I’ll say at the start that this is about as obscure as it gets in spelunking fan history. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if we’re exploring the fringe of the fringe of the fringe, and if anybody will care. We’re sitting in a metaphorical hole in an allegorical desert with an analogous toothbrush, attempting to discern if the illustrative grey lump we’re delicately brushing at is an ancient pot… or an ancestor’s bone… or… ya, crap… it’s just a rock. In this case, we think what we’ve unearthed is at least a pretty cool rock.
If you subscribed to Fantasy Magazine in 1934 and anxiously tore open the February issue that had just landed in your mailbox, you might have been excited to see that it included the next chapter of Cosmos, the ambitious serial novel orchestrated by Raymond A. Palmer and the staff. This installment was number nine of seventeen, penned by Abner J. Gelula. Menace of the Automoton revealed the rise of a race of domineering robots on Earth. It drew its heritage from Gelula’s first published story, Automoton, that appeared in the November 1931 issue of Amazing Stories.
This whole Cosmos thing was a pretty remarkable stunt for the mostly-teenaged editors to pull off. The relationships they established with professional writers through this effort would serve them well later in life. But getting it done wasn’t easy. They weren’t paying for the chapters, and some of the authors didn’t meet their commitments. For example, in the December 1933 issue of Science Fiction Digest, Palmer announced:
“With this writing comes the sad word that Miles J. Breuer is confined to a sanatarium, with a nervous breakdown from overwork. This means that the doctor, loved by all science fiction fans, will not be able to write his part for COSMOS.
This is certainly a great loss to the super-serial COSMOS, and to us, who love his writings, and we will have no time to replace him with a writer equaling him in reputation, but we have secured the services of Miss Rae Winters, who wrote “The Girl from Venus” and its sequel, which you will read in this magazine in the near future. Miss Rae Winters shows extreme promise and I am sure she will develop into a fine writer.“
“Miss Rae Winters” was unsurprisingly a pseudonym for Palmer himself. He’d stepped in to write the chapter that perhaps had driven Breuer to madness. A great risk and sacrifice! And a shameless self-promotion.
Anyway. If you read the rest of the February 1934 issue, you’d eventually come to page 30 and the regular column titled “The Editor Broadcasts.” This was ostensibly penned by Conrad H. Ruppert, but could have been written by anyone on the staff. Oddly, the first paragraph of the column was crudely redacted in black ink.
A mystery! Something had occurred between printing and publication that simply had to be erased. The few tantalizing letters visible at the end weren’t enough to give even a hint.
We’re delighted and relieved to report that this troubling gap in the historical record has now been plugged. In a copy of this issue bound into a volume for Palmer, we see a version of this page where the redaction is transparent enough to allow it to be read.
If you don’t want to squint, it says:
“For some unexplained reason Abner J. Gelula failed to send in his chapter to COSMOS. Repeated letters and postcards have brought forth no reply. We are very sorry that our readers must again be disappointed and trust that you will enjoy Wallace Wray Quitman’s offering, which is being introduced in place of the part originally scheduled for Mr. Gelula.”
We can only guess that the promised chapter arrived just in time to be printed separately and bound with the issue. We can also surmise the identity of “Wallace Wray Quitman.” If Palmer ever actually wrote the replacement chapter, it has likely been lost to history. If it turns up, we’ll be sure to share it.
You can read more than you’ve ever wanted to know about Cosmos at The Cosmos Project.
Coming soon from First Fandom Experience are facsimile volumes reprinting the full runs of Science Fiction Digest, Fantasy Magazine and the Cosmos inserts. You can read more about that here.