2015 September 29 “The Helioplane” by Stanley Gray

I’m going to delve into an area I honestly know nothing about…the English “Penny Dreadful.”
No, not the television series, which is about as annoying as a movie entitled “Pulp Fiction.”
Don’t get me started….

Generally, I shy away from these for the simple fact that I predominantly collect 1940s through 1950s British fiction booklets and digests (and occasionally, yes, some pulps).

I made the exception when approached by an Aussie clearing out a family estate. He had a handful of interesting items that fit my interests, and, this one science fiction penny dreadful in the mix, too. Was I interested? Vaguely. After some discussion, I asked if the booklet was complete.

Cover? Yes.
Rear cover? Yes.
Firm binding? Yes.
No missing pages? No.
No missing text? No idea, it’s wrapped and I rather not open it to look that closely.
Fine. I’ll take the chance.

It arrived, and damn it all, the original owner had it in plastic wrap. I find this to be extremely annoying, especially for fragile items. After very carefully removing the Saran wrap, I found that the worst was yet to come. Let’s repeat the above questions with my new answers….

Cover? Present, but detached.
Rear cover? Entirely missing (son of a bitch!)
Firm binding? Hardly. Very brittle. Splitting. Pages parting.
No missing pages? Aside from the rear, no.
No missing text? All text concerning the story is present. (phew!)

You get the general idea. This is nothing new for those dealing with and collecting penny dreadful items. This item is printed on pulp paper. It simply was not designed to survive. A cheap read, and in the trash bin or consumed as fire kindling.

Without further ado and boredom from my blathering, let’s move on, shall we?

The Helioplane

THE HELIOPLANE: The Story of a Voyage to the Planets
Publisher: James Henderson & Sons
Address: Red Lion House, Red Lion Court, Fleet St., London
Series: The Nugget Library # 223
Date: undated (1912)
Page Count: 56 pages
Price: 1d
Cover artist: unknown
Author: Stanley Gray

This is the “1st” incarnation of the Nugget Library series, running 330 issues, from 1907-1916. This issue was printed 1912 (per Robert Kirkpatrick, authoritative penny dreadful researcher in collaboration with the British Library archives). A second series resurfaced after The Great War, spanning 1919-1922 (70 issues).

Whether “The Helioplane” is a reprint or not is unknown (to me).

The story opens discussing an article published recently in the 21st of June, 191- issue of the Physicist, in which a Professor Norton Colby discusses the term absolute zero. A future issue contains a vehement reply by a Professor Gama Mese noting the absurdity of Colby’s claim that helium, in being reduced to absolute zero, would deny the laws of Earth’s gravitational pull and allow one to leave the planet for space and beyond.

The truth is that both professors are working along similar lines and that Mese simply wished to derail Colby’s thought processes. Sadly for him, Colby is the more brilliant (though vastly underfunded) of the two, and managed to eke ahead of Mese in the space-race. Having completed his vessel, he invites Mese (and his son, whom is a schoolmate of Colby’s nephew) out to view his machine. Mese, irritatingly, accepts, after shredding the letter to pieces.

On arriving, they are treated pleasantly by the Colby’s, for they are at heart good people. They misjudge the Mese’s kindness and all board the vessel. Mese is startled to discover that the mechanic is Bennell, an ex-convict. The association between Mese and Bennell is never exploited, however, it is clear that both know each other.

Mese and son, prior, had arranged a secret signal to handicap the vessel. The boy falls onto a device and the vessel is in ruin, or, Colby is in financial straits. The latter becomes the case and the boy clumsily falls and releases the helium, sending them all hurling immediately into outer space. Mese arranges to blackmail Colby, forcing him to sign off against his discovery. He has no choice. It would take a financial miracle to re-accumulate the helium necessary, and Mese, he is quite funded. Bennell takes matters out of Colby’s hands by smashing the lever to return to Earth and sends them all hurling away.

Within 3 days (yes, the writer said “three days”) they arrive on Mars. Add to that speedy fact that the atmosphere is breathable and there is some forms of edible vegetation, and you have a true miracle in science fiction. Here, the story becomes a pure boys’ yarn.

Infuriated by the Mese’s attempts to waylay them upon landing, they exile the pair to Mars, sending them in one direction, while Bennell and the Colby’s explore the opposite direction. While exploring, they find vegetation that is edible and take wholeheartedly to eating up the sweet foods, and inadvertently up pops a Martian from under one of the large leafy plants. It is kindly-looking and very unintelligent, with wings, and it flies away. They are soon surrounded by a swarm of these shiny winged beings (described as a “cherub-like youth) and an airship arrives. (The deck of this monster airship, though it was like no earth-conceived dirigible in its proportions or mode of flight . . . in the centre of the ship was a clear space, raised like a dais, upon which stood the leader of all).

They soon delve into a language readily understood by one another (how convenient!) and the leader, Magna Protog, notes that they knew of their arrival. It is soon discovered that the Protogs have what equates on Earth as a “seer” among their people.

The tale then delves into the politics of the planet and thus the Colby’s learn that the evil Mese pair had walked in the direction of the villainous Martian, cannibalistic encampment. Fearing the worst, they visit the seer and discover that the Meses have worked their way into the inner confidence of the Molu, and are planning murder against the Protog base and to slaughter the Yahbi (these were the densely unintelligent cherub critters first met on Mars and a favorite delicacy for the Molu to feast upon, since they have zero combat skills).

The next couple dozen pages details combats and massive frays and butchery. The Molu murder hundreds of Yahbi in spikes and fly away with their impaled food. Worse, a Martian storm later destroys much of the Protog base and buries their airship which boasts their powerful lightning weapon, which in description, appears to harness the power of lightning in the form of an incinerating laser beam.

In the final battle, the Yahbi realize that they are soon to be eradicated and suddenly, from deep within their inner being, a cry of war and survival bubbles to the surface. They fight back! What’s more, the Colby’s discover that the violent Molu bullies are easy to fight. They lack fighter skills. They are used to flying in and impaling with no resistance, to the point that they really have no idea how to combat.

To their dismay, they learn that the Meses have taught the art of steel blades to the Molu. The fight become bloody quickly, but sheer Yahbi numbers turn the fight in their favor, before they discovery that Mese has directed a full assault on the base from another direction. The first assault was a blind!

The fighting Yahbi battalion is formed into a British combat “square” formation and rebuff the secondary attack, engulfing the Molu from all sides. The fleeing Molu pour into the Magna Protog fortress (which was originally created by the Molu) and seek respite there. The building is ringed by the last of the fighting Yahbi. None dare enter.

Then, like a futuristic Fanthorpian novel, the Protog airship is uncovered, functional, and the weapon aboard ready for action. Those necessary for flight board, with Norton and Will Colby and the mechanic, Bennell, to fly up above the storm-ruined fortress, and offer the Mese pair a final ultimatum. Mese senior accepts, while his son reposes at his feet in a dead faint. He begs them to lower the airship, so that they may safely depart the crumbling structure.

In a continued action of deceit, Mese makes his last play at revenge, attempting yet again to murder Norton Colby! Two shots ring out from Gama Mese’s revolver, in a treacherous play to bring down Colby and the Magna Protog. Apparently, Mese is the worst shot both on Earth and Mars, and in retaliation, Magna Protog unleashes the blinding power of the ship, a secondary secret weapon.

The air round about burnt and scorched with the same living blue flame
which had lit up the interior of the helioplane during the progress of the
great electrical cyclone. But this time the flame did not dart about in
different directions. Instead, it flew forward like a bullet out of a cannon.
Forward it flew, and downward, carrying with it the seared bodies of every
Molu who had taken wing from the golden dome.

Then the blast ripped into the domed structure and . . . there was no more. The structure was as of dust, obliterated, and all inside and flying about, gone forever. The Meses were no more. There was no trace of their remains. Nor would there be.

The trio board their airship and the Magna Protog bid them farewell, and perhaps, one day, they might again come to visit their planet, Mars.

2015 September 29 “The Helioplane” by Stanley Gray

2015 September 21: “The Weird Story Magazine” (Gerald G. Swan) Second Series, Number 1 (1946)

For the few handful of collector of British published weird, strange, uncanny, occult stories, many of those are not aware the publishers, Gerald G. Swan, issued originally back in 1940, also another publication bearing the same exact title as that presented here.

Weird Story Magazine 1

And there, however, the similarities end.

The 1940 edition was released in pulp-magazine format, and nearly all the contents written by Wm. J. Elliott, under a variety of pseudonyms. The 1946 edition was one of two issues issued by G. G. Swan, and, in pamphlet format. None of the stories, in this case, were by Wm. J. Elliott.

There is no signature to the cover indicating whom the artist was. I will say that it hardly conveys much in the way of horror. It looks better-suited to one of Swan’s Confession! romantic publications than that of the weird genre!

The opening tale is “The Secret of Claire Church,” which is certainly a horrific tale up until the blasé end. Answering the summons placed in the ad of a newspaper to become housekeeper and answering to the list of a hundred weekly tasks, Thomas Wilding accepted the terms and road the rails out to distant Penford. His employer, one James Grenvil (which at first glance made me wonder if this would be a beastly tale, since the surname immediately reminded me of Grendel…) is old and rich and hated and despised by those that reside within and around Penford, for, the man annually had knowledge of whom would die within a year’s time! One year, Grenvil is too ill to physically leave the house, and upon swearing Wilding into secrecy, has him, on All Saints’ Day lever him out to the abandoned Claire Church at night. Further, no matter what he sees or hears, he is to keep quiet. The eerie setting transpires to be a gathering of ghostly figures rasping out the burial service for the dead! Twelve years past and twelve times his master went, without him, for he swore to never behold such an uncanny sight again. The twelfth would be Grenvil’s last, for when he comes home, he collapses, and utters that it was HIS name announced. The next moment, he is dead. Oh please! Why ruin such a great story by killing him off that day? [The author is Hadyn C. J. Perry, of the Dudley district, born 1928. I find it hard to believe he wrote one story; perhaps Hadyn sold tales to newspapers, too].

“The Kiss of Lillith” is dreadfully awful in that anyone can guess the bare nature of this tale. Lillith is the bride of Lucifer, and Jim Strange is magnetically drawn to her, seals a pact with a kiss and must kill his own true love, for she is the direct descendant of a maiden whom once wronged Lillith an eternity ago. [The author is “Sam Bate;” full name is Samuel Ebenezer Bate, born 30 December 1907. He died in Camborne-Redruth, Cornwell, England, in 1981].

“The Mind of a Murderer” involves a scientist whom transfers the mind of a human into that of an animal (and, vice versa). However, he engages humans that are repugnant to society, and in this instance, uses a murderer. However, the scheme goes awry when the murderer quickly learns to make use of his tiger-body and kills the scientist. [The author is John Body (sic) alias of John Brody.]

Next up is “Gruenaldo.” Ravell goes through life hearing weird music. Nobody hears it. It comes from no definite source. Deciding that he is perhaps in need of a profession change, he becomes a police constable. They transfer him out of the city to a countryside town in rural Sussex, and becomes a night patrolman. He eventually hears that infernal music again, and finds himself before an old derelict house. (Naturally, weird story, old house, odd music, at night, and the house must likely be abandoned, right?) The house is abandoned. (Damn, I’m good!) He approaches to find a gargoyle with a violin above the door. He enters, and comes to realize he has been there before, though, in fact, HE himself, has not. He then knowingly finds and secret compartment, extracts a large book, and reads an excerpt about an annoying tramp that played a violin and that the owner of the house damned him forever and that only his reincarnation may release him. Ravell utters the secret magic words and the next day, never hears the music again. Likewise…the gargoyle is missing! [Author is Henry Ravell; his identity is unclear to me, however, a number of his stories center around music. I suspect he might be Thomas Henry Rawle, born 1909, of Axbridge, but, don’t hold me to that!]

“Four Gold Teeth” involves yet another crazy scientist meddling, this time, not with humanity or animals, but, with nature itself, plant-life. Professor Parry is fond of orchids, and one day, he vanishes, while working on some great scientific advancements. The estate is sold off and an unnamed man and his terrier, Mac, purchase the home. The dog discovers a dilapidated well, and barks fiercely at it. One day, the dog is snared by some bizarre fleshy plant-like tentacle. Eventually, our narrator goes down the well to investigate, finds a light switch, and finds Professor Parry’s secret laboratory infested with killer plants. He flees, and nearly is killed in the process. Time passes, and some thief, having stole from a house, makes his way across the yard and is caught up by the well (it is thought that perhaps the thief was going to hide the jewels, etc., down the well) and pulled down and in. Our narrator goes to the rescue, and eventually, they destroy the plants, and find four gold teeth at the center of the blob. They now know the fate of the missing Professor. [Author of this ridiculous yarn is Christopher Harman. Nothing is known about him….]

John Raikes is completing his masterpiece to be entitled “Venus and Juno,” when tragedy strikes, and his model, his wife, dies, struck by lightning. John hires another model, one he used to be infatuated, and she tries to coyly play on him. Finally, he relents, and asks her to marry him. Naturally, she accepts. BTW, both models were sworn enemies. However, in “John Raikes’ Model,” the title of this story, seemingly comes to life and haunts him to the point that he follows his wife, the creation molded before him, to a drowning death. [The tale is written by Sutro Miller, author of several odd stories, of which a collection, entitled “H for Horrific,” was compiled by Sentinel Publications in 1947 and is today terribly common to find. He resurfaced in 1953’s GG Swan’s “Fairies Album” with a kiddie tale and then, inexplicably, vanished].

“Hands in a Mirror” is a weak effort at the weird. It is wholly unexplained gibberish, better fit for a girls’ paper than a weird publication. Two young ladies discuss one’s fiance, Mark Atlee, having shot himself on the eve of Laura’s wedding. Laura hauntingly relives that fateful day and explains that she had some form of vision in her mirror, which disclosed that Mark, having been previously married, a shortly at that, had murdered his first wife, and accumulated her fortune. The mirror discloses a secret compartment in the desk and she pops it to find a handgun. She ends up killing Mark Atlee and hiding the gun, thus avenging the first wife, whom she believes gave her the vision to begin with. [The tale is told by Meredith Huntley, whom is also the author of some children’s stories].

“Vampires Work at Night” aptly gives way to the story’s intent, to some extent, but, is vastly ruined by a lackluster finale. Charles Benton is vacationing way from England in the realm of Bohemia (really?) he comes upon a gorgeous girl. He romances her and finally they marry and he takes her back to England. The town is happy, because, in fact, they KNOW she is a vampire, and responsible for local deaths, but, being superstitious, they are terrified to confront her. (Unlike conventional vampire lore, she can be out in broad daylight). She constantly whines that she desires to be returned to her homeland and he convinces her to stay. She eventually relents and as time passes, he begins to become weaker and weaker to the point of being bedridden. A doctor is called in and while there, Charles is slipping into his final dying stages, she confidently begins drawing his last life-blood right before the doctor’s very eyes! He wrestles her away from the dying Charles, and she suddenly (really, inexplicably) gives up the fight and collapses. (Seriously?) [Written by Shelley Smith, I was very disappointed by her vampire effort. Her birth name is Nancy Hermione Courlander. She was born 12 July 1912 and died April 1998 in Worthing, Sussex, England. She married Stephen Bodington, in 1933].

“The Stain” is a simple tale. Man loses his way in the woods at night, comes across a creepy house with creepier residents. Lumbering deaf mute and his apparent mother. They put our fellow up in the mute’s bed, and while trying to sleep, looks at some old magazines. One mentions “The Michigan Moron Murders,” and he begins to believe the mute is the slayer. A blob of deep red begins to seep down toward him from the attic and he is certain there rests a slain soul, after hearing a gun bark. Later discovers it is merely a wine cork that popped and it leaked down from above. No mystery or horror there…. [This tale was supplied by Hedley H. Gore, a name that is perhaps scarier than the story itself. Remarkably, this is a real name. Hedley Herbert Gore was born 26 November 1911 and died 1982 in Luton, Bedfordshire, England. He wrote a few dozen children’s stories under the alias Michael Kendrick for Gerald G Swan, and as Gordon Hedley, at least thrice. He was Secretary General of Luton and District Chamber of Commerce and Industry for most of his adult life].

2015 September 21: “The Weird Story Magazine” (Gerald G. Swan) Second Series, Number 1 (1946)

2015 September 17: “They Came from Mars” by W. P. Cockroft

“They Came from Mars” is a tiny, 16-page, double-column science fiction yarn written by Wilfred P. Cockroft, and published by Gerald G. Swan (reportedly in 1945). There are no ads within providing any indication of publication. Date of publication is based on British Library records, and, undoubtedly, info found in fanzines.

They Came From Mars

The tale opens with the wreck of a man-made spaceship on the coastal beach of Mallen. Arriving late on the scene is Doctor Morson. Three sailors had already clambered into the ship to rescue the crew, but the three they found and extracted were well past death. Morson enters and accidentally cuts himself on the hull. Inside, he discovers a fourth corpse and a diary. This latter he retains, for his interest in this whole space affair is aroused.

Returning home, his hand is throbbing, and he settles down to read the diary. About less than half of the booklet deals primarily with the daily recorded exploits of the crew, their arrival on Mars, and records of plant life and animals, etc. They attempt to capture a six-legged furry critter (see cover scan) for further investigation. However, a bright, indescribable object zooms toward them and they run for their lives, and the animal captured, now has escaped.

They depart the red planet for earth but each are afflicted with pain and other ailments begin to take hold. Turns out they were all injured while on Mars. The ground they walked on in places managed to slice into their space boots. Each sick, desperately in flight to return to earth, the diary abruptly ends and leaves no clue as to what transpired…but, the doctor already has a clue, as his own hand continues to throb….

The story then shifts from space story to more of a weird sort of feel to the tale.
Morson continues to treat patients and his own ailment worsens to the point that he is an incoherent, non-functioning entity. He is sent to an asylum; shortly thereafter, his estate is sold. The asylum doctor attends the estate sale and is outbid on a full lot offer of all the doctor’s books by a competing doctor (Harvey) whom was an old friend of Morson’s. Harvey discloses that he wants the books for certain reasons. Eventually, time passes, and he finds the diary among the trove.

He returns to the asylum and shares his discovery with that doctor; they compare notes, and he notes that he believes Morson, as they know him, is dying, and is infested with some form of Martian parasite, that will “seed” once Morson’s body fully terminates. That it does! They run from and seal the airtight room just in time as the body explodes a spray of particles into the air. The “alien” has seeded, and is looking for a fresh host to inhabit.

And, what of the three sailors? The doctor traces their activities to the Orient, and learns that through some odd mishap, the entire ship went down, all hands down to the frozen watery depths of the sea. Did the alien entities die, or, are they forming even now their own ranks under the sea, to one day take over the entire human race? Only time will tell…..

Honestly, I’m sure that most glance at the story and give it the rolling-eye treatment, write it off as purely juvenile, but, no, I disagree. It is a first-rate job, with a solid plot, and the weird-strange-bizarre is smartly handled and everything is rationalized, which is precisely the foundation for what the editors of Weird Tales magazine desired of their own stories.

I would love the opportunity to read further stories by Mr. Cockroft one day. I possess a further half-dozen assorted other tales by this author. Perhaps one day I’ll give those stories their due.

SIDE NOTE: I wonder if it terribly irked that man that so many blithering idiots then and now continue to erroneously spell his name as Cockcroft rather than Cockroft….

2015 September 17: “They Came from Mars” by W. P. Cockroft

2015 September 11: “The Man Who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl

Exactly twenty years ago this Fall, I drove to Dearborn, Michigan, and visited Howard DeVore, at his request, to pick over his collection. Only non-American items were optioned, and I walked out with a small bundle, on my first of many visits.

One of the booklets that I left with (that day) was “The Man who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl. It was published by the Mitre Press in 1943. The artwork is unsigned, but may be the work of Jeff Cook, if one were to believe the lower right skyscraper “windows” were actually him cleverly trying to disguise the signing of his name. The formation of a “J” and “e” are readily visible down there.

ATHOLL The Man Who Tilted The Earth 3          ATHOLL The Man Who Tilted The Earth 1

Do not adjust rub your eyes. You aren’t seeing double. You are also not seeing an enhanced image. The one on the left is (was) Howard’s copy. Not too shabby a copy, I think, once the second copy (on the right) arrived, with a tape repaired cover, etc.

Turns out the worn copy isn’t so worn. The left copy was printed on inferior paper stock, thus affecting the quality of the image. The right copy was printed on better paper and properly showcases the cover as it was meant to be.

So, which one is the true first edition? Interior copyright plates are identical, however, the rear cover and rear internal ad pages are entirely different. The copy on the right is the true first edition. It does not advertise other fiction pamphlets published whereas the faded copy does, indicating that it came along after other titles had been published.

The identity of Justin Atholl baffled me for over a decade until a breakthrough occurred. Back around 2005, I was reading one his short stories, when it occurred to me that I had read it somewhere else … in a 1930s horror anthology, under another name, that of Sidney Denham. How the correlation was never drawn prior, since they are recorded side-by-side in weird / horror anthologies, is bewildering, but, these things happen….

I have kept this a secret for the past decade, but since the news just broke this year via another researcher, no point in keeping it mum any longer. The reason I kept it a secret was that I wanted concrete evidence that Atholl had not been used by more than one author. His 1940s novels do not exercise a firm uniformity among themselves. Due to the recently offered-for-sale on ABE of a book noting that T. S. Denham authored “The Perfect Murder,” we now know he did author at least ONE of the 1940s novels, but one short story and one novel does not mean that he is the sole author behind Atholl.

However, not released yet is the fact that he also utilized the alias Arthur Armstrong. Whether this alias was exclusive to Denham is also unknown, but, it was also applied to the very same short story that first united Atholl with Denham in my decade-old discovery!

“The Man who Tilted the Earth” involves the intrepid investigations of reporter John Renvers into Dr. Surrocks claims of having constructed a super weapon. However, ahead of him is multi-millionaire villain Zachavitch (note that wartime villains often had foreign-sounding names). Zachavitch has already latched onto Surrocks and is privately funding his project, with the intent to obliterate a massive iron deposit in the Arctic, thereby causing the poles to shift and worthless lands he has purchased to suddenly become very valuable. Untold millions of people would perish in the explosion, cities will topple, sea level areas vanish under mountain of water, etc. Only Renvers, with the aid of Surrocks lovely (and intelligent) daughter, can possibly try to thwart the evil Zachavitch and the mentally warped Dr. Surrocks from accomplishing their maniacal goal … world domination.

2015 September 11: “The Man Who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl

2015 September 3: “Death on Priority 1” by Preston Yorke

I read this booklet many years ago, but it was nice to freshen up on it as I had just recently posted another title, “The Gamma Ray Murders,” which features the very same protagonist.

YORKE Death On Priority 1 (Orange Cover)

“Death on Priority 1” by Preston Yorke is in fact penned by the famous Darcy Glinto writer, Harold Ernest Kelly, and published by Everybody’s Books (1945) shortly after the second world war. However, it is clear, from the story-line, that it was written during the war.

Inspector Bevis is sent to investigate the hijackings of freighting trucks across England. With his partner, they eventually spot a group of criminals making off with a truck, but, the criminal mastermind behind it all was prepared for this eventuality, and has a souped-up heavy car broadside their lightweight vehicle into flipping over. Bevis’ partner dies in the crash, flying through the windshield. Bevis is seriously injured.

Bevis convinces his chief to give him one last “go” at the affair, going undercover as a trucker. Bevis makes a name for himself, making deliveries in record time and rumors get around that he won’t take no shit from anyone, even the cops, to get his goods from Point A to Point B.

As weeks and months go by, Bevis, operating as “Mad” Yorky, is met by a crook whom offers him the side job of losing his truck of goods for a hundred pounds. He accepts, but then confides that he’s looking for an “in” with the bosses and wishes to earn more money while the war is ongoing. Once the war ends, so does the trafficking, etc.

The story is slightly reminiscent of another Kelly story, written under the alias of Buck Toler….

Anyhow, Bevis spots his hijacked truck passing through the dockside town and realizes that the goods MUST be transported and unloaded nearby, rather than stolen and driven far away. He sneaks into several warehoused areas before striking lucky. That is, until he is caught unawares by a pair of hoodlums that cave in his skull and toss his butt into confinement.

How he escapes and the escapades that follow to the point of busting the gang will remain a secret, for those that entertain the notion of obtaining a copy for themselves.

Having been a collector of British wartime fiction booklets for over 20 years, I’ve managed to hoard and secure 3 copies of this elusive title…. Why? Because they are variants. After the first run sold out, Kelly issued further copies to be printed. And yes, there are noticeable differences, starting with the rear cover ads.

So, what am I reading next? A mystery magazine chock full o’ short stories, so, you might not see a post here for close-on a week. Where magazines are concerned, chug along mighty slow on the tales.

2015 September 3: “Death on Priority 1” by Preston Yorke