It shouldn’t be a surprise that I didn’t discover science fiction and fantasy through novels — not really. I discovered it by reading short stories in Junior High, and especially the enticing anthologies on display every week in the library at St. Francis School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I didn’t really know what science fiction was; but if it had monsters on the cover, I was all over it.
The first anthology I can recall reading was Creatures From Beyond, a marvelous monster-fest if ever there was one. When I tracked it down again decades later, I was delighted to discover the editor was none other than Terry Carr, the legendary editor whose Best Science Fiction of the Year and Fantasy Annual paperbacks I read avidly all through high school — and who pulled William Gibson’s Neuromancer out of the slush pile at Ace Books.
I think the reason I still remember it so well after all these years is that, unlike most of the collections I checked out of the library, it wasn’t a kid’s book. It’s a genuine SF anthology, with short stories from Henry Kuttner, Clifford D. Simak & Carl Jacobi, Theodore Sturgeon, Donald A. Wollheim, Brian W. Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, and other top-flight authors.
Carr reasoned — correctly — that there was no better source for action-filled monster tales than pulp science fiction magazines and he mined them heavily to generate Creatures From Beyond. The fiction is drawn from Amazing Stories, Astonishing, Unknown, Other Worlds, Comet, Thrilling Wonder, Future, and a smattering of anthologies.
Of course, the other reason I remember it is Eric Frank Russell’s brilliant novelette “Dear Devil,” the tale of a handful of children who survive a nuclear apocalypse on Earth… and the curious (and hideous) explorer from Mars who helps put them back on track towards a new and better civilization. Rejected by all the major SF magazines of the time, it landed at Ray Palmer’s fledgling Other Worlds, where it almost single-handedly put the magazine on the map — and instantly made a name for the young editor who pulled it from the slush, 26-year-old Bea Mahaffey, who’d been thrust the reins of the magazine when Palmer was incapacitated in an accident.
Creatures From Beyond still makes delightful reading today. Packed with classics like Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” and Donald A. Wollheim’s “Mimic” — both made into successful monster movies — and lesser-known but no less worthy tales like Clifford D. Simak & Carl Jacobi’s ”The Street That Wasn’t There,” it’s a fine collection of pulp monster fiction.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents:
Introduction, Terry Carr
“The Worm,” David H. Keller (Amazing, Mar ’29)
“Mimic,” Donald A. Wollheim (Astonishing Stories, Dec 1942)
“It,” Theodore Sturgeon (Unknown, Aug 1940)
“Beauty and the Beast,” Henry Kuttner (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Apr 1940)
“Some Are Born Cats,” Terry & Carol Carr (Science Fiction Tales, 1973)
“Full Sun,” Brian W. Aldiss (Orbit 2, 1967)
“The Silent Colony,” Robert Silverberg (Future, Oct 1954)
“The Street That Wasn’t There,” Clifford D. Simak & Carl Jacobi (Comet, Jul 1941)
“Dear Devil,” Eric Frank Russell (Other Worlds, May 1950)
Creatures From Beyond was published in hardcover in January 1975 by Thomas Nelson Publishers and the Science Fiction Book Club. It is 180 pages. My copy is the book club edition and doesn’t have a price, but let’s call it $4.95. Used copies start at about 25 cents at Amazon.com.
For more pics and information on Eric Frank Russell and Bea Mahaffey, visit the marvelous convention report for the 1953 London Science Fiction Convention here.