THE SUMMER OF ‘46

In the early 1940s, Howard Hawks acquired the rights to film Raymond Chandler’s great private eye novel “The Big Sleep.” To write it he put together a trio that began with Jules Furthman, an established screenwriter, and the novelist William Faulkner. But he wanted a third writer on the screenplay, and he had read a recent hardboiled detective novel by a young writer he knew nothing about otherwise. The novel showed this youngster could definitely write in a style similar to, and on a creative level with Raymond Chandler. He hired that writer and was surprised to discover he had hired a woman – Leigh Brackett.

I suspect Leigh was rather surprised too.

At that time Leigh Brackett was an up and coming pulp writer, drawing attention with her work in both the detective and science fiction pulps. Her hardboiled detective fiction was as tough as that written by any of the tough guy writers of Black Mask and Dime Detective. But her most lasting work was being done for smaller science fiction magazines.

One of the best of these was Planet Stories where she was becoming known for fast moving, imaginative action stories at short novel length. Her greatest stories were, perhaps, yet to come. But she was working at a very high level, producing works filled with color and adventure and vivid characters and wonders. Wonder after wonder. She was in the middle of one of those short novels, a gloriously imaginative story set on a Venus that was entirely her own creation. Exactly half of it was written and if she took the screenplay job, it would mean not finishing the story.

So Leigh Brackett began looking around for someone to finish it for her. It was a job that would call for an astonishingly vivid imagination, a mastery of language above the average, and more craft than belonged to the average beginner.

But there was a young writer she knew who seemed to have the promise of that much talent. She and Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore had been encouraging and helping this young man when they could, and he was starting to show promise with his first few stories in the science fiction pulps. So she went to him and asked him if he’d care to finish that short novel for her. He said, “Yes.” His name was Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury took on the job of finishing that short novel and did himself – and Leigh – proud. Starting at almost the exact middle of what would become the finished story, he fleshed it out so seamlessly that it is almost impossible to tell where Brackett stopped and he started. Yet his half of the story possesses qualities that are clearly his own. “Lorelei of the Red Mist” was published in the summer 1946 issue of Planet Stories and is one of the finest short novels of space adventure ever published.

At this time, Bradbury was starting to find his own voice, his own themes, his own stature as a writer, and the editors of Planet Stories were undoubtedly aware of that.

Planet Stories was, at that time, the only science fiction publication of a small pulp magazine publisher called Fiction House. They started in the early 1920s with magazines like Action Stories, a general fiction adventure magazine. They published the first air-war fiction magazine, Wings, at its height, one of the most fondly remembered of the pulp magazines. In the mid 1940s they mostly published western fiction and sports stories but in 1939 they had tried to branch out into a wider variety of fiction and those efforts saw the publication of two pulps fondly remembered by sf and fantasy fans, Planet Stories and Jungle Stories.

Fiction House in the 40s was run by two pulp writers and editors named Jack Byrne and Malcolm Reiss. Reiss probably set the tone and character of the magazines. Fiction House was known for its extravagant story titles and vivid blurbs, most of them probably suggested by Reiss. It was also known to attract skilled adventure authors who wrote stories with vivid characters and carefully-described violent action. It was not a magazine whose editors were immune to good style. The actual editing chores of the book in 1946 were in the hands of a man named Paul L. Payne.

In addition to “Lorelei of the Red Mist,” that Summer 1946 issue of Planet Stories carried a short story by Ray Bradbury. It was called “The Million Year Picnic” and was the first to be published of the stories that would make up the seminal collection of Bradbury’s science fiction, “The Martian Chronicles.”

Leigh Brackett was the writer to appear most frequently in Planet Stories, which folded in 1954. Other writers who appeared frequently include Poul Anderson, Nelson Bond and Ross Rocklynne. The second most frequent writer to appear in the magazine was Ray Bradbury.

It is a joy to read the great science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines of the 1940s, magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories, Weird Tales and Planet Stories. A lot was going on in the field in those days (and much of it was going on in other sf pulps as well), and a lot of the best of it was produced by Ray Bradbury. Those magazines were publishing the stories that would make up the contents of such famous of Bradbury’s collections as “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man” and “October Country.”

Ray Bradbury has had as distinguished and honored a career as anyone who ever came out of the pulps, much less the sf and fantasy pulps. He is a giant of American literature. A master of imaginative fiction. One of the most creative stylists of his time.

He still writes in a variety of genres, from fantasy to mystery, and is clearly the equal to any task he sets himself. With all the honors and tributes he’s received over the years, it’s unlikely this one will be much talked about. Ray Bradbury is important to the genre of space adventure fiction, but is space adventure fiction important to those academics who are busily measuring him for the robes he’ll wear in the Hall of Fame of American Writers?

Yet Ray Bradbury has never forgotten the things that influenced him and stimulated his imagination when he was young. He still talks and writes fondly of things like the old Buck Rogers comic strips.

And those of us who read him at a certain age and who remember him as one with Leigh Brackett and Henry Kuttner and Catherine Moore and Ed Hamilton and Neil R. Jones and Ross Rocklynne, can never thank him enough.