Monday, July 24, 2017

More Brackett and Hamilton from Tangent Online

Last week, I linked to Tangent Online's 1976 interview with pulp and science fiction giants Leigh Brackett and Edmond "World Wrecker" Hamilton. While that excerpt described the treatment of women in science fiction and science fiction by women, the authors of the adventures of Eric John Stark and Captain Future had much to say about their inspirations, the science fiction genre, and John Campbell.

Regarding their influences:
TANGENT: What other influences did you have besides Burroughs and Merritt? 
BRACKETT: I'd say Burroughs of course was the first one. I was introduced to Edgar Rice Burroughs at a very young age. And of course I immediately took the plunge and that changed the course of my life right there. 
HAMILTON: That was true of nearly all of us of that generation. We sort of grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had read much other science fiction; I totally admired H. G. Wells. But Burroughs seemed to be the one we all tried to model after. I think Ray told us his first story was written because he couldn't―his family being hard-up at that time―he couldn't afford to buy the new Burrough's Mars novel that came out. He'd seen it in the bookstores but he couldn't afford to buy it, so he sat down and wrote it. 
BRACKETT: I think my first writing effort was somewhat the same. I was a great fan of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. I saw every one of his films over and over and over, and just loved Fairbanks. My favorite was The Mark of Zorro or something, and I wanted a sequel and there wasn't any, so I started writing one on little scraps of paper. Burroughs influenced me more―well, the Mars stories, all my Mars stories came out of Burroughs―I tried never to exactly copy his Mars, I tried to make it my own, but I think my fascination for Mars came from the fascination for his Mars. 
Now, Hammett and Chandler were very strong influences, and James Cain, whose style I greatly admired. I tried to use what I considered to be very good and very powerful in the detective story genre and use it in science fiction. “The Halfling” is very much in the detective story style, which seems to me to work out very nicely.
Notice that with the exception of Wells, all the stories, authors, and movies mentioned are found in the pulps. But not all of them were science fiction. Brackett in particular drew heavily from the detective pulps that inspired noir and the general adventure pulps like Zorro. Both drew from many wells, not just that of science fiction.

On the long term biases of science fiction awards:
TANGENT: What do you think of the different awards that have sprung up that they didn't have in the early days? Do you feel a sense of loss or anything since both of you have never won one? 
BRACKETT: No. I'm always happy for the people who get the awards. You know, I'd be delighted if I ever got one. I was up for a Hugo once on The Long Tomorrow. I don't know...I just don't worry about it.
HAMILTON: I'd be delighted to get one, too. I was also nominated for one, but most of our science fiction has been in the adventure/entertainment scene. If you don't have Big Thinks in it the people who vote on these things are not greatly impressed. If they can understand every word of it then it can't be great, you know? That's their attitude.
The more things change...

On working with John Campbell:
HAMILTON: Yes, he did try to do that, and that is one of the chief reasons I didn't like to work for John Campbell. I sent him one story and never again. He bought it, but I could not subordinate every idea I had into the Campbell formula. Added to which, he didn't particularly like his writers to be writing for the lesser science fiction magazines. Damn few could make a living writing for John Campbell. 
I admired Campbell. I testified to this the other night when we were talking about the old days. In fact, he was one of the great pulp magazine editors. Yet, science fiction did not begin with John Campbell. There were other editors, who may not have had as big an influence, although I think Tremaine was right up with Campbell there, in the early Astounding Stories. But, Campbell had kind of a dogmatic, rigorous mind; it has to be this way or that way, but it can't be that way. He was a difficult chap to work for. She sold her first stories to him. 
BRACKETT: And I still don't know why he bought them. They weren't very good stories. Unless he hoped he was discovering a new writer. Unfortunately I didn't go the right direction. I kept trying to sell him things because he was the top market, but when you wrote a Campbell-type story and it didn't sell then you had no place else to go with it.
They later pointed out that, despite all his efforts, Ray Bradbury never sold to Campbell. These comments, as well as those of Manly Wade Wellman's, require an article on their own.

On the pulps:
TANGENT: Were the pulps ever taken seriously by critics?
HAMILTON: They were, as a whole, cheap lowdown magazines and nobody cared much what was printed in them, but they gave science fiction a chance to expand its wings into all kinds of ideas. If you were writing for The Saturday Evening Post you found all kinds of taboos, whereas in the pulps, which few people cared about, anything went, just so long as it was effective. I think they were very good. 
The only time a serious critic paid any attention to the science fiction magazines was in 1930. A famous British essayist of that time, William Balitho (sp) came to New York to write articles for The New York World about the American scene. He was absolutely fascinated by the pulp science fiction magazines and he wrote a beautiful article, on that long ago day, on the pulp science fiction magazines. He was probably the first serious critic to mention Lovecraft's name. He said Mr. Lovecraft was a lot better than most of the serious novelists that they gave acclaim to. He added that a man who could read Galsworthy about society and Arnold Bennett about marriage and who can't read these crude little magazines is completely unliterary, without realizing it. And he ended up predicting; he said someday these magazines, or the tattered copies of them that remain, will sell for more money than the first editions of our most famous novelists of today. And that is true.
"Anything went, so long as it was effective."  This only serves to heighten the parallel between tradpub and indie with the old-fashioned slicks and pulps. But that, too, deserves another article.

On husband and wife collaborations in writing:
TANGENT: You mentioned this as your first formal collaboration. Why have you never collaborated before, in what ways were you an influence on each others work, and was there ever any feeling of competition between you? 
HAMILTON: No, I don't feel that. Our collaboration has been more or less unofficial in this sense...she has done more for me than I have done for her. For years I worked on comics and I had a pretty heavy schedule. When I'd be trying to do a story I'd call her on over and say, “Leigh, nobody can do a scene like this but you.” (Laughing) But I never was as fortunate as Henry Kuttner. We were out visiting Henry and Catherine at Laguna Beach, and he was telling me he'd been having a hard time doing a novel; one chapter defeated him. And he sat there at his desk all day beating his brains out and couldn't get that chapter started, so he thought he'd go out and walk up and down the beach for several hours. The air was good but he got no ideas. So he walked wearily back to the house, got sat down, and there was the chapter, all written there beside his typewriter.(Laughing) I love to tell that story, so then I can accuse her. Actually, that was the best chapter in the book. It was a detective novel called The Brass Ring. When I talked to him just after the novel had been published, I said, “It was a good story, Henry, but the crowning point is the chapter where the man is murdered in the dark. You get the feeling of violence and sudden death in the dark. Terrific.” He said, “Thank you. My wife wrote it.” 
I said the same thing to Doc Lowndes up in New York years ago. He said there was one part in my Valley of Creation that was the highest point in the book. I told him the same thing, “Thank you for nothing. My wife wrote it.” She wrote just those three chapters.
Anyone know where I can find the modern version of Miss Moore?

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