Down Memory Lane (Authors & Events) / Opinion & Featured Articles

Vintage Science Fiction Magazine: Planet Stories

planet stories magazine vintage science fiction
Planet Stories was a popular SF magazine primarily aimed at young pulp readers. Total 71 issues of the magazine were published between 1939 and 1955. Some of the top science fiction writers of the time including Leigh Brackett, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury wrote regularly for Planet Stories.

The content focussed on interplanetary adventures and sword & sorcery stories. Quite a few stories from Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles were first published on Planet Stories. The “Letters to the Editor” column was called “The Vizigraph”. It was a pretty colourful page with interesting letters from readers as well as established writers like Robert Silverberg.

Planet Stories featured some of the most amazing SF artwork of the time. Enigmatic spaceships, scantily clad damsels in distress, deadly villains, alien princesses in alien worlds made up a perfect escapist landscape. Acclaimed artists like Frank Paul, Hannes Bok, Kelly Freas, and Alexander Leydenfrost worked on Planet Stories’ interior artwork and cover.

With a final issue in the summer of 1955, Planet Stories closed down due to serious recession in the pulp market.

Interior Artwork

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Happy Birthday Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“God save thee, ancient Mariner,
From the fiends that plague thee thus! –
Why look’st thou so?’ -“With my crossbow
I shot the Albatross.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge — one of the major figures of the Romantic Movement, a friend of William Wordsworth, and lifelong opium addict — was born on the 21st of October, 1772. His most acclaimed works include The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. The prose work Biographia Literaria and study of Shakespeare are also critically acclaimed. He coined the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief”, which has found way to popular culture. Coleridge, like a lot of other gifted souls, was cursed with depression and ill health. Death seized him on 25th July 1834 and the dreamy spirit was not of this world anymore.

Carlyle wrote:

“Coleridge sat on the brow of Highgate Hill, in those years, looking down on London and its smoke-tumult, like a sage escaped from the inanity of life’s battle…”.

Happy Birthday Mr. Coleridge. We miss you.

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Down Memory Lane (Authors & Events) / Opinion & Featured Articles

The Return of the Occult: Bloomsbury Re-publishes Dennis Wheatley’s Novels

dennis wheatley

Back in the 1950s, Dennis Wheatley was a big name in the pulp market. His first novel — The Forbidden Territory — was an immediate success. It was reprinted seven times in seven weeks, translated in multiple languages, and the film rights were brought by none other than Alfred Hitchcock himself. Thereafter, Wheatley wrote numerous bestselling novels. His most famous work is the celebrated black magic potboiler — The Devil Rides Out.

Outselling Agatha Christie, Wheatley was one of the most popular thriller and occult writer of his time. But like Edgar Wallace, he faded into oblivion soon after his death. His distinctive world of jumbled pulp and esoteric was forgotten. No doubt, that was largely undeserved. James Bond is still widely popular, but few readers are aware that Wheatley’s Gregory Sallust Series had substantial influence on Ian Fleming. As The Guardian rightly points out, Fleming borrowed three major elements from Wheatley — sex, snobbery and sadism.

Dennis Wheatley fans will be delighted to know that Bloomsbury Reader, which offers a large selection of out-of-print ebooks, is re-publishing his books in print and ebook format. They have published 20 ebooks and three paperbacks (The Forbidden Territory, The Devil Rides Out, and To the Devil a Daughter) in the first lot and more will follow. Click here to get the complete list of Wheatley books available from Bloomsbury.

dennis wheatleyThis is the first time Wheatley’s books are available in digital format. For those of you who love e-books, this is great news. Also, a lot of old pulp books are hard to find these days, like those written by Seabury Quinn. I do hope that Bloomsbury re-publishes them too.

Dennis Wheatley’s titles are published by Bloomsbury Reader on 10th October 2013; eBook GBP RRP: £6.99, Paperback RRP: £7.99;

With the retro trends getting popular again, Wheatley’s second innings should be a successful one. Moreover, his novels are tailor made for Hollywood. Hammer Films made some fine movies based on his books (The Devil Rides Out is a cult classic), but special effects were hardly the strong points of those films. With the highly developed modern CGI, remake of The Devil Rides Out and other Wheatley movies can yield phenomenal box office results. Wheatley’s novels — replete with satanic rituals, diabolic corruptions and political machinations — can make incredibly dramatic scripts.

Welcome back ‘The prince of thriller writers”. Thanks again Bloomsbury.

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Memories Revisited: We Remember Seabury Quinn

Seabury Quinn

Who were the most popular writers of Weird Tales magazine? Most readers would name Robert E. Howard, H.P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. But we keep forgetting Seabury Quinn — the creator of the once incredibly popular occult detective Jules de Grandin.

Seabury Quinn The Devils BrideQuinn, a resident of Washington D.C., was a law graduate. He served in World War I and subsequently started his writing career as a pulp fiction writer. His early stories include Demons of the Night (published in Detective Story Magazine), Was She Mad, The Stone Image, and The Phantom Farmhouse. Quinn also worked as a government lawyer during World War II.

Quinn’s main claim to fame was, of course, Jules de Grandin. Interestingly, he was not the first to develop the concept of occult detective. Notable examples from the past include Sax Rohmer’s Morris Klaw (check out The Dream Detective), and Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence: Physician Extraordinary. However, Grandin simply smoked his predecessors to ashes in terms of popularity. Right from their first adventure together on Weird Tales — The Horror on the Links — Grandin and Trowbridge was a blockbuster hit with the readers. The occult detective turned out to be one of the most popular attractions of Weird Tales and this led to Quinn’s lifelong association with the magazine.

seabury quinn the adventures of jules de grandinQuinn’s work was even more popular than his iconic competitors like Howard and Lovecraft. He knew exactly what the readers wanted and dished out something unapologetically pulp and surprisingly non-repetitive with the right dose of sensuality. Also, he was Weird Tales’ most prolific writer by far.

You might try out The Complete Adventures of Jules de Grandin (Battered Box edition), but there is also a comprehensive 6 volume paperback series from Popular Library:

• The Adventures of Jules de Grandin,
• The Casebook of Jules de Grandin,
• The Hellfire Files of Jules de Grandin,
• The Horror Chambers of Jules de Grandin,
• The Skeleton Closet of Jules de Grandin.
• The Devil’s Bride (only Jules de Grandin novel)
The skeleton closet of Jules de Grandin Seabury Quinn
Quinn’s last pulp story was Master Nicholas (1965) published in The Magazine of Horror. He died in 1969, just a week before his 80th Birthday.

Unlike Lovecraft and Howard, Quinn has faded away from public memory. Jules de Grandin brought him fame and fortune, but he was also panned by the critics, who described his works as “undistinguished”, and “stereotyped”. Nonetheless, Quinn was enormously popular, and he is still a guilty pleasure for old school readers. His works are delightfully pulpish, but as Robert Weinberg points out, they are “best when taken in moderate doses.”

Seabury Quinn ebook free:

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Memories Revisited: Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet Magazine

Oriental stories magazine coverOriental stories magazine cover

Did you know that the legendary Weird Tales had an offshoot called Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet? Unlike Weird Tales, its companion magazine had a short run, but like its parent it reached a cult status among fans of pulp fiction.

The magazine was edited by Farnsworth Wright who was also in charge of Weird Tales. It was backed by the awesome writing force of WT, which included Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. The main focus of the magazine, as the name suggests, was fantasy and adventure tales of the east.

Oriental Stories, right from the beginning, struggled financially. It started as a bi-monthly magazine in 1930, but monetary issues made its publication highly irregular. At one point, it was revamped and launched with a new name — The Magic Carpet. However, the sales figures were still dismal and finally it became defunct in 1934. There were total nine issues of Oriental Stories and five issues of The Magic Carpet. Facsimile reprints of the magazine (Wildside Press) are available from Amazon.

Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet has become old man’s nostalgia.

The magic carpet magazine coverThe magic carpet magazine cover
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Classics & Cult Books / Down Memory Lane (Authors & Events) / Horror / Fantasy / SF / Reviews

Forgotten classic: La Morte Amoureuse by Théophile Gautier

theophile gautier la morte amoureuse

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) was a French poet, novelist, and critic who profoundly influenced French literature of his time. He was an ardent supporter of Romanticism and was blessed with fantastic poetic imagination. This is best exhibited in Gautier’s gothic fiction — La Morte Amoureuse (Clarimonde), The Mummy’s Foot, and Avatar to name a few. He was held in high esteem by prominent literary figures like Gustave Flaubert, Baudelaire, Balzac, and Oscar Wilde. Gautier was the director of Revue de Paris from 1851-1856.

La Morte Amoureuse is a classic Gothic vampire tale with numerous references to Orientalism. It delineates the story of a priest named Romuald, who is seduced by a beautiful woman — Clarimonde. With time, it becomes clear that Romuald’s beloved is a vampire, who thrives on his blood. While alive, she was a courtesan living in Palace Concini — a place of great debauchery. Romuald, however, lives with no regrets. He ends up being a two-face: a priest during day and a lover to an undead at night. Finally, an older priest becomes aware of the situation, digs out Clarimonde from her grave, and turns her to dust with holy water. Clarimonde comes back to Romauld one last time that night and tells him he would regret this all his life, but won’t get her back. The vampire’s prophecy turns out to be true as Romuald lives with a broken heart for the rest of his life.

This novella is an established classic and is bound to leave an impression on the lovers of gothic literature.

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Memories Revisited: We Remember Peter Haining (1940-2007)

Peter HainingFor those of us who are rooted in and sustained by an unforgivable passion for horror, terror, and black magic, the name Peter Alexander Haining carries a lot of weight.  This versatile dude (writer, journalist, and anthologist) delivered one after another knockout stuff — The Necromancers, The Black Magic Omnibus, Weird Tales anthologies, The Fantastic Pulps and lots more. If someone ever conducted a poll on the best editor of fantasy and occult books, Mr. Haining would simply whitewash his pals.

The Ghouls Peter HainingAs a kid, our favorite editor was deeply influenced by pulp magazines of his day, magazines that were replete with illustrations of brutal action and mesmerizing dames. His feverish imagination threw him into an intriguing maze of fantasy and horror, which affected him profoundly.

Haining began his career as a journalist in Essex and subsequently joined New English Library. At NEL he worked with Ian Fleming on a biography of James Bond. Perhaps, Fleming inspired him to come up with crime driven anthologies that he published for NEL. Haining went on to become the Editorial Director of the publishing house, but left NEL to pursue the career of a full-time writer and editor.

The editor launched NEL young writer of the year award, which was a big hit. Do you know it was Haining who spotted Philip Pullman and gave him a break? The Haunted Storm, Pullman’s first venture, was issued by Pete.

Weird tales Peter HainingWhy did Haining move into editing horror anthologies? Well, he thought that horror collections of his time were all blood and gore; the stories missed the ingredients of a good adventure novel. So he started with the idea of adding a new dimension to the concept of horror anthology. Also, he started the trend of adding a short author bio with all the stories he selected for his books.

Haining used some particular stories over and over in his books — this is one common allegation against the editor. He never denied it but pointed out that he re-used the stories years apart, which made sense because he was talking to an entirely new generation. I would like to add here that I’ve found plenty of rare and new treasures in Haining’s books. So he might be forgiven for being a bit repetitive.

People who knew Haining unanimously agree that he was an agreeable and friendly fella. He was the owner of a massive library of mystery fiction, and his knowledge of the genre was encyclopaedic. Haining admired Charles Dickens, whose contribution to crime fiction, he thought, is highly underrated.

The editor won The British Fantasy Award in 2001.

Peter Haining passed away on November 19 2007. He was a firm believer in ghosts. Let him be the Tsar of all pulp spirits.

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