Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #43 : Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Giant-Size Special!

By Professor Gilbert Colon, P. M&D. P.

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Giant Size Special
Editor: Roy Thomas
Consulting Editors: Archie Goodwin and John David Warner
Production: Lenny Grow
Art Directors: John Romita and Dan Adkins
Design: Nora Maclin
Cover: Don Newton
Frontispiece: Rick Bryant

Interrupted Journey
An Editorial Last Hurrah
By Roy Thomas
Illustration: Mike Kaluta

Rather than end on “a semi-pessimistic note,” “the sixth smash issue” of Unknown Worlds left readers with a “fond adieu” because “that doesn’t mean goodbye – but only ‘till we meet again.’”  And meet again we do, but just this one more time.  (Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #7 was expected as early as “October 7 [1975],” but instead this “GIANT SIZE SPECIAL ISSUE” hit stands sometime in 1976.)  

Thomas thanks Stan Lee for taking a chance on a science-fiction-themed magazine at a time when it “was not exactly the most salable kind of story matter.”  The magazine “didn’t lose money,” but neither did it make a profit, so “after six issues, we were forced to drop publication and wait to see what happened.  We’re still waiting.”  

Which does not quite explain going to press with this unofficial issue #7, except that “we had enough material on hand for two or three issues, counting a couple of finished scripts as yet unillustrated, plus a number of stories already totally completed.”  This earned him “the go-ahead to put out a giant one-shot special.”  

Last issue spoke of “our first multi-part serial, our adaptation of A.E. van Vogt’s classic SF novel Slan, which is already scripted and ready to be illustrated.”  No trace or word of that here.  Then there were supposed to be “a number of stories all or partly on the shelf, including adaptations of tales by the likes of...Leiber, Zelazny, and others, and we’ll simply be waiting for the right time and market in which to unleash them” (or “Man-Gods” for that matter, its absence explained in this issue’s “Untitled” column).  One would think that a final issue would have been that right time.  

Whatever happened to these shelved projects is anybody’s guess, but it seems a shame to relaunch a magazine without making use of partly-completed adaptations.  If somebody ever digs the aforementioned works up, they might be well worth finishing and publishing.  It is especially a shame to pack a relaunch with reprints (only three of the seven stories herein are originals).  Whatever happened to “enough material ... for two or three issues,” the “finished scripts as yet unillustrated,” and all the “stories already totally completed” that Thomas promised in this very editorial?  

As for whether or not Unknown Worlds will return again, Marvel parrots their standard script – “[W]ell, that’s up to you, more than it is to us.”  The only way this could happen is if “UWOSF-philes...make this...very special issue a success.”  Should that happen, “the mag may just be back on a regularly bimonthly or quarterly frequency at some time in the near future.”  

But not with Thomas aboard, even though his early membership in “the then-fledgling Science Fiction Book Club,” as revealed in the premiere issue, qualified him as the right man for the job.  He discloses that he is relocating to the West Coast to work on special projects, “including Marvel’s adaptation of Star Wars...which came my way largely because of UWOSF #1-6.”  It is ironic that a creative force behind Unknown Worlds, who from the outset dismissed space opera as “ether-oaters,” was recruited on those merits to adapt a film from a genre he and his magazine turned their noses up at.  

The pages of Unknown Worlds have repeatedly implied that science fiction is not a profitable market, and one letter-writer in issue #4 added another handicap to the equation: “Traditionally, science fiction almost never succeeded in comics form.”  He remained hopeful because “neither did sword-and-sorcery until you initiated Conan the Barbarian five years ago,” attributing it to the “Thomas touch” and rooting for Unknown Worlds to go monthly.  Of course earthbound fantasy can read a lot like what Thomas once termed “SF fantasy,” and it is not a John Carter leap from sword-and-sorcery to sword-and-planet.  As a matter of fact, the third issue’s Reader’s Poll was forced to admit that the letters that poured in after their “Smash Gordon” (issue #1) “touched off a whole debate about space opera which we suspect is gonna be with us for a long time to come.”  

In issue #6’s The Shape of Things that Came letters page, Marvel speculated that this “project of rather dubious commercial value [Unknown Worlds] would have succeeded handily if our timing had been better.”  But Unknown Worlds never made a comeback during the Star Wars craze, despite the mass market multiplication of science fiction in the wake of Lucas’ blockbuster space opera.  Maybe Unknown Worlds should not have gotten on their high horse about ether-oaters after all!  

“[T]he magazine will always remain a beautiful memory with me,” ends the departing Thomas on a note of finality that, as fate would have it, turned out to be true for future issues of the magazine as a whole.  

“A Martian Odyssey”
Writer: Don Glut
Art: Yandoc
Adapted from the story by Stanley Weinbaum

With no “Slow Glass” – the “framing sequence” for issues #1-6 – slowing things down this go around, we jump straight into our first story.  

“A Martian Odyssey,” first appearing in Wonder Stories (July 1934), is the centerpiece of the issue – appearing on the contents page is a dedication reading, “This issue is respectfully dedicated to the memory of STANLEY WEINBAUM.”  Which makes sense on Marvel’s part as the legendary Hugo Gernsback championed Weinbaum’s tale precisely because it rose above the conventions of space opera.  

Besides Gernsback, authors like Isaac Asimov, Otto Binder, Lester del Rey, H. P. Lovecraft, Frederik Pohl, and others have lavished praise upon Weinbaum, particularly for being before his time in envisioning life forms that were truly alien.  He is widely regarded as a science fiction writer whose death at the age of 33 cut short a promising career.  

Truthfully, “A Martian Odyssey” is not so much a story as it is a bestiary of life on Mars – a half-million-year-old silicon-based rock creature whose waste is used to build pyramids by “barrel beasts,” a “dream beast” with the powers of a “deadly hypnotist,” and of course the “trilling and twittering” Tweel who can leap like John Carter in a single bound.  If some seem a tad too whimsical, flick on a nature documentary about Earth’s animal kingdom and see if the same cannot be said about some of this planet’s oddities (the star-nosed mole, the magnificent frigatebird, the Venezuelan poodle moth, or other terrestrial species, and that is not even delving into life under the sea!).  

Marveling at this Martian menagerie on parade, astronaut Dick Jarvis declares, “No rhyme or reason to the whole thing – but that’s characteristic of this crazy planet!”  This is not quite true as Weinbaum is credited with, as science fiction and comic author Binder observed in his Startling Stories (January 1939) tribute, adhering to the scientific principles of his day.  Still, his reaction is understandable – Weinbaum’s Mars makes Gulliver Jones’ “most lunatic of worlds” look like just another day at the office on Earth!  (The art by Yandoc ably reflects this.)  

The odyssey begins when Jarvis is stranded on the surface of the Red Planet, like Matt Damon’s character in the current Ridley Scott film The Martian, and must survive long enough to be rescued.  And, just as Paul Mantee’s character in Robinson Crusoe on Mars has his Friday, Jarvis has his Tweel, whom he has rescued from a thing described only as “a flurry of tentacles and a spurt of black corruption.”  (The beak-nosed Tweel looks a close cousin to Marvin the Martian’s bird-like “instant Martians.”)  

Though intelligent, Tweel has no language as Earth would define it, so his attempts to communicate with Jarvis are at times amusing.  Glut minimizes Weinbaum’s exposition here, and to great effect – it makes the material that much more mysterious.  (He also minimizes the role of Jarvis’ crewmates to focus on this odd pair.)  

More should have been done to establish this tale’s 1930s origins.  On the eve of the Second World War when Weinbaum was writing, “the gulf of space” (to borrow from H. G. Wells) was so immeasurably vast that crossing it was scientifically inconceivable.  Updating “A Martian Odyssey,” even by subtle inference or omission, to a time when man has already walked on the moon and, per the contents page, “Vikings 1 and 2 have shown us the face of Mars,” diminishes the astonishment and incomprehensibility of Weinbaum’s interplanetary adventure to the furthest limits of what we once imagined possible.  

If “A Martian Odyssey” can be said to have a message, it would be this – who knows what amazing wonders we might find if we commit to exploring the unknown worlds of outer space?  We might even find cures for things like cancer.  

The Last Horizon: A Conversation With Theodore Sturgeon
Interview by Alan Brennert
Illustration: Mike Kaluta

Sturgeon, whose Astounding (November 1944) short story “Killdozer!” was previously adapted in Worlds Unknown #6 (and “recently adapted into an ABC Suspense Movie”), has written in “a broad range of...genres,” including “superb Western fiction” and “the historical novel I, Libertine” to a “ghost-authored ‘Ellery Queen’ novel, The Player on the Other Side.”  

Otherwise Sturgeon’s “work [is] primarily science fiction and fantasy” such as the classic novel More than Human, and he has won both the “Hugo and Nebula for his moving, tender novelette, ‘Slow Sculpture.’”  Other hats he wears include “SF book reviewer for the New York Times” and writing “some memorable scripts for Star Trek.”  

Sturgeon tells Brennert that were he to write a mainstream novel, a publisher would “insist on putting all of my awards on the back cover to help sell the book.  And it would help sell the book to science fiction fans – who would be furious that it wasn’t a science fiction novel! – and it would simply put off the mainstream customers [who] still feel [SF is] Buck Rogers and spaceships.”  Catch-22.  But “the last five years...indicate fiction has become so great that it’s melding with the mainstream anyhow.”  Sturgeon agrees with Brennert that “SF exist[s] more as a marketing category than as a clear-cut literary genre.”  For his mainstream novel Sturgeon lined up “a brand-new agent” and a secret identity to overcome being “cubbyhole[d].”  Which of his novels, after 1976 and before his death in 1985, qualified as this mainstream story only a Sturgeon fan can say.  

What interests Sturgeon is “alternate reality, or the very nature of reality,” a theme that “nowadays is perpetually [found] in movies...on television...everywhere.”  After seeing “a bumper-sticker which said Reality is a Bummer,” he agreed, concluding that “to escape from reality you look for alternate universes.”  He has reviewed a “simply astonishing” number of “books...working around this theme” for Galaxy and the Times, and as examples he can point to varied novels such as Nabokov’s Ada and Joanna Russ’ “ fiction” novel The Female Man.  “You see it all over.”  

One thing changing, says Sturgeon, is the growing number of females in the field.  “I just mentioned Joanna Russ ... Ursula K. LeGuin is another ... the women who are writing science fiction are writing absolutely top literature ... Josephine Saxton ... Kate Wilhelm ... Doris Piserchia ... So more power to the distaff side.”  

These authors are one component of what Sturgeon calls the ‘“growing edge’ in SF,” fiction that is “getting away from the conventional nuts-and-bolts kind of technological science fiction.”  They exemplify “the increasingly well-known fact that there’s more room in inner space that [sic] there is in outer space.”  This will change how growth is defined.  “[G] not onward-and-outward,” Sturgeon explains, because “[p]eople are beginning to suspect it’s not necessarily the right way for our species to go, that inward growth is probably better.”  By “inward growth,” Sturgeon means “know[ing] ourselves better – our own motivations and our true natures.”  

This ties in with Sturgeon’s “concerns ever since 1951” that, as Brennert puts it, “in the past most of [SF’s] writers have been men, WASPs at that, [and] very few black writers.”  Sturgeon associates the “outward-and-onward thrust” with, by implication, a white male mentality, one he feels will lead to “a disaster” once “we’ve used up all our frontiers.”  “The species can survive,” but only through “new outlooks” like “turn[ing] inward.”  

“SF people,” from Sturgeon’s standpoint, take a long view he calls a “cosmological perspective.”  This contrasts with those who think in “biographical terms: that is, Since I was born.”  It is even different from those who “think in historical terms: that is, it goes back as long as history has been written.”  Then there are a minority of people who think like scientists, “in geological terms...back to the beginnings of the earth,” and like “astronomers...thinking in hundreds of millions of years.”  And “[t]he science fiction writer is like the astronomer in his whole perspective,” and by “liv[ing] in cosmological time...he starts questioning reality.”  He starts “recognizing the fluidity of history [and] the very essence of life itself [which is] growth and change.”  

This semi-deification of change sounds consistent with Sturgeon’s critique of the “outward-and-onward thrust.”  “You begin to gain this kind of cosmological perspective, and instead of letting it drown you, you can surf on it.”  Sturgeon’s passive philosophy, as stated here, suggests letting the tidal forces of the universe shape man rather the other way around.  “[O]nly by welcoming growth and change [can] you can survive future shock.”  Sturgeon’s prescription: “[T]ake science fiction three times daily and future shock won’t disturb you.”  This “pill against future shock” sounds like a prescription to self-medicate.  

With the “biographical” and “historical” reduced to irrelevancy, it is hard to know how or where the human being fits into Sturgeon’s “cosmological perspective” since mankind, unless it vigorously and continuously asserts its place in the universe, barely registers on this impossibly vast timeline.  Sturgeon leaves this unaddressed, except to say that he sees his writing as a search for “the optimum human being,” which to him means “an optimum brain within an optimum man,” something that “has always been a shimmering ideal to me.”  

Sturgeon agrees with Brennert that “education in America today is geared not toward creating the optimum human being, but the mean or median human being.”  He goes as far as laying a share of the blame at the doorstep of Walt Disney – “one of my absolute pet horrors and hates” – because “everything he’s ever done has promulgated a median point-of-view, and a median appreciation of art and of nature.”  

As a college writing professor, Sturgeon has interesting ideas about the written word, and later about television and scriptwriting, all of it more practicable and constructive than his more antipopulist opinions.  He details writing “trick[s]” like “using metric prose, and changing your meter” to have characters “always speak in the same rhythm [or] cadence.”  This affects dialogue, which in turn almost affects the development of the character in question.  He suggests that this technique could vary one’s style as a writer.  He recognizes that “it’s possible to get a great literary reputation by inventing and establishing A Style,” and gives Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Bradbury as examples.  But Sturgeon thinks it easy to “sit down and write a Bradbury pastiche,” so better to move “beyond commanding A be able to command styles.”  

Related to writing advice is a discussion of his Playboy comic strip collaboration with Philippe Druillet, artist and co-founder of Métal Hurlant (the French edition of Heavy Metal magazine), and of comics in general.  It was “back in the Forties [that Sturgeon] was doing comic-book continuities to survive...many of them for Street & Smith.”  

Sturgeon’s Street & Smith experience convinced him that writing for comics “is one of the absolute best proving grounds and tool-sharpeners for writing television.”  How?  “[T]he ability to visualize panel-by-panel turned out to be of immense value when I started writing television.”  Brennert concurs, calling the set-up of a “basic comic book...very much like a storyboard.”  When earlier Sturgeon said that his “truly optimum man wouldn’t...have the bulging deltoids of Superman...or freakish things like X-Ray Vision,” one wonders how he could ever write for Marvel!  (In Supernatural Thrillers #1, Marvel also adapted “It!,” Sturgeon’s short story from Unknown [August 1940], which was reportedly an influence on the comic characters Man-Thing and Swamp Thing.)  

Sturgeon’s problem with many television writers is that they are “writing illustrated radio [and] forget[ing] that it is a visual medium [and] ought not to be anything else but a visual medium.”  You should not be able to “follow the story...when you’re out in the kitchen,” which is what happens on “these police dramas” (Brennert singles out Colombo).  The ideal television drama should “completely bewilder a blind man.”  

At the time of this writing, Sturgeon has not been “involved in a series,” except for “one-shots—a treatment here, a pilot there, an episode of somebody else’s series...[l]ike Star Trek.”  But he is “ready for [television] now,” especially since “a successful series can make you financially independent for the rest of your life.”  

One juicy anecdote involves Sturgeon working closely with Orson Welles on adapting his novel More than Human, calling it “a tremendously interesting experience and I have never worked so hard in all my born days.”  He calls Welles “the most perfectly extraordinary person to work for—if I ever have the opportunity to work with him again, I’ll heartily refuse it.”  Sturgeon uses words like “utterly overwhelming” and “dominating” to describe Welles, clarifying “dominating” in a perplexing way: “[D]ominating not so much in the sense of force and power—the man is so incredibly resourceful in so many ways, so skillful in handling other people ... [Y]ou don’t know what’s happening to you when you deal with him.”  

Regrettably the “whole situation blew up [when] the company we were working for blew apart.”  Once “the dust settled,” Sturgeon reflected on the screenplay and saw it “was a totally new story, totally, completely, and absolutely different.”  Little by little, “he made changes every day,” and to Welles it wound up better than Sturgeon’s published novel.  To Sturgeon, it “was very much of an inferior story.”  

Moving from the screen to the stage, Sturgeon calls writing a play produced in Woodstock, New York “one of the most important experiences I ever had.”  (This drama is probably It Should Be Beautiful, which debuted on September 15th, 1961.)  He called it “a rotten play...but it was the experience that was important.”  Seeing performers make his words stand up instead of lying flat was enlivening, and educational too.  When one actor asked about his character’s motivation for saying a line, it made Sturgeon realize that “[a]t any point in your manuscript you have got to be able to put your finger smack down on” why a character says or does anything in one’s story.  

Brennert wraps the interview up asking Sturgeon “if you had it all to do over, would you still go into science fiction?”  

“I think it’s very possible...”  

“Journey’s End!” 
Story: Bruce Jones
Art: Alex Nino

Donald Clayborne goes to Alter-Ego Inc., one of many “wish fulfillment service[s]” that “can physically project you into any fantasy the human mind is capable of conjuring.”  When the female representative recommends a particular cerebral journey, Clayborne’s reaction is, “Women!  Humph!  I’ll bet this outfit is run by women!”  And it is!  The last twist line to the story is, “It’s nearly noon, sister.  Can I buy you lunch?”  The sisterhood, sticking together against oppressive patriarchy.  

In between Clayborne decries society’s woman president, calls women “wenches!” and “amazons,” and rants, “[W]e should have squashed this women’s lib thing when it started back in the ’70s!”  The art by Niño (credited sans accent) is far too busy for such a simple and simplistic story.  Clayborne’s sneering close-up on the story’s first page, coupled with a succession of boorish comments, peg him as a stereotypical male chauvinist.  Instantly the scales are tipped against him in a way that negates even the possibility of depth in Jones’ characterization.  

At one point it feels like Jones is rushing to the rescue of the women’s movement by critiquing the “White Knight Syndrome” and the “male gaze,” conveniently forgetting how much of Marvel’s own storytelling this encompasses.  Clayborne says of the “extra-factual” simulated trip picked for him by the Cerebral Imagery rep: “How corny can you get?  Now I’m supposed to save the alien nymphet from the bug-eyed monster.  How original!”  More likely this is just another veiled jab at the space opera genre Thomas dismissed as, in Unknown Worlds’ debut issue, “long-toothed transplanted westerns...which...substituted...a B.E.M. (Bug-eyed Monster) for Jack Palance.”    

Further indictment of male wish-fulfillment (at least as it is perceived by certain feminists) is Clayborne’s line to the bimbo “alien nymphet,” “…And robot or not, you’re more woman than I’ve ever known before…”  Jones might as well be pointing the finger at himself, if he even believes any of what he is writing.  After all, Jones has, in his time, drawn his fair share of scantily-clad buxom beauties that segments of feminism would quickly label sexist, and here he adopts their whole line of rhetoric to either ingratiate himself or deflect criticism.  

“Journey’s End!” borrows a concept shamelessly from Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” the basis for the film Total Recall, and squanders it on a corny socio-political statement.  

“The Forest For The Trees!”
Story: Bruce Jones
Art: Vicente Alcazar

Brandon, unlike other light speed travelers who “spend their earth-layovers drinking, or chasing different women on every leave – knowing that each woman will be gone when he next returns,” passes his time reading.  He goes so far as to wear a visor all the time to protect his eyesight, so much does he love “art – plays, books, films, etchings, holograms…”  

The crew voices their concern for his sanity should Brandon actually one day go blind.  Then when they came close to Betelgeuse, the computer gives him a safe reading, but he loses his sight anyway.  Outraged at the computer’s apparent misreading, he vents his anger against it, the same computer that controls the ship’s navigation systems…  

Bruce Jones again, with more overgrown lizard monsters like those in “Old Soldier” from Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #6, which unlike the bulk of his stories in this issue, was in fact quite good.  This one is painless enough, but takes too much time getting to an obvious and unsatisfying ending.  

The Grand Comics Database lists this is a reissue from “L’Echo des Savanes Spécial USA (Editions du Fromage, 1976 series) #17 (3e trimestre 1980),” as are several of this issue’s reprints.  L’Écho des Savanes, according to Laurence Grove’s Comics In French: The European Bande Dessinee in Context, was a Franco-Belgian comic (translated as The Savanna Echo in English) that began in 1972, but Tintin this is not.  It featured work from Marvel alumni such as Neal Adams, Richard Corben, Dick Giordano, Jeff Jones, Wally Wood, Berni Wrightson, and who knows how many others; this may be the best explanation how or why Marvel plundered L’Écho to pad this issue.  Grove remarks that it “might surprise the neophyte reader (then and now), namely through the extent to which the early journal was dominated by explicit sexual, or generally taboo, humor.”  For example, one strip featured, 

“the central character walk[ing] through a local wood only to witness the sexual exploits of various characters of folklore: Red Riding Hood and the wolf copulating, M. Seguin in a long-term relationship with his goat, Snow White and the dwarfs enjoying an orgy, Tarzan as a gay exhibitionist and so on.”  

L’Écho has been described as an “adult” and “mature” comic, but it sounds like better words might be “juvenile” and “immature.”  

FANtastic Worlds 
A Column by Don and Maggie Thompson
Photos: Don Thompson and Maggie Thompson
Illustration: Mike Kaluta

Issue #6 promised, if they returned, another entry “look[ing] at the fantastic world of SF fandom.”  And here it is.  

Maggie Thompson, mid-70s
I. ACADEMIC NUTS kicks off with the old Unknown Worlds strategy of distancing itself from the image of science fiction as “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff,” especially in the wake of the Eagle having landed only seven years ago.  With newfound respectability, the colleges now offer “courses in SF [and] Professors who once taught...Henry James and Joseph Conrad and James Joyce are now requiring their students to read stories that first appeared in pulp magazines with Babe-BEM-Bum covers ... such as Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and (yes!) Two Complete Science-Adventure Books.”  This mainstreaming means that the genre is no longer “the exclusive province of the brass-bra-clad heroine...and the Bug-Eyed Monster.”  

Science fiction author Reginald Bretnor (“The Gnurrs come from the Woodwork Out”) complains in his Science Fiction Today and Tomorrow essay that this sudden “university attention is not an unmixed blessing.”  In the past, academia has loved poetry and the short story, but they “hardly flourished under the professorial wing.”  A consequence of this has been that American poetry “has become formless, unreadable, and unintelligible,” and the “serious” short story “devitalized into the non-story: deliberately over-sensitive slices out of the meaningless lives of utterly uninteresting people, invariably larded with the toothsome obscurities so dear to the interpretive middleman.”  Bretnor’s concern is that this could happen to science fiction.  

Don Thompson, with
daughter Valerie
“New Wave” writer Barry Malzberg complained in an Analog letter about “thirty-year-old idiots...teaching full courses” who bragged about passing up his work in favor of “the pre-1968 stuff.”  Unknown Worlds could have benefited from more “pre-1968 stuff”!  On the other end of the spectrum, there is Joanna Russ, a reviewer at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Nebula and Hugo nominated author in her own right, denouncing “the blank ignorance of anything more than two years old.”  

The Thompsons wade in to remind everybody that science fiction is supposed to be fun to read, so “don’t just study SF, enjoy it.”  

II. BASIC TEXTS elaborates, saying “There is no need to take a college course to enjoy science fiction,” and nominates a list of the best anthologies and nonfiction books of “informed criticism of the field,” checks into their availability for readers, and provides addresses for ordering purposes.  

III. A PYRAMID OF ELLISON covers Pyramid Books and their monthly reissue in paperback of Harlan Ellison’s work.  “When Pyramid completes its Ellison series, nearly all Harlan’s books will be in print.”  The Thompsons list some of the available books, including “Memos from Purgatory (autobiography, dealing primality with the time Harlan ran with a juvenile street gang to gather material...) ... The Deadly Streets (stories about juvenile delinquency) [and] Web of the City (formerly called Rumble, a novel about juvenile delinquency).”  Who would have guessed Ellison had such a juvenile delinquent streak?  

IV. SF AS A GAME documents the presumably little-known world of “[f]an invented science fiction games.”  Ever since “Edgar Rice Burroughs mentioned Barsoomian chess (‘jetan’), ... many fans have produced boards and pieces.”  Games include Artist Widner’s “Interplanetary,” and “computerized games involving space battles (often between starships and Klingon vessels).”  A more professionally-produced game from Metagaming Concepts – who is “very interested in...response from gaming SF fans” – is a space combat game called “Stellar Conquest.”  

The Thompsons are gracious enough to detail enthusiastically the game mechanics for readers and even supply an address, but except for wargamers, they probably speak for the majority when they say “there are twelve pages of [rules] – and we have not had that kind of time for years.”  

V. EARLY EFFORTS gives more recommendations in Doubleday’s “EARLY” series, from The Early Asimov to Early Del Rey whose “real in the autobiographical swatches between the stories.”  Pulp fiction fans will want to take note of these since “[a]s in Asimov’s book, the late John W. Campbell, Jr., editor of Astounding Science Fiction[,] looms large.”  The Early Long “includes “Frank Belknap Long telling about friends such as H. P. Lovecraft and about writing for Weird Tales and Unknown,” and The Early Pohl gives Frederik Pohl space to discuss “writing for and editing several of the lesser pulp magazines of the early 1940’s.”  

VI. OLD SF AT NEW PRICES, despite initial dubiousness about science fiction as an academic exercise, states the complaint that the “major problem in teaching SF courses is finding copies of books for all the students,” particularly the out-of-print early stories.  Hyperion Press gets their vote for “bringing back into print what are supposed to be historically important books,” drawn mainly from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, and calls their reprint of Robert Paltock’s 1751 novel The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, “probably the first American SF novel.”  

To accomplish this enterprise, “Hyperion hired Sam Moskowitz, one of several SF historians, to choose the books for the series.”  The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that Moskowitz contributed many introductions to this Classics of Science Fiction reprint series, and that “Hyperion Press also brought back into print six anthologies and collections of criticism by Moskowitz.”  

A second series of Hyperion reissues is scheduled for the same year this magazine hit newsstands, and according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, its first run in “1974, had 23 volumes; the second, published 1976, had 19 volumes.”  

The Thompsons regard “some of this old SF [as] hard reading,” but say that “[n]otable exceptions are two short-story collections: A Martian Odyssey and other Tales by Stanley G. Weinbaum” – the title story conveniently adapted in this very issue! – “and Life Everlasting and Other Tales by David H. Keller.”  

Art & Story: Bruce Jones

An explorer from the stars, Clete, risks all, including ostracization from his own race, the saurian Clithians, to save the last of a newly discovered species in stasis – a human female.  

An empty city is one of the only things left standing on a lifeless Earth, making the entire planet something of a museum.  Even dead, this strange new world holds a certain allure for Clete (and perhaps others).  As Clete strolls through a natural history museum, he learns the history of Homo sapiens through displays and exhibits.  In a gallery, one Pollock-like painting catches Clete’s attention, its placard reading: 


As to the fate of the “sleeping beauty” in cryogenic glass, it is left for us to imagine just how curious Clete’s own species will grow in subsequent generations.  There is a hint of hope as one Clithian from the Second Contact crew, like Clete before him, demonstrates a curiosity for Earth paintings, but unlike the failed Clete, this saurian’s enthusiasm proves subtly infectious.  

One of the better entries for its genuinely humanistic outlook as embodied in the Earth-cultured alien named Clete.  

Reprinted, according to the Grand Comics Database, from “L’Echo des Savanes Spécial USA (Editions du Fromage, 1976 series) #17 (3e trimestre 1980).”  

“Preservation Of The Species” 
Story: Bruce Jones
Art: Redondo

A man seemingly without reproductive organs, Arn Redcheck, falls in love with Lee, a fellow mutant whose emotions flash visibly across her forehead, but all is not what it seems…  The story takes darker and more ambiguous turns when the newlyweds settle down on Arn’s jungle homeworld where Lee encounters flesh-eating Asphis monsters and a steady stream of her husband’s nubile native serving girls.  

It could be read as a parable about colonialism, or just an EC Comics shocker, or both.  (The issue #4 letters column described Jones’ “Specimen” in Unknown Worlds #2 as having an “EC-ish ending,” and Jones would go on to create and edit the EC-inspired horror comic Twisted Tales in the 1980s.)  Three years after this “touch of the gruesome” story, a chest-burster explodes its way out of a hapless human host in Ridley Scott’s Alien.  

Story and Art: Archie Goodwin

In the Dark Ages of a post-apocalyptic world, remnants of humanity in Happy Valley cling to “GOD IS LOVE” and “JESUS SAVES” and cry “Sinner!” at one in their midst who dares to “play...guitar, sing, read, and tinker with some old machinery.”  As the Table of Contents says, “with an ending that’ll leave you hanging.”  

Exactly who are these holly rollers supposed to be that Goodwin is lampooning?  The congregation’s list of transgressions has little in the way of any real-world analogy.  A guitar would not be out of place at a clap-happy megachurch, and the story even begins with talk about singing “the few pre-war hymns remembered: ‘Padre,’ ‘Crying in the Chapel,’ ‘I Believe,’” tunes of the pop variety.  Maybe this is an Elvis Presley cult.   

The “defiler” is put on trial for these “sins of reading, playing, and meddling with the machines.”  But reading is what religious folk do with a Bible or Augustine’s City of God or C. S. Lewis, and while the Amish might well shun select machines, they have no history of executing people who tinker.  What books or songs can Goodwin mean?  He does not say.  

Whoever Goodwin’s targets, “Sinner” does not stand up as satire.  

Story: Gerry Conway
Art: John Buscema and Dick Giordano
Adapted from the classic story by Fredric Brown

An “entity…beyond time and space” intervenes in a devastating war between humanity and the alien Outsiders that will result in the extinction of one and weakening of the other.  So that one can emerge to fulfil its evolutionary destiny, the entity tells the Earthman named Carson, “I have created this arena – that specimens from the two races might meet in battle – and thus the greater destruction will be avoided!”  Mano a mano mortal combat ensues, Hell in the Pacific-style, on this barren world.  

Jack Seabrook, a Fredric Brown expert who authored the Bowling Green State University Popular Press book Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown, addresses the similarities between the story (first published in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine [June 1944]) and the Star Trek episode “Arena” over at sister site bare•bones e-zine

“According to the producers of Star Trek, Gene L. Coon handed in the script for that show’s adaptation of ‘Arena’ unaware that it was similar to Brown’s short story. This time (unlike on The Outer Limits [episode “Fun and Games”]) the source was identified and permission was sought and granted by Fredric Brown.”  

Seabrook’s admiration for this story is not ill-placed; this adaptation is hands-down the issue’s best reprint, from Worlds Unknown #4 (November 1973), a color comic series that was sort of a dry-run for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction.  Besides undergoing conversion from color into black-and-white, this reissue replaces the Tom Orzechowski lettering to typeface.  In fact, all the stories in these pages feature “typeset lettering a la CRAZY,” as promised for a potential #7 last issue.  (It also fixes Worlds Unknown’s erroneous “FINI” to “FIN.”)  

Story: Mat Warrick
Art: Adrian Gonzales

“[T]he Threads [of] a faint but indelible gray stain…” blanket the Earth, just as wispy strands from space snow down upon our planet in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  

Maybe it is supposed to be “flash fiction,” but the story is over before it begins.  Along the way are panels of discussion speculating how and why while “the Threads” fall like Halloween silly string.  In the end the leading scientists admit defeat, unable to discern their origin, composition, or purpose.  

The Threads continue to accumulate, just like the darkness keeps darkening at the close of the Twilight Zone episode “I Am the Night—Color Me Black,” and Warrick’s tale ends on this unresolved note.  Except in The Twilight Zone, the town is being punished for a miscarriage of justice.  Here, who knows?  

While the what remains a mystery, at least one panel offers a clue as to the why – “’cause [we] drop ATOMIC BOMBS on people!”  Knowing the mindset of so much of the era’s science fiction community, it would not be overblown to assume Warrick is insinuating that man brought disaster upon himself.  (Like in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth, where Battra – the “Black Mothra,” created by Mother Earth – attempts to balance out the Earth’s ecosystem eliminating mankind for its “sins” against Mother Nature.  Maybe the Threads here are Mothra’s webs, or Battra’s!)  

Science fiction can be good at creating secular apocalypses, but it is almost never any good at justifying why supernatural concepts like “sin” and “judgment,” even when those spiritual terms are not used, can hold any meaning in a random, godless universe.  This has never stopped stories like the wispy “Threads” from trying, however ineffectual the results.  


Tucked away on page 95, in an unnamed epilogue column almost overwhelmed by surrounding ads, is the inside scoop about why the long-promised “Man-Gods” is “unfortunately [a] no-show.”  Amazing Spider-Man #164’s bullpen page shouted “ITEM! ... a brand-new MAN-GODS FROM OUTER SPACE.”  There is no indication what “Man-Gods” was about, but maybe Marvel provided more details elsewhere.  

“After plugging the project in our oft-lauded Bullpen Bulletins and Odin knows where else,” the original plan was for Alex Niño to illustrate it for Unknown Worlds.  Laying the blame on “the wondrous U.S. Postal Service,” Marvel chalks it up as lost “somewhere in transit between California (Roy Thomas’ new home) and New York City.”  (Niño’s art for Jones’ “Journey’s End!” seems to have made it to the Madison Avenue offices, unless of course that material was already on hand back in the planning stages for an issue #7.)  This is the third Niño mail mishap for Unknown Worlds, but who is counting?  (Blame it on Postal Pete, why don’t yeh?)  

As a replacement, Marvel delivers “a four page budding Editor-in-Chief Archie Goodwin” and, “for a second time[,] an adaptation of Frederic Brown’s Arena” (and, to hazard a guess, all the other reprints wadding this issue).  To be fair, the L’Écho republications will be English-speaking readers’ first exposure to these French-language stories.  An issue #5 letter crows, “With the amount of good material you have to work have no choice – you need a second magazine of science fiction!”  It sounds like it was hard enough to find, finish, or hold on to enough for just one!  

Marvel assured that “[i]f and when that little masterpiece ever does darken our doorstep at 575 Madison, you can bet we’ll find someway to get it into print.”  Niño’s art must still be in some dead letters backroom somewhere as the story does not seem to have ever surfaced.  The question is was it ever written?  Niño had to have been working from some script, so why not have Niño, or some other artist in the Marvel stable, illustrate it again?  Why waste an already-written tale?  

A letter-writer in the fifth issue was “dreaming about an all-color issue for UWOSF ANNUAL #1,” and editorial answered that “Roy would rather like to collect some of the best stories in a year or two for a giant Treasury edition.”  

Referring to “Threads,” the Table of Contents asks: “If the world can end with a whimper as well as a bang, then why can’t UNKNOWN WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION exit the same way – even if it’s not necessarily forever?”  


—Professor Gilbert

He's a crusty, dusty, musty pulp historian, yes, but he's OUR historian and, in three weeks, Professor Gilbert returns to pound your brain with Solomon Kane!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the mention. Is it possible "Mat Warrick" is really "Mal Warwick"? Is it some kind of funky hand lettering?