By Colleen McMahon:I turn up material for this column in the most roundabout ways. For example, I was looking at CLEWS, a historic true crime blog, and saw a reference to Miriam Allen DeFord (1888-1975), who apparently wrote some crime books. The illustration with the blog entry looked like a 1950s paperback, and I know that many of those were reprints of material that had already fallen into the public domain at that point.
So I did a quick search on DeFord and found that her birth year was 1888, which makes her promising for potential Librivox recording material. At this point I was thinking true crime works, which are scarce on Librivox, so I’m always looking for a chance to record a new one.
Off to Project Gutenberg to check their DeFord holdings. To my surprise, the four works they have are all science fiction! Time to dig further into Ms. DeFord’s background. It turns out that she was a very prolific writer who wrote across many genres. She was an editor and journalist as well.
She began her career in journalism in the early 1900s, with a distinct leftist and feminist bent. She wrote for multiple socialist publications, was a proponent of birth control and women’s suffrage, and wrote several non-fiction books early in her career. Later, she turned to fiction and published stories in just about all of the major mystery and science fiction magazines from the 1950s-1980s. She even made an appearance in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology, and one of her stories became the basis of a Night Gallery episode.
She seems mostly forgotten now, and the little I read of her made me want to know more. I’m particularly intrigued by two anthologies she edited. Space, Time, and Crime (1964) has stories where the mystery and SF genres intersect. The other, Xenogenesis (1968), is a collection of her own short fiction dealing with gender themes.
Project Gutenberg has 4 of Miriam Allen Deford’s short stories:
- The Eel (Galaxy, April 1958)
- Oh, Rats! (Galaxy, December 1961)
- One Way (Galaxy, March 1955)
- Where the Phph Pebbles Go (Worlds of Tomorrow, April 1963)
All have been recorded at Librivox.
From a really obscure old-time SF author, to a really well-known one — at least by name, though I don’t think his own writings are widely read any more. John W. Campbell (1910-1971) is best remembered now as a prominent editor who did much to shape the early decades of modern science fiction through the kinds of stories he purchased, commissioned, and/or encouraged aspirants to write.
There are five John W. Campbell works on Project Gutenberg, four full-length novels and one short story:
- The Last Evolution (Amazing Stories, August 1932)
- Islands of Space (original copyright 1930, reprinted 1956) – sequel to The Black Star Passes
- The Black Star Passes (original copyright 1930, reprinted 1953)
- The Ultimate Weapon (later undated reprint/repackaging of 1936 serial)
- Invaders from the Infinite (original copyright 1932, reprinted 1961)
All have been recorded at Librivox at least once, with “The Last Evolution” having three different versions in various short SF collections.
Recent Librivox releases:
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
This story deals with the obvious fact that we humans are split, dual. We have urges to do the ‘right’ thing, to be honorable and wise, but we also frequently fail to follow these better instincts and follow instead urges to do dishonorable, evil things. We seem to battle within ourselves. Are we really composed of two different personalities housed within the same brain, within the same person? Dr Jekyll in this story is so convinced and manages by scientific means to actually split himself into his ordinary composite self, and his evil self whom he calls Mr. Hyde. The horror of this unnatural split is well documented here and shows what might happen were this possible.
- Mars is My Destination by Frank Belknap Long (1901-1994)
… Earth’s first colony in Space. Men killed for the coveted ticket that allowed them to go there. And, once there, the killing went on….
… Ralph Graham’s goal since boyhood—and he was Mars-bound with authority that put the whole planet in his pocket—if he could live long enough to assert it!
- Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926)
This is a satirical novel written by Edwin A. Abbott, first published in 1884. Abbott uses a two-dimensional world, with himself as the protagonist, known simply as “A Square”, to deride the Victorian aristocracy and its hierarchies. But the book has retained its value throughout the years for its unique portrayal of a two-dimensional world, and how a Sphere introduces the Square to the incomprehensible possibility of a third dimension.
- A Mirror of Shalott by Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914)
Fourteen stories of the strange by the Anglican then Roman Catholic priest, Robert Hugh Benson. The form of the book is of stories told by a gathering of Roman Catholic clergy.
- The Vampire; or, The Bride of the Isles by James Planché (1796-1880)
Set in the Scottish Isles, Planché’s play begins with our heroine having a prophetic vision of her own demise. Lady Margaret is besieged with a nightmarish visitation from a vampiric fiend who threatens to feast upon her blood. These premonitions are quickly borne out when she meets her betrothed, the villainous Lord Ruthven, an otherworldly creature alluded to in local gossip and rumor. He seeks to marry Margaret in order to drain her of her blood. Will her prophetic dreams come true? Or will she be saved from Ruthven’s villainous schemes?