Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, September 16, 2021


 Gosh!  Wow!  (Sense of Wonder) Science Fiction, ddited by Forrest J Ackerman (1982)

Forrest J (no period after the initial, thank you; an affectation he developed in the 1930s) Ackerman (or 4SJ, as he often referred to himself) (1916-2008) was an editor, writer, anthologist, literary agent, promoter of Esperanto, and -- above all -- a science fiction fan.  For over seven decades the main focus of his life was the promotion of science fiction, a field he fell in love with in beginning in 1922 when he saw his first science fiction movie.  His appreciation of the field solidified when he purchased the first science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926.  At that time the field was known as scientifiction, a term coined by Amazing editor Hugo Gernsback.  Scientifiction was abbreviated as stf (pronounced "stef") and Ackerman was the first person to use the abbreviation in print, although he was quick to point out that the term did not originate with him, but with a friend.  A few years later, Gernsback  changed the term to the less wieldy "science fiction."  Ackerman who loved puns, invented the word sci-fi (to rhyme with 'hi-fi") in the 1950s.  In the third issue of the fanzinne Science Fiction, Ackerman's name was used for a reporter of a character in the very first Superman story written by Joseph Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

Known as "Mr. Science Fiction," Ackerman was active in the field professionally and otherwise for most of his entire life.  His collection of books, magazines, and memorabilia was reputed to be the largest inn the world.  He hosted some 50,000 fans and professionals at his home, the "Ackermansion," from 1951 to 2002.  Over the years, he was the literary agent for some 200 writers, as well as representing a nukber of literary estates.He founded the magazine Famous Monster of Filmland in 1958, which joyfully (and punningly) celebrated science fiction, fantasy, and horror films for generations of younger readers.  His many connections in Hollywood led to Ackerman appearing in bit parts or cameo roles in over 210 science fiction films.  He created the comic strip character Vampirella.  In the 1960s he arranged for the English publication of the weekly German juvenile science fiction series Perry Rhodan, which ran for 118 issues from Ace Books, and then for another 19 issues under his own inprint.  The Rhodan series was translated by his wife "Wendayne."  (As of 2019 the original German series reached 3000 books -- booklets really; they were kind of short  -- as well as 850 volumes in a spin-off series.)  For the American publication, Ackerman added original and reprint science fiction, film reviews, and a letter column; the additional stories tended to either creaky or gimmicky with a few exceptions.

In 1969 the Brazilian government hosted a ten-day international science fiction symposium which Ackerman, along with many of the biggest names in the field, attended.  There he was approached by a Brazilian publisher to edit a series of five science fiction anthologies, each covering a decade.  The proposal, however, fell through.  Then, in the early 80s, science fiction writer and editor Fredrik Pohl was placed in charge of the science fiction line at Bantam Books.  Remembering the original Brazilian propposal, Pohl approached Ackerman to come up with an anthology of stories he remembered fondly from SF's first decade, from 1926 to 1935.  Ackerman would introduce the stories with rambling autobiographical pieces about his life in science fiction.  Ackerman had previously edited The Best Science Fiction for 1973, taking over Ace Books' Year's-Best slot from Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, both of who left Ace to embark on their own careers, as well as a Year's-Best series from each.  (Ace's 1974 Best Science Fiction was edited by Pohl, followed by five annuals edited by Lester del Rey.)  Ackerman's next science fiction anthology was The Gernsback Awards 1926:  Volume 1 (1982), which gave Ackerman's choices for the best science fiction stories of 1926; there was no Volume 2.  These books, along with Ackerman's reputation was enough for Pohl to propose that Ackerman edit a book of tales from 1926 to 1935.

We met Ackerman once -- some fifty years ago -- when we shared a banquet table at a World Science Fiction Convention in Boston.  He was charminng, affable, and funny.  Although he stated firmly that his life's major interest was in science fiction of every stripe. he did join my wife in a rendition of the song "42nd Street."  Ackerman's interest in promoting science fiction to younger readers was evident, as was his interest in the stories that fascinated him when he was young -- a time when much of the field was unpolished and crude, but a time when the "sense of wonder" reigned.  

Reading this book was infectious and brought back my own sense of wonder.  Of the nineteen stories in the book, I had previously read about nine.  Most of those stories I had already read brought back fond memories.  Pohl imposed one rule on Ackerman:  He was to pick the stories he best remembered but he was not to re-read them!  Pohl wanted the sense of wonder that struck the young boy and teenager that Ackerman was at the time; re-reading the stories before publication could impact a selection by a more mature mind.

Here are the stories:

  • Robert H. Wilson, "Out from Rigel" (from Astounding Stories, December 1931)  The story of a fated voyage to another star system.The author had only one other story published and committed suicide at a young age.
  • Jack Williamson, "Born of the Sun"  (from Astounding Stories, March 1934)  Aliens are destroying the moon.  Can Earth take its place among the stars or will humanity be destroyed?  Williamson lasted from 1928 until,his death in 2006, going from clunky "world-ending" stories to producing a number of classic science fiction stories and helping to bring science fiction into the mainstream.
  • Edmond Hamilton, "The Eternal Cycle" (from Wonder Stories, March 1935)  A story about an alternate universe.  Hamilton's career began in 1926 and continued until his death in 1977.  He was best known for writing space opera, which belies his range of writing for he was capable of truly mature work.  Hamilton created the pulp hero Captain Future and wrote almost all of that hero's adventures.  He was married to the talented writer Leigh Brackett.
  • "Irvin Lester" and Fletcher Pratt, "The Roger Bacon Formula" (from Amazing Stories, January 1929)  After drinking a strange formula concocted by Roger Bacon, a man's essence travels to Venus.  The story was selected by Groff Conklin for inclusion in one of the early, seminal science fiction anthologies.  "Lester" was a pseudonym used by Pratt; why he credited this tale to both himself and an alter ego still eludes me.
  • Miles J. Breuer, M.D. & Clare Winger Harris, "A Baby on Neptune" (from Amazing Stories, December 1929)  On a voyage to Neptune, two humans save a Neptunian baby from an inhuman monster.  Breuer was a popular writer in the field through the 1930s, penning such classics as "Gostak and the Doshes" and "The Appendix and the Spectacles;"  Harris was one of the first popular female science fiction authors; her career last until the early thirties.
  • "Clyde Crane Campbell"  (H. L. Gold), "Inflexure"  Time is turned at a "right angle" when all thngs that ever lived appear at the same time.  Disaster follows,  This was Gold's first published story, written when he was only 20.  After a solid career as a short story author, Gold found fame from editing the seminal science fiction magazine Galaxy.
  • Captain S. P. Meek, ""Futility"  (from Amazing Stories, July 1929)  Two scientists devise a machine that can mathematically determine one's exact moment of death, as well as the exact cause and the place of death.  Meek was a career Army chemist who attained the rank of Colonel by the time he retired in 1947.  He wrote most of his science fiction during the 1930s and was considered one of the most popular at the time.  In the science fiction field he is probably best know for his series about Doctor Bird and Operative Carnes -- 14 stories tht appeared in Astounding Stories from 1930 to 1932.  During the 30s he also wrote nine juvenile novels about dogs and horses, continuing these books through 1956 -- 21 in all, plus a handbook on raising a puppy.
  • Lousie Taylor Hanson. "The Prince of Liars" (from Amazing Stories, October 1930)  An interesting tale of near "immortality" frmed within a rather boring discussion of Newtonian theory versus relativism.  Another popular early female science fiction writer, maybe.  Little was known about her, but she did say on at least one occasion that the stories were actually written by her brother and she "just mailed them."  This could be true, but the name of the brother has never been revealed.
  • Louis Tucker, "The Cubic City"  (from Science Wonder Stories, September 1929)  Griswald Lee, a man born in 1895, is mysteriously propelled to a time in the far future where the world is run by the League of Cities.  This was Tucker's only acknowledged story.  He was evidently a Doctor of Divinity.
  • "G. Peyton Wertenbaker" (Green Peyton), "The Shp that Turned Aside" (from Amazing Stories, March 1930)  Caught in a violent storm, a ship finds itself on a strange sea in a world whose sky showed no known constellations.  Wertenbaker had a few stories published in the 1920s, beginning with "The Man from the Atom," written when he was 15.  His "The Coming of the Ice" (Amazing Stories, June 1926) was included in Ackerman's The Gernsback Awards.  He moved to regional noels in the 1930s published under his given name of Green Peyton, then  to editorial positions for Fortune and Time magazines.  After service in World War II, he joined the aerospace industry, writing a book on the possibilty of life on mar, as well as a series of video scripts about the human problems of space flight.  He joined NASA in 1958, eventually rising to becoming the chief historian of the Aerospace Medical Division.
  • W. Varick Nevins, III, "The Emotion Meter"  (from Wonder Stories, January 1935)  A college professor devises a machine that indicates a person's romantic preference -- a story with a twist at the end.  I know nothing about the author, who published four stories in 1934-5.  He defended this story against Donald a. Wollheim in the Letters column of Wonder Stories.
  • A. Merritt, "The Face in the Abyss"  (from Argosy All-Story Weekly, September 8, 1923; reprinted in Amazing Stories Annual, Vol. 1, 1927)  The classic lost race fantasy, complete with strange monsters and high adventure.  This story, combined with the author's novella "The Snake Mother" was published as The Face in the Abyss (1931).   Merritt (1884-1943) was the editor of The American Weekly whose sideline was as a pulp fantasy writer.  He wrote eight complete novels -- all classics of their kind -- including The Moon Pool and The Ship of Ishtar.  He was inducted into The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1999. 
  • Stanley G. Weinbaum, "The Red Peri"  (from Astounding Stories, November 1935)  Written just five years after the discovery of Pluto, Weinbaum set this story on that planet/planetoid, investing it with crystaline creatures.  The Red Peri turns out to be a 19-year-old red-headed female space pirate who has a secret lair on Pluto.  Weinbaum was one of the brightest lights in science fiction in the mid-1930s, beginning with his first story, "A Martian Odyssey" in 1934.  He died a year and half later of lung cancer at age 33.  Had he lives, he may well have become on of the greatest science fiction writers of the Twentieth century.
  • D. D. Sharp. "The Eternal Man"  (from Science Wonder Stories, August 1929)   A scientist discovers an immortaity elixir but discovers it leaves whoever takes it immobile while remaining conscious.  Sharp was a farmer turned writer whose science fiction showed some imagination but little writing skill.  "The Eternal Man" was his one-hit wonder and a poor sequel published the following year is best forgotten.  H published 24 science fiction stories before transitioning to the western field.
  • Raymond Z. Gallun, "Old Faithful"  (from Astounding Stories, December 1934)  Probably Gallun's most successful short story, it features a totally sympathetic Martian, and opposed to the monstrous aliens usually depicted in stories of that time.  It inspired two sequels.  Gallun was a talented writer who was popular in the 30s and published some 120 stories and six novels during his career.  His popularity waned during the 1950s and, although he was recognized as a talented author, he never achieved the reputation of some of his peers.
  • Catherine L. Moore & Forrest J Ackerman, "Nymph of Darkness" (from Fantasy Magazine [a fanzine], April 1935)  Moore's popular character Northwest Smith encounters a totally nude, totally invisible girl who is fleeing from danger.  Ackerman helped plot this minor tale, which ws revised for publication in Weird Tales in 1939.  For years Moore refused to have this story reprinted and was not included in her collection of Northwest Smith stories.  Read it and you'll see why.
  • "Don A. Stuart" (John W. Campbell, Jr.), "Twilight"  (from Astounding Stories, November 1934)  A far future tale, written in a more literary style that Campbell's earlier far-ranging superscience tales.  This marked a turning point in Campbell's career as he began writing more "serious" tles under the Stuart pen-name (which came from the name of his then-wife, Dona Stewart).  Campbell effectively stopped writing science fiction when he became editor of Astounding Stories.  As editor, he is credited with advancing science fiction into the modern age.
  • Amelia Reynold Long,"Omega"  (from Amazing Stories, July 1932)  A story about the end of the world.  Long was another early female science fiction writer best known for her story "The Thought-Monster" (1930), which was filmed as 1958's Fiend without a Face.  She was a prolific writer of rather poor detective novels for the lending library market and is little remembered today.
  • Harry Bates & D. W. Hall, "A Scientist Rises"  (from Astounding Stories, November 1932, published under Hall's name alone)  A scientist (and his clothing) begins to grow larger and larger, until...  Bates was the editor of Astounding and Hsll was the magazine's assistant editor.  As "Anthony Gilmore," the pair wrote the popular Hawk Carse sequence of five stories.  Btes also wrote the classic stories "Alas, All Thinking!" and "Farewell to the Master" (the basis of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Hall's sjort story output, with the exception of for stories, was all published in with Bates as the co-author.

There you have it.  Some stories rated from good to very good and some pure schlock.  All, however, have that undefinable "sense of wonder" that has captivated yung readers for almost a century.

Plus, as a bonus, you have Ackerman's comments and reflections, along with sometimes defensive words about various disagreements he has had with others in the field.  Ackerman also included a number of letters to the editor from various magazines (written by himself and others), a few poems (by Mort Weisinger and Ralph Milne Farley), and some pieces about unsung heroes of the science fiction movement.  All in all, a very scattered and extremely interesting editorializations.

If you are like me and like Ackerman -- kids who never really grew up -- this one is for you.


  1. Cool...I have a fairly obscure Ackerman co-editing job I've been meaning to FFB for years.

    Slightly scrambled on the BOTY flow at Ace...Donald Wollheim and Terry Carr's last Ace YEAR'S BEST SF was the 1971 volume, after which they both, separately, quit the collapsing Ace; Frederik Pohl, at a certain degree of loose ends after having the GALAXY group of magazines sold out from under him (and unwilling to work for new owners UPD), agreed to take on Wollheim's old job at Ace as primary fiction editor, and produced the !972 sf BOTY for Ace as part of that job; the Ackerman 1973 volume came after Pohl, also, abandoned the sinking ship...I'm not sure whom the Ace editor or exec was who hired Ackerman to do the next annual, but a number of Ackeman's choices were vetoed, by most people's reckoning weakening the book and emphasizing Ackerman's amusement by the often notional stories allowed to remain. Ackerman walked away from that task, while contiuing to edit/coedit the PERRY RHODAN series of anthologies at Ace till the last one published in the US in '78 (brief Stateside revival in the late '90s) and Ace for several years did the paperback of Lester Del Rey's Little, Brown annual, starting with the Ace release in 1974. Ace was bought up by several firms in a row in the remainder of the '70s and '80s, helping the line continue less rockily.

  2. And I add an error, above...the Del Rey annual was in hardcover from E.P. Dutton rather than Little, Brown.

  3. And another! Del Rey's 1972 BOTY for Dutton was reprinted by Ace in 1973 and LDR's 1973 Dutton volume didn't come out in Ace paperback in's in need of a scorecard...

    1. Until 1975. The Real dangers of posting when half-asleep...