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The Wonder Spyglass - 3

Part 3 - July

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Retrospective Fiction Reviews
This month in the fantastic literature:
going back by 10-year jumps.

Only includes the stories I've read personally. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge cover images.

The idea of these "time trips" - to highlight the particular stories throughout SF&F history (all 100 years of it). Each month I will publish (time permitting) SPYGLASS issues, giving selective reviews to stories, collections, original anthologies and novels, choosing out of literally thousands of stories I've read - for example only stories which appeared in a particular month in SF magazines, and taking jumps of 10 years in SF history. This is a way for me to gradually go through stories and fill out the reviews, and a way to get a fun perspective on the genre.

This issue will highlight stories from July magazine fiction in 1946, 1936 and ... down to 1906. Forties nad Thirties were the best period for pulps, the Golden Age of SF. Should be interesting...




Ray Bradbury
© Amazing, Jul 1946
S Is for Space, 1966
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ shock value
--/ idea award: metamorphosis

Cocoons, metamorphosis and disasterous mutations resulting from the best intentions combine to become a super-specimen (remember "The Fly" movie?). Here we have an insect-like mutation of a man in a wonderful "purple" pulp style, predictable creepiness and the overall guilty pleasure of a shocking pulp-tale professionally told, which is quite rare for Bradbury. He was probably feeling more "guilt" after writing this story than necessary, and that is why we've not been treated to such cool stuff ever since. (admittedly, Bradbury wrote a lot for "Weird Tales" and other pulps in the forties, which is a wonderful thing, but in the fifties he put a stop to that)
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 1984)


A. E. Van Vogt
"Film Library"
© Astounding, Jul 1946
Away and Beyond, 1952
Quest for the Future, 1970
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Films from the future find their way to the present day...Van Vogt makes quite an entertaining story out of this premise. I remember something like this happening in my life - some western films found their way behind the Iron Curtain to awe and astonish communist country viewers; in a way they were considered to be from the future, too.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 1989)


And in fantasy in 1946 -

J. R. R. Tolkien
"Bilbo's Last Song (At the Grey Havens)"
© 1946, original
book: Allen & Unwin, 1974
--/ style award
--/ wonder award

A poem written by Bilbo Baggins just before he takes ship from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Very stirring, in the elegaic mood, full of riveting imagery. Something that will make you cry and your heart sing. The poetry itself perhaps is not as important as the thoughts conveyed there - everyone can hear the music of these thoughts. A perfect piece for a genius composer.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 2005)




Edmond Hamilton
"Horror on the Asteroid
& Other Tales of Planetary Horror" (coll)

© London: Allen, 1936
--/ fourth place sf collection
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

A collection true to the spirit of "the romance of the spaceways", a wonderful piece of Hamilton entertainment. The title novella is as hard-boiled adventure as they come, and the rest just sings up a "hymn to wonder" in a joyous choir of space-happy pulp stories. They should keep this in print, for the sheer intensity and color of the material contained here. I would've bought this book in 1936 and I'd buy it now if I saw it.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 2005)


C. L. Moore
"Lost Paradise"
(Northwest Smith)
© Weird Tales, Jul 1936
Northwest Of Earth, 1954
--/ cool sf story

Space adventurer Northwest Smith learns about the downfall of a mighty alien race; there is certain bittersweet mood to the story, just like to all Moore's space stories - almost like a heavy-layered chocolate cake with rum and cognac flowing over the crumbling black filling, with orchid flowers sleepily bending over the ornate plate, mixing their heady smell with the soaring aroma of the vanilla topping and caramel lace. So here you have it.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 2004)


A. MacFadyen, Jr.
"The Time Decelerator"
© Astounding, Jul 1936
--/ cool sf story
--/ rare find

It's a pleasant enough pulp story. Ultimately forgettable, but when eating it first time, it tastes not bad and quite chewable.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2002)


Two offerings from the "wild and wooly" realm of the weird menace pulps for July:

Paul Chadwick
"Mistress Of Snarling Death"
 © Ace Mystery, July 1936

Paul Chadwick writes wonderful science fiction stories, but in his non-sf adventures he is too predictable. Here is the PulpGen blurb: "Paul Chadwick's stories could be plenty weird, but this is his only known tale in a weird menace pulp. His motley collection of characters and surprising plot twists don't disappoint in this entertaining effort." The atmosphere of the story is similar to "The Hound of Baskervilles"
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2002)


Richard Tooker
"Zenith Rand: Planet Vigilante"
(Zenith Rand series)
© Mystery Adventure Stories, Jul 1936
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

Zenith Rand was one of the first space adventure super-heroes, but he starred in an average quality series. Mostly appearing in saucy & spicy pulps, the adventures consisted of very straight-forward "damsel-in-distress" scenarios. But wait, there is more... some inspired, imaginative episodes: starring a lusty race of satyr women, carnivorous plant growths, part-griffin part-dragon creatures, trees made of rock, sandstorms, desert planet bases, etc. It's certainly not Edgar R. Burroughs already, and not a "Thrilling Wonder Stories" adventure yet.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1988)




H. P. Lovecraft
"The Dream-Quest of
Unknown Kadath" (nv)
© 1926, original
Arkham Sampler, 1948
Beyond The Wall Of Sleep, 1943
At The Mountains Of Madness, 1968
--/ FIRST place f novella
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award
--/ awesome scale

Reading this novella was a peculiar experience - a dream, or rather a trance, with sights floating by, wonder upon wonder, written in the very ornate, intensely descriptive prose; a narrative that - if you let it - will pull you in and leave you stranded inside that same dream. Which is exactly what happened to me. Can you believe it, I've never been able to finish reading it... Somewhere half-way along the quest the sheer weird beauty and the implied deep horror of thousands of wonders reached a critical mass in my head and prevented me from going further, prompting rather to stop, savour at length and reflect on what I've already read. So I do not even know how it ends. Maybe one day I will try this book again, armed with a more jaded and indifferent approach, and will escape this bizarre dream-like effect, but for now - nothing I have ever read (not even Tolkien) produced such vivid images of strange worlds in my head. Admittedly, I did not read Lord Dunsany stories (upon which Lovecraft modelled this novel), but then you can only have so much of that kind of "high imaginative calorie" food. It has a minimal plot, and fulfills exactly the promise of the title: it's "a Dream Quest in a Mysterious and Haunted Land" with elements of dark and high fantasy intermingled. A painting, perhaps? A symphony? Any of these things, but not a novel per se, rather a haunting poetry.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 1986)




J. R. R. Tolkien
"The Book of Lost Tales.
Parts I&II" (coll)
(Middle-Earth: history 2&3)
© poems written in 1914-1918
book: Allen & Unwin, 1983-1984
--fantasy : 1985 Mythopoeic
--/ third place f collection
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

It was surpising to learn that a significant part of Middle-Earth history, and a general feel of Tolkien's world, including the most poignant of his poems - all were completed in 1914 to 1920, at the time when Tolkien was in love and at war - but then is it really surpising? It is only proper, considering the intensity of feeling and freshness of emotion, vast scale of vistas and romanticism of the highest order that went into "the world-that-never-was-and always-is" Middle-Earth. (see below photos of Tolkien in 1911 and his beloved wife Edith). I seem to like the poetic world he created more than the confines of a single trilogy, and like to explore in depth the epic history and the mysterious knowledge hinted at in the "Silmarillion" and the "Books of Lost Tales". The trilogy is the front, the gate, the first step into... as big a world as human imagination can contain, or put on paper. Love is a catalyst to monumental works, love that only grows with time.
review: 14-Jul-06 (read in 1999)




H. G. Wells
"The New Accelerator"

© The Strand, Dec 1901
--/ fourth place time sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award

One of the very earliest sf stories I've read, and still fresh in my mind - it is a definitive treatment of "time speeding-up / slowing-down" concept and wish-fullfilment fantasy about "frozen people around you, so that you can do whatever you want". Everyone had dreams like that, and Wells wrote a classic, which stands the passing of time. "Strand" magazine, as you notice, was the closest thing to a pulp magazine at the turn of a century.
review: 14-Jul-06 (read in 1999)


I did not include works by Verne, Wells, Conan Doyle etc in my ratings up until now (considering them outside the scope of this site (1926-2006), although I certainly read a lot of their fiction), but "Spyglass" reviews reach back further, so from time to time I will include the most ground-breaking stories from the turn of the century. This story concludes our look through the ages of the fantastic, narrowed down to one month and 100 years deep in reach - see you back for next issue of "Spyglass" in August.

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Collecting Pulp Magazines

Ephemera Interview with Avi Abrams

Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

Space Pulp Art by Ron Turner and other British artists

Pulp Pleasures: Eando Binder

Great space adventure fiction from the 1930s
"Where Eternity Ends" and other rare gems

Epic Fantasy: the Start of the Journey

Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
incl. works by Henry Kuttner, Tolkien, etc.

Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
...lovely baroque magical lands, and more

Classic Cyberpunk SF Novels: Reviews

Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, et al
(awesome must-reads)

10 Possible Sources of "Avatar" in Classic Science Fiction

Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
(many stories worth reading)

"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
and Tim Power's "The Anubis Gates", of course!

"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
mind impostors and emotion imitators

Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
and other newest examples of the bizarre

Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
and other classic sf blasts

H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
including original illustrations

"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

The Surreal Office

"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

"UBIK", "Now Wait for Last Year", etc.

Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
Rediscovered gems of wonder & adventure

William Gibson's Novels

"Pattern Recognition", "Neuromancer"
A Fractured Delight...

Alfred Bester "The Computer Connection"

"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

Two Novels by Samuel R. Delany

"Nova" and "Babel-17"
New Wave Milestones, and then some.

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

(and more reviews of his fiction)
Classic SF at its best and most humane

Travel Distant Worlds!

Vintage Space Travel Posters, and more.
Part 3 of Pulp Sf art series...

Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Hidden Gems of Pulp Fiction
When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

Overview of Pulp Art
A Loudly Lurid Universe of Sci-Fi Illustration

Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

Jack Vance

"To Live Forever"
and other Vance extravaganzas

Alastair Reynolds

"Pushing Ice"
Cosmological "noir" chase across space

Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
Mind-bending Cold War world-building

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

Rare stories from the "Age of Wonder"
incl. David Keller, Horace Gold etc.

Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

"Cosmos" + "Challenge From Beyond"
incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

Astounding Stories, June 1935

Full Issue Review
incl. Gallun, Schachner, Campbell

Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
incl. Heinlein, Asimov, Eric Frank Russell

Horace Gold; P. Schuyler Miller

"Apocalyptic Blockbusters"
"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

Plus his advice to new writers
Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Plus his Recommended Reading List
A Triumph of the Bizarre

Alastair Reynolds, Part 2

More "Galactic North" Stories
A Mixture of Hard Sf, James Bond & Jaws...

Alastair Reynolds Review

"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

Most Shocking Article

"Holey Fools" by M. Christian
Warning: Gross Subject Matter

Alfred Bester Review

"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

Poul Anderson Review

"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

Thomas M. Disch Review

"The Squirrel Cage"
"...seriously mind-bending stuff..."

Henry Kuttner Review

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (The Last Mimzy)
"...great storyline for a pretty average movie..."

Robert A. Heinlein Review

"The Moon is the Harsh Mistress"
" caused a tooth ache, and put my brain on freeze..."

Frank Herbert Review

"Destination: Void"
"...a layered cake of ideas and a scientific extrapolation on a genius level..."

Harlan Ellison Review

"The Abnormals"
"...editors slapped the most outrageous titles on his stories..."

James White Review

"All Judgement Fled"
"...the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable..."

Grand Adventure Strikes Again

Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
Based on Arthur Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night"

William Gibson Review

"Burning Chrome"
"...sheer pyrotechnics and exuberance of style..."

Ace Double: Murray Leinster

"The Pirates of Ersatz /The Mutant Weapon"
"...the characters might as well be cats or hamsters..."

Astounding Stories, May 1935

Pulp SF Magazine Review
with many original illustrations

Also read recent posts:
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The Wonder Timeline: SF&F Restrospective
Space Adventure Article



"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

All major OFFICIAL AWARDS are highlighted in BLUE
("winner" has a letter "W" by it, otherwise it is a runner-up only)

Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
--/ first place :
--/ second place :
--/ third place :

--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- novella :
- story :
- collection :

Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

--/ wonder award
sense-of-wonder, "visual intensity" and inventiveness

--/ idea award
originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
exhilarating plot, excitement / action

--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

--/ romance award
intense and beautiful love / relationships

--/ humour award
funny and cool

--/ emotion award
touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

--/ shock value
altogether wild

--/ awesome scale
mind-boggling; further enhances sense-of-wonder

--/ rare find
very hard to locate, mostly from old pulps, never reprinted, etc.

Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.