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Authors: Robert Silverberg

Hunt the Space-Witch!

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Hunt the Space-Witch!

Seven Adventures in Time and Space

Robert Silverberg










A Biography of Robert Silverberg


A long time ago (upwards of sixty years), in a galaxy far, far away (it was Brooklyn, actually, but that's quite a distance from where I live now) a high-school chum gave me a beaten-up copy of a pulp magazine called
Planet Stories
. I was just in the first heady rapture of discovering the science fiction magazines, and he had found a copy of the Summer, 1942 issue of
around his house, probably something his father had read and discarded, and thought, quite rightly, that I would like to have it.

I was already a devoted reader of
Astounding Science Fiction
Amazing Stories
Fantastic Adventures
, but
was new to me. I fell upon it with rapture. The magazine, seven years old at the time, was mussed and scuffed and had lost its cover, but to me it was a treasurehouse of wonders. Somewhere along the eons I replaced it with a fine shiny copy, which is sitting beside me as I write this, so I can tell you exactly what it contained: three novelets, by Ross Rocklynne, Ray Cummings, and Manly Wade Wellman, five short stories, and an 11-page column of fan letters from readers. (More about that letter column in a moment.)

The specialty of
Planet Stories
was tales of action and adventure, colorful yarns set on other worlds. The lead story, Ross Rocklynne's “Task to Lahri,” with a lovely, moody two-page illustration by an artist named Leydenfrost, dealt with the visit of a spacefarer from Earth to the tenth world of our solar system, where a lost race lived in the hollow interior. Wellman's “Venus Enslaved” was a tale of a castaway Earthman and crossbow-armed Amazons in conflict with the gigantic bestial Frogmasters of our neighbor planet. Nelson Bond's “Operation Chaos” told of an attempt to run the blockade of the spaceways that the Outer Planets Alliance had set up.

You get the idea. Space opera, wild and fast and furious. I loved it. I was fourteen years old. I rushed out to the newsstand to see if
Planet Stories
still existed, and, yes, there it was: the Winter, 1949 issue, featuring “The Dead-Star Rover,” which the cover blurb called a “startling novel” by Robert Abernathy, and “Sword of Fire,” described as “a novelet of an Enslaved Universe” by Emmett McDowell. I handed over twenty cents for it. A day or two later I visited a second-hand bookstore where, for a dime more, I picked up the previous issue, Fall, 1949, which gave me my introduction to the work of Leigh Brackett (“Enchantress of Venus”). Over the next few years I assiduously collected a complete file of the magazine, going back to the first issue in 1939, and I faithfully bought and read every new issue that appeared until the magazine expired in the summer of 1955.

By the summer of 1955 I had precociously begun my own writing career, with a couple of story sales in 1954 and then a whole slew of them the following year. One magazine that I was desperately eager to crash was
, but I was just a little too late for that. I had already begun submitting stories of my own to the magazine as far back as 1950, and its editor at the time, Jerome Bixby, had read them sympathetically and claimed to see in them the work of someone who would be a successful writer someday—but he didn't buy any of them. My work didn't reach a really professional level until about 1954, and by then
, to my eternal regret, was wobbling toward its doom and buying no new material. So I never did get a chance to have some grand and gaudy space' adventure published in that grand and gaudy magazine.

Let's go back to the letter column of that battered, coverless 1942 issue that my high-school friend had given me in 1949, though. Among the fans whose letters were published in it was a certain Larry Shaw of Schenectady, New York. Soon I would learn, by looking at back-issue magazines, that Shaw was a regular contributor of such letters to the magazines, and was known in the science-fiction world as a shrewd critic of the genre. He left Schenectady eventually to become the editor of a hot-rod magazine, and by 1953 he was working as associate editor of one of the best s-f magazines of the day,
. He and I met at my first science-fiction convention, in Philadelphia in September, 1953, and we took an immediate liking to each other. I was then just on the threshold of my writing career, and he gave me some useful, encouraging advice.

By the summer of 1955 Larry had left
to become the editor of another new magazine,
Infinity Science Fiction
. That fall I visited his office in midtown Manhattan, told him of the success I was suddenly having as a writer, and offered him a story, which he bought and published in the fourth issue, dated August, 1956. He bought another and used it in the fifth issue. From then until the magazine went out of business in 1958 I would be a regular contributor.

And one day in the summer of 1956 Larry said to me, “We're going to revive
Planet Stories
. How would you like to write some space-action stuff for us?”

He wasn't going to call it
Planet Stories
, of course. At that time the name still belonged to the company that once had published it. He wasn't going to use the old shaggy-edged pulp format, either, because the day of the pulp magazine was over. The new magazine would bear the appropriately explicit title of
Science Fiction Adventures
and it would be printed in what was now the standard digest-sized format for fiction magazines.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. I told Larry how much I had loved the old magazine and how deeply I regretted never having had a chance to write for it—and then, in July, 1956, I sat down and produced a 20,000-word story with the resounding
-style title of “Battle for the Thousand Suns.” Larry bought it on the spot and asked for a second story of the same length, which I wrote a week later in collaboration with my writing partner of that era, Randall Garrett: “Secret of the Green Invaders.” When the first issue of
Science Fiction Adventures
appeared in September, 1956, I was responsible for half the fiction in it. (The issue also contained a novella by Edmond Hamilton and a three-page story by a new writer named Harlan Ellison.)

That was the beginning of my long and fruitful relationship with Larry Shaw's
Science Fiction Adventures
, a magazine that lacked the flamboyant pulpy appearance of the old
Planet Stories
but came very close to reincarnating its spirit. Over the next couple of years, I would write the magazine practically single-handedly, reveling in the opportunity to tell outrageously exciting tales of the space lanes, and I have put some of the best of those tales together in the volume you are holding now.

Even before the first issue had appeared, Larry had handed me a rough sketch of a cover painting showing a giant alien being (with the sort of pointy ears we would one day associate with Mr. Spock) holding a test tube that contained a man and a scantily-clad woman. “Write a novella around that illustration for the second issue,” Larry said, and in September, 1956—about a week after I had won my first Hugo, as most promising new writer of the year—I turned out “Slaves of the Star Giants,” a story of time travel rather than space travel, which was the cover story in the February, 1957 issue. By now it was understood that I would write a novella for every issue of the magazine. For the third issue, which had a magnificent red-toned cover by Ed Emsh, I gave him “Spawn of the Deadly Sea,” a kind of Viking story about a conquered Earth, one that would have fit perfectly into the old
Planet Stories
we all had known and loved. And in the fourth issue I began the trilogy of novellas under the pseudonym of “Calvin M. Knox” that I called the “Chalice of Death” series, which I eventually put together to form a novel, and which is not included here because the complete novel will be released in a different book from the present publisher. (Which, by no coincidence, calls itself “Planet Stories” too.)

I kept up the pace in just about all of the succeeding issues. The fifth issue ran “This World Must Die,” which I expanded into the novel “The Planet Killers” and which also is being reprinted elsewhere in its longer form. “The Flame and the Hammer” came out in issue six, September, 1957. The seventh issue, dated October, 1957 (the magazine now was appearing every month), was devoted almost entirely to my novel-length “Thunder Over Starhaven,” and this, too, you can find in the forthcoming
Chalice of Death
Planet Stories omnibus. (Larry insisted on printing it under the pseudonym of “Ivar Jorgenson,” which I had used once or twice in other magazines, though most stories under that byline—spelled “Jorgensen,” however—had been the work of a writer named Paul Fairman. Fairman was rightly annoyed, though publishers kept on sticking it on my work all the same.)

Issue eight, for some reason skipping a month and bearing the date of December, 1957, was also almost entirely the work of my busy typewriter: “Valley Beyond Time,” reprinted here, was the lead novella, and right behind it came the second of Calvin Knox's “Chalice” stories. And so it went into 1958: my “Hunt the Space-Witch!” another “Ivar Jorgenson” novella, led off the January, 1958 issue, number nine. It too is reprinted here. The tenth issue brought the third “Chalice” novella, and the eleventh, April, 1958, contained my 40,000-word novel “Shadow on the Stars,” which eventually was published as a separate novel and now is included in one of my novel omnibuses.

BOOK: Hunt the Space-Witch!
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