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Donald A. Wollheim

From Academic Kids

Donald Allen Wollheim (October 1, 1914 - November 2, 1990) was a science fiction writer (under pseudonyms, including David Grinnell), editor and publisher.

A member of the Futurians, he was one of the leading influences on the development of science fiction and science fiction fandom in the 20th century USA.

He began editing Ace Books' science fiction line in the late 1950s and initiated the Ace Doubles series which consisted of pairs of books, ususally by different authors, bound back-to-back, with two "front" covers. Because these paired books had to fit a fixed total page-length, one or both were usually heavily abridged to fit, and Wollheim often made many other editorial alterations and title changes - as witness the many differences between Poul Anderson's Ace novel War of the Wing-Men and its definitive revised edition, The Man Who Counts. He seems to have made a number of changes solely to suit his own conservative politics. However, it was also during the fifties he bought the book Junk by William S. Burroughs, which, in his inimitable fashion, he retitled Junkie.

His penchant for changing titles led his collaborator and later competitor Terry Carr to quip, "If Don Wollheim had published the Bible [as an Ace Double], it would be War God of Israel / The Thing with Three Souls."

It was Wollheim who, in 1965, exploited a loophole in international copyright law to publish an unauthorized Ace edition of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien in three volumes - the first mass-market paperback edition of Tolkien's epic. Wollheim was probably aware that Ace would face legal action over the issue but gambled that sales of the "pirate" edition would be high enough to offset any legal losses. In any case, the débacle brought Ace into the limelight.

After leaving Ace he founded DAW Books in 1971, named for his initials, which can claim to be the first specialist science fiction and fantasy fiction publishing house. In later years his conservatism seems to have mellowed; when his distributors, New American Library, threatened to withhold distribution of Thomas Burnett Swann's Biblical fantasy How are the Mighty Fallen (1974) because of its homosexual content, Wollheim fought vigorously against their decision and they relented.

He also published a popular "Best of the Year" anthology that lasted from 1965 until his death in 1990 (although from 1965 to 1970, he co-edited it with Terry Carr; and from 1971 to 1990, co-edited it with Arthur W. Saha).

  • Anthology: The Annual World's Best SF, 1965-1990

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