John D. Clark

John D. Clark bigraphy, stories - Science - Other

John D. Clark : biography

August 15, 1907 – July 6, 1988

John Drury Clark, Ph.D. (August 15, 1907 – July 6, 1988) was a noted American rocket fuel developer, chemist, and science fiction writer and fan. He was instrumental in the revival of interest in Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and influenced the writing careers of L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, and other authors.De Camp, L. Sprague. "John D. ("Doc") Clark" (obituary) in Locus, August 1988, pages 64-65.

Literary career and influence

As a fan of the science fiction and fantasy magazines of the pulp era, Clark became friendly with several figures who were or would become authors in both fields, including P. Schuyler Miller, Fletcher Pratt, and L. Ron Hubbard. He met Miller while living in Schenectady in the 1930s, and made the acquaintance of Pratt after moving to New York City. He later introduced de Camp to Miller, Pratt, and the informal circle of aspirant New York science fiction writers that included Otto Binder, John W. Campbell, Edmond Hamilton, Otis Adelbert Kline, Henry Kuttner, Frank Belknap Long, Manly Wade Wellman, and Jack Williamson.

Clark and Conan

Clark first encountered Robert E. Howard’s fantasies of Kull, Conan and Solomon Kane in the magazine Weird Tales. He became an avid fan, and together with Miller he worked out an outline of Conan’s career and a map of the world in Howard’s invented Hyborian Age in early 1936 from the then-published stories. Miller sent this material to Howard, whose reply confirmed and corrected their findings. Their map became the basis of those that later appeared in the book editions of the Conan stories. Their revised outline, "A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career" was published in the fanzine The Hyborian Age in 1938.

Thus established as an authority on Conan, Clark was invited to edit and provide introductions for the first book editions of Howard’s Conan stories, published by Gnome Press in the 1950s. Expanded versions of his and Miller’s essay on Conan, retitled "An Informal Biography of Conan the Cimmerian," appeared in the Gnome volume The Coming of Conan in 1953 and (revised by de Camp) in the fanzine Amra, vol. 2, no. 4, in 1959. It was the source of the linking passages between the individual Conan stories in both the Gnome editions and the Lancer paperback editions of the 1960s.

Clark and Miller’s Hyborian Age map, together with Howard’s own original, are the basis of those published in the Gnome, Lancer, and later editions of the stories.

Clark and the science fiction community

While unemployed in the mid-1930s Clark wrote a couple of science fiction stories, "Minus Planet" and "Space Blister," with plotting assistance from L. Sprague de Camp, which were published in Astounding Stories in 1937. When additional stories failed to sell he abandoned fiction writing while remaining active in science fiction circles. This experience did, however, prompt de Camp to launch his own career as a science fiction writer, first with short stories and then with a novel in collaboration with their mutual friend Miller.

Clark furthered de Camp’s career in another way by introducing him into Fletcher Pratt’s war-gaming circle, and to Pratt himself, in 1939. De Camp and Pratt went on to write some of the most celebrated light fantasy of the 1940s, the Harold Shea and Gavagan’s Bar stories.

Clark also provided L. Ron Hubbard with the germ for his humorous fantasy novella The Case of the Friendly Corpse, published in the August 1941 issue of Unknown. According to de Camp, in the 1930s Clark and a friend named Mark Baldwin had "concocted a prospectus for an imaginary College of the Unholy Names" in the 1930s, which Clark lent to Hubbard in 1941. Hubbard then built his story around the setting.

Clark’s first marriage led to the establishment of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, founded in 1944 by Pratt. As the new Mrs. Clark was reportedly unpopular with Pratt and others of his friends, the club gave them an excuse to spend time with him without her. The Trap Door Spiders later served as the model for Isaac Asimov’s fictional group of mystery solvers the Black Widowers. Clark himself was fictionalized as the James Drake character.