Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Basic Science Fiction Library from 1949

The Winter 1949 issue of "The Arkham Sampler" was an all Science Fiction issue. The editors had approached a number of Science Fiction professionals and fans with the questions 1)What books, to the number twenty or less, do you believe essential to any Science Fiction library? 2) Why? The request was sent to writers Dr. David H. Keller, Lewis Padgett, P. Schuyler Miller, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. Van Vogt, Donald Wandrei; editors Sam Merwin, Jr., John W. Campbell, Paul L. Payne, Raymond A. Palmer, Everett Bleiler; and fans A. Langley Searles, Forrest J. Ackerman and Sam Moskowitz. All responded except for Campbell and Palmer.
They arrived at seventeen titles which, from the number of votes, made up the first six places.
In first place with 9 listings was Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells. In second place with seven listings were Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon and Brave New Worlds by Aldous Huxley. In third place with six listings were The Short Stories of H. G. Wells, Adventures In Time and Space edited by Healy and McComas, and Slan by A. E. Van Vogt. Next with five listings each, The World Below by S. Fowler Wright and Strange Ports Of Call edited by August Derleth. In fifth place were To Walk The Night by William Sloane, The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sirius by Olaf Stapledon and Gladiator by Philip Wylie. In sixth place were Before the Dawn by John Taine, Who Goes There? and Other Stories by John W. Campbell, The Best of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin, Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon and Out of the Silence by Earle Cox.
I have to admit to having never heard of Earle Cox. I am familiar with William Sloane through his novel Edge of Running Water which was filmed in 1941 as "The Devil Commands". The World Below is an unfamiliar title although I am familiar with S. Fowler Wright through the pulp magazines. I've read several titles by John Taine but have not heard of Before the Dawn.
So, how many of these titles are as highly regarded today? I have to admit I have never read anthing by Stapledon and I've never read Brave New World, why I don't know. I think it's my reaction to having to read so many "Classics" in school. (Wuthering Heights is one sick book.) Some of the titles are no longer in print, for various reasons. The Wells volumes definitely belong on this list as does the Campbell title. The others, I can't say.
Individual selections by the participants are interesting. Van Vogt selected Slan and The World of Null-A (no false modesty here). He also chose Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (a personal favorite of mine). Ackerman and Van Vogt both selected Burroughs The Mastermind of Mars.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absence of Stanley Weinbaum from the final list. Moskowitz did list The Dawn Of Flame and Van Vogt chose The Black Flame. Paul L. Payne's selections would never have made the pages of the magazine he edited, Planet Stories. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time made a few lists, but not enough to break into the finals.
Another title making a couple of lists is The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck by Alexander Laing. This was selected by Keller and Merwin. Many other titles show up on the different lists, some out of left field like Sturgeon's selection of Kinsey's now discredited Sexual Behavior of the Human Male. Heinlein's Space Cadet makes Miller's list.
In 1949 Science Fiction was about to make another mutation as the pulps were entering their last years. In another ten years only a handful of Science Fiction magazines would remain. The paperback was moving toward ascendacy and Science Fiction was taking another step toward the mainstream.
I think I'll search out some of these titles and see what all the excitement was about. Besides, The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck sounds fascinating.


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