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Friday, August 10, 2018

Comic Cuts - 10 August 2018

After managing to resolve a couple of little mysteries last week, I thought I'd go back to an old one... who was Lee Stanton, the author of the very first issue of Authentic Science Fiction? There is no indication in that first issue that Authentic was to last 85 issues – in fact, there was no number or date or anything else that you would normally associate with a magazine (an editorial, departments and features) and editor Gordon Landsborough only put "Authentic Science Fiction Series" on these full-length novels in the hope that it would engender a little loyalty in readers, who would come back next month for more.

This lasted only for those first two novels. Issue 3 was the first to be numbered, dated (Feb 1951) and contain a list of editorial staff (L. G. Holmes, editor, was the name adopted by Gordon Landsborough; and there was a technical editor, H. J. Campbell and associate editor, James McCormick). It also changed title, to "Science Fiction Fortnightly", with new issues published on the 1st and 15th of the month.

The title "Mushroom Men From Mars" will give you a rough idea of the quality of the novel, although I must say that it is better than the bulk of the science fiction being published in paperback by some of its rivals. There is not much contemporary criticism of the series, although Ken Slater, writing in 1952, noted that the first four or five issues were "not too good, but an honest endeavor has been made by the publishers and editors to improve the standard, with the result that many of the tales subsequently used, have been of a much higher standard."

It seems very likely that the earliest efforts were the work of Hamilton regulars tasked with switching from gangster thrillers or westerns to science fiction. The first three issues introduced regular writers Lee Stanton, Jon J. Deegan and Roy Sheldon, who would be responsible for 13 of the first 25 issues, with H. J. Campbell (who became full-time editor in 1952) responsible for another 6. As Campbell was also the author behind the Roy Sheldon pen-name, his output was doubled to 12 – almost half the novels published by Authentic in January 1951 to September 1952.

Lee Stanton was responsible for three novels: "Mushroom Men of Mars" (#1), "Seven to the Moon" (#5) and "Report from Mandzo" (#15).

They show the same lack of scientific knowledge that Campbell was there to weed out (but probably too busy to do so): one of the first letters published in Authentic pointed out that the Martian in Stanton's first novel had "flown millions of miles through inter-stellar space to reach the earth" when, of course, Mars and Earth were both planets in the same system, so interplanetary rather than interstellar. In "Report From Mandazo" (RFM), another alien comes through "millions upon millions of miles of inter-stellar space from a remote galaxy to visit your Earth" – so not interstellar, but intergalactic. (Both Deegan and Sheldon used the word correctly.) Later in "Mushroom Men" (MM) it is noted that Ra had flown across interstellar space "in an aircraft more scientifically advanced than anything Earth could boast."

The same two books use "helio motors" as a form of motive power, a "telemitter" as a form of communication and "telarscreen" as a viewing screen; in both books, one or other race is at risk from machine "radiations"; in MM, Zaro has a "theta-ray crystallograph", while Mandozans use a "theta-ray sounder" to test Earth's atmosphere. Both books have a "radio-microscope". Korve (RFM) "homed on to the landing beam" while the Great Leader (MM) "homed down on the arrestor beam"

Faces show "puzzlement" and people start to "gabble"; . The Great Leader stops "fiddling" with his seal ring (not a euphemism) in MM while the chief announcer was "fiddling" with his wristwatch in RFM. A "mumurous babbling" in the former becomes a "confused babble" in the latter. And there are alien life forms out there that are "fungoid" in both.

The repetition of odd words makes me certain that these two books—"Mushroom Men From Mars" and "Report From Mandazo"—are definitely by the same author. But the above terms do not appear in "Seven to the Moon". Both MM and RFM share a common kind of theme of aliens coming to Earth and trying to interact and understand humanity. "Seven to the Moon" (STTM), on the other hand, is set in the near future (1958) and doesn't involve alien technology, which may explain the change in language.

There are, however, a number of other odd turns of phrase that link the two books. Describing people as "ginks" for instance appears in both STTM and RFM and is an Americanism I've not found in any other issue of Authentic and there are some similarities in tech, e.g. STTM has a recordaphone while MM has a cordo-phone. In both novels someone's speech is described as "he boomed," "he croaked," "he snapped," (also used by F.G.. Rayer and Roy Sheldon, although Shelden preferred "he snapped out") and "he grunted."

I think I'm on reasonably safe ground to say that all three Lee Stanton novels are written by the same person and also that the author behind that name was not the author of any of the other full-length novels that I've been able to check. So, not Clem Macartney, for instance, nor Rick Conroy. There are a few crossovers with other authors. For instance, there's a mention of molybdenum in STTM, which was a favourite metal of the early Jon J. Deegan novels, but there are few other similarities that connect these authors, and it could be that having a strong editorial hand (Landsborough and Campbell) might have had more to do with it than coincidence.

Now I have to keep an eye out for similar quirks in other contemporary novels and maybe one day we will be able to put a real name to the author behind Lee Stanton.

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