Saturday, 10 May 2014

Anderson's PLANET STORIES Tales by Sean M Brooks

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, Thurs 23 May 2013.

When Poul Anderson was a young writer who was still, in may ways, learning how to write, he contributed a dozen or so stories to PLANET STORIES.  Here I both list those yarns and offer some comments about those PLANET STORIES tales by both Anderson and me.

"Star Ship," PLANET STORIES, Fall 1950
"Witch of the Demon Seas," PS, January 1951
"Tiger by the Tail," PS, January 1951
"Duel on Syrtis," PS, March 1951
"The Virgin of Valkarion," PS, July 1951
"Lord of a Thousand Suns," PS, September 1951
"Swordsman of Lost Terra," PS, November 1951
"Sargasso of Lost Starships," PS, January 1952
"Captive of the Centaurianess," PS, March 1952
"War Maid of Mars," PS, May 1952
"The Star Plunderer," PS, September 1952
"The Ambassadors of Flesh," PS, Summer 1954
"Out of the Iron Womb," PS, Summer 1955

Most of these stories have been republished in collections including works by other authors or as one author (Anderson) anthologies.  But I have not yet managed to read "Witch of the Demon Seas," "The Virgin of Valkarion," or "War Maid of Mars."

Although best known for his excellent hard SF and fantasies, Poul Anderson also wrote some of the finest and purest quill pen pulp SF to be found.  Two examples being "Lord of a Thousand Suns" and "Swordsman of Lost Terra."  But I wish to let Anderson himself comment on the tales he wrote for PLANET STORIES.  The text quoted below came from his essay "Concerning Future Histories" (BULLETIN OF THE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS OF AMERICA, Fall 1979), quoting from page 8.

Way back when, I was for a short time a mainstay of PLANET STORIES.  That magazine is today of fond memory, but at the time it was considered trash by many fans because it frankly went in for straight adventure with a science fictional back-ground.  Myself, I saw nothing wrong with that.  The action story has been a legitimate form since Homer, if not before. (It might be remarked, too, that PLANET occasionally ran stuff by such people as Ray Bradbury, Margaret St. Clair, and William Tenn which nobody else dared touch.  And even in the swashbucklers, characters were permitted to have sex lives.)  I was young and poor and wanted money to travel on, I could write derring-do very fast; why not?  Therefore I churned out a total of about a dozen.  That was all.  They caused persons who think in categories to dismiss me as nothing but a blood-and-thunderer, and those folk took a long time to change their minds.  Some never had.  No matter, I don't feel the least apologetic for having thus earned the means to widen my horizons.  Those tales were in no way memorable, but they weren't pretentious either, and if they gave a little diversion to most of their readers, they served their purpose.
It's my view that here Anderson was being too modest about the quality of the tales he wrote for PLANET STORIES.  As I've already said, I believe he wrote some of the finest pulp SF to be found.  Also, the additional text quoted below from "Concerning Future Histories" (also from page 8 of the above mentioned BULLETIN) explains why I believe his PS tales to be much better than average.
Nevertheless, I quickly grew tired of certain cliches in the genre.  The uniformly noble and Nordic heroes,   the incredibly complete resolutions of all problems. Why not do something a bit more believable?  This was the origin of "Tiger by the Tail," the first story about Dominic Flandry.  In name and temperament, he was Gallic; a Frenchman has actually congratulated me on the characterization.  He was an intelligence officer in the service of a Terran Empire far gone in decay, losing the very will to defend its frontiers, while alien enemies pressed ever harder inward.  He recognized the corruption of his society in his own spirit.  But somebody had to try keep things hanging together somehow, at any rate through his lifetime.  After all, civilization was much more enjoyable than barbarism, or death.  Besides, the work itself was the most interesting activity in sight, in between bouts of sensualism, and he did keep a few fugitive ideals and loyalties.
I agree with what Anderson said about those "cliches in the genre."  What I read in the stories he wrote for PS makes it plain he transcended those shop worn tropes.  I thought of "Captive of the Centaurianess" as one example because of how he used sardonic humor to turn inside out those cliches.  And the same was true of "Tiger by the Tail," with its theme of how noble, honorable barbarians versus a "corrupt" civilized man was shown to be false and the civilized man was wiser and more decent than the barbarians he opposed. A writer who was merely a hack would probably have taken the opposite tack.

What kind of magazine was PLANET STORIES?  To answer that question I'll quote a bit from Malcolm J. Edwards entry for PS on page 937 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION (1993, ed. by John Clute and Peter Nicholls): "Subtitled in its early years "Strange Adventures on Other Worlds--The Universe of Future Centuries," PS was the epitome of pulp SF.  Its covers were garish in the extreme, and its story titles promised extravagantly melodramatic interplanetary adventures (which the stories themselves frequently provided)."  And Poul Anderson wrote tales for PS which fit this description (and the wonderfully lurid covers) while also improving on or even transcending those cliches he came to dislike. 


  1. Too simple, Malcolm's cited characterization...particularly in the years Anderson contributed, during Jerome Bixby's editorship and afterward, when it was as good as nearly any magazine in the field...still capable of publishing dross by the likes of Stanley Mullen, but also continuing to publish Leigh Brackett and wonderful work by Charles Harness and others...all the other magazines in the field were prone to their own dross, as well!

    1. Hi, Todd!

      Many thanks for commenting om my little article. Yes, I agree, the mere fact PLANET STORIES pub. stories by Ray Bradbury and William Tenn, to name two authors cited by Anderson himself shows that PS was capable of publishing good stuff as well as dross and hack work.