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May 2003
 
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Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher (1942)

Anthony Boucher (William Anthony Parker White) was something of a polymath, proud of his expertise on Gregorian chant. Under the pen name H. H. Holmes, he wrote mysteries of the genteel sort that prevailed until Hammett and Chandler darkened the genre. Later, with J. Francis McComas, he became a founding editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

He was a regular at the Maņana Literary Society, the weekly gathering of science fiction people in Robert Heinlein's home in Hollywood. He knew science fiction, and Rocket is a roman a clef, set in Los Angeles on the eve of Pearl Harbor. The characters are thinly masked members of the society, and the novel is a revealing picture of science fiction in "the golden age," when John W. Campbell's Astounding and Unknown were the major magazines. The plot reflects the seamy side of those harsher times when science fiction was still a wood-pulp genre, scorned by the literary establishment.

In an article to be published in The Pulpster, Rex W. Layton identifies the characters. Campbell is there as "Don Stuart," Heinlein as the star of his stable, Julius Schwartz as the first agent in the field, Hugo Gernsback, for whom the "Hugos" are named, L. Ron Hubbard in the years before he invented Dianetics and Scientology. There are even the heirs of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose hero, Dr. Challenger, discovered "The Lost World."

I was there myself. The article led me on a nostalgic time trip back to the half-forgotten childhood of science fiction.

—Jack Williamson

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