Things Beyond: May 2023

(Cover by Allen Anderson. Planet Stories, Fall 1949.)

This will turn out to be a busy month for me. I’m gonna be a guest on one or two podcasts/streams with some people I very much respect, and I’ll also be flying out of my Jersey/Pennsylvania bubble to visit some friends I rarely ever get to hang out with in person. On the one hand this is all more eventful than what I usually deal with, but also I’ll have a bit less time to manage this site—which won’t stop me from putting in as much effort as I usually do. It’s draining sometimes, but that is how passion works.

My personal life is gonna be busy, but also my review lineup is FILLED for May: we’ve got two serials, two novellas, two short stories, and finally a complete novel—our first one in six months. I know, the gap between novel reviews looks to be wide, but mind you that there aren’t too many of these “complete” novels in the magazines.

One more thing: I mentioned in a past editorial that I think very highly of 1953 as a year when SFF flourished, in general and especially in magazine publishing, which was experiencing a bubble we would not see again until… now, basically. Strangely, I haven’t before covered ANYTHING from that year, so to compensate we’ve got two stories from 1953 in the lineup. 1953 was such a banger that I could probably get five years out of just reviewing everything that was published then.

Enough wasting time, though, let’s see what we have.

For the serials:

  1. All Judgment Fled by James White. Serialized in Worlds of If, December 1967 to February 1968. White is an author I’ve not read a single word of (or at least I think) up to this point, and given his philosophy with storytelling this feels a little criminal to me. When planning this post I flip-flopped between All Judgment Fled, Second Ending, and The Dream Millennium for my first White, since all three sound appealing, and ultimately went with this because I’ve also been meaning to tackle something—anything—that was published in If.
  2. Sos the Rope by Piers Anthony. Serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July to September 1968. Yes, that Piers Anthony. He actually appeared regularly in the genre magazines early in his career, when he was a promising young writer and people did not yet know the horrors he was about to unleash on the world. My only prior Anthony experience was the short story “In the Barn,” and let me tell you… that’s the kind of thing that puts you off an author for years. But maybe Sos the Rope, his second novel, will be good!

For the novellas:

  1. “The Rose” by Charles L. Harness. From the March 1953 issue of Authentic Science Fiction. Retro Hugo nominee for Best Novella. Harness is one of those recent discoveries of mine that I’ve been meaning to explore further—made easier because Harness was not that prolific a writer; when he wrote he was fairly productive, but then he would vanish for several years. Harness apparently struggled to find a publisher for “The Rose” in the US, having to jump across the Atlantic and submit it to a filthy British magazine.
  2. “Enchantress of Venus” by Leigh Brackett. From the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories. Brackett is now most known for her part in the messy scripting process for The Empire Strikes Back, for her collaborations with director Howard Hawks, and for the rather unchararcteristic novel The Long Tomorrow. Much of Brackett’s fiction, however, is planetary romance a la Edgar Rice Burroughs, complete with swashbuckling antics. “Enchantress of Venus” is one of several stories starring Eric John Stark, the barbarian hero for the space age.

For the short stories:

  1. “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick. From the May 1953 issue of Space Science Fiction. Retro Hugo nominee for Best Novelette. Not that I try to hide my biases anyway, but Philip K. Dick is one of my top five favorite authors—and he ain’t #5 on that list. But before he broke new ground as a novelist, Dick was one of the most talented and prolific SFF writers of the ’50s, with about thirty of his short stories being published in 1953 alone. “Second Variety” is one of Dick’s most famous short stories, and yet somehow I’ve not read it before.
  2. “Black God’s Shadow” by C. L. Moore. From the December 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It’s been two months since I reviewed Moore’s “The Black God’s Kiss,” which was a reread, and true enough there was a two-month gap in publication between “The Black God’s Kiss” and its direct sequel. Only a year into her career and Moore had skyrocketed to being one of Weird Tales‘s most popular authors, with the adventures of Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry getting started during this period. Moore is a favorite of mine, naturally.

For the complete novel:

  1. Big Planet by Jack Vance. From the September 1952 issue of Startling Stories. Believe it or not, this is a reread—actually one of the first stories I remember reading via magazine scan. As is often the case with me, though, there are surely many things about this novel that I didn’t pick up on a first reading. Vance is not an author I’m strongly attached to, but he does fill a certain niche, being a planet builder par excellence and a crafter of gnarly planetary adventures when he feels like it. Big Planet represents planetary romance shifting away from the Burroughs-Brackett model (which is really science-fantasy), and injecting the subgenre with some semblance of scientific plausibility. But how does this novel hold up on a reread? Let’s find out.

We have a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy, all of it vintage. We’ll get back to some more recent publications next month… maybe. You have to understand that I only cover so much in a given month and that there’s so much history behind the genre magazines. The roster, you may notice, leans toward adventure this month, between the Brackett, Moore, Vance, and probably the Anthony pieces; it just sort of turned out that way. Maybe given that I’ll be traveling soon I thought it appropriate to focus more on tales of high adventure for my site. Regardless, it won’t be a boring lot.

Won’t you read with me?


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