Vintage Treasures: The Great White Space by Basil Copper
Basil Copper received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Horror Convention in 2010, and is remembered today for his short fiction (collected in the mammoth two-volume set Darkness, Mist and Shadow: The Collected Macabre Tales of Basil Copper from PS Publishing), and for his much-loved Solar Pons stories, which Bob Byrne has discussed in detail right here at Black Gate.
But he also published a handful of fondly remembered novels, such as Necropolis (1980), The House of the Wolf (1983), and Into the Silence (1983). His first novel, The Great White Space (1974), is considered one of the best Lovecraftian horror novels ever written. Valancourt Books, whose impressive horror catalog I surveyed after getting a glimpse of their glorious table at the World Fantasy Convention last year, reprinted it in a handsome trade paperback in 2013 (above right). But the copy that tumbled into my hands was the 1976 Manor Books edition (above left), which I found in a recently-acquired collection on eBay.
What is a “Lovecraftian horror novel,” exactly? That description could mean many things, really, but in this case it means the tale of a scientific expedition into an enormous cavern that discovers a lost subterranean city… one that hides a terrible secret.
Although the book is considered “Lovecraftian,” and indeed the plot has strong parallels to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and other work, The Great White Space also pays homage to another great pulp-era writer of weird fiction. Here’s the book description for the Valancourt edition, which should make clear what I mean.
Frederick Plowright, a well-known scientific photographer, is recruited by Professor Clark Ashton Scarsdale to accompany his research team in search of “The Great White Space,” described in ancient and arcane texts as a portal leading to the extremities of the universe. Plowright, Scarsdale, and the rest of their crew embark on the Great Northern Expedition, traversing a terrifying and desolate landscape to the Black Mountains, where a passageway hundreds of feet high leads to a lost city miles below the surface of the earth. But the unsettling discoveries they make there are only a precursor of the true horror to follow. For the doorway of the Great White Space opens both ways, and something unspeakably evil has crossed over — a horrifying abomination that does not intend to let any of them return to the surface alive…
Professor “Clark Ashton Scarsdale” indeed.
Here’s the back covers of the Manor and Valancourt editions (click for bigger versions.)
The Great White Space was originally published in hardcover in the UK by Robert Hale in December 1974, and in the US by St. Martins Press in 1975. The three paperback editions above were published in the following order:
Manor Books (July 1976, 192 pages, $1.25, cover artist unknown)
Sphere UK (1980, 188 pages, £1.10, cover by Terry Oakes)
Valancourt Books (July 2013, 174 pages, $15.99, cover artist unknown)
The book was out of print for more then 30 years, until the Valancourt edition in 2013, which includes a new introduction by Stephen Jones. I bought my copy as part of a 15-book collection for six bucks on eBay.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.
I myself haven’t read it, but I understand that Stephen Jones’ bio of Basil Copper is excellent.
Thanks for the tip, Bob! I wasn’t even aware this existed.
For what little it may be worth — I gave a library copy of this one a try many years ago, I think when it first came out, and found it didn’t hold my interest….it seemed at the time rather a dud.
I’ve not read any of Copper’s novels, but I have read several very effective short stories of his. I remember one in particular – “Amber Print,” about a haunted print of the film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, of all things. The premise sounds silly, but it was extremely eerie.
Some of you who have read Basil Copper’s “The Great White Space” may be interested in a sequel that I wrote this year called, imaginatively enough, “The Return to the Great White Space.”
It can be found here:
My other books can be seen here:
> For what little it may be worth — I gave a library copy of this one a try many years ago, I think when it first came out, and
> found it didn’t hold my interest… it seemed at the time rather a dud.
Lovecraft isn’t to everyone’s taste — and Lovecraft pastiche, doubly so. Personally I find most of August Derleth’s Lovecraftian fiction unreadable. But there’s certainly a vast number of fans who find great enjoyment in it.
> I remember one in particular – “Amber Print,” about a haunted print of the film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, of all
> things. The premise sounds silly, but it was extremely eerie.
Sounds eerie enough to me! I bought a copy of the PS Collection a few years ago (the Stephen Fabian covers were too much to resist), and I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the rec!
> Some of you who have read Basil Copper’s “The Great White Space” may be interested in a sequel that I wrote this year
> called, imaginatively enough, “The Return to the Great White Space.”
Looks terrific! Thanks for letting us know. What led you to write a sequel?
I’ve only read a couple of Copper’s short stories. His reprinted stories are usually found in Lovecraftian-like anthologies.
And the little I’ve read of Copper, I agree with John, I’d say this author is in the same ballpark as August Derleth: someone for the Lovecraftian completist to read, but not all that great of an author.
That being said, I would like to read “The Great White Space.” The fact that it’s been reprinted several times says something for it.
John, at his best in “The Colour Out of Space” Lovecraft seems to me outstanding. I attempted Great White Space at a time when I was quite a Lovecraft devotee and it didn’t seem very good then. It wshould not get a free pass from anyone just because “Lovecraftian” can be stuck on it. I’m not saying anyone here is doing that, but I do suspect that that happens.
> It should not get a free pass from anyone just because “Lovecraftian” can be stuck on
> it. I’m not saying anyone here is doing that, but I do suspect that that happens.
You’ll get no argument from me. A lot of Lovecraft pastiche rises to the level of fan fiction, but not much higher. Nothing wrong with that, and there’s plenty of fans who get a lot of enjoyment from it, but it falls far, far short of Lovecraft at his height.