Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Wollheim, Donald A

Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Author, Editor, Fan.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1914-1990) US editor and author, and one of the first and most vociferous sf fans; with Forrest J Ackerman, Wollheim was perhaps the most dynamic member of the embryo Fandom of the 1930s. A lifetime resident of New York City, he published innumerable Fanzines, was co-editor of the early semiprozine Fanciful Tales of Time and Space in 1936, founded the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), and was one of the founders in 1938 of the Futurians, becoming deeply involved in its pursuits and feuds. His long-standing quarrel with James Blish began at this time; he does not mention Blish in his anecdotal History of SF, The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today (1971), whose premises reflect 1930s enthusiasm about sf as an form of advocacy of a science- and Technology-driven history (see Future Histories). As carried over into the 1970s, this pattern of conviction clearly fuelled his comments on the negative effects of the New Wave on the Genre SF to which he remained patriotically loyal (see Optimism and Pessimism). The long-held mutual animosity between Wollheim and Blish was also partially rooted in differences that could be sourced in Politics, though in their case more explicitly than surfaced in his expressions of disavowal in 1971, for in the years before World War Two Wollheim clearly stood far to the left of the spectrum and Blish clearly stood far to the right. Aspects of his role and the positions he took are reflected in his Operation Phantasy: The Best from the Phantagraph (anth 1967 chap), a collection of early fanzine material; his part in early fandom was also extensively chronicled in The Immortal Storm (essays 1945-1953 Fantasy Commentator; incomplete version 1951 mimeograph; full version 1954) by Sam Moskowitz, and in The Futurians (1977) by Damon Knight.

Wollheim's first published story was "The Man from Ariel" for Wonder Stories in January 1934 (for which Hugo Gernsback notoriously did not pay him until threatened with court action), but he did not begin to publish fiction with any regularity until the 1940s. For his short stories he often used the pseudonyms Millard Verne Gordon and Martin Pearson, as well as the collaborative pseudonyms Arthur Cooke and Lawrence Woods; two solo stories appeared as by Allen Warland. As Pearson he published the story "Mimic" (December 1942 Astonishing Stories) – filmed as Mimic (1997) directed by Guillermo Del Toro – and the Ajax Calkins series which later formed the basis of his novel Destiny's Orbit (1962) as by David Grinnell, sequelled by Destination: Saturn (1967) as by Grinnell with Lin Carter. Wollheim's fiction in the 1950s and 1960s divided into adult novels as by David Grinnell, none being any more remarkable than the Calkins sequence; and Children's SF published under his own name. The Mike Mars series of children's books, efficiently exploring different facets of the space programme, was popular; it comprised Mike Mars, Astronaut (1961), Mike Mars Flies the X-15 (1961), Mike Mars at Cape Canaveral (1961; vt Mike Mars at Cape Kennedy 1966), Mike Mars in Orbit (1961), Mike Mars Flies the Dyna-Soar (1962), Mike Mars, South Pole Spaceman (1962), Mike Mars and the Mystery Satellite (1963) and Mike Mars around the Moon (1964). The stand-alone The Secret of the Ninth Planet (1959) features a melodramatic tour of the solar system whose ultimate destination is Pluto (see Outer Planets).

By the beginning of the 1940s, however, fiction began to become a useful sideline, for Wollheim had already embarked on his editorial career, which would become his major (and justified) claim to pre-eminence in the sf field. In 1941 he was made editor of Cosmic Stories and Stirring Science Stories, both of which he produced creditably on a minute budget, publishing many stories by his fellow Futurians (most prolifically C M Kornbluth). He also compiled two pioneering sf Anthologies: The Pocket Book of Science Fiction (anth 1943) – the first book to contain the words "science fiction" in its title – and The Portable Novels of Science (anth/omni 1945), the first true sf Omnibus. After World War Two he worked for Avon Books (1947-1952), for whom he edited the Avon Fantasy Reader and the Avon Science Fiction Reader series [which we treat in this encyclopedia as comprising both magazine- and Anthology-like characteristics; see Checklist, therefore, for titles]; as well as Out of This World Adventures, 10 Story Fantasy and, uncredited, the first sf Original Anthology, The Girl with the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories (anth 1949). He subsequently moved from Avon to Ace Books in 1952, where he created and for the next twenty years ran one of the two or three most dominant US sf lists of those decades, the others being Ballantine Books and Doubleday; he won a 1964 Hugo for his work. Taking advantage of the Ace Double Novel format (see Dos-à-Dos), he published the first or very early works of many writers who later achieved fame, including Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Brunner, Samuel R Delany, Philip K Dick, Thomas M Disch, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K Le Guin, Robert Silverberg and Roger Zelazny, though the bulk of the list was cannily built around colourful sf adventures with a strong emphasis on Space Opera; his piracy of J R R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in 1965 may have been sharp practice, but was clearly instrumental in making Tolkien a household name by the end of that decade. By 1970, however, the Ace list had begun to fade seriously, though it is clear in hindsight (see discussion of DAW Books below) that the firm – under new ownership with controversial accountancy principles ensuring the non-payment of authors except upon demand – had begun to drift; he himself had lost nothing of his acumen. During the 1950s he also worked editorially on the magazines Orbit and Saturn, and edited a great many anthologies, often for Ace; these included such theme collections as The End of the World (anth 1956), Men on the Moon (anth 1958 dos; exp 1969) and The Hidden Planet (anth 1959), the latter being of stories set on Venus. There were many more [see Checklist] until the 1970s.

In 1971, Wollheim left Ace and in 1972 he founded DAW Books, which he continued to run until 1985, when ill-health induced him to appoint his daughter, Betsy Wollheim – a DAW associate editor since 1975 – as president. With his new firm, he began almost immediately to loosen the format and content constraints that had increasingly plagued his later career at Ace: series were emphasized heavily; old-style Space Opera gave way to Planetary Romance; authors like C J Cherryh and Tanith Lee, who were comfortable with Science Fantasy, were strongly encouraged; and he allowed authors like M A Foster very considerable latitude (compared with his days at Ace) to experiment, and to explore moderately Taboo areas (John Norman moved over from Ballantine Books, presumably to take advantage of this liberty) and to write at very varying lengths. Though he continued not to pay well enough to retain best-selling authors, he kept his firm healthy and active for the remaining years of his career.

In 1965, Wollheim had begun to issue an annual "year's best" anthology, World's Best Science Fiction; this continued until the end of his life in an unbroken yearly succession, although there was some highly confusing retitling, occasioned in part by his shift from Ace to DAW Books. The first phase of the sequence began with World's Best Science Fiction: 1965 (anth 1965; vt World's Best Science Fiction: First Series 1970) with Terry Carr, and ended with World's Best Science Fiction: 1971 (anth 1971) with Terry Carr (who served as co-editor for all intervening volumes as well). After the switch to DAW, the sequence continued with The 1972 Annual World's Best SF (anth 1972; vt Wollheim's World's Best SF: Series One 1977) with Arthur W Saha, ending with The 1990 Annual World's Best SF (anth 1990) with Arthur W Saha (who served as co-editor for all intervening volumes as well). [For all titles see Checklist.]

For fifty years Wollheim remained one of the most important editorial influences on sf, and in his later years – despite his very well known capacity to carry on disputes half a century old – he became a revered figure. His death marked – as clearly as those of Isaac Asimov and Robert A Heinlein – the passing of the generation of the founders. He was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002. [JC/MJE]

see also: Critical and Historical Works About SF; Galactic Empires; Golden Age of SF; Great and Small; Near Future; Publishing.

Donald Allen Wollheim

born New York: 1 October 1914

died New York: 2 November 1990



Mike Mars

Ajax Calkins

individual titles



works as editor


Avon Fantasy Reader

Avon Science-Fiction Reader

The Avon Fantasy Reader

Annual World's Best SF

individual titles as editor


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies