Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, August 13, 2020


 What's It Like Out There? and Other Stories by Edmond Hamilton (1974)

Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977) earned the title "Planet Wrecker" early on.  He -- along with his friend Jack Williamson and E. E. "Doc" Smith -- popularized and greatly influenced the space opera genre.  Hamilton's early tales combined a mish-mash of science, pseudo-science, adventure, and fantasy that left early science fiction fans gasping for more.  Later in his career, he cemented a place in science fiction history with writing many of the Captain Future novels, clearly aimed at a juvenile audience but with a sense of wonder that marked almost all of his work. Among Hamilton's innovations in science fiction was the first use of a space suit, the first space walk, and the first "energy sword" (think light saber from Star Wars).  

Hamilton began working in the comics in the early Forties, writing for such comic book heroes as The Black Terror.  In 1946 he joined the staff of DC Comics, penning adventures of Batman, Superman, Superboy, and Green Lantern.  Hamilton stayed with DC for nearly two decades, ending in 1967.  Although comic book scripting took up much of his time, he continued to write stories and novels (some of his fiction plots were later employed in his comic book work).  A list of Hamilton's characters created for DC is expansive:  

Science fiction had changed after World War II and Hamilton, always flexible, changed with it.  While still remaining true to his pulp science fiction adventure root, he began producing more realistic, more nuanced, more sophisticated stories. 

Hamilton's first collection of short stories was The Horror on the Asteroid and Other Tales of Planetary Horror, 1947, published as part of Philip Allen's Creeps series in England -- it would not be published in the US until 1975 in a Gregg Press reprint edition.  Hamilton's second collection (if it can be called that was Murder in the Clinic, a thirty-six page chapbook containing two stories and a notoriously buxom photo of a naked woman on the cover.  Fast forward to 1965 when Ace books released Crashing Suns, collecting five of Hamilton's Interstellar Patrol stories dating from 1928 to 1930.  What's It Like Out There?, published by Ace in 1974 and never reprinted in the US, was Hamilton's second major science fiction collection to appear in the US.  The stories range from 1941 to 1962 and is a good cross-section of his writing from that time.  Not present is the old "World Wrecker" Hamilton.  Seven of the twelve stories are from Weird Tales, often employing an A. Merritt-ish plot; two are from Thrilling Wonder Stories; two from Amazing Stories; and one from a Sam Moskowitz-edited anthology.  With just a couple of exceptions, this volume does not contain Edmond Hamilton at his best.  It does, however, display his varied talents to great effect.

Among the pages you see a non-heroic space hero, a race of snake people about to conquer Earth after millennia of imprisonment, the far future inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's writing, shadow people from the high mountains of Asia who have been fighting to save Earth from a cosmic horror for centuries, a spaceman killed in the early days of space exploration who has awakened to find himself on a starship, and a marooned sailor who finds himself on an island literally created  by dreams.

Good escapist reading that makes me want to dive into more stories and novels by Hamilton.

The Contents:

  • What's It Like Out There? (from Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1952)
  • The King of Shadows (from Weird Tales, January 1947)
  • Castaway (from The Man Who Called Himself Poe, edited by Sam Moskowitz, 1969)
  • Serpent Princess (from Weird Tales, January 1948)
  • The Stars, My Brothers (from Amazing Stories, May 1962)
  • Dreamer's Worlds (from Weird Tales, November 1941)
  • Twilight of the Gods (from Weird Tales, July 1948)
  • Sunfire! (from Amazing Stories, September 1962)
  • The Inn Outside the World (from Weird Tales, July 1945)
  • The Watcher of the Ages (from Weird Tales, September 1948)
  • Transuranic (from Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1948)
  • The Isle of the Sleeper (from Weird Tales, May 1938)


  1. Though "What's It Like Out There?" itself is a kind of anti-escapist story...about how unheroic and unpleasant space travel is, one that made a bit of a splash when first published (and Hamilton held it back from publication for some years after writing it). One of the stories that helped TWS (and STARTLING) to help establish themselves as homes for mature sf that was often Not Campbellian.

    Also, I'd mention that one of Hamilton's most enthusiastic early markets was WEIRD TALES, where he was the foremost "weird-scientific" writer for the magazine...the kind of sf you refer to above...

    Thanks for the review!


  2. To see the contents and covers of the two Hamilton issues of AMERICAN FICTION (the other one, aside from "Murder in the Clinic", features a story by Hamilton, one by Robert Bloch and one by the now very obscure H. O. Dickinson):