Wednesday, August 19, 2015

April 1956 stories by Edmond Hamilton, Milton Lesser, and "Alexander Blade"

At an antiques store in Illinois called Winter Wheat I recently purchased, for like $2.20, a bedraggled copy of the April 1956 issue of Imagination.  According to Wikipedia all the critics think Imagination was a piece of crap, but flipping through the issue in Illinois, with South Carolina ("Look honey, I caught you this toad in the parking lot!") behind me and a stop at Steak & Shake ("Didn't I tell the waitress 'no mayo?'") ahead of me, the magazine looked like a lot of fun.  There's an Edmond Hamilton story and a charming little autobiographical essay by Hamilton, fun illustrations and comics that my college education requires me to warn you are sexist, a column that reviews fanzines, and a letters section in which fans of Imagination call the periodical "Madge," which I thought was just adorable.

This week I read three stories from the magazine; let's see if the critics are right to dismiss old Madge.  These three stories are available for free online at, so even you cheapos out there don't have to let the critics (or me) do your thinking for you.

True riches come not from gold or diamonds, but from fulfilling relationships.

"The Legion of Lazarus" by Edmond Hamilton

This is one of those noirish stories in which a working class tough guy (in this case an electrician) uses his wits and his fists in a struggle against a ruthless interplanetary tycoon who has framed him for murder.  It also reminded me of a van Vogt story, in that an ordinary man develops psychic powers and super-intelligence and gets involved in a twilight struggle between merciless factions of weirdos.

Hyrst was working as part of a four-man team on Titan, doing maintenance on a robot mining operation.  The team's engineer, MacDonald, keeps bragging that he has found a vein of titanite, but won't tell anybody where he found it.  When MacDonald gets killed, Hyrst stands trial for murder on one of the moons of Mars, and, convicted, gets executed by being tossed out the airlock!

Fifty years later, Hyrst is revived!  He hears voices in his head; he is now a member of the Legion of Lazarus, a group of people with various ESP abilities!  After a scene in which Hyrst's son, who is now physically older than his father, denounces his father for ruining the family name, Hyrst follows the directions of the voices in his head and gets his ass to Mars.  On Mars he joins up with a group of Lazarites who are led by Christina, a beautiful but bitterly angry woman ("she was like a fire, burning with anger, burning with a single-minded, dedicated purpose.  She was beautiful, and frightening.")  Christina's group is at war with Bellaver, a businessman trying to win a monopoly on spacecraft construction; they have half-built the first interstellar ship, and Bellaver wants it.  To finish the ship, Christina's people need to find that titanite of MacDonald's.      

Over the course of the story (billed as a novel, and taking up like 50 pages of the magazine) people get captured and escape, there are space ship chases through the Asteroid Belt and a foot chase and siege on the surface of an asteroid, Hyrst beats people with a fire extinguisher, Bellaver uses an artificial gravity device to torture somebody, and other fun stuff.  The secret of who killed MacDonald (an employee of Bellaver's, of course) and the location of the titanite are extracted from Hyrst's brain. We also get a vague explanation of how all these people got their psychic powers and how they came back to life after being tossed into a vacuum.    

I thought this was a quite good space opera.  In particular, I liked how Hamilton described Hyrst's mental powers and how he grew into them, and the good job he did with all the settings: the snowy landscape of Titan; the surface of an asteroid littered with the eroded monuments of a prehistoric civilization; the cities of Mars, where the hooded natives, now a minority on their own planet, live in monolithic stone houses among the humans' modern buildings; Bellaver's orbital pleasure palace, etc. Hamilton also focuses on Hyrst's psychology, his shame, fear, anger.  The story also gives us hints of those staples of classic SF, the paradigm shift (when the public finds out about the Lazarites) and the "sense of wonder" ending, when the Lazarites in their hyperspace ship flash off to explore the universe.  "The Legion of Lazarus" also appeals to the apparently insatiable appetite of readers for tales of the evils of the bourgeoisie.  I find it hard to believe that the critics had this great adventure story in mind when they were badmouthing poor Madge!  

"The Graveyard of Space" by Milton Lesser

On August 7, via twitter, Joachim Boaz reminded us it was Milton Lesser's birthday. Jumping at a chance for a little self-promotion, I took this opportunity to remind the world that I had reviewed Lesser's novel Secret of the Black Planet at Amazon, pronouncing it bland and forgettable.  According to Wikipedia, Lesser, under the pen name Stephen Marlowe, won awards for his detective and mainstream fiction, so maybe he just put together Secret of the Black Planet on a bad day (or maybe back in January of 2012 I was just being a hardass) and I am going to love "The Graveyard of Space"!  Let's hope so!

Ralph and Diane Meeker (!) are headed home from Asteroid 4712, their efforts to mine it for uranium having come to nothing.  Their failure is straining their marriage. Then their second-hand space ship's radar fails, and they get sucked into the gravitational pull of a sargasso of dead spaceships, thousands of defunct craft orbiting in a swarm together.  (Remember Space Hulk?  Damn, my brother and I spent a pile of money on that stuff.)  The asteroid prospectors put on their space suits and split up to search the lost ships for a working radar set which will fit their model of ship.

This is an attempt at a horror story, and Lesser spends a lot of time describing the dead bodies on the wrecked ships.  Then Diane gets attacked by an insane man who has been stuck in the graveyard of ships for years and survived by cannibalism.  Ralph defeats the maniac in hand to hand combat.  Luckily, this very same ship has the radar set they need.  Ralph and Diane escape the Asteroid Belt; their ordeal has made them realize how much they truly love each other, and saved their marriage.

This story (fewer than 12 pages of text) feels like filler, but it is not bad.  An acceptable entertainment.  

"Zero Hour" by "Alexander Blade"

Who is Alexander Blade, you ask? I asked isfdb and Wikipedia the same thing, and found that it was a pen name used by many authors I have heard of, like Edmond Hamilton, Robert Silverberg, and John Jakes, as well as by authors I was unfamiliar with.  A few minutes googling did not provide any definitive info on exactly whose pen was responsible for "Zero Hour;" if you know better, please don't keep it to yourself!  Hamilton is a prime suspect; in the very next issue of Imagination his story "Battle for the Stars" appeared under the Alexander Blade pseudonym.  (I read the full length book version of Battle for the Stars and reviewed it at Amazon in January of 2012.)

I can see why nobody jumped up to take credit for this story; it's a trifle that reads like it was aimed at children, a strange contrast after Lesser's macabre story about failure, death, cannibalism and marriage.  Little Bobby's family lives on a high security government research base.  Bobby learns that his father is working on a rocket headed for the moon, and even learns the secret launching date.  On launch day Bobby sneaks aboard the rocket, assuming his dad is flying to the moon, but then gets cold feet, and sneaks back home to Mom before lift off.  It is lucky he did, because this was an experimental rocket which was sent, unmanned, to the moon to explode and mark the lunar surface with dye.

A competent but bland, innocuous sort of story.


If most of Imagination's contents were like "Graveyard of Space" and "Zero Hour" I suppose the critics have a point, but I thought Hamilton's "The Legion of Lazarus" was an above average space opera, and I certainly have no regrets spending a little time with Madge.  Maybe I'll take my copy of this April '56 issue out of its plastic bag and take a look at the other three included stories in the future.


  1. Despite the quality of the stories the interior images are great fun. I love the red print colorization of the pen lines -- the combo is great.... Especially the Legions of Lazarus image.

  2. I love old pictures of space suits and those sorts of things.

    In the same issue is a full page illustration done with blue; it adorns "Prison of a Billion Years" by C. H. Thames, AKA Milton Lesser. You can see it at Gutenberg:

  3. St. Joseph, Illinois! I presume you were just driving by and saw the store from the interstate and had to pull off at the exit. Been to Winter Wheat many many many times, but not in a few years. Looks like their book and magazine collection has grown since my last visit. I'll have to drop in again soon.

  4. The wife and I often stop at antique stores on our cross country trips. Winter Wheat is pretty nice, and had an interesting selection of books and magazines, but be prepared, the people working there when we stopped by were very chatty!