This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, store stamp and all. I’ll put a better scan from the Fictionmags Index at the bottom of this post. The cover art, as usual for Fiction House, is by Allen Anderson, and it’s excellent, also as usual. Everything in it comes from the lead novella, “Black Priestess of Varda” by Erik Fennel.
Who the heck is Erik Fennel, you ask? I dunno. Apparently neither does anyone
else, since I can’t find anything about him on-line except that he published a
dozen stories in PLANET STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and BLUE BOOK
between the mid-Forties and the mid-Fifties. “Black Priestess of Varda” is a
fairly typical sword-and-planet/other dimension yarn with a nice twist or two.
The protagonist is a scientist named Eldon Carmichael, who lost his left arm
and left eye in a laboratory accident. Or was it an accident? The assistant who
may have caused it wound up with the girl Eldon intended to marry, after all.
Then another mishap sends all three of them through a dimensional rift to a
world called Varda, where the beautiful High Priestess Sin (that’s her on the
cover) is trying to open a dimensional rift (there are dimensional rifts galore
in this story) so she can bring the evil entity known as Sasso through to Varda
and finish taking over the place. Swashbuckling action and psychic warfare
ensue, along with quite a few excuses for beautiful Vardan babes to lose their
clothes. (Not quite to the Spicy pulp level, but close.)
I thoroughly expected that traveling between dimensions would restore our hero’s missing eye and arm and bulk him up with muscle, but no, Fennel makes the interesting choice to leave him like he is on Earth, for the most part, and it works well. There’s a little alien sidekick (he’s on the cover, perched on Sin’s shoulder) that’s very likable and plays a fairly important part in the plot. The action races right along to a spectacular finish, all the way to a satisfying last line. The whole thing reads as if Fennel was inspired by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, which is not a bad thing. “Black Priestess of Varda” isn’t a classic of the science-fantasy genre like some yarns from PLANET STORIES, but it’s entertaining.
Next up is a short story by Kenneth Putnam, who was really
Philip Klass, much better known under his pseudonym William Tenn. “My, Myself,
and I” is a humorous story involving a mad scientist, a hobo, and a time travel
machine. It’s mildly amusing, is decently written, but doesn’t amount to much.
At that, it’s much better than “Failure on Titan” by Robert Abernathy, a writer I’m not familiar with at all. This one involves a race of telepathic, Abominable Snowman-like aliens working in the mines on the moon Titan under human supervision. I felt like there might have been something there, but I didn’t care for the writing at all and abandoned it after a few pages.
“The Running of the Zar” is by Vaseleos Garson (actually William J. Garson). It’s a crime yarn of sorts about a couple of guys trying to steal a rare and incredibly valuable element from the native race on Pluto. This may be science fiction, but Garson gives us the same sort of bleak ending that often shows up in noir crime stories. An okay story, at best.
Basil Wells wrote for the detective pulps as well as his science fiction stories. “Among the Scented Ones” is about a fugitive from Earth hiding out on a planet overrun by vicious wildlife and has a stampede of saurian described much like a buffalo stampede would have been in a Western pulp. That was the best thing about this one, which I didn’t like at all.
I vaguely recognize Henry Guth’s name. He also wrote detective yarns in addition to his SF. His story “Earthbound” is about a couple of kids on Mars who build a rocket ship in their backyard to go to Earth. It’s cute and readable, although it plays a little like an episode of a Fifties TV sitcom.
“Earth is Missing!”, a novelette by Carl Selwyn, has some decent world-building in it. 7000 years from now, Earth is covered with ice, a frozen ball in space, but civilization still thrives in underground cities including New York, where everybody talks and acts like it’s still, well, 1947. Hardboiled police detective Johnny Steel is frustrated by the law’s failure to catch The Bear, the leader of a gang that’s been robbing banks and businesses, so he turns in his badge and becomes a private detective so he can go after The Bear without having to worry about all the rules and regulations. You see, Johnny blames The Bear for the death of a childhood friend of his who went bad and turned crook. An oily corporate executive and a beautiful blond femme fatale are also involved. Johnny’s search for The Bear takes him to the frozen surface, where he has a big surprise waiting for him in a plot twist that most readers probably will see coming. This is such a goofy, over-the-top story that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It’s my favorite in the issue, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read something else by Selwyn.
The final story is “Duel in Black”, by another author I don’t know, John Foster West. It’s a pretty blatant example of a Western plot transplanted to a science fiction setting, as a miner on the Moon is bushwhacked by a no-good claim jumper, who even speaks in Western pulp dialect. West’s writing isn’t bad, though, and I had no trouble making it to the end, which is more than I can say for a couple of other stories in this issue.
Rounding things out is The Vizigraph, a letters column full of long, enthusiastic letters. As is common, some familiar names crop up: the first letter is by Chad Oliver, and there are also letters from Lin Carter and Larry Shaw. Then as now, SF fandom was a real breeding ground for future pro writers.
Overall, this is the weakest issue of PLANET STORIES I’ve read, with a couple of not bad stories and the rest either pretty forgettable or ones that I didn’t like. Anderson’s cover may well be the best thing about it. But despite that, I’m glad I read it. I don’t consider reading any pulp a waste of time because I really like visiting that era. If you want to check it out yourself, the entire issue can be found online here.