Monday 23 May 2011

Donald E. Westlake: The Science Fiction Magazine Short Stories – An Introduction and Bibliography / Checklist

By this point Donald E. Westlake should need no introduction, but in case this is either your first visit to Existential Ennui or you're just setting off on your own classic American crime fiction voyage of discovery: Westlake, who died in 2008, remains one of America's most revered crime fiction writers. As Richard Stark he created the series of pared-back, lean-and-mean novels starring taciturn thief Parker, while under his own name he wrote numerous caper stories, some featuring hardluck heister John Dortmunder, others standalone works. I've blogged about him multiple times over the past year or so – just follow the "Westlake" or "Richard Stark" labels at the bottom of this post (still a work-in-progress, I'm afraid) for more on him.

But Westlake didn't just write crime (or comedy crime) stories; he also penned a good number of science fiction/fantasy/ghost stories too. Almost all of those were short stories, and some were gathered together for the 1989 collection Tomorrow's Crimes. The vast majority of the early ones, however, have never been seen since. Initially Westlake wrote his SF tales for the various SF magazines that used to be commonplace in the 1950s and '60s: Amazing Stories, Analog and the like. Later, once he'd become more successful, he wrote them for more mainstream titles like Playboy.

Indeed, it's decidedly not the case that he only wrote science fiction when he was just starting out as a writer, eagerly grasping any opportunity that came his way, irregardless of genre: he carried on penning SF right up until the late-1980s. Evidently, science fiction was something that continued to fascinate and inspire him, even when he no longer needed to write SF stories – or sleaze paperbacks, or any of the other things he wrote for a paycheck in those early days – just to make ends meet.*

Over the course of this week I'll be looking at some of those earliest SF tales. Thanks largely to eBay seller SoggyPee and the ever-helpful Simon at Fantastic Literature, I've managed to track down a decent selection of the early-1960s science fiction magazines Westlake wrote stories for (plus some other non-Westlake ones, too). I'll be splitting them into two runs of posts, going from earliest to latest – the second series of posts will likely be in a few weeks' time.

What's interesting about these early SF stories is the way they show Westlake trying out different approaches. Some of the stories are humorous; some are whimsical; some are attempts at Robert A. Heinlein-style hard, technological SF. The science fictional aspects of the stories aside – which in any case are fairly tenuous in one or two of the tales – this experimenting with different styles of storytelling would pay dividends in his later novels. For instance, Westlake didn't start writing comedy caper novels until The Fugitive Pigeon in 1965; reputedly at the time he himself was surprised by the tonal shift from his more hardboiled works like The Hunter (1962) and 361 (1963). But these nascent SF stories demonstrate that he was adopting a more lighthearted approach in his short-form writing even prior to The Fugitive Pigeon.

The stories I'll be reviewing this week all hail from 1960 and 1961. But before we sally forth and examine them in more detail, I thought a Westlake SF checklist might be in order. There are a number of sources online which catalogue Westlake's short stories; the main Westlake website has a pretty comprehensive bibliography of all of his work, while Thrilling Detective's checklist has a standalone shorts section, as does this seemingly exhaustive Russian website. I drew on that last one in particular in assembling my science fiction story list, as well as my own research (adding volume and issue numbers for one). Hopefully the list is comprehensive, but if anyone spots any mistakes or anything missing, feel free to leave a comment and I'll amend it. I've included not just the magazine stories but every science fiction tale I've identified, including Westlake's only SF novel, 1967's pseudonymous Anarchaos, and the stories which were reprinted in Tomorrow's Crimes.

All dates are for the most part original US publication, not UK; the British editions of the science fiction magazines tended to reprint stories from the American editions months down the line, something which will become apparent as we progress. A few of the stories apparently appeared in anthologies before they were reprinted in magazines, so in those instances I've listed the anthology first. Oh, and if all goes according to plan I'll have another Westlake post this week elsewhere on another blog; I'll let you know when that's up. Enjoy.

NB: Follow the links to my reviews of the stories.

*For more on why Westlake stopped writing for SF magazines, see this post and this post.

Donald E. Westlake's Science Fiction Stories

"Or Give Me Death", Universe Science Fiction, No. 8, November 1954

"Fluorocarbons Are Here to Stay", The Original Science Fiction Stories, Vol. 8, No. 5, March 1958

"And Then He Went Away", Future Science Fiction, No. 43, June 1959

"Birth of a Monster" (as by Richard Stark), Super Science Stories, Vol. 3, No. 5, August 1959

"Travelers Far and Wee", The Original Science Fiction Stories, Vol. 11, No. 2, May 1960

"Man of Action", Analog Science Fact & Fiction, Vol. LXVI, No. 4, December 1960

"The Risk Profession", Amazing Stories, Vol. 35, No. 3, March 1961

"They Also Serve", Analog Science Fact & Fiction, Vol. 68, No. 1, September 1961

"Call Him Nemesis", Worlds of If Science Fiction, Volume 11, No. 4, September 1961

"The Spy in the Elevator", Galaxy, Vol. 20, No. 1, October 1961

"Meteor Strike!", Amazing Stories, Vol. 35, No. 11, November 1961

"Look Before You Leap", Analog Science Fact & Fiction, Vol. LXLX, No. 3, May 1962

"The Earthman's Burden", Galaxy, Vol. 21, No. 1, October 1962

"The Question", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vol. 24, No. 3, March 1963

"Nackles" (as by Richard Stark), The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vol. 26, No. 1, January 1964

Anarchaos (as by Curt Clark), Ace Books, 1967 (paperback novel)

"The Winner", Nova #1, 1970 (paperback anthology)

"The Ultimate Caper: The Purloined Letter", New York Times, May 11, 1975

"In at the Death", The 13th Ghost Book, 1977 (anthology, ghost story); possibly alias "This is Death", Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 72, No. 5, November 1978

"The Girl of My Dreams", The Midnight Ghost Book, 1978 (anthology, ghost story); also Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 73, No. 4, April 1979

"The Mulligan Stew", Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 73, No. 1, January 1979 (possibly ghost story)

"Interstellar Pigeon", Playboy, Vol. 29, No. 5, May 1982

"Dream a Dream", Cosmopolitan, August 1982

"Heaven Help Us", Playboy, Vol. 30, No. 7, July 1983

"Don't You Know There's a War On?", Playboy, Vol. 30, No. 12 December 1983

"Hydra", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vol. 66, No. 3, March 1984

"The World's a Stage", Playboy, Vol. 31, No. 7, July 1984

"Hitch Your Spaceship to a Star", Playboy, Vol. 32, No. 12, December 1985

"Here's Looking at You", Playboy, Vol. 36, No. 5, May 1989

Tomorrow's Crimes, Mysterious Press, 1989; contains "The Girl of My Dreams", "Nackles", "The Ultimate Caper: The Purloined Letter", "The Spy in the Elevator", "The Risk Profession", "The Winner", "Dream a Dream", "In at the Death", "Hydra", "Anarchaos"


  1. Great post, Nick. Westlake's later SF stories - the the Starship Hopeful saga - for Playboy are at his official website:

    He said: "At long last, the promised sixth and final story in the Starship Hopeful saga has docked at our space pad. I'll leave it and the other five up for a while. There aren't enough of the stories to fill out a book, and I won't be doing any more, so this is where they'll be spending the afterlife. Enjoy."

  2. Aha, didn't realise those Playboy stories were all online. Thanks for the tip, Matthew!

  3. thank you for this!