Anthony Boucher & I Discuss Pseudonyms

Their names are Legion, for they are many.

According to The Illustrated Book Of Science Fiction Lists (edited by Mike Ashley for Virgin Books in 1982) E.C. (Ted) Tubb has 45 pseudonyms credited to him, Robert Silverberg is well behind with 25, Henry Kuttner further back yet with 18, while Cyril Korthbluth trails with a mere 13.

I suspect that in this, the future world of today, the question the above information raises is not why so many pseudonyms but why any at all? I know that when I were a lad it was a given that authors used pseudonyms all the time while we, their audience, didn’t but nowadays it seems to be very much the opposite. So yes, I can understand why the above numbers might seem inexplicable to many of you.

So why were authors fond of pseudonyms once upon a time? Luckily for us editor, author, and co-founder of The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Anthony Boucher, decided to offer some explanation in Rhodomagnetic Digest #2, published by George Blumenson in August 1949 for The Elves’, Gnomes’ & Little Men’s Science-Fiction Chowder & Marching Society. Boucher was certainly qualified to write on this topic since his real name was William Anthony Parker White. As to why somebody who had been given so many names already decided to add Anthony Boucher and H.H. Holmes to the collection, well according to William Anthony Parker White he used these pseudonyms for reasons 2 & 5 as explained below.

So now on to Mr Boucher and why authors so often used something other than their real names back in the day:

The reasons for adopting a pseudonym are many, and the simplest is that the author’s proper name may be unsuitable as a by-line. Anyone christened Hieronymus Zuckerswilling is obviously going to adopt a pseudonym; and so is anyone unfortunate enough to have a perfectly good name which somebody else has already made famous. A pseudonym is convenient , too, for avoiding the multiple by-line of a collaboration; Ellery Queen and Q. Patrick are good examples. And occasionally a woman adopts a male name to avoid anti-feminine prejudice, though more often, like C. L. Moore, she uses initials.

But we’ll concentrate here, not on the cases in which all of an author’s published work appears under a pseudonym, but on the cases, especially frequent in fantasy fiction, in which the same writer’s stories appear under two or more different by-lines. The principle reasons for this are:

1.  To distinguish two different types of work — for instance fiction and serious articles; or terror and humour.

2.  To keep series characters and events straight – so that all the stories under one name are part of the same series.

3.  To please different publishers — so that each has an ‘exclusive’ name author.

4.  To differentiate markets — for instance, one name for slicks and another for pulps; or a separate name for selling rejects to poor markets without damaging the well-established name.

5. To use when two stories appear in the same issue of the same magazine — as frequently happens when an author is selling heavily to one market.

6. Allied to 5. is the problem of the ‘house name’ — a name owned by the publisher. This is legitimate enough when, as in The Shadow, a freelance series is supposedly all written by the same non-existent ‘author’. It’s more questionable when the house name is simply stuck on a story of any type by anybody when there are two by one writer in the same issue.

7. The oddest pseudonym-reason I know occurred in this wise: an extremely prolific writer was turning out so much that his own by-line had become almost meaningless; you never knew whether it indicated a small masterpiece or a trashy quicky. He adopted a pseudonym and henceforth published all his really good stories under that name, with the result that the pseudonym came to be one of the top names in the field, while the original by-line usually connotates a competent hack story.

Much as I find the above interesting I do think Boucher rather stumbled out of the gates with the idea that anybody’s given name might make for an unsuitable byline. Is Hieronymus Zuckerswilling any more unprintable than G. Peyton Wertenbaker, A. Hyatt Verrill, or Clare Winger Harris? The latter three all managed to have stories published with their own fairly elaborate names intact. I suspect that those same editors would do the same for Hieronymus Zuckerswilling just so long as he was giving those editors the sort of material they wanted.

On the other hand his point about the potential confusion of a well-known namesake being an irritant an author might want to avoid is a good one. I know for a fact that while I don’t hate the pop music of Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber if I was a published novelist who shared a name with either of them it would annoy me to have strangers mistake who wrote my golden prose. I’d have to use a more obscure name like John Lennon if that were the case.

I’ll also concede that collaborative authors using a pseudonym is tidier than multiple bylines (and also avoids the question of whose name should be first) and that there was a time when some editors, and some women, preferred the anonymity of male sounding pseudonyms, or at least the anonymity of initials. As recently as 1969 Ursula Le Guin reluctantly agreed to use the byline U.K. Le Guin when her story Nine Lives appeared in the November issue of Playboy.

However in regards to the meat of Boucher’s article, the seven principal reasons he lists, I am confused. Boucher was an editor and author for a long time so he obviously encountered many authors using pseudonyms for the reasons he gives but that doesn’t mean most of those reasons make much sense to me (even Boucher himself seems to question how some magazines used  house names).

Take the idea that an author would use a different name for a particular series of stories. Imagine for a moment that you’re the young Isaac Asimov, a rising star within the pages of John W. Campbell’s Astounding. Your stories, in particular those about robots, have proved quite popular, but now you have a new series in mind. This series will chart the rise and fall of a galactic wide empire and span millennia and it’s the grandest thing you’ve ever attempted. So of course you decide it can’t appear under your own name, it needs to be associated with a unique byline. So you ask Campbell to ensure that every Foundation story appears in Astounding as by Gaston Feeblehare. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me! Why give up the hard won selling power of your name in order to alert readers that a particular story belongs in a particular series. I’m pretty sure the average reader would be able to work this out for themselves. On the other hand Boucher does point out that Robert Heinlein used pseudonyms as a means to keep series characters and events straight though not in the way Boucher explained. According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia Heinlein had his non-Future History stories published under the Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, and Caleb Saunders bylines so clearly there are cases where my brand name argument fails to apply (I still think it’s a silly idea).

Using different names for different types of work also seems to me to be giving up the hard won selling power of your name for no real gain. Would it really affect an author’s ability to sell factual articles if they were known for their science fiction? If E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith or Robert Heinlein had decided to write articles for the hot rod magazines back in the fifties would the editors insist they do so under a pseudonym? This seems unlikely to me, indeed I suspect said editors would want to be associated with previous success by mentioning Smith and Heinlein’s science fiction careers.

Just as an aside Asimov did use the pseudonym Paul French when he wrote his Lucky Starr series of SF juveniles. At first this seems like a perfect example of an author doing exactly as Boucher explained. However it seems Asimov wasn’t inexplicably refusing to use his name power for no reason. According to various sources he decided to hide behind the name Paul French because there was talk of the Luck Starr stories being turned into a TV series and Asimov apparently had no faith in the potential quality of such a series. Since he didn’t want the hard won selling power of his name sullied by the production values of a fifties TV show made for children Asimov hid his involvement behind the Paul French pen name in order to pull an Alan Smithee before that became a thing.

If however two different editors wanted an exclusive name for their magazines then why would an author argue with them? Did it make sense for editors to do this back in the day? It doesn’t seem like it would be worth the bother but then again I’m not such an expert on editorial practices back then that I can dismiss the idea out of hand. From the point of view of the author though I would think the right idea was take the cash and hope both markets prove successful. I know if somebody offered me enough money I’d be happy to write as Gaston Feeblehare (don’t get any ideas though, it would have to be a LOT of money).

That gets us to the different names for different markets category and this one makes more sense to me but for a reason Mr Boucher doesn’t mention, snobbery. From various comments I’ve read here and there it seems to me that some authors and editors didn’t care to be associated with certain genres. Examples of this include two different judges keeping secret what they did in the evening because at the time writing fiction wasn’t considered respectable; Fred Pohl mentioning in passing how none of the Futurian editors liked sport but all were editing sports pulps that he was very careful to not name any titles; A.E. Van Vogt admitting to writing for true adventures style pulps but giving no details. (For the record I can’t quote sources for any of this because these are things I read years ago when I didn’t realise I would need to quote them in a future article.)

In which case it wouldn’t surprise me if at one time the slick magazines preferred to hide authors who had made their names in the pulps behind pseudonyms. Slick magazines were printed on high-quality glossy paper and were designed to be bought by well to-do readers. As such the editors and publishers preferred to avoid association with the less refined pulp magazines. The pulps were printed on cheap, rough paper (hence the name pulp) and had a far more garish image. (However by the 50s magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Mademoiselle did relaxed their standards sufficiently to allow certain authors with pulp histories, such as Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, to grace their pages.

I also have the distinct impression that while many authors were willing to write fiction in more than one genre not all of them wanted this to be known. If this is correct then using a pseudonym for stories in the little favoured genre is a quick and easy solution to the situation. (Unfortunately I can’t think of any concrete examples to back this up so for the time being this will have to remain an unproven assertion.)

What is however easily provable is the use of the ‘house name’ in certain magazines. Again this is a practise the benefits of which I don’t always understand. Yes, as Boucher noted, it does make sense if multiple writers are using an intellectual property owned by the publisher. The Shadow wasn’t just a magazine published by Street & Smith, they also laid claim to the character and everything about him so while various authors contributed stories to the series the lead ‘novel’ was always published under the Maxwell Grant pseudonym.

However the other usual claim is that house names were used to conceal the fact that an editor might be using more than one story by a particular author in the same issue of a magazine. And again as Boucher noted, this is a rather questionable practise. I suppose it’s possible in such a situation an editor might arbitrarily assign a house name if there isn’t time to ask an author what pseudonym they would prefer (or because a particular editor doesn’t care what mere authors want). However disguising multiple stories by a single author in one issue doesn’t explain those occasions when editors used house names indiscriminately. For example at both Standard Magazines (Space Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories) and Ziff-Davis (Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures) multiple authors were published under the same house names. If there were good reasons for this practise I’m yet to discover them. I can’t see how the indiscriminate us of house names benefited anybody seeing as such a system surely didn’t encourage any of the authors concerned to submit their best. Anything published this way under a house name isn’t going to improve an author’s reputation, and indeed isn’t likely to harm it, so authors have every incentive to send to such editors the stories they can’t sell elsewhere. Mystifying.

That leaves me with only the last item on Boucher’s list to comment on. So who was the extremely prolific author who was writing so much of such varying quality that his name had become almost meaningless? It was Henry Kuttner and according to Anthony Boucher the pseudonym he began to publish all his best work under was Lewis Padgett. Which is true as far as that goes but it was extremely remiss of Boucher to not mention most, if not all, the Lewis Padgett stories were written to one degree or another in collaboration with C.L. Moore. I can’t believe Boucher didn’t know about the collaborative nature of this pseudonym so again I’m mystified as to why he didn’t mention it.

Now before I finish here is Will Fitzgerald Jenkins on why he used the name Murray Leinster. This appeared in Fantasy Magazine #26, published by Julius Schwartz in October/November 1934 and I think it lends some credence to my snobbery theory:

Murray Leinster, my pen name, was adopted because somebody flattered me. My first published stuff was sold to Smart Set when that magazine was edited by Nathan and Mencken (and some said God was a member of the firm) and was quite the hottest of the intellectual magazines. At least it seemed intellectual then.

Since they bought the first stuff I was ever paid for, I naturally thought them persons of brilliant discernment and wisdom. And being just out of short pants, I could be kidded. I think it was Mr. Nathan who suggested that I ‘save’ my own name for Smart Set and use a pseudonym for inferior publications.

At least Mr Nathan didn’t suggest Jenkins call himself Gaston Feeblehare (what a stupid name).