THE EARLY POHL (1976) by Frederik Pohl

The Early Pohl (1976)-03

This time out, I’m going to take a look at a collection of very early stories by one of my favourite SF writers, who also happened to be one of the best editors in the SF industry, and one of the true titans of the SF world, Frederik Pohl. The eight stories and single poem span the years 1937-1944, and there is also a nice introduction and further introductory piece, The Early Pohl, both written by the man himself.

TITLE: THE EARLY POHL
AUTHOR: Frederik Pohl
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, New York, 1976, 183 pages
PUBLISHER: Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York.

Contents (8 stories, 1 poem):

  • Introduction by Frederik Pohl
  • The Early Pohl by Frederik Pohl
  • “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, originally published as “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”, (poem, Amazing, October 1937)
  • “The Dweller in the Ice”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Super Science Stories, January 1941)
  • “The King’s Eye”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Astonishing Stories, February 1941)
  • “It’s a Young World”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, April 1941)
  • “Daughters of Eternity”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Astonishing Stories, March 1942)
  • “Earth, Farewell!”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
  • “Conspiracy on Callisto”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1943)
  • “Highwayman of the Void”, originally published under the pseudonym “Dirk Wylie”, (novelette, Planet Stories, Fall 1944)
  • “Double-Cross”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1944)

Aside from the poem, “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, which was Pohl’s first published work, I haven’t read any of these stories before. The first two Pohl stories that I did read, way back in my early and mid-teens, were also early ones from the same era as these stories, both appearing under the same “James MacCreigh” pseudonym as most of the stories in this collection.

“Wings of the Lightning Land” was a novelette which first appeared in the November 1941 edition of Astonishing Stories, and was the very first Pohl/MacCreigh story that I ever read, in the classic anthology Science Fiction: The Great Years, edited by Carol & Frederik Pohl (who else?). The other one that I read shortly afterwards was “Let the Ants Try”, a short story that first appeared in the Winter 1949 edition of Planet Stories, and which I read in another SF anthology (can’t remember which) back in my mid-teens. Both of these stories had a huge effect on me at that early age, and have remained firm favourites ever since I first read them over forty years ago. They are among a select group of SF stories that have stuck firmly in my mind virtually my entire life.

I’m actually very surprised that both of these stories were not included in this collection, as they’re two of Pohl’s best early stories from this era, and they really should’ve been in this book. They would’ve been a perfect fit for this one. Ah, well, I have them in other anthologies anyway. As I’m a big fan of Pohl’s work, and I always love stories from this time period, I really should enjoy these stories. I think I’ll be in for a real treat with this collection.

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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.

Some New and Old SF Novels

I’ve picked up a few books recently, so I’ll list them, a few at a time. Starting off firstly with the novels. Two new purchases from Amazon.co.uk, and two old/used books from local car-boot sales.

  • SATURN’S CHILDREN by Charles Stross (paperback, Orbit Books, London, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-84149-568-2)
  • NEPTUNE’S BROOD by Charles Stross (paperback, Orbit Books, London, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-356-50100-0)
  • PIRATES OF THE ASTEROIDS by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, NEL, London, 1973, first published by Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York, 1953, as LUCKY STARR AND THE PIRATES OF THE ASTEROIDS by Paul French)
  • OCEANS OF VENUS by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, NEL, London, 1974, first published by Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York, 1954, as LUCKY STARR AND THE OCEANS OF VENUS by Paul French)

The two Charles Stross books were bought new from Amazon.co.uk. These two books can be considered a pair, or loosely connected series, set in the same post-human “universe” (but many centuries apart) where humanity’s “children” seem intent on recreating the worst mistakes of both our dodgy societies and our nasty individual behaviour. Both novels can be classified as “thrillers”, set in the above-mentioned SF scenario.

The first book of the two, Saturn’s Children, is set within our solar system, only two hundred years after the death of the final natural human, whilst the follow-up novel, Neptune’s Brood, is set five thousand years later, and against an interstellar background, although constrained by STL travel and real physics. Both books are of the Hard(ish) SF/New Space Opera sub-genre of SF that I like so much, and Stross writes excellent New Space Opera fiction, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy them. I’ll leave commenting on the plots of either novel until a later date, as I haven’t read them yet.

The two Isaac Asimov novels are part of his “juvenile” or Young Adult (YA) SF&F Lucky Starr six-book series, written back in the 1950’s under his “Paul French” pseudonym (Pirates of the Asteroids is Book 2 in the series, and Oceans of Venus is Book 4). I read all of these books back when I was a kid, and they were an important part of my formative years as a young SF reader, leading me directly onto reading Asimov’s more adult SF works. As the series was written back in the Fifties, long before the first space probes gave us the first true images of our planetary neighbours, giving us a wonderful glimpse of one of those SF alternate “solar-system-that-never-was” continuums that fascinate me so much.

Unlike the two Stross novels, these two books are much older, used/second-hand copies, and were picked up recently at a car-boot sale for next-to-nothing. Both books are in quite tatty, strictly “readers-only” condition. They are definitely not collectible copies, so, ideally, I’d love to pick up pristine copies (or at least much better) of these two books, and every book in the series (if possible), as these are the classic New English Library (NEL) UK editions with the gorgeous cover artwork that I read way back when I was a pre-teenager.

I know that an omnibus collection of the entire six-book series, The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr, was released back in 2001 (although it’s apparently now out-of-print and quite expensive to buy), but I’d like to track down decent condition copies of the six 1970’s NEL paperback UK releases, just for the lovely covers, and because they will bring back so many great childhood memories. 🙂

A SENSE OF WONDER edited by Sam Moskowitz

TITLE: A SENSE OF WONDER
EDITED BY: Sam Moskowitz
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 197 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1967. Originally published in the US in 1967 by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the title THREE STORIES.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Sam Moskowitz
  • “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham [as by John Beynon Harris] (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
  • “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1935)
  • “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

A SENSE OF WONDER is quite a short anthology, at only 197 pages. The edition that I have is the 1967 UK 1st edition hardback, in excellent condition, and complete with pristine condition dustjacket. It was published back in 1967 by good old UK SF reliables, Sidgwick & Jackson. The US 1st edition had been published earlier the same year by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the much more bland title THREE STORIES.

The anthology is edited by SF legend Sam Moskowitz, contains only three stories, all novellas, and an introduction by Moskowitz himself. Whilst there are only three (pretty long, admittedly) stories in this anthology, the introduction by Moskowitz is also a fascinating read in itself. I often find a really good introduction to a book to be just as interesting as the stories themselves. And this one, though relatively short, at only three pages, is definitely interesting.

According to Moskowitz’s introduction, this 1967 anthology marked the first time that any of these three stories had appeared since their original publication in the SF “pulps”, back in the early-to-mid 1930’s. So we have Moskowitz to thank for rescuing these three old gems from the depths of literary obscurity, although it must be pointed out that this anthology is forty-seven years old, and is in itself a forgotten gem by today’s standards. It’s scary to think that the publication date of the book is actually closer to the original first appearances of the stories in those ancient SF magazines than it is to the present day.

The first of the three novellas is “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham, which was first published in the Winter 1933 edition of Wonder Stories Quarterly. It was written under his real name, John Beynon Harris. It’s a long time since I’ve read any Wyndham, and I don’t recall ever reading this one before.

The second story is “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster, which first appeared in the November 1935 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. I’m familiar with this one only by reputation, as I’ve never read it. I haven’t read any Murray Leinster in a long time, but I just recently bought the two volumes of Murray Leinster Wildside Press Megapacks on Amazon, so I reckon it’s well past time for me to reacquaint myself with the old master.

The third and final story is “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson, which was first published in the February 1932 edition of Wonder Stories. I remember reading this one as a teenager (in an old paperback edition of A SENSE OF WONDER, no less), and it has always remained a favourite of mine, one of those stories that still sticks in your mind thirty-five or forty years after you first read it.

Despite being written in 1931, this is essentially an updated nineteenth century “scientific romance” in the style of H. G. Wells, which is no bad thing in my book. And we all know that Jack Williamson was a huge fan of Wells and the other scientific romance authors, with the Wells influences showing through very heavily in a lot of his early writing. Since I absolutely love scientific romances (that’s how I started off reading SF in the first place, with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne), this story was already a winner from the first time I laid eyes on it.

I’m looking forward to reading this anthology again. It’s been many years since I read “The Moon Era”, and I’m itching to re-read it. As far as I recall, back when I read A SENSE OF WONDER all those years ago, I just read “The Moon Era” over and over again (I was really obsessed with it as a teenager), and didn’t even bother with the other two stories. So it’ll also be nice to actually read “Exiles on Asperus” and “The Mole Pirate” for the first time, as I don’t recall ever reading either of them before, despite having this anthology on my bookshelves for many years.