Peter Phillips bio at New Worlds bw

I have a growing fascination with forgotten writers. This began when I discovered a mention of a rare science fiction novel in an old fanzine, Phoenix by Lady Dorothy Mills published in 1926. That was the same year Amazing Stories began publishing. There wasn’t much science fiction published in hardback before the 1950s, and this was one was by a woman, and even rarer oddity. It took me about twenty years to track down a copy of Phoenix. I’ve since maintained a website devoted to Lady Dorothy Mills. At first, I’d get 2-3 inquires every year or two, but it’s now been years since anyone has shown any interest.

Over the past year, I’ve stumbled across three short stories by Peter Phillips. They were “Dreams Are Sacred,” “Manna,” and “At No Extra Cost.” I can’t say they are classics, but they were entertaining and eclectic. I liked them immediately. The Internet Science Fiction Database lists only 21 stories for Phillips, but two of them are the same story with different titles. It lists no published novels or short story collections. Philips died in 2012, but I did find a short biography of him in a 1958 issue of New Worlds, the issue of his last published science fiction story. There I learned that Phillips was a professional newspaper writer and editor, who had little time for writing fiction. The little bio also reported he had over thirty stories published, including detective stories. Wikipedia didn’t have much on Phillips, but the Science Fiction Encyclopedia had a concise but enticing write-up.

I enter a lot of data about science fiction into databases. Over the years I’ve noticed there are many writers who have just a handful of short stories published and then they disappeared. I’ve wondered what happened to them. Was getting published not the experience they dreamed about and worked so long to achieve? Is writing fiction more trouble than it’s worth? Did they not get the praise and attention they expected?

Phillips had some minor recognition. His name was only on one magazine cover, but a handful of his stories made it to some nice collectible anthologies.

“Dreams Are Sacred” were in these books:

Imagination Unlimied edited by Bleiler and Dikty

The Astounding-Analog Reader edited by Harrison and Aldiss

The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction Masterpieces edited by Silverberg and Greenberg

The Great SF Stories 10 edited by Asimov and Greenberg

The Road to Science Fiction v. 5 edited by James Gunn

The Night Fantastic edited by Poul and Karen Anderson

“Manna” was included in these anthologies:

The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin

The Science Fiction Argosy edited by Damon Knight

The Great SF Stories 11 edited by Asimov and Greenberg

Trips in Time edited by Robert Silverberg

“P-Plus” and “Unknown Quantity” were reprinted here:

No Place Like Earth edited by John Carnell

“Plagiarist” was reprinted in:

Future Tense edited by Kendell Foster Crossen

“Counter Charm” was included in:

Omnibus of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin

50 Short Science Fiction Tales edited by Asimov and Conklin

“At No Extra Cost” made this classic best-of-the-year anthology:

The Best Science Fiction Stories 1952 edited by Bleiler and Dikty

“She Who Laughs” was liked by Fred Pohl:

Assignment in Tomorrow edited by Frederik Pohl

“Lost Memory” is remembered here:

Gateway to Tomorrow edited by John Carnell

Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction edited by H. L. Gold

Science Fiction Terror Tales edited by Groff Conklin

The Coming of the Robots edited by Sam Moskowitz

Contact by Noel Keyes

The Great SF Stories 14 edited by Asimov and Greenberg

Machines that Kill edited by Fred Saberhagen

“University” was Phillips second story in:

Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction edited by H. L. Gold

“The Warning” was snagged by Judith Merril:

Beyond the Barriers of Space and Time edited by Judith Merril

“c/o Mr. Makepeace” was included in:

Operation Future edited by Groff Conklin

The Dark Side edited by Damon Knight

Listing out these anthologies (and I didn’t list the foreign and obscure reprints) shows that Phillips was liked by a number of anthology editors. Because most of these anthologies are old, it indicates that Phillips is being forgotten. That’s sad.

I’m going to read his stories and then maybe write about them. I don’t think they hold up for younger, modern readers, but they are interesting in a historical way regarding the genre. Phillips seemed up on current affairs in his tales, but then he was a newspaperman. Of the three I’ve read, they felt like he had a good sense of speculating about the future and social changes. They had some impact on readers of his day, but evidently not lasting impact. I’d like to explore why.

Most science fiction is eventually forgotten, but not all. I hear there are two television productions of The War of the Worlds coming out this fall. Why is that story enduring, but most other SF not?

James Wallace Harris

3 thoughts on “Forgotten Science Fiction Writer: Peter Phillips

  1. Dear Mr Harris, I am getting in touch with you in my capacity as the Executor of the estate of the late Peter Phillips, who was my father-in-law. You are incorrect in your assertion that works published in the 1960s or earlier are out of copyright. The copyright laws in Europe and the U.K. state clearly that copyright extends until 70 years after the author’s death. The copyright of Peter Phillips’ work is held by my wife and her sister, Peter’s daughters. We are delighted that you like Peter’s writings, but you may NOT reproduce them in any form without permission, or payment of a royalty fee. There IS still interest in Peter Phillips’ writings; some of his stories have been re-published in anthologies as recently as 2019 and 2016. (“Beyond Time” – British Library Publishing, for example). I must therefore ask you to delete the scans of Peter Phillips’ stories from your website, since this constitutes a breach of copyright law. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this.
    You may be interested to learn that, in searching for lost manuscripts since Peter’s death, I have just recently come across two previously unpublished works. One, I did not know anything about. The second, written in the mid 1970s, I had read before, but Peter himself could no longer locate. We kept all his documents in a large number of boxes, and have finally managed to unearth this story, which is great news. It is our intention to publish a “complete works” volume of Peter’s stories later this year.
    Regards, Andrew Dibben

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    1. Thanks for letting me know. I have deleted the files. Looking forward to reading Peter Phillips’s collected stories.

      Also, let me know when you publish this collection, I’ll buy a copy and review it here. I really like his stories. Although, I don’t get very many readers at this site.

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  2. Copyright law is different in the USA than the UK, and it is not life+70 for stories/work from this period. There appear to have been no renewals for Phillips’ stories past the initial 27 year period from what I can check online, therefore they are Public Domain in the USA.
    Good to hear there is a collection of his work coming out though, and I look forward to its publication.

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