Wandering Through the Public Domain #24

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

By Colleen McMahon: It’s hard to escape the fact that the vast majority of science fiction in the public domain was written by men, so when I come across work by a woman, I’m eager to feature it here. That was my thought when I saw the name Kris Neville (1925-1980). 

I soon discovered, however, that Kris Neville was a man, but with an intriguing history as a writer of science fiction. Both Science Fiction Encyclopedia and Wikipedia agree that despite Neville’s early success (he began publishing in magazines in 1949 and continued steadily well into the 1950s), he made a conscious decision to largely stop trying to have a full-time fiction writing career due to what he saw as limitations in the field.

Although he never became a widely known “big name,” Neville was well respected by his fellow authors. Barry Malzberg wrote about him in 1979:

Kris Neville could have been among the ten most honored science fiction writers of his generation; instead, he virtually abandoned the field after conquering it early on…I can hardly blame him for this decision, and it was in any case carefully thought out. Neville, who sold his first story in 1949 and another fifteen by 1952, concluded early on that the perimeters of the field in the 1950s were simply too close to contain the kind of work he would have to do if he wanted to grow as a writer, and accordingly he quit. A scattering of stories has appeared over the last quarter of a century, and a couple of novels….Nowadays a short-short story shows up once a year or so in a magazine or original anthology; sometimes written in collaboration with his second wife, Lil, and always so astonishingly above the run of material surrounding it as to constitute an embarrassment to the other writers.

Project Gutenberg has one novella and eight shorter works by Neville. The novella is Earth Alert! from the February 1953 issue of Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy. The short stories and novelettes:

None of Neville’s stories have been recorded for Librivox so far. 

In one of those serendipity moments, I noticed the name Damon Knight (1922-2002) on the cover image from the April 1963 Galaxy issue that accompanied “Voyage to Far N’jurd”. Knight is probably best known as the author of “To Serve Man”, a short story that became the basis of one of the best-remembered Twilight Zone episodes (and a Halloween episode parody on The Simpsons). “To Serve Man” is not at Project Gutenberg (it’s been reprinted and anthologized enough times that it surely remains under copyright several times over), but three other stories are:

“The Worshippers” has been recorded twice at Librivox, in Short Science Fiction Collection 014 and Short Science Fiction Collection 050. “Special Delivery” also appears Short Science Fiction Collection 050 (two Knights in one!), as well as in Short Science Fiction Collection 037.

I did find one female author to include this week: Catherine Moore, who usually published as C.L. Moore (1911-1987). She was married to Henry Kuttner from 1940 until his death in 1957, and they frequently collaborated. (Kuttner is covered in Wandering Through the Public Domain #13) She was a lifelong and active SF fan, but stopped writing in the 1950s, turning to a scriptwriting career in Hollywood for several years before retiring entirely upon her second marriage. Sadly, she was nominated to be the first woman SFWA Grand Master in the 1980s, but the nomination was withdrawn by request of her husband, as Moore was too ill with Alzheimer’s to accept or attend.

Project Gutenberg has two of Moore’s early stories from the 1930s:

“The Tree of Life” appears in one Librivox anthology, Short Science Fiction Collection 038. “Song in a Minor Key” has been recorded three times, in Short Science Fiction Collection 042, Short Science Fiction Collection 056, and Short Science Fiction Collection 058.

Librivox has an additional Moore novelette, “Shambleau”, included in Short Ghost and Horror Collection 024. The original text is available on Internet Archive.

One more work to briefly mention, Log of the Ark by Noah; Hieroglyphics by Ham by Irving L. Gordon was recently released on Project Gutenberg. It’s a short comic work that spoofs both the biblical story and ocean liner travel of the time (1915) and includes plenty of silly illustrations.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Coffee Break Collection 24 — Ghosts, Ghouls, and Spooky Things by Various

    This is the twenty-fourth Coffee Break Collection, in which Librivox readers select English language public domain works of about 15 minutes or less in duration — perfect to listen to during commutes, workouts or coffee breaks. The topic for this collection is Ghosts, Ghouls and Spooky Things in honor of Halloween. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose, essays… all chill and perplex.

  • John Thorndyke’s Cases by R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

    John Thorndyke was one of the many successors to Sherlock Holmes’ “scientific deduction” approach to mystery solving. Thorndyke was a British doctor AND lawyer who practiced what we now call forensic science. Like Holmes, he had a friend who narrated his adventures (Jervis, not Watson), and appeared in numerous short stories and novels between 1907 and 1942.

  • Short Ghost and Horror Collection 035 by Various

    A collection of twenty stories featuring ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. Expect shivers up your spine, the stench of human flesh, and the occasional touch of wonder. This collection includes stories by Poe, Le Fanu, H.G. Wells, Lovecraft and more!

  • The Stolen Bacillus and Other Stories by H.G. Wells (1866-1946)

    A collection of 15 humorous short stories by the original master of speculative fiction: H. G. Wells. This was the first collection of short stories published by the author, and contains a mixture of fantasy, science-fiction and humour!

Wandering Through the Public Domain #23

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

By Colleen McMahon: A Pixel Scroll item on October 11 mentioned a discussion among younger SF readers of a Katherine MacLean story. This led me off to see what kinds of public domain works might be available.

Katherine MacLean (1925-2019) mainly wrote short fiction from the 1940s through the 1970s. She was well respected among the “hard” SF writers for stories that involved real science. Her Wikipedia entry includes a fabulous anecdote in which her science fiction fans help her get into an engineering conference in the 1950s:

In the 1930s and 1940s, scientists and boys planning to be scientists read Astounding (Analog) with close attention to the hottest most promising ideas and took them up as soon as they could get funded lab space. They did not openly express their gratitude to science fiction, because the funding depended on keeping claim to have originated the ideas they had put so much work into testing and verifying….

“I hastily looked around for a door to a lecture hall where I could sneak some listening time and get a line on current research, and be out of sight before the desk was reoccupied by the guardian of the gate….

Too late, a man built like a fullback in a business suit was bearing down on me. “I see you don’t have your badge. May I have your name? I’ll look it up in the registry….”

“Katherine MacLean, I came in because I am interested in–“

He interrupted. “Katherine MacLean! Are you that Katherine MacLean?” He gripped my hand and hung on. Who was that Katherine Maclean? Was I being mistaken for someone else?

“Are you the Katherine MacLean who wrote ‘Incommunicado’?”

Speechless with relief, I nodded. I would not be arrested or thrown out if they would accept me as a science fiction writer. He kept his grip on my hand and turned around and bellowed to his group of chatting friends, “Guess who I’ve got here. The little woman who wrote ‘Incommunicado’!”

…I had not been aware that my playing with communication ideas would attract the attention of prestigious Bell Telephone researchers. I had left radio and wavelength theory to my Dad as one of his hobbies and learned early that I could get a nasty shock from playing with his wiring. I could not account for their enthusiasm. I went back to the typewriter and lost myself in the story again.

The point is, that scientists not only read Astounding-Analog, they were fans of the writers and understood all the Ideas, even the obscure Ideas that were merely hinted at.

“Unhuman Sacrifice”, the story under consideration at Young People Discuss Old SF, is not on Project Gutenberg, but several other stories are available:

Contagion is a stand-alone audiobook at Librivox, and the other stories (except “The Man Who Staked the Stars”) are available in various of the short works collections.

“The Snowball Effect” was adapted for the radio SF series X Minus One. More recently, two Maclean stories were read for the radio show Buxom Blondes with Ray Guns (scroll down for the specific episode). One of the stories, “Carnivore”, is also available through Project Gutenberg and Librivox, but the other story, “Collision Orbit”, doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.

Fitz James O’Brien (1828-1862) was an early American writer of fantastic fiction who has largely been forgotten, though one of his stories is still frequently anthologized. He is best known for “What Was It?”, the tale of a man who is attacked by a seemingly ghostly presence in the middle of the night. However, the presence turns out to be more of an invisible man — or man-creature — and the main character is able to overpower and capture it. It becomes a local curiosity for several weeks, and then dies, with no one the wiser as to what the creature was or where it came from.

O’Brien was a contemporary of Poe’s, and his stories have a similar tone and style. Like Poe, he was a major influence on later writers, including M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, and H.G. Wells.

“What is It?” is collected in Famous Modern Ghost Stories, edited by Dorothy Scarborough (Librivox recording). Two more stories, “The Golden Ingot” and “My Wife’s Tempter”, were included in The Lock and Key Library: The most interesting stories of all nations: American. Both were recorded for Librivox as part of another anthology collection, Library of the World’s Best Mystery and Detective Stories, Volume 3, along with two other stories, “The Bohemian” and “A Terrible Night”. 

Another weird tale, The Diamond Lens (Librivox), could be considered proto-science fiction, since it concerns a scientist using a new type of microscope and discovering (and, of course, falling in love with) a tiny woman he finds in a drop of water.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Short Science Fiction Collection 066 by Various

    Includes stories by Harry Harrison, Frederic Brown, Charles Fontenay, Laurence Janifer, and others.

  • The Raid of Dover: A Romance of the Reign of Women, A.D. 1940 by Douglas Morey Ford (1851-1916)

    Britain is ruled by women who experience invasion and natural disasters. Men eventually figure out a plan to regain power to replace the government.

  • Lion Loose by James H. Schmitz (1911-1981)

    The most dangerous of animals is not the biggest and fiercest—but the one that’s hardest to stop. Add intelligence to that … and you may come to a wrong conclusion as to what the worst menace is….

  • 3 Science Fiction Stories by William Tenn (1920-2010)

    These are three imaginative SF stories by an author I admire a lot, William Tenn. Venus is a Man’s World, (Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1951), Project Hush (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1954) and Of All Possible Worlds (Galaxy, Sept 1956).

Wandering Through the Public Domain #22

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

By Colleen McMahon: This was a slow week. No new Librivox audiobooks that fit into the genre categories, however broadly drawn. So this might be a good time to mention that Librivox does have a lot of older short science fiction available. They have been doing a series of short science fiction collections for years. 

The way it works is that a volume is started, and anyone can contribute a short science fiction story that is known to be in the public domain. Once there are 15-20 stories, the volume is closed and released and a new one opened. They are up to 64 volumes at this point. If you are curious and would like to sample some of them, the whole Short Science Fiction series is here.

I have a bit of a backlog of random authors who were mentioned in the birthday lists over the last few months, and this is a good time to do a little catching up with some of these.

Stanton Coblentz (1896-1982) had a birthday back in August. He is represented in Project Gutenberg by two short stories:

“The Cosmic Deflector” has not been recorded yet for Librivox, but “Flight Through Tomorrow” has been recorded three different times for Short Science Fiction Collections 

Paul W. Fairman (1909-1977) was active as an author from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, publishing several novels and many short stories under his own name as well as the pseudonym Ivar Jorgensen. He is also the founding editor of If science fiction magazine, and later became editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic from 1955-1958.

He has four stories on Project Gutenberg:

Librivox recordings:

Bryce Walton (1918-1988) is best remembered now as a television script writer (Captain Video and His Video Rangers, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and a pulp mystery author, but he was quite prolific in science fiction too.

Project Gutenberg has 16 of his stories. He published most often in If: Worlds of Science Fiction and, interestingly, in two cases he had two stories in one issue, one published under his own name and one under the pseudonym “Kenneth O’Hara”.

Only two of Walton’s stories have been recorded for Librivox so far: “Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly?” in Short Science Fiction Collection 028, and “Strange Alliance” in Short Science Fiction Collection 035.

Recent Librivox releases:

As I mentioned at the top of this installment, I could not find anything genre-related in the list of recent releases, which is very unusual. However, there is one book that might be of mild interest here: an all-but-forgotten 1923 mystery novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs!

  • The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

    The countryside outside of Los Angeles is a paradise on Earth: nature gives bounty on the land, the animals are majestic, the oaks breathe and the natural pools and ponds are all you would want on a summer’s day. And if you are a Pennington or an Evans, life is simple and complete. However, every paradise has a serpent. For Rancho Ganado, that comes in the shape of Bootlegging, Drugs and Murder. All the vice of nearby Hollywood manifest themselves in the picturesque landscape, throwing the lives of these families into turmoil.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #21

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

By Colleen McMahon: I wanted to start out this week with two offbeat suggestions that are not strictly fantasy or science fiction literature, but that might be of interest to some Filers. Both are recent audiobook releases from Librivox.

The first is The Lost Art of Reading by Gerald Stanley Lee (1862-1944). Lee was an American author and Congregationalist minister, and he wrote The Lost Art of Reading in 1902. Long before the age of Netflix and screentime, even before radio and widespread movie attendance, passionate defenders of the written word were lamenting a decline in reading. In this case, Lee blames cities, trains, and industrialization for speeding up life too much.

If listening to an audiobook about how no one reads anymore is too meta, the text edition is available through Project Gutenberg. (While searching around for information on this book, I discovered that a book of the same title was published 108 years later, this one by Paul Ulin!)

The other is one of Librivox’s quirkier collections: Insomnia Collection Vol. 004, in which volunteers found the most soporific reading material possible with the idea of boring the listener to sleep. I can vouch for previous volumes, with their excerpts from early 20th century telephone directories and copyright renewal lists, as they have sent me off to dreamland on many mornings after overnight shifts, when it was otherwise hard to settle down to sleep.

The new volume is promising for more of the same, with selections like “W. Kent and Co’s Annual Catalogue, April 1859,” and “Disinfection and Disinfectants.” I contributed an excerpt from the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology’s detailed listing of items collected in field expeditions in 1881, and it nearly put me to sleep while I was trying to edit it, so it should work for anyone else who is battling insomnia.

Alan E. Nourse (1928-1992) was on the August birthday lists, and it turns out that he was a very prolific author. In addition to his science fiction writing, he was a physician and wrote plenty of nonfiction books as well, with titles like So You Want to Be a Doctor (1957) and The Backyard Astronomer (1973). Late in life, he seems to have turned toward sex education, with books on sexually transmitted diseases, herpes, AIDs and a 1990 Teen Guide to Safe Sex.

His public domain works on Project Gutenberg include lots of short stories and novelettes, 25 titles in all. That’s too many to include here, so I’ll just mention a few below and include a link to his complete works at PG.

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) is probably best remembered now as a scriptwriter for television, including shows like The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and Star Trek. (He wrote or co-wrote the episodes “The Corbomite Maneuver,” “This Side of Paradise,” and “Whom Gods Destroy”.) However, he was also a novelist with over twenty titles to his credit, as well as nonfiction books on chess and bridge, and numerous short stories. 

Five of his stories are on Project Gutenberg:

“The Hand” is included in Short Science Fiction Collection 065.


Recent Librivox releases:

“Man’s Rights; or, How Would You Like It?: Comprising Dreams” is the first known feminist utopian novel written by a woman. The text features nine dreams experienced by a first-person female narrator. In the first seven dreams, she visits the planet Mars, finding a society where traditional sex roles and stereotypes are reversed. The narrator witnesses the oppression of the men on Mars and their struggle for equality. In the last two dreams, the narrator visits a future United States ruled by a woman president. 

This is a collection of original and interesting fairy tales. We have here princes and princesses, pirates, wizards, and all the other ingredients for entertaining stories for kids.

Sabotage accidentally takes Earth’s first manned interplanetary expedition to the Moon, where a sublunar adventure ensues, involving two intelligent species and a good deal of fighting as well as romance. The perceptive reader will perceive the author’s peculiar notions concerning the behavior of volcanos, an offense against scientific fact that is hard to pardon in a writer of science fiction, but if it can be overlooked, the variety of incident and the fast pace of the action, full of surprises, amply repay the reader’s generous indulgence.

Librivox volunteer Kirk Ziegler assembled his own anthology of 30 ghost stories (including multiple selections from a book of ghost stories from India) to record as a solo project. The collection includes intriguing titles like “The Phantom Toe,” “The Fight With a Ghost,” and “What the Professor Saw”.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #20

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

By Colleen McMahon: I swear this happens almost every time I start to write one of these entries. I open up the blank document with no idea what I’m going to write about, and decide to do just a quick roundup of some links without going into any detail about any of the authors, etc.

Then as I’m poking around looking for what I want to link to this week, something catches my eye and sends me in a completely unexpected direction.

This week it was Captain Midnight.

There were a couple of mentions of the Captain Midnight TV show in recent Pixel Scrolls. September 4 saw the anniversary of the first broadcast, and September 9 was the birthday of Richard Webb, who played the title character.

Off I went to Internet Archive, to see if there were any Captain Midnight episodes available (since a lot of lower-tier 1950s TV appears to have fallen into public domain). I found two full episodes (at least one includes the Ovaltine commercials) but I’m not linking them because they aren’t tagged as public domain. There are some Captain Midnight comic issues and old-time radio shows as well, but again, not clearly labeled as public domain.

So at this point I would normally drop the idea and do something else. But then I saw another video item intriguingly labeled “Captain Midnight HBO Broadcast Intrusion”…and the rabbit hole opened up and down I went.

Turns out that in April of 1986, in the middle of an HBO showing of The Falcon and the Snowman, the movie was interrupted for several minutes, first by a flickering screen, and then a “rainbow bar” screen overlaid with text reading “GOODEVENING HBO FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT $12.95/MONTH? NO WAY! (SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE).”

This was a now largely-forgotten protest by one John R. MacDougall, a satellite dish seller/installer in Florida who was angry about HBO’s rates for satellite subscribers. He figured out how to take over of the HBO satellite to put out his message.

It was a small gesture by a guy angry that HBO and other paid cable services had begun scrambling their satellite signals so that dish owners could no longer watch for free. The $12.99 HBO subscription price for dish users was significantly higher than the cable price. (That’s over $30/month in today’s dollars; for comparison, you can currently subscribe to HBO NOW for $14.99.) And the subscription cost was on top of the several hundred dollars you would have to pay for descrambling equipment.

While the protest was fleeting and mostly unnoticed, the response was major. MacDougall was ultimately charged and pleaded out for probation and a $5,000 fine. But new laws were passed that made satellite hijacking a federal felony, and the ATIS signal identification system was developed.

The Wikipedia entry about the incident has a lot more interesting detail about MacDougall, the event, and the aftermath. John R. MacDougall is still around and still has his Florida business; the biography page on his business website proudly claims his Captain Midnight identity.

So, how about some actual public domain material before I call it a week?

Jack Williamson (1908-2006) is another recent Pixel Scroll mention. I enjoyed the 1992 interview in the September 9 Scroll.

Several Williamson works are on Project Gutenberg:

A recent Librivox edition collects three of Williamson’s stories (see below in new Librivox releases). Other Williamson stories are included in various Short Science Fiction volumes:

There is also a standalone solo recording of Salvage in Space.

Internet Archive has plenty of Williamson stuff of uncertain copyright status. A couple of items of interest that are listed as Creative Commons but not public domain:

Recent Librivox releases:

Lady Truman received word fourteen months ago that her husband, Sir George Truman, has died in battle. Now a very eligible widow with a large estate, she has more suitors than she knows what to do with. As if that wasn’t enough, her house is now being haunted at night by the horrible and ghostly sound of a drum, apparently caused by the restless spirit of her husband. When an old man arrives who claims to be able to lay the spirit to rest, she is so desperate for relief that she determines to give him a chance. Written with wit and good humor, this play will have you laughing out loud!

Three classic SF stories by Jack Williamson: The Cosmic Express, The Pygmy Planet and Salvage in Space. All were published in Astounding Stories in the very early 1930’s. and all are fine examples of the far ranging imagination of science fiction writers of the day. 

When Earth loses contact with the colony planet Eden, an expedition is sent to find out why. Even though the planet has been determined to have no hostile properties, the second expedition is astonished to find no evidence of the colony. The colonists are spread out, naked, wandering dazed among the bushes, with no sign of any of the technology they brought from Earth.

An anthology of short, chilling stories from Algernon Blackwood. They will make you start at noises in the night and wonder about your neighbors. These stories likely stem from Blackwood’s investigations into haunted houses for the Psychical Research Society and reflect his fascination with the weird, occult and supernatural. 

Solo project by reader Kirk Ziegler, collecting 20 public domain science fiction stories. Authors include Jerome Bixby, Randall Garrett, Algis Budrys, August Derleth, Edward Bellamy and others.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #19

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

By Colleen McMahon:

Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) was a name that appeared multiple times in the Retro Hugo ballot this year. His Conjure Wife took the best novel Retro Hugo, and another Leiber novel, Gather, Darkness! was the second-place finisher. He was also in the hunt for Best Novelette for “Thieves’ House”. 

While none of these works are currently in the public domain, I did find a podcast with an hour-long discussion of Conjure Wife on Internet Archive. The podcast was Necronomipod (which appears to be from 2007 and a completely different iteration than the current day podcasts of the same title, which discusses weirdness and true crime).

Conjure Wife was adapted as a movie called Inner Sanctum in 1948, and the movie is in the public domain and available on Internet Archive. Interestingly, Fritz Leiber Sr., father of the writer, was an actor and played Dr. Valonius in the movie.

However, there are plenty of other Lieber works, from short stories to full-length novels, available on Project Gutenberg and Librivox, so I thought this would be a good time to take a look.

Short stories:

All of these stories except “Dr. Kometevsky’s Day” and “Time in the Round” have been recorded for various collections on Librivox

Novelettes, Novellas, and Novels:

Librivox volunteers sometimes make their own anthologies by recording a set of stories as a stand-alone audiobook project, either on their own or with a group of volunteers. Lieber features in several of these audiobooks:

One more interesting Librivox anthology is X Minus One Project. This collects an assortment of short SF tales that were adapted by the radio show X Minus One that ran from 1955-1958. The anthology includes “The Moon is Green” by Leiber, along with other stories by authors like Robert Sheckley, H. Beam Piper, Frederik Pohl, and several others. (X Minus One adapted even more famous stories by the likes of Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury, but those stories aren’t in the public domain yet.)

Speaking of X Minus One, the series adapted three Leiber stories during its run, and they are available on Internet Archive:

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Deathworld by Harry Harrison (1925-2012)

    A world that actively seeks to kill the colonists. Not a pleasant place. The hordes of ferocious animals all come with deadly poison and a will to kill as many humans as possible. Even the plants have teeth and claws and toxins dripping from every surface. They fly, crawl and run for the chance to sink something terrible into a human arm or leg. Oh, and did I mention the 2G gravity? Pyrrus is its name. The settlers there were supermen… twice as strong as ordinary men and with instantaneous reflexes. They had to be. For their business was murder…a 3 year old Pyrrian had a loaded gun strapped to his forearm and knew how to use it or he was a dead 3 year old. It was up to Jason dinAlt, interplanetary gambler, to discover why Pyrrus had become so hostile during man’s brief habitation…if he could stay alive long enough to even make a start…


  • A Martian Odyssey and A Valley of Dreams by Stanley Weinbaum (1902-1935)

    The first of these stories was originally published in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories. It was followed four months later by a sequel, “Valley of Dreams” in the same magazine. These classic stories take us to Mars where we meet a Martian, or at least something very different from us, and several other completely original specimens of life. The Martian “Tweel” looks like an ostrich and the Egyptian god Osiris – for good reason, as you will find out if you listen to the story!


  • With Her in Ourland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

    Third in the trilogy of the feminist classics, after Moving the Mountain and Herland. In Herland, three American young men discover a country inhabited solely by women, who were parthenogenetic (asexual procreation), and had borne only girl children for two thousand years; they marry three of the women. Two of the men and one woman leave the country of Herland to return to America; Jeff Margrave remaining in Herland with his wife, Celis, a willing citizen; Terry O. Nicholson being expelled from Herland for bad conduct; and Ellador electing to leave Herland with her husband, Vandyck Jennings. We now continue the story, told from the viewpoint of Vandyck Jennings, as they return to America.


  • Doomsday Eve by Robert Moore Williams (1907-1977)

    In the midst of the war—that terrible conflict that threatened humanity’s total destruction—the “new people” suddenly appeared. Quietly performing incredible deeds, vanishing at will, they were an enigma to both sides. Kurt Zen was an American intelligence officer among the many sent to root them out. He found them. Taken captive in their hidden lair, he waited as the enemy prepared to launch the super missile, the bomb to end all bombs—and all life. If only he could find the source of the new people’s power, Kurt alone might be able to prevent obliteration of the Earth…. 

Wandering Through the Public Domain #18

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

By Colleen McMahon: In the previous installment of this column, I began looking at early time travel stories, mostly involving some sort of magical or fantasy time travel. “Time slip” stories don’t explain much about the time travel mechanism. The character falls asleep and wakes up in a different time, or experiences the time travel as a dream or vision.

The rapid growth of scientific understanding coupled with the spread of industrialization laid the groundwork for more mechanized imaginings of time travel. The seminal work is, of course, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (4 Librivox versions available here). The idea of a machine that could carry passengers to a targeted point in time became one of the key tropes of science fiction. The Doctor’s TARDIS and other modern time machines are direct descendents of Wells’ machine. 

Last time, I promised that this column would look at The Time Machine and the stories that followed it. However, most of the tales directly inspired by Wells are, unfortunately for my purposes here, still under copyright so I couldn’t go very far in that direction.

However, there are several intriguing stories that laid the groundwork for The Time Machine, including a mostly-forgotten tale by Wells himself. So I thought I’d dig into the forerunners of mechanical time travel instead.

1881 saw the publication of two stories that illustrate the emergence of “scientific” time travel.

The first, by Grant Allen, is “Pausodyne”. It appeared in Belgravia magazine’s Christmas Annual in 1881, and was collected in Allen’s Strange Stories in 1884.

“Pausodyne” combines a time slip — falling asleep and waking up in the future — with a science-based explanation. The narrator meets a man on the streets of London who is asking strange questions about coaches to Yorkshire and seems to be unfamiliar with the concept of rail travel. As they talk, the strange man reveals himself to be Jonathan Spottiswood, great uncle of the narrator, who had disappeared years before. 

It turns out that Jonathan had been a “philosophical chemist” and had experimented in a hidden lab with a chemical concoction he called “pausodyne”, which produced a state of suspended animation. As he experimented with animals, one night he was overcome by the pausodyne fumes and fell asleep in his laboratory. When he woke and went outdoors, he discovered a completely changed world, and gradually realized that he had been in suspended animation for century. 

It’s basically Rip Van Winkle with some chemical trappings, but it feels like a much more modern time travel story because much of it focuses on how confused Spottiswood is by the vast changes that have taken place in a hundred years. Time travel has become more interesting as a theme because there is now a real sense of transformation over relatively short time spans.

The Clock That Went Backward” by Edward Page Mitchell appeared in the New York Sun in 1881. The time travel device is the titular clock, of course, which takes the narrator and his cousin 300 years backward to the siege of the Dutch city of Leyden. It’s one of the first stories that I know of with the trope of the time travelers themselves being the cause of well-known historical events, as well as one of the pair apparently becoming his own ancestor! (Audio version is included in Short Science Fiction Collection 50).

A timepiece, in this case a watch, is also the time traveling mechanism in Lewis Carroll’s last completed novel. Sylvie and Bruno is a 2-volume series of tales taking place in both Fairyland and our world, published in 1889 and 1893. Several of the stories revolve around a special watch, the “Outlandish” watch. This appears to be an early instance of an author working out “rules” for time travel, as in one case a character tries unsuccessfully to use the watch to prevent an accident from taking place in the past. They find that they can only witness events, not change them. (Librivox has both volumes, plus a dramatic reading version).

H.G. Wells published “The Chronic Argonauts” in his college newspaper in 1888, and it is a bit of a mess. Much of it is given over to describing the weird things that the inhabitants of a small village in Wales witness after a mysterious Dr. Nebogipfel takes up residence and begins doing strange experiments. Eventually the townspeople opt for the time-honored tradition of torches and pitchforks, only to find that the Doctor has vanished!

Several weeks later, the local minister who had disappeared at the same time turns up alone. He proceeds to give a deposition of “the murder of an old man named Williams, which occurred in 1862, this disappearance of Dr. Moses Nebogipfel, the abduction of a ward in the year 4003 —-…Also several assaults on public officials in the years 17,901 and 2.”

Unfortunately, we only get a portion of that before the minister expires. He does explain how he came to be traveling with Dr. Nebogipfel — he was visiting and talking with him on the evening the mob came, and is forced to depart with Nebogipfel out of fear that the villagers would kill him otherwise. The story ends frustratingly with the promising sentence, “The voyage of the Chronic Argonauts had begun.”

My biggest takeaway from reading “The Chronic Argonauts” is how much Dr. Nebogipfel sounds like the inhabitant of a certain blue police box. He is even repeatedly referred to as “The Doctor”! 

One of the things that disquiets the villagers is the late night noises emanating from his house, thus described: “at first a complaining murmur, like the groaning of a wounded man, “gurr-urrurr-URR”, rising by slow gradations in pitch and intensity to the likeness of a voice in despairing passionate protest.”

When he suggests that the minister accompany him, the Doctor proposes, “I was thinking while I was . . . away . . . Would you like to come? I should greatly value a companion.” In the end, however, the arrival of the mob leaves him no choice. When the villagers break in, they are stunned — “For the calm, smiling doctor, and his quiet, black-clad companion, and the polished platform which upbore them, had vanished before their eyes!”

All of this sounds awfully familiar, no? I’m amazed that this hasn’t turned up as an episode of Doctor Who already, with the actual Doctor bringing about the events that led to Wells’ story. (Maybe the part of the story where Wells’ Doctor actually MURDERS the previous inhabitants of his mansion is too big an obstacle?)

On the whole, Wells’ The Time Machine is a much better piece of work, but you can see the seeds sprouting in “The Chronic Argonauts”. Sadly, there is no Librivox recording of the piece yet.

I hope you have enjoyed this side trip into time travel tales; I’ll be back to more random ramblings next time!

Wandering Through the Public Domain #17

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

By Colleen McMahon: I recently had the privilege of attending a free lecture (via the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library) by Dr. Lisa Yaszek, who is a professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech. She gave a presentation on the history of time travel in science fiction. Not only was it fascinating for itself, it also led me to lots of works in the public domain to mention here. (Bonus: I also met fellow Filer Kirby Bartlett-Sloan there!)

In fact, there are LOTS of interesting time-travel tales in the public domain, and it seems like the more I dig, the more I find. So this will be the first of two back-to-back columns on time-travel themes, with more random installments to come in the future. Because there is a lot to say on this topic, I’ll also be departing from my usual format to focus just on the time-travel topic for these two columns.

One of the most intriguing points is that time-travel fiction as we know it, SF or otherwise, didn’t really exist before the 19th century. There seems to be two main reasons for that.

The first is that one of the main ideas of time travel is visiting historical eras in the past, or bringing people from historical times to the present day and interacting with them. But the sense of historical periods being very different from and foreign to the current day, and thus more interesting to interact with, is relatively recent. For vast swaths of human history, the past looked a lot like the current day, as people stayed in the same places and did the same things. Since much of the narrative interest in time-travel fiction is in the contrast with earlier times, it does not seem to have been as much of an imaginative stimulus.

(However, even in those centuries, there was a sense of a distant past that was different — the days of Moses, Jesus, or the gods of ancient mythologies worldwide. It seems odd to me that there wasn’t much apparent imaginings or discussions of what it would be like to see those times in person or talk to legendary figures like Buddha or Confucius or Hercules.)

The other reason was that, while time as a linear concept existed, the cyclical sense of time, based on seasons and repetitions of holidays and festivals, was far stronger in people’s minds. The rhythms of the agricultural year reinforced this, and even the few who did not directly grow their own food were keenly aware of the annual cycles of food production. 

It’s really the standardization of time intervals, time zones, and calendars that began in the 18th century and fully took hold in the 19th, that gave most people a distinct sense of a one-way march of clearly delineated time periods. The fact that more people were becoming detached from the farm and food production, with its cyclical emphasis, and were moving to towns and cities where transit, factories, and stores ran on strict schedules, helped reinforce the rise of linear time sense.

Dr. Yaszek points out that it’s not a coincidence that the first mechanical time-travel stories, where a machine could precisely target and “jump” to a particular era, appear within the same decade as the 1884 International Meridian Conference that established standard time zones worldwide.

However, the earliest time-travel story device is one that is still used, and is more of a fantasy trope than a science fiction one. That’s the “time slip”, where a character interacts with another time period through an unexplained or magical connection. This can be seen as far back as portions of the Indian Mahabarata or the Japanese folk-tale Urashima Taro, where characters magically travel to other dimensions, and return to themselves to find that years have mysteriously passed. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” is a variant of this theme that most of us are familiar with.

Mid-19th-century tales like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court also use this “time slip” device — the authors are not as concerned with how the time travel happens as the experiences that the main characters have as a result. 

A less well-known example is “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” by Edgar Allen Poe. This 1844 short story is a rather confusing tale in which an unnamed narrator tells the story of his meeting, years earlier, a mysterious young man named Arthur Bedloe. Bedloe was in his 20s, but seemed far older to the narrator, perhaps because of ill health. He was attended by a physician, Dr. Templeton, who specialized in a form of mesmerism. 

Bedloe narrates his strange experience of hiking in a deep mist in the “Ragged Mountains” of Virginia (which appear to be the Blue Ridge Mountains) and suddenly hearing drumming sounds and noticing plants and people that appear to be native to India rather than Virginia.  Bedloe ultimately finds himself in an eastern city in the midst of a battle between English soldiers and native people. He is struck by an arrow and dies.

Bedloe insists that it was a real experience, and not a dream, but the narrator points out to Bedloe that he is not dead, so it could not have been real. Bedloe reacts by becoming visibly ill, and Dr. Templeton intervenes to explain that the experience Bedloe narrated sounded much like that of his old friend Oldeb, who had been in India in 1780 and died in a battle there in the way that Bedloe described. What actually occurred with Bedloe is left vague — he was under the influence of both mesmerism and strong drugs when he had his experience, but it’s also strongly implied that Bedloe time-traveled into the mind of Oldeb or was a reincarnation of him. When the narrator later sees Bedloe’s name misspelled on his tombstone as Bedlo, he realizes that Bedlo is Oldeb spelled backwards.

Edward Bellamy’s 1884 novel Looking Backward is another time-slip tale, although this time the narrator has a dream-vision of the future rather than the past. Bellamy’s main purpose was to write a political utopian tale to illustrate possible resolutions to the contemporary political and economic conflicts in the United States, but his book has the distinction of becoming the third best-selling American novel of the 19th century after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur, which I believe would make it the first SFF best-seller.

The time-slip trope remains alive and well down to the present day, and drives the plot in stories ranging from the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day to the best-selling Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon. 

(In fact, while time travel in science fiction gets most of the attention, the romance genre has a strong tradition of time-travel romance stories, nearly all of which use the time-slip trope, as the hero or heroine is thrown backward or forward in time by devices ranging from standing stones to family curses to mysterious pendants and more).

Librivox has recordings of most of the above-mentioned works:

Internet Archive has the 1910 one-reel Edison adaptation of A Christmas Carol

There are no extant complete copies of the 1921 film of Connecticut Yankee, but the trailer for the very hokey 1949 version is in the public domain!

In the next column, I’ll look at the H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine, which popularized the mechanical time-travel plot device, and the many tales that followed.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #16

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

By Colleen McMahon: This week I found a likely forgotten gem that might be of use for anyone interested in tracking down and reading or collecting stories published in old magazines: An Index on the Weird and Fantastica in Magazines. This is an index and checklist on weird fiction published in magazines from the beginning of the pulp era in the late 19th century through the date of publication (1953).

Bradford Day compiled this index, though his introduction acknowledges several earlier indexers whose lists he incorporated into this work.

In addition to thoroughly covering Weird Tales from its beginnings in 1923 through the then-present day, there are partial listings for a bunch of other magazines. Even more valuable, I think, are the listings of “fantastic fiction” stories that appeared in mostly mainstream story magazines like Argosy, Blue Book, Munsey’s and others. This saves the weird fiction fan from having to sift through the western, adventure, mystery, and romance tales that were the main material in those magazines.

Although many of the stories are likely still under copyright, there are plenty that were published before 1924, which puts them solidly in the public domain. This index provides a lovely treasure map for anyone interested in seeking them out. Plenty of the issues are collected on Internet Archive as well, so you can easily end up spending an afternoon flipping through the index and then seeing what you can find right there on the same site (ask me how I know this)!

Bradford M. Day (1916-2004), the creator of this index, also compiled a number of indexes and guides to early science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories and novels at a time when almost no one was cataloging publications in the field as a whole. In fact, the Science Fiction Encylopedia describes him as “US sf collector and book-dealer whose bibliographical work was one of the foundations on which modern sf scholarship has been built.” 

Day published An Index on Weird and Fantastica and several other checklists in the early 1950s, and then updated and republished them periodically into the 1990s. The early editions all appear to be hand typed and mimeographed or photocopied, so these were truly labors of love. 

In addition to the overall indexes, Day also compiled and published bibliographies for some of the early individual authors, including H. Rider Haggard, Talbot Mundy, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others. 

Internet Archive also has Day’s Complete Checklist of Science Fiction Magazines, though this may not be of much interest to modern fans since it simply lists magazine titles and issue numbers rather than contents. The Science Fiction Index website does the same, and is complete through the present day.

James E. Gunn (1923- ) is one of just a handful of authors I have written about here who is still alive, and he celebrated his 96th birthday on July 12th. In addition to his own fiction writing, he was one of the first academics to specialize in teaching science fiction. He founded the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. The Center is the home base for the Speculative Fiction Writer’s Workshop, the Campbell Conference (an annual academic conference on science fiction), and the Campbell and Sturgeon awards. Gunn is a past president of SFWA and was named a Grand Master in 2007.

A novella and a short story are in the public domain:

Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) shares a birthday with James E. Gunn. Though best known for his crime fiction, he wrote some SF stories as well. Three are available on Project Gutenberg:

All three stories have been recorded in short science  fiction collections at Librivox.

Cordwainer Smith (1913-1966) was a pseudonym for Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, who in his “day job” was a scholar on East Asia and an expert on psychological warfare. Only one of his science fiction stories is available through Project Gutenberg, but several of his nonfiction scholarly works are also available. His book on psychological warfare looks particularly interesting.

The science fiction story is The Game of Rat and Dragon (Galaxy, October 1955). There are three versions available on Librivox.

Librivox recently passed the 13,000 milestone — 13,000 free public domain audiobooks available, all recorded by volunteers! Among the recent releases:

  • Five Continental Op Stories by Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)

    Before Sam Spade chased the black bird in The Maltese Falcon and Nick and Nora Charles stirred their first martinis in The Thin Man, the Continental Op walked early twentieth century San Francisco’s mean streets for the Continental Detective Agency. Dashiell Hammett used his own experiences as a Pinkerton operative to lend realistic detail to this creation. These first five stories were published in Black Mask magazine in 1923.

    (Note: I know that this falls outside the SFF arena, but Hammett has a lot of fans and it’s exciting to see some of his earliest works becoming available! I was the prooflistener for this project and I can attest that the stories are fun and the reader is very good.)


  • The Golden Maiden and Other Folk and Fairy Stories Told in Armenia by A. G. Seklemian (?? – 1920)

    Armenians trace their history back to before the time of the Babylonians and earliest recorded history – in fact, to Togarmah, a grandson of Japhet, Noah’s son, who settled in Armenia after the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Armenia was also the first State in the world to adopt Christianity as their official religion, around the 3rd Century AD. This book contains many wonderful folk and fairy tales culled from this long history of the Armenian country people, to whom all nature is full of stories, by the scholar and storyteller Mr. A. G. Seklemian.


  • Four Science Fiction Stories by Alan E. Nourse (1928-1992)

    Four Science Fiction stories published in Science Fiction Adventures Magazine and Galaxy Science Fiction, written by Alan Edward Nourse. He was an American science fiction writer and physician. He wrote both juvenile and adult science fiction, as well as nonfiction works about medicine and science. His SF works sometimes focused on medicine and/or psionics.

About the Big Heart Award

By John Hertz:  Thanks to Colleen McMahon for taking note, in a recent post, of E. Everett Evans “Triple-E” and the Big Heart Award.

Triple- E was great.

The Big Heart is the highest service award in the SF community, as the Hugos are the highest achievement award.

It is given annually, at the World Science Fiction Convention, for good work and great spirit long contributed.  McMahon quoted that phrase from Fancyclopedia III, which correctly says it is “the words of one recent recipient”.  That recipient is myself.

The Big Heart should not be thought a fan award (a point on which Fancy 3 is mistaken).

The Science Fiction Awards Database, maintained by Mark Kelly and the Locus magazine Science Fiction Foundation, correctly says

The Big Heart Award, highest service award in the SF community … one of few presented during the preliminaries of the annual Hugo Awards ceremony…. may go to a fan or a pro – as has been noted, some people are both.

Recognition for something else is not a disqualification for the Big Heart.  For example, two of the recipients McMahon named, Robert Silverberg and Our Gracious Host, have won Hugos.  Mike Glyer has chaired a Worldcon, and at another was Fan Guest of Honour (so spelled, it was in Canada). They were given the Big Heart neither because of, nor in spite of, their recognition for other things.

It shouldn’t be surprising that many who have earned the Big Heart have been fans.  The heart of fandom is participation.