April, 1934 – The best chapter?

FM-Apr34-coverThis month’s chapter of Cosmos by A. Merritt is widely viewed as the best-written installment in the serial.  As far as I’m aware, it’s the only chapter to have been republished as a standalone story, under the title “The Rhythm of the Spheres” in the October, 1936 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.  It was subsequently included under this name in the anthology The Fox Woman and Other Stories (Avon, 1949), and appears in Science Fiction, A Historical Anthology (Eric S. Rabkin, Ed., Galaxy Press, 1983).  Merritt’s work was generally highly esteemed in the genre.  He also had a distinguished career in publishing separate from his Fantasy writing.

Of the authors of later chapters, only E.E. Smith carried on any mention of Narodny, Merritt’s ambivalent main character. Although sensible in some ways based on his nature, I see the lack of an ongoing role for Narodny to be one of the many missed opportunities in Cosmos to connect the disparate chapters.  Narodny’s estrangement / disengagement from the rest of the human race has been the subject of commentary in the sci-fi community, and his “elitist” perspective may presage later characters created by writers such as Ayn Rand.

In “Spilling the Atoms,” Ray Palmer continues to express his concern over the challenge of orchestrating Cosmos:

Six more chapters of COSMOS, and the great novel will be finished.  As for me, I am a nervous wreck from worrying whether the next chapters will make the ‘deadline’ or not.  I don’t breathe easy until they’re in.

 And discussion of Cosmos continues among the readers as well, in “The Editor Broadcasts”:

Earl Perry, of Rockdale, Texas, writes:
“…COSMOS is as good a serial as could be hoped for.  By the way, if I’m not mistaken, in last month’s FM Rap said something about a sequel.  I vote for it.  But pul-l-lese, don’t have the same authors as the present COSMOS.”

Mr. Perry suggests a list of 21 possible contributors to COSMOS’ sequel.  The gathering of such a novel is a tremendous task, and we feel, now, that perhaps we will never present a sequel.  However if the readers’ demands become overwhelming, well– “Readers First” has always been our slogan.

Robert B. Baldwin, of Highland Park, Ill., rebukes me:

“You are surprised that Frank K. Kelly disliked ‘Scroll of Armageddon.’  I am not.  Mr. Kelly evidently knows his science fiction…

“I also agree with Mr. Kelly about COSMOS, the super novel.  Do you realize that, of the nine chapters to date, seven have simply told about the various inhabitants of the Solar System receiving messages from Dos-Tev and, despite opposition, setting out for Copernicus!  And four of the races mentioned so far have been human!  And all have reached the same stage of civilization!  (Perhaps you disagree with me here, but please remember that each author pictured was was, to him, an advanced civilization, and they all would land at about the level, would they not?  They would, and they did.)

“Each and every chapter of COSMOS I want to emphatically state, has been excellent, worthy, in my opinion, of the men who wrote them, but whoever picked the plot must have done so in his sleep.  Enough of that!…”

I was surprised, not at Mr. Kelly’s dislike of “Scroll of Armageddon,” but at his harsh judgement of his fellow craftsman’s effort.

Those various complications introduced in the first nine chapters must be cleared up in the remaining six.  There is more to the plot that just the Conference in Copernicus, Ay_Artz must be defeated.  I count only three human races, the Earthlings, Venusians, and Callistonians; also, I see no parallel between the other civilizations and our own.

The Editor is getting a little snippy, I think!

In “The Science Fiction Eye,” Schwartz describes the sort of collaboration which was quite common among authors at that time:

“The Greatest Story–“
Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, wishes to call my attention to what in his opinion is the “most amazing science-story ever written by anybody.”  It is a novelette written by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price in collaboration.  This tale is a sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key” and titled “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.”  Price had been so impressed by Lovecraft’s earlier story that he wrote a short sequel to it, sent it to Lovecraft, who worked it into a novelette.  It is a story of mathematics and other dimensions of space, and for “sheer imaginative power and cosmic sweep is utterly colossal.”

The story mentioned, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” can be read here.

Read Chapter Eleven of Cosmos.
Read about the May, 1934 issue.

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