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.
- “No Silence for Maloeween” – Weird Tales (May 1948)
- “Death’s Bouquet” – Weird Tales (September 1948)
- “Dreams Are Sacred” – Astounding Science Fiction (September 1948)
- “Manna” – Astounding Science Fiction (February 1949)
- “P-Plus” – Astounding Science Fiction (August 1949)
- “Unknown Quantity” – New Works (August 1949)
- “Plagiarist” – New Worlds (Summer 1950)
- “Counter Charm” – Slant (Spring 1951)
- “Field Study” – Galaxy Science Fiction (April 1951)
- “At No Extra Cost” – Marvel Science Fiction (August 1951) reprint of “Unknown Quantity”
- “She Who Laughs” – Galaxy Science Fiction (April 1952)
- “Criteria” – Planet Stories (May 1952)
- “Lost Memory” – Galaxy Science Fiction (May 1952)
- “Lila” – Startling Stories (April 1953)
- “University” – Galaxy Science Fiction (April 1953)
- “Sylvia” – Fantasy Fiction (June 1953)
- “The Warning” – The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (September 1953)
- “c/o Mr. Makepeace” – The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (February 1954)
- “First Man in the Moon” – The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (September 1954)
- “Variety Agent” – Infinity Science Fiction (June 1956)
- “Next Stop the Moon” – New Worlds (January 1958)
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:
“Manna” was included in these anthologies:
“P-Plus” and “Unknown Quantity” were reprinted here:
“Plagiarist” was reprinted in:
“Counter Charm” was included in:
“At No Extra Cost” made this classic best-of-the-year anthology:
“She Who Laughs” was liked by Fred Pohl:
“Lost Memory” is remembered here:
“University” was Phillips second story in:
“The Warning” was snagged by Judith Merril:
“c/o Mr. Makepeace” was included in:
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