Exploring the Dark Corners of the Universe: The Science Fiction Anthologies of August Derleth

Exploring the Dark Corners of the Universe: The Science Fiction Anthologies of August Derleth

Strange Ports of Call (Berkley Books, June 1958). Cover artist tragically unknown

August Derleth is remembered these days primarily for his stewardship of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He founded Arkham House (with Donald Wandrei) in 1939 to bring Lovecraft into print in hardcover, and over the next 30 years he contributed steadily to Lovecraft’s foundational Cthulhu Mythos, both in his own writing, and by publishing numerous books in the cycle from other horror notables. He was also (as Bob Byne is constantly reminding me) the creator of the popular Sherlock Holmes pastiche Solar Pons, and the author of a great deal of historical fiction, including the Sac Prairie Saga.

But for me, Derleth’s greatest contributions were as an editor. He assembled some 30 horror and science fiction anthologies, including Sleep No More (1944), The Other Side of the Moon (1949), Far Boundaries (1951), The Outer Reaches (1951), Beachheads in Space (1952), Night’s Yawning Peal (1952), and many more. Many of them are highly collectible and hard for the casual collector to get their hands on — but the paperback reprints, by Berkley Books, Sphere, Signet, Four Square Books, and many others, are much easier to come by.

In the late 50s Berkley Books reprinted seven of Derleth’s early SF anthologies in handsome paperback editions including his first, Strange Ports of Call. These books helped introduce thousands of American readers who didn’t read magazines to science fiction for the first time. Here’s a look at all seven.

[Click the images for more august versions.]

Strange Ports of Call (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1948). Cover artist unknown

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls Derleth “one of the pioneering anthologists in the genre.” He began his editing career in 1944 with Sleep No More, a horror collection published by Farrar & Rinehart that gathered stories from Strange Tales, Weird Tales, and other pulp-era sources. He stuck his toe in science fiction in 1948 with Strange Ports of Call, published in hardcover by Pellegrini & Cudahy, which drew heavily from pulps such as Astounding, Wonder Stories, Amazing, The Black Cat, Planet Stories, and others.

The formula was set.  Over the next six years Derleth produced nine hardcover science fiction anthologies, almost all with Pellegrini & Cudahy, and all of which drew heavily from pulp magazines.

Strange Ports of Call (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1948)
The Other Side of the Moon (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1949)
Beyond Time and Space (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1950)
Far Boundaries (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1951)
The Outer Reaches (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1951)
Beachheads in Space (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1952)
Worlds of Tomorrow (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1953)
Time to Come (Farrar, Straus and Young, 1954)
Portals of Tomorrow (Rinehart, 1954)

Berkley Books reprinted all but Far Boundaries and Portals of Tomorrow in abridged paperback editions at the end of 1950s.

August Derleth’s SF anthologies from Berkley Books,
published 1957-59. Covers by Richard Powers and Robert E. Schulz

Berkley’s mass market paperbacks were heavily abridged, reprinting roughly half of the contents of the hardcovers. The money they saved on paper they presumably spent on cover art, by Richard Powers and Robert E. Schulz, which was top notch.

The first of the reprints, Beachheads in Space, was released to test the market in 1957, with a page count of 190 and a cover price of 35 cents. It sold well, and six more followed in rapid succession, produced with machine-like precision to hit a 172-174 page count and a profitable 35-cent price point.

They were, in order of publication:

Beachheads in Space (190 pages, 1957) — cover by Richard Powers
Beyond Time and Space (174 pages, February 1958) — cover by Robert E. Schulz
The Outer Reaches (173 pages, April 1958) — artist unknown
Strange Ports of Call (173 pages, June 1958) — artist unknown
Worlds of Tomorrow (172 pages, October 1958) — cover by Richard Powers
Time to Come (172 pages, December 1958) — cover by Robert E. Schulz
The Other Side of the Moon (172 pages, 35 cents, June 1959) — cover by Richard Powers

All seven were sold at 35 cents. The Berkley reprints came to an end in 1959, and Derleth didn’t have another SF anthology appear in paperback until The Time of Infinity, a UK paperback original published in 1963 that never appeared in the US.

The Time of Infinity (Consul Books, 1963). Cover by Norman Adams

Only one of the Berkley paperbacks was reprinted. Time to Come appeared in paperback in 1965 by Tower Books, and again in 1969 from Pyramid. It was Derleth’s last science fiction anthology to appear in paperback in the US.

Over the next few months I’ll take a closer look at each of Derleth’s SF anthologies, starting today with the first, Strange Ports of Call. Its contains the complete text of Lovecraft’s famous “At the Mountains of Madness,” Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth,” a Martian Chronicles tale by Ray Bradbury, plus stories by Derleth’s pal Donald Wandrei, Lord Dunsany, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Carl Jacobi and Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. van Vogt, and many more.

When Theodore Sturgeon reviewed it for Astounding, he called Strange Ports of Call,

The most unusual science-fiction anthology to have been published to date… Derleth  [intends] to present stories in the field which are good literary writing, and which have good writing’s prime requisite, real characters.

I suppose that, since Sturgeon appears in the anthology, we should probably take that with a grain of salt.

Far Boundaries (Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1951), never reprinted in paperback. Cover by Vincent Napoli

Still, modern readers find much to enjoy in the book. It enjoys a 3.56 rating at Goodreads, where reviewer Dave writes:

Strange Ports of Call is an anthology of speculative fiction stories edited by August Derleth. It was first published in 1948 and contains an interesting selection of twenty stories which draw from early horror and science fiction influences and then pulls together some excellent recent works… The book opens with Nelson S. Bond’s twist on the story of creation “The Cunning of the Beast” (1942 – Original Title “Another World Begins”) which is more of a science fiction type story…

In the first half of the anthology, Derleth demonstrated a thorough search of stories which could fall into the category of science fiction going well back. The obvious inclusion was Wells, but Derleth also found other stories that were prior to the golden age which give a wonderful fullness to the anthology. In the second half, the stories are mostly from the recent past (at the time), with seven of the ten stories coming from 1946 and 1947, the two years prior to the collection being published. Nevertheless, he manages to maintain the horror/science fiction feel and includes a number of pieces of the greats from the Golden Age…

Derleth’s anthology is well thought out and contains numerous wonderful works by great authors as well as some which have sadly been largely forgotten. This is an anthology you should consider picking up if you have the chance. It tied for 7th on the Arkham survey for basic SF titles in 1949.

Here’s the complete contents of the original hardcover edition.

Introduction by August Derleth
“The Cunning of the Beast” by Nelson S. Bond (The Blue Book Magazine, November 1942)
“The Worm” by David H. Keller, M.D. (Amazing Stories, March 1929)
“The Crystal Bullet” by Donald Wandrei (Weird Tales, March 1941)
“The Thing from Outside” by George Allan England (Science and Invention, April 1923)
“At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft (Astounding Stories, February and March 1936)
“Mars on the Ether” by Lord Dunsany (Coronet, Sept 1937)
“The God-Box” by Howard Wandrei (Astounding Stories, April 1934)
“Mr. Bauer and the Atoms” by Fritz Leiber (Weird Tales, January 1946)
“The Crystal Egg” by H. G. Wells (The New Review, May 1897)
“John Jones’ Dollar” by Harry Stephen Keeler (The Black Cat, August 1915)
“Call Him Demon” by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fall 1946)
“Master of the Asteroid” by Clark Ashton Smith (Wonder Stories, October 1932)
“A Guest in the House” by Frank Belknap Long (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1946)
“The Lost Street” by Carl Jacobi and Clifford D. Simak (Comet, July 1941)
“Forgotten” by P. Schuyler Miller (Wonder Stories, April 1933)
“Far Centaurus” by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1944)
“Thunder and Roses” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1947)
“The Green Hills of Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein (The Saturday Evening Post, February 8, 1947)
“Blunder” by Philip Wylie (Collier’s, January 12, 1946)
“The Million Year Picnic” by Ray Bradbury (Planet Stories, Summer 1946)

The paperback contained 10 of the original 20 stories.

“Master of the Asteroid” by Clark Ashton Smith
“Far Centaurus” by A. E. van Vogt
“Call Him Demon” by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore
“The Cunning of the Beast” by Nelson S. Bond
“The Crystal Bullet” by Donald Wandrei
“Mr. Bauer and the Atoms” by Fritz Leiber
“Forgotten” by P. Schuyler Miller
“A Guest in the House” by Frank Belknap Long
“Blunder” by Philip Wylie
“The Million Year Picnic” by Ray Bradbury

Abe Books lists copies of the hardcover version for around $40, and eBay and Abe Books both have multiple copies of the paperback edition for under $10.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Aonghus Fallon

Re the first cover. Having the spacesuits resemble armour is a pretty distinctive touch (albeit in keeping with the retro vibe) and should make the artist easier to identify (not that I had any luck!)

Dale Nelson

That Time of Infinity cover art was also used for a Ballantine edition of Niven’s World of Ptaavs.

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