Sunday, March 2, 2014

When dinosaurs ruled the pulps

Cover art for "The Death of the Moon"
by Alexander Phillips. Image source
Dinosaurs have been a staple of pulp fiction pretty much since the first pulp magazine hit newsstands around the start of the 20th century. Look at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal work The Lost World, which was first published in Strand Magazine in 1912. The novel was soon followed by a slew of imitators, the most famous being Edgar Rice Burroughs, who would go on to pen The Land That Time Forgot for Blue Book Magazine in 1918. Burroughs’ work would later be republished in Amazing Stories in 1927, this time accompanied by cover art depicting various prehistoric creatures menacing the U-boat of the story.

The Lost World and The Land That Time Forgot are the two most famous examples of paleofiction from the pulps, but there were several lesser-known stories that were just as entertaining. Unfortunately, many of them are now accessible only through microfilm in library collections. As a result, few people will ever get to read Alexander Phillips’ “The Death of the Moon” or Katherine Metcalf Roof’s “A Million Years Later.”

That said, a handful of pulp stories have managed to land on the Internet, thanks to expired copyright protections and the dedication of fans of the genre. Below are links to six of them.

We start with “When Reptiles Ruled” by Duane N. Carroll (1934), the first of three stories here published in Wonder Stories. The tale is told entirely from the perspective of an egg-stealing Struthiominus, making it an early precursor of works like Raptor Red and Walking with Dinosaurs. The story starts on page 76 and is continued on page 116.

The next story is my favorite of the bunch, “One Prehistoric Night” by Philip Barshofsky (1934). Martian invaders attempt to colonize prehistoric Earth only to find the wildlife is more than they bargained for. This is one of the few early dinosaur stories that actually tries to get its science right, placing the right dinosaurs in roughly the right time frame. It’s also a wonderfully gory tale. The story starts on page 54.

Next up is “The Reign of the Reptiles” by A. Connell (1935). The plot concerns a man who is kidnapped by a trio of scientists who want to try out their time machine. He is sent back to the Mesozoic, where he encounters an intelligent race of reptiles experimenting on early humans. Yes, this was just one example of a bad habit in the pulps: Mixing cavemen and dinosaurs together. The story starts on page 8 and is continued on page 109.

We move over to Famous Fantastic Mysteries for the short novel Before the Dawn by John Taine (1934; republished here in 1946). The story is about group of scientists who witness the Age of Dinosaurs using a "time viewer." Also of interest is another short novel by Taine, The Greatest Adventure (1929), which involves the discovery of a lost world in Antarctica and its dinosaur-like inhabitants.

Amazing Stories gives us the next two stories. First is the World War II-era “Blitzkrieg in the Past” by John York Cabot (1942), which is a humorous tale about three U.S. soldiers who are accidentally thrown back in time with their M2 tank. Sadly, despite the dinosaur vs. tank battle we see on the magazine’s cover, the story is largely dinosaur free. It is instead populated by cavemen who are millions of years out of place.

The second story – “The Lost Warship” by Robert Moore Williams (1943) - also was published during World War II, but this time it involves a warship that has been hurdled into the ancient past. This is the only story I haven’t had time to read before posting this list, but glancing over it, the work appears a caveman-and-dinosaur adventure in the spirit of Burroughs.

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