Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

The Cosmic Puppets-smallWe’re back to looking at Ace Doubles.

This month, I have a special treat for you. A 1957 pairing of two major science fiction writers, both early in their careers, which resulted in a very collectible paperback: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, published back-to-back with Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton.

Let’s start with The Cosmic Puppets because, while Dick was never as popular as Andre Norton while he was alive, over the past three decades his fame has grown steadily, to the point where he’s now considered one of the most important SF writers of the 20th Century. The Cosmic Puppets was his fifth novel, and appeared here for the first time (in this form, anyway). While Sargasso of Space is a popular and important SF novel — for reasons I’ll get to shortly — The Cosmic Puppets is the primary reason this paperback commands real interest among collectors.

The Cosmic Puppets is a tale of alien invasion… although, as usual for Dick, it disregards most of the typical conventions of an alien invasion story. Some readers consider it Dick’s most approachable novel (although that doesn’t mean you won’t close the book with a lot of questions.) It’s also the Dick novel that skirts closest to pure fantasy.

The novel opens almost like a Twilight Zone episode, as our protagonist returns to his home town, only to discover that the inhabitants have no memory of him at all. Here’s the summary from the 1957 Ace edition.

When The Skies Fell on Virginia!

Ted Barton returned to his home town after several years only to find a strange city in its place. It had the same name, but that was all. And when he insisted that he himself had been a native, the folks there showed him his own death notice dating from the day he’d originally left!

But stranger things were happening in Millgate. Barton saw transparent people walking through the walls! There were little clay golems running around like rats! And a web of terror was tightening around Barton himself.

But when he struggled to find out the truth behind Millgate’s transition, he discovered that it was not just the town that was misplaced, it was the whole galaxy itself that was out of order!

The cover of the Ace Double edition was by Ed Valigursky. [Click any of the images in this article for bigger versions.]

Although The Cosmic Puppets is considered an important and approachable novel today, it didn’t make much of a ripple when it first appeared. In fact, while Dick lived for another 25 years, this was the last time the novel saw print in his lifetime.

Satellite Science Fiction December 1956-small The Cosmic Puppets Berkley-small The Cosmic Puppets Gollancz-small

The Cosmic Puppets was originally published (in an abbreviated form) in the December 1956 issue of Satellite Science Fiction, under the title A Glass of Darkness. That’s the cover above left (art by the great Kelly Freas.) I don’t believe the shorter magazine version has ever been reprinted; the 1957 Ace Double paperback is considered the definitive edition. Rich Horton reviewed the issue for us, including A Glass of Darkness, in one of his retro-reviews last November.

The year Dick died, 1982, also saw the release of the film Blade Runner, which really began the mainstream appreciation of Philip K. Dick. It didn’t take long for publishers to start combing through his back catalog, and in October 1983, Berkley Books reprinted The Cosmic Puppets (with the words “The Award-Winning Author Who Inspired the Movie Blade Runner” splashed above the title.)

Berkley packaged their edition very differently from the 1957 Ace version, however, staying away from the alien invasion angle and playing up Dick’s growing reputation for ambitious and enigmatic themes. Here’s the blurb from the back:

Anytown, USA. That’s Millgate, Virginia, with its Central Street, its flagpole, its local bar. A town where nothing ever changes. Nothing at all. Until reality itself changes hands…

The Cosmic Puppets

The unique genius of Philip K. Dick takes on a world of magic, where good and evil battle for dominion in a cosmic war that begins right here at home.

That’s the Berkley edition above middle (cover by David Heffernan.)

Vintage Books reprinted it again, in trade paperback this time, and British publisher Gollancz issued a handsome paperback edition in the UK in 2006 (above right, cover by Chris Moore.)

Sargasso of Space-small Sargasso of Space Ace-small Sargasso of Space Ace 1978-small

Flip that 1957 Ace Double over and you find Sargasso of Space, by Andrew North.

Andrew North, of course, is better known as Andre Norton. Prior to 1960 however, Andre Norton published under a man’s name, as it was generally believed that readers wouldn’t read science fiction by a woman. I’m not sure what gradually changed her mind, but I’m glad she did.

Sargasso of Space is an important novel for several reasons, but principally because it was the first book in one of Norton’s most popular series, Solar Queen, which eventually encompassed seven novels written over a span of 42 years.

Here’s the blurb from the inside cover of the 1957 Ace Double edition:

“Worlds For Sale!”

That was the startling cry that electrified Dane Thorson of the space-trader Solar Queen. It was his first trip, and the cosmic auction was taking place at an isolated port of call, far out in the Milky Way.

Who”ll buy this newly discovered planet? The data on it sealed — you may be getting a radioactive desert, you may be buying a fabulous empire, or you may be stuck with an untracked unconquerable jungle! And Dane and his fellow spacemen took the risk. They bought a planet, sight unseen, whose ominous name was…. Limbo!

The story of Thorson’s trip to Limbo, and the amazing adventures that befell him on that Sargasso of Space, is a real thriller of a space novel by the author of Star Guard, The Stars Are Ours, and many others.

I always like that blurb, and even today I find it very intriguing.

Sargasso of Space was reprinted as a slender standalone novel in 1964 (an honor not bestowed on Dick’s novel), with the same cover art and still under the Andrew North byline, but this time with ANDRE NORTON writing as “Andrew North” blazoned across the top. (See above left.) The cover art for both the 1957 and 1964 version was by Emsh.

Seven years later, Ace revamped the book with a new 1971 edition, this one with a Jeff Jones cover (above center). I quite like the new art, and I also like the new cover blurb:

Trapped in the Graveyard of Lost Spaceships

Pretty catchy for a one-line plot summary. Frankly, I’m not sure why the earlier editions didn’t play up this angle.

The 1971 Ace edition proved very successful, and it enjoyed many reprintings over the next few years. Of course, they played with the colors and the fonts on the cover every time, making each version unique, giving collectors more versions to collect — just what we needed.

Sargasso of Space 1971-small Sargasso of Space Ace-small Sargasso of Space 1971 cover2-small

They also raised the price. Above are (from left to right) the 75 cent, 95 cent, and $1.25 editions. Note the different colors and fonts, the changing Ace colophon, and that the cover blurb is missing on the far right. These are the kinds of things collectors obsess over, God help us.

Ace revamped the book again in 1978 with a Don Brautigam cover (above right, with the spaceship zooming over the moonscape). Honestly I’m not thrilled with this one, but maybe the art fit in with the other books in the series that were printed in 1978.

Sargasso of Space Magnet-small Sargasso of Space Ace 1981-small The Solar Queen-small

In August 1979, Sargasso of Space finally got a British paperback edition, with an attractive wraparound cover by Tony Roberts (click on the image above left to see the whole thing.)

In November 1981 Ace revamped the cover (again!), this time putting Dane Thorson back on the cover, clutching his blaster and looking ready to give the villains the business. (Above middle, cover by Walter Velez.)

As I mentioned above, Sargasso of Space was the first book in Norton’s Solar Queen series, which eventually encompassed seven novels written over a span of 42 years. They are:

  1. Sargasso of Space (1955)
  2. Plague Ship (1956)
  3. Voodoo Planet (1959)
  4. Postmarked the Stars (1969)
  5. Redline the Stars (1993) with P. M. Griffin
  6. Derelict for Trade (1997) with Sherwood Smith
  7. A Mind for Trade (1997) with Sherwood Smith

In 2003, Tor Books published an omnibus edition of the first two novels in the series, Sargasso of Space and Plague Ship, under the title The Solar Queen (above right, cover by Julie Bell.) This is still an easy and economical way to get both books — and it brought Norton’s novel back into print a remarkable five decades after it first appeared.

The Cosmic Puppets / Sargasso of Space was published by Ace Books in 1957. It is 127+192 pages, originally priced at 35 cents. Ironically, the novel that remained in print for some five decades, Sargasso of Space, is now available only as a used book, while The Cosmic Puppets, out of print for virtually all of Philip K. Dick’s life, is now widely available in a number of editions, including digital versions. Such are the rising and falling fortunes of 20th Century SF writers.

If you’re interested in the Ace Double version (and why wouldn’t you be?) copies in very good condition start at about $20. Amazon lists used copies starting at about $10, and eBay has signed copies ranging from $600 – $1,200.

We’ve covered the following Ace Doubles so far:

ATTA/ The Brain-Stealers by by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster
The Ship from Atlantis/ The Stolen Sun by H. Warner Munn and Emil Petaja
Vulcan’s Hammer / The Skynappers by Philip K. Dick and John Brunner
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream by G.C. Edmondson
Bow Down to Nul / The Dark Destroyers by Brian W. Aldiss and Manly Wade Wellman
Gateway to Elsewhere / The Weapon Shops of Isher by Murray Leinster and A. E. van Vogt
The Cosmic Puppets / Sargasso of Space by Philip K. Dick and Andre Norton
The Beast Master / Star Hunter by Andre Norton
Big Planet by Jack Vance
City Under the Sea by Kenneth Bulmer
The Forgotten Planet (Planets of Adventure) by Murray Leinster
Six Worlds Yonder / The Space Willies by Eric Frank Russell
Sentinels of Space / The Ultimate Invader by Eric Frank Russell and Donald Wollheim
Ring Around the Sun/ Cosmic Manhunt by Clifford D. Simak and L. Sprague de Camp
The Trouble With Tycho/ Bring Back Yesterday by Clifford D. Simak and A. Bertram Chandler
The Last Planet (Star Rangers) by Andre Norton
A Touch of Infinity/ The Man With Nine Lives by Harlan Ellison
Kirkus Looks at Donald A. Wollheim and the Ace Double
Tales of Outer Space/ Adventures in the Far Future edited by Donald A. Wollheim
The Pirates of Zan by Murray Leinster

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Thomas Parker

I just read The Cosmic Puppets a few months ago; I was pleased and surprised that it was so “phildickian,” given that it was one of his earliest books. So many of the themes that he explored so obsessively during his later career are already present in the novel. It has plenty of rough edges, but it’s well worth reading.

James McGlothlin

“. . . I wish some of that recognition had come just a little earlier.”

It has been said that a sign of true genius is that it’s not recognized until much later. In other words, it takes the rest of us more than the genius’ lifetime to catch up to what he or she is getting on to.

Or, at least that’s what the currently unrecognized soothe themselves within the dark nights of their souls!

James McGlothlin

I think the last part of the post was a confession.

Rich Horton

I’ll note that I did a Retro-Review of the December 1956 issue of SATELLITE, containing “A Glass of Darkness”, in these very pages a little while back.



I was curious to see if I could locate “A Glass of Darkness” anywhere besides Satellite magazine, and found indications it’s in the public domain; however, I couldn’t find it at Project Gutenberg, or at I went to a site at, which says “A Glass of Darkness” IS of novel length, and it claims “The Cosmic Puppets” is actually SHORTER. That seems rather bizarre to me. Now I’d like to get the magazine story to make the comparison.

[…] Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton […]

[…] to Elsewhere / The Weapon Shops of Isher by Murray Leinster and A. E. van Vogt The Cosmic Puppets / Sargasso of Space by Philip K. Dick and Andre Norton The Beast Master / Star Hunter by Andre Norton Big Planet by […]

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