Wandering Through the Public Domain #13

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

By Colleen McMahon: Serendipity strikes again…I started this edition thinking that I didn’t have any feature topic that I wanted to write about, so I would instead just do a roundup of a bunch of authors whose birthdays I missed in April.

First up was Stanley G. Weinbaum (1902-1935), who, it turns out, is an author who made an enormous impact on the science fiction field in a tragically short life. Reading about Weinbaum was so interesting that he immediately took over and became the feature topic!

Stanley Weinbaum was born in 1902 and died of lung cancer just 33 years later, publishing only a handful of short stories (and one pseudonymous romance novel) in his lifetime. But his few stories formed an important basis for the full development of the science fiction genre.

His very first science fiction tale, “A Martian Odyssey”, appeared in Wonder Stories in 1934, and set a new standard for stories that to this point had existed on the far (and often nonsensical) fringe of adventure fiction. The story tells of the encounter between astronauts exploring Mars and an intelligent alien. They gradually learn to communicate with “Tweel” who then accompanies the explorers and helps explain several other Martian life forms they discover.

While “A Martian Odyssey” includes some typical-for-the-time encounters with dangerous aliens, complete with chases and hairsbreadth escapes, the real excitement of the plot revolves around the trial-and-error process of the humans and Martian figuring out how to communicate and understand the information Tweel is providing about the other species on Mars.

Isaac Asimov saw “A Martian Odyssey” as a turning point for science fiction, one that changed the parameters of the field for the writers who came after. He called it

a perfect Campbellian science fiction story, before John W. Campbell. Indeed, Tweel may be the first creature in science fiction to fulfil Campbell’s dictum, ‘write me a creature who thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man’. (from Asimov on Science Fiction, via Wikipedia).

In 2017, Alan Brown wrote about Stanley Weinbaum:

Weinbaum’s stories immediately stood out as different. His characters felt real and acted realistically. There was romance, but the women did not exist only as objects to be captured and/or rescued. The science was rooted in the latest developments, and thoughtfully applied. And most of all, the aliens were not simply bug-eyed monsters existing to invade the planet or threaten humanity. They felt real in the same way the human characters did—and yet seemed anything but human in the way they thought and acted.

In Weinbaum’s hands, a genre that was known for immaturity had grown up, but in a way that didn’t sacrifice any of the humor, fun, and adventure. You could read the stories for the sense of thrilling adventure alone, but those who wanted more found that as well.

Weinbaum published thirteen stories in Wonder Stories and Astounding between July 1934 and December 1935, and several more appeared posthumously over the next few years. His impact on the genre was recognized by writers and fans alike, as “A Martian Odyssey” was overwhelmingly voted into the first Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection. He was recognized with the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2008.

Project Gutenberg has seven works by Weinbaum, six short stories and a posthumously-published novel:

All of these works are available on Librivox:

A few more authors who had birthdays back in April:

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) has one novel on Project Gutenberg, This Crowded Earth (1958), which has also been recorded for Librivox.

Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) is represented by three stories at Project Gutenberg:

All have been recorded at Librivox, along with an additional novel, The Creature From Beyond Infinity.

Howard Browne (1908-1999) has six stories on Project Gutenberg (though at least two are really novel-length, but were serialized in pulp magazines):

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Short Science Fiction Collection 065 by Various

    Includes stories by Gordon R. Dickson, Frederic Brown, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Lester Del Rey, Ben Bova and more!

  • Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

    Tarzan’s amazing ability to establish kinship with some of the most dangerous animals in the jungle serves him well in this exciting story of his adventures with the Golden Lion, Jad-bal-ja, when the great and lordly animal becomes his ally and protector. Tarzan learns from the High Priestess, La, of a country north of Opar which is held in dread by the Oparians. It is peopled by a strange race of gorilla-men with the intelligence of humans and the strength of gorillas. From time to time they attack Opar, carrying off prisoners for use as slaves in the jewel-studded Temple where they worship a great black-maned lion. Accompanied by the faithful Jad-bal-ja, Tarzan invades the dread country in an attempt to win freedom for the hundreds of people held in slavery there…

  • The Year When Stardust Fell by Raymond Fisher Jones (1915-1994)

    The story of The Year When Stardust Fell is not a story of the distant future or of the remote past. It is not a story of a never-never land where fantastic happenings take place daily. It is a story of my town and yours, of people like you and me and the mayor in townhall, his sheriff on the corner, and the professor in the university—a story that happens no later than tomorrow. It is the portrayal of the unending conflict between ignorance and superstition on one hand, and knowledge and cultural enlightenment on the other as they come into conflict with each other during an unprecedented disaster brought on by the forces of nature.

  • The Cartels Jungle by Irving E. Cox Jr. (1915-2001)

    In most ideally conceived Utopias the world as it exists is depicted as a mushrooming horror of maladjustment, cruelty and crime. In this startlingly original short novel that basic premise is granted, but only to pave the way for an approach to Utopia over a highway of the mind so daringly unusual we predict you’ll forget completely that you’re embarking on a fictional excursion into the future by one of the most gifted writers in the field. And that forgetfulness will be accompanied by the startling realization that Irving E. Cox has a great deal more than a storyteller’s magic to impart.

7 thoughts on “Wandering Through the Public Domain #13

  1. There are some very inexpensive ebook editions on Amazon that contain nearly all of Weinbaum’s works. Pirated? It seems like nearly every work from that era is out of copyright – either because they were not submitted for copyright or the copyrights were not renewed.

  2. Stephen Fritter says There are some very inexpensive ebook editions on Amazon that contain nearly all of Weinbaum’s works. Pirated? It seems like nearly every work from that era is out of copyright – either because they were not submitted for copyright or the copyrights were not renewed.

    I think you’d be surprised just how much pirated material there is on Amazon and other digital book platforms. Assuming it’s out of copyright is just that — an assumption.

  3. @Cat: On some (but not all) Project Gutenberg texts, I’ve seen notices like the one here, following a note about the year of publication: “Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.” That of course doesn’t prove anything but it at least communicates something about what their reasoning was, and unfortunately that’s more than I’ve ever seen on an Internet Archive text.

  4. There are no doubt some pirated texts on Amazon, but a lot of the public domain republishers just scrape from Project Gutenberg and other sites that are known to carefully do their copyright homework. On all the Gutenberg text “front pages” (my links are always to that page), there is the tab that defaults to the front, with the different file format options for the work, and a second tab called “Bibrec”. There are works that available freely from PG that are still under copyright but you can be 99.9% confident that anything that shows “Public domain in USA” on the Bibrec tab IS public domain even if published after 1923. For me PG is the gold standard and the first place I look for public domain works.

    So if the Weinbaum books on Amazon contain the same stuff as the Project Gutenberg Weinbaum collection, it is all under public domain.

    Internet Archive is a treasure trove of material of all kinds, but copyright status is far more uncertain. It has more post-1923-but-likely-not-under-copyright material than PG but you can’t be SURE that it’s not under copyright without going through a tedious verification process that I don’t fully understand myself so I don’t mess with it.

    A lot of other stuff on IA is blatantly there despite copyrights and I’m sure they get a constant rain of takedown requests.

    When I started writing this I wanted to stick to stuff I was as certain as possible is in the public domain so when I share material from Internet Archive I usually limit my searches to material available from US libraries from 1923 and earlier, as the libraries generally do a good job of vetting.

    There are other collections like “The Magazine Rack”, the Pulp archive, and various audio collections on Internet Archive that are full of stuff whose copyright status is dubious, likely still in effect or certainly still in effect. I steer entirely clear of the “Community” and “Folkscanomy” collections in terms of making recommendations here (or finding things to record for Librivox) for that reason. I don’t want to knowingly participate in stealing from creators who still have rights to proceeds from their works.

    If you are curious about Project Gutenberg and their copyright rules and standards, check out the FAQ here: https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Copyright_FAQ and their detailed discussion of “Copyright How-To” here: https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Copyright_How-To.

  5. Internet Archive–I tend not to go often because their search feature is not the best unless you know precisely what you want or the keywords to put in. As far as the Community sections go; a friend uploaded assorted programs from events like street fairs and the 1980 Gay Olympics assuming that those weren’t copyrighted. Then he moved on to yearbooks from his home town. He noticed that early ones(50s & 60s) didn’t have copyrights but a recent one did. (He uploaded them anyway). Magazines are tricky-if the January 1977 copy of Chicago Gay News says “all rights reserved” but they’ve been out of business since 1979, is it OK to digitize and save to Internet Archive? (We decided yes since it’s not exactly the Saturday Evening Post).

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