Sunday, September 02, 2007

Enter the Sergeant

Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding Startling Stories in its early years was the introduction of Sergeant Saturn. The Sarge, the creation of editor Mort Weisinger, was an old space dog charged with answering the letters. To be perfectly frank, Sergeant Saturn was seemingly aimed at thirteen-year-olds, and annoyed the older fans who complained loud and long. The view being Sergeant Saturn made Science Fiction and its readers look silly. It took later editor Sam Merwin, Jr., to finally kill off the character.
The January, 1940, issue starts out innocently enough. Bergey illustrates the issue's novel, A Yank At Valhalla by Edmond Hamilton. The Bergey Babe is still relegated to the background.

The Ether Vibrates starts off with a plug for next issue, then goes into the letters. But things are now different. Where previous letters usually featured no, or minimal response by the editor, letters are now answered by a refugee from bad space opera, previewing much of Weisinger's writing at Superman comics. Letters this time are from M. W. Gordon of Washington, DC; Harry Schmarje of Muscatine, Iowa; Parmer Farrell of Tunica, Miss; J. H. B., a letterhack who seems to crave anonymity, hailing from Fall River, Mass. (a relative of Lizzie Borden perhaps?); Charles Hidley of NY, NY; Max Israel from LA, CA; Alfred Edw. Maxwell of Opelousas, Louisiana; Broox Sledge from Eupora, Miss.; Charles Beling of Harrington Park, NJ; Sam Basham, Jr. from Bardwell, KY; Edward Sumers of Long Beach, NY; and Andrew P. Murphy of Brooklyn, NY. (Quite a few Southrons here.) A number of letters either attacked or praised Oscar J. Friend's Kid From Mars. And at the end of the column we first encounter Sergeant Saturn who just appears full-grown from Weisinger's head with no fanfare. But the sergeant was no Athena. We will hear much more of him later.
A Yank At Valhalla by Edmond Hamilton is this issue's "Complete Book-Length Novel of Amazing Adventure". "A Lone American Invades a Miracle Land That Time Forgot-and Finds a Wonder Realm That Is Forbidden To All Mortals." Illustrations are by Wesso and are pretty impressive because of the detail work.
"The Hyper Sense" by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (1910-2003) is the first short story this time around. "What's the World's Biggest Headache? Professor Dinwiddie Finds Out!" The illustration is by Wallace Saaty (1899-1984), who, from what I have been able to uncover, did a lot of commercial art which certainly paid better than pulp illustrations.
Mort Weisinger again leaps to the forefront with "Thrills in Science", this time dealing with Albert Einstein, Otto Von Guericke and the use of an air-pump to create a vacuum, and Professor Paul Langevin and the development of sonar.
"The City of Singing Flame" by Clark Ashton Smith, is this month's entry into the Scientifiction Hall of Fame. The noted fan who selected this story was Harry Warner, Jr.(1922-2003). The story originally appeared in Wonder Stories, July, 1931. The illustration is by Paul. (This story is also known as "City of the Singing Flame.)
The final short story this issue is "The Demons of Darkside" by Leigh Brackett (1915-1978). "The Denizens of Mercury Ruled a Domain of Eternal Night-Until Barry Garth Invaded that Empire with Light!" The illustration is signed "WK". If anyone can identify the artist, please let me know. Brackett became a prolific writer in several fields and also worked as a script writer, including John Wayne's Rio Bravo and her final project, The Empire Strikes Back. In 1946 she married Edmond Hamilton.
"Science Question Box" deals with motion picture projection, the concept of a halo and gland grafting. "Meet The Author" has Edmond Hamilton on Norse Mythology.
"Review Of The Science Fiction Publications" is filled with familiar titles. Reviewed this time are "Spaceways" by Harry Warner, Jr., James S. Avery and Walter E. Marconette; "Frontier", Official Bulletin of the Frontier Society by Donn Brazier; "Pluto" from the short-lived Literature, Science and Hobbies club of Decker, Indiana, edited by Marvis Manning, Vincent Manning, Maurice Paul, Claude E. Davis, Jr., and William A. Sisson; "The California Mercury" from J. J. Fortier, Tom Wright, Jim Bush and F. J. Ackerman; "The Alchemist" edited by Lewis B. Martin, Charles Ford Hansen, R. V. Hunt and Joseph L. Nordlohne; and, closing out this issue, "Stardust" edited by William Lawrence Hamling, Neil DeJack, Howard Funk, Harry Warner, Jr., Chester S. Geier, Paul Quaiver and Herschel Jenkinson, Jr.
In all, it's a pretty good issue. Next time we look at the March, 1941 issue.


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