Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Harl Vincent?

For the last year, I've gone to the trouble of posting eight works of fiction by another writer here on this blog. The writer is Harl Vincent, and the works of fiction were science fiction stories from the old pulp fiction days -- the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s -- that had entered the public domain. With one exception, the stories had never appeared in print anywhere but the science fiction magazines where they originally ran. And it may sound egotistical, but by posting those stories, I've rescued them from oblivion and given them to the world -- or at any rate, to that fraction of the world that likes to read really old science fiction stories by obscure writers.

But why do it? Why copy these stories out of the seventy-or-eighty-year-old magazines where they lay largely unread and post them to a blog? And above all, why Harl Vincent?

I first acquired a taste for vintage science fiction at the age of twelve by picking up and reading Before the Golden Age, an anthology of 1930s magazine science fiction by Isaac Asimov. It was there that I first encountered the likes of Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, S. P. Meek, Nat Schachner, Murray Leinster, and Stanley G. Weinbaum. As Asimov himself said in the book:

The science fiction of the thirties seems, to anyone who has experienced the Campbell Revolution, to be clumsy, primitive, and naive. The stories are old-fashioned and unsophisticated.

All right, grant that they are all those things. Nevertheless, there was a rough-hewn vigor about them that sophistication has, to some extent, lost us.

And as I went through my life, reading the works of later and more sophisticated SF writers such as Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, and Kim Stanley Robinson, there was always a place in my heart for the old stuff.

Then, through the magic of the internet, I discovered a French website, originally called noosfere, now called collectorshowcase, with cover art and content listings for all the old magazines. I started at the beginning, the first issues of Amazing Stories from 1926, and followed the magazines year by year. I noticed that in 1928 the reprints of old stories by Wells, Verne, Poe, and others gave way to original stories, some by familiar names such as Edmond Hamilton, Philip Francis Nowlan, and E. E. Smith, others by writers I hadn't heard of like David H. Keller, Clare Winger Harris, -- and Harl Vincent. Vincent, in particular, was showing up a lot in Amazing: twice in 1928, four times in 1929, three times in 1930 (and another five in the new Astounding Stories), four more times in 1931 (and three more in Astounding). He continued to show up in various magazines for the rest of the 1930s.

A prolific writer, this Harl Vincent, and yet I had never heard of him. I went to Project Gutenberg to see how many of his stories turned up there, and there was only one: "Creatures of Vibration" from the January 1932 issue of Astounding; and that was actually a sequel to another story, "Vagabonds of Space", that wasn't available on PG. I was pretty disappointed. So when a copy of the March 1931 Astounding found its way into my possession with Vincent's "Terrors Unseen", I decided to make up for PG's Harl Vincent deficiency by posting the story online myself, which involved propping the magazine open and typing every word of the story into my blog. That was in December 2008. As other Vincent stories came my way, I did the same with them. Meanwhile, PG started uploading more Vincent stories, and then whole issues of Astounding Stories, so right now there are no less than sixteen Harl Vincent stories available online.

It's been said that one way to make a name for yourself online is to find a niche and excell at it. I can safely say that the Johnny Pez blog is now the place to find Harl Vincent text and links.

Take that, Daily Kos!

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