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Rare Pulp Science Fiction, Issue 3




(art courtesy Daniel LuVisi)

The Rare & the Beautiful... obscure issues of pulp magazines, full of fantastic, engrossing fiction... enter the world of collectible pulps (recent reading update). Also read previous Issue 1 and Issue 2.
All reviews are by Avi Abrams, unless noted otherwise.

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Leigh Brackett
"The Lake of The Gone Forever"

© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Oct 1949
The Halfling and Other Stories, 1973
--/ third place space sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award

I love colorful planetary adventures, and Leigh Brackett was the foremost provider of such outings; however all too often they seemed to have the flavour of Edgar Rice Burroughs or steeped in some steamy sword-n-sorcery. I particularly speak of her Mars & Venus series, which (as exotic as they admittedly are) can not provide true alien environment experience and only massage your romantic adventure nerve -

So... come to "Brackett's SF Parlor" for some fictional spa work: rejuvenate your sense of outre, tickle your "hot" points of grotesque and sojourn in a land of perfect male heroes and super-sensuous females... for a while. No regrets, too - you know, it's good for you.

That being said, this novella differs from the usual vein: it has a significantly more interesting planetary ecology, more realistic adventures and a toned-down plot (rooted in the way people actually behave). Thus, it reminds me more of Edmond Hamilton fiction (maybe he played a hand in this, you never know with such husband-wife writing teams) "The Lake of Gone Forever" is one of the most visually exciting pieces that Brackett ever wrote: much of it is placed among understated Antarctic-like landscapes, but there is no lack of cool alien stuff, either: mysterious cities, weird alien legends and serene warriors skillfully scattered throughout the plot.

Essentially, this is a story of a haunted man, wandering the streets of a strange city, love-struck or love-doomed (depending on the emotional stance you're in). Brackett always wrote best about the "lone ranger" characters; here, too, she transcends the simple pulp approach, giving it a noir, foreboding air - all among the stunning planetary landscapes and sizzling adventure. What more could you possibly ask for a dark misty evening with a book in one hand and spiced rum in another? One word - "Intense".

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"Lorelei of the Red Mist"
(with Ray Bradbury)
© Planet Stories, Sum 1946
--/ third place space sf novella
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award


Undiluted, guilty pleasure of the vintage pulp adventure... full of dark (somber and even macabre) tones, bathed in rays of soaring, brittle light - a heady brew, an experience not unlike a pint of complex English stout (paired with an aged cheese), enjoyed on the stepstones of a looming cathedral, not far away from an ancient cemetery, watching the purple haze and glorious golden-lined clouds of a dying sunset. The plot is not that important; the intensity of the narrative is. One of the most "sword-and-sorcerish" tales of Brackett develops into an underwater ghost story, complete with weird ocean-tree gardens and hallucinogenic seascapes. Half-way through the story Ray Bradbury takes the reins and steers this incredible novella to even loftier poetic and heroic heights.

Read more Leigh Brackett reviews

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Vic Phillips
"Maiden Voyage"

© Astounding Stories, Jan 1939
--/ third place space sf novella
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ romance award
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

This is an outstanding novella: nothing much is known about Vic Phillips, who only published a few stories in Astounding between 1939-1942, so any info is appreciated. Well, turns out, this is a definitive treatment of "disaster in space" scenario: ship wreckage, mutiny, pirates, thick atmosphere of doom and more heroic action than in the best Hollywood disaster movies - plus entertaining, hard-hitting dialogue, with a hint of smart romance thrown in for good measure.

I can see how this story can be "disaster voyage" category killer - it's hard to top Vic Phillips with a more hardboiled account. Although later efforts were made (for example, the excellent "The Star Lord" by Boyd Elanby, and Ray C. Noll's "Flight Perilous!") - but here we get blood-n-thunder action with such intensity that the pages literally smolder in your hands. Doc Smith's stuff is close but not written as intelligently, and Robert Heinlein's "Universe" depicts a similarly mutinous crew on a generation ship. All good comparisons - but this pulp superhit is as engrossing, as it is unexpected and darkly intense.

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Buy it from Amazon

Fritz Leiber
"Conjure Wife" (nv)

© Unknown Worlds, Apr 1943
book: Macmillan, 1953
Dark Ladies, 1999
--all time fantasy novel : 1987 Locus All-Time Poll /28
--/ fourth place f novel
--/ idea award
--/ romance award
--/ style award

Review by author M. Christian
All too often Fritz Leiber gets overlooked when people talk about the geniuses of fantasy and science fiction, or even sword and sorcery, which Leiber had a huge role in developing. Leiber is a brilliant stylist, with a poetic and lyrical voice that floats off the page like music; his characters are vivid and real without becoming melodramatic, and his stories are deceptively simple, which just shows that he can do a lot with ideas that appear to be small.

"Conjure Wife" is one of his best books, full of snappy details and totally real-feeling characters. Written in 1943, the plot concerns Professor Norman Saylor who discovers his wife, Tansy, is in fact a witch. Initially annoyed, he asks her to get rid of her charms and such, but then realizes that Tansy just doesn't have a hobby, and that there are other spell-casters out there not as loving or kind as his wife – witches who want Saylor and Tansy dead … or at least out of the way.

As said, that sounds easy … simple, but in the hands of a master like Leiber, Conjure Wife becomes a haunting and powerful book, one that works its own form of unique and powerful magic on anyone who reads it. Conjure Wife -- in fact anything by Leiber -- is something everyone should read. Just be warned: if you do, you too will come under Leiber's wonderful spell.

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(click to enlarge)

Robert E. Howard
"The Frost King's Daughter"

(also as "The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
and "Gods of the North")
(Conan series)
© The Fantasy Fan, March 1934
Fantasy Fiction #1, Aug 1953
Fantastic Universe, Dec 1956
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

If you only read one story by Robert E. Howard (let's say you have an aversion to the ferocious blood-and-guts "death metal" fantasy, which is really what Conan is all about) - then read this one. It has more fantasy elements than most other stories and reads like a shockingly good (and tautly, vividly written) piece of Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith. Violence is still there, but more as a background color and atmosphere. The vision of an evil naked snow witch stalking the battlefields is going to stay with you for many years... truly the definition of "haunting".

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Robert E. Howard
"The Black Stranger" (nv)

© written 1935;
© Fantasy Magazine, March 1953

Echoes of Valor II, 1984
--/ rare find

This is pretty flat written; a run-of-the-mill adventure (Howard's attempt at western background, with a long-winded battle-infused story unfolding pretty much forever) I can see why it was originally rejected by "Weird Tales". For completists only; the magazine itself though - "Fantasy", edited by Lester Del Rey, is a wonderful item, just check out the cover!..

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From "FANTASTIC ADVENTURES", November 1941



Edgar Rice Burroughs
"The Living Dead"

(Carson of Venus series)
© Fantastic Adventures, Nov 1941
Escape on Venus, 1946
--/ cool sf story
--/ rare find

This story is part of the last Burroughs series: "Carson Napier on Venus". Reminded me of Alan Burt Akers "Scorpio" series, with the strange flying machines, fantasy-like aliens and clockwork primitive plot. Of course, Akers (pen name of Kenneth Bulmer) imitated Burroughs, but... Akers did it more engagingly, me thinks. Here, formulaic adventure is not as exotic and lush, as one might expect from Burroughs - however, it does contain one of the future staples of space opera: putting our heroes on display (hanging from a hook) in an alien museum, and their subsequent inevitable escape.

It seems the movie is in the works based on "Pirates of Venus" series. Should be a colorful CG experience. By the way, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is a term "Sword and Planet" used to describe the whole subgenre in science fiction. Very convenient; I am going to use it now on a ton of pulp and paperback fiction reviews (Robert Moore Williams, Lin Carter, Akers, etc.)



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Nat Schachner
"Eight Came Back"

© Fantastic Adventures, Nov 1941
--/ cool time sf story
--/ rare find

Eight historic personalities come back to save the world... This was written in 1941, when America was soon to plunge into WW2 (this pulp issue is full of curious ads like "Do you know why German submarines can get so close to the American shores? - find out in this popular science text"), so such stories are a dime a dozen in the pulps - and I expected better from Schachner. He can routinely infuse a good dose of wonder into his (even run-of-the-mill) stories, but here he decided to stick to a boring formula. The giants of thought and famous generals are talking up a storm, each pushing an ego-maniacal or ideological agenda, but it all gets tiring very quickly. The idea somewhat resembles Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld" and Kelvin Kent Time Travel series (by Henry Kuttner and Arthur K. Barnes).

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Dwight V. Swain
"Henry Horn's Super-Solvent"

(Henry Horn series)
© Fantastic Adventures, Nov 1941
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

Surprise! Dwight V. Swain's output in the 1950's pulps mostly left me unimpressed, but here he tackles good old "mad scientist unleashes a doom upon the world" story with great enjoyment. Sometimes there is a place and a craving for the classic fare, and this Wells / Gernsbeck-styled offering hits all the sweet spots. A universal solvent is unleashed this time, pretty impossible to contain, catch or eradicate. It dissolves, perfectly, everything in its path, and even when it hits the Rocky mountains, it does not stop there. Great visuals, and unexpectedly smooth entertainment from this writer.

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From "FANTASTIC ADVENTURES", December 1941



Robert Moore Williams
"The Reformation of Joseph Reed"

© Fantastic Adventures, Dec 1941
--/ fourth place f story
--/ humour award
--/ rare find

One of the better examples of pulp fantasy humour, very light-hearted and oh-so-enjoyable tale about 1940s reporter and his sweetheart arriving at unusual marital agreement with help of two very charming miniature demons. These demons are rather like gremlins - but less mischievous and more cuddly, so they would rather fall into category of Borrowers, or some such (almost harmless) category. What's so enjoyable about this tale, is how typical and hilarious it is, a great romp (including usual cast of characters: an evil boss, mafiosi, smart blonde, etc) that would feel at home in "Unknown" pulp, or even if written by Henry Kuttner. So far the best Robert Moore Williams story I've read.

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David Wright O'Brien
"The Beauty and the Beasties"

© Fantastic Adventures, Dec 1941
--/ cool f story
--/ humour award
--/ rare find

Another great find of pulp-styled humor. So far, one of the best stories about humans transformed into pet animals. Funny interaction between a dog, a cat and a mouse, who are actually people in desperate need to return to their proper selves. Worthy of being turned into a "Babe"-like movie, or a neat "Toy Story"-like animation.

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William P. McGivern
"Rewbarb's Remarkable Radio"

© Fantastic Adventures, Dec 1941
--/ cool f story
--/ humour award
--/ rare find

In the 1940s the radio, not movies was the focus of everyday entertainment, and a lot of pulp humour rotated around that - radio equipment and radio personalities became a subject of choice for many urban fantasy stories. This cute tale follows the journey of self-discovery and self-assertion of one very meek and shy man - with the help of an obnoxious radio set, which suddenly finds its voice... literally. The radio box speaks back, and not only its own mind, but the opinions of all popular radio hosts, amplified - in the meantime spoiling (or improving) our hero's miserable marriage. Cool story, smoothly told.

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William P. McGivern
(as by P. F. Costello)
"People of the Pyramids"

© Fantastic Adventures, Dec 1941
--/ cool f novella
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ rare find

I long suspected that Indiana Jones character was basically lifted from the adventure pulps of the 1930s, but this is the first time I've read a story where the lead guy looks like Indiana Jones, speaks like Jones, and has fantastic adventures in exotic desert just like in the Lucas-Spielberg movies. Even the Indy's hat is prominently featured here. Total sense of deja vu - only of course, this novella was written in 1941, supposedly by William McGivern. But is he the real author? P. F. Costello was a "one pen name fits all" in Ziff-Davis pulps, and I doubt that McGivern had written it. The writing is smooth, the adventure is tightly plotted - more masterful hand seems to be at play here. So here's what transpires in this "lost prequel" to the Indiana Jones series:

Harrison Ford goes on a treasure hunt in the desert, saving a damsel in distress, captured by an evil archaeologist. There are fights in the crowded market, kidnappings, super-technology of the lost race, chases and double-crossings... enough plot and action to fill a movie script, complete with CG special effects in the end. Not bad for a totally forgotten pulp "lost world" fantasy.

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Read Previous Pulp Updates: Issue 1, Issue 2

Also Read: Ultra-Rare Serials From "Fantasy Magazine"
and Apocalyptic Pulp Blockbusters


Click to go to "Dark Roasted Blend" site



COMMENTS:

4 Comments:

Blogger The Martian Death Ray said...

Great list! Only recently was I able to read "The Lake of The Gone Forever" when I pick up one of the Haffner collections. And kudos on choosing "Lorelei of the Red Mist".

Was Vic Phillips' "Maiden Voyage" ever reprinted or will I need to track down a copy of Astounding?

2:57 PM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

As far as i know, Vic Phillips' story was not reprinted, which is a crying shame. But then, many of exciting pulp space adventures still wait their turn to be discovered...

4:03 PM  
Blogger The Martian Death Ray said...

I found a copy of it from a used bookseller online. I'm going to pull the trigger on it. I'll let you know how I like it. That pulp has a really great cover!

You're not kidding about making discoveries. I picked up a copy of Starling Stories from Jan 1948. It has Margaret St. Clair's "Aleph Sub One" (I liked it quite a bit) and it also has the "Blue Flamingo" by Hannes Bok, which I have yet to read. I also scored a Starling from 1946 with a Captain Future story that I've yet to read.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Yea, I can't get enough of this stuff, too... 1930s Weird Tales and 1940s Planet Stories are beyond compare. Check out Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith...

7:53 PM  

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