COSMOS – David H. Keller, M.D.
A few days ago, while looking over a fanzine, loaded with advertisements, I found the offer of a book called COSMOS, priced at $20.00. My wife asked me if we had a copy and I rather proudly told her that one, bound in red cloth, was in my collection of Keller ephermidae. She was so interested in my narrative concerning the formation of this unusual book that it seemed worth while to compile what facts I have concerning it, feeling certain that the details of it are not familiar to the younger Science Fiction Fans of America.
In 1932 a fanzine was started with a very distinguished group of editors. Conrad H. Ruppert was Editorial Director, Mortimer Weisinger Associate Editor, Raymond A. Palmer Literary Editor. This fanzine was called SCIENCE FICTION DIGEST. Unfortunately I have only three numbers of this fanzine in my collection but I judge a complete file would show that many prominent authors contributed to its success. For example, two of these issues which I have contain THE WOMAN OF THE WOOD by A. Merritt.
It appears that all credit for the initial idea of COSMOS goes to Ackerman. At least on page 13, Vol. I, No. 12 he writes:
“Some months before Liberty came out with its six author story, written for the movies, I conceived the idea of writing a science fiction novel with ten contributors. Accordingly a plot of COSMOS was evolved and a tentative ‘feeler’ was sent to some of the most prominent stf authors. A plot was sent to them – the final result was a 13 part story. Ralph Milne Farley leading off – Suddenly he had a new idea – and we found ourselves with a sixteen part story. Then Amazing Stories suggested John W. Campbell as the logical author to write a new part five. An amazing situation developed here – we were experiencing the phenomenon of being literally mobbed by writers – who were interested in contributing a part.”
[Editor’s note: Keller paraphrased this quote from the August, 1933 issue of SFD – the actual text can be found here. He also incorrectly attributed this (and the idea for Cosmos) to Ackerman. The text he references was part of Ray Palmer’s column, which Ackerman corrects in his article in this same issue of IF!]
On March 26th, 1933, Julius Schwartz wrote me asking a number of questions, such as whether Dr. Sloan had accepted my LIFE EVERLASTING. He closed the letter as to whether Weisinger or Palmer has written to me about their new many authored novel and asked me to take a part in it. Fortunately I saved his letter. However the answers to both his questions were in the affirmative. Dr. Sloan accepted LIFE EVERLASTING and on March 25th, 1933, Weisinger wrote me giving me my assignment of Chapter 2 of COSMOS with 500 words of plot and suggestions as to how I should write my chapter.
In my files is a carbon copy of what I wrote and also a mint copy of SFD with the supplement titled,
by David H. Keller, M.D.
Author of THE REVOLT OF THE PEDESTRIANS, THE METAL DOOM, etc.
At the time I considered the addition of that “etc.” very interesting.
During that period I was rather preoccupied with my duties as Assistant Superintendent of the Pennhurst Hospital for Mental Defectives in Pennsylvania. I have no distinct memory of receiving further copies of the SFD with additional chapters but do remember that I, at long last, realized that my collection of them was not complete, and through the kindness of Schwartz obtained the missing chapters. He also supplied me with an illustrated frontispiece, table of contents and popularity vote specially prepared for those fans who wished to BIND the book. Now, having every part necessary, I had it bound, placed it in my collection and forgot all about it.
Now I suddenly find that it is priced at $20.00.
For the information of the younger fans I am giving the names of the chapters and the authors.
[List omitted for brevity. The full roster can be seen here.]
It would be interesting if some fan, like Ackerman, capable of acquiring the information, would write an article bringing up to the present time the history of these seventeen authors, who were prominent in the early history of science fiction. I know that some are dead, some have not been writing much in late years, and some have become editors of magazines and at least one is a successful publisher.
I feel unequal to the task of reviewing this historic production from the literary point of view. But it would be interesting to have a critic of the younger generation do this, someone like Joe Kennedy. It would give him an excellent opportunity to compare the old writers of science fiction with the new.
Now we come to the popularity vote. Schwartz sent this and I had it bound with the novel. It appears to be from page 142, 143, of FANTASY. (Could it be that the name of the fanzine was changed?) It is under the headline, SPILLING THE ATOMS WITH RAP. Details as to how many readers voted in this poll, or just how the mathematical calculations were made are not given. But there the polls stands with each of the 17 authors judged according to the likes or dislikes of the readers. I will not refer to their standings except to say that Merritt came first and Smith second. The last 6 lines on page 142 and all of page 143 are devoted to a discussion of this poll and the comments are most interesting. The fifth comment was of considerable moment to me, “That someone has been wrong in stating that Keller’s homilies are losing their popularity. Babies, it seems are still his own particular ‘art’.” I believe that I have more babies per square story than any other writer, living or dead, and in my last novel, THE HOMONCULUS, one of the main characters, and the only reason for writing the novel, is a most charming baby.
There is the story of COSMOS, a definite adventure in literature. I do not know how many fans have a bound volume. I know that those who visit me, Spencer, Swanson, Moskowitz, the Baltimore MacInneses, the charming Tullises, Joe Kennedy and others will look over my copy with interest. I will watch carefully to prevent them from taking it away from my library.
After all, it is worth more than $20 to me!