The causes were two: directly, my acquaintance with the Manana Literary Society, which existed in fact precisely (aside from murders) as it is depicted in this book; indirectly, the fact that pulp science fiction had, at that time, just reached maturity both in thinking and in writing and was at a fine ripe stage to make converts easily.
One of the first results of my conversion (beyond immediately reading all the good pulp science fiction I could lay my hands on) was this novel. In one way, it was very badly timed: the readers of hard-cover books had at that time never heard of science fiction, and the whole subject tended to seem a little unbelievable to them. In another way the timing was precisely right; I had the opportunity to present a first hand picture of an important stage in thedevelopment of American popular entertainment - a phenomenon of which the book-readers have become conscious only at second hand in the last couple of years.
I'm surprised on rereading Rocket To The Morgue to see how little its statements about science fiction have dated. Pulp rates for stories in the better markets are now about twice what is mentioned in the book (but then, so is the cost of everything else...some magazines are s till paying 1940 rates.) Science fiction is no longer restricted to pulps; it now flourishes in slick magazines, in books, in films, on radio and television. There are more magazine markets for adult and prose; when Rocket To The Morgue was written, there were only the two magazines edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. (he is known in Rocket as "Don Stuart") but recently Life bracketed as "the aristocrats of science fiction" Campbell's Astounding, Horace Gold's Galaxy and The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by me and J. Francis McComas.
But the reprint racket is still a problem; the lowest level of space opera is still very much with us; mimeographed fanzines and National Science Fiction Conventions have not changed; the top "name" writers in the field are largely still the sam e; and all of Austin Carter's explanations of the nature and technique of science fiction are as true now as they were then...and as they would not have been a brief five years before.
Actually, science itself has dated the book more than any changes in science fiction. In 1942 atomic fission was another of the peculiar notions the sf boys kicked around, like time warps and subspace; rockets were something that only eccentric monomania cs experimented with. To supplement the out-dated section on rocketry herein, by all means get hold at once of Will Ley's magnificently authoritative and readable Rockets, Missiles And Space Travel (Viking, 1951).
I'm not only surprised but amused to see that, in the best science fiction tradition, I achieved some accurate on-the-nose prophecy. It looks as though I may have been tragically wrong in my hope that experiments for spaceflight would help world unity; b ut I did bring off two minor unconscious predictions. I used the title Worlds Beyond for a magazine (actually the unforgettable Unknown Worlds; and in 1950 there appeared on the stands a short-lived magazine with that title. I created a character called "Captain Comet" to parody all the inter-galactic supermen; and sure enough, there is now a comic book featuring t he hyperspacial adventures of Captain Comet.
I think (as best anyone can judge his own work on rereading) that I've managed to capture a moment that has some interest as an historical footnote to popular literature. This is the way it was in Southern California, just before the war, when science fi ction was being given its present form by such authors as Robert A. Heinlein (still the undisputed Master), Cleve Cartmill, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore and many others. (And this is as wise a place as any to add hastily t hat no character in Rocket To The Morgue is based specifically on any factual writer...nor is any character quite devoid of some factual basis.)
And I hope that some of the regular readers of whodunits may find this picture of the field provocative enough to make them investigate further - a much easier task now than when the novel was written. At that time there was no good anthology devoted to the best of science fiction - in fact, no such specialized anthology, good or bad. Now a newcomer can start his investigations with the tastefully chosen collections of Groff Conklin, August Derleth, Raymond J. Healy, (with or without J. Francis McComas) and Judith Merril; he can go on to sample the three "aristocrats" mentioned above...and from then on I trust he'll have as satisfying and stimulating a time varying his priminous diet with the wonders of logical imagination as I have enjoyed fo r the past dozen years - and expect to continue enjoying at keast until my sons radio their greetings from the moon.
The foregoing is a slightly edited version of the preface that Mr. Boucher has written for the reprint of "Rocket To The Morgue" which is being brought out by Dell this spring.
Anthony Boucher, co-editor of the Magazine Of Fantasy and Science Fiction, writer of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction, critic and reviewer, is too well known to need introduction here - except to mention what newcomers may not know - that he is one of the Founders o f the ELVES', GNOMES, AND LITTLE MEN'S SCIENCE FICTION, CHOWDER AND MARCHING SOCIETY.
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis
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