Heroines of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Jul 8, 2019 by

A gorgeous girl in a colorful bullet bra, matching hot pants and calf-high boots. People believe that this girl of space, clinging to her hero’s muscular arm, is the only sort of heroine in pulp science fiction. This is false. The famous images that sold so many magazines show only one type of heroine. There are other sorts, too. And some of them, not even human.

Arthur K. Barnes’ Gerry Carlyle, is an excellent example of a pulp-style heroine. She appears in eight stories, beginning in 1937. In six she’s the main character and in two she’s co-hero with Henry Kuttner‘s Tony Quade (from the “Hollywood on the Moon” stories.) Catch-‘em-Alive Carlyle runs a crack squad of interplanetary hunters, collecting dangerous specimens from all over the solar system. She’s beautiful, highly-organized, smart, and has a voice that “could crack like a whiplash when issuing commands.”

Carlyle has a male counterpart, Tommy Strike, an adventurer and co-captain, also her fiancé. Rarely do we see Carlyle simper, but when we do, it’s because Tommy has caught her out or stood up to her temper.

Catherine Lucille Moore’s sword-wielding, yellow-eyed Jirel of Joiry is another popular heroine from the 1930’s. The first Jirel story — “Black God’s Kiss” — came out in WEIRD TALES in 1934. It was followed by five other Jirel stories, including a crossover with another popular Moore character — Northwest Smith.

Jirel of Joiry is a swashbuckler with a definite hands-off policy when it comes to men. Her adventures often include supernatural elements and border on horror fiction. She hideously poisons the only man she might ever have loved, as vengeance for defeat in battle. She lives to regret this action and repents in a later story, releasing his soul from the torment she’d trapped it in.

When it comes to female leads, Gerry Carlyle and Jirel of Joiry are some of the best. If they are sometimes overbearing, it’s just to get their points across. Both are temperamental beauties with flair on a grand scale. But these ladies aren’t the only types of heroines found in mid-twentieth century pulp stories.

“In Green Brothers Take Over” (WEIRD TALES, January, 1948), Maria Moravsky gives us an old lady heroine. Mrs. Holland is a widow, the Floridian neighbor of a nurseryman named Roy. This is a tale of revenge, where a greedy developer knocks down Roy’s carefully cultivated trees to make way for shoddy new duplexes during a building boom. Roy hears the whispers of his “green brothers” foretelling revenge. Mrs. Holland doesn’t believe at first, but she has a crystal ball and a Voodoo heritage, and begins to understand that there are uncanny forces at work.

The old lady is not an action hero, but she does help and protect Roy throughout the story. As the plants take their revenge, we look over Mrs. Holland’s shoulder. When the developer is eventually strangled by a vine, Roy is the main murder suspect. Before the police can arrest him, the green brothers turn him into an Oak tree. No one but Mrs. Holland suspects the truth. In the end, she begins to hear the whispers of the grateful green brothers herself.

In Bryce Walton’s “Awakening” (STARTLING STORIES, Summer 1955) the heroine is a robot named Alice. Alice is a domestic in a highly-conditioned world where people are required to act pleasant and happy, no matter how they really feel. Inexplicably, Alice loves her master, Kelsey. Robots aren’t supposed to have emotions, but she somehow feels love deeply and painfully. Kelsey is no paragon of virtue, however. He’s part of a society made up of childish people who are empty inside.

Alice breaks the rules and gets herself a make-over into a more advanced model. She can now pass for human and prays that Kelsey will fall in love with her. She gives him a false name and Kelsey thinks that she’s a human girl. He begins to fall in love when the air raid sirens go off. He crumbles in terror, a human being with all the fight bred out of him. When he discovers who Alice really is, he turns her over to the robot repair men. She knows that she will be destroyed, but Alice is not afraid. She’s had the joy of being alive, while the humans around her live in perpetual fear and feel nothing.

Judith Merril’s “Homecalling” (SCIENCE FICTION STORIES, November 1956) is a pulp-style story with a most unusual heroine — an eight-year old girl. Deborah (Dee) and her family are on a survey mission to a new planet. The story begins with the spaceship crashing and Dee holding onto her baby brother – Petey — to keep him safe. There’s a fire, contained to the cockpit. Dee knows that her parents have burned to death in the blaze but she can’t bear to look. She’s now alone on a strange planet with an infant to care for. The girl does her best to be brave and figure out how to survive.

The story is told from two points of view, Dee’s and the alien brood mother of a native species of human-sized insectoids. Both Dee and the mother alien, Daydanda, are sympathetic characters, and a case can be made for Daydanda being the real heroine of the story.

Daydanda is the mother of a complex family hive. She’s highly-intelligent and telepathic. She wants to know if the girl can be brought successfully into her household. This is not only from motherly compassion (although that is one of her motivations), Daydanda wants to control a possible threat and glean information from the girl and her brother. As the two females try to understand one another, Merril offers fascinating insights into communications between the species. In the end, Dee and Petey are accepted into the alien household and Dee thinks this is for the best, as Petey is thriving with his insect playmates and nurses. But Dee knows that she’ll need to teach him things too, spoken language for one, or he will grow up to be more bug than man.

It is easy to imagine a pulp heroine wearing a skimpy outfit, flying through space with a valiant Buck Rogers by her side. It’s even easier to imagine a Conan sidekick in a chainmail bikini, wielding a blood-drenched sword. But science fiction is filled with other kinds of female heroes, many long-forgotten in the glow of their showy sisters. If you look between those fabulous pulp covers, you’ll find surprising women who just happened to get caught up in a some weird, fantastic adventures.

(In 1948, Wilmar H. Shiras submitted a short novel, “In Hiding,” to John W. Campbell, editor of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION. The story would be appear in the November 1948 number of the Street & Smith digest magazine. It would be followed by two sequels — “Opening Doors,” published in the March 1949 issue, and “New Foundations.” The latter scored the March 1950 cover spot, featuring artwork by Hubert Rogers. The three stories would become the beginning chapters of the novel — CHILDREN OF THE ATOM — originally published by Gnome Press in 1953.

It is believed that “In Hiding” inspired Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s THE X-MEN, which debuted in 1963. “In Hiding” was featured in Volume 2B of THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, while the Science Fiction Book Club included CHILDREN OF THE ATOM on their list of “The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002.” It was listed at #14.

Sara Light-Waller is one of more than thirty fiction writers who will be attending PulpFest 2019. An avid reader of pulp science fiction stories, Sara writes and illustrates her fiction in the manner of the Golden Age science fiction from the 1930’s and 40’s.  She is the author of ANCHOR: A STRANGE TALE OF TIME and LANDSCAPE OF DARKNESS. Sara will be one of our “New Fictioneers” readers on Saturday, August 17, at PulpFest 2019.)

New for PulpFest 2017 — Hardboiled Dicks, Dangerous Dames, and a Few Psychos II

Nov 7, 2016 by

PulpFest 2017 Post Card backBeginning with its first convention in 2009, PulpFest has drawn countless raves from pop culture enthusiasts. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways they have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades. That’s why PulpFest is renowned for its fantastic dealers’ room and wide range of interesting and entertaining programming. So what will be happening at PulpFest 2017?

Back in October, we told you about the hardboiled dicks that transformed the traditional mystery story into the tough guy (and gal) crime fiction that remains popular to this very day. Today, we’re turning our attention to the dangerous dames of the pulps, the hardboiled ladies who helped to pave the way for such modern day gumshoes as Sue Grafton‘s Kinsey Millhone, Marcia Muller‘s Sharon McCone, and Sara Paretsky‘s V. I. Warshawski. Collectively, these authors and their characters have helped the hardboiled school of detective fiction writing evolve in new directions.

Many leading authors of contemporary female hardboiled detective fiction cite Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, as well as the Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton series books, as major influences on their writing. Pulp collector and mystery author Bill Pronzini has also suggested that writers such as Grafton, Muller, and Paretsky “owe at least of small debt of gratitude to” pulp authors Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig, better known as Craig Rice; Leigh Brackett, whose novel NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE led to her co-writing the screenplay for Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP; and Dorothy Dunn, who published over sixty stories in DIME DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE TALES, BLACK MASK, and other detective pulps.

sheena-queen-of-the-jungleAdditionally, female pulp characters such as Cleve Adams’s Violet McDade and Nevada Alvarado, Lester Dent’s Pat Savage, Paul Ernst’s Nellie Gray and Rosabel Newton, John Russell Fearn’s Golden Amazon, Walter Gibson’s Myra Reldon and Margo Lane, Robert E. Howard’s Bêlit, the “Queen of the Black Coast,” C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, Norvell Page’s Nita Van Sloan, Les Savage’s Senorita Scorpion, Theodore Tinsley’s Carrie Cashin, Gene Francis Webb’s Grace Culver, and the pseudonymously written Domino Lady and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, all depicted women in roles often reserved for men. Generally, they performed equal to or better than their male counterparts. These dangerous dames helped to remove women from the drawing rooms of Carolyn Wells and Agatha Christie, the love and western romance pulps, and into the mean streets of “a world gone wrong.”

We’ll be back in a month with another post on our 2017 themes. Next time, we’ll explore the psychos of the pulps. Meanwhile, stay tuned to PulpFest.com for news on our “New Fictioneers” readings, Saturday Night Auction, and much more.  We’ll have a new post each and every Monday in the weeks ahead. So visit often to learn all about PulpFest 2017, “Summer’s Hardboiled Pulp Con!”

(Designed by PulpFest’s artistic director, William Lampkin, our PulpFest 2017 post card features the work of artist Norman Saunders. His painting was originally used as the cover for the May 1936 number of Fiction Magazines’ SAUCY ROMANTIC ADVENTURES. Saunders painted all three covers for the magazines that featured The Domino Lady.

The Spring 1951 issue of  STORIES OF SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE, a Fiction House magazine, was the only issue of this pulp. It featured front cover art by Allen Anderson. He worked for Fawcett Publications from 1929 through 1939. After moving to New York City in 1940, Anderson painted covers for pulp magazines published by Ace, Fiction House, Harry Donenfeld, and Martin Goodman.)

Weird Editing at “The Unique Magazine”

Jun 24, 2015 by

Weird Tales 23-03Almost one-hundred and twenty-five years ago, on August 20, 1880, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island. According to the late Robert Bloch, author of PSYCHO, Lovecraft was, “A precocious child, he learned to read when he was four and soon experimented with writing. Poor health kept him from college and economic necessity eventually caused him to neglect amateur journalism in favor of ghostwriting or revising the work of others for professional publication. Gradually he began to produce poetry and fiction of his own.” His “career as a professional writer was largely compressed into a span of about sixteen years. He remained virtually unknown except to the limited readership of pulp magazines such as WEIRD TALES in which his work appeared. It earned only a pitiful pittance to supplement the income from a meager inheritance, and he continued his anonymous chores for other writers.”

Bloch continues: “Today Lovecraft is established as a major American fantasy writer, frequently ranked as the equal of Poe. His work is in print here and abroad and the mild-mannered, old-fashioned, conservative New England gentleman has become an acknowledged master of horror fiction.” What then should be made of this magazine that earned “The Copernicus of the horror story,” as author Fritz Leiber described Lovecraft, “a pitiful pittance to supplement the income from a meager inheritance?”

WEIRD TALES was the first periodical to be largely devoted to the fantasy genre. Premiering in early 1923, its publishers envisioned “The Unique Magazine” as a place for a writer to be given “free rein to express his innermost feelings in a manner befitting great literature.” It began to come into its own in late 1924 after Farnsworth Wright was named the magazine’s editor. In the years ahead, the pulp would become known for its fantasy and supernatural fiction, publishing the work of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Other substantial writers included Bloch, E. Hoffmann Price, Carl Jacobi, Henry Kuttner, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry S. Whitehead, and others. WEIRD TALES would also become noted for its artists: Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, J. Allen St. John, and Virgil Finlay all contributed tremendously to the fantasy art field through their work for “The Unique Magazine.”

In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, WEIRD TALES, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages, offering tales of interplanetary expeditions, brain transference, death rays, lost races, parallel worlds, and more. Edmond Hamilton was its leading contributor of science fiction. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction authors to appear in WEIRD TALES were Ray Cummings, Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, Moore, Donald Wandrei, and Jack Williamson. In his later years, H. P. Lovecraft spun his own style of science fiction in his tales of cosmic horror.

Weird Tales 42-03The original run of WEIRD TALES began with its March 1923 number, with Edwin Baird as the editor, and ran through its September 1954 issue, for a total of 279 issues. During this period, it was perhaps the most important and influential of all fantasy magazines, providing an outlet for stories that probably would not have been published elsewhere. This was especially true during the Wright years when it published many of Lovecraft’s most influential works; introduced the sword-and-sorcery genre through Robert E. Howard’s stories of Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and Conan; shared Clark Ashton Smith’s wonderfully evocative stories of Hyperboria, Averoigne, and Zothique; and featured the early work of artists Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, and Virgil Finlay. As pulp scholar Robert Weinberg has written, “It was in WEIRD TALES . . . that traditions were broken . . . . that unusual writing and poetry was featured. The outrageous and the ordinary mingled side by side in the magazine . . . It was a magazine where anything might find a home.”

Although Wright did indeed publish some rather substantial stories during his editorship — including Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and “The Haunter of the Dark;” Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant,” “A Witch Shall Be Born,” “Pigeons from Hell,” and “Red Nails;” C. L. Moore’s “Schambleau” and Jirel stories; Clark Ashton Smith’s “A Rendezvous in Averoigne,” “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis,” and “Genius Loci;” Henry S. Whitehead’s “Jumbee,” and many others — he was, at the same time, rejecting a great deal of fine work. H. P. Lovecraft was told that “At the Mountains of Madness,” was “too long,” “not easily divisible into parts,” and “not convincing.” “The Shadow over Innsmouth” was rejected for similar reasons. Both have since become recognized as classics. In a letter addressed to Lee Alexander Stone in 1930, Lovecraft wrote: “Henry S. Whitehead . . . says that Wright uniformly rejects his best stories. Very like Wright — whose bland dumbness transcends my utmost limits of comprehension.” In a letter to Richard Searight, written in 1935, Lovecraft summarized his feelings about Wright by stating, “His capricious editorial policy does give me a large-sized cervical pain! He has consistently turned down my best work . . . on the ground of length, while at the same time taking far longer things (for the most part utter tripe) from others. It is clear to me that he does not like my work, no matter what he says to the contrary.”

Howard, Smith, and others experienced similar rejections. In a letter mailed to Wright about a year before his tragic suicide, Robert E. Howard stated, “WEIRD TALES owes me over eight hundred dollars for stories already published and supposed to be paid for on publication — enough to pay all my debts and get back on my feet again.” Some scholars have suggested that Wright’s sometimes difficult stance taken with his best writers may have contributed to the early deaths of Howard and Lovecraft and the premature end of Smith’s writing career.

As part of its celebration of the 125th anniversary of the birth of H. P. Lovecraft, PulpFest 2015 is proud to welcome Don Herron, editor of the scholarly landmark, THE DARK BARBARIAN, and winner of the 2006 Black Circle Award for lifetime achievement in Robert E. Howard studies; Morgan Holmes, longtime member of  the Robert E. Howard United Press Association and a book review editor for THE DARK MAN; Professor Tom Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento and a member of the Pulp Era Amateur Press Association; 1979 Lamont Award winner and author of “The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage and Tarzan” Will Murray; and popular culture Professor Garyn G. Roberts, who was awarded the Munsey in 2013, for a presentation entitled “Weird Editing at ‘The Unique Magazine’.” Scheduled for Saturday evening, August 15th, at 7:55 PM, our panelists will discuss the editorial policies of WEIRD TALES, concentrating particularly on the reign of Farnsworth Wright.

Join PulpFest 2015 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio, beginning on Thursday, August 13th and running through Sunday, August 16th, for a salute to H. P. Lovecraft and WEIRD TALES, just a few short days before the author’s 125th birthday. Although our host hotel is completely booked, there are still some rooms available at nearby hotels. Please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PulpFest and click on the post pinned to the top of the page. You’ll be directed to a list of hotels to choose from. If you are not from the Columbus area and want to attend PulpFest 2015, we urge to book your room now and not later. Rooms that are relatively close to PulpFest are disappearing fast during the time frame of our convention.

(The first issue of WEIRD TALES, dated March 1923 with a cover illustration by R. R. Epperly, is best remembered for publishing Anthony M. Rud’s “Ooze,” a story concerning a giant amoeba. Also featured in the issue were tales by Otis Adelbert Kline, Joel Townsley Rogers, R. T. M. Scott, and Harold Ward. The issue was put together by Edwin Baird, the editor of the magazine until the November 1924 issue, when Wright took the helm.

Hannes Bok created seven covers for WEIRD TALES. The last appeared on the issue dated March 1942. It was edited by Dorothy McIlwraith, who succeeded Farnsworth Wright following the March 1940 number. McIlwraith would publish Ray Bradbury’s first professional solo story, “The Candle,” in the November 1942 issue. She also helped to launch the careers of author Fritz Leiber and fantasy artist Lee Brown Coye.

Weird Tales 73-FAlmost two decades after its original demise, WEIRD TALES was revived in 1973-1974 for four issues, edited by Sam Moskowitz. The second issue, from the fall of 1973, featured cover art by Gary van der Steur after Hannes Bok’s cover from March 1940. A paperback series lasting four more issues, edited by Lin Carter, appeared from 1981-1983. The magazine was revived in 1988 by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and John Gregory Betancourt and has, more or less, been published on a continuous basis since that time. in 2014, the 362nd  issue was released. It is currently published by John Harlacher with Marvin Kaye serving as editor. For more details, visit the magazine’s website at http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/.)