EDWARD E. SMITH -- A BIOGRAPHY

by Harry Warner

Lumberer; railroader; miner; teamster; surveyor; doughnut specialist --- that, in short, is the story of the author of The Skylark of Space; Skylark Three; Spacehounds; Triplanetary; Skylark of Valeron; and Galactic Patrol.

Edward Elmer Smith was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on May 2, 1890. His lineage can be traced to 'way back when, his great-great grandfather being a captain in the British Navy under Nelson. His great grandfather, --- both were Edward Elmers --- was also a captain in the Navy, and his grandfather, still another E. E., came to America as a whaler, making it his life work. His son --- the present E. E. S.'s father --- had the distinction of breaking the line of Edward Elmers, being yclept Fred Jay, but after marrying Caroline Mills, F. J. reverted to form by naming the present Smith --- you guessed it --- Edward Elmer.

When a year old, E. E. --- and also F. J. of course --- moved from Sheboygan to Spokane, Washington. From there they went to Seneaquoteen, Idaho, in the midst of the wilderness, when Smith the younger was twelve. For three years E. E. worked clearing land, lumbering, and farming, until at fifteen he went on his own.

There followed a long period of rambling, during which he did almost everything that could be done in those days --- more lumbering, railroading, jack-of all trades miner, everything from mucking to running a two-fifty Sullivan slugger, street-car conductor, shipping clerk, asphalt foreman, freight checker --- until at last, tiring of work in towns and cities, he went to surveying. After climbing up the ladder of surveying, from axeman, stake-artist, and rear-flag to head-flag and leverman, his older sister and brother corralled him and got him into the prep school of the U. of Idaho. For several years he crammed, until he became a Freshman, and immediately went out for athletics. However, it was no go --- too light for football, not so hot at baseball, and no flash at basketball --- mainly because of ankylosed joints in the arms, wrists, and legs, now slowly improving, resulting from his days as a miner and woodsman, and the inevitable smashups. But finally, he won the Engineering Scholarship for the three year highest standing in College of Engineering, and graduated in Chemical Engineering.

His first job was in the Bureau of Chemistry in Washington, food work, and in the meantime he began a course in organic and food chemistry in George Washington University, and eventually became a cereal technologist; then, after resigning to take a job with Corby Co., he returned to the Bureau as a research specialist in wheat flour, when the war came. Though he wanted to be an aviator in it he was refused, and so turned to the Food Administration, and tried to discover how to make bread without flour. For some emergency work at Harvard and Johns Hopkins he had received his M. S. degree, and got his Ph. D. at G. W. U. for "The Effect of the Oxides of Nitrogen upon the Carotin Molecule --- C40H56".

In 1919, after the war, he once again travelled half way across the continent, this time to take a position with F. W. Stock & Sons as chief chemist. A great deal of work he did more or less as a sideline on fully prepared flours grew into a really important business, until the firm took him out of the main laboratory, gave him a research lab, and called him "Director of Research". At the end of 1935 he left Stock's to become a part of, and chief Donut Weevil for, the Dawn Donut Co., of Jackson, Mich. He has now reduced specialization to the irreducible --- a donut specialist! In fact, he is now in line for the honorary D. Dn. --- Doctor of Doughnuts!

In the meantime, on Oct. 5, 1915, E. E. Smith had married Jeannie Craig MacDougall of Boise, Idaho. They have three children, Roderick N., 20; Verna J., 18; and Clarissa M., 17. And he's a grandfather, too, but as he says, "there's no need going into that".

Dr. Smith had been writing a little for a long time, and had "always wondered about things", but had never done any serious work until one summer in Washington.

The Skylark trilogy came to be written, as are most science-fiction stories, from a trifling incident. Those who know will tell you that only in Washington on a summer night can you know what heat really is, and the incident which caused the stories to be written came on such a night. E. E. Smith, his wife, Carl Garby, Smith's closest friend, and Mrs. Garby were seated in the sizzling living room of the Smith apartment, when E. E. began to discourse on how nice and cool it would be in the absolute zero of Space. Mrs. Smith and Dr. and Mrs. Garby followed along the discussion and it was during the ensuing hours that the germ for The Skylark of Space was sewn. Finally Mrs. Garby suggested that Smith write a book on the subject, but he declined --- "Got to have a love story to write a book, and I don't see how a love story would fit in with that kind of stuff". But Mrs. Garby suggested that she write the love and Smith the 'wild stuff' --- and the Skylark of Space was born.

Aided and abetted by Dr. Garby, the story was worked over off and on for months, but it was gradually forgotten, and finally abandoned and laid away. However, in the first year at Hillsdale --- 1919 --- Mr. Smith stumbled on the outline for it, and regained interest. Despite the fact that Mrs. Garby was some ten or fifteen States of the Union distant, by dint of much correspondence the story was finally finished in 1921. Then began the rounds of what was probably the most rejected manuscript in history, lasting some five years, and in the meantime work was begun on Skylark Three. At last, however, Dr. Smith learned of AMAZING STORIES, and submitted the manuscript to them, and it was accepted --- even more, the publishers of AMAZING wanted a sequel. Of course, at the time neither the author nor the publishers had any idea of the tremendous enthusiasm that was to greet the first Skylark yarn --- but when readers threatened dire things if a sequel wasn't forthcoming, Skylark Three was the answer. Collaboration is difficult enough when the co-authors are beside each other -- when a thousand miles apart it's impossible, and so the second in the Skylark epic was the work of Dr. Smith alone.

Decided that the Skylark idea had been completely played out, and another yarn in the same series would be too much on the order of a fairy tale, work was next begun on Spacehounds. It was completed in the fall of 1930 --- and soon after published of course --- and its author considers it his best piece of work to date. However, the readers still clamored for another Skylark, and so, managing to find an opening for one and evade the epilog to Skylark Three, Mr. Smith started on the third in the series as soon as Spacehounds was completed. But in the meantime, he decided to try a yarn in which scientific detail would not be bothered about, and in which his imagination would run riot --- the result was Triplanetary, published in AMAZING in 1934. It had been finished earlier, but had not been published due to the failure of the old ASTOUNDING, for which it had been originally intended. But at last, Skylark of Valeron appeared, after over two years of work. Of course, all of us have read Galactic Patrol --- but let us again quote E. E. Smith: ".... and later, Galactic Patrol, about which fans can't quite decide whether to kiss or kill me. Now at work on another Patrol yarn, which may or may not be called 'Gray Lensman'".

One of the reasons that the yarns of Dr. Smith --- notably the Skylarks and Spacehounds --- have lived, and will probably continue to live, is because of the characters in them are drawn from real people --- Mrs. Smith is the Dorothy of the Skylarks, Nadia of Spacehounds, and Clio of Triplanetary, and it is simple to find counterparts of Dr. Garby and his wife in the stories. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why his stories are the great literature that they are.

H. W.

THE END.


Data entry by Judy Bemis

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