Posted by: Morgan Hubbard | November 21, 2010

Oddities of Pulp Fiction History

Robert Silverberg is a literary machine: having started to write science fiction stories in the mid-fifties, he apparently never stopped. Astute fans have compiled complete lists of his work (Wikipedia is one such easy source), but a romp through the original magazines won’t turn up half the work Silverberg produced.

This is the fault of the pseudonym.

Amazing Stories, November 1957

Science fiction authors used (and some still use) pen names for lots of reasons. Alice Bradley Sheldon concealed her gender behind the whimsical name James Tiptree, Jr., in part to forestall the obstacles of writing as a woman in an industry dominated by men. Often science fiction magazine editors would run multiple stories by the same author in a single issue, but credit some of those stories to alter egos to bolster the magazine’s reputation for printing a variety of authors’ work—it made the magazines look better, more rounded. In these cases, magazines would lay claim to “house names,” and would run stories by many different authors under those names. Ivar Jorgensen is one awesome example—it was a house name owned by Ziff-Davis, the house that published Amazing Stories from 1938 to 1965.

Silverberg’s most prolific pseudonym was Calvin M. Knox.* Here’s how the story goes: Judith Merril, herself a prominent sf author actually named Judith Josephine Grossman, warned Silverberg that he’d have a hard time selling sf stories with a Jewish name. Another author, Robert Lowndes, helped Silverberg come up with a decidedly non-Jewish name. So Silverberg adopted it and became, in some places and times, the uber-Protestant Calvin M. Knox.

…and all of this, hidden in a pseudonym.

-morgan

* For a fuller retelling of this story, see Ashley, Mike. Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazine from 1950 to 1970 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press), 2005, 124.

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Responses

  1. Similar sorts of things happen — kind of….

    C. J. Cherryh’s was originally C. J. Cherry — however, she was told that people would think she’s a romance novel writer (especially if she went by Carolyn Janice Cherry), so they added a H to the end of her name — and yes, for the longest time I didn’t know that C. J. Cherryh was a woman nor did I know how to pronounce her name 😉

  2. Isaac Asimov told a story about how his editor, John W. Campbell, tried to get him to adopt a pseudonym for similar reasons (and also because Campbell was Scottish and favored Scottish names). Asimov refused.


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