Dr David H. Keller

(December 23, 1880 – 1966)

David H. Keller, M.D. was a physician and psychiatrist, a fan and a major early-30s sf writer writing primarily for the pulps.

He wrote for fanzines, so much that Bruce Robbins compiled and published a checklist of his Fanzine writing. Keller himself said, "During the past 25 years, I have contributed largely to [fanzines] and have never regretted it. The constant contact with youth has served to lessen the ravages of time. Many of my best friends were fanzine editors, While none ever asked me to serve as assistant editor, they all seemed to appreciate my efforts to make their magazines more interesting."

Keller was a frequent contributor to SF fanzines, including Chad Oliver's satirical one-shot zine, The Moon Puddle. Oliver later said that Keller contributed to The Moon Puddle “during a period when he was sending everything to fanzines.”

He attended Midwestcon 1 and Hydracon. He was a former N3F Life Member, whose book, The Sign of the Burning Heart, was published by NFFF Press in 1948. He was friendly and accommodating to fans and in 1966 (posthumously, unfortunately) he won both the Big Heart Award and First Fandom Hall of Fame. For the latter, only the third person inducted (after E. E. “Doc” Smith and Gernsback).

He usually published his fiction as David H. Keller, M.D., also used the pseudonyms of Monk Smith, Matthew Smith, Amy Worth, Henry Cecil, Cecilia Henry, and Jacobus Hubelaire. Keller wrote for the pulp magazines of the mid-twentieth century, writing fantasy and horror stories as well as science fiction. Genre historians have stated that he was the first psychiatrist to write science fiction.

Keller was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1903. He served as a neuro-psychiatrist in the United States Army Medical Corps during World Wars I and II, and was the Assistant Superintendent of the Louisiana State Mental Hospital at Pineville (until Huey Long's reforms removed him from his position in 1928). Keller's medical training and unique experiences during the two world wars led to his many professional publications, including several monographs for servicemen. His specialty was treating soldiers who were “shell-shocked,” the condition now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

In the late 1920s Keller traveled to New York City to meet with Hugo Gernsback, publisher/editor of Amazing Stories, who had bought Keller's first published science fiction story, “The Revolt of the Pedestrians.” Gernsback was impressed by Keller’s quality of writing and ability to address sophisticated themes beyond commonplace technological predictions or alien encounters typically found in many of the early SF stories. He encouraged Keller’s writing and later called these distinctive short stories “Kelleryarns.”

In 1929 Gernsback founded Science Wonder Stories and not only published Keller’s work in the first issue, but listed him as Associate Science Editor. It was this issue of Science Wonder Stories that introduced the term “science fiction” to the world. The beginning of this magazine also began an intense writing period for Keller, but he was unable to support his family solely on a writer’s income and set up a small private psychiatric practice out of his home in Stroudsburg, PA.

While a number of Keller’s works are considered dated and utilize plot lines or ideas that have since been dismissed as too simplistic or clichéd, other stories contained the detailed ramifications of future technology and addressed taboo issues of that era (such as bisexuality) that a reader might expect in a modern science fiction story. The level of complexity found in Keller’s writing rose above many other pulp stories of the same period and held the promise of “science fiction literature” that would later be fulfilled during science fiction's Golden Age.

Keller also wrote a number of horror and fantasy stories, which some critics regard as superior to his SF work. Most notable is his 1932 horror tale, “The Thing in the Cellar,” that has been reprinted several times in genre anthologies (see below). Keller also created a series of fantasy stories later called the Tales of Cornwall sequence; these were said to have been influenced by the stories of the famous escapist novelist James Branch Cabell. Keller Memento: 25 Years of Short Stories by David H. Keller was published by Ramble House in 2010.

A neglected author article on Keller by Jon D. Swartz was published in the November, 2017 issue (Volume 76, Number 11) of The National Fantasy Fan.

For more on his career, see http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/keller_david_h_m_d