Fred Smith, Once There Was A Magazine— p. 41-42. (Beccon Publications)
Editor, John W. Campbell Jr.; Assistant Editor, Katharine Tarrant
The Sorcerer’s Ship • novel by Hannes Bok ∗∗∗
Transients Only • short story by Mary MacGregor ∗∗∗
The Golden Age • short story by Elmer Ransom
The Wall • short story by Robert Arthur ∗∗
The Hag Séleen • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon and James H. Beard ∗∗
It Will Come to You • short story by Frank Belknap Long
The Elixir • novelette by Jane Rice ∗∗∗+
Interior artwork • by Hannes Bok, Frank Kramer, Kolliker (2), Edd Cartier, M. Isip, Paul Orban1
Of Things Beyond: Aeronautical Pixies • essay by The Editor
Watch Dog • poem by Frances Hall
Book Review • by Anthony Boucher
—And Having Writ— • letters
I hadn’t planned on reading this issue but I recently bought a few pulps and this was one of them. It is one of the large format (bedsheet) Unknowns and it is a hefty publication, with 128 eight and a half-inch by eleven and a half-inch (215 x 290mm, roughly A4 size) pages. Each of these two-column pages (the Rice story has three for some reason) is probably equal to three in a paperback book.2 After holding it and smelling that wood-cuttings aroma, and looking at the contents and the artwork, etc., I knew that I had to read it. (That said, I soon—and sadly—reverted to the tiny type of a scanned issue on my iPad for the ability to highlight text for quoting later).
The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok is the debut novel3 of the well-known artist. Bok had just started professionally publishing fiction in 1942 (although there had been a few amateur pieces in Ray Bradbury’s fanzine Futuria Fantasia during 1939 and 1940) and there were a couple of stories in each of Future Combined with Science Fiction and Weird Tales, a novella in Science Fiction Quarterly (Future’s companion magazine, and also edited by Robert W. Lowndes) and a story in the previous issue of Unknown.
The novel starts with a man waking up on a raft in the middle of the sea. He cannot remember what has happened to him, and is later picked up by a sailing ship. When he next awakes, he is visited by one of the ship’s company, a hard-faced man called Froar. After some preliminary questions, he tries to recruit Gene (who has remembered his name) to his cause (he advocates supplication to an aggressor nation called Koph, the place they are sailing to) and asks him to kill Kaspel, one of the men who rescued him. When Gene equivocates, Froar puts a few drops of poison in his wine.
It is only the appearance of Princess Siwara and Kaspel that stops Gene from finishing the wine, but he is paralysed and cannot talk. After Froar leaves, Kaspel realises what has happened and discusses this and the looming war between Nanich and Koph with Princess Siwara, who says:
“Do you think I want to go to Koph and bargain with the war lords? But Nanich can’t possibly survive another war. I must do everything that I can to maintain peace.”
Kaspel groaned softly. “Better for Nanich to give up every last one of its lives than pay tribute to Koph! Why can’t I make you understand that once we submit to Koph, Nanich will lose its identity? It will mean the end of our system—no more schools, no more research, only economic slavery, turning out the products that Koph dictates to us. Our young men will become slaves in the fields. Our women will be taken from us to Koph—” p. 15
Given the times this was published in you wonder which war it is they are talking about.
These initial events typify the first part of the novel. Gene decides to join Kaspel’s side, and later narrowly avoids being stabbed while he is sleeping. He is later questioned by Siwara and, in the course of their discussion, she asks where he comes from. There is a jarring Fortean explanation for this, presumably shoe-horned into the tale because of the discussion of these phenomena in the magazine:
She returned her eyes to him. “[. . .] It sets me to wondering—what kind of a doorway could you have fallen through? A door through time? [. . .] A door which was a flaw in the elements which make your world and this? Who knows? Have you such tales in the place from which you came?”
“A lot of them,” he said. “A man named Charles Fort compiled books of them, but I can’t remember them much. Everyone’s heard of rains of fishes and frogs, and sometimes there are dust storms miles away from desert areas. Several centuries ago a woman appeared in England who spoke a language that no one understood— I think that she was exploited as having come from Mars.” p. 20
There is more skulduggery. After meeting for dinner Froar leaves and then reappears, stating the lodestone has been tampered with and they are off course. Kaspel is suspected as he wants to stop them getting to Koph. He and Gene are arrested and confined to a cabin; Siwara is too, for her protection. Almost immediately afterwards (you get the impression there is a missing chapter here) they get a note from Siwara saying she realises she has been duped. Gene manages to turn the guards and, after some further shenanigans, they imprison Froar. The ship then endures a storm that lasts for a few days, and lose an enemy ship that has been following them and turn towards home. On the way they see an island and investigate.
Up until this point I thought the novel was competent but fairly routine stuff, albeit with some nice writing here and there:
Lai stood with him, peering out into the erratic rags of rain and black night. There was no sign of the other ship’s lights. Spume lay like lace on the waves; flying spray filmed the window. Lai shook his head in silent comment of the storm; Gene clapped a friendly hand on his back and returned to Siwara. The lamp was lit, swinging wildly from its bracket, and the shadow of the bed’s canopy expanded grotesquely on the wall, contracted and swelled again. p. 32
The last two-thirds of the novel is also of variable, but better overall quality.
After they get to the island Siwara, Gene and Kaspel hear an unsettling report about huge, dust-filled and deserted buildings; they then decide to go there themselves. After moving through its streets, they eventually come to a colourful and vibrant garden. They hear a voice and find a creature that looks like a fish-man playing with clay figures by a stream.
The stranger tells them he is Yanuck. They learn that a powerful being called Orcher built the city and left the immortal Yanuck behind with orders to send for him should others of his race arrive. Siwara demands that Yanuck summons Orcher. They go to the strange wall in the temple and Yanuck starts the process.
They reached the huge slab that was the altar. Yanuk’s arm brushed off the dust as he moved around the edge of it. The six-inch layer of glass housed intricate machinery that vaguely resembled the insides of a clock. Having brushed off the dust as far as he could reach, Yanuk climbed on the glass and walked on his knees, sweeping the slab comparatively clean. This done, he dismounted and stood peering at the device. It was ten by thirty feet, six inches thick.
“It has no starting lever,” he explained to Gene, softening his voice as the tail of his eye glimpsed Siwara, her face in her hands. “The controlling switch is inside, so no one can accidentally start it. Only I know how to operate it. Thus!”
He pointed. Again the blue luminosity appeared at his fingertips. The sphere of light floated like a bubble from his fingertips and to the glass, sinking through it without difficulty. It touched one of the cogs, and faded away. But the cog whirled with a faint clicking, setting in motion the other wheels. The ticking increased in varying rhythms, spreading like a ripple of sound over the slab’s pond of silence as the motion of each wheel started a fresh one turning. The clicking loudened, running the gamut of audibility, swift and shrill, slow and deep, until it seemed that all the clocks that had felt the hand of man had been assembled in that place. p. 42
Orcher’s musical voice was enlivening, like a psychic wind which fanned the fires of life into a fiercer heat. Though it was tainted by nothing remotely resembling humanity, it was colored with passions, but passions no human could ever hope to know, so intense that at their faintest they would have blasted a mortal’s body into atoms. And though the strange entity was only a great splash of light, Gene knew that it had eyes. They were fastened on Yanuk, who lifted an apologetic claw. p. 43
Gene discovers that he arrived in this strange world due to an error committed by Orcher in creating a new universe, but refuses an offer to go home. Later in Orcher’s long monologue he states he has no interest in the affairs of men. However, he consents to aid Siwara one time only, at a time of her choosing, and gives Yanuck a spiky, blue jewel and orders him to accompany her. They return to the boat. Froar tells Siwara the Koph war fleet left port the same time as they did and will be arriving at Nanich shortly.
There are several more incidents on the way back: Yanuck makes a bird out of paper and flies it while in a trance to reconnoitre the route back to Nanich, before he is incapacitated by poison; the enemy ships catch them and they lose the battle; etc.
Eventually the three make their way back to Nanich, where another battle is lost. However, the climax comes when Siwara manages to break the jewel and Orcher is summoned. His arrival and the bloody carnage he inflicts to punish the warring troops from Kosh makes for gripping reading:
The air splintered as a trumpet blared, one that no man could blow. It was possible to see the sound-pulsing ripples of air packed together by the sound’s vibration.
All over the fallen city, the mounds of the slain stirred. The bodies rolled, tumbling off each other, lay moving slowly, lifting hands jerkily, flexing their legs. They clambered to their feet—not alive, but like fleshly puppets jangling on unseen strings. Their closed eyes opened, glazed and without life. And the living in the streets stared in horror.
The bodies arose and took sides. They had no weapons; their hands curved like claws. Those from this mound crept forward to those of that, stealthily, pantherishly, crouched, swaying from side to side, preparing to pounce.
They leaped! It was gruesome, that battle of the dead! They tore at each other, rending garments, scratching skin, and no blood flowed. They could not die. Bones snapped, eyes were gouged—but the fighters did not fall. The watchers drew back, frantic with fear.
Orcher laughed! The sound was deafening, drumming. His contours wavered, threads of light unraveling, drifting leisurely over the city. They touched the fighting corpses, played over them like a sculptor’s fingers pressing clay. He crushed the bodies together, squeezing them, smoothing the flesh.
And now there were giants on the streets—headless giants molded from dead flesh and contending against each other! Orcher’s tendrils touched them; some of them merged into each other, producing monstrosities with many arms, many legs. p. 66-67
Eventually, all the giant bodies merge into one huge figure which sets off across the ocean to destroy Koph. In the aftermath of this, and chastened by Orcher’s bloody lesson, the survivors of the two nations set their differences aside and set up a democratic government in both countries. However, the people still fear Siwara, Gene and Yanuck, and they are asked to leave. They decide to go back to Yanuck’s island.
There is a bittersweet but uplifting ending as Gene considers the life that awaits them:
If we can learn—everything is ours. And we’ll study. Yanuk will teach us; if Orcher is satisfied, he will teach us. One day we’ll leave that island. But not in a ship, or like this! Unhindered by fleshly bodies—free to roam the Universe on wings of thought. Free to make, to break—like gods!” p. 70
This a novel of two parts. The first third or so is competent enough but a little dull. Once it gets going at the island it is a much more interesting and enjoyable piece, considerably so when Orcher is on stage. Worth a look.
Transients Only by Mary MacGregor4 has three acts. In the first we are introduced to Charles, whose mother interrupts him reading a book on ghosts (one of many he owns) to berate him as a ne’er do well. She asks him why he can’t help his grandmother (who owns a large house and lets out rooms) with her mortgage and rent control problems.
Charles sets out to solve the problem in his own way and tells his mother he is ‘going out for a while.’
The next, and most entertaining, part of the story occurs after Charles travels for several days and finds a haunted house with a particularly alarming reputation. He decides this is ideal for his plans to help his grandmother and goes to visit the house. On his arrival and entry he experiences ectoplasmic slime, huge toads, decapitated bodies, etc. etc. It culminates (at least for the first night) with this:
Charles tried the door to one of the rooms. It gave before his touch and. he looked in. That time he shrieked without reserve. Prepared though he was by the sages Lindemyth and Strobius, the inhabitants of that room were more than mortal eyes could endure. What he saw was unutterably horrible, indescribable. He backed away, leaned against the jamb of the door and vomited freely and frankly. After a short spell of violent trembling he took up his quest again.
The next room was filled with scores of pairs of balefully gleaming eyes that glared at him in the darkness. He shut that door, too, and passed on. Every room but the last was stuffed with weird horrors. Even that one; but its horror was relatively moderate, both in conception and execution. In the middle of a large four-poster bed lay a giant skeleton, calmly reading a newspaper by the light of his own luminous bones. He stirred clackingly as Charles entered, bent his eyeless gaze upon him for an instant, and then went back to his reading.
“Sorry,” said Charles, walking straight to him, “but you’ll have to scram. I’m getting tired of the show and want your bed so I can sleep a while. You can carry on again tomorrow.”
“Oh, yeah?” said the skeleton, without looking up.
Charles reached over and got a good grip with one hand on the vertebrae of the neck and with the other grabbed the pelvis. He straightened up and heaved the collection of bones hard against the wall. It flew apart at the impact and its pieces scattered over the floor. As their illumination faded out, Charles crawled into the bed and pulled the covers up. Then he turned over and went fast asleep. p. 75
Over the next few days Charles manages to wear down the resident ghost by absorbing all the scares thrown at him. He then manages to convince the ghost to come back to Washington and haunt his grandmother’s house by asking a salient question:
“Ghosts lead lonely lives, don’t they? And the only fun they can ever hope to get out of it is scaring people, isn’t it?”
“Er, yes,” admitted the phantom grudgingly. p. 76
The third act has Charles letting his Gran’s rooms to guests who (after paying a week’s rent) never stay the night. Further, he sells the possessions they leave behind when they don’t return for them. Although I realise the writer is playing this for laughs, this rather amoral ending took some of the shine off of it for me.
The Golden Age by Elmer Ransom is an immortality serum story where (after some irrelevant stage-setting action) a Dr Smith reveals to the local vicar that he and his wife are a hundred and eighty years old. It materialises that they were injected with an immortality serum but have lived to regret it. Smith can never be older than twenty-eight, and has worked constantly trying to develop a method of reversing the process. There is a load of waffle at this point about what age is best: forty is mentioned, so is seventy, but the entire premise is idiotic: it seems to assume that physical age is the only factor that determines who you are.
The Wall by Robert Arthur gets off to a good start. A lawyer visits a man on death row and brings him some painting materials. He finds out how the inmate got permission for these from the warden:
“I blackmailed him,” he stated. “I told him I’d commit suicide if he didn’t let me have them, but if he did I’d promise on my honor to make no trouble and not to attempt to injure myself in any way.
“He was skeptical at first, pointing out that the precautions here against suicide are rather effective. So I gave him a demonstration. I swallowed my tongue—another useful little trick I learned in Tibet—and almost choked to death before the prison doctor could reach me. After that the warden agreed to take my word of honor. Besides, he seems to have become interested in art since I arrived. Not at all a bad chap.” p. 91
The prisoner then spends the rest of his time painting a mural on his cell wall—a double door that is partly ajar, with a woman looking out. The rest of the story is well enough done but the ending is far too predictable (you can probably guess what happens from the little I’ve said).
The Hag Séleen by Theodore Sturgeon and James H. Beard5 is about a father and his daughter whose boat is upended by a black-tentacled ‘river-spider’ from the depths of a bayou. They manage to make it to the shore and, as they recover on the river bank, they meet an old woman who says she sent the creature:
I found myself staring into the blazing eye of the most disgusting old hag that ever surpassed imagination. She looked like a Cartier illustration. Her one good eye was jaundiced and mad; long, slanted—feline. It wasn’t until long afterward that I realized that her pupil was not round but slitted—not vertically like a cat’s eyes, but horizontally. Her other eye looked like—well, I’d rather not say. It couldn’t possibly have been of any use to her. Her nose would have been hooked if the tip were still on it. She was snaggletoothed, and her fangs were orange. One shoulder, was higher than the other, and the jagged lump on it spoke of a permanent dislocation. She had enough skin to adequately cover a sideshow fat lady, but she couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds or so. I never saw great swinging wattles on a person’s upper arms before. She was clad in a feathered jigsaw of bird and small animal skins. She was diseased and filthy and—and evil.
And she spoke to me in the most beautiful contralto voice I have ever heard.
“How you get away from River Spider?” she demanded.
She pointed, and I saw the sawyer rising slowly from the bayou. “Oh—that.” I found that, if I avoided that baleful eye I got my speech back. I controlled an impulse to yell at her, chase her away. If Patty woke up and saw that face—
“What’s it to you?” I asked quietly, just managing to keep my voice steady.
“I send River Spider for you,” she said in her Cajun accent.
“Why?” If I could mollify her—she was manifestly furious at something, and it seemed to be me—perhaps she’d go her way without waking the child.
“Because you mus’ go!” she said. “This my countree. This swamp belong Séleen. Séleen belong this swamp.” p. 98
The Cartier reference rather breaks the suspension of disbelief.
The rest of the story concerns the Séleen’s attempt to get hair samples from the family (via the daughter and a hollow tree where Séleen conceals herself). Once she has the hair in her possession there is a final struggle at the bayou during a storm, where she attempts to cast a spell to set the river-spider on the family. The spunky daughter (spoiler) eventually gets the upper hand.
Overall this is an OK bogeyman story, but it’s not entirely successful. The parts of the story that didn’t entirely work for me were (a) the character of the daughter—her temperament, wilfulness and magical competence range from slightly irritating to unconvincing, and (b) the initial description of Séleen made me feel rather sorry for her (even if she had just tried to drown them); I felt this even more after the father knocks out some of her teeth during an argument. I couldn’t help but think that there is a more interesting story where her soul is grey and not black. Yes, I know, I’m turning into a snowflake.
It Will Come to You by Frank Belknap Long concerns a man called Cromer who can’t hold down a job. Despite this, he always seems to have another job lined up, courtesy of a man called Bannerman.
While he out dancing with his fiancé, Cromer is summoned by Bannerman, who is angry that Cromer has lost his latest job as a food-taster. It then materialises (spoiler) that Bannerman is Lucifer and Cromer is a ghoul. This doesn’t make any sense.
The best fiction in the issue is The Elixir by Jane Rice, which has a woman called Amy going to a Halloween party at her friend’s house dressed as a witch. Her house servant expresses her opinion of the outfit:
Eliza, ebony jewel that she is, on learning of my intended costume put her hands on her more than ample hips, and said, “Humph.”
Eliza has been with me for fourteen years and regards me with a jaundiced eye. By turns the eye is stern, disapproving, admonitory, occasionally indulgent, but always jaundiced. To Eliza any woman forty-two years of age who hasn’t been able to GET married—the capitals are Eliza’s; there’s a moral somewhere in that upper case “GET” and lower case “married,” but I wouldn’t know where—and a woman who—to top it off—makes no attempt to hide the light of her graying hair under a henna bushel, and who will wear flatheeled shoes, and who openly likes Limburger cheese, and who makes her living writing mystery novels, is beyond all hope. That “beyond all hope” barely got in under the wire, didn’t it? p. 115
She gets to the party early and decides to make the mother of all cocktails, which she then drinks, unknowingly, from a 17th century witch’s cup. This has calamitous results, as she finds herself travelling back to 1692 Salem. Needless to say, arriving dressed like a witch doesn’t do her any favours, as she finds out when she enters the Blue Boar tavern looking for help:
I pressed down the catch and pushed open the door and stepped inside. There were long benches, and tables, and a beamed ceiling, and a shelf of tankards that Clare would have sold her grandmother for, and there was an immense fireplace, and a beery, smoky, woody smell which was delightful.
I summoned up my Indian Missions smile and advanced toward a group of men who evidently had stopped off on their way to a masked ball or else belonged to the same lodge. They all wore queer clothes, more or less alike, and had on wigs.
“Could you tell me where the telephone is?” I inquired sweetly.
If I’d said, “Could you tell me how to get to the nearest nudist colony?” the effect couldn’t have been more startling.
They stopped talking whisssst and their mouths fell open and they goggled at me. One man in a satin waistcoat seemed to be trying to swallow his Adam’s apple.
“The telephone,” I said.
“T-e-l-e-p-h-o-n-e. I want to call a cab.”
The man who was trying to swallow his Adam’s apple got to his feet and pointed at me and tried to say something, but didn’t succeed. He just sort of chopped his teeth at me. Thinking he might be giving me the lodge high sign, I chopped my teeth at him and went him one better by putting my thumbs in my ears and waggling my fingers at him.
The next thing I knew, there was a pounding as of stampeding cattle and I was alone with the tankards and the tables and the heavy oaken beams that vibrated some dust down on me. p. 118
The rest of the story tells of her imprisonment and eventual trial, along with another woman called Prudence Symonds, for witchcraft:
Be that as it may, proceedings got under way with much pomp and ceremony and consulting of documents. We were formally charged with witchcraft, and we pleaded not guilty, and everybody in the courtroom rustled at us and muttered. I could see that we weren’t going to be voted Misses Popularity of 1692 and, if the expressions of the jurors meant anything, the undertakers’ association was going to have a short run on caskets.
I don’t know when I’ve seen so many glacial pairs of eyes outside an oculist’s window, and the temperature of the crowd was about the consistency of a Deep Freeze Unit and it got no warmer fast.
[. . .]
Mistress Faith Trow asserted that Prudence Symonds had made the Trow cow stop giving milk, and one Lucius Banbridge vowed that she had made his teeth loose, his hair fall out and had afflicted him with chills and fever. If ever a man had malaria, Lucius Banbridge was he.
We were accused of putting “blood on the moon,” of causing birds to molt, of laming horses and sending weevils to live in Madam Seabright’s flour bin. A corpulent dowager with wattles said we had given her grandchild colic, and a bulbous-nosed, paunchy fellow with spots on his vest asserted that he had seen the devil sitting on a tree limb in front of the Blue Boar Tavern picking his teeth with a smoking splinter and, ostensibly, waiting to keep a rendezvous with me.
That testimony I didn’t doubt. From the hue of the witness’ nose and the habit he had of twitching spasmodically, I rather imagine he had seen the devil and, subsequently, had ridden home on a pink elephant with gauze wings and its trunk done up in a baby-blue snood. p. 124
Needless to say (spoiler) she manages to free both of them. This last part is weakest section of a very lively story due to its rather routine manoeuvring, but there is a nice twist when she discovers she has witch’s powers. There are echoes of de Camp & Pratt’s novella The Roaring Trumpet here, but this really is a different type of story, its focus the exuberant central character and her turn of phrase.
Rice has a modern and entertaining narrative style, and the story hasn’t really dated significantly—I am surprised that it has never been anthologised.6
Bok contributes the Interior artwork for his own novel: these illustrations are the best in the issue. One can only wonder at what he would have produced for a cover if Unknown was still using colour artwork. Cartier has one good illustration but the other two are rather scribbly. The other illustrations are from Frank Kramer, Kolliker, M. Isip, and Paul Orban. The latter is the best of that group.
Of Things Beyond: Aeronautical Pixies by John W. Campbell Jr. is about the subject of aeronautical gremlins:
The first gremlin reported in an American plane rode the flying fortress Big Punk when the waist gunner, Sergeant Z. E. White, of Dallas, Texas, reported his guns jammed just as he got a German Focke-Wulf 190 fighter plane in his sights during last Friday’s battle over the North Sea.
When he landed, Sergeant White told his story to Pilot Officer Oscar Coen, of Murphysboro, Illinois, one of the original three members of the R.A.F.’s American Eagle Squadron and a noted gremlinologist. Coen nodded his head and said, “Gremlins,” making it official that they were working on Uncle Sam’s men.
There seem to be little boy as well as little girl gremlins. There are no “good gremlins” or “bad gremlins” as such. They are just hell-raisers, more mischievous than irresponsible, who might do a good turn or precipitate a disaster, depending on their current mood.
A. F. experts say the gremlins get inside carburetors and put their thumbs over the jets, “conking” out the motors. Then, just when the pilot is somewhere over Bremen with a German searchlight on him, the gremlins remove their thumbs and the motors start up again.
A common type of gremlin, according to the experts, is the one who hangs on the aileron with his feet flapping and gives the entire ship a slight flutter. That gremlin has a brother who sits on the pilot’s shoulder making sounds like a motor knocking when the plane is hitting on all cylinders.
The most annoying gremlins are those who like to get into the instrument board. They play seesaw on the automatic horizon or merry-go-round on the compass. They get their greatest kick out of such antics when the pilot is flying “blind” through clouds. p. 6
This was written months after the USA’s entry into the war.
Watch Dog by Frances Hall is a poem about what it says and, apparently, a dangerous dog at that.
Book Review by Anthony Boucher is an interesting essay about A Book of Prophecy from the Egyptians to Hitler, ed. by John Cournos, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942. It is, apparently, a sloppily put together and badly copy-edited book on prophecy.
—And Having Writ— is a fairly short letters column this time around. The plaudits are mostly for the Cartmill and van Vogt stories in the August issue, and there is also a letter from Boucher (more about prophecy) that accompanied his review for this issue.
An interesting issue.
- The first three illustrations above (illustrating The Sorcerer’s Ship) are by Bok; the other two are by Cartier.
- Bok’s novel is printed on approximately 56 pages of the magazine, and contains around 52,000 words. The book version from Ballantine runs to 205 pp.
- Lin Carter, in the introduction to The Sorceror’s Ship, Ballantine Books, 1969, has this:
Bok moved to New York in 1940 and began turning out a wealth of cover paintings and illustrations. Unfortunately, the word “wealth” in this context does not refer to money. Magazines in those days, pulp magazines at least, paid miserable prices for their illustrations—$5 or $10, was a typical fee.
Before long, Bok turned to a more lucrative side of the world of fantasy and science fiction—writing. As a boy, he had fallen completely under the spell of A. Merritt, and the Merrittesque word-magic rubbed off on him—possibly because he once copied out in longhand the entire text of The Ship of Ishtar. He had borrowed the copies of Argosy All-Story in which it was serialized and had to return them, but couldn’t be sure he would ever find a copy of the novel again.
His first published novel was Starstone World appearing in Science Fiction Quarterly, Summer, 1942, followed very shortly by Sorcerer’s Ship in Unknown, December, 1942.
ISFDB lists Starstone World as a novella, and a rough OCR is 27,000 words.
- There is some confusion about who wrote this story. The cover has it as by Malcolm Jameson, whereas the contents page has it as by Mary MacGregor. A letter that appeared in the February 1943 issue of the magazine explains:
Dear Mr. Campbell:
The last thing in my mind is to start a feud with Malcolm Jameson, but it goes against the grain to pick up the magazine containing my very first brainchild to see the light of print and find him hogging the spotlight on the cover and pretending it was his own.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I admire his work extravagantly, and needless to say like him, too. Otherwise I wouldn’t have lived with him all these years, raised his kids and kept his house and traipsed all over the seven seas trying to keep up with him, but it seems to me he has glory enough without cutting in on my poor maiden effort. Or was it your own fault? Did you think that “Mrs.” on the return address was a misprint or something?
They say you can’t unscramble eggs, so I don’t know what you are going to do about it now that it has happened, but I know darn well I don’t want my first and maybe only story to go down the chute as just another Jameson yarn. Outside of that, I think Unknown is a pretty good magazine. This story is more autobiographical than you think. The only place I could find to rent in Washington, when my husband went off to sea in the last war, was a haunted house in Georgetown. I don’t recommend ’em except in emergencies.—Mary MacGregor (Jameson). p. 115
It’s a pity this promising debut was her only story.
- The story notes in Killdozer!, Volume III: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, ed. Paul Williams, 1996, (Amazon UK/USA) have this to say about The Hag Séleen:
When the story was included in D.R. Bensen’s 1964 anthology The Unknown Five, Sturgeon was given sole credit. The editor noted that the story had been credited in the magazine to Sturgeon and Beard, but added: “All the same, it’s a Sturgeon story—Beard, who collaborated sometimes with Sturgeon on other pieces, supplied the background information for this one, and Sturgeon did the writing.” In the 1978 Sturgeon collection Visions and Venturers, the story title is followed by the line “(written with James H. Beard)”.
In a letter dated March 22, 1941, Beard wrote to Sturgeon:
“In case you elect to do the River Spider story, I think you had better have a copy of the rune used by devotees of the spider when launching their tiny canoes on the river.
“These canoes by the way are often delicately and beautifully made, sometimes carved of cedar or cypress, sometimes made of bark, brightly colored with dyes which are prepared from various plants growing in the swamp.
“The rune follows:
River Spider, black and strong
Folks round here have done me wrong.
Three fat flies I’m sending you
Human blood, they’ve all been through.
First fly, he named Willie Brown,
River Spider, drag him down!
Second fly, she is Alice Jones,
River Spider, crack her bones.
Third fly, he named Willie Flood,
River Spider, drink his blood.”
Beard in the letter invites Sturgeon to visit him, and in a letter to his mother dated April 6, 1941, Sturgeon mentions that in the next week he and Dorothe have plans to: ‘drive forty miles to Suffern, N.Y., where lives Captain Beard, my collaborator on a new series for Unknown.’
In the Sturgeon Papers at the Spencer Library at the University of Kansas there is an incomplete manuscript of a longer version of this story, typed by Sturgeon, and an attached letter from TS asking his wife to edit it down from 13,500 words to 6,000 (presumably at Campbell’s request), retyping and rewriting as necessary. He asks her to drop the first 9½ pages and suggests a couple of other possible cuts, but leaves the decision-making to her discretion. He also provides instructions on how to mail it to the magazine when she’s finished.
The missing manuscript pages (14–19, 29–33, and 40 to end) are probably absent because they weren’t rewritten and could be included as is in the final manuscript. If Dorothe did in fact cut and edit the story from the surviving manuscript (we don’t know for certain that Sturgeon didn’t do the job himself in the end), she did an extraordinary job. Whole paragraphs of exposition have been added, plus connecting sentences here and there, that sound very much like Sturgeon, and indeed the finished work is one of his better-written stories of the period.
As for the circumstances of his asking her to do the edit (without even his final review), he may have been traveling for a few days, though from what I know of his biography it’s not easy to imagine where or why. More likely is that he had been awake for days, finishing up writing assignments to get the money to pay for their trip to Jamaica (this writing was done sometime between April 1941 and the end of June, when they left New York), and he was giving her this assignment to carry out while he collapsed into ten hours’ sleep. There’s no reason Campbell would have been in a rush to have the story; but Sturgeon was always in a rush to collect his payment, and all the more so if this was done just before their departure.
The story was significantly improved by being shortened. The published version is between 7,500 and 8,000 words (evidently 6,000 was not possible).
- Jane Rice at ISFDB.