Wednesday, 22 May 2019

MICK FARREN: SEX AND DRUGS, SF AND ROCK ‘N’ ROLL




MICK FARREN: 
SEX AND DRUGS, 
SF AND ROCK ‘N’ ROLL


 ‘NEVER ARE TYRANTS BORN OF 
ANARCHY. YOU SEE THEM FLOURISH 
ONLY BEHIND THE SCREEN OF LAW’ 
(Marquis de Sade)


 Retrospective Album Review of: 
‘MONA: THE CARNIVOROUS CIRCUS’ 
 by MICK FARREN 
(1970, Transatlantic Records TRA 212) 

Mick Farren knows the grammar and vocabulary of Rock. He knows the punctuation and the manifesto. He knows the language and the poses. He knows the structure and vernacular, the dialectics and the format. The voice isn’t strictly essential. Most of the greatest recordings of the Rock era were made by technically-imperfect artists. And Mick’s savvy enough to realise that an album lacking any pretention to strong melodic song-content needs the framing ramparts of a reliable fallback structure. Hence the opening (a Fragment) and closing (The Whole Trip) book-ends of Bo Diddley’s “Mona”. And the side-two opener of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”, which – according to Farren, was the first political song in the canon due to its line about ‘I called my Congressman, but he said Whoa, I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.’ These twin barricades shocked full of heavy myth and legend, surround the two ‘suites’ of found-fragments, spoken-word snapshots, docu-veritè sequences and choppy riffs.

The Who were also doing a bombastic “Summertime Blues”, for their ‘Live At Leeds’ double-album (recorded 14 February 1970). But Malcolm McLaren, who also knew his way around the Rock cartography, would contrive Sid Vicious into the June 1979 Top Ten with “C’Mon Everybody” from that same Eddie Cochran-Jerry Capehart writing team. Because Farren uses his grounding in Rock history to anticipate Punk, aligning with the stripped-down minimalist MC5, Stooges and Dictators against the more fey floral aspects of the hippie revolution. The fact that the Rolling Stones had already done a spine-shivering “Mona” on their debut album, which – it must be said, stands head-and-shoulders above this version, is not strictly relevant either. The titanium-plated Bo Diddley riff is an eternal truth that survives the rasping cello and the ‘c’mon Mona get it on… I’ve come here to ball with you’ that the album inflicts upon it.


When Farren uses the riff as the basis for an extended jam, especially on the side two album-closer – ‘This is the best part!’ he growls, he’s leaning on the improvisational dexterity of Johnny Gustafson on bass (spelled Gustavson), with a history extended back to Mersey-Beat pioneers Big Three and forward into Quatermass where he played alongside Pete Robinson who adds keyboard. Paul Buckmaster scores the cello. Victor ‘Sister George’ Gamm had engineered with Farren on the Deviants albums, so they had a functional working relationship, and lead guitarist/arranger Steve Hammond took and helped nudge Farren’s shambling concept into realisation. Twink is on drums, but there’s also percussionist Shagrat The Vagrant, a guise assumed by Steve Peregrin Took (Tolkien was still a secret code exchanged between initiates), who’d soon be on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as part of T Rex. Took takes vocals on “Observe The Ravens”, while during the brief improvisational “Society Of The Horsemen” he infiltrates the lyric-quote ‘it don’t feel good, ‘cos it was made out of wood’ from his own song “Steel Abortion”, later recorded by his Shagrat (with Farren and Larry Wallis).

This is an album that reeks of squats and crash-pads and drifts of intoxicating smoke, where revolutions are plotted in endless rambling conversations, and music is played at mind-shattering volume by what he terms ‘alcoholics, dope-fiends and poets’. It teases with intimations that something just might be happening here if only the encryption can be deciphered. As the rear-cover Marquis de Sade quote indicates, Mick Farren jackdawed across all manner of cult and sub-cult touchstones. From bourgeoning counter-culture journalism through to declamatory rabble-rousing contributions to a newly resurgent ‘New Musical Express’, from incendiary Yippie connections, to spin-off books collecting and sparking from his unique connections.

And Mick’s Deviants band were one of the original groups to work outside the capitalist music industry, by pioneering its own Indie releases. Debut album ‘Ptooff!’ (1967), as the Social Deviants, arrived on their own ‘Underground Impresarios’ label – IMP1, available through mail-order via ‘Oz’ and the like, before being picked up and reissued by Decca in 1969 (as LK-R 4993). It was followed in September 1968 by ‘Disposable’ on the equally-obscure Stable label (SLP 7001), even spawning a rare single, “You’ve Got To Hold On” c/w “Let’s Loot The Supermarket” (STA 5601). ‘Deviants 3’ in October 1969 – with its striking sleeve-art of a Nun sucking an ice-lolly, came through a link-up with Transatlantic (TRA 204), for which ‘Mona’ forms the next part of a promised three-album arrangement.


Although the Biker ‘X-spoitation’ movie illusion of the Hells Angels as an autonomous free-spirited outlaw tribe was somewhat dented by their brutal ‘policing’ of the Altamont Festival, it still exerts a fascination. The UK chapter was a pale imitation of its American progenitors, but Farren carried out interviews with London Angels, with one of those tape-voices fliched into “The Whole Thing Starts”. After an electronic surge and a hard electric kick borrowed from Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters hit “Money Honey”, the track is punctuated by ambient street-sounds. And it’s an uneasy mix of bragging anecdote that begins when ‘an Irishman nicked half of Loser’s gear after the police had raided the squat’ so they seek revenge by ‘kicking the shit’ out of him, he admits ‘I don’t know how he managed to run he was so beat-up’ as they pursue him down Shelton Street, at Covent Garden the Angel’s in their ‘colours’ are stopped and frisked by a Fuzz-jag, and restrained for carrying a razor they ‘whipped us in the station’ where the Angels were beaten-up. The album proudly sports the legend and logo ‘This Album Is Approved By Hells Angels M.C., East London’.

The other inexplicable hang-up, with the diametrical opposite to the hippie idyll, in the totalitarian evil of the Third Reich, manifests itself in the soft-focus red front-cover storm-trooper image lifted from Erwin Leiser’s ‘A Pictorial History Of Nazi Germany’ (1962, Pelican Books), overlaid with the silver ‘Mona’ logo designed by the ‘Ink Studios’ – ‘Think Ink’, as in the short-lived underground newspaper. The brooding-dark reverse-side photo of an enthroned Farren in dark-shades is effectively posed by Keith Morris.


Slipped from the inner sleeve, there’s a single vinyl black band across side one, with three clear bands across side two. With the clean white ‘T’ label, black lettering and mauve logo across the spindle-hole. While there’s Hendrix guitar and manic organ written all over the muddy jam “Observe The Ravens”, with what seem to be random chain-of-thought slogans, phrases from different voices, and stoned manic laughter thrown across it – ‘can you, can you, please explain… I don’t understand what’s going on’. Then the track adopts the narrative style of the noir radio power-drama spoofed so effectively by Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s “Big Shot” (on ‘Gorilla’, 1967), with a nod at pulp crime-novels, as the ‘maniac responsible’ for murdering Mrs Sarah Donaldson emerges, checks ‘a small silver tube’ surgically inserted up his nose ‘as a precaution against the dirt and pollution of the city air.’ The tale is not completed, or even developed far beyond this point, instead there’s a debt to Frank Zappa on the repetitive ‘Who Needs The Egg’ chant that closes the track.

Flipping the album over, into the second suite, following the sinister vocal “Don’t Talk To Me Mary”, the central “You Can’t Move Me” starts out acoustic as a Took conversation recounts his experience of time spent in Ashford Remand Centre where they were ‘generally obnoxious to me,’ and ‘if you’re a vegetarian all you get to eat was potatoes’. As a compressed ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ ‘unscrewing the screws’ forms a major distraction. “In My Window Box” starts as a riffing instrumental break leading into radio distortion, cut-up looped-voices in an artful found-sound tape-collage, midpoint between the Beatles “Revolution no.9” and Shadow Morton’s experimental Vanilla Fudge album ‘The Beat Goes On’ (February 1968, Atco SD 33-237), sampling voices from ‘Of The Cause Of Freedom’ to Lord Haw-Haw ‘Germany Calling’. Where the lines ‘his sergeant-major saw him die… when he died, we threw a blanket over him and left him’ came from are anyone’s guess, maybe a Vietnam TV-commentary? The slurred shouted “An Epitaph Can Point The Way” – ‘you don’t scare me, are you listening?’ is cut with an acoustic insert that even recalls the haunting earth-music of the Incredible String Band.


Occupying a central place in the emerging London counter-culture, the Deviants were there playing ‘The Fourteen-Hour Technicolour Dream’ at the Ally Pally, 29 April 1967, sharing the bill with Pink Floyd, Tomorrow, Flies and Soft Machine watched by an acid-stoned John Lennon. Recorded as the Deviants imploded, with its other members continuing in a refocused way as Pink Fairies, the ‘Mona’ album had a certain assurance of support from the underground press, with a positive review from ‘IT: International Times’, although its influence was negligible, and virtually incomprehensible outside of it. To ‘Melody Maker’ it was ‘badly-played rock and roll interspersed with documentary-type interviews with Hells Angels. One for sociologists.’ While a reissue in ‘Record Collector’ magazine comments ‘it’s difficult to know how much to take this album seriously. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on,’ says one of the numbers, to which one is tempted to nod assent.’

So is this a great lost album? Obviously not. What does it mean? Everything and nothing. A state of mind. Stoned games and pseudo-profound ideas that only partially work. But it is an audio collage, a unique artefact of a strange and volatile period of Rock evolution, with its roots firmly embedded in the past, yet voraciously wide open to future experimental forays into tomorrows that oft never happened.
 

MONA: THE CARNIVOROUS CIRCUS’ 
(Transatlantic Records TRA 212) 41:40-minutes Side One: ‘Mona (A Fragment)’ (3:15), ‘Carnivorous Circus Part 1’ (0:30 – total 15:19), ‘The Whole Thing Starts’ (2:32), ‘But Charlie It’s Still Moving’ (0:59), ‘Observe The Ravens’ (10:33), Society Of The Horseman’ (0:49). Side Two: ‘Summertime Blues’ (2:41), ‘Carnivorous Circus Part 2’ (0:53 – total 13:01), ‘Don’t Talk To Me Mary’ (2:26), ‘You Can’t Move Me’ (3:26), ‘In My Window Box’ (1:21), ‘An Epitaph Can Point The Way’ (4:57), ‘Mona (The Whole Trip)’ (7:25) Recorded at Sound Techniques, London, December 1969 Reissued on Psycho Records in 1984 (Psycho 20), and Esoteric Recordings in 2009 (ECLEC 2121)



Book Review of: 
‘THE SONG OF PHAID THE GAMBLER’ 
by MICK FARREN 
 (New English Libraries, October 1981, 
544-pages ISBN 978-0450053436, £1.75) 

‘Science Fiction, like Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll, or good whisky, is a hard thing to define in words’ he wrote in a vintage backdated ‘Fiesta’. Yet even earlier in his strange strange career-path Michael Anthony Farren got inoculated with a worn and rusty stylus by a heady concoction of cheap vinyl and pulp fantasies. And the contagions remain. When he was leading the Deviants, his anarchistic DIY hippie-band, he recorded the celebratory prophetic “Let’s Loot The Supermarket” on the same demented album as “Last Man” which was written – he told me, ‘after reading the Richard Matheson classic fantasy ‘I Am Legend’, and doing a lot of methedrine!!!’ It was the imperfect collision of two trash cultures, and he’s maintained that sleazy Rock/SF oscillation ever since. For every ‘NME’ column he filed on Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley or Nashville, there’s a short SF shot about urban cannibalism for ‘Oz’, or a novel-chapter for his ‘Texts Of Festival’ (1973) or ‘Protectorate’ (1984). For every track on his ‘Mona: The Carnivorous Circus’ (1970) solo album, each song he wrote for Hawkwind, Pink Fairies, Motorhead or Wayne (MC5) Kramer there’s a short SF for ‘Ad Astra’ magazine about a starship crewed by Gays, or a passage in his techno-‘Easy Rider’ ‘The DNA Cowboys’ trilogy (single volume, 2002).


Once he’d relocated to New York for subsequent album ‘Vampires Stole My Lunch Money’ (1978), and production credits for the likes of Vermillion (‘Ripped And Torn’) Sands, so – according to track record, some Science Fiction counterweight was required! Thus are we duly delivered ‘The Song Of Phaid The Gambler’, an elaborate phantasmagoria of a novel that looks to be his strongest commercial blast to date in either of his multiple disciplines. The fiction-format he assembles is neither vastly original or overly complex, hardly the ‘first truly post-twentieth-century Fantasy Epic’ boasted by the blurb. He takes a custom-built lacerated landscape – a post-holocaust Earth zebra-striped with alternating temperature-zones of deep freeze glaciation to furnace-heat deserts. He peoples it with devolved city-states of decadent humans, malfunctioning androids, subhuman Boohooms, telepathic dogs, super-human Elaihim, and mutated animal species… then garnishes it all with a lethal cocktail of odd hallucinogenics, gymnastic kinky sex, and streetwise humour. The catalyst and narrative element is fed in by Phaid himself, a Maverick-style pro gambler who travelogues it all. Bounced between shifting permutations of nasties, dragged through revolution and drugged through copulatory pyrotechnics, harassed across a variety of cinematic scenarios by the often indistinguishable forces of law and organised crime, as well as by a psionic would-be messiah. 

Although the biro-technique is strictly functional, and the plotting tenuous – and even that shot through with an overkill of wild coincidence, it is a rapid-switch novel that carries you effortlessly through its hefty page-length with no lasting damage to the nervous system. The direct Rock references are minimal – unlike ‘The Texts Of Festival’, in which a future-world of radioactive barbarism reveres salvaged Rock records as mystic revelation and the final massacre is enacted to the backdrop soundtrack of the Doors “The End”, or his ‘The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys’ (1976) in which the ‘home of the blue-scaled whores’ is named Dogbreath after an ancient Frank Zappa title, and a Bob Dylan clone called ‘Minstrel Boy’ acts as linkman. The only reference I can pick up clear through Phaid’s directionless ramblings is a gambling den called ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, but the style is imprinted subliminally. The characters range from Street Hoodlums and Youth Gangs spieling ghetto argot, to thinly disguised Groupies, phony Guru’s, hustlers, Western Movie and Rock stereotypes, all scrambled through narcotic vistas and superfast action. To paraphrase the writer himself, ‘Phaid’ is a hard thing to define in words, if it’s not exactly over-endowed with literary kudo’s then you gotta concede that it DOES set the diodes twitching pleasurably. It IS fun, and it does you no harm.


Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Book Excerpt: SLY STONE meets DORIS DAY



SLY STONE MEETS DORIS DAY 

 DORIS DAY, who was one of the 1950s biggest stars, died 13 May 2019. 
It seems a bizarre confrontation  SLY STONE and DORIS DAY
Yet this is the story of their meeting, as recounted in my book 
'DON'T CALL ME NIGGER, WHITEY: 
SLY STONE AND BLACK POWER'



Sly Stone was Rock royalty. The Prince of Superfly. He was a star. He hung out with stars. Stars like Richard Pryor. Stars like Redd Foxx. And stars from other, higher constellations. Fortuitously, Pat Rizzo’s uncle owned ‘Jilly’s Jazz Club’ in New York. It was there, one night, that Rizzo was able to introduce Sly to Frank Sinatra. Posterity does not record what Ole Blue Eyes made of the encounter.

Terry Melcher was a young, hip, well-connected West Coast scenester, an industry apparatchik, a friend of Brian and Dennis Wilson, a colleague of the high-flying Byrds. As staff-producer for Columbia Records he – and his mother, were destined to be drawn into Sly’s circle too. He was the son of fifties star Doris Day by her second husband – musician Al Jorden, although Terry took the surname of her third husband Martin Melcher. Terry was born 8th February 1942 in New York City, and made his debut as a singer, cutting several solo sides for Columbia as ‘Terry Day’. When they failed to make waves, he moved behind the mixing desk instead, shifting his attentions to production with greater results, turning out a string of moderate hits in the sun-surf genre for artists as unlikely as Pat Boone and Wayne Newton, then for the Rip Chords, and – with future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, as ‘Bruce & Terry’. But it was his work buffing and tweaking eight best-selling albums for Paul Revere & The Raiders, and then five for the Byrds, that established him as a name and a fixture in his own right.


Sly and Terry met through (Sly's manager) David Kapralik’s industry contacts. It was obvious. David had known Melcher, and stayed over at his Malibu home when he was in Hollywood. Sly and Melcher shared a mutual passion for autos, music, and hedonism. Sly had a collection of seventeen cars, including a low-slung one-seater yellow-and-black 1936 Cord, customised by the insertion of one huge fluffy pillow to serve as passenger-seating. He also had a Lamborghini – which was later confiscated by the IRS, and his big thirty-six-foot Winnebago motorhome. Even though whenever he did serious travelling he was chauffeured in stretch limousines! Terry lived in Beverly Hills, renting 10050 Cielo Drive, an enormous mansion with an immaculately manicured lawn. It was there he hosted A-List parties for the hippermost of the LA hip. And it was there, when mother Doris happened to be staying over, that the ‘Last American Virgin’ accidentally found herself in the same music-room as the notorious Sly Stone.

The one-time Doris von Kappelhoff, born in Cincinnati in 1924, had been a child star since the age of twelve, starting out as a dancer, until an autowreck forced her switch to singing. She’d then been a radio and dance-band singer during the forties, fending off the predatory advances of musicians while touring in the big-band era – and an American ‘forces favourite’ with her easy-listening 1945 record “Sentimental Journey”. Her film debut came in 1948, replacing Betty Hutton who had pulled out of ‘Romance On The High Seas’, and from there she went on to star in a series of chirpy Warner Brothers movie musicals such as ‘Lullaby Of Broadway’ (1951), the light comedy-Western ‘Calamity Jane’ (1953), and as a strong independent shop steward in ‘The Pyjama Game’ (1957), which all capitalised on the freckled peanut-butter girl-next-door cuteness she so effortlessly oozed. There was potent on-screen chemistry enlivening her romantic comedies with Rock Hudson too, their engaging arguments over sharing a telephone party-line lead to amorous entanglements in ‘Pillow Talk’ in 1959, making her an even more massive star. Later, her 1964 success with ‘Move Over Darling’ brought her back into the charts and renewed her celebrity for the new generation. But behind the image, all was less than sunshine. Her seventeen-year marriage to manager/ agent Martin Melcher – credited as co-producer of ‘Pillow Talk’, among other of her movies, ended in tears. A strict Christian Scientist, he’d over-controlled and stymied her career, and when he died in 1968 she discovered he’d also mismanaged and embezzled some $20-million of her money. Also that he’d mistreated her son, Terry.


By 1973 – when Funk briefly intersected her life, she’d quit movies after turning down the role of Mrs Robinson in ‘The Graduate’ (1967), claiming ‘I never retired, I just did something else’. But as she came down the sweeping stairs in her stretch-slacks and loose marine-blue blouse-top, and entered the music-lounge of Terry’s lavish Hollywood mansion, there at the piano sat a star-struck Sly Stone. He instantly began picking out the tune of “Que Sera Sera” on the keyboard and – turning on his still finely-honed charm, told her how much he loved her recording of the song. ‘I told her ‘siddown girl’’ explains Sly, ‘I showed off, she liked that. Yeah, she’s very aware. She’s very wise’. She joined Sly, part-singing and part-humming along as he played, just as she’d shared a piano-stool duet with Frank Sinatra in their ‘Young At Heart’ movie. She was famously ungrand, and a natural comedienne, but knew how to play the star when it amused her to do so. For Sly, who was struggling with the same equation, her playful artifice amused him. Her conversation was littered with elements of her blonde ditzy screen persona, she’d use an affected ‘darn it’ or a tongue-in-cheek ‘for gosh’s sake’. She referred to herself as ‘Dodo’, while things she approved of tended to be ‘darling’. Sly also saw himself as a mimic, affecting a posh English movie-accent when it amused him.


Although it went well, and both movie star and funk star were mutually charmed, the coincidental meeting only happened once. But as soon as word leaked out into the Hollywood community, ballooning rumours immediately exaggerated the unlikely encounter. Their meeting was soon hyper-inflated into an affair. Especially when it emerged that Sly was recording his own version of her most famous song. And he seemed to enjoy the mystification. At a time when Captain Kirk’s interracial kiss with Uhuru on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise – in the ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’ ‘Star Trek’ episode, sent shockwaves through the television networks, Sly seemed amused by the very idea that such an outrageous liaison could have been consummated. Teasingly, although based on little evidence, and with no continuation, he refused to either confirm or deny the rumour. Even decades later, the question still surfaces in chat-room dialogue. Did they, or didn’t they? While Doris would charismatically go on to enchant future generations, with even George Michael celebrating a love that ‘shines brighter than Doris Day’ on his Wham hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.


An excerpt from my book...
www.amazon.co.uk/Dont-Call-Me-Nigger-Whitey/dp/1909849057/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=Andrew+Darlington+Sly+Stone+Book&qid=1558445015&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull


Saturday, 27 April 2019



FROM GENE KELLY… 
TO BILLY ELLIOT 
 (another idea stolen from Adrian Henri) 


(Movement: The First)
I got ants in my pants & I want to dance,
I want to tap-dance the entire Quran in morse-code & transmit it
around the world as the danceable solution to Islamic revolution,
I want to Dance To The Music Of Time, to the music of the spheres,
to the frantic fandango of electrons in the core of the atom,
I want to foxtrot through constellations of fireflies,
trip the light fantastic around the rings of Saturn,
and lindy-hop to the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band,
I want to Riverdance emotional motion down the Humber
all the way to Spurn Point and then all the way back again,
I want to Danse Macabre like Michael Jackson in ‘Thriller’
I want to shake it like Elvis Presley in ‘Viva Las Vegas’,
I want to face the music and dance like Fred Astaire
& sometimes hoof the boards like Ginger Rodgers too
but no, not like Patrick Swayze in ‘Dirty Dancing’,
I want to bunny-hop while Flying Down To Rio,
I want to jitterbug the night away on Tony Blair’s grave,
I want to lead you in a pretty St Vitus Dance as we
pas de deux in a montage of choreographed shoplifting
CCTV’d all the way through the White Rose centre
from the north entrance to the south exits… on ice,
I want to trance-dance off my face at Manumission,
I want rave in dubstep, cut a rug, minuet, saraband,
pirouette myself Dervish-dizzy, despite Health & Safety issues,
swing to the Tyburn jig, gavotte to the funky Mashed Potato,
I want to do the Gay Gordons, then Charleston as they did
on the Titanic, & black-bottom into that last terminal sunset…


(Movement: The Second)
I got angst in my pants, I was born to dance,
to use my body as a poem, to turn a heel as I turn a phrase,
for rhythm is the primal sensation, tempo the original myth,
the dance from which all dances come,
there in time-warp with Cro-Magnons invoking dead ancestors,
there with Neanderthals conjuring prey in skull-mask & body-paint,
in antlered fertility-ritual in white forest-groves beneath the moon,
driving through 1927 Nice in an open-top car with Isadora Duncan,
pirouetting naked for Sergei Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes
swirling in Bacchic terpsichorean frenzy to ‘The Rite Of Spring’
in war-dance, sword-dance, rain-dance, temple-dance,
with Salome veiled in only her thong at the pole dance club,
I want to dance like Billy Elliot through striking miners
if there were any miners left to strike,
I want to rhumba in a sports-car & Be-Bop the Blues,
I want to dance in the dark & shimmy my tush,
I want to body-pop on YouTube
in a clip that goes viral around the world,
I want to dance into your bed,
I want to dance into your heart,
I want to dance into your life,
I want to dance…



From my book:
‘TWEAK VISION: THE WORD-PLAY 
SOLUTION TO MODERN-ANGST CONFUSION’ 
Alien Buddha Press (USA – March 2018)
art by Karen Smithey
http://www.ksmitheyart.com/?fbclid=IwAR2utQiXdRTdhWhIQm0K_drJV5ymog7BM_7vnGWxSb271biaB_hcbcKT2dU

Thursday, 25 April 2019

SF Magazines: 'TALES OF WONDER' Britain's First-Ever SF Magazine




TALES OF WONDER: 
 ‘THE IMPATIENT DREAMERS’ 

 The first real Science Fiction magazine to be produced 
 in the UK was ‘Tales Of Wonder’. It survived for 
 sixteen big pulp issues before it became a casualty – 
 not of extraterrestrial forces, but of World War II…



WHEN WILL BRITAIN HAVE 
ITS OWN FANTASY MAGAZINE? 

It all begins an unbelievably long time ago, in a strangely different barely recognizable England. This is the story, and these are the tales of ‘Tales Of Wonder’, Britain’s first-ever proper grown-up Science Fiction magazine. We, who routinely accept the fantastic envisioned for us by digital technologies unimaginable at the time, can have little real conception of what that means.

Terry Jeeves, long-term SF-artist and activist remembers ‘I came across the first issue of ‘Tales Of Wonder’ when, as a teenager on holiday, I passed the newsagent’s window where the copy was displayed, I passed the window several times before deciding this might be the same stuff as my beloved copies of ‘Astounding’, ‘Amazing’ and ‘Wonder Stories’. That was July 1937, the mag cost me a shilling…’ (in his ‘Erg’ fanzine). At that time, newsagents displays were awash with thick text-heavy magazines. There were story-papers for boys and girls. Glossy movie fan-mags with news and pin-up photo-spreads. Fiction magazines aimed at women. Fiction adventure-magazines for men embracing western exploits, war stories, crime detection, and the heroic derring-do of explorers. They also occasionally include supernatural or fantastic elements. But no specific title devoted to Science Fiction, and an impression – first, that SF was already a thing of the past. Hadn’t HG Wells exhausted all available themes barely thirty years earlier? And the contrasting impression gained from imported American pulps that SF was a tasteless juvenile ‘Buck Rogers’ fad, compounded by a passing familiarity with Edgar Rice Burroughs outlandish planetary fantasies. SF was something not worthy of a publisher’s serious consideration.

In America things were different. With the launch of ‘Amazing Stories’ in April 1926, Hugo Gernsback invented the Science Fiction magazine as we recognize the species. It, and the titles that followed – the ‘Astounding’ and ‘Wonder Stories’ beloved of Terry Jeeves, irregularly filtered across the Atlantic, where they were hunted down by enthusiasts in Woolworths dump-bins. But Britain was slow to respond with a title of its own. There was a halfhearted shot from Pearsons – called ‘Scoops’, which miscalculated by targeting a juvenile readership, and survived for twenty issues from February 1934. Its perceived failure made publishers even more wary of repeating the mistake.


It was ‘not until 1937, when the British magazine ‘Tales of Wonder’ began to cultivate this restricted field.’ Editor Walter ‘Wally’ Gillings, in his own modest way, was a visionary. Beginning back ‘in the days before the world had heard of Wernher von Braun or Konstantin Tsiolkovsy, the concept of space-travel was derided by all but the readers and writers of science fiction’ he observes when writing the introduction to John Wyndham’s collection ‘Wanderers Of Time’ (Coronet, 1973). Born on Monday 19 February 1912 in Ilford, Essex, he graduated from avidly devouring the ‘Boy’s Magazine’ and ‘Nelson Lee Library’ story-papers until – as a sixteen-year-old office-boy cub-reporter for the ‘Ilford Recorder’, he was seduced away by his discovery of the March 1927 ‘Amazing Stories’ with its garish Frank R Paul cover. That four-pence purchase turned his head around. From that moment he became a lifelong fanatically active SF-devotee, and one of the founding fathers of UK fandom. To Michael Ashley he ‘must surely be numbered among the very earliest of British fans, with his letters to ‘Amazing’ in its formative years’ (in ‘The History Of The Science Fiction Magazine Part Two 1936-1945’, New English Library, 1975).

In those beginning days, the SF community had a homely family feel to it. It was small enough that everybody knew, and influenced everyone else. There were two gravitational centres exerting a force sufficient to gather accretion discs of fans, the ‘British Science Fiction Association’ launched in 1937, which allowed fans to discover one another, and before it, the ‘British Interplanetary Society’. Through a small-ad placed in the ‘Ilford Recorder’ Gillings had set up the pioneering ‘Ilford Science Literary Circle’ fan-group, which held meetings from October 1930. Shortly afterwards, the founding of the ‘British Interplanetary Society (BIS)’ in Liverpool 18 October 1933 introduced Eric Frank Russell to Leslie Johnson, and would provide a launch-pad for young Arthur C Clarke’s spectacular trajectory.

It also brought Gillings into contact with Philip Cleator and William F Temple, while enabling him to became the man who furnished that same Arthur C Clarke with his first typewriter. At the time, Clarke not only wrote for ‘Amateur Science Stories’ fanzine, but helped cut the duplicator-stencils too. The fanzine’s first issue includes Temple’s “Mr Craddock’s Lifeline” under his Temple Williams alias. Gillings also produced a sixteen-page digest-size printed fanzine of his own – ‘Scientifiction: The British Fantasy Review’ which debuted January 1937 – ‘in an almost desperate attempt to evoke a response to its plaintive appeal ‘When Will Britain have Its Own Fantasy Magazine?’.’ A professional-looking journal of SF news and comment, ‘Scientifiction’ survived for six issues until March 1938 when it merged with Douglas Mayer’s ‘Tomorrow’. By then a journalist by profession, Gillings admits ‘I didn’t particularly want to write SF, although in those days I had no doubts about my capacities. Unaccountably, in one so callow, I had set my heart on becoming a magazine editor rather than a writer.’ It was a ‘hazy literary aspiration’ that distilled down into ‘a single burning ambition.’


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THE LURE OF SCIENCE FICTION 

Complete with a home-stapled mock-up sample, he hawked proposals for a specialist pro SF magazine around various publishers, including Odhams – who prevaricated, until he approached World’s Work, a subsidiary of Heinemann’s book publishers. Their director, a large bewhiskered Henry Chalmers Roberts cautiously commissioned a trial-issue, as part of their Master Thriller series – which had already produced ‘Tales Of Mystery And Detection’ and ‘Tales Of Terror’. The company, who had their own press in Kingswood, Surrey, first specified an 80,000-word text-content, while imposing a low ten-shillings and sixpence per-thousand-word pay-scale limit. American magazines paid quadruple that rate – ‘yes, there were ‘new waves’ even then – at twenty-five cents a ripple!’, which may have discouraged some less-enthused local would-be writers.


In the eventuality ‘when the magazine got going, I received a flat payment for the material which enabled me to offer a trifle more than reprint rates for new material and retain a balance sufficient to recompense me for my work as editor.’ But it was enough. Gillings and his writers were less motivated by the lure of wealth and fame, as by their missionary enthusiasm for disseminating the genre they loved, the zeal of a religious cult – or the Apple elitist vision of a shiny new techno-future. Editing ‘Tales Of Wonder’ would never be more than a spare-time job which filled most of his off-duty hours, especially at weekends, but ‘we were in deadly earnest about science fiction and its ‘mission’,’ he writes in his first “The Impatient Dreamers” column for ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ (August 1969).

The tentative launch issue – ‘and what a kick it gave me to see it on the newsstands!’, grabbed attention with a vivid cover depicting two armoured giants busily decimating London. The story it illustrates –“Superhuman”, tells of two babies mutated into giants by regular serum-injections. Their reign of terror finally brought to a halt when they’re transmuted into stone. The by-line ‘Geoffrey Armstrong’ is the first of John Russell Fearn’s multiple pseudonyms, a guise devised by Gillings from Fearn’s mother’s maiden name. It’s a subterfuge made necessary because later in the same issue “Seeds From Space” appears under Fearn’s own real name. It has Martian weed covering Earth and a weird scientist with a paralyzing ray. Things look grim until it’s discovered that the weed acts as a deflection against a terrible meteor storm, after which it dissolves into powder. The Martian scientist kindly un-paralyses everyone before returning home. Elsewhere in the issue, Halifax writer WP (Wilfred Philip) Cockcroft – his name misprinted as Cockroft, was known as a writer who’d previously appeared in ‘Scoops’ ‘when it tried to cater for its more mature readers.’ His “Revolt On Venus” saw adventurers set off for the Moon, only to miss it, and get almost to Mars before they’re captured by Venusian robots. Abducted to Venus, they smash the air machines, turn off the robots and escape home. Previously rejected by potential rival magazine ‘Fantasy’ – who didn’t much care for a girl volunteering for the space-trip, the story benefitted from a generous Gillings rewrite.

 “Man Of The Future” by one-time policeman and sometime-clerk Festus Pragnell concerns an experiment with glands that creates intelligent animals and a superhuman, leaving the reader to imagine the outcome. Born in Stourport and bizarrely named after the Roman general who presided over the trial of St Paul, Pragnell was part of that first English invasion to infiltrate the American pulps. Initially it had been necessary to rely on experienced-author RF Starzl to extensively rewrite his “The Venus Germ” to bring it into line with the expectations of ‘Wonder Stories’ (November 1932), but once established he flew solo for subsequent sales. And he has a second story in that first ‘Tales Of Wonder’, “Monsters Of The Moon” as by ‘Francis Parnell’, which sees our hero set off to save his girlfriend from bounding Lunar creatures, as well as a giant snake. In the process, he discovers a lake of ice, which makes him wealthy enough to marry.

Later, Pragnell’s “The Essence Of Life” in no.4 uses the familiar device of the discovered-manuscript or diary, allowing that the story might just be the confabulation of an unstable mind. It relates how Joseph Hammond, a lecturer on economics and social organisation, is selected as test subject and spokesperson for his race by Planco and Kareem, giant red-headed Jovians. Again, the story closes open-ended, by posing the conundrum should Earth accept global peace and longevity, at the price of benign rule by alien ‘Masters’? Despite receiving the ultimate accolade from no less a Master than HG Wells, who wrote a letter to Pragnell praising his “Green Man Of Kilsona” which was serialized in issues of ‘Wonder Stories’ (July-September 1935), Pragnell nevertheless eventually became disenchanted with SF, and turned to writing more Earth-based adventure yarns. Today, he’s largely forgotten.


Eric Frank Russell, although born in Sandhurst, Surrey – 6 February 1905, was then living in Liverpool’s Bootle area as a Commercial Traveler. He introduces a touch of humour into that debut package with “Prr-r-eet” – reader-voted the issue’s best story, detailing an encounter with a Weinbaum-style alien. Then, in “Invaders From the Atom” by Maurice G Hugi, dwellers on an electron world expand to invade Earth, but are defeated by relativity. The story was ‘as much my creation as his’ claims Gillings. Maurice Gaspard Hugi of Folkestone is remembered as ‘a brave trier who found in ‘Scoops’ his first real opportunity,’ and would reappear in ‘Tales Of Wonder no.7’ documenting how he’d fallen into ‘The Lure Of Science Fiction’ – ‘the glimpse it gives into the future, and seeing that future come true as today’s fantastic dream becomes tomorrow’s fact.’ As ‘a natural storyteller, he was handicapped when it came to writing for an adult readership, and finally found his niche in the juvenile market’ as Gillings explains.

But it was John Beynon – the future literary superstar John Wyndham, who Gillings was most anxious to enlist. And finally there was his “The Perfect Creature”, which had already appeared as “The Female Of The Species” in ‘Argosy’… and would later reappear in ‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’ (January 1953). ‘I almost had to steal it from him’ recalls Gillings, ‘he was so reluctant to part with it, only because he considered it below standard.’

There’s a tangible sense of excitement permeating that first issue, supercharged by those ‘small step for a man’ anticipations of blazing new trails, opening up new possibilities, boldly going where British SF had never gone before. There’s tactile magic in running fingers over the rough-paper surface of these pages even now. And when the trial issue hit the sales bull’s-eye – ‘or came close enough to it to qualify in the contest,’ a quarterly publication schedule was green-lighted. The second issue leads off with something of a scoop. In ‘a charitable act’ Beynon offered the magazine the chance to premier “Sleepers Of Mars” – the sequel to his 1936 novel ‘Stowaway To Mars’. Illuminated by ‘Nick’ Nicholson’s brash cover-splash, it relates the adventures of a Russian spaceship’s crew, marooned on the dying Red Planet. Although this was a new tale, for future issues, earlier Wyndham tales that had appeared in Gernsback’s ‘Wonder Stories’ were so suited to the magazine’s purpose that they would be added to the reprint quota.


From the beginning, the ever-reliable John Russell Fearn was there, deluging Gillings with previously-rejected manuscripts from everywhere. So naturally he was present in that second issue too, with a comparatively slight tale of a journey “Though Earth’s Core”, for which he adopts a lighter touch than usual. Mining engineer Dudley Sykes meets colourful inventor-genius Fortescue Merriweather who has built experimental neutronic-powered boring vessel ‘Subterrania’, their trip – including a glimpse into an octopoidal Pellucidar, nevertheless anticipates Barrington J Bayley’s relativistic mind-stretcher “The Radius Riders” (‘Science Fiction Adventures’ no.27, July 1962), if on a more modest level. Later, his “The Man Who Stopped The Dust” in no.8 is truly one of those curious ‘thought variants’ the pulps used to announce as ‘The Strangest Tale You’ll Ever Read’. Written as ‘an attempt to show that some imperfections are necessary, if the world is to survive’, inventor Professor Boris Renhard is accidentally killed by his own vibrator’s ‘negative energy’ beam which eliminates dust from the air. His friend and only-confidant Dr John Anderson is consigned to an asylum cell for his murder, as the machine continues its dust-extraction, spreading its effect around ‘a suddenly changed world’. The sky is no longer blue, Vacuum Cleaner companies go out of business, crystal-clarity enables new astronomical discoveries, as ‘death famine and pestilence were rife’. It’s only due to solicitor’s clerk Samuel Brown, and an Anderson released from manservant Gaston’s vengeful scheming, that the process is halted and reversed. Dust now gathers along those aging spines of the issues of ‘Tales Of Wonder’.


There again, too, is Maurice G Hugi, with a tale about a man with “Super-Senses”. Injected with an experimental sense-intensifying serum Roger Alderson finds the amplified senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing intolerable – as in Roger Corman’s movie ‘X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes’ (1963). Effectively extreme, and chillingly written, Alderson is later found dead on Hampstead Heath. Hugi’s “Creature Of Eternity” in no.7 also employs reassuringly recognizable English settings as two hikers, exploring the Mendips, seek shelter from a storm in a Silurian limestone cave. Once trapped inside, ‘an overpowering sense of evil, an aura of abysmal horror, swept through the cave like the steamy, fetid breath of some miasmic jungle swamp’ – plundering the Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith thesaurus for its vocabulary, as they release the gelatinous Thrug, suspended five-hundred-million-years on its black obsidian altar. As Mind-slaves of this Master of Thought they are forced to carry it to the Bristol Channel where it intends to reproduce, but – trapped between naked sunlight and depth-pressure, the ‘awful Thing from the Past’ perishes.

Benson Herbert, ‘who had been squeezed out of the first issue’, contributes “Invaders From Venus” which, despite its excessive verbiage, poses valid questions about contact between worlds. The suspect motives of the Venusians provoke terrorist retaliations, security crackdowns and a paranoid media storm, with Professor Murdock as its central ‘Quatermass’ figure. Even as previously-warring nations pool their resources to meet the supposed threat, and the aliens sink beneath the Irish Sea, the questions posed remain tantalizingly unresolved. Herbert was a scientist from Wallsend-on-Tyne, born 16 May 1912 (he died 21 April 1991). Gillings had already reviewed his novel ‘Crisis! – 1992’ (Richards Press, 1936) in the launch issue of his ‘Scientifiction’. With his own Paraphysical Laboratory and UFO Observatory in the heart of the New Forest, and a passion for Emily Bronte, he alone among Britain’s contributors to SF magazines could boast a degree in science, ‘but he never did’. And William F Temple, made his professional debut with “Lunar Lilliput”, in which he looks forward to the British Interplanetary Society financing the first trip to our companion world. ‘On Earth’s Satellite They Found A New-Born Race Of Tiny Creatures – Mankind In Miniature!’ There’s occasional silliness, it features Larn – the last Lunarian of the Gend race, his demise brought about by the arrival of Temple’s gender-mixed Interplanetarian crew into this ‘Alice In Wonderland gone crazy’ Moon. But it proved to be a well-received addition to that second issue.


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SEEKERS OF TOMORROW 

Magazine stories provide a wonderful forum and apprenticeship for writers, a forcing-house to sharpen and develop new talent. Gillings had a clear focus on the type of story-fuel he planned to use to steer his magazine towards the stars. There had not been an SF magazine published on these isles before. It was a new face on the newsagent’s display. He guesstimated that people would be uncertain what to expect. So stories should be hardcore enough for the initiated, but accessible to a reading public as yet unused to some of the more extreme notions bounced around the American pulps. Responding to a letter from future-‘New Worlds’ editor Edward J Carnell he argues the magazine ‘is specially designed to appeal to the reader who is not accustomed to the more ‘advanced’ specimens of science fiction, as published by the American magazines, as well as to interest experienced readers… we hope to be able to satisfy the tastes of both types of reader.’ He was happy to sacrifice startling originality in favour of a readability sharp enough to catch the interest of a readership wide enough to underwrite survival.

But, as well as discovering and showcasing new British writing talent, ‘Tales Of Wonder’ would further serve to stimulate the imaginations and ambitions of younger fans who interact through the reader’s pages. An advertisement tucked away on page 39 invites readers to become acquainted with Gillings’ fanzine ‘Scientifiction’. While youthful readers, previously isolated in their enthusiasms, were discovering each other, using the magazine as a hub around which to link up, forming what was to become fandom with its own ‘internet’ of fanzines, its own codes and language. The editor also astutely ran reader’s contests for SF-related essays. Among the prizewinners was a young Kenneth Bulmer (in no.12)!


Leslie Joseph Johnson was born in the Seaforth area of North Liverpool 18 May 1914, and – as with many of his generation from Terry Jeeves to Gillings himself, he discovered SF through Woolworth’s cheap ‘remainders’ bin of ‘Amazing Stories’ imports. And through the March 1931 ‘Amazing’ letters-column he contacted John Russell Fearn who lived a little way up the coast in Blackpool. They collaborate on a never-published HG Wells-derived time-travel story. After which fan-activist Johnson co-founded the British Interplanetary Society with Philip Cleator in October 1933 (as a result of a letter in ‘The Liverpool Echo’), where history repeated itself. A Johnson letter in ‘Amazing’ attracted the attention of Eric Frank Russell, and another fruitful alliance was forged. Russell wrote a story called “Eternal Rediffusion” from an idea supplied by Johnson (much later published by Philip Harbottle’s ‘Fantasy Booklet’, 1973), then Russell rewrote the earlier Fearn collaboration as “Seeker Of Tomorrow”, published under the joint Eric Frank Russell and Leslie J Johnson byline it appears in ‘Astounding Stories’ (July 1937). Eric Frank Russell went on to become a major genre star pointed up by his ‘Sinister Barrier’ (1951) and ‘Dreadful Sanctuary’ (1953).

After supporting and contributing to Russell’s pre-war writing, Leslie Johnson himself wrote “Satellites Of Death” which appears in the third issue of ‘Tales Of Wonder’. Setting his tale rich in Wirral detail, inventor William Grant conceals murder by blasting his victim into orbit, then follows him, haunted by guilt and remorse. Like other fictional characters of his time, Grant has his own observatory, mansion and manservant. In the immediate post-war year Leslie Johnson went on to launch ‘Outlands’ – ‘The Magazine For Adventurous Minds’, dated Winter 1946, priced at just one-shilling and sixpence, published from his home address 16 Rockville Road Liverpool 14. There was only ever to be a single issue, despite its generously-filled forty-four pages of John Russell Fearn (“Pre-Natal”), the first appearance of Sydney J Bounds (“Strange Portrait”), veteran writer George C Wallis (“Rival Creators”), an HG Wells obituary (he’d died 13 August 1946), and a stirring editorial manifesto, ‘let us venture forth together into the Outlands of Thought, throwing off the shackles of pre-conceived notions and insidious propaganda, and see where we really stand. We will seek the Truth whatever it may be, and by these means find a way to a better Future.’ That future would have to wait, for a time, at least. And Leslie Johnson continued to work tirelessly promoting the genre through the British Interplanetary Society and its related fandom.


Meanwhile, ‘an argumentative but genial ‘commercial’ (writer), Eric Frank Russell made liberal use of a quality all too rare in SF – genuine humour’ asserts Gillings. His “Prr-r-eet” was followed by “The World’s Eighth Wonder” in no.3. In vivid contrast to the dull functional dialogue in tales by some other writers, the sharp repartee here is full of character and wit. Using an American setting, the Martian ‘hairship’ sets down in Cyrus K Murdoch’s hillbilly meadow. He senses ‘Rushins! Blinking Rushins!’ while companion Jake Anderson senses profit, charging admission, setting up turnstiles, a Big Top and full carnival razzamatazz around the unfortunate visitors from Mars. They settle the question of Martian canals – broad paths of vegetation, and the common origins of ‘your kind and mine’ in the Alpha Centauri system, but are confused by jingoistic nationalist rivalries. Wary of Earth’s history of warfare, the Martians decide on a ‘divorce upon grounds of incompatibility’, and promptly skedaddle.

Russell is there again in no.12 where his “I, Spy!”, is ‘one of the best original tales I was privileged to publish.’ Even though the illustration by Manchester artist Harry Turner was printed upside-down! Russell successfully fuses vivid imagination with sly character-humour as Spiro The Spy, the Martian Mimic, becomes a rabbit, a truculent sheep, a sheepdog, then a shepherd! The baffled local police are dumbfounded by electrocution-deaths in ‘an oil-illuminated cottage a full seven miles from the nearest power lines,’ and follow the trail of murders, disappearances and duplicate-sightings all the way to a Greek chemist in Balham, the Battersea Power Station and a spectacular Music Hall illusionist show. Selected by Mike Ashley for his ‘The Best Of British SF1’ (1977, Futura), ultimately the shape-shifter is destroyed by a deluge of water as his opalescent space-egg prepares to return him to Mars. With his abilities, he could have flown free, but there are no birds of Mars!


Charles F Hall contributes a remarkable ‘Counterclock-world’ short story to no.3 – “The Man Who Lived Backwards”, in which Nicolai Rostof is jolted out of normal time by a massive electrical overload so that, for him ‘time was reversed, and all things with it.’ The theme of time-in-reverse would be used by Philip K Dick, Martin Amis (‘Time’s Arrow’, 1991) and in passages of startling beauty in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ (1969), much of which happens here first as Rostof is caught up in reverse-rainfall, watches birds fly backwards and a workman regurgitate a sandwich which reforms bite by bite. While elsewhere in the issue, HO Dickinson’s “The Giant Bacillus” is a ‘Dandy’ picture-strip romp complete with comic bumbling policeman and plucky Tommy’s, as bacteriologist Joseph Bunting nurtures a ‘bacillus influenza’ to monster predatory size. While “The Midget From Mars” is a supposedly whimsical Thomas Sheridan throw-away concerning a large scientist called Prof Winters who cheats a small scientist called Doctor Somers over telepathically contacting Mars, but when the diminutive Martians arrive Winters is too big to fit into their sphere! This is irony. Winters-Somers is a joke. The story is not very good.


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TERRORS OUT OF SPACE 

Imagine… it’s the chilly autumn of 1938, and there crammed into the newsagents display there’s a striking cover-image of awe and horror as terrified people flee from a white city skyline as ‘a vast cloud of poison gas plunged towards Earth from out the depths of the universe.’ The first of two John Edwards contributions – “The Menace From Space”, takes the cover of no.4. Of course, SF had been here before, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger novel ‘The Poison Belt’ (1913), recently serialized in ‘Scoops’ for example. And the theme would return. At least in Fred Hoyle’s ‘The Black Cloud’ (1957). Much of the dialogue is exposition between two astronomers who first identify the cloud, working in a Northumbrian observatory with their loyal domestic staff, plus the fortunate incidence of biologist Dr Francis Bradbury, who is able to make informed speculation about seeds deposited into Earth’s atmosphere by missiles from Venus. With the trio observing from air-conditioned security, the world succumbs to a state of suspended animation induced by gas exhaled by red moss grown from the Venusian seeds, ensuring their survival, and incidentally enriching the world’s tired soil.


There are two more feuding inventors in Lloyd Arthur Eshbach’s “Out Of The Past”, one of them uses a time-flyer to travel back to the primeval, and recruit shaggy gorilla-men to rampage down Madison Avenue to exact revenge on his rival, only to fall foul of them himself. It’s a contrived plot, and while it allows for comic Irish Patrolman O’Rourke – ‘Howly mither av Moses!’, it largely fritters away the potential of its time-travel theme.

The fifth issue marks the first of a number of contributions – in ‘beautiful longhand’, by George C Wallis, and it was ‘not until then’ recalls Gillings, ‘did I discover that the author of “The World At Bay”, which I had read in ‘Amazing’s last issues for 1928 (and which was actually serialized in the ‘Daily Herald’ while I was still at school), was an English writer who had appeared even earlier in ‘Weird Tales’.’ A Sheffield cinema manager, he’d been contributing SF to juvenile magazines (‘Lot-O’-Fun’), to adult publications since the days before World War I, and to the American market with the assistance of a Canadian cousin. He returns in no.8 with “The Crystal Menace”, a convincing disaster scenario in which voracious icy-rings encroach from Antarctica, devouring ships and inundating New Zealand. Not quite JG Ballard’s ‘The Crystal World’, or even ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Crystal Entity, there’s an annoying Scots accent adopted for Angus Macfairson – ‘the noo’, whose hastily-contrived oscillator sets up a magnetic resonance shattering the cohesion on the menace’s controlling dome. As with Ballard, the real terror would be that there’s no such convenient solution…

The author of “When The World Tilted” in no.5, J Morgan ‘Jim’ Walsh, was another of Gillings long-time contacts, who returned for “After A Million Years” in no.8 – prefaced by an ‘author’s note’ detailing his doubts and qualifications about time-travel conundrums. Yet his Leela Zenken travels back a million years to meet a nuclear theorist who may be able to save her future-age from a freezing death due to a cloud blotting-out the sun. She mistakenly takes real-estate broker John Harling instead. The Earth freezes, but there’s a happy ending because the two fall in love. ‘His SF output was not great, compared to the long run of detective and spy thrillers which supplied his bread and butter, including such intriguing titles as “The Images Of Han” and “The Mystery Of The Green Caterpillars”. But his enthusiasm for science fiction was a great incentive to me in the days of the Ilford Circle, which he visited twice before it closed down in the summer of 1931.’ A former sheep and cattle-man in his native Australia, a sometime auctioneer and newsagent, Walsh’s sole contribution to ‘Amazing Stories’ was a four-part serial, “Terror Out Of Space” under the pen-name ‘H Haverstock Hill’, while his ‘Vandals Of The Void’ (1931) formed the subject of Gillings first published exercise in the art of book-reviewing. Such are the intriguing histories of these largely-forgotten contributors to Britain’s earliest SF ventures!


Tales by the Australian contributor Coutts Brisbane – R Coutts Armour, also had a long history, back as far as 1913 issues of the ‘Red And Yellow Magazine’. His “The Big Cloud” in no.7 takes the weird premise of a vaporous watery comet that brushes Earth’s atmosphere sufficient for genuinely strange air-borne aquatic life-forms to migrate, trapping a disparate group in the Cumbrian hill-district above the village of Rigg. His “The Lunar Missile” in no.10 reflects Wells ‘War Of The Worlds’ in that a cloud of vapour is first observed jetting from Lunar crater Bailly, then an aerolite ‘wreathed by trails of black smoke, an apocalyptic vision of doom’ circles the globe to plummet into the North Sea. Its icy influence radiates from its point of impact. An artist uses a dog-sleight team to travel out from Bridlington across the frozen sea to investigate the Lunarians sphere, until a fortuitous storm destroys the invaders.

Then, in no.7, there is Frank Edward Arnold’s “City Of Machines” in which murdering embezzler Robert Henlow escapes justice through his brother’s Time-Beam into an automated future-London of a thousand years hence, self-sustaining through tidal-powered electrical-generation. He discovers that all humans have been killed off by a meteoric cloud of poison gas, as the relentless constabulary pursue him through time until their final shoot-out accidentally sets the city to self-destruct in a cataclysmic wrecking orgy. Flicking further through the pages, Geo C Wallis “Across The Abyss” utilizes the same mode of astral travel as ER Burroughs used to send John Carter to Barsoom, a deep trance-state that projects his character through ‘the Fifth Dimension – the Thought or Psychic Dimension’ to the Andromeda Spiral Sun No.6X300 where highly-evolved planet Superia is locked in a war of extermination with their brutal rivals of Materia. Despite the character’s name, John Honesty’s account is not believed, even by close friend Frank Kemlo – who shares his name with EC Elliot’s juvenile space-hero of the 1950s!


WALTER GILLINGS, AC CLARKE, AND TED CARNELL
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CAN WE CONQUER SPACE? 

Strange to relate, despite his best intentions, Walter Gillings had problems drawing together contributors sufficiently proficient with the genre, and suitable new material continued to be at a premium. Despite encouraging such new writers as Frank Edward Arnold (one-time chair of the London Science Fiction Association) and Charles F Hall ‘who contributed a couple of tales that might almost have been written by Wells.’ Similarly, DJ Foster – his dashing exploit “The Island In The Air” in no.8, recalls the ‘Modern Boy’ juvenile derring-do of ‘Captain Justice’, about air-piracy from a hovering stratospheric base, but his promise was cut short by early death. ‘None of these writers, for one reason or another, succeeded in following up his initial advantage.’ So Gillings tends to fall back on the small but reliable pool who’d proved their credentials by selling to the more-established American pulp market. ‘A handful of British writers’ would ‘supply such new material as I could wheedle out of them… out of sheer enthusiasm for our cause, gave me first option on their work, and even tailored their stories specifically to the requirements I laid down.’

Born 9 March 1914 in Woolwich, it was William Frederick Temple’s early discovery of HG Wells that sparked his SF-involvement. An equally keen student of the cinema, around 1938-1939 he shared a flat with Arthur C Clarke and Maurice K Hanson (who had formed the Nuneaton Chapter of ‘Hugo Gernsback’s ‘Science Fiction League’ in 1934), three SF-obsessives who between them duplicated issues of their ‘Nova Terrae’ fanzine, the prequel to ‘New Worlds’! High in the mythology of early-UK fandom, the crowded flat at 88 Grays Inn Road became a centre for SF activity and for the struggling British Interplanetary Society – the butt of cheap ‘Daily Express’ jibes, yet with a regular visitor-stream, the likes of John Wyndham, Sydney Bounds and John Christopher all called around.


Temple’s appearances in ‘Tales Of Wonder’ followed his first horror sale “The Kosso” to ‘Thrills’ (Philip Allan, 1935) – billed as ‘A Collection Of Uneasy Tales: Murder And The Uncanny’, plus his fan-appearance in ‘Amateur Science Stories no.1’ (October 1937). In what amounts to a clear thumbnail profile of the struggling but ambitious author, he’d avidly studied Raymond Chandler and the fast pacy ‘Black Mask’ detective stories with their gritty hardboiled American style, in order to hone his style. Despite Gillings’ misgivings about a story-line concerning feline lunar origins, Temple’s “Smile Of The Sphinx” was nevertheless ‘a story that probably did more than anything I could have done to establish ‘Tales Of Wonder’s reputation in the field, while putting him in the forefront of Britain’s small group of SF writers.’ In the story, when world arsenals and arms-dumps begin to spontaneously detonate, nervous cyclist Clarke of Salisbury expounds his theory to skeptical novelist Eric Williams, which not only explains why dogs howl at the moon but why cats were worshiped in ancient Egypt. Taking in a Stonehenge upheaval, it’s a preposterous idea, although beguilingly and skillfully written, and the origin of cats – and dogs, on the moon, is never more than the tale that Clarke tells. Yet the demilitarized world that ensues ensures the feline race will not be accidentally destroyed by irresponsibly warlike humans.

 Before being ‘press-ganged’ into military service in the Eighth Army Temple sold his short story “Four-Sided Triangle” to ‘Amazing Stories’ (November 1939), expanding it to novel-length, despite losing draft-versions in the Tunisian desert and on the Anzio Beachhead. Once published, it was filmed by Terence Fisher for the Hammer Studios, and launched to considerable success in 1953, leading Temple to crime thrillers, a space travel book, many SF shorts, novelettes and novels, including the juvenile ‘Martin Magnus’ series. 

Mike Ashley notes that ‘by the summer 1938 issue the magazine was featuring science articles with IO Evans’ “Can We Conquer Space?” By then ‘Tales Of Wonder’ was proving extremely popular.’ Professor AM Low was there too, a tangible link as expert-on-call back to ‘Scoops’ and forward to ‘Authentic SF’ in the 1950s. When the ‘BIS’ switched its base from Liverpool to London following an October 1936 vote – which Cleator opposed, and subsequently stepped down as President, he was making way for AM Low to assume the presidency. In his highly speculative “Life On Mars” (in no.8) Low seems to approve of his theoretical Martian’s attitude to eugenics, but – in his defence, there was an intellectual thread going back to Wells of ‘perfecting the race’ by weeding out the genetically weak, and this was before Auschwitz proved the grotesque absurdity of the concept. A ‘Do You Think There Is Life On Mars?’ panel invites readers to contribute their own views, with a generous ten-shilling prize for the best. 

Arthur C Clarke made his debut professional sale to ‘Tales Of Wonder’ with “Man’s Empire Of Tomorrow”, (no.5) an article anticipating solar system exploration within ‘the next few generations’ – wisely unspecific about exact dates. He follows it in no.7 with “We Can Rocket To The Moon – Now!” adding the fictional scenario of the first spaceship leaving Earth – ‘a good spot for this purpose seems to be Lake Titicaca in Peru’, then ‘the first expedition to Mars’ leaving the Moon-base. He was already a visible presence in the SF community although his own attempts at fiction were impeded by his passion for poetry, and for Olaf Stapledon’s cosmic influence. Subsequently conscripted into the RAF in 1941 Clarke was thrust into trial radar experiments, from which he concocted his ‘Extra-Terrestrial Relays’ feature for ‘Wireless World’ that famously predicts the viability of TV-satellites, incidentally leading the way for everything from Telstar to Sky-TV! While fiction he contributed to Gillings in expectation of a future magazine appearance, at Gillings suggestion, were redirected across the Atlantic to John W Campbell at ‘Astounding’, where “Loophole” (April 1946) and “Rescue Party” (May 1946) began to establish his enduring reputation. But all that still lay in the future.


Into the mix Gillings began blending selected reprints of favourite but elusive tales that had already appeared in American magazines. Simply because he’d started to run short of ammunition, at least of the right calibre. ‘It was simply that there was not enough original material of the kind needed forthcoming, even from the new writers I was able to encourage,’ he recalls, so ‘I soon started to use reprints of American stories which had appeared several years before… reprints of tales by established authors like John Beynon Harris, Dr David H Keller MD, the ‘dexterous worker in words’ Stanton A Coblentz and Clark Ashton Smith were such that they helped immensely in developing the magazine along what I considered the right lines’ (from “The Impossible Dreamers”). 


Anticipating his post-war mainstream literary celebrity as John Wyndham (about whom I’ve written extensively elsewhere), Beynon Harris was already a star within the restricted pool of British SF. And his “Sowing New Thoughts” Authors Corner contribution to no.7, betrays something of that level of ambition. ‘Behind the greatest scientific romances there is a purpose. Whether they show a Utopia, a desolation, or a world still muddling along, they are sowing new thoughts in the reader’s mind; the products which go to build an individual’s convictions, and his only defence against being fair game for any meretricious, nonsensical or deliberately retrograde doctrine which may be fed to him.’ The reader – for Harris, is always male. But the ambition is unlimited. To Gillings, writing in 1972, ‘John Wyndham was a keen observer of the first tentative experiments in rocket propulsion. While others scoffed at the prophecies of those who pioneered the science of astronautics, he lent a sympathetic ear to their aspirations – and found in them inspiration for his tales.’ Even such tales as “The Last Lunarian” show how well he researched his material, long before the idea of interplanetary travel had become commonplace. His pioneering ship ‘The Scintilla’ even sets down – as would Neil Armstrong in 1969, on the lunar Sea Of Tranquility. 

He has no less than two stories in issue no.10, including “Worlds To Barter”, which includes this dubious exchange: 

‘You’ll smoke?’ inquired Lestrange, as we retired to his comfortable study. 
‘Tobacco?’ asked Jon. 
‘Of course,’ replied the Professor, with a touch of surprise. ‘What else?’ 
‘There are many things to smoke where I come from – one has to be careful.’


David H Keller’s “Stenographer’s Hands” as early as no.2 was part of a ‘deliberate design to reprint at least one American piece each time’ as a kind of object lesson to readers and potential writers of the human, as well as mechanistic potential of the genre. One of the most popular and revered names from the early pages of ‘Amazing Stories’ – born in 1880, Keller started out as a New Jersey country doctor who carried out original work in the treatment of WW1 shell-shock victims, waiting until he was almost fifty before expanding his part-time writing hobby into fiction submissions. Then using a policy of concentrating on the social implications of science, rather than the invention itself. His “Stenographer’s Hands” anticipates the problems of what we’d now call voice-recognition software as Doctor Billings initiates an intensive breeding programme designed to produce ‘errorless stenographers’ who ‘take dictation and write perfect letters’ to satisfy ruthless capitalist Jerome Smith of Universal Utilities. By the time his enlightened daughter Mirabella Smith assumes control of the company, the system has collapsed due to defective inbreeding. Despite its light and playful style, it unmasks the chilling implications behind eugenics long before Nazi racial supremacists made it inescapable. 

Keller’s “The Eternal Professors” in no.4 is a slight throwaway in which the university of New York ensures supremacy over rival Chicago by keeping its professor’s heads alive after body-death ‘by means of artificial circulation and synthetic blood.’ For no.7 there’s a reprint of Keller’s “The Yeast Men” which had been a Gillings favourite since reading it in his issue of ‘Amazing Stories’ (April 1928) during his first ‘Ilford Science Literary Circle’ days. It’s an off-the-wall oddity, in which small mountain Kingdom Moronia – threatened with extermination by Premier Plautz of encircling Eupenia, develops a ray-barrier to disrupt air-attack, then grows a mindless army of Yeast entities for a liberating preemptive strike. Even as a metaphor – the triumph of bread over totalitarianism?, it’s virtually beyond definition. 

Philip Harbottle and Stephen Holland point out that such ‘reprints undoubtedly helped immensely in the development of the magazine, introducing the adventuresome elements that would make the magazine more accessible to new readers not so well versed in the general subject matter of SF, although it may have annoyed authors trying to break into the new market’ (writing in ‘Vultures Of The Void’, Borgo Press, 1992).


The second American writer Gillings introduces, and the first to ‘cop a cover’, was Edmond Hamilton. With a world-destroying writing career as old as SF magazines themselves, he was already a regular contributor to ‘Weird Tales’ even before the advent of ‘Amazing Stories’. His “The Horror In The Telescope” eye-catchingly illustrates the front of the third ‘Tales Of Wonder’ issue. We now think of the Hubble orbital telescope, or the New Mexico Very Large Array probing the outer limits of the cosmos. In the summer of 1938 Hamilton thought in terms of size, his ‘The Colossus In The Canyon’ with its ten-thousand-inch lens sees through the relativistic space-time curve so that when they observe, in remarkable pin-sharp detail, what they assume to be planets of the Capella system, they’re really seeing primeval Earth of five-hundred-million years ago, when humans were domestic slave-animals to reptilian masters. In Gillings words, it was ‘a short story which proved the only acceptable offering in a pile of original manuscripts that came my way after having gone the rounds of the American magazines without finding a billet,’ and it was followed by “The Sea Terror” in no.4. In Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo tradition, a new K-type breed of submarine investigates the Atlantic Nelsen Deep, discovering a vast ancient city of globes on the ocean-bed two miles down. Its slug-like inhabitants are in the process of generating seawater to raise the ocean-levels, flooding coastal cities around the doomed world. The story climaxes in a titanic submarine battle in which the slug’s control-spire is smashed, ‘heaving, breaking and crashing, as the city was annihilated by a tremendous uprush of dazzling fires from beneath.’ Noticeably, the slug-beings have been there for tens of thousands of years, had they put their nefarious world-inundation scheme into practice five, ten or even fifteen years earlier, before the K-type deep subs, everything would have been very different… 

Edmond Hamilton was in no.8 too with “The Comet Doom”, a skillfully written fantasy in which comet-people are ‘undying brains cased in bodies of metal’ who plan to steal the Earth by ‘drawing it into the comet and carrying it out into space with them,’ until their green comet is moving out of the solar system ‘plunging across the universe for all time, with its stolen captive world!’ Hamilton’s assured feel for character and his descriptions of the Lake Ontario island on which the confrontation occurs add a sense of realism to the ludicrous premise, although the stolen-Earth idea would be recycled by Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth in ‘Wolfbane’ which first appeared as a two-part serial in ‘Galaxy Science Fiction’ (October 1957, Vol.14 no.6).


Gillings went on to acquire such remarkable stories as Stanton A Coblentz satirical tale “The Planet Of Youth” which, although pessimistic in tone was ‘apposite at the time and had distinct literary merit.’ It sets the tone for the cover of no.5, as a finned spaceship rips a rocket-trail of flame across the blue sky, framed by the dark bulk of another ship already on the surface surrounded by a mob of anxious people. Then Murray Leinster’s famous “The Mad Planet” provides excellent cover-art by WJ Roberts for no.6 – a lone human in a mushroom forest armed with only a crude spear to face giant flying insects, as well as its sequel “The Red Dust” for no.9 (from ‘Argosy’ 12 June 1920 and 2 April 1921), ‘relating the further adventures of Burl in the fantastic world of thirty-thousand years hence.’ His “Missionaries Of Mars” in no.10 poses a moral question when five-limbed Martians offer to instigate a world utopia – ‘but a utopia without freedom.’ ‘Would the gain exceed the loss?’ asks Doctor Ira Rand who invents the Televisor enabling dialogue between the planets. In the end he smashes his communication-device. Humans must learn by their own mistakes.


Clark Ashton Smith takes the cover of no.10 with his beguiling enchanting fantasy “City Of Singing Flame” – presented with its sequel as a single story, bridged by Gillings linking-text. Born in 1893 he was already a ‘Weird Tales’ veteran, praised by HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard and L Sprague de Camp, with his exotic fictions of Zothique and Hyperborea collected into Arkham House editions by August Derleth. In this story within a story, narrator Hastane receives a small leather-bound notebook from fantasy-writer Giles Angarth who vanished with illustrator Felix Ebbonly in the Nevada Sierras. Angarth’s journal tells how he walked the bare desolate Crater Ridge, by a fathomless tarn, where scoriac remains resemble ‘slag and refuse of Cyclopean furnaces, poured out in pre-human years, to cool and harden into shapes of limitless grotesquerie.’ Stepping between two time-eroded greenish-grey columns ‘human language is naturally wanting in words that are adequate for the delineation of events and sensations beyond the normal scope of human experience.’ In elegantly florid prose, slow-paced with a vocabulary rich in arcane terminology – an ‘irrefragable lure’, an ‘illimitable’ emptiness into which he was ‘disequilibrated’, a ‘fulgration’ of cloud and a ‘lancinating’ discord, he crosses a ‘spatial flaw’ into a landscape of beautifully strange broken images. He sees the looming city Ydmos of massive towers and mountainous ramparts of red stone, where ‘weird music lured pilgrims from far-away worlds who entered that hidden dimension, giving access to realms beyond.’ He returns again and again, venturing further, drawn by ‘an obscure but profound allurement, the cryptic emanation of some enslaving spell.’ By the green flame shown in the beguiling cover-art, with all the mystique of vintage ‘Weird Tales’. 


Less a story, never mind SF, it’s the romantically decadent addiction metaphor he’d used in “The Plutonian Drug” (‘Amazing Stories’, September 1934), and the dark macabre fascinations of “Planet Of The Dead” (‘Weird Tales’, March 1932). A master of the outré, Baudelaire could teach Clark Ashton Smith nothing about the flowers of evil, ‘a pernicious chimera, a mere poetic dream or a sort of opium paradise.’ In the second sequence, Hastane himself follows directions indicated in the manuscript to reach the city – which is now besieged by a mobile rival city from the Outer Lands, and is carried by two lapidopters through the fatally alluring flame into transcendentally stranger realms where he encounters Angarth and Ebbonly in prose and vistas of beautiful strangeness. Its impossible splendours leave an emptiness, ‘anything that I can imagine or frame in language, seems flat and puerile beside (that) world of unsearchable mystery.’ 


He’d been there in no.8, with the marginally more conventional “World Of Horror”, although – this being Clark Ashton Smith, it means that engineer Richard Harmon, menaced by a giant blobby protoplasmic monster while crossing the Hell Planet hemisphere of a gravitationally-locked Venus, is anything but predictable. In a fictional 1979, the second ether-ship expedition led by Admiral Carfax lands in the Purple Mountains, only to discover that ‘Venus was not designed for human nerves or human brains.’ 

Francis Flagg – a pseudonym used by George Henry Weiss, was in no.12 with “The Machine Man Of Ardathia”, betraying an editorial bias for reprints from vintage ‘Amazing Stories’. Flagg’s warm personal style adds a sliver of credibility to the sudden appearance of the oddly-evolved sexless being from twenty-eight-thousand years hence in the writer-narrator’s front room, displacing his rocking chair. Not so much a story as a conversation with the 570-year-old ‘synthetically-conceived and machine-made’ Ardathian, in which he tells how the new young generation forged ahead, ‘proposed radical changes’ and ‘entertained new ideas’ while the old die taking their ‘conservative methods with them.’ Ideas designed to inspire progressive young readers. Yet the encounter is dismissed as the work of ‘an imagination equal to that of an HG Wells’ when he tells a local newspaperman, and the unfortunate Matthews ends up confined to an asylum. Following this debut sale, Flagg drifted to ‘Weird Tales’ – from which his “The Chemical Brain” had already been lifted for no.5. ‘There is every possibility that these were stories that Gernsback rejected, since their elements of bizarrerie lent themselves more to the editorial policy of ‘Weird Tales’’ as Michael Ashley speculates. Following “The Distortion Out Of Space” in ‘Weird Tales’ August 1934 Flagg dropped out of the writing scene, and died in 1946, aged just 48. 

The great Jack Williamson – who died in November 2006, was a luminous fixture clear across the long evolution of what he terms ‘the folklore of the new world of science’. Despite being born in 1908, as part of a family that trekked by covered wagon to a poor sandhill New Mexico homestead, his star-sweeping fiction takes Cometeers across the galaxy and his Legion Of Time through centuries. ‘Behind that John Wayne face is a fast and thoughtful brain’ Frederik Pohl observes (in his introduction to ‘The Best Of Jack Williamson’, 1978). His first published story, the vigorous and confident fantasy-adventure “The Metal Man” (in ‘Amazing Stories’ December 1928), written as a twenty-year-old ‘half-educated kid… bubbling with baffled vague ambitions, just recently struck with the dazzling wonders of science fiction’ (‘Afterword’ to above) was reprinted in no.8. In the form of a letter from the Metal Man in the Tyburn Museum, and drawing on the model of A Merritt’s “The People Of The Pit”, Professor Thomas Kelvin is prospecting for radium in the S American Cordilleras using a small monoplane when he descends into ‘a great pool of green fire’ in a volcanic crater. Forced to land in swirling mist he discovers birds transmuted into metal, even a pterosaur. There’s no real explanation for his own slow metamorphosis, or for the glowing crystalline entities he flees from, except for a separate evolutionary process adapting to the alien conditions within the radioactive crater.


Later, there’s something of Clark Ashton Smith’s poetic strangeness about Williamson’s second reprint classic “The Moon Era” (no.15, from ‘Wonder Stories’ February 1932). A telegram summons Stephen to the opulent Long Island mansion of an uncle he’s not previously met, Enfield Conway, who offers him the opportunity of becoming his heir, on condition that he puts a machine of his own invention through tests. With an obvious debt to HG Wells the Moon-ship constructed in the hangar of his grounds achieves degravitation, not through Cavorite, but by passing electrical currents through copper discs. Although he’s warned that the ‘Conway Effect’ may involve movement through the fourth dimension too, Stephen is caught up in ‘the madness of glorious adventure… to tread the world that has always been the symbol of the unattainable.’ But as he speeds away from Earth he’s also plunging back through time, arriving at an era when the young Moon still has atmosphere. Like ER Burroughs ‘John Carter’ on Mars, he uses the Moon’s lesser gravity to leap impossible cliffs and lift unfeasible burdens. After a terrifying encounter with a balloon-like predator buoyed up on a muscular gas-filled sac, and attacked by tentacled blood-sucking red spheres, he’s soothed back to health by a beautifully delicate being known as the Mother. 

The last of her race she carries the seeds of her species’ future within her, but is in turn pursued by vindictive machine-mutants called the Eternal Ones, ‘horrible travesties of life’ with beam-me-up-technology. A living brain housed in a metal body of clattering many-jointed levers, pistons, rusted cogs, rods, coils and lenses – a variety of early-industrial Dalek, they nevertheless indicate the persistence of ideas through the SF-decades. Stephen rips a lever free and uses it as a mace to retaliate. Stanley Weinbaum’s Tweel is usually seen as SF’s first loveable alien, but Williamson creates a uniquely tender interspecies connection between the two, making the poignant death and parting genuinely moving. As an impressionable young Isaac Asimov recalls, he was emotionally moved by this relationship, although ‘it is perhaps inevitable that the woman involved wasn’t really a woman’ (in ‘Before The Golden Age: Volume 1’ Doubleday 1974). 


--- 0 --- 
TOWARDS NEW WORLDS 

As Mike Ashley writes ‘each issue contained reprints from the States, and these increased as issues went by.’ Gillings concurs, ‘as we progressed… I had to rely on far more reprint material than I ever intended, or even thought possible’ – hardly surprising considering that by then many of Britain’s potential writers had been conscripted into the forces. Of the twenty-three US writers who responded to his appeals, he was only able to feature thirteen. For while he was laying plans for more frequent publication, and maybe a tie-in series of SF novels, global forces were conspiring against him. 

Paper rationing, occasioned by the outbreak of war, was introduced 30 April 1940, whittling page-count slowly but relentlessly down from 128 to seventy-two. ‘Perhaps you are having difficulty in obtaining your copy of this magazine’ enquires the inner cover of no.10, ‘printing numbers have been greatly reduced owing to war conditions and the shortage of paper, and you will probably find that it is impossible to buy copies haphazardly as was customary in ordinary times.’ The answer, it suggests, is for readers both to place a standing order at the newsagent, and to order copies on behalf of ‘your Soldier, Sailor Or Airman Friend wherever he is stationed – whether at home or abroad, on land or at sea.’


The situation was complicated by Gillings own personal problems as a pacifist – science fiction ‘was the only army I ever wanted to join, or enlist other recruits in.’ Yet he was called-up. The editorial office for no.15 was the NAAFI canteen at Tidworth. While for the sixteenth – and final issue, he’d located a cosy room in the Officers Mess servant’s quarters. As a further cost-saving exercise, cover-art had been replaced by a single design allowing the issue’s contents to be displayed in a panel. By now it was never certain if the issue Gillings was putting to press would ever actually appear. And ‘Tales Of Wonder’ could not survive such uncertainties. When it came to deciding which titles should be sacrificed to paper shortage, World’s Work brought down the axe on ‘Tales Of Wonder’, focusing resources instead on ensuring the survival of their other fiction title, ‘Short Stories’ which, ironically, consisted mostly of pages reprinted from its US counterparts.

The final ‘Tales Of Wonder’, before it became a war casualty in 1942, nevertheless features a new Benson Herbert novelette, “The Earth Shall Die!”, and introduces new Glasgow writer Marion F Eadie. She happened to be married to artist Harry Turner who supplied interior illustrations ‘at fees which today would not cover the cost of his materials.’ Promoted to cover-art he envisioned a one-off ‘The World Of Tomorrow’ for no.10, and would go on to illuminate both fannish and pro SF magazines with increasing confidence across the years to come.

At one time Britain’s only full-time SF-writer, John Russell Fearn died of a heart-attack in September 1960, having achieved an immense output of work under a spread of pseudonyms across his fifty years. Gillings writes of ‘the phenomenal success which was to attend his later (and, to my mind, often inferior) efforts’, in creating the ‘Golden Amazon’ and guiding the ‘Vargo Statten Science Fiction Magazine’ through nineteen issues 1954-1956. ‘He was too impetuous, too full of his own schemes, which never had time to develop before another possessed his agile mind. But as a fount of story ideas none could surpass him’ (in “The Impatient Dreamers”). Fearn’s reputation was kept alive by the diligent promotion of his agent Philip Harbottle.

Undaunted by a nation preoccupied with gasmasks, air-raid shelters, ration cards, call-up papers, Dunkirk and ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, Gillings began stockpiling stories for a projected new post-war magazine, as soon as paper-restrictions were sufficiently eased. With remarkable focus, he considered global conflict ‘was only a temporary setback – the war could not last for ever.’ Yet quota-based paper rationing would persist far longer than even the most pessimistic expected. Gillings continued to promote his coterie of writers as British fixer for Frederik Pohl’s Dirk Wylie Lit agency. With VE Day in May 1945, he was seduced away by Temple Bar Publishing, where he was able to launch ‘Fantasy’ which survived for three beautiful action-packed issues. While many of his subsequent editorial genre ventures proved equally short-lived. Only his highly professional-looking bi-monthly fanzine ‘Fantasy Review’ achieved lasting critical renown. He edited it from February 1947, it went quarterly from no.15 (Summer 1949), and the following autumn reappeared as ‘Science Fantasy Review’ for two further numbers.


It was largely with Gillings support that Ted Carnell was able to set up Nova Publications in 1949 as director, leading to the reappearance of ‘New Worlds’. He was also there as editor for the first two issues of ‘Science Fantasy’, to where ‘Science Fantasy Review’ transferred and found a temporary home. However, as John Carnell explains, Gillings was ‘finding it more and more difficult to devote as much time editorially to the magazine as he wished,’ and from issue no.3, Carnell himself assumed the role. ‘Following his departure from Nova Publications, he all but disappeared from British SF, when a domestic tragedy struck soon after,’ according to Philip Harbottle and Stephen Holland. Yet Gillings returned in 1969, writing his insider history “The Impatient Dreamers” for ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’, after which he contributed a notable series of articles to ‘Science Fiction Monthly’, on ‘Modern Masters Of Science Fiction’. His first essay, no.7 (July 1974) profiled Arthur C Clarke, loyally followed by other ‘Tales Of Wonder’ regulars John Wyndham (No.9), Jack Williamson (no.12), Eric Frank Russell (vol.2 no.3) and Stanley G Weinbaum (vol.2 no.7). Walter Gillings, who had done so much to make British SF what it had by then become, died 19 July 1979.

In his final guest editorial to ‘Science Fantasy’ (no.3, Winter 1951/1952) Gillings writes with both poignancy and bitterness of ‘magazines which have started off with a flourish of trumpets in the past few years have suddenly stopped amid whisperings of crippling production costs, changing reading tastes and, now, the soaring cost of living.’ Yet ‘Tales Of Wonder’ was ‘the first British magazine to specialize in science fiction, which’ – with pride, ‘ I was able to initiate in 1937.’ Terry Jeeves adds that ‘the yarns are totally pedestrian by modern standards, scientists build spaceships, create monsters and save worlds, all from the safety of their backyard laboratories. Nevertheless, in those SF-starved pre-war days, ‘Tales Of Wonder’ was a wonderful shot in the arm…’

We, who routinely accept the fantastic envisioned for us by digital technologies unimaginable at the time, can have little real conception of what that means.

WALTER GILLINGS 

 TALES OF WONDER 

TALES OF WONDER no.1’ (June, Winter 1937) ‘Amazing Science Fiction’, 128pp, priced 1/- (one shilling), published by The Worlds Work (1913 Ltd, Kingswood, Surrey), edited by Walter H Gillings, cover-art by John ‘Nick’ Nicholson with ‘Superhuman’ by John Russell Fearn (as Geoffrey Armstrong), ‘Seeds From Space’ novelette also by John Russell Fearn, ‘Revolt On Venus’ by WP Cockcroft (misprinted as Cockroft), ‘Man Of The Future’ by Festus Pragnell. ‘Monsters Of The Moon’ also by Festus Pragnell (as by Francis Parnell), ‘The Prr-r-eet’ by Eric Frank Russell, ‘Invaders From The Atom’ novelette by Maurice G(aspard) Hugi (who had earlier appeared in ‘Scoops’), ‘The Perfect Creature’ by John Wyndham (as John Beynon)

'TALES OF WONDER no.2' (New Zealand EDITION)

TALES OF WONDER no.2’ (Spring 1938), cover-art by Nick, editorial ‘Science Fiction: The New Literature’, with ‘Sleepers Of Mars’ novella by John Wyndham (as John Beynon, sequel to ‘Stowaway To Mars’), ‘Stenographer’s Hands’ by David H Keller MD (from ‘Amazing Stories Quarterly’ Fall 1928), ‘Invaders From Venus’ novelette by Benson Herbert, ‘Super-Senses’ by Maurice G Hugi, ‘Through Earth’s Core’ novelette by John Russell Fearn, ‘Lunar Lilliput’ novelette by William F Temple (later collected into ‘Moonrise: The Golden Age Of Lunar Adventure’ edited by Mike Ashley, British Library, 2018), plus ‘Reader’s Reactions’ column, letters from Edward J Carnell and poet Edwin G Morgan of Glasgow


TALES OF WONDER no.3’ (Summer 1938) cover-art signed LJ Roberts (Wilfred Joseph Roberts), with editorial ‘The Evolution Of Science Fiction’, ‘The World’s Eighth Wonder’ by Eric Frank Russell, ‘The Man Who Lived Backwards’ by Charles F Hall, ‘The Horror In The Telescope’ by Edmond Hamilton, ‘Satellites Of Death’ by Leslie J Johnson, ‘The Giant Bacillus’ by HO Dickinson (Liverpool writer who debuted in ‘Wonder Stories’, and later ‘The Sex Serum’ for Gillings’ Utopian editions), ‘The Midget From Mars’ by Thomas Sheridan, ‘The Puff-Ball Menace’ by John Beynon and ‘The Last Lunarian’ by John B Harris (both John Wyndham), plus feature ‘Can We Conquer Space?’ by IO Evans (author of ‘The World Of Tomorrow’, 1933 and related cigarette-cards!), ‘To-Morrow: The Magazine Of The Future’ promotion (Prof AM Low, Leslie J Johnson, Benson Herbert, Festus Pragnell, IO Evans), and Reader’s Reactions, letters from Ken Chapman (SF Association), S Youd (John Christopher), SJ Bounds


TALES OF WONDER no.4’ (Autumn 1938) cover-art by WJ Roberts, inner art by Harry Turner, with editorial ‘The Aim Of Science Fiction’, ‘The Menace From Space’ by John Edwards (from ‘Wonder Stories’, April 1934), ‘Out Of The Past’ by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, ‘The Smile Of The Sphinx’ by William F Temple, ‘The Eternal Professors’ by David H Heller MD (from ‘Amazing Stories’ August 1929), ‘The Sea Terror’ by Edmond Hamilton (previously in ‘Weird Tales’ March 1929 as ‘The Sea Horror’), ‘The Third Vibrator’ by John B Harris (John Wyndham, previously in ‘Wonder Stories’ May 1933), ‘The Essence Of Life’ by Festus Pragnell (from ‘Amazing Stories’ August-September 1933), plus Reader’s Reactions including letter from A Clarke, and David McIlwain (Charles Eric Maine), Frank Arnold, Gerald Evans (aka Victor La Salle), Osmond Robb (‘The Fantast’ artist and critic)


TALES OF WONDER no.5’ (Winter 1938) 1/-, 128pp, cover-art by WJ Roberts, inner art by Harry Turner, with editorial ‘Science Fiction – And You’ plus ‘A Cat Inspires An Author’ essay by Walter Gillings, ‘The Planet Of Youth’ by Stanton A Coblentz (from ‘Wonder Stories’, October 1932), ‘Universe Of Babel’ by John Edwards (UK writer who sold two tales to ‘Amazing Stories’, and two to ‘Tales Of Wonder’), ‘The Space Beings’ by Edmond Hamilton (the only appearance of this story), ‘The Chemical Brain’ by Francis Flagg (from ‘Weird Tales’ January 1929), ‘The Time-Drug’ by Charles F Hall (UK writer who made two sales to ‘Tales of Wonder’ and one to ‘The Passing Show’, all in 1938), ‘When The Earth Tilted’ by JM Walsh (from ‘Wonder Stories’ May 1932), ‘The Ego Of The Ant’ by Alfred Gordon Bennett (born 11 December 1901-11 August 1962, veteran author of ‘The Demigods’ 1939), ‘The Orbit Jumper’ by George C Wallis, plus feature ‘Man’s Empire Of Tomorrow’ by Arthur C Clarke, Author’s Corner (‘The Excitement Of Science’ by Edmond Hamilton, ‘Today’s Dogmas: Tomorrow’s Fallacies’ by JM Walsh, and ‘In Verne’s Footsteps’ by George C Wallis) and Reader’s Reactions


TALES OF WONDER no.6’ (Spring/ March 1939) ‘The Mad Planet’ cover-art by WJ Roberts, inner art by Harry Turner, with editorial ‘What Readers Want’, ‘The Mad Planet’ by Murray Leinster (from ‘Argosy’ 12 June 1920 and ‘Amazing Stories’ November 1926), ‘The Thing In The Ice’ by WP Cockroft, ‘The Mentality Machine’ by SP Meek (only appearance of this story), ‘Voyage Of Sacrifice’ by George C Wallis (as ‘The Great Sacrifice; from ‘The London Magazine’ June 1903), ‘Warning From Luna’ by Charnock Walsby (pen-name of Liverpool’s Leslie V Heald who helped produce local SFA journal ‘Science-Fantasy Review’, here, a Moon-man communicates, and his story stops wars on Earth), ‘The Alien Error’ by DJ Foster (first of two sales to ‘Tales Of Wonder’, and one to ‘Future Fiction’ November 1940), ‘The Gas Weed’ by Stanton A Coblentz (from ‘Amazing Stories’ May 1929), ‘The Inner World’ by A Hyatt Verrill (as ‘The Voice From The Inner World’ in ‘Amazing Stories’ July 1927), plus Author’s Corner (‘The Human Side Of Science’ by Charnock Walsby, ‘No Fiction More Exciting’ by Stanton A Coblentz, and ‘Ideas That Can Mould The World’ by WP Cockcroft) and Reader’s Reactions, letters from John F Burke, Sydney J Bounds, G Ken Chapman, CS Youd (John Christopher), Maurice K Hanson and Oliver Saari on ‘Beynon’s Masterpiece’


TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.7’ (Summer 1939) cover-art by John ‘Nick’ Nicholson, inner art by Harry Turner, with editorial ‘Aid From America’, ‘The Venus Adventure’ by John Beynon (John Wyndham, from ‘Wonder Stories’ May 1932, collected into ‘Exiles On Asperus’ 1979), ‘The Big Cloud’ by Coutts Brisbane, ‘City Of Machines’ by Frank Edward Arnold (collected as ‘The Mad Machines’ into ‘Wings Across Time’ Pendulum Press, 1946), ‘The Yeast Men’ by David H Keller MD (from ‘Amazing Stories’ April 1928), ‘Creature Of Eternity’ by Maurice G Hugi (although he died in 1947, Hugi survived long enough to contribute to early ‘New Worlds’), ‘Across The Abyss’ by George C Wallis, plus feature ‘We Can Rocket To The Moon – NOW!’ by Arthur C Clarke, Author’s Corner (‘Forty Years Of Writing’ by David H Keller, ‘Sowing New Thoughts’ by John Beynon (Wyndham), and ‘The Lure Of Science Fiction’ by Maurice G Hugi), Book review of ‘The Demigods’ by Alfred Gordon Bennett by FEA (Frank Edward Arnold, and Reader’s Reactions from Damon Knight

TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.8’ (September/ Autumn 1939) 1/- interior art by Harry E Turner, with Edmond Hamilton (‘The Comet Doom’), Jack Williamson (‘The Metal Man’), JM Walsh (‘After A Million Years’), John Russell Fearn (‘The Man Who Stopped The Dust’), Clark Ashton Smith (‘World Of Horror’ reprint of ‘The Immeasurable Horror’ from ‘Weird Tales’ September 1931), George C Wallis (‘The Crystal Menace’), DJ Foster (‘The Island In The Air’) plus essay by Professor AM Low (‘Life On Mars’), Walter H Gillings editorial invites ‘Use Your Imagination: Search For Ideas’ from readers, letters from Arthur C Clarke and John F Burke, plus Author’s Corner profiles of Jack Williamson (‘The Folk-Lore Of Science’) and John Russell Fearn (‘To-morrow’s Adventure’)


TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.9’ (Winter, December 1939), reduced to 96pp, cover art by Caney, all inner art by Harry E Turner, editorial ‘Tales Of Wonder In War-Time’, with ‘The Red Dust’ by Murray Leinster (from ‘Argosy All-Story Weekly’ 2 April 1921, and ‘Amazing Stories’ January 1927), ‘The Invisible City’ by Clark Ashton Smith (from ‘Wonder Stories’ June 1932), ‘The Men Without Shadows’ by Stanton A Coblentz (from ‘Amazing Stories’ October 1933), ‘The Planet Wrecker’ by Coutts Brisbane who also writes essay ‘Authors Corner: Why? Why? Why?’, ‘Authors Corner: Writing For The Fun Of It’ by Murray Leinster’, ‘The Insect Threat’ essay by Alfred Gordon Bennett, Book Review of ER Burroughs’ ‘The Master Mind Of Mars’ (by T O’Conor Sloane PhD?), ‘Readers Conceptions: Are We Martians?’, Author’s Corner (‘Why? Why? Why?’ by Coutts Brisbane, and ‘Writing For The Fun Of It’ by Murray Leinster) and ‘Readers Reactions’


TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.10’ (Spring 1940) 1/- cover by WJ Roberts, inner art by Harry Turner, with Clark Ashton Smith (‘City Of Singing Flame’ from ‘Wonder Stories’ July 1931 and November 1931), two by John Wyndham – ‘Worlds To Barter’ (as by John Beynon from ‘Wonder Stories’ May 1931) and ‘The Man From Earth’ (as by John B Harris, from ‘Wonder Stories’ September 1934’ as ‘The Man From Beyond’), Stanton A Coblentz (‘Missionaries Of Mars’, from ‘Amazing Stories’ November 1930 as ‘Missionaries From The Sky’), Coutts Brisbane (‘The Lunar Missile’, reprint of ‘Ex Terra’ from ‘The Yellow Magazine’ 24 February 1922), Walter H Gillings editorial invites ‘Search For Ideas: War In The Future’ plus Author’s Corner and Reader’s Reaction


TALES OF WONDER no.11’ (Summer 1940) 1/-, cover art ‘The World Of Tomorrow’ by Harry Turner, editorial ‘And Still We Go On’, with ‘Invisible Monster’ by John Beynon (John Wyndham), ‘The Man Who Saw The Future’ by Edmond Hamilton (from ‘Amazing Stories’ October 1930), ‘Experiment In Genius’ by William F Temple, ‘Master Of The Asteroid’ by Clark Ashton Smith (from ‘Wonder Stories’ October 1932), ‘Under The Dying Sun’ by George C Wallis, ‘The Synthetic Entity’ by SP Meek (from ‘Wonder Stories’ January 1933), plus ‘Can We Conquer Time?’ feature by IO Evans, ‘Search For Ideas: the World Of Tomorrow’ with essays by Arthur C Clark, Francis R Fears, CA Fielder, AG Hoad and RL Somerville, Author’s Corner (‘Planets And Dimensions’ by Clark Ashton Smith) and Reader’s Reactions


TALES OF WONDER no.12’ (Autumn 1940), reduced to 80pp, cover art by WJ Roberts illustrating ‘Tyrant Of The Red World’, inner illustrations by Harry Turner, editorial ‘Can We Keep It Up?’, with ‘Tyrant Of The Red World’ by Richard Tooker (from ‘Wonder Stories’ August 1932), ‘Machine-Man Of Ardathia’ by Francis Flagg (from ‘Amazing Stories’ November 1927, later in Michael Ashley’s ‘The History Of The Science Fiction Magazine Part 1’ 1974), ‘The Radio-Telescope’ by Stanton A Coblentz (from ‘Amazing Stories’ June 1929), ‘I, Spy’ by Eric Frank Russell (collected into Mike Ashley’s ‘The Best Of British SF1’), plus ‘Search For Ideas: The Conquest Of Space’ with essays by Henry K Bulmer, John F Burke, Arthur C Clarke, Osmond Robb and Harry Turner, Authors Corner (‘The Road To Glory’ by Eric Frank Russell), and Reader’s Reactions



TALES OF WONDER no.13’ (Winter 1940/1941), first format cover art by J Nicholson with centre-panel announcing star stories, inner art by Turner, editorial ‘Lucky Thirteen’, with ‘Wanderers Of Time’ by John Beynon (John Wyndham, from ‘Wonder Stories’ March 1933), ‘The Book Of Worlds’ by Miles J Breuer MD (from ‘Amazing Stories’ July 1929), ‘The Power Supreme’ by George C Wallis, ‘The Law Of The Universe’ by Coutts Brisbane, ‘Dimension Of Chance’ by Clark Ashton Smith (from ‘Wonder Stories’ November 1932), plus ‘Search For Ideas: The Future Of Man’ and Reader’s Reactions


TALES OF WONDER no.14’ (Spring 1941), reduced to 72pp, cover art by J Nicolson, inner art by Turner, with ‘Death From The Skies’ by A Hyatt Verrill (from ‘Amazing Stories’ October 1929), ‘Murder In The Fourth Dimension’ by Clark Ashton Smith (from ‘Amazing Detective Tales’ October 1930), ‘The Red Sphere’ by George C Wallis, ‘Child Of Neptune’ by Miles J Breuer MD with Clare Winger Harris (variant title of ‘A Baby On Neptune’ in ‘Amazing Stories’ December 1929), plus ‘Search For Ideas: The Conquest Of Time’ and ‘Reader’s Reactions’


TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.15’ (Autumn, September 1941), 72pp, cover art by J Nicolson, all inner art by Harry E Turner, with ‘The Moon Era’ novella by Jack Williamson (from ‘Wonder Stories’ February 1932), ‘The Cosmic Cloud’ by George C Wallis, ‘Lady Of The Atoms (aka ‘The Driving Power’ from ‘Amazing Stories’ July 1930) by Miles J Breuer MD, ‘The Insect World’ by Thomas ‘Thos’ S Gardner (from ‘Wonder Stories’ April 1935), ‘Escape To Mlok (aka ‘A Star-Change’ from ‘Wonder Stories’ May 1933)’ by Clark Ashton Smith, plus ‘Better Late Than Never!’ essay by Walter H Gillings, ‘Science-Fantasy Forum: If Hitler Had Laid Claim To Luna…’ and ‘Readers Reactions’ by the readers

TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.16’ (Spring, March 1942), 72pp, cover art by J Nicolson, all inner art by Harry E Turner, editorial ‘And Still We Go On’, with ‘The Earth Shall Die’ novelette by Benson Herbert MSc, ‘Flight Through Time’ novelette by Clark Ashton Smith, ‘Breath Of Utopia (aka ‘The Perfect Planet’ from ‘Amazing Stories’ May 1932)’ by Miles J Breuer MD, ‘Beast Of The Crater’ by Marion F Eadie (the only fiction sale by this Glasgow writer), ‘And Still We Go On’ essay by Walter H Gillings, ‘Science-Fantasy Forum: Is The Universe Alive?’ by the readers

TALES OF WONDER AND SUPER-SCIENCE no.17’ (Unpublished) scheduled to include ‘Exiles Of Asperus’ by John Beynon, subsequently published in the John Wyndham collection ‘Exiles On Asperus’ (Coronet Paperback, 1979)

with thanks to ER James and to ‘Vultures Of The Void’ 
(Borgo Press, 1992) by Philip Harbottle and Stephen Holland