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!

4 thoughts on “Wandering Through the Public Domain #24

  1. Kris Neville’s novelette Bettyann is a classic that’s well worth reading. It’s been anthologized a number of times. There’s also a fix-up novel called Bettyann. What a wonderful author.

  2. I read that about Bettyann in several places and searched hard for a PD version online. Couldn’t find any, not even a questionable source like some of the non-library collections on Internet Archive.

  3. The public domain will have to wait awhile for Bettyann; according to ISFDB the novelette dates from 1951, the fixup from 1970 (and Neville passed away 1980).

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