The Earliest Bradbury

Jul 6, 2020 by

An Exploration and Celebration of Ray Bradbury’s Earliest Writings as a Science Fiction Fan


Ray Bradbury is an author who inspires fanaticism in his readers. A virtuoso composer with language, he sang the bodies electric and human, blending science fiction with eerie horror and mysticism to create stories that have stood the test of time. Today, he is perhaps the most revered of the science fiction Grand Masters of the 20th century. Among his fans are countless “completists,” who have made it a mission to absorb as much of his work as possible. We at First Fandom Experience are proud to fall into this camp.

Bradbury’s work is, as the saying goes, part of the furniture of our minds. But at some point in our pursuit of finding every word written by Ray Bradbury, we tripped and fell down a rabbit hole. We wanted to access the time before Bradbury was a grandmaster; the time before he was a professional author. We wanted to explore the period when he was an amateur writer, testing the waters and honing his craft.

So, we began digging. Some of Bradbury’s pre-professional work, like FUTURIA FANTASIA — the fanzine he published in 1939 and 1940 — is well known. Bradbury published his own facsimile edition of the fanzine with Michael Graham and Craig Graham in 2007. But much of his other amateur work is obscure and unavailable to most readers, existing only in the archives of fanatical collectors or in special library collections. It has been our pleasure to locate these artifacts and compile them in full facsimile format in our new collection, THE EARLIEST BRADBURY.

To be clear, Bradbury entered the ranks of professional authors at a young age. Born in 1920, Bradbury entered organized science fiction fandom, formally, in October 1937, when he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League (LASFL). He sold his first story, “The Pendulum” (a collaboration with Henry Hasse), in August 1941. He received payment for the story on August 22, his 21st birthday. This period from 1937 to 1941 — from his entry into fandom to the publication of his first professional story — is the time we explore in THE EARLIEST BRADBURY.

Ray Bradbury’s early writing is everything one might expect to see from a young amateur destined for mastery. Many of his early articles, written under pseudonyms like “Kno Knuth Ing and D. Lerium Tremaine,” were silly and satirical, packed with puns and bad jokes, and shining examples of the kind of juvenalia that filled the pages of many fanzines of the time. Bradbury’s penchant for puns, sharp wit, and love of humor quickly earned him the title of the “funny man” of the LASFL.

But even as an amateur, we see glimpses of what Bradbury would become as an author. His talent with language is clear, not only in the delightful deployment of puns and wit in his humor pieces but in powerfully evocative phrases that pepper his early fiction. The iconic poetic style and otherworldly themes that would define much of his later work began to take shape in his early years as a young fan in the LASFL.

Bradbury became deeply entrenched in the Los Angeles science fiction community. Through it, he met many of the people who would help him on the road to a professional career. It was at the 100th meeting of the LASFL in August 1939 that Bradbury met Robert Heinlein, who had a profound impact on Bradbury’s career. Forrest J Ackerman edited IMAGINATION! — the first fanzine Bradbury wrote for — and famously lent Bradbury $50 so that he could attend the 1939 WorldCon. It was at WorldCon that Bradbury met Julius Schwartz, who would later sell Bradbury’s first story.

For a Bradbury fanatic, the story of his early years as an amateur fan and writer is a fascinating prequel to his long professional career. It reveals a relentlessly jovial, if juvenile, writer pursuing mastery of a craft he deeply and authentically loved. It brings light to the many influences that shaped him and provides insight into a community of science fiction fans that produced not just Bradbury the Grand Master, but many others who went on to define the genre for decades.

As Bradbury fanatics, we hope to honor and celebrate Ray Bradbury’s legacy by exploring his earliest contributions to fandom. THE EARLIEST BRADBURY combines original artifacts with historical commentary to bring this story to life.

(PulpFest is pleased to welcome father and son, David and Daniel Ritter, as guest writers to our website. David is the Editor-in-Chief of First Fandom Experience, while Daniel serves as the organization’s Managing Editor. First Fandom Experience attempts to generate a more direct and visceral sense of what it would have been like to be an early science fiction fan, striving to preserve an essential part of cultural history in both letter and spirit.

We’d like to thank David and Daniel for their contribution to our celebration of the centennial of Ray Bradbury’s birth. Planned as one of the themes for this year’s PulpFest, we’ll continue our salute to the “Poet of the Pulps” in the pages of our annual program book, THE PULPSTER. Watch for further details about this very special issue, right here, later this month.

THE EARLIEST BRADBURY — featuring cover art by Overstreet Hall of Fame member, Mark Wheatley — is now available from First Fandom Experience for $125, postage paid. Please visit their website for further details.)

Science Fiction: To What Purpose?

May 22, 2020 by

In 1911, when Hugo Gernsback introduced what he at first termed “scientific fiction,” it was his hope that these stories would stimulate his readers’ imaginations, leading to scientific progress and a better world. In the April 1916 issue of THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER, Gernsback wrote:

A world without imagination is a poor place to live in. No real electrical experimenter, worthy of the name, will ever amount to much if he has no imagination. He must be visionary to a certain extent, he must be able to look into the future and . . . he must anticipate the human wants. . . . Imagination more than anything else makes the world go round. If we succeed in speeding it up ever so little our mission has been fulfilled.

When he introduced AMAZING STORIES ten years later, Hugo Gernsback seemed to have changed his tune. In an editorial appearing in the magazine’s first issue — dated April 1926 — Gernsback wrote:

“By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type story — a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.”

The names displayed on the covers of the early AMAZING STORIES — Edgar Rice Burroughs, Murray Leinster, A. Merritt, Edgar Allan Poe, Garrett P. Serviss, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and others — likewise indicated that Gernsback’s vision had evolved. He had learned that his “readers wanted more than instructive fiction. They wanted to be entertained, to escape, to experience that sense of wonder that good visionary fiction brought.”

The question that Hugo Gernsback asked through his magazines, early science fiction fandom grappled with both vocally and in print:

What is the purpose of science fiction?

Some believed it was to teach science and inspire scientists; others believed it was to offer adventurism and escape from reality; still others believed it was to envision a better future for all.

Discussions around this question are at the core of the science fiction genre’s history.  On Thursday, August 6, PulpFest 2020 will welcome David and Daniel Ritter of First Fandom Experience for an exploration of the conversation concerning science fiction’s purpose during the early years of organized fandom.

Beginning in the late 1920s and coursing through the 1939 WorldCon and beyond, First Fandom Experience will examine Hugo Gernsback and science fiction as a teaching device; the emergence of “thought experiments” as a sub-genre; the “escapist” camp of science fiction fandom; Michelism and the infamous 1937 “Mutation or Death” speech written by Jon B. Michel and delivered by Donald A. Wollheim; activism in early science fiction fandom; the Technocracy Movement and the Los Angeles fan scene, including a young fan by the name of Ray Bradbury; and how all these things relate to the idea of creating the future.

So please join us for PulpFest 2020 from August 6 through August 9 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, Pennsylvania for “Science Fiction: To What Purpose?”

(If you were born between 1945 and 1960 and are a science fiction fan, your first introduction to the genre likely came from reading one of the masters who began their work in the 1930s — Asimov, Bradbury, Campbell, Clarke, Smith. All of these great writers began their work as fans. What had these authors experienced that shaped their visions? What would it have been like to know them when they were first discovering speculative fiction and others who loved it? These questions inspired David Ritter to start First Fandom Experience. For the organization’s Editor-in-Chief, born in 1960, this project has been a way to better understand the origin story of his own origin as a fan.

As a millennial, Daniel Ritter — the Managing Editor of First Fandom Experience — was exposed to science fiction through the hand-me-downs of older readers and fans, like his father. Daniel’s childhood bookcase was packed with well-read copies of books that were published before he was born. The foundation of his love for science fiction was born from the pages of these books. Daniel has spent his entire life swimming in the ocean of the genre, and he is now privileged to study the very early days of science fiction.

The Science Fiction League was one of the earliest associations formed by science fiction fans. It was created by Charles D. Hornig and Hugo Gernsback in February 1934 in the pages of WONDER STORIES. The League — which eventually grew to about 1,000 members — lasted about ten years. Its emblem — designed by Frank R. Paul — was first published in the April 1934 issue of WONDER STORIES.

For a look at our entire programming schedule, please click the Programming button below the PulpFest banner on our home page.)