Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, Spring 1948

As I mentioned a while back, I had this issue of PLANET STORIES out to read the Ray Bradbury story in it, "Jonah of the Jove Run", so I thought it would be a good idea to read the rest of the stories. I have only a few issues of PLANET STORIES, but I've read quite a few stories that have been reprinted from it. In fact, back in the Seventies I read a paperback called THE BEST OF PLANET STORIES, VOLUME I, the first in a planned series from Pocket Books. It must not have sold very well, because there was never a Volume II.

Anyway, the cover of the Spring 1948 issue is by Allan Anderson, who painted many fine covers for Fiction House's science fiction, Western, and adventure pulps. Most of the interior illustrations are by Al McWilliams, a fine, prolific artist who worked in pulps and comics.

The issue leads off with the novella "The Outcasts of Solar III" by Emmett McDowell, who also wrote mystery and Western pulp stories and some mystery novels published as Ace Doubles in addition to his science fiction. This yarn starts off as a tale of corporate intrigue involving the testing of the first interstellar drive but eventually features a trip across the galaxy and some of the Big Ideas SF is famous for. The scientist hero's name is Jon Saxon, which might have been a tip of the hat to long-time Western pulpster John A. Saxon but more likely just sounded like a hero's name to McDowell. I didn't think the writing was very good in this one and the ending was a bit of a letdown.

The short story "Mind-Worms" by Moses Schere is next. I don't know anything about the author except that he published less than a dozen science fiction stories in various magazines from the 1930s through the '50s. This is a decent first contact story about Earth trying to establish diplomatic relations with the inhabitants of Venus.

Following "Jonah of the Jove Run" is "Planet in Reverse" by Henry Guth, even less prolific than Moses Schere with only four stories listed on ISFDB. It's an odd story about a guy running a mostly automated space freighter who lands on a planet where time runs backward. I didn't care much for it.

The novelette "Space-Trap on Banya Tor" by W.J. Matthews has an interesting plot about an effort to use the media to manipulate public opinion and turn it against a gang of space pirates who have captured the public's fancy. But then through a series of double-crosses, it becomes more of a straightforward adventure story, which is not necessarily a bad thing. W.J. Matthews is really obscure, with no stories listed on either the Fictionmags Index or ISFDB, although there's one letter from a Wm. J. Matthews in the SF magazine NEBULA in 1958. A check of this invaluable site, though, shows that several of his stories appeared in PLANET STORIES during the late Forties. I didn't think the writing was very good in this one, but the plot had enough twists to keep me reading.

The by-line on the short story "Confusion Cargo" is another new one to me: Kenneth Putnam. But some quick research reveals that Kenneth Putnam is a pseudonym for Philip Klass, much better known under his other pseudonym: William Tenn. Not surprisingly, given the number of excellent stories published under the Tenn name, "Confusion Cargo" is very well-written, certainly the best writing in this issue other than the Bradbury story. It's a good yarn about a mutiny on a space freighter and its aftermath. There's even a decent twist ending, although it's not a great shocker or anything.

The issue wraps up with the novella "Design for Doomsday" by Bryce Walton, an author I'd heard good things about but never read. He was a prolific pulpster in the Forties and Fifties, turning out adventure, Western, and detective yarns in addition to his science-fiction. His novella in this issue of PLANET STORIES is a good SF adventure yarn, with Nazis – I mean Martians – and their leader Hitler – I mean Zharkon – taking over the Solar System. The plot finds a couple of members of the Terran underground heading for Venus to infiltrate a sinister scientific citadel there to get their hands on something that will break the Martians' iron grip on the system. The story moves right along with plenty of action and the writing is decent.

There's also a lengthy letters section, The Vizigraph, with contributions from Gardner Fox, Robert A. Bradley (who a year or so later would marry a fellow fan named Marion Zimmer), Lin Carter, and Chad Oliver, among others.

The Bradbury story is definitely the best one in this issue, but a couple of the others are pretty good and they're all readable. Overall I enjoyed it enough that I'd read another issue of PLANET STORIES, but probably not for a while.


Walker Martin said...

Thanks for the detailed review of this issue. I'll put a copy in the issue and hopefully I'll get around to reading the stories. I always liked the crazy over the top PLANET STORIES covers and the letter column which sometimes ran to 10 or more pages.

Keith said...

I think I have this one. I'll have to wait until I get back home from visiting relatives to check. I have a couple of copies of the Best of Planet Stories paperback. Leigh Brackett was editing it, and I really wish it had taken off.

Todd Mason said...

Indeed...and Brackett sold that antho to Ballantine, rather than Pocket...I suspect either Judy-Lynn or Lester Del Rey was a lot more open to the potential for a series than whoever was editing for pocket might've been.

PLANET STORIES was sharply improving around the turn of the '50s, with Jerome Bixby on staff and generally trying to make sure that the Brackett and Bradbury stories weren't the only good ones in a given isn't cited as often as Sam Merwin (and then Sam Mines)'s similar work in upgrading TWS and STARTLING, though it should be. More Poul Anderson and Charles Harness and Margaret St. Clair...and the early Damon Knight...didn't hurt.

NooSFere sure has been a wonderful, reliable gallery, and was the best till Phil Stephensen-Payne started seriously stepping up Galactic Central's galleries.

James Reasoner said...

I would have sworn it was Pocket, but youre right, Todd, it was Ballantine.

Cunningham said...

The models for the cover were Larry and Jean Admire, a couple of actors/models who posed for a variety of artists besides Anderson.

Larry especially has been featured on many, many western covers. Like Steve Holland, Larry was the go-to guy for a pulp artist.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for that info. I hadn't heard of Larry and Jean Admire, but there's still an awful lot I don't know about the art on pulps, paperbacks, etc.