Wandering Through the Public Domain #10

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

By Colleen McMahon: I have two things to share today that are a bit afield from my usual areas, but both will lead you to internet rabbit holes that are a lot of fun to explore.

The first is involves gaming, and I was led to it by an email from Jason Corley, forwarded to me by OGH:

While participating in the #1923GameJam at itch.io to celebrate the expansion of the public domain, I discovered an unproduced science fiction silent film screenplay by Nobel laureate Romaine Rolland, Man, Lord of Machinery, published in Vanity Fair in 1923.  I adapted it into an interactive fiction game for the jam and people can play it for free in a browser here:

https://jdcorley.itch.io/man-lord-of-machinery

They can also download a PDF version of the original publication there too.

Man, Lord of Machinery has a lot of the same themes as Metropolis, but predates it!

“Gaming Like It’s 1923” was a contest/challenge that ran in January, 2019. The challenge was to design a game in some way inspired by a 1923 work that had just entered the public domain. You can find the site for the completed game jam, with all 34 games and a list of the winners, here.

I haven’t had a chance to really explore the games, but I was particularly taken with the transformation of a Robert Frost poem into a typical game scenario in Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening To Steal Treasure!

The second is a treasure trove of images at the Magazine Art Collection at the Internet Archive. This collection was started pretty recently, in December 2018, and it’s unclear if it has been uploaded in its entirety or if there is more to come. It currently contains over 15,000 images, mostly magazine covers but also including some advertising and interior illustrations from magazines.

Only some of it is SFF related, and it’s likely that not all of it is in the public domain, as it contains pieces from well beyond 1923, but it’s a feast of eye candy and fun to explore.

If you have spent any time exploring fannish things, especially pre-internet, you have probably heard of APAs, self-published small magazines that circulated among fans. APA stands for Amateur Press Association, and it turns out that SF-related APAs are a subset of a wider phenomenon that began in the latter 19th-century and embraced “amateur journalism” around a wide variety of topics.

The United Amateur Press Association was founded in 1895, and H.P. Lovecraft became heavily involved with the organization beginning in the 1910s. He published nonfiction essays and critical pieces as well as early short stories in the United Amateur, the organization’s official magazine.

Writings in the United Amateur, 1915-1922 collects these early Lovecraft pieces. Lovecraft continued writing and publishing with the UAPA well past 1922, but the later pieces are not in the public domain. There are commercially published books that collect all of the pieces, but this collection provides a good sampling of his developing fiction style as well as his eccentric (and sometimes offensive) opinions.

While the United Amateur writings have not been recorded for Librivox, virtually all of his other public domain works have been, most multiple times. You can find them here.

Among the recent birthday notices was Joe L. Hensley (1926-2007), who is represented at Project Gutenberg by one story, “Now We Are Three”, which has been recorded at Librivox as part of Short Science Fiction Collection 22.

April 1 marked the birthday of Samuel R. Delany (b. 1942), who has two novels at Project Gutenberg:

Both are also available as audiobooks at Librivox.

Periodically, the volunteers at Librivox declare a month to focus on finishing off languishing projects, and March was one of those months. The “March Toward the Finish Line” ended with an impressive 122 books added to the catalog, including some that may be of interest to folks here:

  • Dracula (Version 4) by Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

    Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. It introduced Count Dracula, and established many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy. The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and a woman led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.


  • Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873)

    Laura grew up on a castle in the Austrian mountains with her father, slightly lonely as there are no potential companions around. Her loneliness is at an end when a carriage accindent close by their castle brings a mysterious visitor: Carmilla was injured in the accident, and remains at the castle to heal. But there is something dark about Carmilla. Is Laura in danger?


  • The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed by Cenydd Morus (1879-1937)

    Cenydd Morus’s (Kenneth Morris) imaginative retelling of tales from the Mabinogion, the great work of Welsh literature first recorded in the 12th-13th century. Written while he was working for the Theosophical Society in California, Morris’s version restores the Gods that he believed had disappeared from the written record but must have been present in the oral tradition of the Druid bards.


  • Pursuit by Lester Del Rey (1915-1993)

    Wilbur Hawkes wakes with no memory of the last seven months. He knows he’s in danger, but he doesn’t know why. No sooner does he leave his apartment than it explodes in flames, and, to escape, he must run through New York, not knowing where to run, or who he is running from. With heat rays, disintegrating men, and exploding cats, how can this not involve aliens? What other explanation can there be?

2 thoughts on “Wandering Through the Public Domain #10

  1. The American copyright system really is barking mad. How can Samuel Delany’s works be public domain while the author’s still alive?
    I’m not a huge fan of ever extending copyright rules (Life+25 seems quite enough thank you, if I write a masterpiece tomorrow and drop dead in shock, I at least want to to fund my baby’s college years) but this whole 28 years unless renewed in a month with an R in it is daft.

  2. Well to be fair, it’s not that way anymore. It’s life plus these days, and for anything written or published in the last 40 or so years.

    The works that are out of copyright when authors are still living are ones that were published originally before 1964 and were not renewed when the 28 year rule WAS in effect. Delany and any other author had ample time to reassert copyright back then. Even now he could do a rewritten or revised edition or just add an author’s forward and release a “new official” version of these PD works with a new 70-95 year copyright — it wouldn’t invalidate or require the taking down of the various free versions but it would be a way to have a preferred edition that would make people want to spend money on it, just like people keep buying new versions of Treasure Island or Cinderella with the right illustrations or annotated editions or what have you.

    There are plenty of authors from that era who kept up with their copyright renewals (you won’t find a damn thing of Harlan Ellison’s in the public domain for example). I’m sure there were cases where authors were confused by arcana of ownership or someone in their organization like a manager or lawyer ripped them off by saying they would handle it and dropping the ball somehow. But in some cases authors probably just didn’t care that much or found their early works to be such an embarrassment that they wanted to forget they existed (not saying that that is the case for Delany or anyone else in particular).

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