Tuesday, 28 November 2017

P. M. Hubbard Short Stories in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 1953–1969

Cult British suspense author P. M. Hubbard published just fourteen short stories in his lifetime – a smaller number even than his published novels, of which there are eighteen (including his two children's novels). Appearing in a variety of magazines and anthologies across twenty-five years, to date the stories remain uncollected, and anyone interested in reading them must seek out the original publications in which they appeared – not a straightforward task by any means (more on one aspect of why shortly), although I haven't let that deter me from getting hold of ten of them, chiefly the seven that were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. By and large that's involved strokes of good fortune in secondhand bookshops and at book fairs (notably London's Paperback & Pulp Book Fair), but for the three earliest Hubbard F&SF tales, all of which were published in the 1950s, I had to resort to downloading PDFs of the issues (from here).

As there doesn't seem to be much online about those seven F&SF stories – apart from my own post on "The Golden Brick" that is – I thought I'd write something about them – a niche endeavour, I realise, that serves little purpose other than to interest myself and possibly Hubbard's already niche readership, but then surely that's what blogging is all about.


The first Hubbard story to appear in F&SF – and his earliest known story – was actually a reprint, having previously been published in an issue of the weekly Punch sometime in December 1952. The very short "Manuscript Found in a Vacuum" (US F&SF Vol. 5 No. 2, August 1953, cover by Jack Coggins illustrating Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Climbing Wave") is atypical Hubbard, a wry, verbose take on vintage space opera that's mildly amusing in its own way but fairly inconsequential as regards the author's wider canon, with little evidence of the intensity of Hubbard's later work.


Much more Hubbardesque is his second short, "Botany Bay" (US F&SF Vol. 8 No. 2, February 1955, cover by Kelly Freas), which deploys his "poet's sense of concise beauty", as the story's introduction has it ("the narrow strip of tarmac reflected like water the tremendous sultry glow that lay across the tops of the hills", for example), with hints of his propensity for obliqueness and allusion ("he had a look on his face that needs describing, but isn't easy to describe – not adequately... a look of longing, a sort of shocking hunger, but so overlaid with hopelessness that the impression was one of complete passivity") in service of a story in which a motorist stops at a petrol station and encounters a victim of possible extraterrestrial interference of some kind.


Even more Hubbardian is his third short work, "Lion" (US F&SF Vol. 10 No. 3, March 1956, cover by Nicholas Solovioff illustrating Poul Anderson's "Superstition"). One of three Hubbard shorts – the others being "Special Consent" and "The House" – which might reasonably be described as dystopian or perhaps more accurately post-apocalyptic in nature – although in each case, in true Hubbard fashion, the apocalypse itself is never properly defined – it follows a regressed couple as they gather rushes in an overgrown landscape near a bronze lion statue whilst discussing their more intelligent forebears. Initially I thought that statue and the river the story locates it nearby might be one of the ones in Trafalgar Square up from the Thames, but after further investigation I believe it to be the Maiwand Lion, which stands near the River Kennet in Reading, where Hubbard was born. Anyway, Hubbard's evocative handling of the setting is typical of him, and there's a deliciously distressing twist in the tale that I shan't spoil.


The fourth Hubbard short, "The Golden Brick", I've already written about at length, but arriving at it in this essay does give me the opportunity to expand on one of the difficulties of collecting Hubbard's F&SF stories if you're based in the UK. The main source of info about Hubbard and his work is the excellent The Worlds of P. M. Hubbard, but while its bibliography does note which issues of F&SF his stories appeared in, it only gives the American numbers and dates. Here in the UK, for the first half of the 1960s a British version of F&SF was published that used the same stories as its American counterpart but not in the corresponding issues (they tended to lag behind by a number of months). So while in the US "The Golden Brick" appeared in F&SF Vol. 24 No. 1, January 1963 (cover by Ed Emsh illustrating Mack Reynolds' "Speakeasy"), in the UK it was in Vol. 4 No. 6, May 1963. In addition, in the case of "The Golden Brick", the US edition boasts a page-and-a-half introduction comparing Hubbard favourably to M. R. James and incorporating a self-penned bio ("My first novel (a thriller of sorts) just accepted for publication this autumn. Married, three children, two grandchildren. Like making things with my hands, planting and tending trees, swimming, sailing. Have cottage in Cornwall. Expect to die early in 1965, but I may crawl away over the sea yet...") that in the edited-down UK edition intro is brutally excised in its entirety.


The American intro to Hubbard's fifth short, "Special Consent" (US F&SF Vol. 24 No. 4, October 1963, cover by Chesley Bonestell), is also curtailed in the British edition (UK F&SF Vol. 5 No. 4, March 1964), although nowhere near as savagely. In this second short dystopia, Hubbard paints a scenario where women have risen to dominance after men propelled the planet back to the stone age by unleashing "the Fire". There are some interesting ideas present, but the gabby exposition – not a typical Hubbard trait – and the officious nature of the matriarchal society depicted seem to me somehow off.


A more familiar and authentic slice of Hubbard comes with his sixth short, "The Shepherd of Esdon Pen" (US F&SF Vol. 26 No. 2, February 1964, cover by Jack Guagham illustrating S. S. Johnson's "The House by the Crab Apple Tree"/UK F&SF Vol. 5 No. 7, June 1964), in which Hubbard spends a good deal of the story's length vividly establishing the ancient chalk upland surroundings and the social and religious milieu in order to deliver a tale of escalating dread centring on the eponymous horn-headed pagan herder, a carving of whom can be seen in the local church and whose serpent-like staff figures at the story's climax.


Just as good is "The House", Hubbard's ninth short story overall and his last to appear in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (US F&SF Vol. 36 No. 4, April 1969, cover by Bert Tanner illustrating Gregory Benford's "Deeper Than the Darkness"). The third Hubbard post-apocalyptic tale, it shares with "The Shepherd of Esdon Pen" a kind of excavatory epilogue, as a man and his wife try to erect a home and start a new life on their government-allotted square mile of overgrown rubble – all that remains of North London – but find that the going is far harder than they expected. Transplanting a characteristically Hubbardian sense of a sullen rurality to a keenly rendered shattered cityscape ("fairly fine rubble, pretty wet in winter and thickly grown with scrub and the larger annuals, broken by coppices of hazel and alder"), the accruing details – the scarcity of glass, silent birds that might be deaf, the backbreaking work of shifting by hand the "infernal jigsaw" of masonry to find "a reasonably stable and compact surface" to fill in and then level up – build into a convincing portrait of English stoicism in the face of catastrophe.


Of the seven F&SF stories, I would say "Lion", "The Golden Brick", "The Shepherd of Esdon Pen" and "The House" are all approaching prime Hubbard and are well worth tracking down; the other three perhaps less so. In addition, F&SF ran three Hubbard poems, and these too are worth a read (again, they can be downloaded here). Both "Free Flight" (US F&SF Vol. 10 No. 4, April 1956, cover by Chesley Bonestell) and "Air Space Violated" (US F&SF Vol. 15 No. 5, November 1958, cover by Pederson) deal to a degree with man's efforts to escape his earthly shackles, but my favourite I think is "Nobody Hunts Witches" (US F&SF Vol. 8 No. 5, May 1955, cover by Stanley Meltzoff). It brought a smile to my face when I first read it, and in that spirit I hope I'll be forgiven for including it in full below.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Science Fiction Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s

Ever since I established Existential Ennui's first permanent page, Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, five years ago, the bulk of the dust jackets I've added to the gallery have wrapped books of a crime or spy fiction bent – those being the genres I've been most interested in, and accordingly have collected the most of, for most of those five years (and even before that). But right from the get-go I've included dust jackets from books from other genres (and indeed no genre at all) besides, notably science fiction. Among my earliest additions to the page was Roy Sanford's wrapper for the 1951 Rupert Hart-Davis first edition of Ray Bradbury's The Silver Locusts (alias The Martian Chronicles) – one of my most prized books – alongside John Rowland's jacket for the 1957 Heinemann edition of Nevil Shute's On the Beach and Donald Green's one for the 1959 Constable edition of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon.

With my recently reignited fervour for SF, I thought it high time I added some more science fiction jackets to the gallery. Most of the SF I've been picking up over the past eight months or so has either hailed from the 1970s onwards or been paperbacks – or both – but I have acquired a handful of hardback firsts from the '50s and '60s as well, plus there are one or two other books I've had in my possession for longer than that which, for whatever reason, I haven't got round to adding to the page. Such as this one:


A British first edition of Poul Anderson's Brain Wave, published by Heinemann in 1955. This was one of the first books I bought when I moved down to Lewes from London nine years ago and got seriously into book collecting, acquired from Lewes' Bow Windows Bookshop for a tenner – on reflection something of a bargain, even given its damaged – but still complete – dust jacket; the cheapest comparable copy I can see online at present is listed for over £100. That jacket is by Eric Mudge-Marriott, whose work also appears on, among others, the 1954 Cassell edition of (John) Ross Macdonald's Experience with Evil (alias Meet Me at the Morgue), the 1955 Heinemann edition of David Duncan's Dark Dominion, and the 1965 Cassell edition of William Haggard's The Hard Sell (a copy of which I have in the loft somewhere).


A more recent acquisition from Bow Windows is this British first edition/second impression of Ray Bradbury's early short story collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, published by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1953. Boasting among its tales an all-time Bradbury classic, "The Sound of Thunder", the book's dust jacket is by Bradbury's longtime artistic collaborator, American designer Joe Mugnaini, who also designed the differing jacket of the 1953 US Doubleday edition, as well as this:


The 1959 Hart-Davis edition of The Day It Rained Forever, a 1962 second impression/ex-library copy of which I acquired for a couple of quid from Jamie Sturgeon at the last but one Lewes Book Fair. I bought a bunch of SF off Jamie at the most recent Lewes Book Fair in October too, including this:


A first edition of Jonathan Burke's intriguing Pursuit Through Time, published by Ward, Lock in 1956. Sadly there's no art credit for the dust jacket (the style looks very familiar to me but I can't place it) so I've added it to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s under 'Designer Unknown'.


Also from the most recent Lewes Book Fair, from a different dealer, came this British first of Andre Norton's Catseye, published by Gollancz in 1962 (and once owned by a Prof. Spratt, according to the ex libris stamp on its endpaper). The wrapper is by Alan Breese, who created jackets for over a dozen Gollancz editions of Andre Norton books throughout the 1960s.


Lastly, from where I'm not quite sure – it's a recent-ish acquisition but I can't recall where from – a first edition/second impression of James Blish's A Life for the Stars, published by Faber in 1966 (originally 1964), dust jacket by Robert MacLean, who I believe was an American artist and children's book illustrator. Bizarrely, this is actually the second copy of the Faber edition I've owned; I did have a third impression but I've no idea what I did with it, hence why I bought this second impression from... somewhere... that and the fact that I also own Faber first/seconds of the other three novels in Blish's Cities in Flight sequence (which have rather different dust jacket designs). Anyway, I've added this and all the other SF wrappers in this post to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s under their relevant designers (where known), all of whom are new to the gallery.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Peril for the Guy by John Kennett, a Lewes Bonfire Book Bargain

Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire as it's known locally, is a big deal here in Lewes. Each November the 5th (or, as it is this year, the 4th; Bonfire never takes place on a Sunday) thousands line the streets to witness the six bonfire societies – whose memberships number in the many hundreds – and visiting societies from across Sussex parade around the town in a cavalcade of flames and firecrackers, costumes and pageantry, tableaux (the term for the huge, topical – often controversially so – papier-mache effigies the societies build and then blow up) and centuries-old tradition, culminating in the ritual exploding of the Pope and subsequent firework displays at six fire sites dotted around town.

How apposite, then, that in a Lewes charity shop I should come across this:


A first edition of Peril for the Guy by John Kennett, published by Brockhampton Press in 1955, dust jacket and interior illustrations by Stuart Boyle (who also illustrated Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, and whose daughter Catherine Brighton is herself an illustrator). A children's adventure novel about young Kim Hunter and his four friends – the 'Black Circle' Gang – who set out to collect 'pennies for the guy' but wind up falling foul of the sinister Colonel Hugo Cannon, I suppose its main claim to fame these days is that it became a Children's Film Foundation production the year after publication, directed by James Hill, starring Fraser Hines – later of Doctor Who and Emmerdale – and now available to view in its entirety on the BFI website.


Kennett didn't write that film adaptation, but he did write or edit around fifty other books for children – history and biography as well as fiction – including two sequels to Peril for Guy: Walk into Peril, 1957, and Peril All the Way, 1959. He was also a teacher at Knebworth County Primary School in Hertfordshire, a former pupil of which establishment recalls that mention of the film adaptation of Peril for the Guy was for some reason taboo.


Whatever objections Kennett may have had to the film, they evidently didn't prevent him from signing this copy of the novel on its front free endpaper in the same year the adaptation was released:


How this first of Peril for the Guy – the only signed copy I know of, and an uncommon book in either its 1955 Brockhampton Press edition or its 1973 White Lion reissue – wound up in a Lewes charity shop I couldn't say; the curious religious bookmark that was slipped inside its pages might be a clue, or more likely the inscription on the reverse of the front endpaper:


To a Robert from his Auntie Eve and Uncle Dennis on the occasion of his twelfth birthday. One to ponder over the weekend, perhaps, as Lewes once more bursts into flames.


Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup. Bonfire photos © Rachel Day.