Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder



     The result of publishing this account in Yandro was that I did hear from a number of fan magazine editors who expressed interest in a book that Robert Heinlein would neither read nor allow to be published.

     The first person to get in touch with me was Arthur Jean Cox, editor of Riverside Quarterly in California. I sent him the chapter on Heinlein's early SF stories. Peter Weston, editor of Zenith Speculation, wrote to me from Birmingham, England. And I mailed him the next chapter covering the years in which Heinlein wrote for Scribner's. Third to contact me was Tom Perry, editor of Quark, the best-produced fanzine of the day. Rather than spreading the central text of the book around any further, I gave him the chapter on Heinlein's non-fiction.

     But, in short order, Perry sent it back to me. He said that he'd changed his mind and didn't think that he wanted to publish it after all. My first and only fanzine rejection. It would be many years before I received an explanation for this, and then Perry told me rather sheepishly that he'd been expecting a book Heinlein couldn't stand to be contentious and controversial, and instead he'd been disappointed by the temperate nature of what he received.

     I passed the piece on to Pete Weston in England, and he published it in Zenith Speculation, too. Altogether, I was pleased enough by the way that Weston handled the two portions of the book I sent him that I ran my old college paper on Renshaw and his tachistoscope through the typewriter and gave that to him, as well, and he published it in his apazine Nexus.

     However, most of Heinlein in Dimension -- five of the six central chapters -- appeared in Riverside Quarterly.

     RQ was an earnest little fanzine, the hand-knitted fannish equivalent of an academic journal. When they contacted me, they were apparently going through changes. And by the time the issue with the first of my pieces reached me, Arthur Jean Cox had handed along the editorship to Leland Sapiro and the magazine had moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

     Just then, however, appearing in a sober, sercon quarterly published in Saskatoon suited me fine. And I kept sending the magazine chapters of the book for more than a year.

     While they were publishing them, I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, where I earned a master's degree in record time, read my way through the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, finished my novel Rite of Passage, and spent social time with Chicago fandom. On the side, I tried my hand at writing SF book reviews again, which I contributed to Ben Solon's fanzine, Nyarlathotep.

     One of the books I considered was Robert Heinlein's new novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. When Heinlein in Dimension finally appeared in book form, I would add this review to the chapter on Heinlein's Putnam period.

     In the fall of 1966, I moved to Brooklyn Heights and found a job with the Brooklyn Public Library.

     It was a good time to be in New York. The Hippie Era was just beginning. And while I was a little too set on my own path to play hippie and live in a commune, I could feel the creative energy in the air.

     At the same time, I was also frustrated because I couldn't make a connection with the energy I sensed. I wasn't a flowerchild. My heart wasn't in being a librarian, and I wasn't a very good one. I might socialize with fans, but I wasn't a conventional SF fan. Most of all, I was stymied as a writer.

     I'd finally completed Rite of Passage, the novel I'd been working on since I was in the Army in Korea, and I thought it was pretty good. But I couldn't place it. It just bounced from publisher to publisher collecting letters of rejection.

     Heinlein in Dimension had been well-received in its fanzine appearances, but it had no home in book form, either. I did submit it to Twayne, who in an earlier time had issued a few SF books and were now the publishers of a series of studies of United States authors. But they weren't yet prepared to add a science fiction writer to the list, and the editor turned it down.

     She suggested that I might write an overview of science fiction for them instead. That was right up my alley, the next step to take after a book on Heinlein. So I wrote it -- the first of what would be half-a-dozen attempts on my part to write a general book on science fiction. But shortly after I delivered the manuscript, the editor of the series was succeeded by another, and my book went onto a shelf at Twayne and stayed there.

     I finally became so run up a tree by writing book after book that I couldn't get published that in June 1967 I let all my troubles come pouring out on paper. I wrote a cri de coeur entitled "How to Get Kicked in the Head and Learn to Like It."

     I showed what I'd written to one person -- my friend Ted White. And he did the appropriate thing. He patted me on the back and said, "There, there. I'm sure things will get better."

     Then I filed it in the wastebasket.

     Two months later, at the 1967 World Science Fiction Convention, held over Labor Day weekend, I received the first Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. Originally, the award was to have been called a Pong, which wouldn't have been quite the same thing.

     That year, the Worldcon was held in New York City. Ted White -- the same Ted White -- was the chairman.

     Like many another fan, Ted would have his own professional career in publishing. He wrote a number of novels, both alone and in collaboration. For ten years, he'd be the editor of Amazing and Fantastic, doing all the editing and production work for the two magazines singlehandedly. And later, with more resources, he would edit the comics art magazine, Heavy Metal.

     However, before, during and after this activity, Ted would primarily be a fan. Not a fan of science fiction so much as a fannish fan -- someone who cared more passionately about the personalities, activities, issues and internal politics of fandom than anything else in life.

     As such, in his position as convention chairman, he perceived a gaping hole in the Worldcon award structure. There'd long been a Hugo for Best Fan Publication. It was this award that Earl Kemp had set out to win with his symposium, Who Killed Science Fiction? But there were no awards for either fan artists or fan writers.

     Ted, who had been both, aimed to do something about that. And because these were to be awards for fannish activity, he wanted to give them a properly fannish name. He proposed that they be called Pongs in memory of a thirty-year-old fannish joke.

     He had support for the idea of two new awards. But Ted found himself opposed and outvoted when it came to the name for them. His fond memories of Hoy Ping Pong, the Chinese Buck Rogers, were not shared by everybody. A less frivolous name was desired for the awards. They should be called Hugos, too, just like the others.

     When I first heard of them, they were still Pongs. And because of the fanzine publication of Heinlein in Dimension during the previous year, I wasn't at all surprised to receive a nomination for Best Fan Writer. In fact, if there hadn't also been a new Best Fan Artist award, in a stoned moment I could almost have thought that this award had been brought into being as a special present of the cosmos just for me.

     As it was, the Pong -- now renamed a Hugo -- was so clearly destined to drop into my lap that I didn't even give it much thought until George Price appeared at my elbow early in the Worldcon to say that if I did win the award, Advent wanted to talk to me.

     I got his message. If I won the Hugo as Best Fan Writer -- and the folks at Advent had a pretty good idea that I was going to win -- they were prepared to have another try at publishing Heinlein in Dimension. Heinlein might still go ahead and sue us, but if the book had the imprimatur of a Hugo, he would just seem foolish if he did.

     Would Advent have felt as secure in their resolve if the award had been called a Pong? That's something that we'll never know.

     As it was, thanks to the people who voted for me, to Ted White who invented the award and to Robert Heinlein who lined me up for it -- and to the cosmos, as well -- I did win the Hugo. The physical award itself quickly came to pieces, and the plastic rocket would have to be re-glued to the wooden base more than once. But the award-as-symbol was something else again. And a month later -- just two weeks after I signed a contract with Ace for Rite of Passage -- I signed another with Advent for Heinlein in Dimension.

     Heinlein in Dimension would be published in book form by Advent in April 1968, three years after I originally wrote it. It has remained in print ever since.

[Note:  For Earl Kemp's own take on some of these events, see his essay, "Heinlein Happens*."]

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