Sunday, May 12, 2013

Before the Golden Age-Stanton A. Coblentz

Amazing Stories, the first regular science fiction magazine in America, made its debut in April 1926. Before that, readers of science fiction (a term that had not yet been invented) would have contented themselves with tales told in Argosy and other story magazines. Even after 1926, science fiction magazines were slow in taking off: the next successful titles, Astounding Stories and Wonder Stories, didn't go into print until 1930. Astounding, in its incarnation of 1938, was the place where the Golden Age of Science Fiction began. (1)

Ray Cummings, Ralph Milne Farley, and Murray Leinster wrote their first science fiction stories before 1926 when Amazing Stories first showed up on the newsstand. The next few authors, beginning with Stanton A. Coblentz, made their debut in science fiction between 1926 and 1938. If we were comic book fans, we might call this the Platinum Age. Instead, we'll just continue calling it what Isaac Asimov called it: Before the Golden Age.

Stanton A. Coblentz
Author, Editor, Poet, Critic, Reviewer, Historian
Born August 24, 1896, San Francisco, California
Died September 6, 1982, Monterey, California

I have to begin with an observation: the Internet is part gold (or at least gold-plated) and part sludge. Why is that people writing on the Internet don't do the easiest thing in the world and look to other sources on the Internet for their information? Why do online encyclopedias and databases tell only half the story when the untold half is in plain sight? Shouldn't something that claims to be an encyclopedia be--you know--encyclopedic? Shouldn't a database contain data? Maybe my observation is actually a complaint (but not quite a rant). In any case, I'll go on.

Stanton Arthur Coblentz was born on August 24, 1896, in San Francisco, California. I haven't found anything to suggest that Coblentz was acquainted with other California authors of his day. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), George Sterling (1869-1926), and Jack London (1876-1916) were generations older than he. On the other hand, Clark Aston Smith (1893-1961) was roughly the same age as Coblentz. A survivor (an overused word) of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Coblentz received his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a prolific writer of reviews, criticism, poetry, satire, fiction, and history. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction describes him as a "novelist and traditionalist poet who wrote polemics in defence of his rather bad verse, beginning with his MA thesis, published as The Poetic Revival in America (1917)." His reputation is that of an imaginative satirist but a poor writer, a stodgy poet, and a critic of the modern in verse. For decades, Coblentz wrote for newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He also wrote pulp fiction. His first published science fiction was "The Sunken World: A Romance of Atlantis" from Amazing Stories Quarterly, Summer 1928. The Wonder Stick, his first novel in book form, followed in 1929. Coblentz wrote thirteen stories and six poems for Weird Tales, all published between 1942 and 1953. "The Girl with the Indigo Eyes" was published in the magazine after his death. 

There's a great deal of uncompiled information on Stanton A. Coblentz scattered across the face of the Internet. His story is too big for a blog posting. Fortunately, the author penned his own biography, Adventures of a Freelancer: The Literary Exploits and Autobiography of Stanton A. Coblentz, with Dr. Jeffrey M. Eliot (1983). You can also read about Coblentz on Wikipedia, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and The Internet Speculative Fiction DatabaseScience-Fiction: The Gernsback Years by E. F. and Richard Bleiler (1998) includes a lengthy entry on Coblentz and his works. If you stick with your search, you will find other sources as well.

For Weird Tales
"The Treasure of Red Ash Desert" (Mar. 1942)
"The Victory of the Vita-Ray" (Nov. 1942)
"The Glass Labyrinth" (May 1943)
"The Shoes of Judge Nichols" (Mar. 1944)
"The Man Who Wouldn't Hang" (July 1944)
"To the Moon" (poem, Sept. 1944)
"Midnight Moon" (Nov. 1945)
"For Love of  Phantom" (July 1946)
"On a Weird Planet" (Mar. 1947)
"The Dog That Came Back " (July 1947)
"Atlantis" (Nov. 1947; reprinted Fall 1973)
"The Grotto of Cheer" (May 1948)
"The Daughter of Uzrun" (Sept. 1948)
"The Will of Raminchantra" (Mar. 1949)
"The Ubiquitous Professor Karr" (July 1949)
"The Mysterious Miss Malta" (Jan. 1950)
"The Round Tower" (May 1950)
"The Haunted" (Nov. 1950)
"A Fog Was Blowing" (May 1953)
"The Girl with the Indigo Eyes" (Winter 1985)

At the risk of sounding like Garrison Keillor: Here's a sonnet by Stanton A. Coblentz from 1961:

After the Bomb
By Stanton A. Coblentz

If some small planet, of the billion spheres
That roll with teeming life through edgeless space,
Glares with atomic fire, and disappears
Totally as the warring Trojan race,
Orion will turn calmly as of old,
Perseus gleam with jewel-pointed light,
And deep in Crux a savant may behold
One casual spark puff out against the night

But to this world that struggled eon-long
To climb from scum and ooze to laurel green,
And hear a Shakespeare's voice, a Schubert's song,
And probe the pit of heaven and proton screen,
Who shall compute the loss? The void may throb
With tremblings of a great, lone Watcher's sob.

(1) Astounding Stories, renamed Astounding Science-Fiction in 1938, is still in existence as the digest-sized Analog Science Fiction and Fact. At some point, I don't know when, the hyphen was dropped from the title Astounding Science-Fiction.

Stanton A. Coblentz began his career as an author of science fiction with "The Sunken World" (1928). That story has been reprinted again and again. I believe this is the hardcover edition of 1948 with art by Roy Hunt.
In 1929, Coblentz had his first novel printed in hardbound. Called The Wonder Stick, it's a the story of a caveman, as you might guess by looking at the cover art. The artist was Samuel Glanckoff (1894-1982), an illustrator, cartoonist, and comic book artist.
"The Planet of Youth" was first published in Wonder Stories in October 1932, then reprinted in the British magazine Tales of Wonder in 1938. The artist was W.J. Roberts. 
Jungle girls were popular during the 1940s and '50s and a gorilla on the cover was supposed to sell more books, so why not combine them as in this cover of Thrilling Wonder Stories from Summer 1946? The cover artist was Earle Bergey.
Avon published small paperbacks in the 1940s and '50s and the covers typically looked like this one for Into Plutonian Depths from 1950. The story had originally appeared in Wonder Stories Quarterly in Spring 1931. I don't know the cover artist.
Here are three Avalon hardbacks by Stanton Coblentz: Hidden World (1957) with art by Ric Binkley; The Lizard Lords (1964) with art by Gray Morrow; and The Day the World Stopped (1968), artist unknown. The hidden world beneath the surface of the earth is an ageless idea, older than Hades and as new as Journey to the Center of the Earth, Pellucidar, and The Shaver Mystery. The title of The Day the World Stopped evokes memories of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
Stanton A. Coblentz composed three books in "The Outlanders Series," The Moon People (1964), The Crimson Capsule (aka, The Animal People, 1967), and The Island People (1971). Here's a Belmont edition of the first installment with cover art by O'Brien.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Coblentz was acquainted with Clark Ashton Smith. He edited a poetry journal called WINGS that published several of Smith's poems, and he also included some of Smith's poems in various anthologies that he edited. Coblentz, like Smith, was a traditionalist in prosodic forms, but the latter would not sign on to a campaign that the former organized to urge poets to shun modern forms on the grounds that the poet ought to be free to use whatever forms he wished. Coblentz also wrote the introduction to Hazel Littlefield's memoir of Lord Dunsany.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous,

    Very enlightening.