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van Dresser, Peter

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1909-1983) US ecology pioneer and Rocket experimenter who also wrote sf, with eight stories published in the 1930s, though his contribution is now almost forgotten since only one was in a genre magazine. He was editor of Astronautics, Journal of the American Rocket Society, a member of their Experiment Committee, and one of a number of authors who pledged a portion of their story earnings to the Experiment Fund. He performed his own experiments; his papers from that period are in the Smithsonian. Van Dresser stopped writing fiction in the late 1930s, around the time he left the ARS on political grounds; he devoted the rest of his life to promoting environmentally friendly lifestyles and published nonfiction books on this subject [not listed here].

His first sf story was "South Polar Beryllium, Limited" (August 1930 Amazing), about the problems of mining in Antarctica. He soon moved to the better-paying boys' magazines Boys' Life and Youth's Companion Combined With The American Boy (hereafter American Boy). "Power Island" (December 1931-February 1932 Boys' Life) is a tour of a power-plant way station for trans-Pacific flights (see Power Sources). "Great Circle" (January-February 1933 Boys' Life) describes the test flight of a sub-orbital Rocket. These first stories were technically-minded Hard SF, but he changed to a more Space-Opera style for American Boy, where his Spaceship stories would not have been out of place in any of the genre magazines. Captain Aiken appeared in both "Outbound to Jupiter" (March 1935 American Boy) and "Rocket to the Sun" (July 1939 American Boy), both featuring daring ship rescues. Space Cook Timothy 'awkins was the feature character in the lighter-toned "Plum Duff" (December 1935 American Boy) and "By Virtue of Circumference" (November 1937 American Boy). All his stories pit man against nature rather than man against man. "The Jeep Special" (May 1939 Boys' Life), not really sf, is a lighthearted boy-inventor story about a model aeroplane contest.

Peter van Dresser published no books of fiction, but three of his best stories – "By Virtue of Circumference", "Plum Duff" and "Rocket to the Sun" – are reprinted in The Year After Tomorrow (anth 1954) edited by Lester del Rey, Cécile Matschat (?1895-1976) and Carl Carmer (1893-1976). Nonfiction articles of interest include "The Conquest of Outer Space: An Approach to Astronautics" (September 1935 Harpers), "Why Rockets Don't Fly" (October 1938 Astounding), "50 Miles Straight Up" (December 1938 American Boy) and "Let's Leave Earth" (January 1939 American Boy) – both as told to editor/interviewer Franklin M Reck – and "Introduction to a Nameless Science" (June 1940 Astounding). [ELM]

Peter Hendrick van Dresser

born New York: 28 September 1909

died Santa Fe, New Mexico: 20 June 1983

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