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Hidden Gems of Pulp Science Fiction, Part 1



Just another helping of the Rare & the Beautiful... makes life so much richer to know that the last 100 years were full of fantastic, engrossing fiction... which makes every foray into collectible heaven an exciting experience.

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Estelle Frye
"The Face in The Mask"

© Fantastic Stories, Jun 1961
--/ second place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ emotion award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ rare find

This story can be potentially life-changing, if you only let it - and seriously disturbing, if you don't. The subject matter will stay with you for days, and may haunt you until the solution is found. Similar to J. G. Ballard's dystopias, this masterful tale uses the surreal and the absurd as a powerful force, aimed directly at your subconscious. Everybody who ever struggled for identity inside an urban jungle, who tasted totalitarian propaganda, or been wounded by the impossibility of escape (in its broadest sense) - will savor every word; all other readers, too, will be immensely entertained. Heads above anything published in the field in years, this tale somehow managed to languish in the total obscurity for the past 50 years... This could be hard to explain, except for the fact that it was the first and ONLY piece Estelle Frye ever wrote! Apparently she had said everything she wanted to say (in a few carefully chosen words) and then fell silent ...

People in this story are trapped in an artificial, soul-killing environment (reminiscent of "The Truman Show") with all sense of identity and destiny seemingly lost to them. They go around in masks and pointlessly gaze at the painted landscapes around the city. The countryside is not much better. Soon there is only one thing left: to turn away from your own misery and start helping others, one person at a time. But then, such choice is almost always the hardest.
review: 27-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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Richard Vaughn
"The Exile of the Skies" (nv)

© Wonder Stories, Jan-Mar 1934
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

Some mighty superhero-pulp adventure here, full of inimitable purple "wonder-prose", stupendous conflicts and primitive romance. The figure of an outcast super-scientist is so comic-like and iconic, that pulp lovers might even cringe from "over-pulpiness". The (mad, mad, mad) genius nurtures the (mad, mad, mad) designs of global dominations, which are fatally thwarted by the (mad, mad... but charming) female fellow scientist and some invisible aliens on some asteroid in deep space. Do not read this if you never liked super-hero comics from the 30s. Kudos to the author, though, for the adventurous rocket-scientist brunette heroine.
review: 20-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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Hannes Bok
"Web of Moons"

© Future, Apr 1942
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

An Impressionist Painting... Hallucinations on a Cosmic Scale... Epic Canvas of Fantastic Imagery, compressed in only three pages of text. Hardly a story, but an author's "trip" under the influence of his favorite music (in this case, Tschaikovski's ballet masterpieces) - to places both splendid and utterly exotic. Prepare for sensory overload: there is bizarre Universal Eroticism for Planets and Nebulas, some Lovecraftian "living tree" beings thrown in for good measure, some Tolkien-sque mythical poetics - all, I repeat, in three pages of text. Hannes Bok was famous for his paintings, so here we have what he does best: a record of his WILD imagination.
review: 20-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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One of my favorite pulp covers of all time:



Phillip Jacques Bartell
"One Hundred Generations"

(also as by Philip Barshofsky)
© Wonder Stories, Sep 1935
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

Published during the last year of "Wonder Stories" magazine, before it became "Thrilling Wonder Stories" with slightly less wild and woolly fiction inside - this is unashamedly grand (and hopelessly naive) futuristic storytelling. An implausible future, which only could've been imagined at the end of the 30s: human beings evolve into brainy but utterly helpless and sexless creatures (like in the famous Harry Bates "Alas, All Thinking" story), their joy of living largely lost in the sterile and manufactured lifestyle. However, there is a scientist in his fortress in the sky (sane, for a change), who brings back the normal human form, but with one substantial improvement - wings. In the most sensual and beautiful part of the story a bunch of flabbergasted and scared man-geeks catch their first glimpse of a female "angel" and realize that they need to shed their age-old inhibitions... Learning to fly, learning to love again. Carried in the air by a cute & mischievous angel... Memorable & exotic tale.
review: 20-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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Ib J. Melchior
"The Racer"

© Escapade, Sep 1952
--/ third place sf story
--/ adventure award
--/ shock value
--/ idea award
--/ rare find

This is the ORIGINAL story behind the idea of a brutal cross-country race, in which the winner is the one who hits more pedestrians along the way. Similar manic mass-entertainment was described by Robert Sheckley in "The Prize of Peril", but this time cars are used as killing machines and the whole American population becomes a potential target for crazed drivers, bent on increasing their killing score, catering to blood-thirsty TV watching crowd. Interestingly, even though plenty of warning is given along the racing route and everybody has an option to stay safely inside, there are many who prefer to stick it out and take their chances... Going to the movies, picking groceries becomes a life-threatening gamble. This story is a heady mix of shocks and thrills, told in a single breath; a horrifying, emotionally charged, highly cinematic and, surprisingly, humane tale. One heck of the story, asking for one heck of a movie. It's a shame that a cheesy Hollywood remake ("Death Race 2000") ruined the prospects for a better movie, potentially "The Truman Show" classic of our generation.
review: 21-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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Francis Flagg & Weaver Wright
"Strangers in a Strange Time"
(also as "The Time Twister")
© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Oct 1947
--/ cool sf story

Two funny scientists (possibly drunk, or even worse, ridiculously sober) get all excited about time travel, quickly make some impressive-looking machine and hop in, only to discover that they were hit by a twister - creating all kinds of chaos around, but none time-travel-related. A bummer.

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H. G. Wells
"The Final Men"
(unpublished part of "The Time Machine")
© 1894, New Review Magazine
book form - William Heinemann, 1895
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

Unpublished fragment! Monster vignette with pretty cool & moody visuals, which definitely deserves to be restored to the original text. It's perhaps even more exciting than the rest of the book...

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James Causey
"Inferiority"
© Science Stories, Apr 1954
--/ cool sf story
--/ emotion award
--/ rare find

This light-hearted story could easily have been a part of Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" (with some improvement in writing, of course). Same atmosphere of poetic, gentle race confronted with seemingly superior human military civilization. The ultimate (and poignant) triumph of art and humble virtues makes this story almost Christian in its values, not to mention totally rare. (Whoever heard of the "Science Stories" pulp??)

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David R. Daniels
"The Far Way"
© Astounding Stories, Jul 1935
--/ cool sf story
--/ rare find

Pretty cool tale of a guy, who falls into a time abyss, sporadically intersected with fourth dimensional planes - which stretches him along the craziest cosmological lines, and makes him thoroughly confused. I wonder why.

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D. D. Sharp
"The Indesinent Stykal"
© Astounding Stories, Jun 1937
--/ cool sf story
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

Exchanging bodies never sounded as sinister as in this twisted "mad scientist" tale. The reverberating, evil laughs resonate from every page, the satisfied smirks and crooked grins hover over every paragraph: this is THE story about stealing bodies and how NOT feeling guilty about it. D. D. Sharp also wrote "The Eternal Man" which became a classic, but here he has fun with dominating geniuses and various stupidly submissive assistants (of both genders) - plus some speculations about the physical nature of human character and personality. Pretty neat stuff.

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Horace Gold
"Gold"
(as by Clyde Crane Campbell)
© Astounding Stories, Jan 1935
--/ cool sf story
--/ rare find

Humorous investigation of the true value of gold, when anything can be turned to gold. Written by Gold (how appropriate). Plenty of Jewish flair & flavor by one of the most prominent Jewish sf writers / editors.

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Oscar J. Friend
"The Impossible Highway"
© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Aug 1940
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

I like stories by Oscar J. Friend, he seems to really "dig" Thrilling Wonder pulp requirements and atmosphere. Always exciting set-ups with neat ideas and plenty of visual adventure. Though... wait a moment, he was the EDITOR of "Thrilling Wonder" himself! I guess that explains how his fiction fitted in so well. Not that I'm complaining. Good things come to those who read TWS pulp. In this neat little tale, the whole future of human civilization is preserved in a sort of the un-dimensional museum, pretty dangerous place for the amazed explorers.

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Ray Cummings
"A Fragment of Diamond Quartz"
(as Ray P. Shotwell)
© Super Science Stories (Can), Aug 1944
Super Science Stories, Anthology 1950
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find


How much more obscure can you get? Hidden under rarely-used pen name, published in the one of the hardest to find magazines, and what's more, inside the issue not found in any index or catalog of this magazine! "Super Science Stories", Canadian edition, published some unique and original content, which was NOT duplicated south of the border. It's impossible to find even cover images for these issues, not to mention the tables of contents. So... this neat adventure from the premier sf writer of the "wonder" era got buried in obscurity - and became all the more interesting for it!

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Kris Neville
"Sam and the Live and the Not-Alive Things"
© Super Science Stories, Sep 1950
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find


Another rare and wonderful story: troubled monsters, protective Domes around the last vestiges of civilization, scared children and a nice twist in the end. Kris Neville could be pretty uneven writer but this tale is entertaining enough.

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Ray Cummings
"Secret of the Sun"
© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Aug 1939
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

This is not the best example of wonder-laden stories by Ray Cummings, but Forrest J. Ackerman's right when he (as a lucky collector of infinite amount of pulps) laments the absence of any short story collection of this prominent pulp writer. It could be that some small press did issue a collection recently, or even put some of his stories online; but the fairy dust of obscurity has already touched Cummings' literary output since the 50s, and once touched, it's hard to shake it off.

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Murray Leinster
"The Ambulance Made Two Trips"
© Astounding, Apr 1960
--/ cool sf story
--/ humour award
--/ rare find


Hilarious Leinster, vintage pulp humor tale! Time paradoxes, wacky characters, prime-time entertainment. You should feed your TV (or DVD player for that matter) to the nearest crocodile in a zoo - and go home to happily read stories like this one! Mind you, Leinster did write a lot of fluff during his career, but this story is not like that.

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John Russell Fearn
"The Man Who Stopped Dust"
© Astounding Stories, Mar 1934
--/ cool sf story
--/ rare find

This is a typical pulp pot-boiler, but don't dismiss good old Fearn as a total hack yet. True, he's written more scrubby stuff than anybody can count, especially under Vargo Statten pen name, and produced some truly ugly & primitive fiction, but some of his more epic stories definitely deserve a closer look. This one however, falls pretty flat.

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Stanton A. Coblentz
"The Treasure of Red-Ash Desert"
© Weird Tales, Mar 1942
--/ cool sf story
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find


Another wildly uneven pulp writer. Some Stanton Coblentz stories are exciting, but some are so conventional that they seem to be written entirely from a bag of cliches with a very limited "action" tool set. This story is a competent and rare (but ultimately unfulfilling) adventure set among the lavender-tinted towers of future Southern California. The opening line is promising: "La-Glo stood on the third parapet of the Balcony of the Sun, and looked out over the Amethyst City", but it gets too colorful too soon. Too many mixed colors for my liking.

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J. Harvey Haggard
"Messenger To Infinity"
© Science Fiction Quarterly, Win 1942
--/ fourth place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find


J. Harvey Haggard writes with a highly visual style, which really shines in this short planetary tale. Great alien landscapes, infinite time vistas, and general sense of awesomeness prevail here, so do not look for much of the dialog, or much of the plot. The fairy godmother of Obscurity took a special liking to this wonderful "robot-explorer and life-progenitor" vignette, so it's nearly impossible to find. Tasty little morsel, indeed.

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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.


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