Lunar Fictions from Earthbound Imaginations
Advice to Writers, 1959

Illuminant by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a luminant of —
"Put Your Story on the Moon"
Author & Journalist, February 1959

January 2014

New frontiers

With the Atomic Age dawning in 1945, followed by the Space Age opening in 1958, a lot of professional writers and aspiring writers of both fiction and non-fiction awoke to the opportunities in writing science-fiction stories and novels, as well as future-oriented science articles and books. Doris Pitkin Buck, herself an author of science-fiction stories and poems, wrote a short piece encouraging outsiders to plunge into the field. Her advice appeared in Author & Journalist, a magazine containing market analysis, agents' and publishers' ads, and other help for writers.

(Keeping up with this magazine and its competitors furnished monthly excuses for spending writing-related time and energy in something other than actually writing, but that's another story.)

Yesterday's science fiction is today's headlines. What does this mean, particularly to writers?

First, it means the reading public has been shocked into awareness of outer space. Americans are interested now in its possibilities. They no longer scoff at moon probes or expeditions to Mars. Pulps covered with pictures of bug-eyed-monsters or of sweater girls in the strong arms of Rube Goldberg machines, have suddenly become respectable — even worthy of veneration. They have printed the outpourings of prophets. ...

This indicates that science fiction is the thing to write, if you can do it. At this point many writers, anxious to cash in on trends, will stifle cries of despair. ...

To these people I come with a bright message of hope. Science fiction can at present be written without benefit of advanced mathematics, or of charts giving the chemical composition of planetary atmospheres. For current events have caught up with physicists' conceptions. Rockets to explore space are on actual launching pads. The science fictioneer, whose profession is to keep one jump ahead, has to think of something else again, something as new as space rockets were in the forties.

One excellent way of writing science fiction — or s.f. as it is called in the trade — is to follow the scientists' own rule of working from the known to the unknown. ...

Doris Pitkin Buck
"Put Your Story on the Moon"
Author & Journalist, February 1959

In her reassurance that heavy science and math aren't required, Buck may be thinking of one of the outstanding examples of creatively worked-out speculative science as background for a story: Hal Clement's article "Whirligig World" (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1953) discussing his planet Mesklin, which accompanies the serial and the better reprints of his classic novel Mission of Gravity. But while all science-fiction writing requires some imaginative and extrapolative thinking, Clement is at the extreme high end of both knowledge and diligence.

Whew. Although anyone fortunate to come across Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction, such as his first "juvenile" novel, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) — an adventurous trip to the Moon — already would have had an idea of the standard to aim for.

The pulp-magazine era ended shortly before Buck's advice appeared. Pulp magazines with covers showing bug-eyed monsters eventually became collectors' items, but they never did become respectable.


© 2014 Robert Wilfred Franson

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