Wandering Through the Public Domain #9

A regular exploration of public domain genre works available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: I’ve had some upheaval in my personal life in the last month, and I haven’t been keeping up with this column or with some of the older comments. So I’ll start by taking an opportunity to clarify a couple of things which may have been misunderstood, based on some of the comments on older entries.

First, when I mention a work here, it’s generally because it’s either one that I have come across in my own “wanderings”, or because it has some tie to something recently discussed, such as when an author’s birthday comes up in the daily listing, and it turns out that they have some public domain books or stories available.

It’s not meant to imply that a book is just now entering the public domain (unless otherwise stated, as in the recent discussion of the 1923 copyright expirations) or that it is in any way a new discovery to anyone but me. So, for example, Flatland by Abbott has indeed been in the public domain for many years, and only came up here because a new audiobook recording of it was recently released.

Second, someone apparently took offense at my passing observation that John W. Campbell is better known nowadays for his role as an editor as a writer. That is no judgement on Campbell as a writer, or any of the other forgotten or less-remembered names that come up. It’s just a general impression of the overall collective memory or focus of 2019 fandom and who tends to be well-known and who does not. If I’m off base on my estimation of how well-known any particular writer is at this point, I welcome correction.

Most stories and novels pass out of popular notice in a few decades, no matter how worthwhile they are. There’s no point in hand-wringing about this or decrying the crappiness of modern fandom for not being sufficiently aware of certain writers. I prefer to look at it as a vast realm of potential buried treasures, and poke about looking for some forgotten books that are worth unearthing. I started writing this series merely to share some of these finds.

On that note, let’s turn to some of the recent diggings:

In Cat Rambo’s introduction to this month’s StoryBundle featuring contemporary female speculative fiction authors, she mentions four names as examples of women authors who have largely faded away. This, as usual, sent me off to see if anything by those authors is available on my favorite sites.

Miriam DeFord was already covered in a previous installment. I could not find any public domain works by Zenna Henderson, alas. However, the other two authors that Rambo mentioned, Judith Merril and Katherine MacLean, are each represented by several short stories on Project Gutenberg.

Judith Merril (1923-1997):

To date, neither story has been recorded for Librivox.

Katherine MacLean (1925- )

All of these stories have been recorded at least once for Librivox.

Speaking of women authors, Andre Norton (1912-2005) had a February birthday. She has short stories as well as several full-length novels available on Project Gutenberg:

In addition to her science fiction, Norton has a YA adventure novel (Ralestone Luck) and two Westerns (Ride Proud, Rebel! and Rebel Spurs) on PG. All of her works have been recorded, most in multiple versions, for Librivox.

Staying on the topic of women authors, Leigh Brackett’s (1915-1978) name is probably most recognizable as one of the credited screenwriters of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. She was well-known enough as a screenwriter in the 1940s that Howard Hawks is said to have once demanded, “Get me that guy, Brackett” to help William Faulkner finish the script for The Big Sleep. Brackett is also notable as the first woman author to receive a Hugo nomination, for her 1956 post-nuclear-war novel The Long Tomorrow.

The Long Tomorrow does not appear to be in the public domain, but two stories by Brackett are available on Project Gutenberg:

Both stories have been recorded for Librivox.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • The Mermaid’s Message and Other Stories by Various

    This is a collection of fairy tales and fables compiled in 1919. The stories contain original but old-fashioned tales which modern children and grown-ups will enjoy.
  • Master of Life and Death by Robert Silverberg (1935- )

    When Roy Walton becomes the new director of the UN division of population control, after the director is assassinated, he becomes the most hated man in the world. Being Director involved him in not only population control, but a terra-forming project on Venus, and negotiations with aliens. Not only that, but some people were trying to kill him. To stay alive, he had to become The Master of Life and Death.

7 thoughts on “Wandering Through the Public Domain #9

  1. Katherine MacLean’s works are a lot of fun. Snowball Effect is an early ‘memetics’ story in a way.

  2. The Long Tomorrow is the source of a quote I have recently been using a fair amount: “Fear… makes stupid people do wicked things.”

    The full quote, sans ellipsis, reads: “He said they were afraid, and that fear makes stupid people do wicked things.” Either way, it applies frequently, and once I type “Brackett” in a search window, it’s the first thing that comes up.

    She was a guest at a Denver con I was at, and announced that she was going to script the sequel to STAR WARS. There was a screening of one of her earlier movies, THE BIG SLEEP, which she co-wrote with Jules Furthman and that Faulkner guy. It went over well, as did the “Guzzler’s Gin” routine from Red Skelton, which also aired in the hotel’s auditorium, leading to an epidemic of Smoothing that lasted far beyond the con. But I digress.

  3. @Kip

    “Fear makes stupid people do wicked things.”

    Well, hell. Was Leigh Brackett a prophet or a time traveler? Either way, that’s alarmingly prescient.

  4. Instead of the ellipsis, I should have just put [F] in parentheses. Ach, live and learn.

    Cmm, it was a great con. My personal life sucked around that time, but it was a pretty damn good weekend away from all that.

    Bonnie, I couldn’t say what she had hidden away from mere mortal types like me. Mighty perceptive, though, especially given her politics at the time she wrote the book.

    Colleen, thanks for this series. There’s a lot of great stuff out there, and I appreciate how you dig it out and lay it before us here.

  5. Fascinating — Black Amazon of Mars is visibly the source of People of the Talisman (rather as Against the Fall of Night is the source of The City and the Stars); I never knew Brackett had done an earlier, less-pointed version of the story.

  6. I don’t think you’re wrong that Campbell is better known as an editor than a writer – I suspect that of all his fiction, “Who Goes There” will be the one that’s most remembered. (I’ve read several others, and they can be forgotten without guilt.)

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