Audible Has A Fantastic Collection of Baby Boomer Science Fiction

The Fourth R by George O. Smith

For several years now (2017, 2016, 2015), I’ve created wish-lists of wanted audiobook editions of classic science fiction stories. My hope is publishers would see my lists and produce those titles on audio. I doubt they ever have, but every year a few more classic science fiction books show up at Audible.com. They have done a fantastic job. Almost any title I read as a kid is now available to read with my ears. Nearly every book on The Classics of Science Fiction and Worlds Without End Top-Listed Books of All-Time lists are available on audio. And I think that validates those stories.

Starting in 2002 when I joined Audible.com I’d scan the new releases daily always hoping to find my favorite science fiction stories from my Golden Age years, the books Baby Boomers now consider the classic of the genre.  Each year it gets harder to find titles that haven’t gotten the audiobook treatment. Here are some of the older science fiction titles that have shown up at Audible this past year:

  • Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan
  • Sleeping Planet (1965) by William R. Burkett, Jr.
  • The Troublemakers by George O. Smith
  • The Snail on the Slope by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
  • Triplanetary (1934) by Edward E. Smith (magazine version)
  • This World is Taboo by Murray Leinster
  • The Sensitive Man by Poul Anderson
  • Masters of Space by Edward E. Smith & E. Everett Evans
  • The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg
  • Mercenary by Mack Reynolds
  • Catseye by Andre Norton
  • Storm by George R. Stewart
  • The Land of Always Night (Doc Savage) by Kenneth Robeson
  • The Golden Man (Doc Savage) by Kenneth Robeson
  • Planet Stories – March 1953 (magazine)
  • Planet Stories – Fall 1941 (magazine)
  • Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Scarlett Plague by Jack London
  • With the Night Mail by Rudyard Kipling
  • As Easy as ABC by Rudyard Kipling
  • 2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Sci-Fi Shorts volumes 1-6 (public domain)
  • Future Eves: Classic Science Fiction About Women by Women edited by Jean Marie Stine
  • Pink Winds, Green Cats, Radiant Rocks & Other Classics by the Forgotten Woman of Science Fiction’s Golden Age by Frances Deegan

As any diehard mid-century Sci-Fi fan knows, Audible is scraping the bottom of the barrel. They did (accidentally I’m sure) grant a few of my wishes from last year:

  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • Rogue Moon By Algis Budrys
  • The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
  • Grass by Sherri Tepper

Not very many, but they were heavy hitters that were overlooked. I realize now that many of my wishes were unrealistic because reprinting old anthologies on audio probably involve significant copyright problems. And I’m starting to doubt there’s a market for short fiction SF on audio anyway, but even then, I got to listen to the three-volume The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. That made 2018 a great year for science fiction on audio. The first volume is probably the most popular science fiction anthology of all-time.

The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker

I’ve decided to make this the last year for wishing for old science fiction on audio. I’m going to make one last roundup of what I’d love to hear and then go off to listen to all the great SF books already sitting in my Audible library. I’ve purchased more than I can listen to in my expected remaining lifetime. This year I’m going to mostly aim for books that publishers should have an easier time acquiring the rights, either novels or single author collections.

I love hearing science fiction read to me by great narrators. And because I study the history of science fiction, there are many rare titles on I want to hear. But I doubt many others do. Sure, there a bunch of us old SF fans rereading our favorite science fiction from our formative years by listening to their audiobook editions, but I don’t know how big that market is, and in any case, we’re a dying audience. I believe Audible and its allied publishers have found pretty much all the old science fiction that was once popular before the year 2000.

Still, there are books I want to hear, and there are science fiction authors from the past that never had anything reprinted in audio, such as Zenna Henderson or William Tenn, or other writers that have had little of their work represented. I still yearn to hear classic science fiction short stories, but I know copyright issues probably make them difficult to reprint. However, I still love to hear three SF anthologies that I believe would significantly cover the history of the science fiction short story if they were produced for audio: Adventures in Time and Space (1946) edited by Raymond J. Healy & J. Francis McComas, Dangerous Visions (1967) edited by Harlan Ellison, and The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Links are to ISFDB.org to show their table of contents. But I doubt they will ever get an audio production now.

67 Books I Want to Hear In My 67th Year

  1. A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay
  2. The World of Null-A (1948) by A. E. Van Vogt
  3. The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) by A. E. Van Vogt
  4. The Legion of Time (1952) by Jack Williamson
  5. The Long Loud Silence (1952) by Wilson Tucker
  6. Marooned on Mars (1952) by Lester del Rey
  7. Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore
  8. Children of the Atom (1953) Wilma H. Shiras
  9. A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn
  10. Mission of Gravity (1954) by Hal Clement
  11. Cities in Flight (1955) by James Blish
  12. Citizen in Space (1955) by Robert Sheckley
  13. Rocket to Limbo (1957) by Alan E. Nourse
  14. Wasp (1957) by Eric Frank Russell
  15. The Enemy Stars (1958) Poul Anderson
  16. The Lincoln Hunters (1958) by Wilson Tucker
  17. The Fourth “R” (1959) by George O. Smith
  18. The High Crusade (1960) by Poul Anderson
  19. Hothouse (1962) by Brian W. Aldiss
  20. Second Ending (1962) by James White
  21. Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
  22. Simulacron-3 (1964) by Daniel Galouye
  23. Earthblood (1966) by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown
  24. Empire Star (1966)
  25. The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz
  26. Lords of the Starship (1967) by Mark S. Geston
  27. Camp Concentration (1968) by Thomas Disch
  28. Of Men and Monsters (1968) William Tenn
  29. Omnivore (1968) Piers Anthony
  30. Past Master (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  31. Space Chanty (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  32. The Last Starship from Earth (1968) by John Boyd
  33. The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets (1968) by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
  34. Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock
  35. Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad
  36. Macroscope (1969) by Piers Anthony
  37. And Chaos Died (1970) by Joanna Russ
  38. The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) by Wilson Tucker
  39. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (1971) by Roger Zelazny
  40. The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe
  41. The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn
  42. The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (The Unsleeping Eye) (1973) by D. G. Compton
  43. The Centauri Device (1974) by M. John Harrison
  44. Orbitsville (1975) by Bob Shaw
  45. The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ
  46. The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner
  47. Trouble on Triton (1976) by Samuel R. Delany
  48. On Wings of a Song (1979) by Thomas M. Disch
  49. Ridley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban
  50. No Enemy But Time (1982) by Michael Bishop
  51. Native Tongue (1984) by Suzette Haden Elgin
  52. Ancient of Days (1985) by Michael Bishop
  53. The Falling Woman (1986) by Pat Murphy
  54. Mindplayers (1988) by Pat Cadigan
  55. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990) by James Tiptree, Jr.
  56. A Woman of the Iron People (1991) by Eleanor Arnason
  57. Sarah Canary (1991) – Karen Joy Fowler
  58. Synners (1991) by Pat Cadigan
  59. China Mountain Zhang (1992) by Maureen F. McHugh
  60. Ammonite (1993) by Nicola Griffith
  61. Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers
  62. Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson (1995)
  63. Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling
  64. The Book of the Long Sun (1993-96) by Gene Wolfe
  65. Aye, and Gomorrah (2003) by Samuel R. Delany
  66. Store of the Worlds (2012) by Robert Sheckley
  67. The Future is Female (2018) edited by Lisa Yaszek

The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd
— James Wallace Harris 11/15/18

In Praise of Mediocre Science Fiction

IF Magazine May 1954

The word “mediocre” usually presents a negative connotation. But the word can mean ordinary, average, middle-of-the-road which if you think about it, is true for most things in our lives. Not everything in life can be exceptional. Statistically, most aspects must be run-of-mill common. We don’t like to believe this, but most of us lead mediocre lives. We wish our time on Earth could be as important as a classic novel, but we’re goddamn lucky if we can say we’ve had a good average life.

This essay was originally going to be called “Favorite Science Fiction Stories Volumes 1-10 Table of Contents.” I love Audible.com, but it often annoys me by selling anthologies without listing their individual entries. I recently stumbled upon this series and thought I’d provide a public service by listing the contents of all ten volumes. I was hesitant to even try these audiobooks because the so few stories I saw listed were famous.

I couldn’t find much about the publisher, Jimcin. It’s web page merely states its products are for sale at Audible.com, although these anthologies are also listed at Amazon and iTunes. They appear to be collections of out-of-copyright stories, which means they are older than the 1920’s or the authors or author’s heirs never bothered to renew the original copyright. In other words, they might be the dregs of the genre. The ten volumes do contain a few big-name-authors, and a handful of classic science fiction stories like “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster, “The Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum, and “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith. Those three stories also appear in the legendary Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology series which came out in audio this past year. But for the most part, these stories were the common, run-of-the-mill stories that filled the science fiction digests in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

There’s a certain fun quality to science fiction that doesn’t require literary greatness. In the middle of last century, hack writers churned out Sci-Fi tales to survive. Many of them could hammer out a story in a few days that could both excite geeky fans and pay the rent. All they had to do was come up with an idea that 12-year-old know-it-alls had never encountered. Hardcore science fiction lovers thought of themselves as Slans but often blowing their minds only took one hit on the science fiction bong.

I avoided buying these Jimcin anthologies for years because I thought they’d be crappy, but then four volumes went on sale and I took a chance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Yes, they are mediocre, but they also have a unique entertainment quality. Just my kind of fun. If you love episodes of the old Twilight Zone TV series, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these stories too.

I crave science fiction short stories on audio. Somehow, short stories come alive for me when I listen, especially when they’re read by a narrator who adds dramatic voices. Oh, I still love to read, but I admit I’m a poor reader compared to these hired guns. It’s the narrators who add the extra dimension. And these ten volumes are a time capsule of what it’s like to have been a kid back in the 1950’s and 1960’s who loved science fiction.

My goal here is to promote more audio productions of short science fiction. I need to get more people buying audiobook science fiction anthologies so publishers will feel the demand and publish more of them. Most of you will not rush out and buy one of these Favorite Science Fiction Stories anthologies, especially after I called them mediocre, but I wanted to be as honest as possible.

I’m going to list the table of contents to all ten volumes and provide links to some of the stories I’ve found on YouTube, so you can hear what I’m talking about. These are public domain stories you can find online for free, especially at places like Project Gutenberg and YouTube. I don’t think the audio versions below are the same as the ones in the anthologies, but I’ve only tested a handful of stories. I’m not trying to ruin Jimcin’s sales but promote them. It’s far more convenient to listen to them on your smartphone than to listen to them on YouTube. But try a few to see why you should buy a whole anthology.

There are many public domain science fiction stories in audio available on the web. Often, they are from LibriVox, which use volunteer readers. LibriVox readers are good and provide a great public service, but they don’t usually provide the kind of dramatic narration I’m talking about. The stories I link to below have at least a basic level of professionalism, and some of them are excellent. I don’t know if these recordings are from copyrighted productions or if they’re productions by would-be audiobook narrators hoping to prove they can be professional.

My goal is to promote audio productions of short science fiction by expanding the audience. I want to see more anthologies of older science fiction for sale. Try some of these audio short stories to see if you get hooked, and if you do, then try one of the anthologies. 1 credit or $7-$10 is not that much for 15-20 hours of entertainment.

If you want to know more about audio science fiction, check out SFFAudio.com. They track and review both print and audio productions of public domain genre stories, as well as review professional productions of new and old stories.

I’ve bought 5 of the 10 volumes so far – see *. I’m getting a big kick out of listening to these stories. Yes, they are mediocre, but they capture a certain science fictional flavor from mid-20th-century. Be sure and read “The History of Science Fiction, and Why it Matters” by Allen Steele in the Nov-Dec 2018 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction which just came out. Steele wonderfully explains why it’s important to read old science fiction.

Prices listed are from Amazon. Audible members might get a discount. These Favorite Sci-Fi Stories have been around for a decade, but I don’t know if they get much attention. These anthologies are not listed in ISFDB.org as far as I can tell. I wish they were. I’ve published this list of contents because I had a hard time finding this information.

Favorite Science Fiction Stories

Volume 1 (2009)* – $10.95

  1. The Gifts of Asti“ by Andre Norton
  2. The Defenders” by Philip K. Dick
  3. “Earthmen Bearing Gifts” by Fredric Brown
  4. A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  5. This is Klon Calling” by Walter Sheldon
  6. Security” by Poul Anderson
  7. “The Perfectionists” by Arnold Castle
  8. “The Day Time Stopped Moving” by Bradner Buckner
  9. Image of the Gods” by Alan E. Nourse
  10. “Time and Time Again” by H. Beam Piper
  11. “The World Called Crimson” by Darius John Granger
  12. “Postmark Ganymede” by Robert Silverberg
  13. The Stars, My Brothers” by Edmond Hamilton
  14. 2 B R 0 2 B” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  15. “Belly Laugh” by Ivar Jorgensen
  16. Year of the Big Thaw” by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  17. The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster
  18. “Pandemic” by J. F. Bone
  19. Bread Overhead” by Fritz Leiber
  20. “The Day of the Boomer Dukes” by Frederik Pohl
  21. Beyond Lies the Wub” by Philip K. Dick

Volume 2 (2010) – $10.95

  1. The Coffin Cure” by Alan Edward Nourse
  2. Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams
  3. The Blue Tower” by Evelyn E. Smith
  4. The Gift Bearer” by Charles Fontenay
  5. “History Repeats” by George Oliver Smith
  6. The Altar at Midnight” by C. M. Kornbluth
  7. Hall of Mirrors” by Fredric Brown
  8. The Answer” by H. Beam Piper
  9. “The Calm Man” by Frank Belknap Long
  10. The Next Logical Step” by Ben Bova
  11. Operation Haystack” by Frank Herbert
  12. Foundling on Venus” by John and Dorothy DeCourcy
  13. The Repairman” by Harry Harrison
  14. The Beast of Space” by F. E. Hardart
  15. The Big Trip Up Yonder” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  16. Where There’s Hope” by Jerome Bixby
  17. The Success Machine” by Henry Slesar
  18. Pythias” by Poul Anderson
  19. Two Plus Two Makes Crazy” by Walt Sheldon
  20. “Alien Offer” by Al Sevcik
  21. All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton
  22. Zen” by Jerome Bixby
  23. “The Unspecialist” by Murray Yaco
  24. The Sargasso of Space” by Edmond Hamilton
  25. “Flamedown” by H. B. Fyfe
  26. “Grove of the Unborn” by Lyn Vanable
  27. What Is He Doing in There?” by Fritz Leiber
  28. “The 4D Doodler” by Grapy Waldyte
  29. “Bad Medicine” by Robert Sheckley
  30. Dead Ringer” by Lester del Rey
  31. I’ll Kill You Tomorrow” by Helen Hubert

Volume 3 (2011) – $10.95

  1. “The Missing Link” by Frank Herbert
  2. Arm of the Law” by Harry Harrison
  3. No Moving Parts” by Murray F. Yaco
  4. The Hills of Home” by Alfred Coppell
  5. The Measure of a Man” by Gordon Randall Garrett
  6. The Hated” by Frederick Pohl
  7. “Salvage in Space” by Jack Williamson
  8. The Burning Bridge” by Poul Anderson
  9. The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Hour of Battle” by Robert Sheckley
  11. The Mathematicians” by Arthur Feldman
  12. “Crossroads of Destiny” by H. Beam Piper
  13. Homesick” by Lynn Venable
  14. “The Eyes Have it” by James McKimmey, Jr.
  15. “They Twinkled Like Jewels” by Philip Jose Farmer
  16. Old Rambling House” by Frank Herbert
  17. Youth” by Isaac Asimov
  18. “Navy Day” by Harry Harrison
  19. “Service with a Smile” by Charles Louis Fontenay
  20. “The Cosmic Express” by John Stewart Williamson
  21. The Moon is Green” by Fritz Leiber
  22. “Stopover Planet” by Robert E. Gilbert
  23. “Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley
  24. “Probability” by Louis Trimble
  25. “The Doorway” by Evelyn E. Smith
  26. The Stroke of the Sun” by Arthur C. Clarke
  27. The Velvet Glove” by Harry Harrison
  28. “The House from Nowhere” by Arthur Stangland
  29. The Tunnel Under the World” – Frederik Pohl

Volume 4 (2012) – $10.95

  1. Arena” by Fredric Brown
  2. “Mate in Two Moves” by Winston Marks
  3. Love Story” by Irving E. Cox
  4. “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick
  5. Advanced Chemistry” by Jack G. Huekels
  6. The Dueling Machine” by Ben Bova
  7. Time Enough at Last” by Lyn Venable
  8. “Sorry, Wrong Dimension” by Ross Rocklynne
  9. Duel on Syrtis” by Poul Anderson
  10. “The Gostak and the Doshes” by Miles J. Breuer
  11. Keep Your Shape” by Robert Sheckley
  12. “Home Is Where You Left It” by Stephen Marlowe
  13. “Planet of Dreams” by James McKimmer, Jr.
  14. Blessed Are the Meek” by G. C. Edmonson
  15. Incident on Route 12” by James Schmitz
  16. The Invader” by Alfred Coppel
  17. “Monkey on His Back” by Charles DeVet
  18. “Robots of the World Arise” by Mari Wolf
  19. A Woman’s Place” by Mark Clifton
  20. The K-Factor” by Harry Harrison
  21. The Hanging Stranger” by Philip K. Dick.

Volume 5 (2012)* – $6.95

  1. The Skull” by Phlip K. Dick
  2. Sam, This Is You” by Murray Leinster
  3. “Manners of the Age” by Horace Brown Fyfe
  4. Omnilingual” by H. Beam Piper
  5. “Heist Job on Theiser” by Gordan Randall Jarrett
  6. The Yillian Way” by Keith Laumer
  7. “The Ultimate Vice” by A. Bertram Chandler
  8. “Backlash” by Winston Marks
  9. “Adolescents Only” by Irving Cox
  10. Project Mastodon” by Clifford Simak
  11. “Sargasso of Lost Starships” by Poul Anderson
  12. The Dictator” by Milton Lesser
  13. The Misplaced Battleship” by Harry Harrison
  14. A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber
  15. “The Vilbar Party” by Evelyn E. Smith
  16. “The Servant Problem” by Robert F. Young

Volume 6 (2012)* – $6.95

  1. Perchance to Dream” by Richard Stockham
  2. “Father Image” by Robert Silverberg
  3. Tree, Spare That Woodman” by Dave Dryfoos
  4. “Disaster Revisited” by Darius John Granger
  5. Subversive” by Mack Reynolds
  6. “The Stutterer” by R. R. Merliss
  7. Infinite Intruder” by Alan E. Nourse
  8. “A Bottle of Old Wine” by Richard O. Lewis
  9. “B12’s Moon Glow” by Charles A. Sterns
  10. “A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster
  11. No Strings Attached” by Lester del Rey
  12. The Street That Wasn’t There” by Clifford D. Simak
  13. “Regeneration” by Charley Dye
  14. “Wheels Within” by Charles V. Devett
  15. “The Lonely Ones”, by Edward W. Ludwig
  16. “The God in the Box” by Sewell Peaslee Wright
  17. “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith
  18. “New Hire” by Dave Dryfoos
  19. “The Enormous Room” by H.L.Gold and Robert Kreps
  20. Turnover Point” by Alfred Coppel
  21. “Breeder Reaction” by Winston Marks

Volume 7 (2013)* – $5.95

  1. “The Ties That Bind” by Walter Miller, Jr.
  2. Toy Shop” by Harry Harrison
  3. Beyond the Walls of Sleep” by H. P. Lovecraft
  4. Victory” by Lester del Rey
  5. Accidental Death” by Peter Bailey
  6. The Color Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft
  7. “Cully” by Jack Eagan
  8. “The Statue” by Mari Wolf
  9. “Police Operation” by H. Beam Piper
  10. “See” by Edward G. Robles, Jr.
  11. “Thing of Beauty” by Damon Knight
  12. “A Scientist Rises” by Desmond Hall
  13. “The Small World of M-75” by Ed M. Clinton, Jr.
  14. “Two-Face” by Frank Belknap Long
  15. “Creature from Cleveland Depths” by Fritz Leiber

Volume 8 (2014)* – $6.95

  1. “The Last Days of Earth” by George C. Wallace
  2. “Contamination Crew” by Alan E. Nourse
  3. “The Memory of Mars” by Raymond F. Jones
  4. “A Traveler in Time” by August Derleth
  5. “The Colonists” by Raymond F. Jones
  6. “Doubletake” by Richard Wilson
  7. “Stamped Caution” by Raymond Z. Gallon
  8. “Success Story” by Robert Turner
  9. “Disqualified” by Charles L. Fauntenay
  10. “Say Hello for Me” by Frank W. Coggins
  11. “Witch of the Demon Seas” by Poul Anderson
  12. “The Last Two Alive” by Alfred Coppell
  13. “The Old Die Rich” by H. L. Gold
  14. “Ministry of Disturbance” by H. Beam Piper

Volume 9 (2016) – $6.95

  1. “The Concrete Mixer” by Ray Bradbury
  2. “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
  3. “Bedside Manner” by William Morrison
  4. “The Inferiors” by Mari Wolf
  5. “The Aggravation of Elmer” by Robert Arthur
  6. “Conquest over Time” by Michael Shara
  7. “The Virgin of Valkarion” by Poul Anderson
  8. “No Charge for Alterations” by H. L. Gold
  9. “Greylorn” by Keith Laumer
  10. “The Other Now” by Murray Leinster
  11. “The Ambulance Made Two Trips” by Murray Leinster
  12. “The Fun They Had” by Isaac Asimov
  13. “Fondly Fahrenheit” by Alfred Bester
  14. “A Matter of Importance” by Murray Leinster

Volume 10 (2018) – $6.95

  1. “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick
  2. “The Keeper” by H. Beam Piper
  3. “The Amazing Mrs. Mimms” by David C. Knight
  4. “The Girls from Earth” by Frank N. Robinson
  5. “The Man the Martians Made” by Frank Long
  6. “Pet Farm” by Roger Dee
  7. “A World of Talent” by Philip K. Dick
  8. “Shock Treatment” by Stanley Mullen
  9. “The Variable Man” by Philip K. Dick
  10. “The Players” by Everett Cole
  11. “Common Denominator” by John D. MacDonald
  12. “Survey Team” by Philip K. Dick
  13. “Medal of Honor” by Dallas McCord Reynolds
  14. “The Highest Treason” by Randall Garrett

 

– – James Wallace Harris (11/8/18)

 

 

 

 

Astounding by Alec Nevela-Lee

Astounding

A new book about the impact of Astounding Science Fiction was published today. It’s called Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee. I snagged the audio edition and have been listening to it. I’m impressed so far, and it’s getting some great reviews:

I figure any bookworm interested in the Classics of Science Fiction will want to read this one.

JWH

When Mainstream America Discovered Science Fiction

I’ve been researching how science fiction evolved through studying the history of science fiction anthologies. As I studied I began to wonder when did the mundane world realized science fiction was a thing. Yesterday some nice folks on the internet suggested I try Google’s Ngram viewer. Here’s the chart it developed:

NGram Science Fiction

This fits my research on anthologies. The Ngram viewer looks at terms used in books and magazines, but I don’t know if it indexed pulp magazines. In my essay about the first anthologies to collect science fiction I covered The Pocket Book of Science Fiction edited by Donald Wollheim, which came out in 1943, and reported that the first hardback books to anthologize science fiction came out in 1946. That matches the above chart perfectly.

Even more useful is the list of books and magazines Google provided that cited phrase science fiction. From it, I found the May 21, 1951 issue of Life Magazine, which featured an article on science fiction. 1951 was the year I was born. I grew up with science fiction. Life Magazine was a news magazine, so I have to assume the subculture of science fiction was news.

What a great service Google Books is for researchers. This is exactly what I wanted. Life Magazine was telling the mundane world about the strange world of science fiction and its fans. The reporter Winthrop Sargeant did an excellent job, covering the genre’s history, the magazines, the movies, even going into the feuds and our embarrassing spinoffs like the Shaver Mystery and Dianetics.

I’m going to try and reprint the article here. It is copyrighted, but I have no idea how to get permission to reprint it, and besides, it’s 67 years old and already freely available through Google. You can read it at the Google Book site, with your own level of magnification but you’ll need to page back to the beginning of the article.

James Wallace Harris (9/21/18)

Life-SF-001

Life-SF-002

Life-SF-003

Life-SF-004

Life-SF-005

Life-SF-006

 

Life-SF-007

Life-SF-008

Life-SF-009

Life-SF-010

Life-SF-011

Life-SF-012

 

Life-SF-014

Life-SF-015

Life-SF-016

Life-SF-017

Life-SF-018

Life-SF-018

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Life-SF-021

Life-SF-022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19th Century Science Fiction Short Stories

 

19th century science fiction

Over the years several anthologies have reprinted science fiction short stories from the 1800’s. These tales are fascinating to read on many levels. Way before the establishment of the science fiction genre, writers were telling science fictional stories. Even without modern technology, they explored the same SF possibilities we do today. Ideas I thought original with Golden Age science fiction writers turn out to be much older. Reading these stories reveals universals about human nature that you don’t get from history books.

The Anthologies

The Stories

Here are all the stories from the above anthologies. You can see the editors have done a good job of finding stories the other editors haven’t, although there are stories loved by more than one editor. Where I can, I’ve linked to an online version of the story. If one isn’t available, I’ll link to an essay about the story. For some stories, you’ll need to get the anthology. Actually, reading the anthologies are much more convenient.

Year Title Author Editor
1809 The Conquest of the Earth by the Moon Washington Irving Franklin
1833 The Mortal Immortal Mary Shelley Asimov, Moskowitz
1835 The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Phall Edgar Allan Poe Moskowitz
1835 The Great Moon Hoax Richard A. Locke Lester, Sims
1839 The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion Edgar Allan Poe Kuebler
1840 A Heavenward Voyage Samuel-Henry Berthoud Stableford
1844 A Tale of the Ragged Mountains Edgar Allan Poe Franklin
1844 Rappaccini’s Daughter Nathaniel Hawthorne Franklin, Asimov, Gunn
1844 The Artist of the Beautiful Nathaniel Hawthorne Franklin, Stableford
1844 The Sandman E. T. A. Hoffman Asimov
1845 The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar Edgar Allan Poe Sims
1849 Mellonta Tauta Edgar Allan Poe Franklin, Gunn
1852 A Descent Into the Maelstrom Edgar Allan Poe Asimov
1854 The Birthmark Nathaniel Hawthorne Franklin
1855 The Bell-Tower Herman Melville Franklin
1858 The Diamond Lens Fitz-James O’Brien Franklin, Gunn, Lester
1859 The Wondersmith Fitz-James O’Brien Moskowitz
1859 What Was It? Fitz-James O’Brien Stableford
1860 The Atoms of Chladni J. D. Whelpley Franklin
1863 Darwin Among the Machines Samuel Butler Lester
1870 Annie Denton Cridge Franklin
1872 The Brick Moon Edward Everett Hale Moskowitz
1872 The End of the World Eugène Mouton Stableford
1873 The Automaton Ear Florence McLandburgh Sims
1874 The Tachypomp Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1875 The Soul Spectroscope Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1875 The Story of the Deluge Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1876 The Inside of the Earth Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1876 The Telescope Eye William Henry Rhodes Sims
1877 The Age of Science Frances Power Cobbe Lester
1877 The Man Without a Body Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1879 A Paradoxical Ode (After Shelley) James Clerk Maxwell Stableford
1879 A Psychological Shipwreck Ambrose Bierce Franklin
1879 The Ablest Man in the World Edward Page Mitchell Davies, Stableford
1879 The Facts in the Ratcliff Case Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1879 The Senator’s Daughter Edward Page Mitchell Davies, Sims
1880 From Mizora: A Prophecy Mary E. Bradley Lane Franklin
1880 The Professor’s Experiment Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1881 The Clock That Went Backwards Edward Page Mitchell Asimov, Davies, Sims
1881 The Crystal Man Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1882 Into the Sun Robert Duncan Milne Asimov, Davies
1882 Josuah Electricmann Ernest d’Hervilly Stableford
1884 A Tale of Negative Gravity Frank R. Stockton Asimov, Davies
1884 The Child of the Phalanstery Grant Allen Stableford
1885 Old Squids and Little Speller Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1885 The Great Keinplatz Experiment Arthur Conan Doyle Asimov, Davies
1886 The Blindman’s World Edward Bellamy Franklin
1886 The Monarch of Dreams Thomas Wentworth Higginson Franklin, Sims
1887 Christmas 200,000 B.C. Stanley Waterloo Franklin
1887 The Horla, or Modern Ghosts Guy de Maupassant Asimov
1887 The Shapes (Les Xipéhuz)  J. H. Rosny aîné Asimov
1888 An Express of the Future Jules Verne Moskowitz
1888 Tornadres J. H. Rosny aîné Stableford
1889 Our Second Voyage to Mars W. S. Lach-Szyrma Evans
1889 To Whom This May Come Edward Bellamy Asimov, Davies
1890 Dr. Materialismus Frederic Jesup Stimson Franklin
1890 In the Year Ten Thousand Edgar Fawcett Stableford
1890 Professor’s Bakermann’s Microbe Charles Epheyre Stableford
1891 Old Doctor Rutherford D. F. Hannigan Moskowitz
1891 The Revolt of the Machines Emile Goudeau Stableford
1891 The Salvation of Nature John Davidson Stableford
1892 In the Year Ten Thousand Will N. Harben Franklin
1892 The Doom of London Robert Barr Moskowitz
1892 The Los Amigos Fiasco Arthur Conan Doyle Moskowitz
1892 The Philosophy of Relative Existence Frank R. Stockton Stableford
1893 June, 1993 Julian Hawthorne Stableford
1893 Mysterious Disappearances Ambrose Bierce Sims
1893 The Damned Thing Ambrose Bierce Gunn, Kuebler
1895 A Wife Manufactured to Order Alice W. Fuller Sims
1895 Lost in a Comet’s Tale Frank Reade, Jr. Moskowitz
1895 The Purple Death W. L. Alden Davies, Russell
1896 Citizen 504 Charles H. Palmer Moskowitz
1896 In the Abyss H. G. Wells Asimov
1896 In the Deep of Time
George Parsons Lathrop, Thomas A. Edison
Locke
1896 London’s Danger
C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne
Evans, Russell
1897 The Aeriel Brickfield John Mills Evans
1897 The Crystal Egg H. G. Wells Knight
1897 The Microbe of Death Rudolph De Cordova Russell
1897 The Star H. G. Wells Kuebler, Stableford
1897 The Thames Valley Catastrophe Grant Allen
Asimov, Davies, Evans, Moskowitz, Russell, Sims
1898 A Corner in Lightning George Griffith Evans, Moskowitz, Stableford
1898 From the “London Times” of 1904 Mark Twain Franklin, Knight
1898 The Lizard C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne Asimov, Evans, Russell
1898 Where the Air Quivered L. T. Meade, Robert Eustace Moskowitz
1899 A Thousand Deaths Jack London Asimov, Davies, Franklin
1899 Moxon’s Master Ambrose Bierce Knight
1899 The Master of the Octopus Edward Olin Weeks Russell
1899 The Monster of Lake LaMetrie Wardon Allan Curtis Moskowitz, Russell, Sims
1899 The Purple Terror Fred M. White Davies, Evans, Moskowitz, Russell
1899 The Wheels of Dr. Ginochio Gyves Ellsworth Douglass, Edwin Pallander Locke, Russell

James Wallace Harris (9/20/18)

What Anthology First Recognized the Science Fiction Genre?

The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction edited by Donald Wollheim

While growing up in the 1960’s I loved a certain kind of story. I did not know the terms “science fiction” or “genre” but I knew what I liked. I believe readers before the label “science fiction” was used in the 1930s felt the same way. I’m not sure when the general public began referring to science fiction stories as “science fiction” or book publishers began to market to its fans.

When Amazing Stories first appeared in April 1926 editor Hugo Gernsback and his readers already knew the kinds of stories they wanted – they just didn’t have a universal identifier to define them. Gernsback had been using “scientifiction” since 1916 but luckily that ugly word didn’t stick. The term “science fiction” had been occasionally used before then, but only accidentally. Sometime between ads using the phrase “science fiction” in Air Wonder Stories in the late 1920s and March 1938 when Astounding Stories became Astounding Science-Fiction did the label began to stick – at least with hardcore fans. I don’t know if the world at large realized there was a new genre. Stories using science fiction themes have been around for thousands of years. Hell, Noah’s Ark is about a generation ship and a post-apocalyptic world.

Also, I’m not sure if all the credit should go to the pulp magazines for creating our genre. Newspapers ran Buck Rogers and Flash Gordan comic strips, and those stories then moved to radio and movie serials. Comic books back then were full of science fictional plots. The play R.U.R. gave us the word robots premiered in 1920, and Metropolis the silent film about robots came out in 1927. The novels Brave New World and When Worlds Collide appeared in 1932 and 1933.

Why hadn’t book publishers spotted this trend and aimed at that market sooner?

Had any anthology editor before the 1920’s collected science fiction stories for the unnamed science fiction fans of the 19th-century or early 20th-century? General interest magazines, newspapers, dime novels, and pulp magazines had been publishing science fiction long before Amazing Stories. Had anyone tried to categorize or name these kinds of stories before Gernsback? Anthologies are seldom reprinted, so they are rare and hard to track down. I have found a few 19th-century anthologies that focused on weird, horror, and fantasy, but then ghost stories were a staple in that century.

Edgar Allan Poe helped develop the short story as a unique art form and wrote fiction that would eventually be classified as mystery, horror, detective, and science fiction. Poe had many imitators. When did readers decide they preferred stories about life on other planets, travels in space, artificial life, mechanical beings, time travel, invaders from other worlds, flying machines, etc?

Adventures to Come

There is a concise history of the science fiction anthology at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. It suggests Adventures To Come (1937) edited by J. Berg Esenwein is the first science fiction anthology. It’s also the first SF original anthology, publishing stories written for that volume. But they were forgettable stories by unknown writers and that had no impact on the genre. The cover of Adventures To Come was obviously inspired by the 1929 Buck Rogers newspaper comic strip and the original Buck Rogers story from a 1928 issue of Amazing Stories.  We forget that daily comic strips were probably more popular than the pulp magazines. And Adventures to Come obviously looks like a children’s book. It may have been the first SF anthology aimed at young proto-SF fans, but it is so rare and so seldom remembered that I can’t think of it as important to the genre either. But it does show that publishers were seeing a new market.

The Other Worlds edited by Phil Stong

Next up is The Other Worlds (1941) edited by Phil Stong. I just got a copy of that one, and it collects stories from Weird Tales, Astounding Stories, Amazing Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories beside Esquire and Westminister Magazine. It features fiction by Lester del Rey, Ralph Milne Farley, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Harry Bates, Henry Kuttner, and Otto Binder. Authors remembered today as being science fiction writers. There are twenty-four writers in all, many of which I don’t know, probably because they came out of the horror genre.

I’ve only had time to read Stong’s introductions so far, but he shows a disdain for much of pre-1941 science fiction. For instance, Stong knocks War of the Worlds and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells and favors “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” as being more sensible. Stong uses the term “scientifiction” which was already a decade out of date and sneers at E. E. “Doc” Smith, the most popular SF writer at the time. The book’s introduction begins with two “true” stories of psychic premonition. I doubt Stong was a science fiction fan because none of the stories he collected has come down to us as classics. I’m guessing he liked borderline science fiction/weird tales that supported his metaphysical/philosophical interests. I think Stong realized there was a science fiction genre, but he didn’t like how it was shaping up. He picked stories he considered good from the genre but dismissed the rest as juvenile or crude. The Other Worlds didn’t hit the mark for me.

However, The Other Worlds fits my theory that there were science fiction fans before the term science fiction was widely used. There were readers, even literary readers, who loved weird stories that one day would be called science fiction. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia reports there were several anthologies from the 1800’s that collected fantasy and weird fiction. Did any of them have true science fiction in them? This matches my own research.  SF Encylopedia claims Popular Romances (1812) edited by Henry William Weber could be the first SF anthology, but it’s really an omnibus rather than an anthology, reprinting several famous novels about fantastic voyages (including Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe).

I want to believe there was at least one anthology published between 1800 and 1900 that included at least three stories we’d anthologize today as classics of the genre. Of course, this might be my Holy Grail that I shall never find. I’ve been using ISFDB.org with several anthologies published in recent decades that identify 19th-century science fiction hoping to spot an anthology from the 1800’s. Unfortunately, the Internet Science Fiction Database gets murky with data from that century.

I believe there were readers in the 1800’s that were drawn to themes we’ve come to attribute to science fiction. We know the novels of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells were popular. We know many other science fiction novels came out in that century. We know many shorter works of science fiction appeared in newspapers and magazines. That leads me to assume that fans existed, and they might have written letters to friends, letters to editors, essays, diary entries, or newspaper articles about their fondness for such stories. It’s hard to believe some editor didn’t capitalize on that interest.

For now, I consider The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction (1943) edited by Donald Wollheim the first anthology to collect stories that modern readers still read and think of as classics of science fiction. Five of his ten stories are still admired today:

  • “By the Waters of Babylon” (1937) by Stephen Vincent Benet
  • “A Martian Odyssey” (1934) by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  • “Twilight” (1934) by John W. Campbell
  • “Microcosmic God” (1941) by Theodore Sturgeon
  • “–And He Built a Crooked House” (1941) by Robert A. Heinlein

The last four were included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One (1970) edited by Robert Silverberg, which many still consider the best anthology of science fiction. Donald Wollheim was a super-fan in the 1930’s, began editing SF magazines in 1941, became a major editor for Ace Books in the 1950’s and eventually formed his own publishing company DAW Books. He was a major influence on the genre.

The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction was the first mass-market paperback of science fiction stories. It used the term science fiction in the title. It was sent overseas to the troops in WWII. I can’t help but believe that’s how the term science fiction really began to spread to readers outside of the pulp magazines.

1946-SF-Anthologies

In 1946 two hardback anthologies appeared: Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas and the Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin. Conklin even removed the hyphen in “science fiction.” McComas would co-found The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1949. Conklin would go on to edit many science fiction anthologies in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s that introduced classic short SF from the pulp era to Baby Boomers.

By the 1950’s science fiction should have been a well-known genre and term, but I’m not sure. There was an explosion of magazines, comics, television shows, and movies devoted to the genre. So it’s odd, as a kid in 1962 that I didn’t know the term science fiction. I was only ten, and I had been loving science fiction movies and television shows since 1955. I’m sure I heard the phrase frequently, but it didn’t stick with me. And it just didn’t occur to me that it defined a type of story at the library. I’d go up and down the school library shelves looking for books that were science fiction.

I wonder when other people my age realized there was a genre called science fiction? I wish my parents were still alive so I could ask them when they first remember hearing the term. I wished I had asked them in 1964 if they knew the phrase science fiction and could they describe it. They were born in 1916 and 1920 and grew up with science fiction in the 1930’s. Had they encountered it?

It wasn’t until 1964 when I was allowed into the adult area of the Homestead Air Force Base Library where they had a science fiction section. That’s when I realized there was a book category for the stories I loved. In 1965 I discovered Conklin’s anthologies at the public library and learned there were magazines devoted to science fiction, and had been for almost 40 years. Then I found Sam Moskowitz’s histories of science fiction and realized stories with science fictional themes were very old, they just weren’t called science fiction.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I became fascinated with the history of science fiction anthologies. It boggles my mind that there was a time when people didn’t know science fiction existed even though it did. I eventually want to write about that, but my next essay will be about anthologies that collected short fiction from the 1800’s. It seems every new editor that works that century finds more science fiction to reprint. I want to find the first science fiction fans. The first popular film I can think of that has a character who loves science fiction is Back to the Future from 1985. I’m sure I’m wrong that George McFly is the first SF fan depicted in the movies. I keep hoping I’ll see one mentioned in an old MGM film from the 1930’s or 1940’s. But what I’d really love is to find an SF fan from the 1860’s who wrote about his favorite stories in a diary.

James Wallace Harris (9/19/18)

Why Anthologies Are Important to Science Fiction

1946-SF-Anthologies

If anthologies didn’t exist, the only science fiction short stories we’d read from the past are those by the most famous of writers. For example, from the 1940s we still read science fiction short stories by Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein because they gained enough readers over a lifetime to keep their short story collections in print.

Short story writing is the minor leagues where authors labor until they can break into the majors writing novels. There are fans of short stories, but most readers prefer novels. Short stories mostly appear in periodicals and online, although some lucky stories make their debut in an original hardback anthology.

Most short stories are never reprinted. Their original publication is their only publication. Since 1949, shorter works of science fiction got a second chance to find new readers when editors of annual best-of-the-year anthologies reprinted them. They got yet another chance to find new readers when they were reprinted in theme, retrospective, and textbook anthologies. Although, the best bet for a short story to stay in print is to be by a very famous author who stays in print.

Anthologies are books collecting short artistic works (short stories, poems, drawings, songs, essays) by a variety of authors. As far I can discover, they developed in the 19th-century when publishers wanted to promote artists who couldn’t sell a solo collection. I have searched hard to discover a 19-century anthology that collected science fiction. The best I could find were anthologies of horror and weird fiction that might have a single story we’d call science fiction today. I still believe an SF anthology from that century could exist, but it must be very rare, like El Dorado. I’d love to know if there were proto-science fiction fans in the 1800’s. Did cowboys riding the range discuss life on other planets while sitting around the campfire?

There are several anthologies published since the 1960’s that unearth 19th-century science fiction. I’m going to devote a future essay to them. My point is those stories wouldn’t be remembered without an anthology editor.

There were earlier science fiction anthologies, but in 1946 Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas was the Amazing Stories beginning of science fiction anthologies. It introduced hardback book buyers to the best pulp science fiction short stories of the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, it was Groff Conklin, in the same year, that began a career editing science fiction anthologies that rescued stories from the pulps for a generation of hardback and paperback readers.

I’ve met readers from my generation all over the internet who got their start reading science fiction by discovering Adventures in Time and Space and the Conklin anthologies at their public library in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Sadly, anthologies seldom stay in print. Every decade or generation new editors emerge to anthologize the best short science fiction of the previous year or redefine the best short science fiction for the genre’s history or illustrate the evolution of a science fiction theme with a series of shorter works. They keep short science fiction in our memories. Of course, newer editors will drop some older stories and discover newer stories for their generation of readers.

My plan is to write a series of essays about this process. As I collected anthologies for our Classics of Science Fiction Short Story lists, I began to notice that anthologies had a collective history. Few people notice this. Histories of books, magazines, and newspapers are common if you know where to look, but I’ve had a very hard time finding histories that recognize the importance of anthologies. For science fiction, I did find Bud Webster’s Anthopology 101 columns which were collected in his book, Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspects and Dissections of SF Anthologies. But even those 336 pages don’t begin to cover the topic.

For hundreds of science fiction writers, their only chance of literary immortality are the anthologies that remember them. A great example of this are the dozens of women science fiction writers being rediscovered in recent anthologies devoted to them. We need to give more credit to anthologists who mine the past for writers with a sense of wonder. Reading those old stories can give new insights into the evolution of the genre. It also makes us change how we think about our great-grandparents’ generation, and theirs before them.

James Wallace Harris (9/14/18)

Shelving My Science Fiction Anthologies

IMG_0899

Bookworms generally shelve their books by the author’s last name. That’s traditional and follows what they do in libraries and bookstores. But what about anthologies? They collect stories from many different writers. My public library files anthologies in the non-fiction area, organized by the Dewey decimal system. I’ve known bookstores that put all the SF anthologies at the beginning or end of the science fiction section alphabetized by the last name of the first editor. I’ve also been to bookstores where they filed the anthologies together with the other books so Isaac Asimov’s fiction would be right next to the anthologies he edited of other writers’ works.

I’ve been wondering what is the best way to shelve my anthologies so I can easily find a short story from memory. I now have five shelves of science fiction anthologies, which might cover as many as 2,000 short stories. I can always go to ISFDB.org and look up a story and it will tell me all the anthologies that have reprinted that story. But I like the idea of exercising my brain.

I’m terrible with short story titles. I’m better recalling authors, at least the major writers because I can recall authors by the feel of their stories. I’m even better at remembering a sense of what decade a story was written. I also have a vague sense of when various anthologies were published. Conklin in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Moskowitz and Knight in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and so on.

I’d love to shelve my anthologies by the years the stories were first published, and that would work if all anthologies were annual best of the year anthologies. Wouldn’t it be great to read all those years when Bleiler/Dikty, Merril, and Asimov/Greenberg overlapped (1956-1958)?

What I ended shelving the anthologies that collected 19th-century science fiction short stories first, and then books that had stories before 1939 when Asimov & Greenberg began their annual series. Then I shelved the other annual series in the rough order in which they first appeared. Unfortunately, most of the modern annuals I own are in my Kindle library.

Then I shelved the famous retrospective annuals that began appearing in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I put my small run of F&SF annuals together. Finally, I shelved the theme anthologies.

I haven’t gotten the order perfected yet.

My anthology collection is far from complete, and mostly odds and ends I’ve been able to snag here and there. I hate that many of the books have white labels from online booksellers or white labels on the library discards.

I’m guessing most of the 275 stories from the Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list are on these shelves. I’ve read 119 of the 275, so I have a long ways to go.

James Wallace Harris (9/12/18)

 

Remembering Forgotten Writers

This site is all about keeping books and writers alive in readers memory, so I was pleased to read, “Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction?” by James Davis Nicoll at Tor.com yesterday. His piece opens with:

Time is nobody’s friend. Authors in particular can fall afoul of time—all it takes is a few years out of the limelight. Publishers will let their books fall out of print; readers will forget about them. Replace “years” with “decades” and authors can become very obscure indeed.

When I was young I was all about discovering new writers and books. Now that I’m living in the last third of my life, I’m all about remembering the best of what I discovered in the first third.

Who are the forgotten greats of science fiction by James Davis Nicoll

I remember reading most of the books that Nicoll remembers, and owned many the rest. His essay inspires me to read the ones waiting on my shelf, like A Mirror for Observers. If you’re old enough, I’m sure his thoughts will trigger reading desires in you too.

Be sure and read the comments below the essay. Many more forgotten writers are remembered. I’m especially glad someone mentioned Robert F. Young. I left a note about Wilson Tucker and John Boyd, two authors I wrote about when I was doing a forgotten science fiction series.

The hope is these writers will be rediscovered by younger readers, but I’m not so sure that will happen. The real psychological dynamic unfolding here is all the older readers finding they weren’t the only ones loving these obscure science fiction stories decades ago. When I was growing up I didn’t discover another science fiction fan until the 10th grade, and even after that, they were few and far between until I began attending SF conventions in the early 1970s. It’s great to discover on the internet that there were other readers excited by these odd paperbacks I once discovered on my own.

And I believe there is another element to what’s happening here that hasn’t been explored. Why were we drawn to these forgotten writers and their strange stories all those years ago?

James Wallace Harris (9/6/18)

“No Woman Born” by C. L. Moore

No-Woman-Born-by-C.-L.-Moore-from-Astounding-December-1944

No Woman Born” (pdf) first appeared in the December 1944 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, a time when few women were writing science fiction. Catherine Lucille Moore did not use her initials to hide her gender, but to hide her writing career from her employer. I’m not sure when I first read “No Woman Born” but when I reread it this week in The Great SF Stories 6 (1944) it felt familiar. I could swear I’ve heard it on audio, but I can find no audiobooks that contain it. I ached to hear a talented reader perform this story.

There’s a chance I first read it as a kid in the sixties when reading old rebound copies of Groff Conklin’s anthologies from the Miami public library. It’s been reprinted in many anthologies I’ve own, so it’s no telling. It just bothers me I can’t remember because I feel very sure I’ve read it recently. I guess it’s just the kind of story that sticks in your head.

I’m not sure I appreciated “No Woman Born” the first time I read it. When young I loved stories with lots of action revealed in the dialog. I tended to speed read over the narrative. “No Woman Born” is a dramatic story, but it’s beauty today comes from Moore’s 1944 speculation about what it’s like to be a cyborg, and that’s in the narrative. There were earlier science fiction tales of brains being put into mechanical bodies, like the Professor Jameson series, but their authors didn’t spend as much time exploring what it means. I give C. L. Moore a lot of credit for examining ideas that are still valid today.

There are three characters in this story, Deirdre, a singer, dancer, actress, Harris her manager who loves her, and Maltzer, her Frankenstein/Pygmalion savior/creator.

Deirdre nearly dies in a theater fire, but Maltzer transfers her brain into a mechanical body and spends a year bringing her back to life from total sensory deprivation. Maltzer created a new body for Deirdre and teaches her how to use it with thought control. Much of Moore’s tale is about what this means.

It’s not fair to call Deirdre’s new body robotic since Moore imagines far more than the average mechanical man. Deirdre’s head is a modern art sculpture of femininity, while her body is golden concentric rings held together by magnetism moving with fluidity and grace. Deirdre only has two senses, vision and hearing, which Moore philosophizes are the intellectual ones while smell, taste, and touch are our animalistic emotional senses. Again, this is still valid speculation today.

The plot is rather simple. Deirdre wants to perform again on television. She believes she’ll be accepted as a person. Maltzer thinks she’s wildly optimistic about her acceptance and reunites her with Harris hoping he’ll convince her otherwise. Deirdre is headstrong and insists she knows how she’ll be received.

The Best of C. L. Moore

Not to give away spoilers, “No Woman Born” features a beautiful description of Deirdre dancing and singing on a majestic Ziegfeld-like stage. Moore also takes us further than the average tale of robots and cyborgs, into the psychological impact of being reborn. Moore touches on spiritual evolution and transhumanism, a concept I don’t think existed in 1944, although Olaf Stapledon was covering some of the same territories in the 1930s.

“No Woman Born” is one of the best stories in The Great SF Stories 6 (1944), which means it’s one of the best science fiction stories of that year if Asimov and Greenberg found all the best SF stories for 1944. Moore’s competition is Clifford Simak’s “Desertion” because it covers the same territory of what it means to be human when we stop looking human. Emotionally, I love “Desertion” more than “No Woman Born,” but Moore brought up more philosophical issues. In science fiction, there’s always a fine balance between storytelling and science fiction speculation. Simak was able to draw out far more emotion, even though there are three good dramatic scenes in “No Woman Born.”

Moore collaborated constantly with her husband Henry Kuttner. We know very little about Moore, most of which is summed up in “The Many Names of Catherine Lucille Moore” by Andrew Liptak. I’ve often read that readers can’t tell who wrote what, and even the stories with their solo bylines are still collaborations. I feel Moore did write most, if not all, of “No Woman Born” because it feels like her work before marrying Kuttner.* Her stories always had a philosophical bent to them, while Henry’s stories have more action, often comic, drunken, zany, or pulp fiction. I believe Catherine was the philosopher of the family, and Henry was the hack pulp writer who could churn out all kinds of stories but with a lot less contemplation.

I enjoyed “Desertion” more as a story than “No Woman Born” because Simak is superior at evoking emotions in readers. I greatly admired “No Woman Born” for its science fictional ideas. Moore is too wordy in places, which slows down the drama. “No Woman Born” isn’t as haunting as “Desertion.” Yet, I still love it. I wished Moore could have been more atmospheric like her “Vintage Season.”

But does this 1944 story still hold up? I wish Goodreads was designed to handle short stories because I’d love to read reader reviews of classic SF stories. I don’t think we’ll ever put a brain in a robot body. Nor do I believe we could build a robotic body like Maltzer created. Today we talk about brain downloading, meaning we’d record all the information in a human brain digitally, and transfer it to a computer, or a cloned body. There are millions of people hoping this will actually be possible, so “No Woman Born” might have an audience today as a precedent story.

Maltzer doesn’t believe Dierdre will ever survive psychologically, and Moore makes a dramatic case for this in the story. The ending, which I don’t want to give away, is satisfying but unbelievable, or at least for me. It offers too much hope that humans can become something I don’t think we can.

* In 1975 Moore wrote an extremely short, but very revealing afterward to The Best of C. L. Moore stating that “Vintage Season” and “No Woman Born” were written before she married Kuttner and were not collaborations.

James Wallace Harris (9/6/18)