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Rocket to the Morgue

Rocket to the Morgue

Five years after John W. Campbell took over the editorship of Astounding, he was featured in this 1942 novel by Anthony Boucher (originally published under the pseudonym H.H. Holmes).

Despite its title, the book is not Science Fiction -- it is a murder mystery set within the SF community of the time. A brief reference is made in the novel to Superintendent Hadley and Inspector Masters -- two characters from the works of John Dickson Carr. And that gives you an idea of what to expect from Rocket to the Morgue -- it is not too different in style or quality from Carr himself (in other words, about half-way between a hack pulp novel and the painstaking perfection of Agatha Christie or S.S. van Dine).

 
Boucher claimed that all the main characters in the book were fictitious, although there is a widespread belief that many of them are modelled on real SF writers or fans of the time (see for example this link or this one). However, a number of "off-stage" characters are given names that correspond to the pseudonyms of actual SF writers -- for example Anson MacDonald (Robert Heinlein), Rene Lafayette (L. Ron Hubbard) and Don Stuart (John W. Campbell himself).

In the novel, "Don Stuart" is the editor of two magazines -- Surprising Stories and Worlds Beyond -- which are clearly meant to stand for Astounding and Unknown respectively. "Stuart" is also credited with a Campbellian view of Science Fiction:

"Assume certain advances in civilization, then work out convincingly just how those would affect the lives of ordinary individuals like you and me."

Besides the science fiction writers of the time, the book also makes several references to Charles Fort and his ideas. In fact, the most interesting character in the novel is not a writer but a "Fortean" named Hugo Chantrelle -- a man with an interest in rockets, time travel, ESP and the occult. Chantrelle is believed to be based on the real-life character of Jack Parsons -- "Playboy, antichrist and missile messiah" (Fortean Times, issue 132).

Jack Parsons

Copyright © 2008 Andrew May Visit www.andrew-may.com

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