[The Wayward Time-Traveler] Anchors Away: Remembering Malcolm Jameson
When I first started on my Vacation in the Golden Age, I expected to “discover” writers that I hadn’t read much of, but certainly heard of. That was part of the point: reading C.L. Moore and L. Ron Hubbard; Henry Kuttner and Nelson S. Bond. What never really crossed my mind, however, was becoming a fan of a writer that–until that time–I’d never heard of.
I first encountered Malcolm Jameson in the October 1939 issue of Astounding. He had a decent story in that issue, “A Question of Salvage,” but it was nothing earth-shattering. I’d learned that Jameson was a friend of Robert Heinlein, who was still in his literary infancy at the time. Both had served in the US Navy. Both left the navy due to illness. In Jameson’s case, it was cancer.
Jameson didn’t make much of a mark with me at first. In the April 1940 Astounding, he had a story, “Admiral’s Inspection” which I considered to be a fun story, but nothing remarkable. This was a Navy-in-space story and involved the procedural inspection of a crew and their ship. The captain of that ship, the Pollux, was named Bullard.
For some reason the “Bullard” stories grew on me. These were the closest thing to military science fiction I’d encountered in the early Golden Age (discounting Hubbard’s Final Blackout which was not really science fiction but more of a contemporaneous alternate history). Jameson’s next Bullard story came 6 issues later, in the October 1940 issue. “White Mutiny” was about a “legal” mutiny aboard a spaceship. It was better than the first Bullard story. Still, even by the time I read his third “Bullard” story, “Blockade Runner” in the March 1941 Astounding, I had mixed feelings about his stories.
But they grew on me, and through 1941 and 1942, Jameson added half a dozen more “Bullard” stories. These stories were always fun. They weren’t particularly deep stories, but they provided a sense of comfort and familiarity, in much the same way that Isaac Asimov’s “Black Widower” stories would supply three decades later. They were reliable stories.
I found myself beginning to look forward to issues of Astounding that Jameson appeared in. And his stories continued to improve. He had an amusing non-Bullard story, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in the December 1941 Astounding, written under the pseudonym Colin Keith. Apparently, he wanted to keep his Bullard stories under his own name and write other stories under a pseudonym, much like his friend, Robert Heinlein.
In the January 1942 Astounding, he had an excellent nonfiction article on “Military Explosives.” John Campbell, editor of Astounding, even began to rely on Jameson in other capacities. For instance, when Campbell introduced his “Probability Zero” column in 1942, he needed some of his reliables to provide example stories so that would-be writers knew what he was looking for. Isaac Asimov provided one (under a pseudonym) as did L. Sprague de Camp. Jameson provided one as well, and the story, “Pig Trap” appeared in the April 1942 issue.
As I worked my way through each issue, I would eventually identify the piece, fiction or nonfiction, that I felt was strongest. For 14 consecutive appearances between October 1939 and April 1942, Jameson never made the top of the list. Then, like the Yankees of 1977 and 1978, he had back-to-back winners, neither of which were “Bullard” stories.
In the September 1942 issue, Jameson had a story, “Pride” that took top place in the magazine for me for that month. The story was a robot story and it simply charmed me. Perhaps I have a soft spot for these type of stories. Indeed, “Pride” reminded me very much of Isaac Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man” only it was written three decades earlier. In my comments on the story, I wrote, “‘Pride’ surprised me and charmed me, and despite the other great stories and authors in the issue, this one turned out to be my favorite.”
Those other “great stories” in the issue included “The Barrier” by Anthony Boucher; “The Twokny” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner); and “Nerves” by Lester del Rey. Jameson topped them all.
He did it again in the October 1942 issue with his story “Anachron, Inc.” This was a remarkably imaginative time-travel story in which a business is set up that trades with the past. It is the earliest time-travel story I can recall reading to get around the now-cliché paradoxes by positing a multiverse: when the past is changed, it doesn’t alter our future, but instead creates a new branch on the timeline.
My enjoyment of Jameson’s stories led me to want to learn more about the man himself. He had been born in 1891, I’d learned. And then was shocked to discover that he died in 1945. My first thought was that perhaps he died in the war. But that was when I discovered why he left the Navy in the first place: cancer. In 1945 it caught up with him and took his life. It was a sad moment for me.
At the time of this writing, I have made it through nearly all of 1942 and have taken a break from my Vacation in the Golden Age. I am hoping to return to it soon, and to read more Bullard stories. Like a hard-playing shortstop who doesn’t quite have the native talent as a rookie, he seemed to practice and practice to the point where he could outplay the likes of Boucher and Padgett and del Rey. There is something comforting in this to the writer within me.
The sadness comes from knowing that once I reach 1945, there will be no more Bullard stories, no more humorous Probability Zeroes with Jameson’s byline, no more clever time-travel yarns by Jameson. I suspect that, had he lived, Jameson would never have been as popular as Heinlein or as good. But he would have been well-established at the top of that second tier of writers of the Golden Age. And he is certainly worth remembering and taking another look at.
I’m glad I found him.
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