Typewriter in the Sky/Fear

The dust jacket cover reads Two Novels by L. Ron Hubbard. The jacket spine says Two Science Fantasy Novels by L. Ron Hubbard, followed by a typewriter ribbon, the words Typewriter in the Sky and eyeball with teardrop, and the word Fear. The boards spine merely puts Typewriter in the Sky over Fear with no punctuation or graphics. Every bibliographer apparently records the title in slightly different ways. I’ve opted for the simplest. SF novels tended to be shorter in the 1940s, but each story barely qualifies as a novel even if the 40,000 word minimum standard is applied. “Fear” first saw print in the in the July 1940 issue of Unknown. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists it as a novella. “Typewriter in the Sky” appeared in the November and December 1940 issues of Unknown and runs just a few pages longer.

That’s burying the lead. The important words on the cover brag to readers that Hubbard was “the founder of Dianetics.” Dianetics, the ancestor of Scientology, descended on the world with a mighty thunderclap in 1950. Hubbard gave John W. Campbell first dibs, so the world got introduced to the subject when an article, “Dianetics: The Evolution of a New Science” saw print in the April 1950 Astounding. Heritage House, then a tinier press than Gnome, published it as a long book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, in May 1950, using the unexpected windfall from its bestseller status to triple the number of books it published each year, fortunately for SF. One of them, 1953’s Science Fiction Handbook by the ubiquitous L. Sprague de Camp, is perhaps the first major book about the modern science fiction field.

Any clear-headed small publisher would have trumpeted his author’s bestselling, much-talked about, sf-connected, and less-than-year-old title on his front cover, even if published by a different press. From today’s perspective there’s a sense that Dianetics was all that mattered, that Hubbard was a forgotten pre-war pulpster whose name meant little to readers. Not quite true. Hubbard kept producing stories that appeared throughout 1950, both under his own name and as by René Lafayette, whose redundantly-named Old Doc Methuselah starred in a series of fan favorites in Astounding. FPCI, the Fantasy Publishing Company, Inc., had published three books by Hubbard in 1948 and 1949 (and, inevitably, one by de Camp). Hubbard was a sellable name on his own. Editors missed him greatly when he left for full-time Dianeticizing after 1950.

ESHBACH lists a print run of 4,000 copies, so does KEMP. CURREY doesn’t mention any variant. CHALKER, however, has a twist:

Kyle and many dealers have a higher 6500 figure. We suspect but have not been able to confirm that 6500 was the print run, but that there were two bindings, the first in brown binding with decoration [two spools of typewriter ribbon], probably 4000 copies, the second c.1956 of 2500 in yellow boards which was heavily remaindered.

Despite that statement, I don’t know of any copies of the supposed yellow boards, nor can I find an image of boards without the decoration. My scanner reproduces the brown as a kind of yellow. Perhaps that’s where the confusion lies. I am listing it under Single Staters until better evidence of a second state appears.

Note that CHALKER talks about a brown binding. I’ve seen listings that put it as fawn, which is a light yellowish tan. RAINEY lists it as tan boards, but his picture is closer to the true color than my scan, which fits the fawn description but is less orange than the original. Other listings also put the color as orange. Gnome often used colors that are hard to describe; this is about the pinnacle.

An intriguing and little-known Gnome associational aftermath concerns “Fear” and Fritz Leiber’s “Destiny Times Three,” which Greenberg published as one of his Five Science Fiction Novels. Horace Gold, editor of Galaxy magazine, started a line of mostly reprint digest paperbacks called Galaxy Novels. However, they quickly settled into a length of 128 pages, which meant that either the original novel had to be greatly abridged or that he needed to use novellas instead. “Fear” and “Destiny Times Three” were just-right-length novellas and Gold published them as Galaxy Novels #28 and #29. Moreover, both Gold and Greenberg started using a young artist just out of the Parsons School of Design, Lionel Dillon, some of his first professional work. The covers of the two Galaxy Novels are uncredited but they are unmistakably the work of Dillon, probably in collaboration with Diane Sorber. They are much better known to the world of science fiction art as Leo and Diane Dillon, winner of the 1971 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, among many additional awards in other fields. Whatever Greenberg’s faults might have been, he had the primary editorial gift of an eye for talent.

Villiers Gerson reviewed Typewriter in the Sky/Fear for The New York Times Book Review in the August 5, 1951 issue.

An ironic and jaunty adventure story. … a horrible and eerie dénouement.

Groff Conklin reviewed it for the September 1951 Galaxy:

A completely engrossing tale. You will be moved and astonished by what Hubbard has achieved in it.

Typewriter in the Sky/Fear, by L. Ron Hubbard, 1951, title #15, 256 pages, $2.75. 4000 hardbound copies printed.

Hardback, dull orange cloth with black lettering. Jacket design by David Kyle. “FIRST EDITION” stated on copyright page. Colonial Press, Printers. Designed by David Kyle. Back cover: 10 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., N.Y. 3.

Typewriter in the Sky jacket front
Typewriter in the Sky jacket flaps
Typewriter in the Sky light orange cover

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