An extract from the as yet unpublished biography of Lester Linesmith who, under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms, can claim to have been one of the most prolific authors of Science Fiction's Golden age.

The 'Planet Stories' Fiasco

In 1948 the post war SF magazine boom was faltering. What had been a friendly, almost jovial, world in which authors and publishers would meet and swap ideas became, almost overnight, a cut throat business with too many magazines chasing too few readers. Profit margins plummeted, publishers cut their rates and many magazines went to the wall. Other magazines reduced the number of pages per issue while keeping the same cover price. Many magazine staggered on from month to month with an ever dwindling number of pages before finally collapsing. Some went bi-monthly, or even quarterly. Linesmith, faced with a drastically reduced demand for his stories, and a drastically reduced word rate for those that he did sell, came up with a bold scheme; he would start his own magazine.

In May 1948, with the financial backing of several unnamed 'businessmen', he published the first issue of Planet Stories (confusingly numbered 'Volume 2 Issue 7').

"The way I figured it, was if the magazine took off there would be a demand for back issues. If the demand was big enough, we would get round to making some up and selling them mail-order through adverts in the magazine. This would mean we wouldn't be cutting in the distributor and the news-stand vendors for a single penny. Maximise our profits. I did think about having the middle episode of a three part serial in the first issue to stimulate that demand but I didn't get round to it1 . By the time the publication deadline came round I'd only written a

1 - Linesmith did later complete and run this serial. It appeared in Issues 10 - 12 as Warlords of Mu under the by-line Franchot McGubbin. In Warlords of Mu a shipwrecked sailor is chased deep into the 'Endless Antarctic Wastelands' by a horde of savage bloodthirsty Eskimos (geography was never one of Linesmith's strong suits). The sailor stumbles upon the entrance to a hidden world in the hollow core of the Earth. This lost world is populated entirely by cowboys - and dinosaurs. The cowboys apparently stumbled upon the place a hundred years before, the dinosaurs had been there a lot longer. The shipwrecked sailor falls in love with a local rancher's daughter called Bettie-Lou and teams up with the local sheriff by the name of Dirk Peters. Together the sailor and Peters clean up the town and prevent the villain from running off the rancher's herd of prize Iguanadons. Just as the sailor (who, rather clumsily, is never named) and Peters are about to settle which one of them is going to marry Bettie-Lou, a volcano erupts and forces the hero back to the surface world to tell his story.

The fact that the sheriff in this story is called Dirk Peters and the entrance to the hidden world was set in Antarctica did prompt some to speculate that Linesmith had written a sequel to Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, the wonderfully weird The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, (the full subtitle of which reads: Comprising the Details of Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on Board the American Brig Grampus, on Her Way to the South Seas, in the Month of June, 1827. With an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivors; Their Shipwreck and Subsequent Horrible Sufferings from Famine; Their Deliverance by Means of the British Schooner Jane Guy; the Brief Cruise of this Latter Vessel in the Atlantic Ocean; Her Capture, and the Massacre of Her Crew Among a Group of Islands in the Eighty-Fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude; Together with the Incredible Adventures and Discoveries Still Farther South to Which That Distressing Calamity Gave Rise) published in 1838. Poe's novel ends abruptly with no resolution to the unfolding story - the narrative just stops as the narrator along with his companion Dirk Peters, is about to (possibly) plunge into one of the Hollow Earth theories popular at the time. It is asserted in a final note by Poe (who claimed to have been merely writing down a tale told to him) that the narrator of the novel, Arthur Gordon Pym, whose words he was merely transcribing, died at this point and that was that. No more story.

The novel was popular and spawned at least two sequels by other writers: Jules Verne's An Antarctic Mystery (also known as The Sphinx of the Ice Fields ) in 1897, and A Strange Discovery: How We Found Dirk Peters written in 1899 by Charles Romyn Dake. (His only published book.) Neither of them are any good but both are far better than Warlords of Mu.

Linesmith always denied his book was intended as a sequel to Poe's work, pointing out that the bulk of his story, once stripped of the shipwreck and volcano 'Lost World' framing device, was almost, word for word, identical to a story called Trouble at the Lazy O which he had sold to Thrilling Western Tales of The Old West Quarterly some years before.

"All I did was top and tail the thing and then retyped it, substituting the word 'dinosaur' for 'cow' all the way through.A I often reused stories like that. Most people who read those kind of magazines had real short attention spans. That's why we used so many short sentences. One magazine I wrote for had a house rule that it would never publish a sentence that



couple of thousand words, so instead we filled up the space where it should have been with the longest god-damn readers' letters column you ever saw in your life. It went on for pages. Of course we wrote all the letters ourselves. Fake letters to the editor was nothing new, every editor had done it at one time or another to pad out a thin column - though I don't think anyone ever wrote so many fan letters in one go before and certainly never about stories that had never even been written. We wrote dozens of them telling ourselves how great the stories we hadn't written were in the last few issues of a magazine we hadn't published. We were up against a deadline. The galleys had to be at the printers by 3am that night. We'd found some non-union print shop that would only work nights - I think they just sneaked in when the regular staff had gone home - and they needed paying in cash but we weren't fussy. Anyway it was pretty darn

was more than twenty-five words long. If you wrote any sentence that was longer than that they would break it up. They wouldn't rewrite it or edit it. Just stuck a period in after twenty-five words and started the next word with a capital. Drove me crazy. For years afterwards I couldn't write a damn thing, not even write a note to the cleaner, without counting the words in my head. With Warlords of Mu I figured if the readers could remember what happened more than twenty-five words ago, no one was going to remember a crappy cowboy story from years back. Unfortunately I didn't have a copy of my original manuscript and I had to copy type the whole thing from the printed version in the magazine with the weird twenty five word rule. After a while I got real tired of trying to work out what the punctuation should have been and just gave up and stopped putting it in. I got fan letters - real ones - about that story; mostly from hop heads in Greenwich Village. Apparently people used to get up and read it aloud at parties or in coffee bars while playing Thelonius Monk records. There was talk of an opera but nothing ever happened. Once, many years later, I was at this writer's conference, a real swanky awards thing in New York. I have no idea how I got invited to attend but it was free lunch so I went. I was in the men's room taking a piss when a guy came out of a cubicle. He was a really hairy guy. Huge beard, wild hair, glasses. He stopped and looked at me and said: "My God! You're Linesmith!" I kind of nodded that I was. I was wary. I still owed a lot of people money. He came over put his hand on my shoulder. He whispered "Thank you for Mu", gave my shoulder a squeeze and left. I later saw him on the stage accepting a prize. It was Allen Ginsberg.
A As amply demonstrated in these short extracts from both books:
'The Dinosaurs were restless something was disturbing them, they stirred endlessly moving constantly never still they were not at rest.
Zac eyed the disturbed endlessly stirring constantly moving never still animals. "Something's making them restless," he said and spat a chaw of tobacco juice into the collapsible canvas camping spittoon that Chang the chink trail cook had provided for their comfort.
"Yip," agreed old Ned who had forgotten more about dinosaurs in a lifetime of riding the range than any three other men riding the herd. Would ever learn in theirs. "They sure am restless tonight."
The dinosaurs lowed to one another in the moonlight.' *

[ Warlords of Mu - Chapter 7]

'The cattle were restless, something was disturbing them, they stirred endlessly, moving constantly, never still. They were not at rest.
Zac eyed the disturbed endlessly stirring, constantly moving, never still animals. "Something's making them restless," he said, and spat a chaw of tobacco juice into the collapsible canvas camping spittoon that Chang the chink trail cook had provided for their comfort.
"Yip," agreed old Ned who had forgotten more about cattle in a lifetime of riding the range than any three other men riding the herd. Would ever learn in theirs. "They sure am restless tonight."
The heifers lowed to one another in the moonlight.'

[ Trouble at the Lazy O - Chapter 5]

*The fact that this book was set in an enclosed world deep within the bowels of the Earth did not stop Linesmith from gleefully filling the sky with stars and bathing his scenery in moonlight. As far as anyone can tell no one reading the story at the time remarked on this curious anomaly - certainly there were no comments made in the magazine's letters column.


funny, the three of us sitting there in the office at midnight slowly getting hammered on bourbon and churning out fake fan letters. I guess we got a bit carried away."

Linesmith interviewed in The Future in Retrospect [Berkeley SF Studies Group1978]

Just how 'carried away' Linesmith got can be seen from some of the letters in that first column. He was aided at the time by Victor Welshman (Linesmith's long time drinking buddy and the author of countless identical westerns under a variety of pseudonyms), and Bettie Pringle (Linesmith's latest girlfriend, later to become a famous burlesque dancer under the name 'Peaches La Verne').

Welshman once recalled the incident at a question and answer session at an SF convention: "We hadn't been to sleep for three days putting the magazine together. We were walking zombies. Lester and I took turns in dictating. Bettie took shorthand. All three of us were drinking."

The following letter is one of the last to be comprehensible. It was followed by several pages of complete gibberish:

Dear Bob,
(The magazine was edited by Linesmith under the pen name 'Charles Bradley'. Just why half the letters in the column address him as 'Bob' is a complete mystery.)
Well, what can I say? - what can I say? - what? what? Okay, focus... Issue Six was your best yet. It was so good I want another copy - because I've worn my first copy out! Not that I'm saying the magazine was printed on cheap paper and isn't very well stuck together or anything no. Not at all. Though the ink does come off on your fingers - ever noticed that? but that's not it. No wait... what the hell am I supposed to be doing? Pass the bottle will ya? Thanks. Right. Blah blah blah... Issue six best yet. Douglas Tremaine's epic yarns just get epicker and epicker with every new one. More please. They're terrific! Worth the cover price of the mag alone. - what? of course it's a word. I dunno - with a K. Epicker!

I only have one gripe with the Tremaine story. Why did Zoltan McMannus leave the Luminoid Bathetascope attached to the Subliminiser when he knew Lance had already used the Time Dilator!? Dumb Huh? But I didn't let that spoil a great story. Can't wait for the next one. Are there any more cigarettes? Light me will yah? Buford Milligan's Chesty Brannigan yarn was worth the cover price too. I'll never look an onion bagel the same way again. Is there going to be a sequel. I hope so. Maybe Chesty could eat a prune Danish in the next one? Just an idea.

I wasn't so keen on the Goldfarb story. I thought it was weak and the way the Zyglon's talked! Man, was that annoying! But it was still worth the cover price alone. Keep up the good work.

Why don't you publish any poems. I think they would be really neat - hey that's not such a dumb idea! You know poems take up a hell of a lot of space on the page for the number of words that's in them. Yeah? Yeah! - and you know, poems don't need a plot. That'd save us a few dollars. 2 Yeah... Anyway. Issue six was the best yet. Keep up the good work on the best SF magazine on the stands.

Eric Dweebmeyer
Stick a pin in the map will you, Bettie - Akron!

Eric Dweebmeyer
Akron Ohio.
Your turn, Victor...

Linesmith expanded on this incident in his unfinished and unpublished autobiography:
'I'm pretty sure were weren't the only pulp magazine that was printed by the Mafia but we did seem to get stiffed with a particularly inept branch. When we first first starting talking about Planet Stories we went looking for a printer. We must have talked to every printer in the state,

2 - Linesmith was in the habit of buying plots from less successful authors, paying up to $30 for 'a good one'.


we were negotiating with a couple when one day this guy walked into the office. He was a short, quiet man in a very loud suit. He had the most extraordinary pop-out eyes, the first things you noticed about him. You couldn't stop looking at them. These huge bulging eyes. They looked like ping pong balls stuck onto his face. He laid his cards on the table straight away. Then he sorted through them, and when he had found the one he was looking for he handed it to me. It was a well-worn business card:
Familly Printers
No Job To Small No Offer To Big

I was going to point out the spelling mistakes when I noticed this weird goggled-eyed man was wearing a very big handgun in a shoulder holster so I decided against it. He introduced himself as 'Louis'. (I never did find out his second name but when they fished his body out of the East River three years later, the papers said his name was originally Louigi Gombardo). Louis laid out the deal we would accept. Those were his very words; he said: 'This is the deal you are going to accept.'.

We would, he told us, deliver the manuscripts to him outside a printers shop on E 54th St. at 3am and he in return would have our print run of 100,000 copies delivered at 6am two days later. We would pay him in cash when we handed over the manuscripts. Five thousand in cash, all used bills, none bigger than a twenty. We had ten minutes to accept the offer. It was a no brainer. We accepted the offer. Not only was it the cheapest we had gotten but for some reason all the other printers we had been negotiating with had suddenly stopped taking our calls that same morning. Also our 'investors' were starting to drop heavy hints about wanting to see some return on their money. We were pretty desperate. Some of the hints were starting to include phrases like 'break your fucking legs' and 'fixing it so you'll never see your kids again'. When I pointed out to them I didn't have any kids, they said they could fix that too.

The deal went ahead as Louis had outlined it. We turned up at the appointed place with the manuscripts and a small suitcase full of money and, after a couple of very nervous days, the magazines were delivered to the distributor. I won't mind admitting I was more than nervous. I didn't expect to see the magazine, Louis, or the money ever again. I had a packed suitcase in the office and another in my apartment, and had tickets booked on late night trains to Canada, Mexico, and Hawaii. (I know now there weren't any trains to Hawaii but I hadn't slept for something like four days and had just written a story called 'The Big Bore' about a trans-Pacific tunnel . I was starting to have trouble telling fantasy from reality.)

To our surprise and relief 'The Bug-eyed Mobster' (which is what we called Louis when he wasn't in the room) came through and delivered the full print run on time. It looked like crap. Even by the industry's low standards, it was the most pitifully badly done piece of shit you had ever seen. It was printed on at least three different kinds of paper and the typeface changed from paragraph to paragraph. Page 74 had perforations running down the centre. That page appeared to have been printed on paper meant for an official form with some sort of tear-off section. We'd got the only SF mag on the market with a State Department watermark.

The cherry on the cake was when we saw that one of the illustrations was upside down. Not that anyone else noticed and it's kind of ironical that that picture has appeared in at least two books on the history of SF art as an example of how artists represented weightlessness back in those days. The guys in that picture weren't supposed to be weightless, they were supposed to be running away from a giant lizard on the facing page. Except there was no giant lizard on the facing page. It was supposed to be a two page layout with the art spread across the width of the mag, but the plates got mixed up and the lizard turned up a few pages late menacing a two column advert for athletic supports. It made no sense at all. Especially as there weren't even any lizards in the damn story. We just got the illustrations cheap. Finlay Bonstell was this kid, a friend of a friend of Bettie's. He was a short annoying spotty little twerp with one of those annoying nasal whines that would turn into a snorting laugh at the weirdest moments. He was what most people of the time imagined an SF fan would be like. We kept him round the office because he wanted to be an illustrator and we had to have some pictures in the magazine no matter how bad they were. All Finlay could really draw were lizards and large-breasted women in space suits but since that was exactly what the audience we were aiming at were



interested in we took him on. Didn't pay him a cent - though Bettie would often go put on some beach clothes and model for him.

It was only after we got this mess of a thing delivered from Louis' so called 'printers' that the real bombshell hit. We'd called the magazine Planet Stories which seemed a pretty good name for a SF mag. Hell it was a great name for a SF mag. In fact it was so great there was already a magazine called Planet Stories on the stands. Christ knows how we had missed the fact. I later found out I'd even submitted some stories to them! I nearly got on that train to Mexico but after a sleepless night I came up with the solution. Planet Stories - the other Planet Stories - was on a bi-monthly schedule. It came out in January, March, May, July, September, and December. Luckily we were bi-monthly too and as it was June we just shoved our magazine into distribution and alternated with them. They had January, we had February, they had March we had April - and so on. I figured that with a bit of luck they wouldn't notice for a few months by which time we could have worked out a name change and redone the cover artwork. As it was, it was almost a year before they did notice and by that time we had published several stories by their best authors who had submitted them to us by mistake thinking that the other guys had moved office. So we got top flight, authors like Asimov, and Heinlein, and Van Vogt and paid them our bargain basement rate. We made money for a while - then the owners of the other Planet Stories noticed us and got court orders against us and suddenly we went broke. That was kind of scary for a while but luckily Victor managed to persuade our investors that it was all Louis' fault and we never saw them again - or Louis.

I never tried to edit a magazine again after that. Far too much hard work for the money.'

In May 1953, in a move that may well have more than a little to do with the discovery of Louigi Gombardo's heavily weighted body in the East River, Linesmith moved to Hollywood. It's a measure of the impact that he made there that of all the people he later claimed to have worked with, not one of them mentions him anywhere in their autobiographies.

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