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The Wonder Spyglass - Part 11

Part 11 - September 1936 to 1906

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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 September of 1936, 1935, 1925, 1915 and 1902.


SEVENTY YEARS AGO: September 1936


Donald Wandrei
"Finality Unlimited"
© Astounding, Sep 1936
Eye and the Finger, 1944
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale

This story may either blow your mind and send you staggering in the general direction of a "Starbucks" for some hope of espresso and free time to ponder upon its described (and implied) immensities, or it can mightily frustrate you with its "rubber" science (meaning "very flexible, and likely nonsense scientific stuff") and crude literary qualities. Your choice. A vintage "Wonder Pulp" tale, it displays the same unique qualities of cosmic imagination as other Wandrei tales, such as "The Red Brain", "Colossus", "Something From Above", etc. Is it refined gasoline to feed your sophisticated literary SUV, or is it crude, black, raw oil gushing from depths unmentionable and vast, covering you from head to toe, branding you as a "wonder junkie" and providing a gleam in your eyes for days to come? The latter, of course. Some inspired, vaulted halls of imagination span this narrative; go hide and frolic inside them, and do not let anybody tell you differently.
review: 24-Sep-06 (read in 2002)

Artwork by Frank R. Paul


Stanley Weinbaum
"The Ideal"
(Professor Manderpootz)
© Wonder Stories, Sep 1935
Startling Stories, Jun 1943
A Martian Odyssey, 1949
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

A hodge-podge of curious ideas and situations, a vintage "wonder" tale. "An eccentric scientist announces that he intends to build an omniscient device in the form of a head. This is possible since he has already discovered the basic unit of time (the chronon) and space (the spation). Beyond these is the cosmon (the ultimate), and from these can be constructed the psychon (the unit of thought)" (this is a typical example of pseudo-science of the early pulps) When he actually constructs his device, it turns out to be a mechanism for viewing the ideal of anything thought of. He asks his friend, a bored playboy character, to use the idealizator, and, naturally, he thinks of his ideal woman. She appears and what follows is, an at times hilarious, P. G. Wodehouse-like silly romantic mess, which slowly unravels toward the end of the story. The illustration below shows a curious sub-plot - a mechanical "beast of prey" that was designed to "kill" automobiles. It's programmed to seek out the automobile, seize it, and drain its fuel. Sounds like a very timely invention indeed, for use in the coming oil crisis :)
review: 27-Sep-06 (read in 2003)

Artwork by Frank R. Paul


"The Challenge from Beyond"
(Round-robin serial: sf part + weird fantasy part)
© Fantasy Magazine, Sep 1935
The Challenge from Beyond, 1990

Stanley G. Weinbaum
Donald Wandrei
Edward E. Smith
Harl Vincent
Murray Leinster

H.P. Lovecraft
Robert E. Howard
C.L. Moore
A. Merritt
Frank Belknap Long

--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

The Ultimate SF&F Collectible! An extremely rare "round-robin" serial, published in the impossibly hard-to-get magazine (almost a fanzine) and only recently reprinted as a limited-edition chapbook. The similar SF round-robin serial "Cosmos" from "Fantasy Magazine" is also hard-to-find: it's been reprinted only in "Perry Rhodan" magazine, of all places! It's time for somebody to publish these serials together as one paperback... The best pulp writers at the time were asked to submit a story episode, and they all did - this tells you what an unpretentious and enthusiastic crowd they were - each keeping his or her own signature style, together making a sort of "Who's Who" catalogue of the fantastic pulps. The science fiction episodes were written by Stanley Weinbaum, Donald Wandrei, Doc Smith, Harl Vincent, and Murray Leinster. The weird fantasy parts were written by C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. So far I have only read a few episodes, but let me tell you, it's almost like coming to the most delicious smorgasbord of all times... vintage and delectable stuff all over.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 2002)
(cover images credit: Chris Perridas)


Robert Bloch
"The Shambler from the Stars"
(Cthulhu Mythos)
© Weird Tales, Sep 1935
The Opener of the Way, 1945
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

The Thirties gave history many monsters, some very real (like Stalin, Hitler, etc), but most imaginary - in the pulps. No other decade produced such a fertile crop of aliens and mad-scientist pets, and most of them were indeed pretty ugly. Witness this "star vampire" creature (part of the Cthulhu Mythos zoo of beings)... Quote from the story: "It was red and dripping; an immensity of pulsing, moving jelly; a scarlet blob with myriad tentacular trunks that waved and waved. There were suckers on the tips of the appendages, and these were opening and closing with a ghoulish lust.... The thing was bloated and obscene; a headless, faceless, eyeless bulk with the ravenous maw and titanic talons of a star-born monster"."The star vampire dwells in outer space and is characterized by its ravenous appetite for blood. The creature uses its enormous talons to capture its prey, grappling and crushing the unfortunate and then draining the victim's blood through its tubular suckers. It is normally invisible, but following a sanguine repast, the star vampire becomes temporarily visible from the undigested blood it has absorbed." (Wikipedia) The story itself is an assault on the senses in the best "weird wonder" pulp tradition. Bloch apparently had a blast writing it, even killing off his fellow writer H. P. Lovecraft at the end of the story, in his unbridled enthusiasm. Lovecraft returned the favour, killing off a Bloch character in his "Haunter of the Dark". All in good fun, fellows.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 1999)


Stanley Weinbaum
"The Worlds Of If"
(Professor Manderpootz)
© Wonder Stories, Aug 1935
Startling Stories, Mar 1941
Dawn Of Flame, 1936
A Martian Odyssey, 1949
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Lightly humorous story, not very memorable, but cute. Professor van Manderpootz, an eccentric megalomaniac genius, has invented a machine that sees into worlds that might have been, if things had turned out differently. Classic theme, classic treatment. Well worth reading with your cup of coffee at breakfast.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 1995)


Warner Van Lorne
"The Upper Level Road"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1935
--Groff Conklin' story selection
--/ cool time sf story
--/ wonder award: ruins above our plane
--/ rare find

Unusual idea for the period: Archeological ruins exist in a dimensional plane above our own, so they sometimes superimpose over the real world and cause all kinds of "hallucinations". Pretty cool visuals and competent storytelling.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 2004)


September 1925, 1915, 1905


H. P. Lovecraft
"The Temple"
© Weird Tales, Sep 1925
The Lurking Fear, 1947
--/ cool f story

This story describes some mysterious and dreadful ruins, probably of Atlantis. A somberly poetic narrative hints of the dangers of weird science and of the trademarked Lovecraftian "unspeakables" (which turn out to be pretty tame after all). A curious diversion, good to go with a certain mood.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 1990)


J. R. R. Tolkien
"The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again" (nv)
(Lord Of The Rings)
© 1937, Allen & Unwin
poems also in - Oxford Poetry, 1915
Leeds University Verse, 1924
book: Allen & Unwin, 1937
--all time fantasy novel : 1987 Locus All-Time Poll /2
--fantasy novel (before 1990) : 1998 Locus All-Time Poll /2
--/ third place f novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award

The early drafts and poems for that book appeared in 1915, providing the first glimpses into Tolkien's magical country of the Shire. More epic poems and "Silmarillion" pieces took shape even earlier, so we can safely say that Tolkien was already "hooked" on Middle-Earth and adventures there, even though "The Hobbit" was not written down until 1935. Here is the review from Rachel Abrams:
Much has been written about The Hobbit, from the influence of World War 1 on Tolkien's creation and development of Middle Earth, to literary and stylistic reviews. What is there left for one to say about this, the most charming of Tolkien's works and probably the entire genre? Though it was written for children, it appeals to the "Tookishness" in everyone: that deep down desire for more than just a comfortable hobbit hole - for adventure, and legends of long ago to wake up and invade breakfast. Who wouldn't want to be whisked away without even a handkerchief on some wild adventure? The storyline is not without its faults and a tendency towards "Deus Ex Machina" solutions, but they are carried off with such unapologetic aplomb that one cannot help enjoying every image and word. Tolkien's treatment of human emotion and motivation - filtered through his hobbit and dwarves - is without fault and honest: courage, greed, pride, resourcefulness, wit, humor, despair, love, loyalty and duty are all met and measured. Bilbo, who is so comfortable in his hobbit life that his neighbors don't even have to ask him what his opinions are, finds himself the odd one out among a pack of dwarves and with the awful label of burglar. He "lives up" to this challenge in ways which show his true character and surprises everyone. This book is truly one to curl up with on a February evening when it seems life has dulled into a cramped, damp hobbit-hole... it's always helpful to remember, you could be stuffed in a barrel and dumped in a river.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 1990)

No exactly the Shire from "The Hobbit", but as sparkling and innocent (original unknown; click to enlarge).


Elia W. Peattie
"The Crime Of Micah Rood"
© 1902, original
also in - Dangerous Vegetables, ed. K. Laumer, 1998
--/ cool f story
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

Who could've known that an exciting fantasy, detailing strange growths in and around abandoned gardens, was published as early as 1902 - with great narrative tension, the overall feel of "Weird Tales" magazine and even some of the "look" of modern-day computer special effects, but here it is. Surprise! I wonder how many other top-notch and imaginative stories are languishing in antique magazine piles, passed over by critics and collectors as a simple "mass-market" entertainment.
review: 30-Sep-06 (read in 2004)


That's all for this issue, see you in October!

Artwork copyright Frank R. Paul (Click to enlarge)

Read other issues here



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Blogger Stephen Lucchetti said...

The entry information for "The Challenge From Beyond" is a bit wrong. There seems to be a muddling of the round-robin "Challenge" with another round-robin serial "COSMOS" published from July 1933 - December 1934 starting in Science Fiction Digest and ending in Fantasy Magazine. "Challenge" is the horror/SF round-robin story and "COSMOS" is pretty much all SF. "COSMOS" was reprinted in Perry Rhodan, I don't believe "Challenge" was ever reprinted in Perry Rhodan.

4:21 AM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

You are entirely correct! Thanks for the note. I've revised the entry and really am amazed at your knowledge of rare fantastic pulps. BTW I'd love to read these serials in their entirety! I only got 2 episodes from Perry Rhodan...

12:15 PM  

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Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
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Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

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some truly crazed stories in there...
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"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

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Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
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Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
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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

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"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

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Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
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Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

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

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

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"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.