PHILIP E HIGH:
THE MAN WHO CREATED
THE WOODEN SPACESHIPS
Philip E High’s hard-action adventure-SF dominated the British
magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, with stories featured in consecutive
issues of ‘New Worlds’, ‘Nebula SF’ and ‘Authentic’, sometimes during
the same month. And then there were fourteen novels!
Andrew Darlington suggests that maybe it’s time for a
reappraisal of this prolific writer’s body of work…
Despite a virtual domination of the British Science Fiction scene throughout the late 1950s and the early 1960s, alongside Kenneth Bulmer, EC Tubb, and Brian Aldiss, and despite a considerable body of novels published since, Philip E High’s story-style is currently out of critical favour. Less a writer of conceptual innovations, his preference is to tinker within the established genre spectrum, modifying ideas, picking up discarded threads here and there, meshing them together into startling juxtapositions, re-walking old or forgotten paths, albeit wearing new anti-grav spaceboots. He’s a mainstream SF writer who at one point admits ‘I am an old-timer, and my sense of wonder should be a little blunted by now, but it obstinately refuses to lie down’ (guest editorial to ‘New Worlds’ no.117, April 1962).
It seems he was never likely to cause the Harlan Ellison’s or Robert Silverberg’s problems in the Hugo-grabbing stakes. Yet High’s stories are never less than immensely readable, set at a fast-moving pace, a swift action conveyor-belt narrative that grabs the attention, and won’t let go. Readers may stay unimpressed by the narrative superstructure the plotlines are carrying them through, but they hangs on through the next incident, and the next.
Philip E High’s universe is populated by people wielding Negation cannons, Trembler projectors, Dis-pistols, Dream Machines, Protes and Syntha-worms. A universe in which a submarine on routine Atlantic patrol disappears into the Jurassic past. In which a truck carrying a super-computer up the A40 disappears into a ‘probability future’. In which Earth is sold, for a spaceship. In which aliens organize safaris to hunt human beings. In which a Galactic court with robotic jurors is presided over by a robot judge. And in which a ‘tree which looks like an oak exhales a narcotic vapour which can knock you flat’, then clubs you around with its branches (in “The Meek Shall Inherit”, ‘Nebula SF’ no.26, January 1958).
Yet beneath this garish Space Opera facade there are a number of recurrent preoccupations and themes that underpin the stories. A unity to give the work a validating sense of continuity. Most importantly, and most readily identifiable is the central philosophical core of non-violence. There’s a repetition of the idea that violence is not an ineradicable human trait, that it is due to extraneous influences, or that it is about to be purged from the world in a kind of racial transfiguration.
This is an assertion not invalidated by the way many of High’s stories are set against a relentless military background, or one of apocalyptically devastating warfare. High knows how to hold his reader’s attention, he’s aware that action is imperative if the story is to be readable, and that conflict on a planetary scale is one of the best attention-grabbers in the SF canon of ideas. In his debut UK novel ‘The Prodigal Sun’ (1964) Earth has just won a Phyrric victory in an interstellar war against the eight-foot insectoid Vrenka. In ‘Come, Hunt An Earthman’ (1973), Earth has been conquered by a diabolical alliance of alien races. The world suffers a similar fate in ‘Sold, For A Spaceship’ (1973). In “A Race Of Madmen” (‘Nebula SF’ no.38, January 1959) Earth is barred from the universe by a logic-bound but unimaginative Galactic Federation who destroy all of the world’s metal deposits to prohibit further expansion into space. Humans retaliate by conquering the entire galaxy – in fleets of wooden spaceships! In fact, this theme of the human race ‘coming out for revenge’ had already cropped up in “Shift Case” (‘Nebula SF’ no.28, March 1958).
In ‘Butterfly Planet’ (1971) sixty-percent of the population remain unaware that an undercover war is being waged around them, ‘look down into the street, the buildings, the Parks. There is your battleground. Down there is the enemy – an enemy who wears no uniform. He walks behind you in the street, sits with you when you eat and perhaps swims beside you in a public pool. He may ask you for a light, bow you into a hotel, sell you a flyer, or in another form, leave the smell of perfume on your pillow. The enemy is young and old, male and female, and he is everywhere.’ War, and militarism – it seems, are universal, and eternal.
Yet creeping out from behind the bomb-craters and planetary devastation is the contrasting reiteration of the pacification theme. In story after story High restates that violence is not inherent, but artificial, or a temporary perversion capable of elimination. In ‘The Prodigal Sun’ ‘no-one has seen human nature, only its distortion.’ At the novel’s climax violence is eradicated from the Earth by the introduction of gas into the atmosphere to seal off ‘rogue radiation’ from the sun. This is a benevolent apocalypse in which love flourishes and the evil either repent, or shrivel up and die – ‘with a kind of frozen calm he leaned forward, picked up the little finger of his right hand and dropped it into the disposal slot.’ But there’s none of the poetic transcendental overtones that a JG Ballard or a Robert Silverberg might have infused into such a transfiguration, instead, it’s treated as a purely functional change. A technical surgery on par with the removal or addition of a faulty component. One side-effect of this ‘Paradise Regained’ – for example, is that marriages now last for ever!
‘True order’ he writes in the novel, ‘is a complete symbiosis of all nature with man at the peak just as the brain is the peak or natural fulfillment of the functioning human body.’ In ‘The Prodigal Sun’ the ideas appear to develop naturally and logically. Yet a throw-away line in a short story published three years earlier – “Probability Factor” (‘New Worlds’ no.116, March 1962), indicates that its theme goes deeper. A man from the future states that ‘the sun is too harsh, the radiation too fierce and erratic. The result is emotional instability leading to wars and similar outbreaks of violence.’ Digging yet deeper, “The Meek Shall Inherit” was published almost seven years before the novel, yet introduces a character asserting that ‘as a psych I can assure you that the race is growing away from violence.’ The Psych goes on to discover an Eden among the stars that destroys evil and violent thoughts as a reflex action. This phenomenon – another ‘complete symbiosis of all nature,’ also appears in “To See Ourselves”, a story that High developed from an idea by Emanuel Swedenborg. In the story the environment of the planet Teltha mirror-images what lies within the mind. Only by thinking beautiful thoughts can the ‘seeded’ colonists survive. The story ends on the upbeat, by using this planetary mutation ‘in time the human race can eliminate war, cruelty, want, suffering, hatred. It can become a race of gods in its own heaven.’ The Teltha effect can become the elixir. The universal panacea.
In this way we get Philip E High’s version of the ‘Redemption’. But he also has theories about the ‘Fall’ which are directly linked to the idea of the eradication of violence. High – admittedly in common with several other SF writers of the time, anticipates Erich Von Däniken by a decade, with theories involving alien intervention in terrestrial evolution. This happens most directly in the novel ‘Speaking Of Dinosaurs’ (1974), in which all of history – and prehistory, has been genetically manipulated by the warlike Ordnan, fusing the seed of ‘Earth-apes’ with that of Yewmens from the planet Terth! Even the dinosaurs of the title are the result of artificial modifications and experiments by rival groups of alien bioengineers. Again, the novel is predated by the short story “Routine Exercise”, which leaves a hanging tail-end question about humans maybe having evolved from the descendents of a crashed alien starship.
“Lords Of Creation” extends out into the ‘spaceship Earth’ concept, in which life itself has been ‘seeded’, and that not only the solar system but ‘the entire observable universe’ is a mobile experiment speeding towards a final destination in space-time. An idea in some ways reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke’s vision in ‘The City And The Stars’ (1956), of the artificial movement of entire constellations. But the still earlier Philip E High story “Shift Case” also sees the human race originating beyond Earth – this time as survivors of a cosmic war. The protagonist has a ‘racial memory’ compulsion to construct a weapon using technology he does not understand. A literary device that comes full circle with the ‘Speaking Of Dinosaurs’ race-memory that reveals the artificial nature of the prehistoric reptiles.
‘I am not an atheist as you know’ protest David Standing – the novel’s central character, in an attempt to rationalize his intuitive perception. ‘So I’ll say here and now that I think a deity was above all this. No sane man could associate the titanic blunders, abortive experiments and wasted effort (of evolution) with a supreme being. If a deity exists, I am firmly convinced he was way above all this.’ Evolution, he seems to be arguing, is illogical, and hence artificial. He later appears to find the rejection of this theory by experts similarly illogical! More concisely he comments ‘if automobile manufacturers of today made so many monumental blunders they’d be out of business.’
At the novel’s climax, Standing himself evolves beyond – or reverts to form beyond, the meddling alien’s intervention, and by doing so he comes another of the writer’s leitmotif’s – the übermensch. The one man with the destiny of a race in his hands. He is a ‘dominant strain’, a term that echoes Colin Wilson’s ‘dominant five-percent of society’, as – incidentally, was Jesus Christ. Compton, the protagonist in “The Martian Hunters” (‘New Worlds’ no.112, November 1961) undergoes a similar transfiguration, emerging as a synthesis of human and Martian. Peter Duncan of ‘The Prodigal Sun’ had the advantage of being brought up by the aliens (like Valentine Michael Smith in Robert A Heinlein’s ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’, 1961). In High’s novel, the technologically-advanced Mattrain rescue Duncan from a space-wreck as a baby, and return him to the war-devastated Earth to be the catalyst of a racial transformation. Duncan escapes the totalitarian regime controlling Earth, into a subterranean city beneath the ‘devastated areas’, where there’s much Nietzschean talk on such subjects as the ‘triumph of the will’, the undiscovered human potential and the coming racial renewal. His escape parallels that of Malling in “The Lords Of Creation” who also leaves a draconian regime to reach ‘Free City’.
An amusing sidelight on High’s work is that his characters – ‘dominant strain’ included, invariably smoke compulsively! Perhaps the intermittent ‘lights a cigarette /exhales deeply’ is directly related to his writing process? Or it could merely be intended to provide a reflective pause in the narrative? Or a kind of affirmation that, despite the strangeness of the settings, these stories deal with real people? In “The Method” (‘New Worlds’ no.124, November 1962), Marsin uses a device called the RFD which is sensitive to past time-impressions and ‘can be manipulated to focus on them and play them back in sight and sound.’ Following temporal immersion in the world of fifteen-hundred years previous he emerges with a taste for tobacco, he ‘thought briefly and bitterly that he would never smoke a pipe. He couldn’t cadge a cigarette, no-one smoked cigarettes in this age.’
EC Tubb, the editor of ‘Authentic SF’ (from issue no.66) confided to me ‘what was nice about Philip High was, I was getting submissions in, and his was a story I liked. I liked his style. I liked it very much. But he hadn’t learned how to lay it out properly. No-one had bothered to tell him… So I said ‘I like the yarn, and you’re going to get the money because I’m the publisher, so do you mind doing the work and laying it out...?’ and I sent him a page from one of my own carbons for him to read, and said ‘lay it out like this’. Indented paragraphs, all the usual bumph that goes with it… And he wrote me a very nice letter back and said ‘you’re the first editor that has ever tried to help me, and I thank you for it.’ And of course, his writing went on, and he got quite a name for himself. He wrote some very good stuff.’
Such acceptance within a genre in which he immediately felt at home, led to further sales. Beyond ‘Authentic SF’, the unique Scottish magazine ‘Nebula SF’, edited by Peter Hamilton, became a regular market. He made his second sale there, “Wrath Of The God” (no.17, August 1956), about an astronaut stranded on an alien planet. It was voted second best story in the issue. During the same year it published his outstanding “City At Random” (no.19, December 1956). He was subsequently voted ‘Nebula SF’s ‘Top Discovery of 1956’, and the fifth most popular writer of the year.
As his style developed and became more accomplished his stories appeared with remarkable regularity, and to consistent acclaim. His first-published novelette, a 12,000-word “Assassin In Hiding” (‘Authentic SF’ no.79, April 1957) was given cover-illustration status, followed by “Further Outlook” (‘Nebula SF’ no.24, September 1957), voted sixth most popular story of its issue. By the close of 1958 a subsequent novelette – “Lords Of Creation” for ‘Nebula SF’ was rated the issue’s best story. If the evolving style was sometimes brash, it was never less than wide-screen in scope. “The Meek Shall Inherit” opens with the casual understatement ‘there are two ways to conquer a galaxy!’ A sentiment reiterated in the novel ‘Blindfold From The Stars’ (1979) – ‘the conquest of a galaxy is relatively easy providing the aggressor has the necessary technology…’ In “Shift Case” a psychiatric patient under ‘mind-probe’ reveals a subplot about an apparently prehistoric pioneer hyper-drive mission encountering a militant alien race in space.
Yet carried along by the powerful forward-momentum of such extravagances are some well-constructed and intelligent themes. The tense “To See Ourselves” balances the idea of a planet that kills each man ‘dropped’ onto its surface in turn, with that of a retired super plastic-surgeon who’s technique is a careful analogy of the planet’s action by reflecting the individual’s ‘inner light’ in its appearance. It auger’s well for the writer’s future, despite the story’s use of the dubious adjective ‘hissingly’ twice in the space of three pages (High enjoys deploying such words, meaningly, twistedly, unbelievingly, unseeingly). John Carnell, editor on ‘New Worlds’ wrote about High’s “Routine Exercise” that it ‘was almost rejected when originally submitted, because of its over-familiar plot, yet its publication brought in more enthusiastic correspondence than any other story for weeks’ (in his introduction to ‘Lambda One And Other Stories’ (Penguin, 1965) in which it was subsequently anthologised). The plot concerns the nuclear submarine ‘Taurus’ cast inexplicably back in time to the Jurassic, where it encounters and destroys a vast alien star-ship.
The story’s success seemed to suggest a follow-up, and – stylistically at least, “Probability Factor” appears to fill the role. Amusingly, it was written on a rainy Saturday afternoon in August 1961. High was by then living in Canterbury and holding down a Bus Driver’s job for the East Kent Car Road Company – because ‘it gives him more time to write’ (according to the blurb of ‘The Prodigal Sun’). He was placed as standby driver – and paid double-time, for a holiday rush that never materialised. While waiting, he scribbled out of the first draft of the story. Like “Routine Exercise” it opens and closes with an enquiry into missing government equipment, and once the situation is outlined in this way, it plunges into the main narrative. In the second story it is a transporter ferrying a giant computer that vanishes into the mist, to emerge not in the past but into a ‘parallel probability’ future.
Earlier still – in “City At Random”, it was an entire city that was cast beyond the mist into a vast hypno-induced ‘reality’ from which there’s no escape. There it was allowed to degenerate into savagery, as an alien-imposed test to determine whether people are racially mature enough to enter the universe. It is a test that the human race fails.
His productivity rate through these years is truly amazing, rivalling that of his former mentor EC Tubb in both quality of invention, and prolific output. For the month of August 1957 he had stories in each of Britain’s newsstand magazines – ‘New Worlds’, ‘Nebula SF’ and ‘Authentic SF’. By March 1962 – although ‘Nebula SF’ and ‘Authentic SF’ had vanished, his stories were featured in two of the surviving titles – ‘New Worlds’ and ‘Science Fiction Adventures’. But the golden age of his short fiction was drawing to a close around the mid-sixties with the extinction of his regular titles, and John Carnell’s replacement at ‘New Worlds’ by Michael Moorcock.
Moorcock – in the guise of ‘James Colvin’, comments that ‘The Prodigal Sun’ is ‘one of those run-of-the-mill British novels which isn’t particularly bad and not particularly good’ (‘New Worlds’ no.156, November 1965). He commends only the cover illustration. High’s novel was the second paperback to be published by ‘Compact’ – at 3s6p, the other being Moorcock’s own ‘The Sundered Worlds’ (1965) which, incidentally, Colvin recommends! High sold a story to market-leading ‘Analog’, and Frederik Pohl bought his “The Big Tin God” for new American magazine ‘International Science Fiction’, but as Moorcock’s review indicates, High’s straightforward lack of pretention seemed out of place in the rarefied ‘New Wave’ atmosphere of literary experiment. Although Philip Harbottle launched a magazine more sympathetic to his values – ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’, and was to be a loyal long-term supporter of High’s fiction, the trend in the short story market dictated that his future lay in novels.
But many of the themes expressed in the novels were expanded from those of short stories that first saw print in one or more of his forty-four magazine appearances. And, once begun, the novels were issued with some regularity. In ‘No Truce With Terra’ (1964) an idyllic pastoral planet is invaded by ‘dimensional travelling’ human armies. ‘Reality Forbidden’ (1967) features an entire chapter evolved from High’s illogical childhood fear of an unused room in their old family home. ‘Invader On My Back’ (1968) was written in fifty-eight days while High worked the night shift. It was swiftly followed by ‘Time Mercenaries’ (1968), in which the Terran Empire’s only chance of defeating insectile Nerne invaders turns out to be a Second World War submarine, crewed by antiquated defenders a thousand years out of date. Then, in ‘Come, Hunt An Earthman’ (1973) – ‘you may consider yourself experienced hunters, many of you, no doubt, have hunted on many planets, but on this reserve you move into a new realm of hunting. Here there are no mindless monsters or charging carnivores, but a devious, intelligent and dangerous prey. Trophies won in this Game Reserve carry high prestige for they are acquired at considerable personal risk. There are reasons for this – the prey is out to get you before you get him.’
There are fourteen novels, through to ‘Fugitives From Time’ (1978), and ‘Blindfold From The Stars’ (1979) which develops ideas of psi faculties. From the beginning they’re never less than adequate, and at their best they’re tense and immensely readable. Some argue the novels fail to deliver the promise of the magazine work, perhaps due to work-constraints on his free time. ‘Speaking Of Dinosaurs’ (1974) in particular suffers from uncertain narrative construction. The phrasing, and even the grammar fault with jarring effect. The awkwardly-phrased ‘he had forgotten that he had once regarded this creature as a crude machine but it was,’ is unfortunately not a unique example, and could easily have been better revised, if time allowed. He also continually quizzes the reader – ‘a couple of hours to kill, what could he do?’ David Standing sees a museum – ‘hell, he hadn’t been round one of those since he was a kid – why not?’
This, from a writer who had once built a story around a single line, ‘the ship sat like a bronze arrowhead on a black outcropping of rock’ (“A Schoolroom For The Teacher”, ‘Authentic SF’ no.74, November 1956). A writer who delivered evocative lines such as ‘a detonation which seemed to shake the planet to its foundations and set the metal buildings humming like tuning forks’ (“Infection”, ‘Nebula SF’ no.39, February 1959). A writer who coined neat descriptions like the ‘face of an irritable peanut’ (‘The Prodigal Sun’), a writer who quotes Keats in ‘The Mad Metropolis’ (aka ‘Double Illusion’, 1966), Wilfred Owen’s “Spring Offensive” and Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” in ‘No Truce For Terra’ (1964). A writer who inserts a poem of his own – dating from the time barbed wire was infesting 1940 beaches, into ‘No Truce For Terra’. A poem that translates amazing well, retaining both metre and rhyme, into its German-language edition.
‘We (Science Fiction writers) have on many occasions destroyed the entire planet’ he wrote in the ‘New Worlds’ guest editorial. ‘But our purposes are often misunderstood. Remember, please, the mainspring of our work is, what-would-happen-if? Worlds might collide, an alien race might attempt invasion. We are, in effect, reporters of a possible future and, as reporters it is our business to write the story.’ A widescreen approach to tomorrow, a Space Opera view, perhaps? ‘A good story’ he continues, ‘captures the imagination and if it is found necessary to explain it there is obviously something wrong’ (‘New Worlds’ no.117, April 1962). He leaves no room for trendy obscurantism, open-endings or vignette techniques. ‘I believe a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end’ he told ‘Radio Medway’ listeners, ‘the same applies to Plays on TV, Plays on the stage.’
Yet, quietly and consistently, working within these self-imposed limitations, he produced an impressive body of work. Stories such as “Project Stall” (‘New Worlds’ no.83, May 1959), about the discovery of an extinct Martian civilisation based around organic engineering. Or its follow-up – “The Martian Hunters” (‘New Worlds’ no.112, November 1961), which features one of his finest literary invention, the thought-cubes, which contain the incomprehensible essence of Martian culture and ethics. And the effect of the thought-cubes on the protagonist, turning him into a strange human-Martian hybrid. It was voted fourth most popular story of the issue, even when espionage aspects of the story complicate the flow of the ideas until the reader is left with only the first stages of the transfiguration, and the full implications and possibilities of thought-cubes are left unexplored. Maybe there’s space here for a novel…? Espionage and political manipulation also paces the flow of ideas in ‘The Prodigal Sun’, ‘Speaking Of Dinosaurs’, and ‘Butterfly Planet’ (1971).
At his best, Philip E High delivers concise, workmanlike and memorable stories. “Infection” (‘Nebula SF’ no.39, February 1959), for example is a story – almost a parable, of the colonisation of Venus after the devastation of Earth. It has mildly ecological overtones, ending with the cautionary paragraph ‘perhaps in the body of the universe we aren’t quite so big as we think we are… just an unfilterable, submicroscopic virus, a blight – an infection. Maybe, if we aren’t careful they’ll send a cosmic doctor to cure us.’
We have been warned…!
Proving he’d lost none of his flair for memorable short stories, Cosmos Books through Wildside Press published ‘Step To The Stars’ (2004), a fine collection of original fiction, to coincide with its earlier anthology ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (2002). Philip E High died 9 August 2006. John Clute wrote a respectful obituary for ‘The Independent’. With many thanks to Philip E High for his kind indulgence and assistance in preparing this feature.
PHILIP E HIGH: BIBLIOFILE
1956 – “Wrath Of The Gods” (‘Nebula SF’ no.17, July 1956), art by Arthur Thomson, ‘Castaway on an inhospitable planet, his only concern was to keep alive. This was to be easier than he had anticipated, however.’ Voted joint-second best story in the issue with 19.3% of the votes
1956 – “A Schoolroom For The Teacher” (‘Authentic SF’ no.74, November 1956) ‘Exploring the galaxy could be a little like robbing a beehive. You could get the honey – or you could get stung’, collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion Kindle, September 2011)
1956 – “The Collaborator” (Authentic SF’ no.75, December 1956) ‘Would it be wrong for a man to work for the invader if it is for the greater benefit of his race?’, collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion Kindle, September 2011)
1956 – “City At Random” (‘Nebula SF’ no.19, December 1956) ‘Who, or what, had condemned their city to death’ ‘…Cransville was the last place on Earth as far as we were concerned. If it was still on Earth which I sometimes doubted because you couldn’t get out of it…’
1957 – “Guess Who?” (‘New Worlds’ no.56, February 1957), through bitter experience –‘since eighty-five square miles of Yorkshire had gushed skywards in an eruption that made a hydro-nuclear explosion look like a fire-cracker’, returning starships dock at a Pluto satellite, subject to intensive scrutiny to detect alien infiltration. A tight claustrophobic paranoia with four-man crew in isolation under surveillance and interrogation, despite Psych Fighters and Reflex Killers the hypno-enabled seahorse alien still gets through, collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion Kindle, September 2011)
1957 – “Plague Solution” (‘Authentic SF’ no.77, February 1957), ‘The planet was a vicious hell of nightmare dangers. And yet it had to be tamed for the refugees from dying Earth. How?’ collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion Kindle, September 2011)
1957 – “Life Sentence” (‘Authentic SF’ no.80, May 1957) art by PR Green, ‘Dalcey was tough and hard and had a foolproof plan to grab the world by the tail. His plan worked – but he had underestimated himself’
1957 – “The Golden Age” (‘New Worlds’ no.60, June 1957) ‘The modern Utopia – the Golden Age – when it arrives, may be through a natural progression of events, an off-spring of the laboratory, it could, however, be a deliberately induced state to keep Mankind happy. For a purpose, of course…’ A compressed novel, Carmody is told ‘you are a seeker after truth in an age which has forgotten the meaning of the word, a rebel in a ward of happy morons’ yet he wonders why Europe is a radioactive wasteland and why Africa has vanished from the map. He learns that humans are ‘a subject race on a reservation’ and uses the resistance subspace to alert the galactic federation
1957 – “Buried Talent” (‘New Worlds’ no.62, August 1957) ‘In the future not every invasion of occupied territory will necessitate superior armaments. It may well be that an alien race will perfect an entirely different method of overpowering defended posts – as Philip High presupposes in the following short story…’ A neglected detector post on Ganymede, the enemy aliens ‘with their curious tall helmets and black suits, they looked rather like a group of bulbous witches gathered round a cauldron’, theirs is a weapon of distraction. Embittered Hudson ‘even in time of war, it was obvious that friends in high places lead to responsible commands’ plots impossible strategies, Langley composes a new ‘Jupiter Symphony’ on his fold-out pianette, Connor writes verse in his notebook… only unlikely conscript Loxley’s buried talent is for combat with an exploder-gun, and ‘a talent for being a hero’
1957 – “Time Bomb” (‘Nebula SF’ no.23, August 1957), illustrated by Arthur Thomson, ‘The dictator had a steely grip on the hearts and minds of Earthmen, when the time of stress came would his control of himself be as great?’
1957 – “Topside” (‘Authentic SF’ no.83, August 1957) art by Adash, ‘They waited a thousand years, sheltered from the cataclysm which had sent them into hiding. They dug upwards in a strange resurrection – to find themselves aliens on their own planet’
1957 – “The Ancient Enemy” (‘Authentic SF’ no.84, September 1957) ‘On the face of it the alien invader was all set to wipe out the human race. But Man had a peculiar defence mechanism. Very peculiar’
1957 – “Further Outlook” (‘Nebula SF’ no.24, September 1957), illustration by John J Greengrass, ‘The aliens were using weather control as a tool to destroy mankind… could there be any defence against the elements?’
1958 – “The Meek Shall Inherit” (‘Nebula SF’ no.26, January 1958) ‘Mankind had left his mark upon a hundred planets – one planet constituted something of a problem, however’
1958 – “Risk Economy” (‘Nebula SF’ no.27, February 1958), ‘The world was not as he remembered it of long ago, nor were his friends who had forgotten of his very existence’, collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion Kindle, September 2011)
1958 – “Shift Case” (‘Nebula SF’ no.28, March 1958) ‘If man and alien met would the result be as terrible as his dreams foretold?’
1958 – “The Guardian” (‘New Worlds’ no.76, October 1958) ‘There are an infinite number of plots which can be written round the chances of finding a human-looking alien who is hiding somewhere on Earth, but we think Mr High’s ‘trained observer’ approach herewith is one of the better ideas on this theme’
1958 – “The Lords Of Creation” (‘Nebula SF’ no.37, December 1958) novelette, illustrations by Kenneth Barr, ‘Something incredible was happening to the whole universe and the mind of man, unable to adjust, was about to lose control.’ Voted no.1 story in the issue with 20.9% of the votes (Robert Silverberg’s ‘House Divided’ comes at no.5)
1959 – “A Race Of Madmen” (‘Nebula SF’ no.38, January 1959) illustration by Kenneth Barr, ‘The General was confident of ultimate victory, but he reckoned without the resourcefulness of the natives of Sygma III.’ Voted no.1 story in the issue with 22.1% of the vote, over stories by Robert Silverberg, Brian W Aldiss and ‘H Philip Stratford’ (aka Kenneth Bulmer)
1959 – “Infection” (‘Nebula SF’ no.39, February 1959) illustrations by Arthur Thomson, ‘What was the curious parallel between life on Venus and a strange new illness which had come to plague it?’
1959 – “Squeeze Box” (‘New Worlds’ no.81, March 1959), ‘The aliens had a most effective method of getting rid of the conquered humans – create a situation where they were forced to commit race suicide. What the humans needed was a secret weapon or something the aliens didn’t have which would turn the scales’, ‘the vanquished obligingly burying their own dead. It was all so simple, just make a cage and squeeze’, until Marion is sentenced to die by invulnerable zipcat on planet Leinster, like Androcles his altruism succeeds over the predator-instinct, and zipcats become allies in the human fightback against their occupiers, collected into ‘Invasions’ edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G Waugh & Martin H Greenberg (Roc /New American Library, August 1990)
1959 – “To See Ourselves” (‘Nebula SF’ no.40, May 1959), illustrations by Arthur Thomson, ‘What was it on this quiet and tranquil globe which lay in wait to kill suddenly quickly and without trace?’, collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos /Wildside Press, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion September 2011)
1959 – “For Those Who Wait” (‘Nebula SF’ no.41, June 1959), illustrations by John J Greengrass, ‘Out in the depths of space were the pioneers of a new age… and on Earth their wives awaited their return’
1959 – “Pseudopath” (‘New Worlds’ no.86, August-September 1959) ‘Mr High’s latest story is basically one concerning an undercover war taking place without the masses knowing anything about it, a highly-developed psychological type of warfare, however, requiring new talents.’ Lott poses as a telepath to draw out Magnesta, dictator-leader of a vast crime-syndicate in a covert war. Combining two High themes – ‘Psi Squad’, and the future ‘Butterfly Planet’ (1971). Story collected into ‘Supermen’ edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G Waugh & Martin H Greenberg (Signet /New American Library, October 1984, and Robinson, 1988)
1960 – “Mumbo-Jumbo Man” (‘New Worlds’ no.90, January 1960) ‘Twin Peaks marked the entrance to String Valley and if the enemy were there in any strength at all…’ The land-war against the Seth, and the ‘Corp of Magicians’ rediscovers old strategies to fight the lizard-like aliens
1960 – “Pursuit Missile” (‘New Worlds’ no.95, June 1960) ‘Philip High introduces what could be the first and last space battle’ ‘The amazing aspect of the lost colonies, cut off as they were by the long centuries of the Aztic war, lies not only in their survival but in the fact that most of them established a technology’
1961 – “Routine Exercise” (‘New Worlds’ no.103, February 1961), one of High’s best stories – the nuclear submarine ‘Taurus’ lost in time, ‘look, we submerged on a new moon and surfaced on a full one. Or, equally idiotic, while we submerged the temperature rose sixty-five degrees and the land moved a hundred and ten miles closer?’ Republished in ‘Lambda One And Other Stories’ anthology edited by John Carnell (Berkley Medallion, February 1964, Penguin SF, 1965). Republished in ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos /Wildside Press, August 2002, and Gateway / Orion September 2011)
1961 – “The Jackson Killer” (‘New Worlds’ no.106, May 1961), ‘The more successful a mutant strain became the more urgent became the necessity to exterminate it. Hence the Eliminator Corps operating for Earth against the colonials’, one is the Jackson Killer, the other the decoy. Story collected into ‘The Best Of British SF no.2’ edited by Mike Ashley (Orbit, 1977), and ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos /Wildside Press, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion September 2011)
1961 – “Fallen Angel” (‘Analog Science Fact-Fiction’ Vol.67 no.4, June 1961), ‘They were the ancient and ultra-civilized perfect race… and all Galactic civilization would be shaken if such as he fell…’. Sarbor investigates the efficiency of the Terran ‘experiment’ on lawless Earth, and learns that the Grienan superiority is not as deep as they’d assumed. Story collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos /Wildside Press, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion September 2011)
1961 – “The Martian Hunters” (‘New Worlds’ no.112, November 1961), sequel to ‘Project – Stall’, with the Martian organic artifacts transferred to Earth, the side-effects of Compton’s exposure resulting in his re-‘CLASSIFICATION: MARTIAN’
1961 – “Survival Course” (‘New Worlds’ no.113, December 1961), ‘It has been a long time since we had an interesting story located on Venus, but Mr High has made full use of the current interest in our neighbouring planet to produce a most unusual plot.’ Possibly one of SF’s final stories to portray Venus as a world of perpetual rain, a jungle of vines and giant white fungus, and an unseen controlling intelligence
1962 – “The Psi Squad” (‘New Worlds’ no.114, January 1962), as John Carnell points out, ‘we do not publish many psi stories’, but this is an exception because there’s nothing supernatural involved, it’s policeman Nevison’s natural sensitivity and ‘acutely turned nervous system’ which recruits him to the Psi Squad. Like Sherlock Holmes, they merely use exaggerated observational and analytical skills
1962 – “Blind As A Bat” (‘Science Fiction Adventures’ no.25, March 1962), ‘Manwood was promoted above his station and given a suicide squadron – but the Base psychiatrists knew what would happen’ ‘an invincible and implacable enemy (the Voyans) must have a weak spot somewhere. To find it the Terran Command had to adopt seemingly unorthodox methods’, collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos /Wildside Press, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion September 2011)
1962 – “Probability Factor” (‘New Worlds’ no.116, March 1962) ‘The ‘disappearing trick’ story has been with us a long time; in fact, it can form the basis of scores of different plots. In this new Philip High story the ‘disappearance’ involves a highly complex computer still on the secret list and wanted by every foreign government’
1962 – “Why Explain SF?” (‘New Worlds’ no.117, April 1962) ‘Guest Editorial’ non-fiction feature
1962 – “Dictator Bait” (‘New Worlds’ no.118, May 1962) ‘Finding an alien who could change shape at will would be harder than finding the proverbial needle. There is one way, however, of flushing him out of hiding, given time and the necessary will-power’
1962 – “The Method” (‘New Worlds no.124’, November 1962) ‘It isn’t so much the method that counts when used in any major endeavour to ensure victory – but knowing when to apply it’ The mythic Levanoon, a kind of Interstellar UNO, arbitrate wars between worlds by having token ten-man teams in conflict. Marsin replays the past seeking clues in an overspecialized twenty-planet Earth empire – ‘a hundred-thousand priesthoods all jealously guarding their secrets against each other’ and discovers Commando combat – ‘I’m sick to death of silent insidious weapons which almost raise their hats before they kill you.’ A tight compressed action-squib with ‘subtlety defeated by brute force’
1962 – “Dead End” (‘Science Fantasy’ no.56, December 1962) ‘Sherwell wasn’t sure where the dream ended and reality began, or, in fact, which was which. All he felt reasonably sure about was the fact that he could read the future.’ A uniquely surreal story, with the Psi Squad prediction-ability enabled by a Korean-war metal plate in his skull. He walks seven-and-a-half miles in distance but a million years in time, through the electronic-brain Mother-regime, to reach romantic conclusion with Lorayne, but the end of time is just twenty years ahead, ‘after that is darkness, science can see nothing, after that – there is no future’
1963 – “The Big Tin God” (‘New Worlds’ no.126, January 1963), ‘The computer had been set to design an infallible defensive weapon of certain specifications. It’s interpretation of those requirements, however, was something radical and eliminated was for ever’, the human race is ‘fissionable material which all too easily became critical’, Interlaw – global peacekeepers, are faced with ‘Dopey’, what we’d now term an AI. Republished in the USA in ‘International Science Fiction’ (November 1967) edited by Frederik Pohl
1963 – “Point Of No Return” (‘New Worlds’ no.132, July 1963), ‘The Empire suspected that there was something seriously amiss on one of its colonial planets, so they sent in their top investigator. But they could not have suspected just how serious the situation really was.’ When their bodies are destroyed in an insurgent’s missile-strike, the pilot’s projected consciousness remains in their attack-planes, creating a new alien species. Story collected into ‘The Best Of Philip E High’ (Cosmos /Wildside Press, August 2002, and Gateway /Orion September 2011)
1963 – “Relative Genius” (‘New Worlds’ no.137, December 1963) ‘Mace was in a foolproof prison, yet he could not remember why he was there or if he really was a person called Mace. So he decided that he would really have to escape if he wanted to know the answers…’ Earth invaded by the Tule – or is it? the prison turns out to be ‘State Institutions for the insane and mentally retarded’, SF with a Kafka-twist, republished in Italian in ‘Urania no.343’ (August 1964) as ‘Genio Relativo’ (trans: Bianca Russo) and anthologized in ‘Contatto Con L’Inumano’ edited by Giuseppe Lippi (August 1990)
1969 – “The Adapters” (‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ no.3, November 1969) art by Quinn, ‘In recent years Philip E High has won a reputation as the author of several exciting novels, most of them published in America. ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ is privileged to herald his return to short fiction with this fascinating story of a rather unusual invasion of the Earth…’
1970 – “Technical Wizard” (‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ no.5, February 1970) Alan Vince art, a warrior-race of cat-like aliens interrogate a captured human prisoner who warns them off the forty Earth planets due to ‘infection’ of uncontrollable psionic powers
1970 – “Fixed Image” (‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ no.8, May 1970) Jim Cawthorn art, ‘It was then that the room seemed to up-end oddly. He had a brief impression of a curious red mist and then his vision was horizontal and lower,’ this was his final short story for a number of years, ‘The bottom fell out of the SF field to be replaced by fantasy. On top of this my last agent lost me several hundred pounds, possibly more, not by dishonesty and laziness alone but the addition of inspired incompetence – too complicated to bore you with details, but dreadful after being handled so well by the late Ted Carnell. I packed it in, it just wasn’t worth the worry. I wrote a bit in my space time for my own amusement but that was it’ (private correspondence)
1980 – “The Time Of Light” (‘South East Arts Review’, Autumn 1980)
1984 – ‘Philip E High: Prophet Without Honour’ (‘Space Voyager’ no.7, February 1984) ‘Marion Van Der Voort takes a look at the work of Philip E High, a largely unsung master of British SF’
1999 – “Transit Serum” (‘Gryphon Science Fiction & Fantasy Reader no.1, January 1999)
1999 – “The Gulf” (‘Fantasy Annual’ no.3, December 1999), an experimental weapons-potential project ‘freezes’ an island in time, resulting in the poignant reunion of a 20-year-old father with his 50-year-old son. Also includes his “The Falling Elephant” – with echoes of ‘The Psi Squad’, a Detective’s ‘hunch’ while investigating an inexplicable White Mountain Lake death, turns out to be remnants of a ‘race memory’, a hidden conflict inherited from a parallel-dimension totalitarian Earth ruled by the unfortunately-named Supremes! The recurrent ‘falling elephants’ dream is finally revealed as a lost memory of Hannibal crossing the Alps. The story is collected into ‘Guilty As Charged: Fantastic Crime Stories’ by Philip E High (Borgo Press /Wildside, January 2013, then Linford Mystery, December 2013)
2000 – “One Hour To Darkness” (‘Fantasy Annual’ no.4, August 2000) also includes his “Chain Reaction” and “The Occultist” both published as by ‘BJ Empson’. ‘If you happen to see the latest ‘Fantasy Annual’ you may note the author ‘BJ Empson’, which is myself under a penname. I do not flatter myself that this is due to my talent but rather that the wordage of the stories fitted the format, just the right length etc’ (private correspondence)
2001 – ‘WIND AND WANTON’ a privately-printed limited-edition collection of his poems, including ‘Breathe, Oh Night’ – the poem he quotes in ‘No Truce For Terra’, plus ‘Half Angel’, ‘The Dead King’, ‘Norfolk Scene’, ‘The Sad Ghosts’, ‘Birds’, ‘Clapham Junction’, ‘Wind And Wanton’, ‘Medusa’, ‘The Empty Heart’, ‘Judith’ and ‘Sea Fantasy’. ‘This book contains the poems, twelve in all, which I can read without wincing. Privately printed for myself and my descendents. You will, of course, be relieved to hear that both my daughters have made a full recovery without side-effects’ (from private correspondence)
2001 – “Malfunction Syndrome” (‘Fantasy Quarterly’ no.1, July 2001)
2002 – “The Artifact” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.1, May 2002), a ‘Psi Squad’ variant with a ‘Sensitive’ – Constable Weirdo, Magician Barret, joining Police procedural investigations into the brutal atrocity-death of conman Ivan Berenof, and an alien vase. Effective climax with a telepathic scream as the entity is devoured by wild birds! Story collected into ‘Guilty As Charged: Fantastic Crime Stories’ by Philip E High (Borgo Press /Wildside, January 2013, then Linford Mystery, December 2013)
2002 – ‘THE BEST OF PHILIP E HIGH’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside Press, August 2002) story collection includes ‘Phil High: Literary Craftsman’ interview by Philip Harbottle, with ‘A Schoolroom For The Teacher’, ‘The Collaborator’, ‘Plague Solution’, ‘Guess Who?’, ‘Risk Economy’, ‘To See Ourselves’, ‘Routine Exercise’, ‘The Jackson Killer’, ‘Fallen Angel’, ‘Blind As A Bat’, ‘Point Of No Return’ and ‘Psycho-Land’
2003 – “A Question Of Fuel” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.3, 2003) also includes his “Guilty As Charged” published as by ‘BJ Empson’
2003 – “The Drainpipe” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.4. 2003) collected into ‘The Science-Fantasy Megapack: 25 Classic Tales From Fantasy Adventures’ edited by Philip Harbottle (Wildside Press, September 2013)
2003 – “The Elementals” (‘Fantasy Annual’ no.5, April 2003) with “Production Model”, connected stories describing the bizarre fate that befalls two men who set out for a drive in a new car. Also includes his “Time Ticket”, and published as by ‘BJ Empson’ “Bought On The Internet” which is collected into ‘Guilty As Charged: Fantastic Crime Stories’ by Philip E High (Borgo Press /Wildside, January 2013, then Linford Mystery, December 2013)
2003 – “Let There Be Light” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.5) mobster Bruthod has whistleblower Lansome’s car exploded, in a hospital coma he undergoes evolutionary transfiguration, anticipating a racial ‘change’ which has ‘man’s inner nature reflected outwardly’, at the hands of an unspecified benevolent extraterrestrial force. A recurring High theme with near-spiritual intensity
2003 – “Seeds Of Invasion” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.7) collected into ‘Guilty As Charged: Fantastic Crime Stories’ by Philip E High (Borgo Press /Wildside, January 2013, then Linford Mystery, December 2013)
2004 – ‘STEP TO THE STARS’ (Cosmos Books /Wildside Press) original story collection by Philip E High with cover art by Ron Turner and introduction essay by Philip Harbottle, includes ‘Step To The Stars’, ‘Virtual Reality’, ‘Tune Out Of Time’, ‘Pioneer Plus’, ‘The Thing At The Bottom Of The Garden’, ‘Awakening’, ‘Funny Farm’, ‘The Price To Pay’, ‘The Mex’ and ‘Galactic Love Story’
2004 – “The Prisoner” (‘Fantasy Adventures’, no.8, April 2004)
2004 – “The Gunman” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.9, April 2004) collected into ‘The Science-Fantasy Megapack: 25 Classic Tales From Fantasy Adventures’ edited by Philip Harbottle (Wildside Press, September 2013)
2004 – “The Lost Soul” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.11, 2004)
2006 – “The Simulator” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.12, 2006)
2008 – “The Wishing Stone” (‘Fantasy Adventures’ no.13, 2008) also includes ‘This World Is Ours’, ‘The Blackmailer’ and ‘The Re-Conquest Of Earth’ with ‘Remembering Phil High’ tribute by Philip Harbottle. This final issue dedicated to the memory of Philip E High and Sydney J Bounds. ‘The Wishing Stone’ collected into ‘The Science-Fantasy Megapack: 25 Classic Tales From Fantasy Adventures’ edited by Philip Harbottle (Wildside Press, September 2013
2011 – “This World Is Ours” (‘To The Stars, And Beyond: The Second Borgo Press Book Of Science Fiction Stories’ edited by Robert Reginald (Borgo Press /Wildside, June 2011)
2013 – ‘GUILTY AS CHARGED: FANTASTIC CRIME STORIES’ (Borgo Press /Wildside) Philip E High story collection with ‘About The Author’ introduction by Philip Harbottle
1964 – ‘THE PRODIGAL SUN’ (1964 Ace Books F-255) ‘Was He There To Teach Earth – Or To Rule It?’, UK Compact Books 1965 – ‘Returned From A Superior Civilization, He Used His Powers To Save Humanity From Hideous Destruction’, reprinted September 2011 by Gateway /Orion Kindle (the ‘other books by’ listing in the Compact Books edition includes ‘Occupation Force’ and ‘Identical Twin’ which don’t appear anywhere else)
1964 – ‘NO TRUCE FOR TERRA’ (Ace Double F-275, with Murray Leinster’s ‘The Duplicators’) ‘Invasion Of The Metal Marauders’, with Ed Emshwiller cover art. Published USA and West Germany only, in UK September 2011 by Gateway/ Orion
1966 – ‘THE MAD METROPOLIS’ (Ace Double-back M-135 with Murray Leinster’s ‘Space Captain’) ‘In This Cybernetic City, Thinkers Were Outlaws’ with interior artwork by Jack Gaughan. Published in the UK under variant title ‘Double Illusion’ (Dennis Dobson, 1970, then Linford Mystery Library, January 2011)
1967 – ‘TWIN PLANETS’ (US Paperback Library, January 1967) ‘Firma and Earth are on a time track to destruction and Denning and Liston are asked to face the aliens armed only with their brains’, cover art by Koslow (UK Dennis Dobson, 1968, then Gateway /Orion September 2011)
1967 – ‘REALITY FORBIDDEN’ (Ace Double G-609, with A Bertram Chandler’s ‘Contraband From Otherspace’) ‘Across The Border Of The Mind’, cover and inner art by Jack Gaughan. Published in the UK by Robert Hale (1968), then Gateway /Orion (September 2011)
1967 – ‘THOSE SAVAGE FUTURIANS’ (Ace Double G-623, with Jack Rackham’s ‘The Double Invaders’) ‘Earth Was Their Laboratory’, cover art by Gray Morrow, inner art by Jack Gaughan. Published in the UK by Dennis Dobson, April 1969, republished by Cosmos /Wildside Press, December 2000 and Gateway /Orion, September 2011
1968 – ‘INVADER ON MY BACK’ (Ace Double H-85, with David Grinnell (Donald A Wollheim)-Lin Carter’s ‘Destination Saturn’) ‘They dared not look at the sky!’, cover and inner art by Jack Gaughan. Published in the UK by Robert Hale, 1968, Cosmos /Wildside December 2000 and Gateway /Orion September 2011
1968 – ‘THE TIME MERCENARIES’ (Ace Double H-59, with Louis Trimble’s ‘Anthropol’) ‘What port awaited the end of their thousand years beneath the sea’, ‘After one war-scare too many the human race has suppressed its aggressive instincts by genetic manipulation. Now mankind is faced with an enemy so superior, so ruthless, that it is fight or be wiped out – and humans can no longer fight, they cannot even order their robots to fight. Only a museum exhibit from a thousand years ago – Royal Navy submarine ‘Euphrates’ complete with commander and crew, their belligerent natures intact, can hope to save the planet from an enemy to whom living space is all-important and human life entirely superfluous. Cover art by Morrow, inner art by Jack Gaughan. Published in the UK by Dennis Dobson, 1969, through ‘Tandem’ paperback (1972), then Gateway /Orion September 2011
1971 – ‘BUTTERFLY PLANET’ (Robert Hale & Co of 63 Old Brompton Road, London SW7, September 1971), republished by Cosmos Books /Wildside December 2000 with Ron Turner cover art, and by Gateway /Orion September 2011
1973 – ‘COME, HUNT AN EARTHMAN’ (Robert Hale June 1973) – reviewed in ‘Fantasy Review (July 1985)’ by Chris Morgan, reprinted in April 1985 by Hamlyn Venture SF no.2, and July 1987 by Arrow Books with Eddie Jones cover art, and Gateway /Orion September 2011
1973 – ‘SOLD, FOR A SPACESHIP’ (Robert Hale September 1973) – reviewed in ‘Fantasy Review (November 1985) by Chris Morgan, reprinted in September 1985 by Hamlyn/ Arrow Books Venture SF no.7 with Eddie Jones cover art, and in September 2011 by Gateway /Orion
1978 – ‘FUGITIVE FROM TIME’ (Robert Hale, September 1978 with Helen Hale cover art) – reviewed in ‘Vector no.91’ by Andrew Darlington, republished by Gateway /Orion September 2011. Published in Italian as ‘Fuga Nei Mondi Accanto’ (Urania, May 1979)
1979 – ‘BLINDFOLD FROM THE STARS’ (Dennis Dobson hardback, November 1979, with Richard Weaver cover art), republished by Gateway /Orion September 2011. Published in Italian at ‘Il Metodo Degli Asdrake’ (Urania, April 1981)
Expanded from a feature first published in:
‘VECTOR no.83’ (UK – January 1978)