Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 3, 2018


Sprague de Camp's New Anthology of Science Fiction by L. Sprague de Camp, selected by H. J. Campbell (1953)

L. Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) was a seminal author of science fiction and fantasy, gaining high popularity during the John W. Campbell Astounding/Unknown years.  Today he is best known (and sometimes reviled) for sparking the revival of Robert E. Howard's Conan through editing and adding to that saga in the Lancer paperbacks of the late Sixties.  He also, with Fletcher Pratt, wrote the popular Harold Shea/Incomplete Enchanter stories and the Gavagan's Bar club stories.  One of his most famous novels was Lest Darkness Fall -- the story of a time traveler trying to prevent the Dark Ages.  At the core of most of his SF are well thought out logic and a sense of light humor.  That de Camp was a rigorous reseacher is evident in his many books, including his histroical novels and his nonfiction.  He was a SFWA Grand Master, and a recipient of the Gandolph Award (Grand Master of Fantasy),  He received a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Science Fiction research Association Pilgrim Award for body of work.  He was also a Hugo winner.  Much of his writing was in collaboration with his longtime wife, Catherine Crook de Camp -- uncredited (in print, at least) during his earlier career and openly acknowledged and credited after about 1960.

H. J. (Bert) Campbell (1925-1983) was a British writer of competent but unimpressive SF novels in the early Fifties, many under the house name "Lee Sheldon," and was editor from 1952-1956 of the British SF Magazine Authentic.  Responsibilities of his chemical research work led him to leave the field in 1956 but his imprint (small as it was) on British science fiction remains.  Campbell edited two SF anthologies, as well as this collection that he termed an anthology.

In his introduction to this book, Campbell goes somewhat overboard:
     "For here we have some of the cream of science fiction humour.  Sprague de Camp can, when he chooses, exhibit the pertness of Parker, the whimsy of Wodehouse, the baloney of Benchley and the nuttiness of Nash; and when it comes to jabberwocky he can stand without shame beside Lewis Carroll."

He then uses Jabberwocky, nuttiness, baloney, whimsey, and pertness to describe each of the stories.  (Since he listed only five attributes and there are six stories in this collection, he adds for the final story, "[T]he basic kindness wells up at the end into something like a tear - and then you laugh!")

For a greatly different opinion, here's all that Anthony Boucher said about the book in his December 1954 review in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:

     "SPRAGUE DE CAMP'S NEW ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION (London:  Panther, 7/6) is most misleadingly titled; it is not an anthology edited by de Camp, but a group of six de Camp stories selected by H.J. Campbell.  All new to book form, they're a drab assemblage of nfunny humor and (what is even less forgivable) unsexy sex."

My own opinion hovers between Campbell and Boucher.  These stories are not de Camp's best by any means, but they are enjoyable with a light sense of whimsy.  (And I think de Camp was incapable of writing sexy sex.)

The stories:

  • "Calories" from 10 Story Fantasy, Spring 1951, as "Gateway to Krishna."  Part of de Camp's loosely connected "Viagens Interplanetarias" series about an intergalactic society in which Brazil is the world power.
  • "The Colorful Character" from Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1949.  Another "Viagens Interplanetaria" story.
  • "Juice" from Super Science Stories, May 1940.
  • "Proposal" from Startling Stories, November 1952.
  • 'The Saxon Pretender" Source unknown; ISFDb lists this as a 1952 story but does not say where it appeared or under what title.
  • "The Space Clause" from If, September 1952.

Minor stories all.  Even minor stories by L. Sprague de Camp are worthy of a go.

As far as availabilty, the book is difficult to get in print.  There was only one hardcover and one paperback edition printed, both by Panther in 1953.  You could try to read the stories in the original magazines online (good luck finding "The Saxon Pretender").  But all is not lost.  Luminist Archives has made the book available online (which is where I read it for free).

One final note.  De Camp always signed his non-pseudonymous work L. Sprague de Camp, so why did Bert Campbell drop the initial?  In person, de Camp was known as "Sprague."  Perhaps Campbell wanted to make the collection seem more personal, or perhaps he thought the initial made de Camp's name sound clunky.  Who knows?  But it's one question I won't lose any sleep over.


Our fearless Friday's Forgotten Books leader, Patti Abbott, is taking a break from her blog pattinase.
Todd Mason is picking up the baton at his Sweet Freedom blog and will have all the links later today.
As many know, Todd is one of nature's noblest -- although nowhere near as attractive as Patti.


  1. A typo, Jerry...Nature's Knobbiest, perhaps. And thanks. H. J. Campbell and AUTHENTIC were a Nice Try sort of editor and magazine...but, as Paul Fraser has been the latest to note, he did have the wit to publish THE ROSE by Charles Harness while the rest of the editors in the field were busy writing blurbs for the mediocrities at best from E. J. Cole and Jack Sharkey.

  2. I'm a fan of THE BEST OF L. SPRAGUE DE CAMP published by Ballantine Books. Here's the list of stories included (from Wikipedia):
    "L. Sprague de Camp — Engineer and Sorcerer" by Poul Anderson.
    "Language for Time Travelers" (essay).
    "The Command."
    "The Merman."
    "The Gnarly Man."
    "Reward of Virtue" (poem).
    "Nothing in the Rules." Accusations of foul play ensue when a mermaid is entered at a swim meet, but the stratagem appears perfectly legal. No such ploy ever having been envisioned, it turns out that nothing in the rules states a contestant can't have a tail, or even has to be human...
    "The Hardwood Pile." When Dan Pringle's Gahato sawmill processes a tree harboring a dryad, the spirit, having no other home, remains with the resulting pile of lumber, "haunting" it to prevent its dispersal. A running conflict between the two ensues, ending only when Pringle agrees to sell the whole pile to renovate the dance floor of a local bar, at which his antagonist then becomes an employee.
    "The Reluctant Shaman." Indian curio-shop proprietor Virgil Hathaway gets stuck babysitting a batch of mischievous Iroquois spirits, who get out of control and run rampant "helping" people with poltergeist-style tricks. Only a medicine man can bring them to heel, but is Hathaway up to the task?
    "The Inspector's Teeth." Hithafea, a dinosaur-like native from the planet Osiris enrolls in an Earth college and pledges one of its fraternities. Snobbish big man on campus John Fitzgerald, resenting Hithafea, hazes him mercilessly. But how does this connect with the fate of an interstellar treaty negotiated many years later?
    "The Guided Man." The Telagog Company can take over your body for you in awkward social situations, enabling you to negotiate them effortlessly. The service is a godsend for bashful Ovid Ross, until his controller decides he wants the same girl Ovid does...
    "The Ameba" (poem).
    "Judgment Day." Physicist Wade Ormont discovers an unsuspected type of nuclear reaction that could make his reputation—and, in the wrong hands, lead inevitably to universal destruction. Should he publish his findings and bask in the ephemeral glory, or does the survival of a world that has rejected and despised him count more?
    "A Gun for Dinosaur." Time-traveling hunter Reginald Rivers recounts an anecdote from one of his time safari expeditions involving problematic clients. Courtney James is an arrogant and spoiled playboy; August Holtzinger is a small, timid man, too puny the handle the heavy weaponry needed to take down Cretaceous period dinosaurs. Reluctantly, Rivers allows him on the safari with a lighter caliber weapon. James' reckless shooting rouses a slumbering Tyrannosaurus. Holtzinger tries to save him, but the creature shrugs off his gunfire and snaps him up. Rivers aborts the trip, angering James, who later tries to go back to the Cretaceous again and assassinate Rivers' past self. But the space-time continuum has a rough way with time paradoxes...
    "The Emperor's Fan."
    "Two Yards of Dragon." Squire Eudoric Damberson wishes to wed his magical tutor's daughter and become a knight. The price is procuring for the magician a portion of dragon hide for use in his magic. Dragons being locally scarce, Eudoric sets out for the east to slay one. Doing so, however, runs him afoul with the local game laws.
    "The Little Green Men" (poem).
    "Author's Afterword."

    1. Some great stories there, George. I'm also a fan of his three books of poems.

  3. I love the TALES FROM GAVAGAN'S BAR collection, and a few of his there things, but mostly find his work forgettable, either before or soon after I read it. I had the 2 NESFA Press volumes of his work, but sold them to Powell's for a pittance, as I knew I'd never want to read them again, and that was after skipping many stories. I do still have a SFBC edition of INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER around here somewhere.