Hither Came Conan: Morgan Holmes on Iron Shadows in the Moon

Monday, February 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Mark Schultz from Del Rey’s ‘The Coming of Conan’

“Shadows in the Moonlight” (editor’s note: Howard’s original title was “Iron Shadows in the Moon”) was the eighth Conan story to appear in the pulp magazine Weird Tales.  Conan had turned out to be a popular character with Weird Tales readers. The character was so popular in fact that fellow Weird Tales writer, E. Hoffmann Price, later wrote that Conan had saved the magazine more than once.

“Shadows in the Moonlight” appeared in the April 1934 issue of Weird Tales. This was an especially strong issue of the magazine. The contents included:

“Satan’s Garden” (Part 1 of 2)      E. Hoffmann Price (cover story)

“Black Thirst”                                     C. L. Moore

“Corsairs of the Cosmos”              Edmond Hamilton

“Shadows in the Moonlight”        Robert E. Howard

“The Death of Malygris”                Clark Ashton Smith

“Behind the Screen”                       Dale Clark

“The Cane”                                         Carl Jacobi

“Bells of Oceana”                             Arthur J. Burks

“In Mayan Splendor” (poem)      Frank Belknap Long

The 1930s Golden Age of Weird Tales was in full force with the three main first stringers present: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and C. L. Moore. Carl Jacobi, while not a headliner author, always produced good-to-excellent horror stories. The Arthur J. Burks story is a reprint from 1927. Burks was the sort of middling writer along the lines of Otis Adelbert Kline and Seabury Quinn that editor Farnsworth Wright was comfortable publishing. The only real weak story was by Dale Clark. Farnsworth Wright has a penchant for barely competent and unmemorable stories of this sort.

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Vintage Treasures: Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, February 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK-small Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK back-small

Terry Carr may be my all-time favorite editor. His Creatures From Beyond (1975) was one of the very first SF anthologies I read in Junior High, and the sixteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction of the Year he produced remain a high water mark for the genre. Carr died in 1987, at the too-young age of 50, but I still read his books with enormous pleasure today.

It may be a sign of age (mine, not Carr’s), but I usually associate him with modern science fiction. So I was a little surprised to discover his anthology Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, which collects a dozen stories published in pulp magazines in 1940-41. This is not an easy book to find; it had a single hardcover printing from Harper & Row in 1978, a UK reprint from Robson a year later, and then promptly vanished. There’s been no paperback, no reprint since 1979, and no digital version. If I hadn’t stumbled on a copy on Amazon through blind luck back in 2011, I probably still wouldn’t know this book existed.

I love pulp SF, so it’s always nice to get a new selection of Golden Age tales, especially from an editor with Carr’s eye. Here he includes a handful of classics, like Asimov’s “Nightfall,” Kuttner’s “The Twonky,” and Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps,” and “–And He Built a Crooked House–,” but also stories I’ve never seen before, like Lester del Rey’s “The Smallest God,” Ross Rocklynne’s “Into the Darkness,” and Leigh Brackett’s “Child of the Green Light.”

But even more interesting than that, at least for me, is Carr’s lengthy editorial material exploring the history of SF’s Golden Age, the major personalities involved, and the stories behind the fiction. Easily 20% of this book (some 90 pages) is written by Carr, and he draws from a great many sources, including a lot of personal correspondence and interviews, to tell some fascinating anecdotes and illuminate the surprising history of some of the greatest science fiction ever written. This is a book that belongs in every serious library of pulp SF, alongside The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Asimov’s Before the Golden Age, and Healy and McComas’ Adventures in Time and Space.

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The Astounding Life of John W. Campbell

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Astounding-small (1) Astounding-back-small

Every now and then, amid your fevered cries for net neutrality, free soil and free silver, the restoration of the house of Stuart, more episodes of Firefly, or whatever other hopeless cause gets your blood racing and your family members fleeing (they recognize a wind-up to a full fledged rant when they hear one), against all odds the universe actually hears, takes note, and gives you precisely what you’ve asked for — not often, dammit, but sometimes.

Thus it was that after decades of buttonholing strangers and lecturing them on the nation’s desperate need for a biography of John W. Campbell, the pioneering science fiction writer and influential editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog) from 1937 until his death in 1971, a couple of months ago I discovered that just such a book had finally been written. (Where did I find this out? I saw it mentioned on some fantasy web site or other… hold on… I’ll think of the name in a minute…)

I Immediately put Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee at the top of my Christmas list, and I have just finished devouring it, blurbs, book jacket, binding glue, and all. Give me a second to belch, and I’ll tell you what I thought.

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Hither Came Conan: Ruminations on “The Phoenix on the Sword”

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_PhoenixDHSwordBobby Derie wrote a great essay on the first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” for this Hither Came Conan series. Certainly, better than anything I could ever come up with. But I still wanted to do a post on this tale. Because:

A –I wanted to contribute more than just what is likely going to be a bottom-rung essay on my assignment (fans of “Rogues in the House” – sorry, you drew the short straw); and

B – I’m pretty sure “Phoenix” was the first Conan story I read. Now, it might have been “The Thing in the Crypt,” in the first Lancer/Ace collection, which I had bought and then stuck on a shelf for at least a decade or two. But I didn’t remember that story when I started going through the Ace books, AFTER exploring Conan via the Del Rey trilogy. So, I think it was “Phoenix.”

So, because I’m a wordy typer, what started out as just one-third of a post on the first three essays in our series, grew into a solo show.

The Phoenix on the Sword

It is well known that “The Phoenix on the Sword,” the first story of Conan the Cimmerian, was a rewrite of a previously unsold tale of an earlier Howard character, Kull, an exile from Atlantis.

Howard sold three Kull stories to Weird Tales, appearing in the August and September issues of 1929, and finally, in November of 1930. Howard also wrote nine more tales about the character, which were not published until after his death. So, only 25% of his Kull stories sold. Not exactly a money-maker.

However, “By This Axe I Rule!”, which had failed to sell to Argosy and Adventure, was dusted off to feature a less philosophical barbarian.

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Rescued from the Vaults of Time: The Sapphire Goddess – The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_801451Zc9o2K4DDave Ritzlin, impresario of DMR Books, has rescued another writer from the distant, fog-obscured days of pulp fantasy. He has done for Nictzin Dyalhis as he did for the nearly-forgotten Clifford Ball (reviewed by me here). If you, like most people, have no idea who Dyalhis was, Ritzlin presents as much information as is available in an excellent introduction to The Sapphire Goddess (2018), his new collection of all nine of the author’s fantasy and science fiction stories.

A quote from the introduction:

Even though Nictzin Dyalhis was the eccentric author’s legal name at that time, it’s highly unlikely he was named that way at birth. He claimed that “Nictzin” was a Toltec Indian name and “Dyalhis” was an old English (or, alternately, Welsh) surname. Neither of these claims is true. Many speculated that his real name was Nicholas Douglas or Nicholas Dallas or something similar, which he modified into something more exotic.

Nonetheless, Weird Tales publisher Farnsworth Wright swore to Donald Wandrei that all the checks for Dyalhis’s stories “were made out to that name.” Whatever the reality, there’s something wonderfully perfect about a fantasist being remembered solely by a name of mysterious origins.

The nine stories in The Sapphire Goddess were published between 1925 and 1940. Eight were published in Weird Tales, with only “He Refused to Stay Dead” published in another magazine, Ghost Stories. Save for the explicitly sci-fi “When the Green Star Waned” and its sequel “The Oath of Hul Jok”, they are a mix of horror and heroic fantasy. Running through most of them is a theme of reincarnation or forgotten past lived in another dimension.

“When the Green Star Waned” (1925) and “The Oath of Hul Jok” (1928) are two adventures of the planet Venhez’s greatest heroes. The first concerns a journey to the now-silent planet Aerth to determine why no one’s heard anything from its inhabitants in years. Dyalhis’s first published story, it’s not an especially finely-wrought story, but it is very successful at creating a nightmare atmosphere, made all the more malevolent with horrible semi-material monsters from the dark side of the moon. It also seems to have introduced the word Blastor for ray guns. That alone is a more than worthy legacy for any pulp story.

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Sky Pirates and Interstellar Wars: The Black Star Passes by John W. Campbell

Friday, January 4th, 2019 | Posted by James Enge

The Black Star Passes-small The Black Star Passes-back-small

Art by Chris Foss

This was the cover of the paperback I had as a youth — still my favorite thing that Campbell published under his own name (with The Moon is Hell running a close second).

Campbell’s best stuff is unquestionably the work he published as Don A. Stuart (e.g. “Who Goes There?”, “Twilight,” “The Elder Gods,” etc). And the heroes of this series, Arcot & Morey, are chemically free from any trace of personality.

But the same is not true of their partner Wade, who appears in the first story “Piracy Preferred” (from Amazing Stories, June 1930) as a super-scientist sky pirate, and after he is cured of his criminal tendencies becomes a valuable and prankish member of the team.

The title story in The Black Star Passes (from Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1930), tells the tale of an interstellar war. But the bad guys are not simply ravening bug-beasts from beyond the void, and the story ends without the happy genocide so common in space opera. (“YAY! We have destroyed an entire intelligent species with our superior science knowhow! Too bad they weren’t Civilized, like us!”) In Campbell’s story, the invaders are defeated, but the collective effort involved in the invasion saves their civilization.

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask‘s Cap Shaw on Writing

Monday, December 17th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_May1934EDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

The hardboiled school was born in the page of Black Mask Magazine under the editorship of George W. Sutton, with Carroll John Daly’s “Three Gun Terry” (which I wrote about here…) and “Kings of the Open Palm,” and Dashiell Hammett’s “Arson Plus,” appearing in 1923. In 1924, Sutton resigned and circulation editor Phil Cody replaced him.

Cody pushed for more stories featuring Race Williams and the Continental Op, encouraged Erle Stanley Gardner to develop Ed Jenkins (‘The Phantom Crook’), and added Frederick Nebel and Raoul Whitfield to the magazine. Cody was pushed out by publisher Eltinge Warner in 1926, with Cody’s approval (he later became President of the company). Joseph Shaw, a former bayonet instructor in the army and an unsuccessful writer with zero editorial experience, took the reins (I mean, sure, why not?).

But it is Shaw who is revered as the editor who shaped and was largely responsible for the success of the hardboiled school. While he did not start the movement, it’s still a reasonable assertion. Shaw honed Black Mask into a razor sharp hardboiled pulp that dominated the field.

In May of 1934, Writer’s Digest featured a cover story titled, Do You Want to Become a Writer or Do You Want to Make Money? by Shaw. I’ve included that essay below, with a few comments of my own included in italics.

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Only Disconnect: Ray Bradbury’s “The Murderer”

Sunday, December 16th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Amazing Stories-small

High on the list of unwritten books that I’d like to read is An Encyclopedia of Misconceptions. I am unswervingly committed to traditional paper books, but this is one that I would have to read electronically; a physical book would just be too damn big. Everyone would have a chapter — men, women, LBGTQ folks, atheists, evangelicals, millennials, seniors, Democrats, Republicans, police officers, bus drivers, food service workers, Fortune 500 CEO’s, any racial or sexual or religious or social or political or generational or economic group that you can name, in fact — everyone feels misunderstood. Everyone knows themselves to be quite different from what other people assume them to be.

Such wrong ideas can attach themselves to almost everything in our lives, even including the books that we read. For example, one widespread misconception holds that the main purpose of science fiction is to predict the future! This notion is most rigidly held by those who have almost no familiarity with any actual science fiction. Such people gleefully point out SF’s failure to predict the internet (even though… well, we’ll get to that), or they “prove” the shallowness or silliness of the entire genre with the help of tales from the yellowing pages of Amazing Stories, yarns that depict a 21st century where everyone enjoys lives of anti-gravity-belt enhanced leisure with every want met by humanoid robot laborers (which hasn’t quite happened, in case you haven’t noticed).

But of course H.G. Wells didn’t really think that we were going to be invaded by Martians or believe that it was possible to concoct a formula that would make us invisible, nor was he convinced that vivisection could make the family dog into something that was virtually human. His books were really comments on the present in the form of visions of the future, and the technologies he invented were tools that enabled him to bring his own society and its potentialities into sharper focus.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #5

Monday, December 10th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Kornbluth_GhoulEDIT“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Hopefully, by now, you’re aware of the Back Deck Pulp series of posts I ran over on Facebook. Since this is the fifth collection of them I’ve run for A (Black) Gat in the Hand!  I’ve got enough for one more, and this column will run for four more weeks, so there might be another one. You can read the first four Back Deck Pulp posts by clicking the links at the end of this one.


Cyril M. Kornbluth was a science fiction author who died of a heart attack, running to catch a train, at the age of 34. Frederick Pohl cowrote several stories with the author and finished some of Kornbluth’s stories after the latter died, He said that Kornbluth refused to brush his teeth and educated himself by reading the encyclopedia from A to Z. An interesting individual.

It’s Office Desk Pulp! I’m going to have to research C.M. Kornbluth (Apparently, he was known for his science fiction stories). ‘”A Ghoul and His Money” appeared in the September, 1946 Dime Detective. His protagonist, who is the good guy, is completely annoying and I was hoping something non-fatal would happen to him. It’s an interesting take on a hero and I think I’d like to tinker with the concept Fun, short read. Another story from the excellent anthology, Hard-Boiled Detectives.

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Birthday Reviews: Leigh Brackett’s “Interplanetary Reporter”

Friday, December 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Rudolph Belarski

Cover by Rudolph Belarski

Leigh Brackett was born on December 7, 1915 and died on March 18, 1978.

Leigh Brackett was the first woman ever to appear on a Hugo ballot when she was nominated for her novel The Long Tomorrow in 1956, and was nominated for two Retro Hugo Awards in 2016. Her collection Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories was nominated for a British Fantasy Award. In 1978 she received a Forry Award from LASFS, and she was named the recipient of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2005. In 2014 Brackett was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Brackett and her husband, Edmond Hamilton, were guests of honor at Pacificon II, the 22nd Worldcon, held in Oakland, California in 1964. She worked in Hollywood and is one of the credited co-writers of The Empire Strikes Back as well as The Big Sleep, on which she shared a writers credit with William Faulkner. She collaborated on fiction with Ray Bradbury and her husband. She published one of her non-genre novels using the pseudonym George Sanders. The Empire Strikes Back was dedicated to her memory.

“Interplanetary Reporter” was first published in the May 1941 issue of Startling Stories, edited by Mort Weisinger. It wasn’t reprinted until 2002, when Steve Haffner included it in the Brackett collection Martian Quest: The Early Brackett. In 2008 the story was included in an e-collection issued by Baen Books, Swamps of Venus. In 2009 Adventure House reprinted the original issue of Startling Stories that contained this tale.

Brackett was known for her planetary adventures and in “Interplanetary Reporter,” she places IP reporter Chris Barton in the Venusian city of Vhia. A grizzled war reporter, Barton has decided he is done with working as a reporter and is planning on telling IP editor John Sanger of his decision. On the way into Sanger’s office he spots the beautiful Kei Volhan, who is engaged to cub reporter Bobby Lance. Just as Barton announces his decision, Vhia comes under attack by a Jovian military force.

Partly to keep from saving face in front of Volhan, Barton allows himself to be convinced that he need to go into space to report on the Jovian attack. The two reporters and Volham manage to make their escape in an IP news spaceship and once they achieve orbit, they quickly learn that the surprise attack is not Jovian, but rather Martian in origin as Mars is trying to start a war between the Jovians and Venusians in order to gain a better deal on water rights.

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