I’ve really been enjoying this gradual survey I’ve been doing of Theodore Sturgeon’s paperbacks. It hasn’t been a particularly deliberate undertaking… the truth is that, as I come across his books, I’ve been talking about them. This week I stumbled on a copy of the 1965 Berkley edition of A Touch of Strange (above middle), and here we are.
Part of the reason I enjoy them is that I find it fascinating that a writer could have made a decent living in this business selling almost exclusively short stories. Sturgeon did write five novels (six, if you want to count his 1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea novelization), but he’s far more well known for more than two dozen short fiction collections. And it was upon them that he largely built his considerable reputation.
Another reason is that I genuinely find it delightful to catalog the different editions, and note all the variations. A Touch of Strange was reprinted five times, by three different publishers, between 1958 and 1978, before it vanished from bookstores forever. Each of those editions is unique, not just in cover art and design, but also in how it was packaged and presented — and, in some cases, in content as well.
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Author Philip Sandifer (The Last War in Albion, TARDIS Eruditorum) has a fascinating take on the ongoing 2015 Hugo controversy, pointing out that debating with the Sad Puppies is a waste of time — not because they don’t have a point, but because they are largely irrelevant. Theo Beale’s Rabid Puppies slate largely dictated the outcome, and it’s Beale ‘s agenda that will shape the outcome in future years.
Relatively unreported — and indeed misreported in most coverage of this, is the fact that the Sad Puppies largely failed… In the only category in which both Beale and Torgersen proposed full slates, Best Short Story, Beale’s nominees made it.
Sandifer’s thesis is that the Sad Puppies, and the groundswell of fans who’ve gathered to support it, are the popular face of a much more tightly controlled effort by Theo Beale.
As we’ve seen, it’s not really Torgersen who is most important here; it’s Theodore Beale…. The Rabid Puppies were the slate that actually dominated the Hugos nominations, but the Sad Puppies give every appearance of having been actively constructed to allow them to… Regardless of Torgersen’s intentions, the practical result is that he’s providing the politely moderate front for a movement that is in practice dominated by Theodore Beale…
Torgersen makes much of empowering fans, saying that the slate “is a recommendation. Not an absolute,” and stressing that “YOU get to have a say in who is acknowledged.” Beale, on the other hand, discourages his readers from exercising any personal preference, saying of his recommendations that “I encourage those who value my opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy to nominate them precisely as they are.”
Read the complete article here.
Sturgeon is Alive and Well… was Theodore Sturgeon’s fourteenth short story collection. It was first published in 1971, and came following a five-year gap after Starshine (1966). As I mentioned in my write-up on that book, Starshine went through nearly a dozen printings in as many years. But Sturgeon is Alive and Well… had only three: a hardcover in 1971, a paperback reprint the same year from Berkley Medallion (above left, cover by the great Paul Lehr), and a Pocket reprint in 1978 (above right, artist unknown.)
It’s now been out of print for 37 years, and there is no digital edition.
The title is… unusual. It probably made more sense in 1971, when Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was an unexpected smash hit off-Broadway. Sturgeon touches on what a five-year gap between collections meant for a writer who made a living on short stories in his introduction.
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Theodore Sturgeon’s first short story collection was Without Sorcery, a handsome hardcover published in 1948 with an introduction by Ray Bradbury. As you can imagine, it’s a tough book to find these days, even for collectors.
The paperback edition, released 13 long years later, dropped five stories and the introduction, and was re-titled Not Without Sorcery. It became Sturgeon’s tenth collection and was released in two editions, from Ballantine (in 1961, with a rather drab cover by an unknown artist) and Del Rey (in 1975, with a far more interesting cover from artist Darrell K. Sweet.) 1975 was the last time the book saw a mass market edition; it remained out of print for 35 years, until Kessinger Publishing did a facsimile reprint edition in 2010.
Sturgeon was a Campbell writer through and through, and all eight stories in Not Without Sorcery appeared in the two pulp magazines John W. Campbell edited: Astounding Science Fiction, and its sister magazine Unknown Worlds. The stories were published over a two-year period, 1939-1941. I’ve assembled some of the original covers below, because I can never resist an excuse to showcase pulp magazines.
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For this installment of Vintage Treasures, we’re going to set the Wayback Machine for that far distant era of American publishing, when it wasn’t at all unusual for a midlist science fiction writer to publish a paperback collection clocking in at a slender 174 pages… and have it go through nearly a dozen printings in as many years. Ah, for the days when the American public had a greater appetite for short stories!
Starshine was Sturgeon’s thirteenth collection (thirteen short story collections! It boggles the mind). It included three novelettes and three short stories, spanning just over two decades of his career: 1940 to 1961. I’ve captured the covers of all the paperback editions in this article — if you’re an old-timer like me, maybe one of them will jog your memory.
The first edition of Starshine was the December 1966 Pyramid paperback (above left, cover by Jack Gaughan.) It was back in print less than two years later, in March 1969, with a new cover by Gaughan again (above middle). Why it needed a new cover, I dunno – I much prefer the original one.
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about my surprise in finding a Theodore Sturgeon collection I hadn’t known existed: To Here and the Easel, a handsome Panther Books paperback from 1975 that never had a US edition.
That book re-ignited my interest in Theodore Sturgeon, whom I consider one of the finest short story writers to dabble in SF and fantasy in the 20th Century. And it reminded me that I have by no means exhausted the Sturgeon titles I already have in my collection.
So this week I pulled another one off my shelf — the 1978 paperback edition of Sturgeon in Orbit, which I’ve never read before. It collects a fine sample of Sturgeon’s work from the early 1950s, the era of flying saucers, national paranoia, and a newborn fear of nuclear Armageddon. It features mysterious alien invaders, noble scientists facing terrifying choices, and stranger things.
The unusual cover, by Stanislaw Fernandes, was a departure for Sturgeon, whose books usually featured abstract space scenes. This one features… well, I’m not sure really. A runway model wearing three capes and a swami headdress, who looks like she’s about to level up. I get it.
Whatever the case, it’s a nice, slender volume that promises to be something I haven’t enjoyed in a while — a very quick read. So far, it’s been a lot of fun and I look forward to finishing it this weekend.
Here’s the description from the back of the book.
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Before continuing my Fantasia diary with a look at the movies I saw last Sunday, I want to focus in on one specific film that struck me as an utterly brilliant piece of science-fiction satire. I think it divided the audience; I’ve heard and seen reactions from people who were left cold by it as well as from people who loved it as much as I did. Perhaps that’s not surprising. The movie is The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam from a script by Pat Rushin, and it is as idiosyncratic and persistently individual as you’d expect from Gilliam.
Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is an eccentric solitary in a hyperconnected future. He works for a corporation, Mancom, plugging numbers together — which he does by manipulating blocks on a screen with a joystick, effectively playing video games. A chance encounter with Management (Matt Damon) allows him to work from home, a deserted church, trying to put together the zero theorem, a mathematical proof of the pointlessness of life — which Management believes can be leveraged to make money. Qohen’s pleased, since what he wants more than anything else in life is a phone call he believes will come out of the blue and grant him enlightenment, and now he can sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. But his solitude’s plagued by outsiders, including the seductive Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), and Management’s son Bob (Lucas Hedges), an even sharper computer whiz than Qohen.
The Zero Theorem is visually startling, steampunk gone day-glo. It’s a perceptive, idiosyncratic take on the Wired World Of Today, here depicted as Brave New World gone berserk. In fact, Gilliam considers this movie part of his ‘Orwellian trilogy,’ along with Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, but it certainly feels more like Huxley. It depicts a world commercialised and infantilised, where ads for the Church of Batman the Redeemer float above the street. It’s a sharp criticism of easy escapism, but seems to question as well where contrasting meaning is to be found, whether religious transcendence is valid or whether belief is just another form of escape. The movie’s more interested in questions than answers, even questioning itself and its own metaphors on occasion. Days later, I’m still thinking about it, arguing with it, astounded by it.
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about Theodore Sturgeon’s collection The Stars Are the Styx and complained that virtually all of Sturgeon’s brilliant short story collections had now been out of print for over three decades.
I did this mostly out of bitterness and greed. I’d spent several years happily tracking down all 16 of Sturgeon’s paperback collections — a highly collectible lot — but now, those days were over. I wanted more, but no more were forthcoming. It’s not like I was going to discover a new Sturgeon collection I’d never heard of or something.
Of course, a few days after I wrote that article, I discovered a new Sturgeon collection I’d never heard of.
It was To Here and the Easel, a gorgeous Panther paperback from 1975, with an eye-catching Peter Jones cover. I discovered it accidentally on eBay and, after gawking at it for several long minutes — and them making sure it wasn’t simply a retitled version of a US collection I already had — I promptly purchased it.
It arrived a few days later and I am thrilled to have it. Here’s the back cover blurb:
Here are all the ingredients for a splendidly varied and entertaining collection of science fiction and science fantasy: a mental parasite which lives in the minds of successive human hosts, forcing them to do its will… the man who ‘reads’ gravestones… a devastating weapon sent from beyond space and time which poses the ultimate threat to an already shaky galactic federation… and more!
With virtuoso skill and brilliance of invention, Theodore Sturgeon displays in this collection the mastery of his field which has won him international acclaim.
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We’re living in a truly splendid era for fantasy fans. Fantasy films and TV shows routinely top box office charts and Nielsen ratings, fantasy novels crowd bestseller lists, and Gandalf, Harry Potter, and Tyrion Lannister are all household names. Believe it or not, there was a time when girls did not find you cool for talking about Wolverine or Captain America, or for being able to rattle off the names all 13 dwarves who accompanied Bilbo into the Misty Mountains. Hard to comprehend, I know.
Even those of us who cherish the history of the genre have a lot to celebrate. Many of the great fantasy books of the 20th Century are still in print, or at least available inexpensively online. Let’s face it — if you’re a fantasy fan, the world is your oyster.
Unless you’re a fan of short story collections, of course. In which case, you’re out of luck.
For most 20th Century fantasy writers, this has been a regrettable literary development, but not catastrophic. Most didn’t have short story collections anyway. But for some — like the great Theodore Sturgeon, who produced much of his best work at short length — it means that the 21st Century is rapidly forgetting them.
And that’s a tragedy. Yes, Sturgeon did leave behind a handful of novels, some of which — like More Than Human, The Dreaming Jewels, and Venus Plus X — are still in print today (in attractive trade paperback editions from Vintage Books actually; check ’em out.) But for decades before his death in 1985, he was justly renowned as one of the finest short story writers the field had ever seen.
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Urania Speculative Fiction, an imprint of Musa Publishing, Colorado Springs, CO (180 pp in Adobe pdf format, $4.99, Kindle edition, April 2014)
Reviewed by Michaele Jordan
Josh Strnad does not look like a horror writer. He’s not dark and brooding, or dressed in black leather. Rather, he’s young and blond, fresh faced and apple-cheeked. He looks like he just came straight from a Wisconsin dairy farm. (And for all I know, he did.) Yet he writes horror. It says so right there on his website.
You probably didn’t need me to tell you that. Quite likely you’ve caught one of his stories. He first came to my attention with ‘Hellevator,’ in Eric J. Guignard’s 2013 collection, After Death… An Anthology of Dark and Speculative Fiction Stories Examining What May Occur After We Die. But you may prefer ‘If You Should Die Before I Wake’ which appeared Nightmare Stalkers & Dream Walkers from Horrified Press, also in 2013.
He has not slacked off with the new year. His H.P. Lovecraft tribute, “Goddess of Our Fathers,” is featured in the new Dark Hall Press Cosmic Horror Anthology. And his latest story ‘The Last Kiss” (he tells us this is unlike anything else he’s ever written) will soon be available in Vignettes From The End Of The World.
In short, he’s written a lot of good stories. Which means it’s time for a novel. So. . . here it is! Pantheon is not, strictly speaking, horror, although it has its horrific moments. It’s more a cross-genre work, merging Greek mythology with the old West. Of course, Greek mythology may not count as a genre, but no matter. This isn’t the same Greek mythology you got from Edith Hamilton in school.
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