Birthday Reviews: Donald A. Wollheim’s “Blueprint”

Birthday Reviews: Donald A. Wollheim’s “Blueprint”

Cover by Hannes Bok
Cover by Hannes Bok

Donald A. Wollheim was born on October 1, 1914 and died on November 2, 1990.

Wollheim entered science fiction fandom at its birth and was responsible for a meeting in Philadelphia between New York and Philadelphia science fiction fans which is considered by some to be the first science fiction convention. He was a member of the Science Fiction League, founded the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), and the Futurians. He was one of the Futurians not allowed into the first Worldcon as part of the “Exclusion Act.” In the 1940s, he began working as an editor as well as a writer, editing for Avon Books and later Ace before starting up his own line, DAW Books. From 1965 through his death, Wollheim edited an annual World’s Best SF anthology series.

In 1975, Aussiecon One, the 33rd Worldcon, presented Wollheim with a Special Award for being the “Fan Who Has Done Everything.” Wollheim was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1975 Wollheim won a World Fantasy Special Professional Award in 1981 for DAW Books and a Special Convention Award in 1986. He also won the Milford Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980, the I-Con Award and Forry Award in 1987. He and his wife, Elsie, earned a British Fantasy Special Award in 1984. In 2002, he was inducted posthumously into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and in 2010, SFWA awarded him the Solstice Award, which was accepted by his daughter, Betsy. Wollheim was the Guest of Honor at Nolacon II, the 46th Worldcon in 1988.

Wollheim used a variety of pseudonyms, including Martin Borrow, Graham Conway, Millard Verne Gordon, David Grinnell, Martin Pearson, Allan Warland, W. Malcolm White, and Lawrence Woods. He collaborated, as author and editor, with George Ernsberger, Forrest J Ackerman, Terry Carr, Arthur W. Saha, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert A. W. Lowndes, John Michel, and Lin Carter.

Wollheim first published “Blueprint” in the April 1941 issue of Stirring Science Stories, edited by himself. He also sold the story as a reprint in the Canadian magazine Uncanny Tales for their August issue the same year. It disappeared for more than four decades until Wollheim decided to include it in the NESFA Press collection Up There and Other Strange Directions in 1988.

“Blueprint” is more a vignette than a story. Harrison is leaving a construction site for which he is the architect when he finds a mysterious tube of metal on the ground. Bringing it home, he examines it and tries to figure out what it is, not just its purpose, but its composition. The tube is lighter than it should be, but it unrolls easily and into an extremely thin sheet of metal covered with strange scratchings. When he stares at them, the alien markings seems to become English, or at least the Roman alphabet, although the words they convey never really make sense. Eventually, Harrison seems to decide the tube contains some sort of architectural blueprints, perhaps because to an architect, everything is architectural.

The denouement of the story isn’t entirely successful or satisfying, making sense only if the reader buys into Harrison’s suppositions of the purpose of the tube, and even then the connection between the tube and the ending is only brought about because of their proximity to each other and the story’s title. The piece gives the impression that Wollheim had the idea for the story, but didn’t quite know how to bring all the elements together.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Up There and Other Strange Directions, by Donald A. Wollheim, NESFA Press, 1988.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

I might just possibly have an Ace Double review ready for today! 🙂

(Plus: Paul Park!)

John ONeill

Looking forward to it Rich!

(For those of you following along at home and wondering where these reviews appear, Rich posts links to them on Facebook each day. The reviews are usually at his website,, at, or at Black Gate.)

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