Thursday, 20 March 2014

The science fiction of Evan Hunter

I forgot March 21 was Ed McBain Day at Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. Since it was too late to read and review any of the dozen mothballed 87th Precinct mysteries in my office cabinet (where I keep them), I decided to turn the spotlight on the genre that launched the writing career of Evan Hunter, the real face behind McBain.

Man will someday leave the Earth. No one witnessing the marvels of today's science can really seriously doubt this mild premise. As certain as Man learned to cross the seas, as certain as he learned to build wings with which he left the ground, he will leave the Earth for Space.

The question then is not, "Will he?"

It is, "When will he?"
— From the preface to Rocket to Luna, 1953, by Evan Hunter


Eight years later, in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin answered Evan Hunter’s question by becoming the first human to go into outer space.

© Wikimedia Commons
The American author and screenwriter, it'd seem, wrote science fiction well before he wrote crime fiction, most notably his 87th Precinct series. He penned some two dozen sf stories and at least four sf novels. I confess to not having read any.

In 1951, Hunter wrote his first sf story Welcome Martians under his birth name Salvatore Albert Lombino. The following year he published his first sf novel Find the Feathered Serpent. He wrote sf until 1956, under a cavalcade of names like S.A. Lombino, Richard Marsten, D.A. Addams, Ted Taine, and Evan Hunter too.

In 1956, he penned his first 87th Precinct mystery, Cop Hater, where he used the name of Ed McBain. For the next fifty years, he backed it up by nearly sixty books in the series. It was to become one of the most famous pseudonyms ever.


On March 19, I discovered two of his four sf novels online—Find the Feathered Serpent by Evan Hunter and Rocket to Luna by Richard Marsten—at Archive.org. Click here and it’s yours. 

The two novels are published by John C. Winston Company of Philadelphia and Toronto. Find the Feathered Serpent was Hunter’s first novel, sf or otherwise, and he dedicated it to his wife Anita. A year later, he wrote Rocket to Luna, dedicated to all his sons. 

I liked the Winston Company's sf logo. Between 1952 and 1961, Winston published "35 science fiction juvenile novels" by famous authors that included Hunter. The covers were illustrated by artists such as Ed Emshwiller, Virgil Finlay, Mel Hunter, and Alex Schomburg. Of these, I'm only familiar with Finlay having written about him in 2012.

As I've not read either of the two novels, I cannot comment on them. But, here’s what the publisher has to say about the author and why he wrote them.

“Evan Hunter's varied background probably helped him devise the varied cast of characters—ancient Mayan citizens, bold Vikings and twentieth-century explorers—people who Find the Feathered Serpent. For this author, at one time or another, has been an English teacher, telephone dispatcher, lobster salesman, and now occupies an editor's chair. A graduate of Hunter College, he also served with the military during World War II in Cuba, Hawaii, and Japan. Though Evan Hunter found study of the ancient Maya hieroglyphics the most fascinating bit of research necessary to write Find the Feathered Serpent, he prefers the more usual forms of relaxation of piano-playing and sketching.
Find the Feathered Serpent

“Richard Marsten doesn't call any one part of the country "home." This author's wanderlust has led him to every corner of the United States, and he intends to see Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and Africa before settling down. After that, he hopes to be among the first to apply for passage to the Moon—a probability beyond dispute, as far as the author is concerned. The three-stage rocket that Mr. Marsten writes about in Rocket to Luna was discussed with his boyhood friends during bygone Fourth of July celebrations. Plans had even been made to equip a tin can with firecrackers to test the theory. But the youngsters never got around to it, and it wasn't until the author started investigating recent scientific advances for background material for Rocket to Luna that he realized how near the truth he had been twenty or so years ago.”
Rocket to Luna


At the start of his writing career, Evan Hunter worked with authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, P.G. Wodehouse, and Richard S. Prather. In his acknowledgements for Rocket to Luna, Hunter, or Richard Marsten, says, “My thanks, too, to Arthur C. Clarke, who graciously answered several tricky questions about the Moon.”

I’m hoping sf veterans like Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom and Bill Crider at Pop Culture Magazine will shed more light on Evan Hunter’s science fiction. In fact, writer Bill Crider has written about Find the Feathered Serpent more than once on his blog (click on the above link).



This illustration appears in both the novels.

24 comments:

  1. Wow, I did not know this about Evan Hunter. Seems I should have, what with my interest in SF. Thanks for the info. Learn something new every day, I guess.

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    1. Charles, you're welcome. I said "wow" to myself when I found these two novels online.

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  2. How interesting, Prashant. He was very prolific, and I did not know he wrote science fiction too.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. I'd a vague idea about his foray into sf but didn't know what. I'm glad I could share some of it here.

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  3. Interesting post. I have recently been prompted by another blog post to add Ed McBain to my TBR list - I know, I've never read any of his! So I will hopefully get around to it this year...

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    1. Rebecca, thank you. I've read very few of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct mysteries and, quite frankly, it's doing injustice to this prolific writer, especially when I'm sitting on a pile of his paperbacks.

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  4. I will join the chorus too Prashant. This is all very interesting as I too had no idea about his writing SF.

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    1. Neer, thank you, too. I keep jumping from one writer to another which is the reason why I don't read more books by a single author, and McBain deserves to be read more.

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  5. Ditto Charles - wow! I knew he had more mainstream stuff out under his own name, as well as the McBain's. I have a copy of Blackboard Jungle but haven't read it yet. Never knew about the sci-fi, cheers Prashant!

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    1. Col, thank you. It's great you feel the same way. I've only come across physical copies of his 87th Precinct series and absolutely nothing else. His crime fiction is more popular perhaps because he wrote it right until this century while his science fiction was a long time ago. I wonder if his sf has been reprinted.

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  6. Great Prashant, thanks, as I've read plenty of books by Hunter but none of his science fiction (at least, not knowingly thiugh with all those pseudonyms ...) - and thanks for that link, very ahndy indeed - cheers!

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    1. Sergio, you're welcome. The two sf novels are the find of the year so far. I just took a chance and was, in fact, surprised that they were legally available online. Except for McBain, I wasn't familiar with any of his other assumed names.

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  7. I did a review of FIND THE FEATHERED SERPENT a few years ago. Here's the link. http://billcrider.blogspot.com/2006/11/find-feathered-serpent-evan-hunter.html

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    1. Bill, I've already mentioned your 2006 review and highlighted the link to it. I think you've written about the book more than once.

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    2. Yes, I probably have. It was a great favorite of mine when I was a kid.

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    3. In that case I'll read FIND THE FEATHERED SERPENT first. I certainly liked the few lines I read.

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  8. Prashant, in addition to DANGER: DINOSAURS! (which George reviews today), Hunter wrote TOMORROW's WORLD (also published as TOMORROW AND TOMORROW) as by "Hunt Collins." Several of his other books have science fiction overtones and on -- GHOSTS -- has the 87th Precinct's Steve Carella meeting a genuine ghost. Other pseudonyms Hunter used for books were Curt Cannon, Ezra Hannon, John Abbott, and Dean Hudson. In addition, he also used the names S. A. Lombino (his birth name), Ted Taine, and D. A. Adams for some short stories. Some of these books, alas, are difficult to find.

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    1. Hi Jerry, thanks for all the additional info on Hunter and his sf. The bit about Steve Carella in a ghost story was really interesting. I've mentioned some of his sf pseudonyms in my post, particularly Lombino, Taine, and Adams, though not the others, for there would have been one too many. I've only seen his 87th Precinct books in secondhand bookstalls. I'm going to see if I can find some of his novels.

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  9. He also had a rather snide attitude (full stop) toward his own sf, tending to denigrate it. See my post about anthologies for the magazines IF and TRIQUARTERLY for a citation of his argument with IF editor Larry Shaw.

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    1. Todd, thanks for bringing that little aspect to my notice. I don't see why he'd pull down his own sf. His bibliography gives the impression that sf was his first choice of fiction though not for very long. I'll read your post.

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  10. Ed McBain/Evan Hunter proved he was a versatile writer. I enjoyed his science fiction novels and his crime fiction. Todd's right about him being a bit of a curmudgeon.

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    1. George, I liked the few passages I read from these two novels. I thought he was really good. I wonder why he stopped writing sf where he was quite prolific.

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  11. I doubt I will ever read these books, but I love those covers.

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    1. Moira, I don't read sf as much as I'd like to. It's one of the genres I like very much.

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