Vintage Treasures: Perilous Planets, edited by Brian Aldiss

Vintage Treasures: Perilous Planets, edited by Brian Aldiss

Perilous Planets-back-small Perilous Planets-small

Cover by Alex Ebel

In the days when I was first discovering science fiction, there were a number of seminal books that helped lead me along the path to becoming a collector. These were the tantalizing artifacts that taught me that SF and fantasy tended to come in a series, just like the comics I collected in my youth. And this — in the days when completing a series meant questing through bookstores, instead of simply ordering online — added a delicious element of uncertainty and desire to my new hobby.

I knew that my favorite books as a kid, like Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators and Perry Rhodan, were packaged as a series, and I was comfortable with the concept. When it gradually dawned on me that adult SF books, like Asimov’s Foundation series, Herbert’s Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and others, were series as well, I took to science fiction like a fish to water.

SF publishers understood this simple reading mentality of course, and frequently took advantage of it, packaging books that often had only nebulous connections into virtual series. Some were more successful than others. One of my favorite examples is the late 70s SF anthology series from Avon Books, all published with gorgeous wraparound covers by Alex Ebel. Avon found four Brian Aldiss anthologies published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK, and repackaged them with similar covers across the pond: Galactic Empires Volume One (1979), Galactic Empires: Volume Two (1979), Evil Earths (1979), and Perilous Planets (1980).

Sadly, two other Weidenfeld & Nicolson volumes edited by Aldiss, Space Opera (1974) and Space Odysseys (1975) were not included (those two were eventually published in the US by Berkley, bless ’em.)

Evil Earths (1978), Galactic Empires, Volume Two (1979), and Perilous Planets (1980), all published by Avon. Covers by Alex Ebel

Artist Alex Abel delivered colorful, eye-catching covers that really captured the pulp sensibilities of these books, all of which had fundamentally simple SF themes.

Apart from simply looking great, they were also very strong anthologies. My favorite is perhaps Perilous Planets, which includes an Instrumentality of Mankind story by Cordwainer Smith, a novella by P. Schuyler Miller, and tales by A.E. van Vogt, Robert Sheckley Clifford D. Simak, Robert F. Young. Cherry Wilder, Michael Shaara, E.C. Tubb, Norman Spinrad, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl, and others.

The book is divided into five sections, each of which has an informative and entertaining intro by Aldiss. Here’s the inside flap text.

Forgotten Futures

Dreamworlds, real worlds, and weird worlds await those dauntless travelers through time and space who encounter these perilous planets. Noted author, critic, and anthologizer Brian Aldiss has culled these seventeen stories from the best in the science fiction magazines of three decades. The stories are from the past, but they travel light years into the future… into the alien domains of quogs, humanoids, and wire-colored oceans stretching to the last frontier.

And here’s the complete table of contents.

Introduction by Brian W. Aldiss
“How Are They All on Deneb IV?” by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction, SF Horizons, No. 2, 1965)
Uninhabited Planets: “… Because They’re There,” by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Mouth of Hell” by David I. Masson (New Worlds, January 1966)
“Brightside Crossing” by Alan E. Nourse (Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1956)
“The Sack” by William Morrison (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1950)
Inhabited Planets: Whatever Answers the Door…, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“The Monster” by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1948)
“The Monsters” by Robert Sheckley (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1953)
“Grenville’s Planet” by Michael Shaara (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1952)
“Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak (Fantastic Adventures, July 1951)
A Dash of Symbols: No Names to the Rivers, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“The Ark of James Carlyle” by Cherry Wilder (New Writings in SF 24, 1974)
“On the River” by Robert F. Young (Fantastic Stories of Imagination, January 1965)
“Goddess in Granite” by Robert F. Young (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1957)
“The Seekers” by E. C. Tubb (New Writings in S-F 6, 1965)
Mars and Venus: Love and War, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“When the People Fell” by Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy Magazine, April 1959)
“The Titan” P. Schuyler Miller (Marvel Tales, Winter 1934)
Becoming More Alien: A Universal Home Truth, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Four in One” by Damon Knight (Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1953)
“The Age of Invention” by Norman Spinrad (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1966)
“The Snowmen” by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy Magazine, December 1959)
“Schwartz Between the Galaxies” by Robert Silverberg (Stellar 1, 1974)
Afterword by Brian W. Aldiss

Our coverage of the other books in the Avon series includes:

Galactic Empires, Volumes One and Two, edited By Brian Aldiss

Perilous Planets was published by Avon Books in February 1980. It is 350 pages, priced at $2.50. The cover is by Alex Ebel. I bought a copy for precisely $1 from Doug Ellis at the 2019 Windy City Pulp and Paper Show; see if you can find it in the massive paperback haul I brought home.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Thomas Parker

These Avon Aldiss anthologies are some of my favorite books – great covers, great stories from classic magazines, great selection and commentary from a great writer. In a word – great!

Tony Den

Lovely covers I can see the attraction notwithstanding the awesome content.

Joe H.

When I was growing up, the local public library had both volumes of Galactic Empires, at least, and a hardcover of Space Opera. I remember great stories in all three of them.

Now I own all six, of course, but haven’t gotten around to actually reading them, of course. Someday …

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