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The Wonder Spyglass - 7




THE WONDER SPYGLASS.
Part 7 - August 1936 - 1906

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 August of 1936, 1926, 1916 and 1906.


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SEVENTY YEARS AGO: August 1936

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Golden Age of "Sense-of-Wonder" Science Fiction and Weird Fantasy... Here are some pickings from the pulps in August:

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Jack Williamson
"The Comeeters" (nv)
(The Legion Of Space 2)
© Astounding Stories, May-Aug 1936
novel : Fantasy Press, 1950
Three From The Legion, 1977
--/ fourth place space sf series
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale

Here is the blurb from paperback reprint: "a spaceship twelve million miles long, the secret weapon that controls the Universe, a superhuman traitor to all mankind and, defying mortal peril, fantastic dangers, and the dread powers of the invincible Cometeers, the grandest trio of swashbucklers in all of science fiction". Lots of ambitious action, however some of it is pretty flat and comic-like, the writing is crude, and only a wonderful scale and totally awesome creatures set this trilogy apart from the lesser Campbell-era "space opera" efforts. The Cometeers of the title are an alien race of energy beings controlling a "comet" which is really a giant force field containing a swarm of planets populated by their slaves. Some say that the series' characters are taken from "The Three Musketeers" with Falstaff added, but I find it a bit farfetched. Just a good old large-scale non-sophisticated space opera.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 1998)



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Stanley Weinbaum
"The Circle Of Zero"
© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Aug 1936
Startling Stories, Sep 1947
A Martian Odyssey, 1949
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

No wonder some editors refused to buy this story: it's built upon the most basic of all paradoxes - the impossibility of true infinity, or true eternity. Why scientists keep operating with these concepts is beyond me. You may be shocked to discover that in pure mathematical sense infinity is impossible: because then everything that can happen, is happening somewhere, including the infinite amount of copies of you and me doing slightly different variations of what we are doing now (or flying whales and pink elephants, whatever - infinity is big enough to allow for anything). As for eternity, it too is long enough to allow for ANYTHING to happen... Here is a quote from this story: "Since in eternity everything possible must happen, it follows that everything must already have happened !" Weinbaum uses this concept as a basis for time travel in this story, but as for the "impossibility of infinity" itself, science still has to explain this paradox. To my knowledge, they just keep merrily rolling along, brushing it aside. Certainly makes you think, eh?
review: 30-Jul-06 (read in 1998)

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Stanley Weinbaum
"The Proteus Island"
© Astounding, Aug 1936
The Red Peri, 1952
A Martian Odyssey, 1962
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

In a way, this story is derived from "The Island of Dr. Moreau"; it is also perhaps the first story to describe genetic engineering. It postulates that "the nature of the beast" cannot be changed as easily as its physical form, and goes on to entertain the reader with a thrilling menace of monsters on an abandoned island. But it is nowhere as good (or truly weird) as "Fungus Isle" (1923) by Philip M. Fisher, which takes the cake among such stories.
review: 30-Jul-06 (read in 1998)

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Stanley Weinbaum
"Dawn of Flame" (coll)

© Ruppert Publ., 1936
--/ fourth place sf collection
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

This is The Weinbaum Memorial Volume - most stories appeared in other collections, notably "The Martian Odyssey & Others" but this rare edition came out first. I saw it on the web for close to $2000. The stories themselves, of course are "classics" all, and a superb entertainment. Stanley Weinbaum's tragic death has put an end to his brilliant writing carreer, just as he began to plan an ultimate "struggle of Good vs. Evil" novel, an epic to end all epics.
review: 30-Jul-06 (read in 1998)

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Henry Hasse
"He Who Shrank"
© Amazing Stories, Aug 1936
Amazing Stories, Nov 1968
--short fiction : 1971
Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll /19
--/ fourth place sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award

This story opened the way for adventures in microscopic, and sub-microscopic dimensions (if you don't count early forays into the Atom Universes by Ray Cummings). The protagonists in the story are flying a spaceship inside an atom, discovering "worlds within worlds". It is certainly a classic, although it could benefit from smoother writing. Can't dispute its wondrous sense of scale, of course. As for the "atoms as galaxies and galaxies as atoms", it once again proves the impossibility of a "true infinity" concept - because the laws of infinite scale dictate that atom is infinitely divisible into smaller elements, and "the infinitely small" ultimately will blend into the "infinitely large" as one. Think about that for a minute, and weep for poor particle physicists who have their work carved out for them :)
review: 30-Jul-06 (read in 1998)

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EIGHTY YEARS AGO: August 1926

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Infancy of Science Fiction, but - some may argue - the truly Golden Age of Weird Fantasy:



H. P. Lovecraft
"The Strange High House In The Mist"
© written in 1926
Weird Tales, Oct 1931
Dagon & Others, 1965
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ emotion award

The mother of all "haunted house on the seashore" tales. Just try this little quote for size: "And when tales fly thick in the grottoes of tritons, and conches in seaweed cities blow wild tunes learned from the Elder Ones, then great eager vapours flock to heaven laden with lore; and Kingsport, nestling uneasy on its lesser cliffs below that awesome hanging sentinel of rock, sees oceanward only a mystic whiteness, as if the cliff's rim were the rim of all earth, and the solemn bells of the buoys tolled free in the aether of faery". As you can see, the wonder and mystery are not confined to the house alone. In the most insidious ways Lovecraft tales stay with you for hours, infusing your reality with faery glow, and (in an even bigger measure) enhancing the shadows, till they grow to be sentient and grimly intent, bound to coalesce around you, if you do not swiftly flee into reality.
review: 31-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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H. P. Lovecraft
"The Terrible Old Man"
© Weird Tales, Aug 1926
also in - 1921, The Tryout
The Lurking Fear, 1947
--/ cool f story

The fear of old age and eccentricities that go along with it, combined with a simple "robbery" plot and supernatural surprise at the end make for passable dark fantasy. There was a movie based on this tale; also it's the first story to make use of Lovecraft's imaginary New England setting, introducing the fictional town of Kingsport.
review: 31-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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Edmond Hamilton
"The Monster-God of Mamurth"
© Weird Tales, Aug 1926
Weird Tales, Sep 1935
Horror on the Asteroid, 1936
Magazine of Horror, Win 1967
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find
 
Not "science fiction" per se, this was Edmond Hamilton's first published story, and it has color and excitement aplenty. It is somber, exotic, "Clark-Ashton-Smith"-esque, baroque and morbid in a most delicious ways. Desert landscapes with unspeakable monsters hiding in grandiose mysterious structures, a dread and a trembling for an amateur adventurer and a professional curiosity for Sean Connery-like types. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and - just think - it's only the beginning of a Universe-spanning career!
review: 31-Jul-06 (read in 1995)

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NINETY YEARS AGO: August 1916

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Kenneth Morris
(as by Wentworth Tompkins)
"The Rose And The Cup"

© The Theosophical Path, Apr 1916
The Phoenix Tree, ed. R. Boyer, 1974

The Secret Mountain and Other Tales, 1926
--/ cool f story

The Rose and The Cup of the title is a theosophical symbol, interchangeable with the Ace of Hearts, the openness to all emotion. The story illustrates this principle, using a few sublime fantasy elements. Kenneth Morris was a theosophist himself, seeking (and finding) secret symbols all over our reality. In some ways, such mining of esoteric knowledge is not unlike fantasy, when you are really following the constructs of your mind, satisfied with mind games, exploring various possibilities, seeking for the truth, but wandering among twisted (and endlessly fascinating) mirrors. For many members of the society the "uncovering of similarities" was a reward enough, and some of them came to the knowledge of God in due time. As for this story, it's average in my opinion, although Le Guin calls Morris "one of the master prose stylists of fantasy in the twentieth century."
review: 31-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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Marina Tsvetaeva
Марина Цветаева

"Versty. Vol.1"
"Версты"
("Mileposts") (poems)

© written in 1916
Moscow, 1922
--/ emotion award
--/ style award

It was a time of universal turmoil, when governments were upturned and literary conventions shaken. In Russia it was a time of creative freedom, experimentation with form and modernization of content. Futurists, avangarde artists, intense intellectuals and aggressive simpletons contributed to the unbelievably varied and refreshing cultural life in Europe. The tragedy of communism loomed ahead, and many creative types felt it. Marina Tsvetaeva (one of the foremost poetic stylists, on par perhaps with Boris Pasternak) wrote beautiful and intense poetry, full of fantasy and surrealistic imagery - I am not sure how her works measure up in English translation, but in Russian it is a storm of pure, lightning-hot emotion... worthy to savour for any connoiseur of fiction "fantastique, strange".
review: 31-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO: August 1906

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"Treasure Island...or Planet... or Universe" - take your pick!




Robert Louis Stevenson
"Treasure Island" (nv)

© 1883
Current Publ., 1906

I include this book here as the example of an enchanting adventure in exotic setting, which may just as well have been set in outer space - as was recently proved by a marvelous Disney movie "Treasure Planet" (I quite like the poster for this movie, too, see below). The story itself is timeless, its plot endlessly fascinating. A Treasure Hunt against all odds, quickly moving through multitude of exotic environments, and facing many (mostly pirate) monsters. By the way, the "weird fantasy" sub-genre has always been fond of a pirate lifestyle and often made a good use of it (take, for example, the "Pirates of Caribbean" movies, which at times can even have the same effect as reading a good old issue of "Weird Tales", almost matching the visual intensity and inventiveness of the 1930s pulps).

The 1906 year saw the first "pulp-style" edition of the "Treasure island" (in a popular "yellow-back" series format), quickly achieving legendary status and starting a flow of reprints... the flow that will only cease when Davy Jones himself would mutter "enough already" out of the murky depths.



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COMMENTS:

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I just read your review of "The Circle Of Zero", and thought I'd add a comment on "the impossibility of true infinity, or true eternity".

I've studied a bit of Math, and it contually depresses me that >30 year old Maths understanding of infinity has not made any progress into the general consciousness. For example Infinity doesn't mean that everything (including minor varants of now) must occur somewhere. There are at least two different infinities (called countable and uncountable). A countable infinity is literally that - one can assign a number to each item (1,2,3...). It goes on forever, but doesn't include everything ever possible - just like numbers. A countably infinite universe could exist without any of the paradox you describe (and time could continue infinitely in a similar way). Infinities are designated with the Hebrew letter aleph, and countable infinity is aleph-zero. All countable infinties are able to be put into 1-to-1 correspondence, and so are mathematically the same in that sense.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

an awesome comment... thanks!

9:27 AM  

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EXPLANATION OF THE RATING SYSTEM:

"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)
ALL "BEST OF" LISTS ARE LOCATED HERE

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.