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Astounding Stories, August 1934



Nat Schachner
"Stratosphere Towers"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1934
--/ third place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

Where is the publishing industry when you need it? How come there is no Nat Schachner short story collection out there? Here is a guy who personified the kind of story that can only be called "stupendous, inventive pulp blockbuster hit" (and I am not talking of Mr. John W. Campbell, the great granddaddy of space opera). Here is a guy who (in his most epic stories) unleashed cinematic wonders on par with WETA Digital effects - and he is not reprinted? that does not seem fair. Although, it's not that surprising: short story collections (especially reprints) are falling by the wayside, eclipsed by the cult of 500-plus page Almighty Novel. They don't move off the shelves. Oh well, soon there are not going to be any shelves to move from (Borders is ailing, and there is going to be a lot of unsold inventory next year) - and surely in the new Google book-digitizing universe many sf pulps will become freely available again.

But enough rambling, get this: Nat Schachner crafted a sort of "Independence Day" here: swarms of robotic planes attack huge stratosphere-height mega-cities... villains, heroes and sheer gleeful wonderment galore (mmm... Schagatastic!!). It's hard to ignore Nat Schachner at the top of his strength (see his novella "Crystallized Thought", for example). Late 1930s Astounding was the prime market for this kind of thing, and I unabashedly lust for more of the same stuff... if I can find it.


E. E. "Doc" Smith
"The Skylark of Valeron" (nv)

(Skylark series #3)
© Astounding Stories, Aug-Oct 1934
Fantasy Press, 1949
--/ cool space sf novel
--/ awesome scale

"As the mighty spaceship Skylark roved the intergalactic world, scientist Richard Seaton and his companions uncovered a world of disembodied intelligences. A world of four dimensions where time was insanely distorted and matter obeyed no terrestrial laws... where three-dimensional intellects were barely sufficient to thwart invisible mentalities!"

The Skylark series did not click with me, mostly because of incredibly clunky narrative style... no matter how forgiving I decide to be, dealing with 4 pages of narration recounting the events of previous books (conveniently told by a child to his mother: incredibly amateurish writing trick) is just too much. Sure, it's got bigger scale than the previous books, and a 1000km long spaceship, and all kinds of extra-dimensional mumbo jumbo. But I can't adore "Pontiac Aztec" no matter how bustling with features it promises to be. The Skylark series is just too cartoonish. Good for comic books, I suppose.


Dr. Arch Carr
(with Carl Buchanan)
"Warriors of Eternity"

(Daniel Futrell series)
© Astounding Stories, Aug 1934
--/ cool sf novella

To make a long story short.... wait, you can't. Too many epic conflicts, each totally insignificant and uninteresting, melded into some kind of pulpish Katamari Damacy whole.


Thomas Calvert McClary
(as by Calvin Peregoy)
"Dr. Conklin—Pacifist"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1934
--/ cool sf story
--/ humour award

This reads like a typical "Amazing Stories" material, a run-of-the-mill inventor story. And yet, it's funny in a P. G. Wodehouse sort of way. Thomas Calvert McClary wrote a few big novels for "Astounding" in the late 1930s, but he hides under a pen name here.


David O. Woodbury
"Aground in Space"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1934
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ rare find

It's a pity this author only wrote two stories ever, according to ISFDB. The concept has promise, it's aptly executed, with good scientific romance and an adventure plot (although absolutely preposterous science, but it's even better this way). I am not going to spoil the mind-boggling central idea of the story for you - just think about how a reversal of the properties of space and matter (what is considered solid, and what is not) can affect space travel - with a wide-eyed galaxy-spanning trip that results from this (kind of reminds me of the ending in "The City and the Stars" by Clarke). Greatly entertaining story, a hidden gem.


Frank Belknap Long
"The Last Men"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1934
Rim of the Unknown, 1972
--/ cool apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award

Widely anthologized, this short story features giant mutant insects and the last humans subjected to them. As you can imagine, it's a classic, but hardly original. However, this being Frank Belknap Long (one of the masters of pulp colorful prose), the narrative is engaging and... check out this illustration! Who cares that bugs can't grow this big? In this story they did, and so did their appetites.


Arthur Leo Zagat
"Beyond the Spectrum"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1934
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

Something from outer space turns villagers into zombies (and worse than zombies). Done in a visceral, horror-infused way, this tale is a precursor to movies by George Romero, and such unapologetic gore-fests as "Slither" or Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" . It has a much creepier tone than any of these movies though, because it leaves the worst parts unseen, only hinted. There is something about blinded people walking around the countryside that is deeply scary - this was in part replicated by Stalin in the 1930s, who turned the whole nation into blinded zombies intent on destroying each other.



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some truly crazed stories in there...
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H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
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"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

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"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

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

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"To Live Forever"
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Neat & Rare Stories
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Full Issue Review
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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
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--/ 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.