultural knowledge it was [moved, seconded and passed] that the Moon be designated NESFA’s Moon and that the Aerospace Cadets protect it.” NESFAn Harry Stubbs, then a Lt. Col. in the Air Force, was named commander of the Aerospace Cadets, holding the title “Lord of the Wings.” Later, Alan Frisbie and Paula Lieberman were also enrolled as Cadets.
NESFA has kept a close eye on its property ever since. When there was a total eclipse of the Moon in July 1982, Tony Lewis wrote a letter protesting the unauthorized use of NESFA’s Moon. The club voted him responsibility for preventing the occurrence of any further unauthorized eclipses. In 1984, Chip Hitchcock reported that Walt Disney’s movie Splash abused NESFA’s Moon by having it wax in the wrong direction. Members voted Chip the job of writing their letter of complaint to Disney Studios’ publicity agency, Craig Miller’s “Con-Artists.”
NESFA even managed to turn Moon ownership into a money-raising tool. They created NESFA Realty Trust bonds to finance the purchase of their clubhouse in 1985.
Inexplicably, NESFA never seems to have objected to the practice of selling land on the moon. And they might want to issue a warning to all the entrepreneurs working on spacecraft to send to the Moon who plan to take ownership of the patch they land on, among them Luna Philosophie speaker Steven Durst himself:
[Durst is] linked to one of the Google Lunar [X Prize] competitors, Odyssey Moon, and he said during the talk that he hopes to scratch out his initials on one of the legs of a lunar rover and “claim his acre.”