The Heavy Hand of the Editor

The Heavy Hand of the Editor by Cora BuhlertNew York City, 1938: Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp writer by day and the masked vigilante only known as the Silencer by night, has faced many a horror in his day. But few of them can match the terror of the blank page. Especially since Donald A. Stuart, the upstart young editor of an upstart young magazine called Stunning Science Stories, has already rejected Richard’s story “The Icy Cold of Space” four times.

Stuart demands changes that Richard does not want to make. Worse, he also holds Richard’s story hostage. Unless Stuart permanently rejects the story, Richard cannot sell it elsewhere.

There are a lot of shady practices in the pulp business, but Stuart’s actions are beyond the pale even for the wild west of publishing. And so the Silencer decides to pay Stuart a visit to put the fear of God into an editor who believes himself to be one.

This is a novelettes of 10800 words or approx. 38 print pages in the Silencer series, but may be read as a standalone.

Any resemblances to editors, writers and magazines living, dead or undead are entirely not coincidental.

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More information:

  • The Heavy Hand of the Editor is a novelette of 10800 words or approximately 38 print pages. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • The inspiration for this story was that I had long known that Richard wrote other stories in addition to the Silencer, such as the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, which you can now read here. I also knew that Richard had at least tried his hand at science fiction, though I couldn’t imagine him writing the sort of infodumpy hard science fiction found in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction. And even if he had tried to write for Astounding, John W. Campbell‘s rewrite requests would have quickly driven Richard up the wall to the point that Campbell might well have found himself staring into the Silencer’s silver-plated twin .45 automatics. Then I thought, “Actually, that’s a great idea for a Silencer story.” And this is how The Heavy Hand of the Editor was born.
  • Donald Angus Stuart, the Campbell stand-in in The Heavy Hand of the Editor, is named after the pen name (based on his first wife’s maiden name) under which Campbell published his most famous story “Who Goes There?”.
  • Old Gniesbach, the editor of the radio magazine that Richard nicks, is based on Hugo Gernsback, the father of science fiction as we know it, if only because you can’t have Campbell without Gernsback. Stuart’s secretary Kate Talbot is based on Campbell’s editorial assistant Kay Tarrant.
  • Stuart’s magazine Stunning Science Stories is the sort of title that should have been the name of a 1930s science fiction magazine, but was never used for some reason.
  • “The Icy Cold of Space”, the story Richard tries and fails to sell to Stuart, is loosely based on Tom Godwin’s famous story “The Cold Equations” (parodied by me here), where Campbell really did force Godwin to change the ending to the infamous one we all know.
  • John W. Campbell really did pay better than any other science fiction magazine on the market, which is why everybody was trying to sell to Astounding. However, unlike the fictional Stunning Science Stories and their mysterious backers (who are a story for another day), the reason Astounding paid so well was that the magazine was published by Street & Smith, then (and now) one of the biggest magazine publishers in the US.
  • The building where Stuart has his office is based on the real Street & Smith headquarters in New York City, even though I later learned that the real Campbell never actually worked there.
  • The various science fiction writers mentioned are all based on real science fiction writers of the golden age and it’s probably easy to figure out who is who. The only exception is Miles Carrick, who is a character in Edmond Hamilton’s short story “Exile”.
  • Walter B. Gibson, Lester Dent and Norvell Page are all real pulp writers of the 1930s and 1940s and wrote The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider respectively. As far as we know, none of them actually dressed up as their characters.
  • Much of the background of The Heavy Hand of the Editor was also based on Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee, an excellent non-fiction book that everybody who is even remotely interested in the history of science fiction should read.
  • Chock full ‘o Nuts, which Richard briefly mentions, was a chain of coffee shops/lunch counters that operated in New York City from the 1930s to the 1970s and was known for their high quality coffee. They’re still around, too, albeit under new management, and even opened new coffee shops.
  • As for Raygun Romances, Jake Levonsky’s new science fiction magazine, stay tuned and watch this space.
  • The cover is stock art by Phil Cold.
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