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.
- Bramble Bush (Worlds of If, August 1957)
- Star Surgeon (Librivox audiobook)
- The Coffin Cure (Galaxy, April 1957)
- Gold in the Sky (Amazing, September 1958)
- Letter of the Law (If, January 1954)
- My Friend Bobby (from The Counterfeit Man and More Science Fiction Stories, 1963)
- Infinite Intruder (Space Science Fiction, July 1953)
- The Dark Door (from The Counterfeit Man and More Science Fiction Stories, 1963)
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 Elroom (Worlds of If, March 1955)
- The Ultroom Error (Space Science Fiction, May 1952)
- The Hand (Imagination, January 1955)
- The Seventh Order (Galaxy, March 1952)
- Brknk’s Bounty (Galaxy, January 1955)
“The Hand” is included in Short Science Fiction Collection 065.
Recent Librivox releases:
- Man’s Rights; or, How Would You Like It?: Comprising Dreams by Annie Denton Cridge (1825-1875)
“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.
- The Floating Prince and Other Fairy Tales by Frank R. Stockton (1834-1902)
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.
- The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)
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.
- 30 Ghost Stories by Various
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”.
Jerry Sohl may be best remembered for his TV work—but only if you copy the information from his Wikipedia listing, which certainly downplays his numerous SF works.
Those include The Transcendent Man (1953); Point Ultimate (1955); The Time Dissolver (1957); One Against Herculum (half of an Ace Double); Costigan’s Needle (my favorite of all his novels); also The Altered Ego, and The Haploids.