I’m going to change the focus of the Weird Tales deep read slightly, to hopefully give a somewhat more coherent view of the magazine by focusing on a particular year, while still maintaining the month-at-a time format. First up is January 1936, followed by the ten subsequent issues published that year. (One issue was bi-monthly, and I’ve already covered the July issue, so you can just check that particular installment in the link provided below if you’re so inclined).
The January ‘36 WT is full of familiar names. Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, Paul Ernst, C. L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft (with a reprint) all appear in the line up. The issue grades out to a respectable 2.44, largely avoiding poor stories but also scoring only a few outstanding ones. The two vying for best of issue were Moore’s Jirel and Howard’s Conan, the second installment of the longest Conan tale he was to write. Howard gets the nod on a toss-up.
Weird Tales, January 1945. Cover by Margaret Brundage
This time we’re jumping ahead in our deep read of the Unique Magazine, to the January 1945 issue. The old guard has largely changed. Howard has been dead for almost six years, Lovecraft out-lived him less than a year. C. L. Moore hadn’t published in WT since 1939, Clark Ashton Smith longer. (Reprints not considered,) That doesn’t mean there were no familiar names. Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, and others continued to contribute. New writers, like Ray Bradbury, were coming on. Though the Golden Age was definitely over, that doesn’t mean the magazine didn’t publish quality material.
I think most people are familiar with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). (Certainly, there’s a delightful musical from 1948 featuring Bing Crosby that I loved as a kid.) Twain’s hero is an engineer from Connecticut who receives a blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to King Arthur’s England. Although the story is a social satire, it celebrates homespun ingenuity and democratic values, among other things. Although not a satire, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965) by H. Beam Piper, similarly celebrates good old American ingenuity and values, but takes place on an alternate 20th century timeline instead of the far past. It’s Piper’s last work and part of his Paratime universe.
In this article I’m going give you six (relatively) spoiler-free reasons to read the book, and one reason that has a spoiler, but that I think will only enhance your enjoyment of the work.
The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars, by Elliott Dold.
From Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, April-May 1931
I’ve written from time to time about original science fiction art delivered to us by our Friendly Neighborhood Mailman.
Among the various original black and white interior illustrations we own from the science fiction pulps, this is our earliest, appearing 90 years ago. By artist Elliott Dold, it ran as a frontispiece in the April-May 1931 issue of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. It was not for any particular story; instead it was a one page feature showing “An Incident of the Future: The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars.”
Dold was the art editor of this short-lived title; the April-May 1931 issue was the first of only two. He appears to have been the editor as well, though some sources state that Dold’s brother, Douglas, was the editor. Both Elliott and Douglas, as well as the publisher of Miracle, Harold Hersey, had worked together previously over at the Clayton pulp chain. Elliott and Douglas each had a story appear in Miracle; Douglas’ in the first issue, Elliott’s in the second, dated June-July 1931. In an interview in the October-November 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine, Elliott discusses how Miracle was his brainchild – he’d talked Hersey into publishing it, and obtained all the stories, as well as doing all the art. He blamed its cessation on an illness which made it impossible for him to work on it. Perhaps coincidentally, during this same period his brother Douglas passed away, on May 6, 1931.
Every new generation of SF readers has to put up with old timers lecturing them about how much better science fiction was decades ago. I had to endure it when I was growing up, my kids sure as hell did, and I expect twenty years from now my grandkids will have to cope with the same annoyance, as they try to peacefully enjoy their favorite manga by the pool while grandad angrily shouts at them to read a damn book once in a while. I hope they ignore him.
From time to time some curious young reader will ask me for a recommendation from the pulp era of science fiction I’m always going on about, “You know, something actually good.” It’s a fair enough request. Sometimes I point them towards Charles Tanner’s Tumithak stories, or Robert E. Howard, or Clark Ashton Smith. But recently I’ve been suggesting C.L. Moore. And especially her 1979 paperback Judgment Night, which collects five tales from the pulp era of Astounding. Here’s Paul Di Filippo’s review of the title story, published here at Black Gatea decade ago,
A primal space opera, it concerns the star empire of the Lyonese, whose central world is Ericon, where ancient patron gods live, remote from day-to-day affairs of the empire.
But now the vast holdings of the Lyonese are crumbling under the assault of a younger race, the H’vani. The Emperor’s heir is Juille, a daughter, and she’s determined her dynasty will continue. She wages a one-woman campaign against the wishes of her doddering father to save all that her ancestors built.
But she doesn’t count on falling in love with the H’vani ruler — or the machinations of Ericon’s living deities.
“Judgment Night,” published in the August 1943 issue of Astounding, is a complete short novel in itself, but that lovely paperback also contains the novella “Paradise Street” and three long novelettes. It’s a delightful introduction to what pulp science was all about — and one of its finest practitioners.
H. Beam Piper wrote a great deal about Time. His books and stories seem split into two types: travel via mechanical means, such as in the Paratime Police stories, and consciousness travel, such as in “The Edge of a Knife.” This article will look at both.
Piper wasn’t the first to write science fiction about parallel realities. Murray Leinster was the groundbreaker for that in “Sideways in Time” (1934). In 1947, Fredric Brown brought us his delightful parallel reality story, What Mad Universe. That same year, H. Beam Piper published his first time travel story, “Time and Again.” This was not a tale about purposeful travel but accidental, through a hellacious explosion. And it wasn’t about physical time travel at all, but consciousness travel. We’ll return to this type of time travel later in the article.
Verkan Vall is the hero of most of the Paratime police stories. His official title is Special Chief’s Assistant to the chief of the Paratime Police — Tortha Karf. Through his adventures we learn about the Home timeline of the First Probability Level and get a look at the complex spider web of realities that the Paratime Police oversee.
The Complete Ivy Frost (Haffner Books, December 2020). Cover by Raymond Swanland
No one else is doing the kind of superb work Stephen Haffner is, bringing pulp authors back into print in gorgeous archival-quality hardcovers that are within reach of the average collector. His latest release is The Complete Ivy Frost, which gathers together all eighteen stories of Donald Wandrei’s pulp supersleuth Professor I. V. “Ivy” Frost, one of the most popular characters to ever appear in Clues Detective Stories.
Are these classic tales still of interest to modern readers? Don’t take my word for it — here’s an excerpt from Steven R. Harbin’s Amazon review of Frost, the 2000 Fedogan and Bremer collection that gathered the first eight stories.
Donald Wandrei was one of the great pulp writers of the late 20’s and early 30’s. He’s best known for his cosmic science fiction and his macabre horror stories, and indeed was a Weird Tales Magazine and Astounding Stories regular. The eight stories in this collection show that he could also write pulp detective fiction with the best of them. His investigator Professor I. V. “Ivy” Frost is a mix of supersleuth, inventor, scientist, and master fighter all rolled into one. Deadly, logical, courageous, and stoic like the more famous denizen of Baker Street, he is also a man with a super gadget or two up his sleeve. In addition he just happens to have a beautiful, brainy, gutsy, blonde assistant named Jean Moray, who has her own advanced degrees AND a garter belt thigh holster complete with pearl handled .25. The slyly humorous romantic/sexual tension between Frost and Moray made the stories as far as I was concerned.
The editors of Clue Magazine asked Wandrei to develop a series character in an effort to compete with the more well known hard boiled fiction of Black Mask Magazine. Wandrei’s ratiocinative adventurer quickly became one of the most popular series characters in Clue‘s history…
Here’s publisher Stephen Haffner’s book description. …
“The Conditioned Captain” illustration by Virgil Finlay
(from Startling Stories, May 1953)
In last week’s Finlay post, I told the tale of how, back in the last week of March 2005, I’d acquired 15 Virgil Finlay originals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was an incredible purchase, but within six weeks it led to my acquisition of five more Finlay originals. Needless to say, that six week period was the greatest Finlay run of my collecting career.
I’d bought the Midsummer Night’s illos from California bookseller Peter Howard of Serendipity Books. At the time I bought them, he told me that his consignor on these had a few other Finlay originals which he thought he’d be handling for him. A week later, on April Fools’ Day, I received an email from Howard offering three more Finlay originals.
Virgil Finlay art from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
To sleep, perchance to dream.
And if you’re lucky, perhaps that dream will come true.
If that dream is to buy fifteen Virgil Finlay originals in one fell swoop, then mine came true on the first day of spring sixteen years ago. Thereby hangs a tale. Though with apologies to the Bard, ‘twas neither Hamlet nor The Taming of the Shrew, but another play that figures therein.
Almost from the moment his work first appeared in Weird Tales – debuting in the December 1935 issue – Finlay was the greatest interior illustrator in the pulps. Enamored of his work, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright immediately engaged Finlay’s services for a side project, even as that issue of Weird Tales was hitting the newsstands.
Wright wanted to bring out an eight volume set of William Shakespeare’s plays in inexpensive editions (under the banner “Wright’s Shakespeare Library”), profusely illustrated. In Finlay, he felt he’d found the perfect partner for his project. He commissioned the then 21-year old Finlay to draw a total of 25 illustrations for the first volume, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finlay completed this work in the last two months of 1935, and the volume saw print at the end of that year.
Imaginary Worlds (Ballantine Books, June 1973). Cover by Gervasio Gallardo
I’m the age Proust was when he died, and Lin Carter books are my Madeleine cake.
The covers transport me to the sunny afternoon garage sales of my teens. Picking up one — they’re tiny compared to today’s paperbacks — and riffling the yellowing pages, and I’m thirteen years old, on a hill-walking holiday in Wales, rummaging in a small town charity shop while the rain rattles the dirty glass window. And later, playing Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D was my edition!) in a stuffy teenage bedroom in a Victorian house where the hundred-year-old window slammed down and nearly took off the DM’s leg as he was smoking a roll-up while perched on the ledge…
And like the D&D games of my mid teens, Lin Carter’s books never quite lived up to the potential of the promised exoticism. In our case, we were teenagers with limited life experience. We did very well, as far as it went, and our DMs were patient and I argued too much. Lin Carter, several times married, a Korean war veteran — the Vietnam sequence that kicks off the Callisto books reads very authentically — cosmopolitan New Yorker, experienced editor, has less excuse.