Birthday Reviews: Irving E. Cox, Jr.’s “Too Many Worlds”

Thursday, May 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Walter Popp

Cover by Walter Popp

Irving E. Cox, Jr. was born on May 24, 1917 and died on February 13, 2001.

Cox began publishing in 1951 with “Hell’s Pavement,” which appeared in Astounding Science Fiction. He published most of his work during that decade, and only his final two stories, “Impact” and “Way Station,” appeared during the 1960s. During that time, however, his stories appeared in several different magazines as well as in original anthologies.

“Too Many Worlds” was originally purchased by Howard Browne for Amazing Stories, where it appeared in the November 1952 issue. It was reprinted in May of the following year in the British edition of the magazine. In 1973, the story appeared in the May issue of Science Fiction Adventures. More recently it appeared in Science Fiction Gems, Volume Twelve, edited by Gregory Luce.

Science fiction authors have long had their characters travel from one version of the world to another, which is how Cox begins “Too Many Worlds.” He dumps Albert Hammond into a world that resembles his own. In the new world, however, Hammond’s shipping company is much more successful than the one he knows. Where Cox tries something different is by making Hammond very aware of who he is, but unable to respond to things the way he wants to. Instead, no matter how hard he tries, the words and tone that come out of his mouth belong to the new world’s Albert Hammond, who is a much harder man.

A psychiatrist, naturally, tells Hammond that the world he sees is the way the world is ,and his view of himself as less rigid, having a smaller company, and two children who don’t exist is a delusion he has built up for some reason. The new world’s Hammond indulges in business practices that the original Hammond feels are poor choices and bad for business, yet invariably turn out to work to his benefit.

His situation takes a turn for the worse, although more interesting for the reader, when in addition to his memories of his reasonably successful life, he begins to experience a life in which he didn’t even achieve the level of success he had in his original life. The constants in the different versions of his reality are the company he works for, his wife, and, he comes to realize, an old high school friend, Willie Tuttle. Once Tuttle comes into the picture, the cause of the different worlds becomes obvious, but Hammond must still try to figure out how to break the cycle.

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Birthday Reviews: Wallace West’s “No War Tomorrow”

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Milton Luros

Cover by Milton Luros

Wallace West was born on May 22, 1900 and died on March 8, 1980.

West began publishing speculative fiction in 1927 with the story “Loup-Garou,” which appeared in Weird Tales. Working mostly at short fiction lengths, he didn’t limit himself to science fiction and fantasy and his story “Muddy Waters” was turned into the 1933 film Headline Shooter.

“No War Tomorrow” was printed in the first issue of Science Fiction Quarterly, published in May 1951 with Robert A.W. Lowndes as the editor. In January of the following year it appeared in the magazine’s British edition. West included the story in his 1962 collection Outposts in Space.

The world of West’s “No War Tomorrow” is something of a mess. The major power is the United Stars, which seems to govern Earth, the Moon, Mars, and part of Venus, all of which appear to be inhabitable and suitable for human life, although there may be domes or terraforming that has occurred on Mars and the Moon. West’s focus, however, is on Venus, which is divided by the United Stars and the local Big Shots, who rule an anarchic area where the laws requires people to fend for themselves, although at the same time there is a civilization and police force, without explanation for how either survive.

Although West’s hero is Captain Frank Sage of the Space Patrol (part of the United Stars), his protagonist is really Sage’s girlfriend, Sadie Thompson, who dresses in barely enough clothing to highlight her figure, and who varies between being hyper competent and acting like a flirtatious girl who barely knows what is going on. While this might make sense if West used these variations to further the plot, they mostly seem to be used at random when he isn’t sure what to do with the character. Despite Thompson’s general ability, as well as the abilities of another female character, Greta, the depiction comes across as misogynistic.

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With a (Black) Gat: Raoul Whitfield

Monday, May 21st, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_Whitfield1(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Welcome back to our second post in With a (Black) Gat!

I don’t think that you can argue with the assertion that the Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw era was the highwater mark of Black Mask Magazine (and detective pulps in whole). Some good writers, like Steve Fisher, Cornell Woolrich and John D. MacDonald, made their marks on the Mask with Shaw’s editorial successors, but let’s be real.

Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are recognized as the two greatest Black Maskers, though Chandler only wrote eleven stories over three years. It was his novels (the first two drawing heavily on his Black Mask short stories) that launched him to legendary status. Carroll John Daly, creator of Race Williams, was the most popular writer in the stable, though Shaw disliked his work.

Erle Stanley Gardner (better remembered for Perry Mason, though his Cool and Lam stories are great) was one of the favored sons. Frederic Nebel, Shaw’s handpicked successor to replace Dash when he left the pulp field, belongs in the upper echelon. As does the less-well remembered Raoul Whitfield. And today’s gat is in Whitfield’s hand. Boy, did he like to use one!

“About Kid Deth” appeared in the February, 1931 issue of Black Mask. Raymond Chandler famously said, “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Chandler may very well have developed this axiom by reading Whitfield’s story. I’m kidding!

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Birthday Reviews: Manly Wade Wellman’s “The Terrible Parchment”

Monday, May 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Margaret Brundage

Cover by Margaret Brundage

Manly Wade Wellman was born on May 21, 1903 and died on April 5, 1986.

In 1956, his story “Dead and Gone” received an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Story. Wellman’s collection Worse Things Waiting received a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 1975, and in 1976 he received a Phoenix Award at DeepSouthCon. He received a World Fantasy Award Life Achievement Award in 1980 and in 1983 was a Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention in Chicago. At ConStellation, the 1983 Worldcon, Wellman was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. He received a Special Award from the British Fantasy Society in 1985.

“The Terrible Parchment” first appeared in the August 1937 issue of Weird Tales, edited by Farnsworth Wright. The story was dedicated to the memory of H.P. Lovecraft, who had died five months earlier. In 1972, Meade and Penny Frierson reprinted it in the first issue of their fanzine, HPL. Wellman then included the story in his 1973 collection Worse Things Waiting. In 1996, Robert M. Price selected it for the Chaosium Cthulhu Cycle anthology The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab. It was also included in the Wildside Press e-book The Second Cthulhu Mythos Megapack in 2016.

While preternatural horror is often the goal of fiction set in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, humor also has a tendency to sneak in. Wellman’s meta-fictional “The Terrible Parchment” is definitely an early example of humorous Cthuliana, positing a copy of Weird Tales delivered to its subscriber and containing a page from The Necronomicon.

Although the idea of the characters being terrorized by the volume Lovecraft and so many of his followers have described works on a conceptual level, Wellmen’s depiction of the attack undermines the horror and turns the story into a more humorous work. As readers of Weird Tales, the characters are aware of The Necronomicon and its role in Lovecraft’s mythos, and Gwen even suggests that the book has achieved reality based on its legendary nature and fame, already occurring in 1937. The page’s method of attack, moving along the floor like an inchworm and seeping up the narrator’s leg, however, leaves much to be desired as a preternatural horror, as does his means of defense, stabbing at it with his wife’s umbrella.

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What’s a Fair Exchange for a Frank R. Paul Original? In 1940, It Was $2.15

Monday, May 14th, 2018 | Posted by Doug Ellis

fantastic Adventures 1940 05 back cover life on io-small

Back Cover of Fantastic Adventures, May 1940, by Frank R. Paul

After Otto Binder, the most prolific correspondent of SF fan Jack Darrow (real name Clifford Kornoelje) was their mutual friend, Bill Dellenback. In 1935, the three friends drove from Chicago to NYC, to meet up with various SF fans, editors and publishers. I ran Otto’s account of this trip (which were among the papers I acquired at Darrow’s estate auction nearly two decades ago) several years ago in Pulp Vault #14.

A few days ago, I posted a letter from Mary Gnaedinger (editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries) to SF fan and collector Thyril Ladd, enclosing an original interior illo by Virgil Finlay, and promising Ladd the next Finlay cover. Running that letter reminded of another, even earlier, letter concerning original art, which I picked up from Darrow’s estate, that I’ve been meaning to post for some time.

Dated August 20, 1940, it’s from Dellenback to both Darrow and Binder. The Convention that Dellenback mentions several times on the first page is the upcoming Chicago Worldcon (or Chicon I), which started a few days later, running from September 1-2, 1940. On the topic of original art, Dellenback states that shortly before, he dropped in to the offices of Ziff-Davis and chatted with editor Ray Palmer before leaving town. While there, Dellenback picked out five Frank R. Paul back cover paintings, used on either Amazing Stories or Fantastic Adventures for a series on Life on Other Planets, which were going to be displayed at the Convention but which Palmer was then going to sell to Dellenback. The price isn’t mentioned; just that Dellenback was going to pay Palmer a “fair exchange.” A lot of other art from those pulps would be auctioned off at the Convention.

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With a (Black) Gat: George Harmon Coxe

Monday, May 14th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

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

Working from Otto Penzler’s massive The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, we’re going to be exploring some pulp era writers and stories from the twenties through the forties. There will also be many references to its companion book, The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. I really received my education in the hardboiled genre from the Black Lizard/Vintage line. I discovered Chester Himes, Steve Fisher, Paul Cain, Thompson and more.

With first, the advent of small press imprints, then the explosion of digital publishing, pulp-era fiction has undergone a renaissance. Authors from Frederick Nebel to Raoul Whitfield; from Carroll John Daly to Paul Cain (that’s 27 letters – we went all the way back around the alphabet – get it?) are accessible again. Out of print and difficult-to-find stories and novels have made their way back to avid readers.

Strangely, George Harmon Coxe, one of the Black Mask boys, has been elusive in this pulp rebirth. He had a half-dozen recurring characters and wrote over sixty novels and his stories were also adapted for movies, television and radio. But it’s tough to find even a handful of his works these days, though a few novels have found their way to ebook format.

From 1935 to 1973, Coxe wrote twenty-three novels featuring Kent Murdock. Murdock, a Boston-area crime photographer, is really an evolved (make it, more refined and mature) version of an earlier Coxe creation, (Jack) Flashgun Casey. It’s a Casey story that’s in The Big Book and our focus today.

The photographer appeared two dozen times in Black Mask from 1934 through 1943. And there were six novels (one of which was previously serialized in Black Mask). But Casey fell by the wayside for the ‘cleaned up version’ that was Murdock. The Casey story, “Murder Mixup” was included in Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s legendary Hard Boiled Omnibus — though it was one of three stories dropped when the paperback from Pocket Books came out.

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Vintage Treasures: The House of Many Worlds by Sam Merwin, Jr.

Sunday, May 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The House of Many Worlds-small The House of Many Worlds-back-small

Sam Merwin Jr. was one of the most influential SF editors of the pulp era. He took over the reins at Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories in Winter 1945 from Oscar J. Friend, and immediately adopted a more mature attitude, attracting more adult readers and better writers. At first he assumed Friend’s editorial pseudonym, Sergeant Saturn, but eventually he simply went by the title Editor. By 1950 he was also editing Fantastic Story Quarterly and Wonder Stories Annual, making him one of the most important names in the field. His letter columns were avidly followed by fans of all ages, and he’s widely credited with steering his SF magazines out of the kid’s section and towards an adult readership.

Merwin quit editing in 1951 to become a freelance writer, and found some success with mysteries, and writing stories for DC’s Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space in 1952-1953. He briefly edited Fantastic Universe in 1953, and was an associate editor at Galaxy around the same time.

But Merwin is remembered today chiefly for two linked time travel novels, The House of Many Worlds and Three Faces of Time. They were published in a paperback omnibus edition by Ace in 1983, with a cover by comic artist Frank Brunner (above).

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Imaginative Tales, July 1957: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 6th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Imaginative Tales July 1957-small Imaginative Tales July 1957-back-small

Imaginative Tales was the adventure oriented companion magazine to William Hamling’s Imagination. Imagination (often called Madge) is still affectionately remembered by some older fans — it was a fun magazine, though I can’t say it published much really memorable fiction. Imaginative Tales arguably tried to be even funner, but I think less successfully, based on my limited exposure.

(Hamling, by the way, is a controversial figure, not really remembered, I gather, as affectionately as his magazine. He lived to be 95, dying in 2016. He is reported to have rather gruffly rebuffed any attempts to discuss his SF publishing career over the past few decades of his life. He started Rogue magazine in 1955, as a competitor to Playboy, and much of his latter-day publishing efforts were in the “adult” genre.)

The cover is by Malcolm Smith. The interiors are uncredited, though I recognize a signature for “Becker,” and the ISFDB suggests W. E. Terry for another. The interiors are 2 color, by the way.

This issue features a novella, “World of Never-Men,” by Edmond Hamilton, and five short stories. One is by Robert Moore Williams, “The Red Rash Deaths,” and the other four are by some combination of Randall Garrett and Robert Silverberg, who, as I recall, were working together at the time, producing reams of fiction for the likes of Hamling.

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DMR Books Brings Pulp Sword & Sorcery Back Into Print

Saturday, May 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sapphire Goddess The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis-small The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball-small

Last month I rented a booth at the Windy City Pulp and Paper show here in Chicago — my favorite local convention — and piled it high with brand new hardcovers and trade paperbacks I was giving away. I had 31 boxes of leftover review copies, duplicates from my collection, and hundreds of rare advance proofs to get out of my basement, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Bob Byrne and Steven Silver made long drives to the con to help staff the booth, and we were looking forward to handing out books to grateful attendees.

Reality was a little bit different. Most folks passed by our booth with barely a glance. If Bob and Steve and I hadn’t been tirelessly peddling books, handing out free copies as people passed by, and carting books by the dozens to the freebie pile at registration every few hours, we’d probably still be there. This was an audience more interested in pulps and vintage paperbacks than brand new science fiction and fantasy, apparently.

It’s not true that there was no interest in our booth. After eight long hours unsuccessfully giving away books on Friday, Dave Ritzlin from DMR Books joined us on Saturday, and we gladly made space for him in the booth. Once we did interest picked up immediately, as folks zeroed in on his attractive selection — and especially his new releases, The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis and The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball.

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Tarzan Swing-By: Tarzan and the Lost Empire (1928–29)

Saturday, April 28th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey


Readers have asked me, but the answer is still no: I can’t tackle the entire Tarzan series the way I did Edgar Rice Burroughs’s other book series, Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar. There are twenty-four Tarzan books, not counting the juveniles, and I’d burn out long before the end if I tried to read them in sequence over a compressed time period.

But since I’m always glad to pick up a Tarzan volume here and there among my other Burroughs readings, I’ll negotiate. I’ll do an occasional Tarzan book “swing-by” to give spotlight time to ERB’s biggest contribution to popular culture. No particular order, just whatever Tarzan adventure grabs me at the moment.

So I’ll start with … let’s see … Book #12, Tarzan and the Lost Empire. Wherein the Lord of the Jungle finds yet another civilization lost in time in the heart of Africa: a remnant of the Roman Empire still living the ancient ways. Tarzan also gets a little monkey sidekick.

Tarzan and the Lost Empire falls into a period of the Tarzan novels that I think of as the “Filmation Era” because of how much the 1970s Filmation animated series Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle reflects it. After the tenth book, Tarzan and the Ant Men, Tarzan was distanced from the Greystoke legacy and his former supporting cast, and now has the companionship of both Nkima the monkey and Jad-bal-ja the golden lion. Jane vanished except for a single reappearance in Tarzan’s Quest (1936). The plots became standalone and repeated certain formulas, such as Tarzan discovering lost civilizations or facing a Tarzan imposter.

The writing quality of these books was still high in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, and Burroughs hadn’t lost his skill at executing pulse-racing action set-pieces. But the plotting was often perfunctory as ERB became a bit fatigued with having to go back to the Tarzan well again and again. The story ideas and the prose popped, but the plots often meandered with overstuffed casts and too much incident that doesn’t go anywhere. Tarzan and the Lost Empire falls prey to these faults. But it also contains one of the most interesting hidden civilizations of the series and a setting that energized Burroughs.

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