Okay, I liked this one. Definitely a book that needs more eyeballs on it. I’m surprised I’m the only person remarking on how much like Star Wars this one is– I mean, it’s got exploding planets and space princesses and everything. Another thing that this one demonstrates is how… just like A. Merritt and William Hope Hodgson both played huge roles in making Lovecraft possible… so too do you have A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs playing a role in making Jack Williamson’s career possible. And Williamson, of course, made the way for an Isaac Asimov… who went on to eclipse them all.
So… what you see in the Appendix N list… there’s not just guys that are known primarily for their science fiction there. There’s not just the big names of planetary romance. But there are these transitional figures that are responsible for doing the work that made the guys that aren’t obscure into the giants that they were. Unlike practically everyone else curating lists of this kind, Gygax had a great deal of gratitude for these sorts of figures. In his view, they always retained first class status over and above the people that built on their work. I think that’s awesome… and I have to say, just reading from his list, he has inspired me to take precisely the same view. These guys really are heroes that should never have gone out of style.
We really do lose a lot when we cut out everything except the works of “the big three” or the top ten most well known authors in our conceptions of the history of science fiction and fantasy. The full story really is better than the Cliff Notes edition that the librarians and book stores and publishers have inadvertently bequeathed to us. I think it’s neat that I can play a part in getting a more comprehensive picture out in a form that can get people excited about reading these guys again. Every email I get from people that are ecstatic about finally discovering these authors makes the work of doing this series worth the effort.
Sci Fi at Dark Roasted Blend — “The adventure is fine (but very predictable), color is there (but not full throttle yet), characters are introduced over a grandiose background, and conflicts are hatched to be resolved on ever-so-widening cosmic scale. Also, I see how this series was different from other outer space outings (by Campbell, for example) – it’s rather more free-wheeling and less rigid.”
Ryk E. Spoor — “The original Legion tale, The Legion of Space, was first serialized in 1934, a contemporary of the Skylark and Lensman series by Doc Smith (and indeed, the first Skylark story was also published in 1928, the same year as Williamson’s first story). As such, it is one of the earliest of the grand-scale space operas. How early? Well, early enough that it comes with a framing story of the ostensible author actually just publishing the memoirs of an old man who seemed able to see the future. This was still used in the 1930s, though it was getting to be a bit old hat, but shortly thereafter it was pretty much extinct except for deliberately retro or ironic pieces.”
Black Gate — “Time is running out, too. Isaac Asimov, a huge fan of The Legion of Space when he first read it inAstounding Stories in 1934, sadly found it virtually unreadable when he returned to it as an adult. It’s not unusual for these early pulp novels to be a tough read as you get a little older — if you want to really enjoy them, you pretty much have to experience them first in your youth. And since I turn 50 this year, I figured I better get cracking.”
Grognardia — “It’s very easy to see why novels like this were so beloved by Gygax. Not only are they fun, enjoyable reads in their own right, they provide good models for referees looking to adapt classic literature to other ends. Williamson’s borrowing from The Three Musketeers makes plain why the original story is considered a classic — its characters, situations, and themes really do transcend both the time in which they were written and the times in which they were set. I suspect it’s this that appealed to Gary and from which he took inspiration. As a novice referee, I know I cribbed heavily from my favorite books, although certainly not as skillfully as Williamson. Nevertheless, I think doing so was an important part of my ‘education’ as a referee.”
Worlds Without End — “Yes, the prose does tend towards the purple end of the spectrum. It’s formal and intense and rather melodramatic by our standards. But if you‘re willing to give it a chance, you find yourself in the hands of an author who’s clearly having fun trying to dazzle and horrify you with the wonders and terrors that our heroes face in their quest to save the solar system from destruction. It’s like when someone tells you a ghost story around a fire. You can roll your eyes and hang on tight to your disbelief and sneer, or you can get into the spirit of the occasion and have fun with it. If you meet him halfway, Williamson’s writing can be very vivid and suspenseful and powerful.”