The oblivion started as a classical case of fan burnouta reversal of fiendish activity into total lack of interest. It all started in 1930 when, at the age of 10, I discovered a Science Wonder Stories in the windo of a local candy store. It was like an electric shock; I was instantly and totally hooked. But more than experiencing simple wonder at the thought of travel through space and time, I was already determined to do something about bringing the wonders of science fiction into reality. It was the differenc between passive immersion in fantasy and actively turning the fantasy into science. The future depicted in science fiction was to be my future.
In 1935 I learned to use a typewriter and from then until 1955 I was a demo science fiction fan. With youthful energy that makes me tired just to think about it. I bounced from one activity to another. You could not tear my hands away from the keyboard. Letters to the editor every month established me as the severest of critics. The letters connected me with the Science Fiction League, founded by Charles D. Hornig as a promo for Science Wonder Stories. I still have my certificate of membership in the SFL, a reminder of more innocent times.
Soon I met Robert Madle, John Baltadonis, and Jack Agnew. The next step was the formation of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, in 1935. Ozzie Train soon joined us. Our fame spread due to our feverish letter writing. The following year a group of fans in New York conceived the idea of coming down to Philadelphia for a visit, during the summer of 1936. The leaders of this group were Frederick Pohl, Donald Wollheim, and Dave Kyle. Also from New York were John Michel and Will Sykora. The Philly fans consisted of Rober A. Madle, John Baltadonis, Ozzie Train, and myself. We met, all nine of us, in my living room. (My fatherís living room, to be exact. I was just 16 at the time.) The first order of business was to name me chairman of this convocation, a courtesy stemming from the kindness of Fred Pohl. The second order of business was to throw modesty to the wind and name this meetin a convention, thus making me chairman of the first science fiction conventio in the world. The profundity of this event did not become fully clear for many years.
Fan fever gripped me more strongly. Joining the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), I started my own fan magazine: Miltyís Mag, in which I revealed my innermost thoughts to the multitude.
But fanzines were not enough. After you read enough stuff you get the urge to write it, and after some ludicrous adolescent trials, in 1939 my efforts at fiction writing resulted in two published stories: both "Heavy Planet" and "Shawnís Sword" appeared in Astounding Science Fiction under th pseudonym of Lee Gregor (with the help of Fred Pohl, who acted as both agent and rewrite man). However, even though I had a few more stories published in later years, I never thought of myself as A SCIENCE FICTION WRITER. My eyes were set on a higher purpose: BECOMING A SCIENTIST.
During all that time I continued to publish Miltyís Mag. Even though I kept moving around from one place to another and had no mimeograph machine in my backpack, I managed to make the quarterly FAPA mailings through th kind help of people like Francis T. Laney, Myrtle Douglas, and Walt Dunkelberger, who asked nothing in return. I donít know if I ever thanked them sufficiently. I donít know if it is possible to thank them sufficiently.
Miltyís Mag was a journal of intimate thoughts. It was the place where a young, introspective person could tell the other members of FAPA what h was thinking about. It was my diary in the army. Not till much later did I realize how important that fact was to become
In Paris, besides sitting at the typewriter doing correspondence and inventory lists, I did all the things people do in Paris, and then some. Then off to an equally tedious job in Naples. Shipped back to Paris, stopped off at the Rome airport, where the news came through the radio that the Americans had dropped an atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Home in Paris, I was the only person in my battalion who understood what that was all about. Science fiction (and a course in modern physics) had given me the background to understand both the nature of atomic energy and what it can do. Indeed, my story "Heavy Planet" published six years previously, had been entirely about the need for atomic energy. (On a planet with high gravity, space travel would be impossibl without atomic energy.)
While some of you young squirts may debate about the necessity for Hiroshima there was no such uncertainty in the minds of the GIs in August, 1945. Ever since VE Day in May, many of us were not looking forward to being transferred to the Pacific. Hiroshima put at end to all that. (Nagasaki can still be debated.)
What a year 1945 was: celebrated VE Day in Paris, danced in the streets on Bastille Day in July, celebrated Hiroshima Day and VJ Day in August, in company with a couple of drunken Russian soldiers (no drunker than me, I confess).
Then back to the States and in 1946 started graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. This time I really was going to become a PHYSICIST. At the same time, science fiction was still too much of an ingrained habit to let go. I didnít know it at the time, but in modern terminology we would say that I was addicted. Since atomic energy was now a fact, into the study o atomic energy I would go, to help this new energy lead us into H.G. Wells utopia.
Simultaneously, I felt the need to change Miltyís Mag into something more serious. Hence it became an erudite journal, Plenum. In this fanzine I thought I could educate the fans into the wonders of the physical world. One long article recapitulated what I was learning in a mathematics course called "Functions of a complex variable." I wonder what people though of it. But, of course, I was not really writing for the audience. I was writin for myself, and honing the skills that I would later use during my teaching years.
Philcon and so found myself chairman of my first Worldcon. In 1952, just as I was preparing my Ph.D. dissertation, Jim Williams bid for another Philcon and won, but he went and died without asking permission of anybody. As a result I became chairman of that Worldcon. So far as I know, nobody else has bee mad enough to be chairman of two Worldcons. The 1953 Philcon was th first of the really big conventionsseveral hundred participants! We had to learn how to do it as we went along, and not all went well. I wis I had let Bob Madle do it.
Burnt out by the exertions of the 1953 convention, and also concentrating on establishing myself in my first postdoctoral job (research physicist at the Bartol Research Foundation) I gradually distanced myself from science fiction
Editorís note: Miltonís article will conclude in Progress Report Three.