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The Rim of Space on Audio

Blackstone Audio have release The Rim of Space on Audio as part of A Galaxy Trilogy VOL. 4

Fantasy Review

He Wrote 'The Rats Tale'

A. BERTRAM CHANDLER, Master Mariner and Science Fiction Author, tells how he launched himself into print, in an interview with THOMAS SHERIDAN.

For a new British writer to take third place in a “Best Stories of the Year” poll by American science fiction readers, and to rate seventh among the most popular magazine authors of 1945, is enough to give A. Bertram Chandler a fair claim to fame in the sphere of fantasy fiction. At least, he’ll admit it’s a good start.

Author of what has become known to Astounding Science-Fiction followers as “the rats tale” - more accurately, “Giant Killer” - Chandler made his debut in that magazine less than two years ago, as a result of making a personal call on Editor John W. Campbell. His first MS. was, in fact, delivered by hand, at the end of one of his frequent transatlantic trips as a Merchant Navy officer during the war. And most of his stories’ have been written on the high seas; perhaps that is why they have that salty flavour.

Raised in Beccles, Suffolk, Chandler left school to start his education as apprentice to a tramp steamer line, which gave him a glimpse of most of the seven seas and some of the world’s most colourful ports. By the time he had risen to Second Mate he had had his fill ‘of tramps, and worked a spell ashore until he ioined Shaw Savill Lines as Fourth Officer in ‘37, to collect more local colour on regular voyages to and from Australasia.

War came, and with it the task of keeping Britain’s larder stocked with provender from New Zealand and U.S.A. More often than not, his ship was westbound-which meant that New York became the second home of Second Officer Chandler, whose off-watch hours were divided between studying his beloved navigation and reading and writing science fiction.

He had always had a yen to write as well as to roam, and had done some light verse and humorous pieces for Nautical Magazine. And an appetite for fantasy, instilled in childhood by reading of Verne, Wells and Lester Bidston, re-awakened by odd encounters with the Gernsback magazines, and finally satisfied by Street and Smith’s Astounding, naturally led to the urge to write science fiction.

But when, in 1942, the slim, trim-uniformed British officer was admitted to the editorial sanctum of John W. Campbell, it was simply ‘with the idea of seeing the helmsman of his favourite magazine in the flesh. As he
himself put it:

“Having been a faithful reader for years, I thought I might qualify for the experience, and that the uniform would stand me in good stead, It did. Campbell was charming, and when he heard I had ideas of writing, suggested I try my hand at a short story or two. Not yet being the proud possessor of my Master’s ticket, and having plenty of swotting to do, I thought the notion fantastic, though the prospect intrigued me.

“Six months later, when I had become a Master Mariner-at least, on paper-and was again in New York, I bought ‘The Books of Charles Fort’ for light reading on our outward passage. That gave me an idea for a story, which I slowly and painfully pecked out on the’ way to New Zealand.”

Homeward bound and calling at New York, he sallied ashore to lay his offering on Campbell’s desk. Said he: “I thought you might like to see this. I suppose I had better leave a stamped envelope?” Said Campbell, with a smile: “Don’t ‘worry. I’ll send it back.”

But the editor didn’t have any regrets. Awaiting Chandler on his return home was a letter accepting “This Means War,” which duly appeared in May ‘44 Astounding. He followed it up with an article on the magnetic compass (“The Perfect Machine,” January, ‘45): since when he has placed ten more stories with the same magazine, has also appeared as George Whitley (name of one of his Astounding characters) in Thrilling Wonder Stories and the American Short Stories.

“In the latter case,” he explained, “they weren’t fantasy, but sea stories-though my readers may say the same about most of my science fiction, which admittedly has a seagoing set-up and is built on my belief that space navigation will, when it comes, be much the same as sea navigation to-day. I feel that the astronaut will be more like the present-day seaman than the aviator, and that long voyages by men cooped up in great metal prisons will
have the same end results whether they be ocean ships or space ships.”

Hence “Golden Journey” (June, ‘45), “Special Knowledge” (February, ‘46), “Stability” (July, ‘46), and other Astounding pieces; not forgetting “Giant Killer” (October, ‘45), his biggest and best to date-and his own favourite creation.

“It was written three times before it was accepted. I got the idea on a voyage when we seemed to carry more rats than cargo. They got in my hair, and I fell to thinking what might happen on a rat-infested spaceship given a spot of mutation. First I wrote the story from the viewpoint of the crew of another spaceship which ran into a derelict in a cock-eyed orbit around the Sun. I gave it a trick ending; didn’t mention rats until the last sentence.

“Editor Campbell didn’t care for the ending, and asked me to re-write it from the viewpoint of the crew of the derelict on which the rats had mutated. I made it a Russian rocket, stressed the irony of the Comrades atop the mess of mutinous mutants, and called it ‘The Rejected.’ There was some strong love interest, too.

“It lived up to its title. I learned that Astounding was neither ‘Fantastic Romances’ nor the ‘Daily Worker,’ and would I please do it once more-this time from the angle of the rats themselves. I did-and it made the grade. The other two versions may yet see print; at least, the original story has been accepted for a British magazine.”

Chandler’s sly humour, and the dogged persistence with which he has mastered the writing business, are reflected in the challenging titles of some of his tales. “The Rejected” Is still unsold, but “One Came Back” (Thrilling Wonder, Fall, ‘45) and “Boomerang” both stayed put; the latter will appear in Famous Fantastic Mysteries. “Traveller’s Tale” will be his next In Wonder, and others are due in New Worlds, Outlands and Fantasy. He has also been featured in the Australian Man, under the pseudonym, Andrew

Ashore at Napier, N.Z, last June, he addressed the local Rotarians on the possibilities of atomic power, told them all about science fiction and Robert Heinlein’s prophetic tales of atomic warfare. On his visits to New York, he made friends with several writers as well as editors, meeting Sprague de Camp, George 0. Smith, Theodore Sturgeon and Murray Leinster.

But his greatest encouragement to more and better story-telling is the helpful criticism of his wife Joan, who “likes fantasy, but isn’t half
so Impressed with the work of Bertram Chandler as Bertram Chandler is.”
Originally Published in Fantasy Review No: 1 - Feb/Mar 1947