A New Dawn: The Complete Don A. Stuart Stories (2003)

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

This time out, I’m taking a brief look at one of the high-quality NESFA Press collections of SF author short fiction. This one contains all of John W. Campbell, Jr’s short fiction written under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym, plus a couple of previously unpublished (in book form) articles also written by Campbell under the Stuart handle. The collection starts off with an excellent introduction, “The Man Who Lost the Sea”, written by Barry N. Malzberg, giving a short but fascinating examination of Campbell’s career. This is followed by sixteen stories, and finishes off with the two essays.

TITLE: A NEW DAWN: THE COMPLETE DON A.STUART STORIES
AUTHOR: John W. Campbell, Jr.
EDITED BY: James A. Mann
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Author Collection
DUSTJACKET ART: Bob Eggleton
FORMAT: Hardback, 464 pages
PUBLISHER: NESFA Press, US, 2003
ISBN: 1-886778-15-9

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

  • Introduction: “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (2002) by Barry N. Malzberg
  • “Twilight” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1934, short story)
  • “Atomic Power” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1934, short story)
  • “The Machine” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1935, short story, Machine series #1)
  • “The Invaders” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1935, novelette, Machine series #2)
  • “Rebellion” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1935, short story, Machine series #3)
  • “Blindness” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1935, short story)
  • “The Escape” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1935, novelette)
  • “Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1935, novelette)
  • “Elimination” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1936, short story)
  • “Frictional Losses” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1936, novelette)
  • “Forgetfulness” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1937, novelette)
  • “Out of Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1937, novelette, Aesir series #1)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939, novelette, Aesir series #2)
  • “Dead Knowledge” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1938, novelette)
  • “Who Goes There?” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938, novelette)
  • “The Elder Gods” (Unknown, October 1939, novella)
  • “Strange Worlds” (Unknown, April 1939, article)
  • “Wouldst Write, Wee One?” (Scienti-Snaps, Vol.3 No.1, February 1940, article)

The stories appear in chronological order, in order of dates of publication, with the exception of the three stories in the Invaders sequence and the two Aesir stories, which have all been re-ordered so they appear in their own correct internal sequence.

Campbell, especially the Don A. Stuart alter ego, was one of my favourite SF writers of the 1930s. Under his own name, he competed with E. E. “Doc” Smith, writing stories of superscience (although Campbell was a MUCH better writer than Smith), but under the Stuart pseudonym, he wrote stories that were truly special, dark, moody, decadent, and more akin to the darker tales of H. G. Wells and other classic scientific romance authors than anything hitherto seen in the pulps.

Sure, there were a few other writers in that era who did the dark, moody and decadent thing pretty darned good – Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, and Henry Kuttner, to name but a few – but these authors mostly wrote SF&F of a completely different, more fantasy-oriented flavour. In my opinion, Campbell, with the exception of maybe Jack Williamson, who also was writing some similarly dark, moody SF during that period, had no real direct competition in science fiction at that time.

When I was a kid (early-mid teens), I first encountered Campbell’s short fiction in various collections and anthologies that I checked out of local libraries. Ironically, I encountered the superior Don A. Stuart tales years before I ever read any of Campbell’s Superscience stories. “Night” was the first one, in the Sam Moskowitz-edited anthology Microcosmic God. That story had a huge and formative impact on me as a reader, and I was delighted to find out a year or two later that it was actually a sequel to another excellent story, “Twilight”.

After I read “Night”, I eagerly hunted down any other Campbell short stories that I could find. Some of them were just as good as “Night”, including the aforementioned “Twilight” and other tales such as “Forgetfulness”, the two Aesir stories “Out of Night” and “The Cloak of Aesir”, and the classic “Who Goes There?”. These all became huge favourites of mine during my teenage years. “Dead Knowledge”, “Blindness” and the Machine trilogy of stories were all also very good. It’s been many years since I’ve read most of these stories, so it’s going to be fun revisiting them.

When Campbell took over at Astounding as The Editor, and kick-started the Golden Age which totally reshaped SF, he became one of the biggest and most important figures in the history of the genre. But, at the same time, we also lost potentially one of the genre’s greatest writers, something that I, personally, regret quite a lot. We can only imagine how good he might have become, what other amazing stories he might’ve written, if he hadn’t given up writing to concentrate fully on being the editor of Astounding.

But, at least, in this excellent collection, he has left behind some of the greatest SF stories not only of the 1930’s, but indeed any other era. This is one of my favourite SF author short fiction collections, and definitely recommended reading.

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THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)

LuckyStarr

Last time out, I listed some of the SF novels that I picked up recently, among them two of Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr juvies that he wrote back in the 1950’s under his Paul French pseudonym. Well, that set me to searching for the only single-volume omnibus of all six Lucky Starr novels, which I found on Amazon. It’s quite hard to come by, being out-of-print, and quite expensive. But I took the plunge and bought it, and it arrived by mail in double-quick time.

So what’ve we got? Let’s look at the details:

 

TITLE: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR
AUTHOR: Paul French (Isaac Asimov)
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-CATEGORY: Omnibus
FORMAT: Hardback, 701 pages
PUBLISHER: Science Fiction Book Club, in association with Doubleday & Co. Inc, New York, 2001
ISBN: 0-7394-1941-2

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction to the Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • Introduction to the Further Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • David Starr – Space Ranger (1952)
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

The reason for the two introductions is that the books were released in two volumes back in 1985, with a different introduction for each volume. So both introductions have been republished in this single volume. The introductions alone are very interesting, and give some nice insights into Asimov’s thoughts on his old juvies from a vantage point of thirty years later.

Asimov spends much of both introductions, explaining, almost apologizing for how wrong he got the planetary science in his novels. I found all of this very entertaining, but, in effect, totally unnecessary. He wrote those books according to the knowledge that science had in the early 1950’s, from telescopic observations of the planets, before the radar imaging and planetary probes of the 1960’s and 1970’s made that old knowledge totally obsolete.

Sure, the planetary science is in those books is wrong and way out of date. Hey, so what? All planetary science before the Mariner space probes and those that followed is hopelessly out of date. There are no oceans on Venus, and it is a boiling, poisonous, high-pressure inferno to outdo any religious visions of hell. There has never been any advanced life or civilizations on Mars, no canals, and only an extremely thin, cold atmosphere. Mercury does not keep one side only to the Sun, Saturn’s rings are radically more complex, and the lunar families of both Jupiter and Saturn are much larger than they ever suspected back then, and the lunar ecologies of both planets much more complex than they could ever have imagined.

But you know what? I don’t give a hoot. That kind of thing has never bothered me too much, any more than the “wrong” planetary science in the books of earlier “greats”. I just shunt these Lucky Starr stories into the same alternate solar system where all the mythical planets of great earlier writers reside. Asimov is in some great company there: Stanley G. Weinbaum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Edwin Lester Arnold, C. S. Lewis, Raymond Z. Gallun, P. Schuyler Miller, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, James Blish, Clark Ashton Smith, John Wyndham, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert A. Heinlein and many, many other giants of the genre. These earlier solar system tales exist in their own little continuum, untouched by cold, hard, modern scientific facts. Nor should they be.

I first read most of these novels (all except Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury) way back in my early teens, usually on loan from local libraries. These were the classic NEL (New English Library) UK paperback editions, with those beautiful covers. Even now that I have the hardback omnibus, I still want to pick up those paperbacks in good condition, just for the covers.

I’ve been reading a little of the first novel in the series, and the writing holds up surprisingly well today. I think I’m going to really enjoy reacquainting myself with David “Lucky” Starr, Bigman and the rest in these fun books.

BEACHHEADS IN SPACE edited by August Derleth

TITLE: BEACHHEADS IN SPACE
EDITED BY: August Derleth
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Hardback, 224 pages
PUBLISHER: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1954 (Originally published in the US in 1952 by Pellegrini & Cudahy).

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

  • “Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak (1951)
  • “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey (1951)
  • “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell (1946)
  • “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov (1951)
  • “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” by John Wyndham (1951)
  • “The Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei (1934)
  • “The Metamorphosis of Earth” by Clark Ashton Smith (1951)

This is an interesting old anthology, edited by another of my favourite SF anthologists, August Derleth. The theme of this anthology, according to the book’s jacket blurb, is “invasion from another world, or counter-attack from Earth against the planets”.

I haven’t read this one in many years, maybe twenty-five years or more, but I remember that it was a favourite of mine way back in the day, and it still has a special place on my bookshelves. Obviously my memories of the individual stories are vague after all this time, and I don’t remember all of them clearly, and a couple of them not at all. But the ones that I do recall really liking are Clifford D. Simak’s very clever short story “Beachhead” (AKA “You’ll Never Go Home Again!”, first published in Fantastic Adventures, July 1951), Eric Frank Russell’s excellent novella “Metamorphosite”, (from Astounding, December 1946), and Clark Ashton Smith’s scary and unusual alien invasion SF/Horror novelette “The Metamorphosis of Earth” (Weird Tales, September 1951).

I also remember liking Lester del Rey’s “The Years Draw Nigh” and Isaac Asimov’s “Breeds There a Man…?”, although for some reason I remember a lot less about them than I do about the Russell, Simak and Smith stories. I don’t recall anything at all about the Wyndham and Wandrei stories. I’m surprised about not remembering the Wyndham story, as I’m usually a big fan of his writing.

But as good as my recollections are of the Simak and Smith stories, the stand-out story for me in this anthology has always been Eric Frank Russell’s classic “Metamorphosite”, which I recall having a huge impact on me back when I was a young guy in my twenties. I don’t think this story is in any of my other anthologies (and I have zillions of the darned things!), so I reckon it hasn’t been reprinted very often. It’s far, far too many years since I last read it, and indeed this entire anthology, so it’s long overdue for a re-read. I’ve already started on the Simak story, and, so far, it’s at least as good as I remember it, if not better. If the rest of the stories hold up as well as this one is doing, I’m going to really enjoy reading this anthology again.

Please take note that this is the 1954 UK edition, which is different from the original 1952 US hardcover edition, published by Pellegrini & Cudahy. Apparently all editions aside from the original hardcover edition have been “butchered” in some way, missing stories, etc. This UK edition is missing the Introduction and seven of the stories from the US edition. Also note that John Wyndham has two stories in the original US edition, one under his usual John Wyndham pseudonym, and the other as John Benyon.

Here is the full Contents Listing of the original 1952 US edition:

  • Introduction by August Derleth
  • “The Star” by David H. Keller, M.D.
  • “The Man from Outside” by Jack Williamson
  • “Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak
  • “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey
  • “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Ordeal of Professor Klein” by L. Sprague de Camp
  • “Repetition” by A. E. van Vogt
  • “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov
  • “Meteor” by John Beynon
  • “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” by John Wyndham
  • “Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei
  • “The Metamorphosis of Earth” by Clark Ashton Smith
  • “The Ambassadors from Venus” by Kendell F. Crossen
  • “To People a New World” by Nelson S. Bond

For lovers of old-style, classic SF short fiction, this anthology would be right up their alley. If you can actually find it, that is. As it’s such an old book, it’s obviously long out of print, and you’ll have to hunt through used book stores to find this anthology. But it’ll be well worth the trouble it takes to find it, as are any other anthologies edited by August Derleth.

After all these years, I think I’ll actually make a major effort to get off my butt and track down the longer original US hardcover edition, which I didn’t even realize was different/longer until I recently read the Wikipedia entry on the anthology.

Highly recommended, particularly the original US hardcover edition.

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…