7 Science Fiction Authors Who Crossed the Law
A look into the unruly side of the world of science fiction.
The world of science fiction can be pretty unruly (see: drug use in science fiction books)—but what about the real trouble sci-fi authors have gotten themselves into over the years? Here’s to some of the most famous names in the genre who spent more time than they would like with the police—and no, these writers were not there to sign autographs.
Hugo Gernsback (Investigated 1905)
Hugo Gernsback was one of the founders of science fiction. (This is the man that the Hugo Award is named after.) He was also once investigated by the police for fraud—for selling inexpensive radios. Gernsback was a radio pioneer who sold his radios so cheaply that people began to think that he must be a fraud and complained to the police. Eventually, however, Gernsback was proven innocent.
Ray Bradbury (Arrested 1943)
Ray Bradbury is perhaps best known for his socially critical science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451. But in 1943, before Bradbury wrote this novel about burning books, he was instead burning ties with the U.S. military by getting arrested for not registering for the draft. What’s more, Bradbury, an actively dissident voice against some U.S. policies, was investigated by the FBI throughout the 1960s for possible Communist ties—though nothing came of those investigations.
Cleve Cartmill (Investigated 1944)
It began when author Cleve Cartmill wrote a science fiction short story called “Deadline” for the science fiction magazine Astounding… and ended with a Counter-Intelligence Corps investigation of both the editor and writers of this science fiction magazine. What brought on all this hubbub? Cartmill’s “Deadline” happened to give very accurate instructions on how to make an atomic bomb—instructions that seemed suspiciously too accurate to investigators considering that the atomic bomb was still being secretly tested when the story was published! Luckily for Cartmill, however, he was soon found innocent of leaking classified information once it was realized that Cartmill and his editor truly had thought up their idea for an atomic bomb all on their own.
Philip Wylie (Arrested 1945)
Cleve Cartmill was not the only author who got mixed up in atomic bomb paranoia. For instance, award-winning author Philip Wylie (whose novel The Gladiator was an inspiration for the character of Superman) was temporarily put under house arrest for his book The Paradise Crater. Wylie’s book told of an apocalyptic world where an atomic bomb explosion causes a tidal wave that wipes out Japan. Incredibly, the book was written over a year before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and, well, as one can see, the government can be suspicious of authors who accidentally manage to predict the future.
L. Ron Hubbard (Arrested 1948)
L. Ron Hubbard is known for something a little bigger than his science fiction (cough, Scientology, cough), but in fact he did write some well-regarded science fiction for pulp magazines. He also managed to get himself arrested in 1948 … for attempting to pass a fraudulent $500 check.
Isaac Asimov (Investigated 1944 and 1960)
From “I, Robot” to The Foundation series, Isaac Asimov is a science fiction visionary. Unfortunately for Asimov, however, the U.S. government was a big reader of his as he was involved in not just one, but two government investigations. Isaac Asimov, along with famous science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, were also investigated during the Cleve Cartmill atomic bomb fiasco since he was a close friend of Cartmill’s and had worked with atomic copper. Also, like Ray Bradbury, Asimov was investigated in the 1960s by the FBI for possible Communist ties. Asimov was found to be innocent in both investigations.
Harlan Ellison (Arrested 1960)
And what can we say about the brilliant and notoriously cantankerous writer/editor Harlan Ellison, a man who once said: “But look, I’m 79 and one of the Great Assholes of the World. I admit to it”? Well, one time Ellison wanted to write a book about juvenile delinquency and so, to really immerse himself in the culture, he literally joined a gang. From that experience, along with an intimate knowledge of gang culture, Ellison picked up a few souvenirs: a six-inch stiletto, brass knuckles, and a .22 revolver. A neighbor called in the police on Ellison’s collection and Ellison ended up spending a day in jail, before being released on bail.