Sunday, January 11, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #30: Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #3, May 1975

by Professor Gilbert Colon

Editor-in-Chief: Marv Wolfman
Cover Artist: Mike Whelan
Frontispiece: Gray Morrow

A Night at the Space Opera
Editorial by Roy Thomas

Thomas is forced to “re-phrase” his assertion that “space opera had ‘rather run its course.’”  Clarifying, he cites “the type of SF fantasy exemplified by the likes of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet…” – “transplanted westerns,” in other words, or “‘ether-oaters,’ [Thomas] perversely like[s] to call them…”  Another knock against Flash Gordon, assaulted two or three times over in Unknown Worlds’ first issue.  But now Thomas is beginning to eat his words (his “oats,” we should say?).  Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” dictum, he admits that an “Otis Adelbert Kline vignette [is] slated for next issue.”  This issue interviews Frank Herbert whose Dune, while containing hard science fiction elements, is filled with space operatics as well.  

“Prologue: The Star-Magi”
Script: Tony Isabella
Art: Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte

In the fifth issue of Unknown Worlds, “The Star-Magi” comes in next to last in their Reader’s Poll, finally forcing the editors into a reevaluation.  “Most readers seem to have taken very well to our unique ‘framing sequence,’” they claim, yet go on to write that “We’ll be abbreviating our Slow Glass episodes for the next little while, to make room for more stories.”  As pointed out here from issue #1, this device was tiresome from the start – stick with the original Bob Shaw story and leave it at that.  The irony is that this one is not half-bad, though it still need not be a framing device.  

“Occupation Force”
Script: Gerry Conway 
Art: George Perez and Klaus Janson
Adapted from the story by Frank Herbert

A small “glistening silver orb,” carried by its larger orbiting mother craft “nineteen miles long by twelve miles wide,” lands in Washington International Airport.  It is not quite the National Mall as in The Day the Earth Stood Still or the Capitol Building in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, but the scene certainly suggests those films, right down to the alien scout ship’s design and the surrounding army units.  Why are they here?  “Majority Opinion: A hostile ship on a mission to conquer mankind.  Minority Opinion: A ‘cautious’ visitor from space.  As it turned out—both opinions were very, very wrong.”  

While the general’s dialogue is cartoonish and buffoonish, the surprise ending – set up in the page 8 opening quoted above – does come as a surprise, and a fun one at that, but it is not substantial enough to leave a lasting impression, and lacks the heft of Herbert’s Dune series.  In the fifth issue’s Reader’s Poll, Marvel admits this was a “minor Herbert tale,” but wait “if we can just get hold of the rights to Dune when the movie comes out…!”  And get hold of the rights they did, many years later in 1984 when Ralph Macchio and Bill Sienkiewicz adapted the David Lynch film into comic-book form.  As for the original short story “Occupation Force,” it first appeared in Fantastic magazine (August 1955), and was later anthologized in The Book of Frank Herbert (1973).  

From Childhood’s End to Independence Day – and probably plenty of other examples before and after those tales – mysterious extraterrestrials in oversized spacecraft materializing and hovering above a scared planet populace, particularly urban Earth centers, is an image science fiction writers cannot help revisiting.  All the more so here in a visual medium like the comic form, though Perez and Janson handle it with relatively believable restraint.  

This is twice in a row now that Unknown Worlds has interviewed a prominent science fiction author and adapted one of his works in the same issue (the first being Alfred Bester in UWOSF #2).  

“...Not Long Before the End”
Script: Doug Moench
Art: Vicente Alcazar
Adapted from the story by Larry Niven

In an Atlantis whose tectonic instability is sustained by magic, a swordsman named Hap steals a blade named Glirendree.  A Warlock confronts the barbarian with the sword’s true history and, when persuasion fails, tries to disarm him.  The closing scenes show the Warlock, having used up his magic, decaying into the 200-year-old man he is until his wife Sharla moves him to greener pastures.  There the Warlock begins absorbing energy from his new surroundings, regenerating back to his youthful exterior, but wistful in the knowledge that there are fewer places for him and his kind to replenish.  

This Hugo- and Nebula-nominated short story, adapted from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April 1969), is the first in Larry Niven’s “Magic Goes Away” universe, a series of novels and short stories by the author with later contributions from Roger Zelazny, Fred Saberhagen, Steven Barnes, and Poul Anderson.  

Why Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction includes a sword-and-sorcery tale is puzzling and takes some dissection.  Perhaps because Niven is widely known for his science fiction?  On the last panel, the Warlock says future generations will have to discover a “new way to coerce nature,” perhaps suggesting that yesterday’s sorcerers are tomorrow’s scientists?  His devouring magic, which leads him to move from place to place as he uses up a locale’s forces, has been described as an energy crisis allegory.  The premise, as Niven outlines in the introduction to The Magic Goes Away Collection, is this: “[What] if magic were a nonrenewable resource...[?]” (called “mana”).  Perhaps because of this analogizing, there is much too much of the “mechanics” of magic – a little would have gone a long way.  

Niven goes on to say, “I saw other truths by their contrast with traditional fantasy fiction ... If magic is anything like dependable, it will form the basis of the civilization, not exist as some anomaly to be ferreted out by Conan the Cimmerian.”  In the Niven anthology Playgrounds of the Mind, the author briefly opens his “Magic Goes Away” universe story “What Good is a Glass Dagger?” with an introduction in miniature called “The Warlock’s Era.”  It begins: 

“Robert Howard [sic] and his tradition do speak to some part of the brain . . . but not the   rational part ... Why did Conan keep finding magic as a shocking surprise in desert places?  If magic had such power, it would be the basis of civilization!  
Where did all the magic go?  The older the legend, the more powerful was the magic.  Magic must wear out like oil reserves.
And that’s all I was trying to say when I wrote a short story, ‘Not Long Before the End.’”  

Niven seems to purposely turn everything about the genre upside down.  From Beowulf to Robert E. Howard’s Kull and Conan, and Lin Carter’s Thongor, the barbarian has traditionally been a noble figure in this type of literature, and the swords they name – Siegfried’s Nothung, Beowulf’s Hrunting and Nægling, and The Lord of the Rings’ Andúril wielded by Aragorn – the demon-sword Glirendree is, in the hands of Niven’s Hap, more like the soul-stealing Stormbringer of Michael Moorcock’s subversive Elric fantasies.  (The Warlock: “There is no metal!!  It’s a demon--a bound demon--and it’s a parasite!  It’ll age you to death in less than a year if you don’t cut it loose!!”)  

The Conan-esque barbarian-as-bad guy was previously used by Marvel in “Dragonseed” from Savage Tales #6 with Marok the Merciless.  In Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964-2004, author Richard J. Arndt writes, “It’s ironic that Niven’s tale which relates the harm that can come when the oafish barbarian swordsmen take over the world was done by Marvel, the comic home of the premiere (and often oafish-looking) barbarian swordsman, Conan.”  Indeed, the barbarian Hap’s name is short for “Belhap Sattlestone Wirldess ag Miracloat roo Cononson.”  The story admits that “A natural antipathy exists between swordsmen and sorcerers,” with Niven apparently coming down on the side of the sorcerers (because they keep the “damned stupid swordsmen” at bay).  

Which brings us to another role reversal – the hero is a warlock, that figure of magic and mistrust in the pulp fiction of REH and others.  Even the deliberate choice of the word “warlock,” 
as opposed to “wizard” or “mage,” is telling as the word is etymologically connected in most dictionaries to evil, lies, black magic, and the devil.  This is especially true when readers glimpse the pentagram-tattooed back of the Warlock (pg. 21).  If he is meant as a proto-man of science, why a symbol so strongly associated with superstition and malevolence?  Perhaps the Warlock is as much a scientist as Rotwang, with his pentacled front door and laboratory chamber, in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  

“...Not Long Before the End” is told in the third person, and the voice reads oddly because it almost feels like the first-person observations of an unnamed narrator.  Either it is Niven as omniscient narrator using a 20th century voice, or it is someone out of time, from the modern era, judging from his or her word choice.  Consider: “telephone number” (pg. 17), “hula hoop” (pg. 18 and 19), “baseball” (pg. 22), a reference to “12,000 B.C.” (in the short story)…  The Warlock has a dash of contemporary inflections – “hey, hey, hey!” and “nit!” (pg. 21), and “nitwit!” (pg. 27) – if this is any hint.  This disorientation can only be intended, but one may be forgiven for conjecturing that this tale is told from the present looking back at the distant past.  The novels and short stories in this series, of which there are many, may clear up if there is a mystery narrator or not.  

In addition to Unknown World of Science Fiction’s adapted “Magic Goes Away” universe story, there is a 1986 comic adaptation of the short story-turned-novella "The Magic Goes Away" from the DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel series by Paul Kupperberg and Jan Duursema.  The DC series ran from 1985-1987, and in addition to Niven, it adapted George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Frederik Pohl, and Robert Bloch.  (But Unknown Worlds was first, and according to issue #4’s Reader’s Poll where it came in second, Marvel had “requests…to adapt the sequel…”)  

Sandworms and Saviors:
A Conversation With Frank Herbert, Author Of Dune

An Introduction by Interviewer Ed Leimbacher

The most impressive thing about Unknown Worlds has to be the interview subjects they manage to nab – first Bradbury, then Bester, now Herbert, with more to come.  Early on, Herbert says, “I sold to the pulps when I was still in my teens.”  What kind?  “…Adventure short stories.  Doc Savage, that sort of thing.”  (The Doc tale, from 1946, is “The Jonah and the Jap.”)  Also, Westerns, “The only thing I ever used a pseudonym for…I was learning; it’s a good place to learn.”  

Next came “the slicks” like Esquire, then “ecological articles” out of which grew Dragon in the Sea (“serialized in ’55”).  But it was not only his concern over “our use of fossil fuels [and] shortages of oil” – “20 years or more…ahead of the game” – that was “a factor in Dragon,” but “the Cold War” too.  Paradoxically, Herbert joined the “activities in the World Without War Council” while at the same time saying, “…I get upset with people who want to go thru a complete unilateral disarmament.”  His reasoning?  Because “There are people who say: ‘Let[’s] go get our neighbors!’”  Herbert wants to see “people…talking to each other,” and he presumably means that with one nation holding all the guns, it would inevitably be a one-sided conversation.  “…One of the best things that could happen to this world is for the Soviet Union to become completely dependent on our wheat, and us to become completely dependent on their natural gas.”  Getting back to Dragon, “the New York literati…panned the book.. But it’s now considered a classic and has just been reissued under the original title, Under Pressure.”  

There were “a lot of short stories, novelettes...” before Dune.  His Fifties research “eventually became Dune…,” and not only his material about “desert-making and the recovery of deserts” and other “ecological matters.”  “…I had gone to Florence, Oregon, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture had what was probably the world’s pilot project on the control of dunes.  We solved it: how you hold a dune, keep it from covering a house or a road or a forest.”  Some of the dunes were “80, 90 feet tall…But USDA leaned how to solidify them there with growth and make wind-breaks out of ’em.”  Around that time he “had it in the back of my head to do a novel concerned with the messianic thrust in human society…,” and the two ideas collided.  

“Suddenly it occurred to me…that most of the messianic religions have come from what I call ‘hard-scrabble’ areas [like] the Middle East.”  He put “these two packages of research material together…And immediately I saw that it was bigger than one book, so I plotted three…then…saw that it could probably be four…”  He “submitted the first two to John Campbell at Analog” where they were published as “Dune World” and “Prophet of Dune.”  Son of Dune Messiah (which would presumably become Children of Dune) is “more than half-thru” at the time of this interview.  Herbert believes “a writer can fulfill in today’s society [the functions] which used to be filled by prophets and messiahs.”  (A quote like this only invites the kind of descriptives, e.g. guru, that he hated when applied to him.)  

Dune had been optioned at the time “By APJAC [who] is Arthur P. Jacobs [producer of all the Planet of the Apes movies]” with “an area northeast of” Ankara, Turkey as the proposed shooting location.  Important to Herbert was that he “prevent this film’s turning into an American version of a Japanese monster movie.  You know, ‘The Worm That Came In from the Desert.’”  Leimbacher adds, “‘And Ate Cleveland,’” which causes Herbert to quote Ellison.  “You know Harlan Ellison’s famous definition of the monster movie?  ‘The Tapioca Pudding That had Intercourse with Cleveland.”?  In a more serious tone, Herbert “envisage[s] something…sophisticated, on the order of the Chinatown dragon, but ten times larger and with lots of mechanical assists and people inside to manage it.”  Nine years later, Dune would make it to the screen under the direction of David Lynch with Herbert’s blessing on the final product.  In between there was the aborted Alejandro Jodorowsky version which is the subject of the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.  

Ecology informs much of Herbert’s science fiction – The Green Brain, The God Makers, Hellstrom’s Hive.  “…An editor…wanted me to do Hellstrom’s Something to ride the wave created by [The Hellstrom Chronicle].”  He refused, until he realized he had a book already written which he willingly retitled Hellstrom’s Hive.  

Ecology also informs Herbert’s personal life.  He and his wife Bev returned to the Northwest because it “is one of the few areas that can still be ecologically managed—converted to a balanced system…so I came back to do what I could about it.”  Earlier he explained his philosophy: “American agriculture has not awakened to the fact that what you do is, you build a supportive ecological system out of which you take your share—which can be the lion’s share, an enormous share.  But in the process you support more humans as well as more other kinds of life.”  As phrased here, Herbert seems refreshingly opposite of the pessimistic environmental movement of today which sees human life as almost a blight on nature, not to mention his own time’s Paul R. Ehrlich Population Bomb gang whose doomsaying spawned effective fear-mongering fiction like Harry Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room! and the film adaptation Soylent Green.  

Story and Art: Bruce Jones

An exploratory landing on a planet described as “a botanist’s paradise!” devolves into nightmare and doom.  The gradual build-up towards its unexpected and somewhat arbitrary conclusion creates an effective mood, but that is about it.  Some intricate illustration by Bruce Jones is difficult for the eyes to take in because of the six or seven dense panels of detailed art per page.  Written in a ship’s log format, the text is small and unusually dense as well.  Just like the cocoons transforming the ship’s crew one by one, the tale feels poised to metamorphose into a cautionary tale about…what?  The Reader’s Poll in issue #5 says that, “A number of readers compared this poignant story to Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes’ classic of recent years.”  This tidbit may shed some light on the concluding panels. (Continuing with the endless Flash Gordon homages in these Unknown World issues, on page 40 one character wears a shirt patterned after Alex Raymond’s hero.)  

“SFWA: The Thing that Spawned Nebulas”
Article by Don Thompson

Last issue, Thompson gave readers a tidy, concise history of the Hugos, and this one the Nebulas.  The difference between these two science fiction awards?  “…The Hugo awards [are] given by the fans,” while the Nebula Awards “were created by writers for writers.”  These “annual writing awards [have been] given since 1965 to recognize what [SFWA] members considered the best short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels in the field each year.”  It all began when “In the early 1950’s, Damon Knight, Judith Merril, and James Blish…tried to form a science fiction writers’ group,” but because “all…were living in Milford, Pennsylvania” and with “some people thinking the ‘Milford Mafia’ wanted to control science fiction,” “nothing came of it.”  

After that, the Science Fiction Writers of America was born as “an outgrowth of [a] Milford…writers’ workshop…and Theodore Cogswell’s Publication of the Institute for the Twenty-First Century Studies, a newsletter for SF writers which provided a forum for discussion of common problems…”  Thompson sees co-founder and first SFWA president Damon Knight as instrumental if not essential to the forming of the association that produced the Nebula Awards, and goes on to recommend that its anthologies of Nebula Award stories (annually collected, except for the novels) “should be in any fan’s library.”  The first volume Thompson describes as a “Who’s Who of Science Fiction.”  

The SFWA even went back and “nominate[d] all the stories published before 1965…which would have won Nebulas if…”  Then in “1973…an Award was given for best dramatic presentation, the first new Nebula Award category since 1965.  The first winner in this category was the movie Soylent Green…”  Thompson wonders if “Possibly we might someday see a volume of SFWA-chosen best science fiction screenplays of all time…”  (So far, no.)  

Aptly, however, “The first novel to win a Nebula,” Thompson tells us, “was Frank Herbert’s Dune…”  Parenthetically, the first Nebula short story winner was “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” adapted in this very issue.  “SFWA: The Thing that Spawned Nebulas,” unfortunately, scored last in issue #5’s Reader’s Poll, even though “nearly everybody claims to have learned something from our fan feature.”  It just goes to show you that people who read comic books do not necessarily like to read scholarly material about the genre, be it comics or what have you, which is hopefully not the case here at Marvel University!  (The Savage Sword of Conan made a similar point when reporting the cool reception of Lin Carter’s essay contributions to that magazine.)  

“‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” 
Script: Roy Thomas
Art: Alex Nino

“Now begin in the middle, and later learn the beginning; the end will take care of itself.”  Fortunately, anarchically jumbling the three-act structure does not obscure this simple, fable-like story.  In a regimented authoritarian world where being late is a crime, a man calling himself the Harlequin gleefully mucks up the works with epic pranks until caught by the forces of the Master Timekeeper, aka the Ticktockman.  Face-to-face with his nemesis, Ticktockman insists the Harlequin repent or have his remaining lifespan deducted, their confrontation ultimately boomeranging on the Master Timekeeper…  
Harlan Ellison’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning short story (Galaxy Magazine, December 1965), delayed from appearing in the second issue due to artist Alex Niño’s (credited sans accent) family problems, finally finds its way into Unknown Worlds’ pages.  Better late than never, the Harlequin might say (if only he were articulate).  Marvel swore that “you, and…Ellison—will like it.”  Letters in Unknown Worlds #5 ran high, and readers ranked it #1 in that issue’s Reader’s Poll, but Arndt says that “Ellison’s on record that he dislikes this adaptation.”  As for the story itself, which seems calculated to pander to the era’s upstart college crowd, it has dated poorly.  

The tale begins with a Henry David Thoreau quote from Civil Disobedience, but never approaches the profundity of, for instance, the similarly themed The Prisoner – the Harlequin seems no more than a professional agitator, not a man of unyielding principle like Number 6.  He is like the Joker, only without a murderous streak.  (It bears keeping in mind that this is the same Ellison who lionized would-be Washington Monument bomber Norman Mayer, not exactly the Harlequin’s avalanche of jellybeans, and hardly a constructive articulation of dissent or outrage.)  

In the other corner, the Ticktockman is the kind of enforcer who got Hitler and Mussolini’s trains running on time.  He is even the Adolf Eichmann-like bureaucrat who would get the cattle cars to Auschwitz II-Birkenau with “efficiency.”  Or he should be, instead of the caricature he is.  While the penalty for being late is getting docked time from your life – the Master Timekeeper possesses personally-keyed cardioplates which give him the power to revoke minutes, hours, or years from a citizen – he seems more the bogeyman of asocial types who resent having to live according to societal norms.  The Ticktockman could be the boss who insists you punch into work at nine, or the teacher who expects you not be tardy, or any authority figure (“the Establishment,” “the Man”).  

The Ticktockman’s insistence on repentance rather than punishment paints him as a medieval Grand Inquisitor, down to his wardrobe, but his refrain to “Repent!” is not clemency any more than Maoists are merciful when they declare “Leniency to those who confess.”  In this way, “‘Repent Harlequin!’” implicitly alludes to George Orwell’s 1984 before directly invoking the name of Winston Smith.  Moreover, this future world is every bit as foreign and surreal as 1984 variation Brazil, or The Zero Theorem for that matter, and every inch as nonconformist as those movies’ director, Terry Gilliam – it is almost a wonder that Gilliam has not filmed this.  Or so it seems, were this a more substantive story.  

Rod Serling covered the same themes and territory, and much more masterfully, in the absolutely brilliant 1961 Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man,” with Fritz Weaver as a Ticktockman of sorts hoisted by his own petard.  In “‘Repent Harlequin!,’” the Harlequin answers Ticktockman’s third-degree with none of the dignified and articulate civil disobedience of Romney Wordsworth, played by Burgess Meredith as a modern-day Antigone.  Instead, all Ellison’s pouty jester spouts are rude retorts, the rhetoric of the student population of its day and what passes for protest even now.  The Harlequin may be an iconoclast like Ellison, but with none of Harlan-quin’s personality and wit.  (The narrative’s prose, on the other hand, sings with a whimsical, Seussical quality.)  

In The Prisoner, Number 6 is a man of principled opposition, not just a rabble-rouser.  Consider: 

“I will not make any deals with you.  I’ve resigned.  I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered.  My life is my own.”  

The Harlequin, on the other hand: 

“Get stuffed!”

Number 6: 

“I am not a number, I am a free man!”


“You’re full of it.”

The Twilight Zone’s Wordsworth: 

“…How does a man react to the knowledge that he’s going to be blown to bits in half an hour? … So for myself, I’m going to sit down and read my Bible.  It’s been hidden here for over twenty years.  It’s a crime punishable by death…So I’m just going to sit down and read it until the moment of my death.  How will you spend your last moments, Chancellor?”  


“…I’ll fit my fist into your mouth.”


“So here you have this strong, handsome, uniformed, bemedaled symbol of giant authority and this insignificant, librarian.  And suddenly, in the eyes of God, there is precious little to distinguish us.”  


“You’re an idiot!”

“‘Repent Harlequin!’” in its last panel packs no punch.  Compare it to the similar end to Serling’s “Obsolete Man” and see for yourself.  

One reader in issue #5’s letter column “The Shape of Things That Came” singles out “The intricacy of Niño’s artwork” which “fit so well with the story…”  Arndt singles out “gonzo madman” Niño’s “wildly appropriate…artwork” for praise.  One half-expects to see the worker drones’ manually-rotated clock hands a la films like Metropolis or those from the serial Flash Gordon’s atomic furnaces.  Besides this adaptation, there exists the rare 1978 ‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman: An Illustrated Portfolio with art by Jim Steranko and, in Ellison’s own words, “that elegant Rick Berry-illustrated, Arnie Fenner-designed coffee-table book” deluxe 1997 reissue.  

Ellison was reportedly dissatisfied by Niño’s illustration.  The Bronze Age Of Blogs says, “Ellison’s complaint was that the entire strip was insanely chaotic, thereby diluting the repressive, drone-like order of the setting, and the story’s message.”  (There is a line about “the neat Mondrian arrangement of the buildings.”)  But since Ellison himself shuffled the narrative deck, suggesting that the off-kilter sequence of events aligns with the Harlequin’s point-of-view, why not illustrate accordingly?  One could legitimately choose either way – chaos or order – for the panels.  

Whatever the story’s failure to live up to its reputation, the fact remains, as Ellison points out in an interview Stanley Wiater conducted for, that “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” is “one of the ten most reprinted stories in the English language, up there with O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’…”  

Script: Tony Isabella
Art: Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte

“The magi were wise men.  They invented the art of giving Christmas presents…”  With this O. Henry paraphrase ends Isabella’s science fiction retelling of “The Gift of the Magi,” retaining that short story’s main theme while cleverly integrating it with Shaw’s Slow Glass short story theme of not getting stuck – slabbed? – in the past.  Again, as Slow Glass variations go, this one could actually stand on its own.  Incidentally, this issue’s letter column promises that “next issue’s ‘Slow Glass’ intro [is] where Tony Isabella explains all!”  

The Shape of Things that Came

Originally the title of the “Personal Playbill by Roy Thomas” introduction last issue, now the “first letters-page ever, in the first giant-size SF comic-mag ever!”  Look for letters from Robert Bloch (“I was most favorably impressed! … I’d be only too pleased to be represented in the zine…”) and Mr. Slow Glass himself, Bob Shaw (“All the stories…were given…first-class treatment – fast and lively, yet preserving the drama and serious intent of the original texts.  By the way, my son took the first issue to school to show his friends how famous his Dad was…”).  In answer to Bloch, Roy Thomas personally promises, “in a very few issues,” his short story “‘A Toy for Juliette’ – and perhaps even Harlan Ellison’s sequel, ‘The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World.’”  

—Professor Gilbert

Professor Gil will be back with coverage  of Unknown Worlds #4 on Sunday, February 8!


  1. "Thomas is forced to “re-phrase” his assertion that “space opera had ‘rather run its course.’”

    Did any of the text pieces Marvel did for their b/w magazines aged favorably? Thomas' opinion on this topic reads especially dumb, as the space opera saved Marvel's butt only two years later when he had the foresight (and the luck) to buy the rights for Star Wars. I understand his motive in this case, though. In a magazine where you try to sell adaptions of often self-styled "literary" science fiction you want to diss the "ether-oaters". Which at the time were not wildy successful on the book market as a category, so maybe he did have a point, come to think of it.

    "Which brings us to another role reversal – the hero is a warlock, that figure of magic and mistrust in the pulp fiction of REH and others"

    But at the time of Niven's writing the story this was nothing new. Moorcock had done it with Elric, Gardner Fox was doing it with his Kyrik series. I think that sf-writers like Niven wanted to explore Fantasy is more due the emerging popularity of the genre at the time then the desire to put its tropes on a sf basis. (Which of course kills the fantasy aspect but that is another topic.) Still, given how much S&S Marvel was publishing at the time the inclusion seems indeed puzzling. Maybe it was a test for reader acceptance. Warren did a lot of Fantasy in his magazines. Or it was the only Niven Story which could be adapted well as a comic.

    Very interesting write up, btw.

  2. "In a magazine where you try to sell adaptions of often self-styled "literary" science fiction you want to diss the 'ether-oaters', etc."

    An excellent point, actually.