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Aural Delights Nov 2008

The A Bertram Chandler Story UFO is now available as an audio podcast from Starship Sofa Aural Delights No 48

Chicon - IV 1982
(Cover Kelly Freas)

Chicon - IV 1982


I was born on March 28, 1912, in Aldershot, in the county of Hampshire, in England. Most of my earlier years, however, were spent in the small market town of Beccles, in Suffolk. (Just in case anybody is interested, Beccles is the birthplace of David Frost.) I was exposed to education first at the Peddars Lane Council School and then at the Sir John Leman Secondary School which was founded by John Leman during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. I pride myself on my collection of neckties-British Merchant Navy, three major shipping companies, one learned society-but an Old School Tie I do not possess, although I could obtain one if I so desired. The reason for this is that I am not one of those who regard their schooldays as the happiest days of their lives.

Had I not succeeded in becoming the Headmaster’s bete noir I should probably have matriculated and stood a going chance of good on to a university, in which case I should have become an industrial or research chemist. As it was, my promotion to a higher form being blocked, I left school at the age of 16 to go to sea as an apprentice in the Sun Shipping Company (known to its personnel as the Bum Shipping Company) of London.

This was a tramp concern, its few ships engaged mainly upon Indian coastal trades, although there were occasional wanderings elsewhere in the Far East and, although very infrequently, to Australia, the U.S.A., the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean. (While I was with them just once to Australia - to Fremantle - and just once to the U.S.A., to New Orleans and Houston).

Having completed my four years’ apprenticeship, I studied and sat for my Certificate of Competency as Second Mate of a Foreign Going Steamship and rejoined the service of the Sun Shipping Company as third officer. After a further three years, mainly on the Indian coast-and on the Calcutta coal trade at that-I’d had tramps in a big way. After a spell ashore working at various odd jobs, I joined the Shaw Savill line as fourth officer. Shaw Savill - a very old company that now seems to have gone into its decline-maintained passenger and cargo services from England to Australia and New Zealand. Whilst in their employ, I became very well acquainted with the part of the world in which I was eventually to take up residence-also, during World War II when the Shaw Savill’s vessels deviated from their well - worn tramlines, I came to know New York quite well.

My first visit to New York was shortly after Pearl Harbor. On a later visit, greatly daring, I decided to visit the editor of my favourite magazine, Astounding Science Fiction. At our first meeting, John Campbell complained that he was very short of material and suggested that I become one of his contributors. I thought that he had to be kidding; nonetheless, the next time in New York I had for him a 4,000 word short story - This Means War - that it had taken me all of a fortnight to peck out of my ancient Remington. Finally back in London - we’d crossed the Atlantic in a very slow convoy-I found a letter, and a cheque, waiting for me.

That started me off. For the remainder of the war years, I wrote mainly for Astounding. John, in those days, would ask his contributors to use a nom-de-plume when submitting to other magazines, so Astounding rejects sold elsewhere would cany the George Whitley byline in the U.K. and U.S.A. and that of Andrew Dunstan in Australia.

Then the war was over and, shortly thereafter, I got as high as I was destined to get in the Shaw Savill service - chief officer. My last ship in their employ was a cargo-passenger liner, and in her, during a voyage from Liverpool to Sydney, I met the lady who was to become my second wife. Resignation from Shaw Savill, emigration to Australia, divorce, remarriage, a fresh start.

I joined the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand - like Shaw Savill, a very old company and, also like Shaw Savill, one that seems to have gone into its decline and fall - as third officer. Most of my service was in ships under the Australian flag, although my first command, Kanna, was of New Zealand registry. Australian coastal trades, New Zealand coastal trades, trans-Tasman, Pacific Islands... Some of my experiences I have used in fiction, some have yet to be used. The things that happen to me should happen only to John Grimes. (They usually do, eventually, sometimes - but not always - slightly improved upon.)

Ah, yes. Grimes. Somehow he just sort of happened - a minor character at first and then taking charge. And always one jump ahead in rank. When I was still chief officer he was Captain Grimes. When I was made master he was Commodore Grimes. When I was sort of honorary commodore he was made an honorary admiral. When my wife wants to annoy me she refers to him as Hornblower.

My ambition is to write the Australian science fiction novel, Kelly Country. This will be one of those alternate universe efforts, a world in which Ned Kelly - freedom fighter as well as bushranger - successfully fights the Australian War of Independence and founds a dynasty. And just as George Washington had his British shipmaster, John Paul Jones, to handle the naval side of things, Ned Kelly will have his British shipmaster, John Grimes, to do likewise.

Grimes - the original Grimes, not his nineteenth century ancestor - has already been involved with Ned Kelly. This was in Grimes at Glenrowan, written for Isaac Asimov’s, the first of the Kitty and the Commodore series. (In the third story, Grimes Among the Gourmets, I draw heavily upon my recent experiences in Japan.)

Nonetheless, at times I can sympathize with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who killed off Sherlock Holmes and then was pressured by his readers to resurrect him. Quite often I have toyed with the idea of sending Grimes on Long Service Leave. There have been two non-Grimes novels written during the last few years. One, The Bitter Pill, was published only in Australia and failed to find a market elsewhere. The other, Selemsatta Rising, has been bounced by everybody.

Perhaps if I rewrite it, with Grimes as the protagonist, it will sell...

Notes on Grimes

Like Gaul, Grimes is divided into three parts - Early, Middle and Late. The novels and short stories featuring Grimes were not written in the correct chronological order career-wise. Only one publisher, Hayakawa Shobo of Tokyo, has endeavoured to sort matters out.

Early Grimes

All these cover Grimes’ Survey Service career, from Ensign to Commander.

The Road To The Rim

To Prime The Pump

The Hard Way Up

The Broken Cycle

Spartan Planet

The Inheritors

The Big Black Mark

Middle Grimes

All these deal with Grimes’ life and hard times subsequent to his resignation from the Federation Survey Service and prior to his becoming a citizen of the Rim Worlds Confederacy.

This period keeps stretching...

The Far Traveller

Star Courier

To Keep The Ship

Matilda’s Stepchildren

Star Loot

The Anarch Lords

Find The Lady (
Eventually published as The Last Amazon)

Late Grimes

Probably there will be one or two Late Grimes novels prior to Into The
Alternate Universe
and at least one subsequent to The Way Back.

Into The Alternate Universe

Contraband From Other Space

The Rim Gods

Alternate Orbits