1943


That Worlds May Live: Let’s get Sirius

That Worlds May Live by Nelson S. Bond

In my recent review of David V. Reed’s Empire of Jegga, I mentioned that this was a Golden Age sci-fi novel in the space-opera mold that featured an excessively recomplicated plot and a wealth of colorful detail. Reed’s novel had come out in the November 1943 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, but the Golden Age being what it was, this was hardly the first such space-opera affair to be released in the magazine that year. Just seven months earlier, actually, another novel was published, complete in one issue, in that selfsame legendary pulp, and in a similar vein as Reed’s book, only minus the complexity of story line and the convincing detail. That novel was the one in question here, and entitled That Worlds Read More

Shadow Over Mars: The author is better than the book

Shadow Over Mars by Leigh Brackett

Shadow Over Mars (1944), also sometimes reprinted as The Nemesis from Terra, was the first full-length novel by space opera author Leigh Brackett. (“Full-length” is relative here, though, as Shadow Over Mars is quite short, only 145 pages in the edition I read.) It is currently in the running for a 2020 Retro Hugo for Best Novel.

The book begins with the hero, Rick, running through a Martian city, trying to evade the agents of the Terran Exploitations Company, who want to press him into slavery in their mines. He ducks into the home of an old woman, who prophesies that she has seen his “shadow over Mars,” and then promptly tries to kill him. The prophecy, which is interpreted to mean that Rick will become the planet’s ru... Read More

Sirius: The brainiest canine in all literature

Sirius by Olaf Stapledon

For all those folks out there who hold conversations with their pet dog and know for certain that Fido/Fifi understands every word; for those who have gotten a tad “verklempt” at the conclusion of such novels as The Call of the Wild and Old Yeller; for people who believe that canines just cannot get any smarter than Lassie, Rin Tin Tin or Benji, all of whom starred in innumerable motion pictures; and, well, really, for anybody with a soft spot in his or her heart for man’s best friend, have I got a book for you! That book is none other than British philosopher/author Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, which, as I write these words, is in the running to win a Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel, 1944. Originally released as a hardcover volume by the English publi... Read More

The Golden Fleece: I appreciated it as an accomplishment

The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

The Golden Fleece (1944), also sometimes known as Hercules, My Shipmate, was Robert Graves’s attempt to create a unified, mostly realistic version of the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the titular fleece. He incorporated a variety of ancient sources, some of them contradictory, some of them fragmentary, keeping the elements he thought made the most sense and assembling them into a single narrative. The result is this novel, which has been nominated for a Retro Hugo in 2020.

Graves wrote The Golden Fleece in an intentionally old-fashioned style. He explains in his introduction that he couldn’t hope to write it in the style of the Argonauts’ own time, but disliked the idea of writing it from a wholly modern perspective, and so took up a position “not later than … 146 B.C.... Read More

The Glass Bead Game: Surprisingly appealing

The Glass Bead Game (or Das Glasperlenspiel or Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game (1943), written by Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, is a finalist for a Retro Hugo Award this year. I picked up the audio edition produced by Blackstone Audio and pleasantly read by David Colacci. It’s more than 21 hours long.

The first section of the novel, which lasts 1.25 hours in the audiobook version, is titled “The Glass Bead Game: A General Introduction to its History For the Layman.” In this section, the book’s narrator explains why this book was written, some general problems with published biographies, and some history and background of the Glass Bead Game, including its origin and purpose and how it was responsible for changing culture. (How the game is played is something we never a... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the el... Read More

The Little Prince: A thoughtful and timeless classic

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Nominated this year for a Best Novella within the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Awards category, The Little Prince is a slight, yet powerfully thought-provoking work. Originally published by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, who filled each page of his story with charming watercolor illustrations, it tells the story of a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert with “only enough drinking water for eight days” and who, upon his very first night, is visited by an extraordinary child who asks for a drawing of a sheep.

As the pilot says, “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey,” and after many failed attempts he manages to come up with a drawing which pleases the child, whom he calls “the little prince.” As they come to know one another, the pilot learns about the little prince’s home planet and the other... Read More

Clash by Night: An inventive mixed bag of a novella

Clash by Night by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Clash by Night (1943) , by the wife-husband team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, is an odd bit of a bird, feeling less like a smoothie that blends together different story types and writerly styles and more like a salad where you can easily spot the tomatoes, greens, peppers, etc. Uneven overall, but it does have its good points.

The opening gives us the setting quite directly, with an unknown narrator of the future telling us, “We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals.” Earth has been destroyed by atomic war and in the 200 years since that catastrophe, humanity has continued on Venus, with most of the people (“civilians”) living in Keeps (underwater domes) and various mercenary bands... Read More

Gather, Darkness!: Hard times in Megatheopolis

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber

By April 1943, Chicago-born author Fritz Leiber had seen around 20 of his short stories released in the various pulp magazines of the day and was ready to embark as a full-fledged novelist. Thus, his first longer work, Conjure Wife, did indeed make its debut in the 4/43 issue of Unknown, the fantasy-oriented sister magazine of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction. In it, a college professor, Norman Saylor, discovers that his wife, Tansy, is nothing less than a practicing witch, leading to increasingly dire and supernatural consequences. Leiber’s second novel, released just a month later, was Gather, Darkness!, and it, too, featured the subject of witchcraft … but in a far-fut... Read More

Conjure Wife: A great book to curl up with on Halloween!

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

Conjure Wifeis a 1943 horror novel by master fantasist Fritz Leiber, who is best known for his excellent FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER stories. While Conjure Wife is usually labeled as horror, the recently released trade paperback edition from Orb is marketed as "the classic of urban fantasy" — maybe to latch on to the recent surge in popularity of that sub-genre? Regardless of which genre it's placed in, Conjure Wife is an excellent novel that definitely deserved a re-release.

Norman Saylor is a sociology professor at the small — and as far as I can tell, entirely fictional — college of Hempnell. Early on in the novel, Saylor discovers that his wife Tansy has been attempting to practice magic. Saylor, a very rational and cerebral man, attempts to convince Tansy that magic isn't real, but after she destroys all the... Read More