Ray Cummings

(August 30, 1887 — January 23, 1957)

Raymond King Cummings was one of the founding fathers of science fiction in America. He was born in New York, NY (in Times Square), on August 30, 1887, and died in Mount Vernon, NY, on January 23, 1957.

Cummings worked for famous inventor Thomas Alva Edison from 1914 to 1919, "editing house organs, writing copy for record albums, and similar endeavors." According to SF author Jack Williamson, Cummings married Edison's daughter; but this seems highly unlikely. According to other sources, Cummings first married Janet Matheson; they divorced, and he then married Gabrielle Wilson.

His most highly regarded SF was the novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, originally published in 1922. His writing career resulted in hundreds of stories, including a score of novels. He used his own name on his stories and the pen names of Ray King, Ray P. Shotwell, Robert Wallace, and Gabriel Wilson (the last a joint pseudonym used by Cummings and his second wife).

His work inspired many of the writers who created science fiction's Golden Era in the United States (approximately 1939 to 1950). His second wife was also a writer, and wrote some stories with Cummings. Their daughter Elizabeth (Betty) was also a writer, selling a short story to Liberty Magazine at the age of 13. During the 1930s Cummings himself contributed a series of "World of Tomorrow" science/science fiction sketches to Liberty, at the time one of the most popular periodicals in America.

Critics of his SF write that, over the years, Cummings failed to grow as a writer. They contend that his stories were more or less the same regardless of the decade in which they were written. His major SF concept was chemically induced human shrinkage; and, while many other pulp writers matured with the times, Cummings remained a writer of space operas for the pulps. On the other hand, Cummings was a pioneer, credited with being the first to write of such SF concepts as artificial gravity, an invisibility cloak, a Moon dome, and a paralyzer ray. It has been said that the SF writers of the pulp era "were able to scale the high fence by climbing on Ray's shoulders," and he maintained that position to the last. Others have acknowledged his role, his inspiration, and his creation of a sense of wonder. In addition to SF, he wrote mysteries and horror stories.

During the 1940s, with his fiction career declining, Cummings anonymously scripted comic book stories for Timely Comics, the predecessor of today's Marvel Comics. For example, he recycled the plot of The Girl in the Golden Atom for a two-part Captain America tale titled "Princess of the Atom." He also contributed stories for Timely/Marvel characters such as the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, for which his daughter Betty also wrote.

Despite the criticism that he failed to grow as a writer, at one time Cummings was very highly thought of by American magazine editors. For example, Bob Davis, known at the time as the dean of American Magazine Editors, said of Cummings: "He is a Verne returned and a Wells going forward." Moreover, at least one other critic said that Cummings was "the American H. G. Wells."

Several of his books are available at Project Gutenberg, including Beyond the Vanishing Point, Brigands of the Moon, The Fire People, The Girl in the Golden Atom, Tarrano the Conqueror, The White Invaders, and The World Beyond.

He was added to the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2010.

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

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