Wednesday, November 02, 2016

James Rosenquest: Man or Pseudoman? [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

If you read a lot of old SF mags like I do, you will surely come across names you aren’t familiar with. A quick look on ISFDB usually tells me which major writers or associate editors wrote the story under a pseudonym. Some that did a lot of this were Paul W Fairman, Milton Lesser, David Wright O’Brien, Randall Garrett, and Henry Kuttner. I mean somebody had to write all those Will Garth, CH Thames, Alexander Blade, and Ivor Jorgenson stories, right? But occasionally, just once in a while, you come across a name that wasn’t a pseudonym and you wonder: who was this wordsmith who wrote a half dozen stories, then gave up the game?

Such a writer for me is James Rosenquest. Never heard of him, right? Nor are you ever likely to. Unlike Cordwainer Smith, who is a pseudonymous author who began in the low-to-no-pay magazines, James Rosenquest is no genius waiting to be discovered. In fact, most of his stories appeared in Super-Science Fiction, one of the worst SF publications of the 1950s. At the end of the magazine’s run, for five issues in a row, James Rosenquest provided a story in a magazine filled with writers who would become famous in the decade ahead: Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and Jack Vance, as well as a few old pros like Isaac Asimov and Robert Bloch. The magazine was filled with hastily composed stories written on auto-pilot (Silverberg was pumping out 10,000 words a day) or unsellable clunkers from the reject pile. But neither necessarily applies to Rosenquest, as he was not a regular contributor elsewhere.

Are the James Rosenquest stories so bad? Obviously, this is a matter of taste. I enjoy monster fiction, so the cheesy, gigantic beasties and killer robots are right up my alley. The big magazines were Astounding, Galaxy and Fantasy & Science Fiction. I personally find '50s Astounding even more dull than '40s Astounding; Galaxy has many individual gems, but also many stories that haven’t dated well. Only Fantasy & Science Fiction remains enjoyable to read and that is because it was intended as a fairly literary mag from the beginning, so I don’t go there for my monster thrills. (That being said, they did publish Fritz Leiber’s “The Pale Brown Thing,” the novella that became Our Lady of Darkness in 1977.)

The bigger question for me is: who was James Rosenquest? No famous author has claimed him or been found out to be him, so we have to assume he was an actual person. The Internet guides say little. SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says of the Rosenquest story “Dreadnight” in Shock Mystery Tales:
“…No notable authors appeared, at least not under their actual names; suspicions of multiple pseudonyms are fueled by the fact that bylines tend to be unique to this magazine (an exception being James Rosenquest, with previous credits in Super-Science Fiction and Fantastic Universe)…”
One possibility was that Rosenquest was WW Scott, the editor of the magazine. Quite often, when an editor can’t find enough material, he will write some himself, usually under a pseudonym. Harry Bates did it as Anthony Gilmore. Ray Palmer was Edgar Rice Burroughs knock-off JW Pelkie. Howard Browne was no less than twelve different pseudonyms. The same company did not own the three magazines that Rosenquest appeared in. Super-Science Fiction was published by Headline, Shock Mystery Tales by Pontiac, and Fantastic Universe by Leo Marguiles. Scott worked on Man-To-Man for Official Com Inc. in 1950, before heading to Headline where he edited Trapped (1956-60) and Guilty along with Super-Science Fiction.

Lawrence Bloch tells on the Mystery Scene website:
“…Manhunt was hard to hit, but WW Scott bought a batch of stories from me for his alternating bimonthlies, Trapped and Guilty. He paid a cent and a half a word, and the stories he passed on went to Pontiac Publications, where the rate was a cent a word….”
Since the Super-Science Fiction stories appear first, Scott may have written them at the magazine’s end, then kept the pseudonym when he wrote stories for the other two. What makes this unlikely is that Scott has no writing credits under his own name like most SF editors did, and he stayed on with Headline for at least two more years. Why sell to the competition? Why write SF at all, since the majority of his work was in men’s and mystery magazines? It is unlikely James Rosenquest was WW Scott.

I did a little poking around and found another author with the name J Wesley Rosenquest, who appeared in Weird Tales with “Return to Death” (January 1936) and “The Secret of the Vault” (May 1938). Did the J stand for James? Was Rosenquest a Weird Tales reader who contributed two stories as a teenager (perhaps) then went off to college and work, but returned to the typewriter in 1959? Who knows? I did some reading and a little detective work and came to this conclusion: it is quite possible they are the same writer. They both like semi-colons (but less in 1959, which could be a sign of improvement on a young writer.) They both see horror as a scientifically explained scenario rather than a supernatural one. In “Return to Death," a university-trained nobleman becomes paralyzed only to recover and be staked as a vampire by his less educated villagers. “The Secret of the Vault” has less obvious science to it, with weird eldritch tomes, but for all its talk of the liquid of essence, it isn’t so far away either. If J Wesley is James, his style became more dialogue-oriented, his SF themes more hackneyed, and in the end, not much of a better writer. The poor ending of “The Secret in the Vault” could come from the same one who wrote the poor ending of “Man-Hunting Robot.” (Despite this, it appears “The Secret of the Vault” was used for an episode of The Night Gallery in 1972, called “You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Milikin” starring Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.)

Whether James Rosenquest was WW Scott, a pseudonymous writer, or J. Wesley Rosenquest, we may never know. What we do know is it that James Rosenquest wrote seven tales that stand or fall on their own merits. I personally found them worth a read, though no tears at the thought of him hanging up his quill pen in 1962.

“Horror in Space” (Super-Science Fiction, February 1959)
“The Huge and Hideous Beasts” (Super-Science Fiction, April 1959)
“Creatures of Green Slime” (Super-Science Fiction, June 1959)
“Man-Hunting Robot” (Super-Science Fiction, August 1959)
“Asteroid of Horror” (Super-Science Fiction, October 1959)
“Rope” (Fantastic Universe, February 1960)
“Dreadnight” (Shock Mystery Tales, October 1962)

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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