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Hidden Gems of Pulp Science Fiction, Part 2



More interesting selections from the pulp SF era. Most are pretty rare and haven't been reprinted much otherwise.

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Horace L. Gold
"No Charge For Alterations"
© Amazing Stories, Apr 1953
Authentic Science Fiction, Jul 1956
The Old Die Rich and Other Science Fiction, 1955
--/ third place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

A shocking story for any freedom-lover and independent thinker. On rural backwater planets local doctors "heal" adventurous traits and excessive imagination in colonists with a wicked personality adjustment procedure. What's more, they routinely tamper with our God-given bodies in the most unholy way: changing them according to anybody's whim. One husband ended up changed a hundred times by his wife who could not make up her mind (the guy only wanted her to be happy). The resulting nightmarish culture is maintained by the matter-of-fact brainwashing of all newcomers. And this is not a repressive totalitarian regime, either. All is done in the name of EFFICIENCY (here, the creepiest word!) and seems to be a logical extension of pioneer agricultural economics. It only makes sense to suppress the desire of exploration when all you have to do is tend the land you're given, to be satisfied with soup and potatoes and your contribution to society. I had to shudder... And Gold put all of his "fist in a velvet-glove" irony into this story, as though he had to exorcise his own deep fears...
review: 10-Jan-08 (read in 2008)
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David H. Keller
"The Ivy War"
© Wonder Stories, May 1930
--Groff Conklin's Story Selection
--/ third place apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea: plants invasion
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

How's this different from John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids"? This story is shorter, bigger in scale, and more cinematic. It throws one special effect after another at the reader, who should've grown used already to the mind-boggling apocalyptic scenarios in the pulps. Of course, I have to admit, I'm partial to the subject matter, as well. The carnivorous plant invasion is a cool thing, no matter what year it's been written. I am still waiting for the big-budget CG Hollywood movie to properly show this kind of stuff in IMAX. Bottomline is, this is the CLASSIC and the most exciting treatment of this idea - with wonderfully scary & visual writing, able to give any botanist second thoughts about creepy-crawley plants.
review: 15-Jan-08 (read in 2006)
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Charles Recour
"That We May Rise Again"
© Amazing Stories, Jul 1948
--/ fourth place apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ romance award
--/ rare find

Rare & delectable piece of pulp-story-making. Reads like something out of the Hamilton's 30s "Weird Tales" distant future offerings, where the (almost) last man meets the (almost) last woman to wage war against the insectoid Overlords. Could not be more straight-forward, but then again, the beauty is in the stark, starry-lit visuals and the pure and simple "love & sacrifice" story - overall very enjoyable slice of "immense-scale" pulp entertainment.
review: 15-Jan-08 (read in 2008)
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Richard Wilson
"Love"
© F&SF, Feb 1952
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ romance award
--/ emotion award
--/ rare find

Written with the softness rarely tasted in the pulps, this is a touching story. It leaves the end untold, just like any true romance should - the happy ending is better not described, but only implied. Then our hearts will beat faster, as we imagine the bliss, or a very private happiness of our own personal kind. Here we have a couple of outcasts: differently formed planetary race, and a blind girl, who falls in love with a man of that race - when the opportunity to shed the veil from her eyes presents itself, will she accept it? Wilson does not answer this. Let every reader solve it on his own, in his heart. Other good sf background: Ore trucks, "Martian" suburbia, the Cave of Violet Light. And, of course, the cute 50s-style storytelling.
review: 10-Jan-08 (read in 2008)
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Kris Neville
"The Opal Necklace"
© Fantastic, Summer 1952
--/ fourth place f story
--/ romance award
--/ emotion award
--/ rare find

In the same legendary first issue of "Fantastic" magazine, side by side with the masterpiece of all times: Ray Bradbury's "The Smile", we find a story by the very uneven writer Kris Neville - however, in this case his story shines and stands up well in the awesome lineup. In fact, it may be one of the most emotionally exhausting stories of the marriage gone wrong due to the deep dark magic, and one of the best character studies of "engaged witches" since (or even before) Fritz Leiber's "Conjure Wife". One poor chap marries a bewitching (and utterly selfish, even to the point of emotional vampirism) New Orleans blond beauty - and the agonizing, utterly bizarre relationship proceeds to unfold at a breakneck pace. A short story with the big, nasty bite, nearly unforgettable.
review: 21-Dec-07 (read in 2007)
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Another one of my absolute favorite pulp covers:





David H. Keller
"The Metal Doom" (nv)
© Wonder Stories, May-Jul 1932
--/ cool apocalyptic sf novel
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

Very self-conscious and "proper" pulp novel of economic disaster, caused by the rapid & global deterioration of metal. All the obvious consequences ensue in detail, which is why I could not be bothered to read the last dozen pages. This predictable (but classic, nevertheless) scenario is told in quite fluid, but uninspired style. David H. Keller set out to write a "category-killer" novel and he perhaps succeded - this novel is counted among the best published in "wonder pulps". It reads partly like a L. Ron Hubbard pot-boiler though, partly as a poor-man version of H. G. Wells.
review: 10-Jan-08 (read in 2008)
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Harry Bates & Desmond W. Hall
"A Scientist Rises"

© Astounding Stories, Nov. 1932
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

One sunny day a scientist comes out of his laboratory (which is strangely located in one the classy brownstone buildings on a busy Manhattan street), takes deep breath and... starts to grow. Yes, he grows and grows to become higher than skyscrapers, in no time at all rising above the clouds - all with a peaceful, contented half-smile on his bearded face. The city below him watches in utter consternation and the army tries to obliterate him from the New York's skyline - but regardless of all that he keeps growing, soon to grow so vast as to become immaterial, dispersing his molecules all over the Earth's atmosphere. Whatever the heck all this supposed to mean? Well, there is a brief (almost disinterested) explanation in the obscurest scientific terms possible... so it really does not matter. We can consider this story entirely surrealistic, and just enjoy the idea of the American Einstein-zilla towering over New York.
review: 27-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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Bryce Walton
"The City of the Singing Cubes"

© Out of This World Adventures, Dec 1950
--/ cool sf story
--/ rare find

The sound waves as weapons on alien planet of benign civilization, which quickly learns the ropes of warfare from the contact with human minds. Neat little (absolutely typical, in a solid Eric Frank Russell style) morality tale.
review: 10-Jan-07 (read in 2007)
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Stanton A. Coblentz
"The Sunken World" (nv)

© Amazing Stories Quarterly, Summer 1928
--/ cool sf novel
--/ first story
--/ rare find

This is very, very predictable fiction, but mostly because it was the first of its kind! First published piece by Stanton Coblentz is a full-scale epic "lost world" Atlantis novel, that is so classic in its elements and concepts, so unremarkable in its adventures, - but says who? Says the guy who read countless, innumerable consequent variations on the same theme. However, for the audience in 1928 (published in the same issue with another wonder-classic R. F. Starzl's "Out of the Sub-Universe") it was no doubt a hit, a wide-screen epic to behold.
review: 20-Dec-07 (read in 2007)
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William F. Temple
"Experiment in Genius"
© Tales of Wonder, Summer 1940
Future Stories, Nov 1951
--/ cool sf story

A classic among "genius mutants" stories. However, it failed to excite me and I do not see why it holds this "required reading" status. It was not the first story about "genius mutant children" and it's certainly not the best. For truly classic and exciting treatment of this idea see Japanese animated film "Akira", not to mention glorious stories by Henry Kuttner from the 30s.
review: 27-Dec-07 (read in 2007)

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Ray Cummings
"The Man on the Meteor" (nv)
© Science & Invention, Jan-Sep 1924
Future Fiction, Oct 1941
Science Fiction, Jan-Mar 1942
--/ cool sf novel
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find

Rare early novel of the "master of miniaturization" Ray Cummings (a sizable amount of his fiction deals with adventures in a micro-, or even sub-atomic world) This time around, probably before he found his groove, he unfolds pretty dated (meaning very predictable) adventure on some exotic asteroid - but it might as well have taken place under my couch, or in Zambia. Of course, there are many underwater monsters and sensual "mermaids", and by the standards of the dawning age of wonder it was pretty packed, but alas, it does not read as "space adventure", or any kind of memorable adventure at all (probably because of the total lack of characterization). I can see how such escapist fantasy romps might have influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs (whom I could not bring myself to read, mostly because of the total 2-dimensionality of his writing). Cummings here, arguably, stretches his wings - to become a serious source for the colorful, thrilling adventures in the 30s.
review: 25-Dec-07 (read in 2007)
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Sam Moskowitz
"The Golden Pyramid"
© Fantastic Universe, Nov 1956
--/ cool space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ rare find

How many times have you read the premise of ancient (alien) pyramid discovered on Mars? If you've been reading SF for years and watched good many Hollywood movies - countless times. Well, enter Moskowitz, who with his vivid imagination and a sense of pulp space environment like no other (it helps being a leading editor) makes the story shine with multiple facets & cuts, though you still can not compare it with Delany or Zelazny. There are only so many ways to skin the cat. There are only so many stories inside the cliche'ed pyramids on Mars idea. Come on, already! Make them pyramids in my cereal, or on Cosmic Elephant's hide, then I'll be interested... Competent writing can not save a tired storyline, even for Moskowitz.
review: 10-Jan-08 (read in 2006)
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Theodore Sturgeon
"Beware the Fury"
(also as "Extrapolation")
© Fantastic, Nov 1954
Sturgeon in Orbit, 1967
--/ cool sf story
--/ style award

The story reads smooth, like a good drink (Sturgeon, the word-smith), but the drink is diluted, so other than the main moral "Beware the fury of a patient man" this story does not linger in the mind. Some barely exciting encounters with evil aliens bent on conquiring Earth, with a Waldo-like figure of a savior: a man-hater, anti-social academic who gains the upper hand in the fight by the same trait of unpredictability. Not every traitor is what he seems. Usually one can not see the whole picture enough to judge.
review: 10-Jan-08 (read in 2007)
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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)
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

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touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

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altogether wild

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

--/ rare find
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