Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

As a writer, there’s something sobering in realizing that all of us creative types will eventually face the ultimate form of cancel culture: Death. And most of us will lose.

Almost all the Modern Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy that I read in my teens — Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber are now classed largely as Dead Writers Who Are Really Good, Too Bad Kids Today Don’t Read Them. While changing styles and problematic stuff are part of that — I like Vance’s work but a lot of it is sexist — I think another factor is that these writers are dead. Not that people don’t read dead authors but there’s also a strong draw to people who are putting out stuff now, not decades in the past.

For every Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft who remains a name long after their death there are dozens of writers who don’t. Some are known for a single story, some just fade. Seabury Quinn was the number one writer at Weird Tales in the 1930s, bigger than Howard or Lovecraft. His works are still available in paperback but he’s no longer a name to conjure with.

Or look at this page from the back of an Ace paperback from the 1960s:I know a lot of these names — Leigh Brackett, Murray Leinster, Marion Zimmer Bradley, etc. — but I’ve never heard of Putnam or Glasby (I could look them up easy enough but that’s not the point). They were published, had at least a small measure of success but now? Crickets.

This doesn’t stop me from writing but I do find it sobering to think that most us and our works will be, in the end, dust in the wind.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Gaugan.



  1. Le Messor

    Death is for mortals.

    I don’t have a problem reading dead authors, but I get that a lot of people do.
    For me, my first question (as always) is ‘do I enjoy this?’
    It also means their output is now finite, and I don’t have to worry about keeping up. (Kind of. There’s always posthumous releases.)
    I get that I myself am strange and unusual – but I grew up in a time when all sci-fi / fantasy readers were strange and unusual.

    I went straight to the titles (thinking I was looking at a contents page of an anthology, not an advertising page), so I had a hard time parsing the page in the photo; it took me a while to figure out the title was Against Arcturus Putney Time Thieves by Dean(?) Koontz – then even longer to figure out it was Against Arcturus by Putney and Time Thieves by Dean Koontz.

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      It helps to know that the Ace Doubles were two books combined into one volume.

      Leigh Brackett’s stuff was good enough to inspire George Lucas to approach her about writing the script for the first Star Wars sequel, unaware that she had already written the film scripts to The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo, no recognizing thet the writer of planetary romances had also written Hollywood movie scripts, in the golden age. Lucas asked her if she had ever written a film script, thinking she had only written fantasy stories and novels and she rattled off her credits. he remarked, “You’re THAT Leigh Brackett?” She was one of the first major female writers in sci-fi and fantasy, along with CL Moore, whose Northwest Smith stories were a major influence on the character of Han Solo. Brackett was also married to Edmond Hamilton, author of the Captain Future pulp space opera adventures, Superman, Batman and sci-fi tales for DC Comics, and the Star Wolf novels, which were adapted into the Japanese tv series, which were edited together to create the Fugitive Alien movies, which were beloved by MST3K.

        1. Jeff Nettleton

          When George was putting together the script for StarWars, he was reading a ton of sci-fi and fantasy material and swiped liberally from them. The name “bantha,” came from the John Carter series, he swiped the whole plot of EE “Doc” Smith’s The Galactic Patrol, the first published novel in the Lensman series. The Lensmen, themselves, heavily influenced the military aspects of the Jedi. In The Galactic Patrol, hero Kim Kinnison is a newly graduated Patrolman, who is one of the very few who has the talents to be a Lensman. he bonds with his lens, which amplifies his physical and mental abilities into superhuman levels. Th Patrol is engaged in a war with the Boskone pirates, who are attacking their shipping, with advanced raiding craft. The Patrol sets up a situation to entice the Boskone to attack a ship and then scan the raider vessel and record its schematics. The Boskone attack from space, cutting their way into the Patrol ship, while wearing pressure suit armor. The Patrol meet them in their own suits and a battle ensues, using edged weapons. Kinnison is given the wire recording of the Boskone ship and ejects in a life boat, to a nearby planet, where he hides from the Boskone. He encounters another Lensman who helps him get the recording to the Galactic Patrol, who then use the information to fight the Boskone and attack their movable fortress.

          Sound familiar?

          CL Moore’s Northwest Smith is a roguish spaceship pilot and smuggler, He is dark haired, tan, wearing brown “space leathers,” with a raygun strapped to his side, like a gunslinger of the Old West.

          Sound familiar?

          The concept of the Galactic Empire owed much to Asimov’s Foundation series, Tatooine was heavily lifted from Dune (the sand people are analogous to the Fremen), etc. The rest was a metaphor for Vietnam and Watergate, with the Emperor originally conceived to be a conniving politician and bureaucrat, who uses the corruption of the Republic to ascend to power; but, the regional governors, like Tarkin, have fairly autonomous control. The Emperor is pretty much a figurehead, though that concept changed as the script for Empire was crafted. In fact, the development of Empire is where Star Wars went from being a single story to a saga, with the redefining of Vader from a cool henchman to Luke’s father and the Emperor’s right hand man. Brackett’s script still had Luke’s father and Vader as separate characters and Luke actually speaks to the ghost of his father. Lucas wasn’t happy with the script and Brackett was dying of cancer and never got to do a redraft. Lucas brought in Lawrence Kasdan and they hit upon the idea of combining Father Skywalker and Darth Vader, then shifting some elements to ben Kenobi.

          The other components, visually, came from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, which is where the Princess and the Droids really come in, as they mirror characters from it, as well as Kenobi as an old general of a defeated army, who helps them. The film has a battle between the general and an old protege, with the conquerors, on horseback, with spears. The climax features an attack on a castle. Then, there is the Dambusters, about the raid on the Rhur Valley dams, using bouncing bombs. Some of the dialogue during the Death Star attack comes straight from the film. there is also 633 Squadron, about Mosquito bomber raid on a Norwegian heavy water plant, with other parts of the Death Star raid.

          Howard Chaykin was requested by Lucas, for the Marvel adaptation because of his work on his Cody Starbuck character, in Star*Reach, as well as the earlier Iron Wolf.

  2. Bright-Raven

    John Glasby wrote under dozens of pen names in all kinds of genre. In Science / Speculative fiction as “A. J. / R. J. Merak”, “R. L. Bowers”, “J. L. Powers”, “Berl Cameron”, “Rand Le Page”, “Paul Lorraine”, “J. B. Dexter”, “Ray Cosmic”, “Michael Hamilton”, “John C. Maxwell”, and the Badger house names “John E. Muller”, “Karl Zeigfreid” and “Victor La Salle”. As “Chuck Adams”, and as “Tex Bradley” in the westerns. Romance novels using the pseudonym “D. K. Jennings”. An unknown amount of WWII stories under various pseudonyms. I believe he had over 400 works published in the 1950s and 1960s that are attributed to him, and there’s speculation that he could have been the writer for another 250-300 works during that era. What I listed isn’t even half of the pseudonyms he used! And writing wasn’t even his profession. He was a professional research chemist and mathematician! But I think maybe only 5-10% of his works are officially attributed to “John Glasby”.

    Susan K. Putney… AGAINST ARCTURUS is her only prose novel. But you may also remember her as the writer of the SPIDER-MAN: HOOKY graphic novel drawn by Bernie Wrightson from 1986, and she was one of the earliest female comics shop owners in the United States. (She owned a store called Fog’s Hollow Comics in Arizona – either in Phoenix or Scottsdale – from 1982 or 83 to I think about 1987 or early 1988.) Not sure what happened to her after she closed the store. She just disappeared from the public eye. Hopefully she’s alive and well.

    1. Busy guy.
      I know a lot of prolific pulp SF writers used pseudonyms so readers wouldn’t realize they were getting three stories in an issue from one person. A friend of mine describes Henry Kuttner and CL Moore as “six of my favorite specfic writers” for that reason.
      Putney sounds interesting. I don’t remember Hooky, alas.

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