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The Wonder Spyglass - 3




THE WONDER SPYGLASS.
Part 3 - July

Read other issues here


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...


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SIXTY YEARS AGO: July 1946

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Ray Bradbury
"Chrysalis"
© 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)

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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)

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And in fantasy in 1946 -

J. R. R. Tolkien
"Bilbo's Last Song (At the Grey Havens)"
(Middle-Earth)
© 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)





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SEVENTY YEARS AGO: July 1936

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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EIGHTY YEARS AGO: July 1926

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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)

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NINETY YEARS AGO: 1916

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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)



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ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO: 1916

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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)

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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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