Author Imagines Sci-Fi Writers in World War II Intrigue
Behe, Rege, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
They were part of the war effort, but the members of the Kamikaze Group during World War II were far from the frontlines. Science- fiction writers Robert Heinlein, Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov, a geek dream team based at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, were charged with developing weapons that were the real-life versions of the death rays, invisibility cloaks and force fields that populated their works.
Never mind that science fiction wasn't always based on science facts. Because Heinlein, de Camp and Asimov dared dream of jet packs, robots and space travel, some factions in the military -- and many readers -- believed the impossible was plausible and doable. Even if their research during the war failed to produce wondrous secret weapons, their stories left an indelible mark on the scientific community.
"They gave so many people, including the subsequent generation of baby boomers, dreams," says Paul Malmont, author of the novel "The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown." "I'm sure, if you talked to anybody who was part of the Apollo program, they would have gone straight to Heinlein and Ray Bradbury as the main inspirations for what they were doing."
The plot of Malmont's story is firmly grounded in the pulp fiction that was popular in the 1940s. After a German saboteur washes up on a beach on Long Island, N.Y., the Kamikaze Group learns about German interest in an invention that could change the course of the war. Heinlein and his peers pursue rumors about a secret weapon developed by Nikola Tesla, which, if it exists, would be able to stop fleets of ships and squadrons of aircraft at the press of a button.
"I wanted to deliver on the promise of the pulp covers themselves, the stories that always looked like they were going to be in those magazines," Malmont says. "All those authors were the ones who got to me when I was a teenager, especially Robert Heinlein. I wanted to try to capture some of the innocence and enthusiasm, but also the fun back then of writing. …