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Samachson, Joseph

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1906-1980) US research chemist who became a freelance author between 1938 and 1953 before returning to biochemistry, eventually retiring in 1973 after five years as Associate Clinical Professor of biochemistry at Loyola University, Chicago. His first story, "Bad Medicine" for Thrilling Wonder Stories in February 1941, was published as by William Morrison, under which name he wrote almost all his fiction of interest. Under the House Name Brett Sterling he wrote two Captain Future tales, "Worlds to Come" (Spring 1943 Captain Future) and The Tenth Planet (Spring 1944 Captain Future as "Days of Creation"; 1969). It is believed that Samachson may have written some of the "Sergeant Saturn" letter-column commentary in Captain Future and Startling Stories.

His contributions to science fiction fall into two halves. He wrote sporadically for the Pulp magazines between 1941 and 1944, chiefly for the Standard Magazines Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories under editors Mort Weisinger and Oscar J Friend. These early stories show his sense of humour, many being written somewhat tongue-in-cheek taking an ironic look at attitudes within society. In "The Man in the Moon" (July 1942 Startling) mankind loses an opportunity to better itself by rejecting its potential benefactor purely because it is an Alien. Likewise in "The Great Invasion" (March 1943 Startling Stories) a misunderstanding between humans and aliens almost ends in disaster. Also since 1941 Samachson had been writing for DC Comics and this began to dominate his work from 1944 through to the mid 1950s. He contributed stories to both Batman and Superman and created several characters of his own, notably Zatara, a master magician who could work real magic by saying things backwards, and, in 1955, J'onn J'onzz the Martian Manhunter, a Shapeshifter who is stranded on Earth from Mars and seeks to use his advanced knowledge and powers to fight crime.

Samachson returned to the sf magazines in the early 1950s. His cynicism was still present in "The Joker" (December 1951 Fantastic Adventures) where an alien with awesome powers causes havoc to a spaceship until it is sufficiently astonished by the absurdity of a politician's speech to let the ship go. However, he also responded to the demands for more mature sf, particularly from John W Campbell Jr and Horace L Gold. "The Sack" (September 1950 Astounding) explores what happens when humans discover an Alien being that is omniscient, but a more humane outlook appears in what came to be regarded as Morrison's best story, "Country Doctor" (in Star Science Fiction Stories, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl), where a doctor has to attend to a sick alien creature. He reversed this idea in "Bedside Manner" (May 1954 Galaxy) where an alien helps to rebuild the victim of an accident in space. Other stories of note include"The Addicts" (January 1952 Galaxy), which shows the effects on a married couple of isolation on an asteroid and "The Model of a Judge" (October 1953 Galaxy SF), which again explores the interaction between humans and aliens but at a deeper psychological level. Samachson continued to produce deceptively simple stories about the human/alien condition throughout the 1950s and yet most of his stories still betrayed a dark humour suggesting that throughout his writing career he was using sf to show human limitations. His last story, "A Feast of Demons" (March 1958 Galaxy) reworked the theme of the philosopher's stone in terms of the hypothetical Maxwell's Demon to show how humans might cope with an abundance of wealth and everlasting life (see also Thought Experiment; Time in Reverse).

Although he wrote two further lead novels for the magazines, "Two Worlds to Save" (September 1942 Startling Stories), a Space Opera set on Mercury, and "The Gears of Time" (April 1953 Space Stories) an early example of a Time Travel romance, Samachson published only one sf novel in book form, a juvenile, Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars (1954). He never assembled a volume selected from his eighty-or-so short stories and as a consequence his reputation faded. When Frederik Pohl, Martin H Greenberg and Joseph D Olander compiled Galaxy: 30 Years of Innovative Science Fiction (anth 1980), they remarked that Samachson was "one of the most shamefully neglected writers in the history of science fiction." [MA/JC]

Joseph Samachson

born Trenton, New Jersey: 13 October 1906

died Chicago, Illinois: 2 June 1980



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