Clark Ashton Smith is one of the greatest pulp writers of all time, and certainly one of the greatest early fantasy writers. Over a century after his first collection appeared (The Star-Treader and Other Poems, in 1912) virtually all of his work is still in print. That’s an extraordinary statement.
Of course, when I say “in print,” I mean it’s available in an assortment of limited edition hardcovers and trade paperbacks from Night Shade Books, Prime Books, Penguin Classics, and others. Meaning the majority of volumes are priced chiefly for the collector. There hasn’t been a mass market edition of Clark Ashton Smith in over three decades, since Pocket Books’ Timescape imprint released a handsome three-volume paperback collection of his most popular stories between 1981 and 1983.
The City of the Singing Flame (1981)
The Last Incantation (1982)
The Monster of the Prophecy (1983)
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The November 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction features cover art by Jack Coggins of an Earth satellite. This satellite is more like a space station than satellites I typically think of. But considering that the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1) wasn’t launched until about five years after this issue hit newsstands, everything was still left to the imagination at this point.
Before I jump to the fiction, I want to comment on Willy Ley’s “For Your Information.” In part of the column, he discusses Mars and its vegetation. I thought that was rather odd or presumptuous for him, but at this time, scientists were observing coloration on the planet’s surface that changed seasonally. That coloration plausibly suggested vegetation, and if there’s vegetation, what other life might be there? Then Mariner 4 did a fly-by in 1965, showing reality. Additional Mariner spacecraft confirmed more of the same — that Mars was a dead planet.
I wonder how many people were crushed by this, including authors of science fiction. There might have been some who feared Martians coming to destroy us and felt relief. But I also think that the possibility of life on Mars offered a kind of hope to some — that humanity wasn’t completely alone. With the truth of Mars revealed, that hope had to extend beyond the neighboring red planet. It will be interesting to see how science fact continues to influence science fiction, not necessarily by devestating our hopes and dreams but by helping to reshape them into new possibilities. And even without life on Mars, the planet still has an allure to it — a vacant planet that beckons to be explored and perhaps settled.
“The Martian Way” by Isaac Asimov — Mario Rioz and Ted Long work together on a small ship near Mars, tracking and scavenging the abandoned shells of Earth spacecraft. These jettisoned pieces are essentially rocket stages cast off as part of the flight, and they contain metal the humans on Mars can reuse.
A rising politician on Earth named Hilder points out that Mars doesn’t reimburse Earth for the shells, and the monetary investments will take many years to return. But worse than that, Mars can never replenish the water it takes from Earth to propel its ships. As Hilder’s voice gains more attention, other politicians begin mimicking him, which leads to new policies that prevent the scavenging of shells.
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If you’re a pulp fan like me, you’re always interested in high quality facsimile reproductions of pulp magazines, especially ones available at reasonable prices. So I was delighted to discovered Science Fiction Classics, a magazine that reproduces a complete pulp magazine with every issue. They’ve published ten issues so far, focusing (so far) exclusively on that grand old lady of the pulps, Amazing Stories.
The most recent issue, Science Fiction Classics #10, reproduces one of the rarest early pulps, and certainly the rarest issue of Amazing — the very first Amazing Stories Annual, from 1927. It includes the complete Barsoom novel The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a short story by A. Hyatt Verrill, as well as five reprints — two classics from A. Merritt, including the long novella “The Face in the Abyss” and “The People of the Pit,” and tales by Austin Hall, Jacque Morgan, and H. G. Wells. It also contains interior artwork by Frank R. Paul, Gambee, and others. The complete contents are:
Preface by Hugo Gernsback
The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
“The Face in the Abyss” by A. Merritt (1923)
“The Man Who Saved the Earth” by Austin Hall (1919)
“The People of the Pit” by A. Merritt (1918)
“The Man Who Could Vanish” by A. Hyatt Verrill
“The Feline Light & Power Company Is Organized” by Jacque Morgan (1912)
“Under the Knife” by H. G. Wells (1896)
Science Fiction Classics is published by Pulp Tales Press. Issues are print on demand, and available through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and other places. Issue #10 was published on June 3, 2015; it is 132 pages, priced at $12.95. The cover is by Frank R. Paul. Order right at the Pulp Tales Press website.
See our August Fantasy Magazine Rack here, and all of our recent magazine coverage here.
A few months ago I wrote an article about H Warner Munn’s excellent books The King at the World’s Edge and The Ship From Atlantis. Munn wrote both in the 1930’s, although the latter was only published later. By all accounts he took a hiatus from professional writing to concentrate on raising a family and providing the financial security that entails.
His passion for writing had not totally subsided, and as his “day job” career wound down, Munn embarked upon what many consider to be his magnum opus: Merlin’s Ring. Please note that this article does contain a few spoilers, which are necessary to explain certain concepts.
The volume sat on my shelf for years, like so many under the “one day I’ll read it” tag, but having undertaken the previous two books in what is now considered the Merlin’s Godson Cycle, I felt obliged to start Merlin’s Ring.
Merlin’s Ring continues the tail of Gwalchmai, whom we last encountered in The Ship From Atlantis. The book was published by Ballantine in 1974 with a cover by Gervasio Gallardo. It appears to have been republished a few times under the same imprint and later by Del Rey, with the same cover, until 1981. (Click on the images at left and right for more detailed versions.)
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Before the Cumberbunnies took over and flooded the internet with “I heart Sherlock” memes, the term ‘Sherlockian’ referred to those who studied (and often wrote about) Arthur Conan Doyle’s sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes. Some of it was dead serious, some was tongue in cheek and much was in between. Monsignor Ronald Knox’s 1921 “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” is the cornerstone of Holmes studies.
With that, I tell you that that Don Herron is THE Ronald Knox of Robert E. Howard. “Conan vs. Conantics” and the ensuing “The Dark Barbarian” showed that Howard could be analyzed and treated as literature. As well as something to stir up debate! If you haven’t read the over-600 page essay collection, “The Dark Barbarian That Towers Over All,” you need to pony up $4.99 and get the kindle version now.
And with that, Herron, who is also a noted expert on Dashiell Hammett (this man knows good writing) is going to treat you to a little Howardiana regarding REH’s most chilling horror story, “Pigeons From Hell.”
Recently I did a reread on H. P. Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet cycle and had a Hey, Wait a Minute moment. . .
Deep into his follow-up book to A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos, John D. Haefele had asked me to look the poems over. Haefele is surveying Lovecraft’s Great Tales — not just the top achievements, but how the fiction developed as it went along, leading to the break-out stories — not just Lovecraft’s own writing, but how his discoveries of authors such as Robert W. Chambers and Arthur Machen and the ongoing cross-influences of his fellow pulpsters such as Frank Belknap Long, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard display in the ongoing saga that would become known as the Cthulhu Mythos.
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In a way, Robert E. Howard’s career is similar to that of Dashiell Hammett. Both men had huge impacts on their genres (Howard wrote many styles, but he’s best known for his sword and sorcery tales). Both were early practitioners in said genres. Both men wrote excellent stories for about a decade. And both men ended their careers on their own.
Hammett, who seemed more interested in a dissolute lifestyle than in writing, effectively walked away from his typewriter. He wrote his last novel in 1934 (The Thin Man) but produced literally nothing for the remaining twenty-five years of his life. He could have gone back to writing the hard-boiled stories that made his career, but he voluntarily ended his writing life.
In 1936, Howard’s mother was failing in a coma. He walked outside to his car, pulled out a gun and killed himself. His writing career was more effectively finished than Hammett’s would be.
Both were supremely skilled writers who chose to deprive the world of their talent and left decades of stories unwritten. But there was a key difference between the two. From the beginning, Hammett was acclaimed and recognized as the leader in his field. Though Carroll John Daly came first (barely), there is no comparison between the two in critical view.
Howard was not critically lauded. His first Conan tale, “The Phoenix on the Sword” (a rewriting of the Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!”), appeared in Weird Tales in December of 1932. The next two Conan tales were outright rejected!
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Over at Howard Andrew Jones’ blog, Bill Ward and Howard Andrew Jones continue their re-read of the first Del Rey Conan volume, The Coming of Conan., with the very first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” originally published in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales magazine. Here’s Howard:
Look at the story’s opening quote. That’s practically the gold standard of quotes from imaginary historical sources. That fabulous “Know, O Prince” and all that follows has been imitated but rarely, if ever, equalled. This, fellow fantasy fans, is the way it’s done. Admittedly, there are a few phrases in the middle of the paragraph that are less inspired. I’m looking at “Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem.” Most of the rest of the quote paints lovely word pictures, but those phrases don’t remotely approach the poetic majesty of the rest — what does Zingara look like? What does Koth look like? But the rest is lovely, and the quality picks right back up with “dreaming west” and powers on to that fantastic finish, “Hither came Conan…”
Look at the opening line of the story: “Over shadowy spires and gleaming towers lay the ghostly darkness and silence that runs before dawn.” Damn. Why doesn’t anyone write like that any more? Howard sets the scene with sharp, sensory laden description. He’s a film director guiding the camera with a fantastic establishing shot.
Their first post on this topic discussed Howard’s “The Hyborian Age.” Read the complete exchange here.
Rich Horton’s personal blog, Strange at Ecbatan, is a great place to hang out if (like us) you love vintage paperbacks and magazines. In addition to his reviews here at Black Gate (not to mention his editing duties for The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, the 2015 Volume of which just arrived last month), Rich also reviews forgotten bestsellers, neglected classics, and obscure books by writers who later became highly regarded. This week he takes a look at an Ace Double from 1961.
This week’s Old Bestseller post is on a book that was by no means a bestseller — it’s another Ace Double review, this time a new one (for me) — the 1961 pairing of a rather dreadful 1932 pulp serial by Ray Cummings (Wandl the Invader) with one of John Brunner’s better early short novels (I Speak For Earth), written as by “Keith Woodcott.”
Wandl the Invader was serialized in Astounding in 1932. It was a sequel to Brigands of the Moon, which began its serialization in the third issue of Astounding, in 1930. It is set in a future in which space travel is well-established within the Solar System, and essentially human civilizations have been discovered on both Venus and Mars. (Interbreeding is possible, for instance.) A small planet called Wandl has appeared in the Solar System, and Gregg Haljan (hero of Brigands of the Moon) is recruited to captain a spaceship to resist the evil intentions of the planet’s inhabitants.
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We are trying to look at as broad a range of topics related to Robert E. Howard as we can in this series. Characters, genres, events, themes: Black Gate really wants to showcase the many facets of the man and his works.
Today’s guest post is such an example. Jeff Shanks wrote the introduction to the just published facsimile edition of Howard’s essay, The Hyborian Age and is the REH consultant on Modiphius’ upcoming Conan RPG (we’re gonna have a post for that, too!). I can’t think of anyone better to write about one of my favorite subjects, world-building.
While Robert E. Howard is known as the creator of a number of memorable heroic protagonists, such as Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and, of course, Conan the Cimmerian, his efforts as a pioneer in fantasy world-building are often overlooked. When it is remarked upon at all, Howard’s creation of the Hyborian Age of Conan is generally described as a fairly impromptu effort — a hodge-podge of fictitious kingdoms based on thinly-disguised real world historical analogues, thrown together hastily in early 1932 after the first Conan story was accepted by Weird Tales.
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Dungeons & Dragons publisher TSR acquired Amazing Stories, the longest running science fiction magazine in the world, in 1982, as a vehicle to help promote their family of games to SF readers around the world. By the mid-80s, TSR had their first fiction bestseller on their hands with the first Dragonlance trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, which sold well over three million copies worldwide and spawned dozens of sequels, and TSR quickly became very adept at leveraging all aspects of publishing to support their properties. If publishing D&D novels helped introduce millions of young readers to their products, why not try the same with Amazing Stories?
So TSR contracted Martin H. Greenberg to produce five mass market anthologies, mining six decades of Amazing fiction. The results weren’t particularly big sellers (and they didn’t save Amazing from eventually folding), but they were nonetheless a fabulous boon for collectors. Best of all, they included the most comprehensive survey ever done of the pulp Amazing Stories, a three-volume set containing nearly 1,000-pages, covering 1926 to 1955. I looked at all five volumes in 2012, in a Vintage Treasures article on TSR’s Amazing Science Fiction Anthologies.
The long-running companion magazine to Amazing, Fantastic — which published some of the finest early sword & sorcery in the field, including stories by Fritz Leiber, John Jakes, Poul Anderson, Avram Davidson, James Tiptree, Jr., John Brunner, George R. R. Martin, Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorock, and Dean Koontz — merged with Amazing in 1980, and the rights fell to TSR. As part of their initiative to promote their magazine properties, TSR also commissioned Greenberg and new Amazing Stories editor Patrick L. Price to compile a deluxe anthology collecting 30 years of Fantastic fiction, with new artwork and an 8-page color section reproducing some of their most famous covers. The result was a fine collection, and one of the only anthologies dedicated to one of the all-time great S&S magazines.
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