Science Fiction and Fantasy in Books: 1946

Continuing our series of posts in preparation for the 1946 Project at Chicon 8.

In the aftermath of the war, an explosion of genre book publishing brought science fiction and fantasy closer to the mainstream. However, new novel-length fiction was scarce, so the vast majority of titles issued in 1946 looked back, republishing material from prior years.

Thanks to one prolific fan, we have a contemporaneous view of fandom’s favorites from this period. In January 1947, New Jersey’s Joseph Charles (“Joe”) Kennedy published the 1946-1947 Fantasy Review, the second in his series of yearbooks covering the field. Along with his own perspective, Kennedy presented the results of a survey that captured the opinions of 78 fans of the day. Caveats apply; e.g. the sample appears to be entirely from the United States and Canada — but the poll offers at least one window into sentiments at the time.

(Joe Kennedy went on to a notable career as an author and poet, writing under the name X.J. Kennedy.)

Survey respondents, from Joe Kennedy’s 1946-1947 Fantasy Review

The scoring system for fans’ favorites weighted the results based on respondent’s rank-ordered choices.

Poll scoring approach, from Joe Kennedy’s 1946-1947 Fantasy Review

The results are presented below. From Kennedy’s notes, those marked with (*) weren’t actually published in 1946 but are included to reflect the fans’ full responses.

Book poll results, from Joe Kennedy’s 1946-1947 Fantasy Review

The runaway first and second place finishers were representative of the dominant trend in genre books issued in 1946 — they’re anthologies of short stories. Adventures in Time and Space received more first-place votes (39) than all of the other titles combined.

Front cover, spine and front leaf, Adventures in Time and Space, Random House, 1946
Jacket design by George Salter

In 1946, Random House was already a leading mainstream publisher. The omnibus Adventures featured 35 stories, mostly by current leading authors from both North America and the United Kingdom.

The mention of science fiction fan clubs in the jacket notes would seem to indicate that the publishers hoped to reach both established and new readers of the genre. Regarding the latter group, Kennedy opined that there was “public demand for escape literature in the face of the grim reality of the atomic age.”

Back leaf, Adventures in Time and Space, Random House, 1946

From Crown Publishers came The Best of Science Fiction, with a preface by John W. Campbell, Jr. This 785-page tome included “40 wonderful stories, unlike any other kind of stories you have ever read.” Did established fans take offense at the implication that nobody knew of science fiction prior to this book? Were they prepared to welcome novice readers into the sanctum of their speculative refuge? It’s easy to imagine both reactions.

The Crown title presented a wider historical sampling of the field than the Random House anthology, including stories by Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells and John Taine, as well as then-recent works by Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

Established fantasy publisher Arkham House scored three titles in the top ten in Kennedy’s poll. Two were anthologies: the first collection of Robert E. Howard’s fantasy stories, Skull-Face and Others, and The House on the Borderland and Other Novels, the first American book publication of William Hope Hodgson’s imaginative fantasy. Both volumes featured striking covers by Hannes Bok.

Spine, front cover and front leaf, Skull-Face and Others by Robert E. Howard, Arkham House, 1946
Spine, front cover and front leaf, The House on the Borderland and Other Novels by William Hope Hodgson, Arkham House, 1946

Arkham House had a busy 1946, also releasing The Hounds of Tindalos, an anthology of Frank Belknap Long’s stories from Weird Tales; The Doll and One Other by Algernon Blackwood; Fearful Pleasures by A.E. Coppard; and West India Lights by Henry S. Whitehead.

Arkham’s third top-ten book represented another category with multiple examples in 1946. Slan by A.E. van Vogt was a re-publication of the author’s novel originally serialized in Astounding Science-Fiction beginning in December 1939. The tale of a superior mutant sub-species of humans, hunted for their difference — the “X-Men” of its day — spurred the meme “Are fans Slans?” that has persisted in fandom to present times. Van Vogt was particularly visible to the fan community in 1946 as the Guest of Honor at the first Pacificon held that year.

Similarly, the newly-formed Buffalo Book Company’s The Skylark of Space presented the epic E.E. “Doc” Smith space opera from 1928, updated by Smith from its premier run in Amazing Stories. The same publisher also issued the collected installments of John Taine’s 1931 Wonder Stories serial The Time Stream.

Reprints of “classic” genre novels also gained attention from the fans who responded to Kennedy’s poll. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World reached a new audience through a 1946 edition from Harper & Row. Abraham Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar made the list based on a 1945 Avon Book Company digest of the 1924 fantasy novel.

Some classics reappeared in paperback, reflecting the rapid expansion of that format. A new edition of James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice from 1919 appeared as a paperback from Penguin Books. Abraham Merritt’s epic 1920 fantasy The Metal Monster received a reboot as a title in the “Murder Mystery Monthly” series from the Avon Book Company.

The Fox Woman and The Blue Pagoda from the New Collector’s Group was in the vanguard of a wave of fan-lead publishing efforts that grew in 1946. Artist Hannes Bok (Wayne Francis Woodward) and Paul Dennis O’Connor orchestrated this volume collecting an unfinished story by Abraham Merritt and Bok’s attempt to finish the tale.

Title page from The Fox Woman and The Blue Pagoda. Art by Hannes Bok

Appropriately rounding out Kennedy’s top ten, Avon Ghost Reader is the fan-favored example of the dominant sub-genre for books issued in 1946 — anthologies of ghost stories. Titles abounded, including And the Darkness Falls from World Publishing Company, containing 59 stories and ostensibly edited by Boris Karloff.

Wholly new novel-length genre titles were scarce in 1946. A notable exception was The Murder of the USA by Murray Leinster, writing as Will F. Jenkins. Published in book form by Crown Publishers with a preface by John W. Campbell, Jr., the tale also appeared in the June 1946 issue of Argosy as Atoms Over America.

Atoms Over America by Murray Leinster (as by Will F. Jenkins), Argosy, June 1946

Also new in 1946 was the dark comedic novel Mr. Adam by Pat Frank. The original J.B. Lippincott edition ran for thirteen printings. The cover of the 1948 Pocket Books reprint revealed the book’s sardonic take on post-nuclear dystopia.

In 1959, Frank would pen a less humorous portrayal of atomic aftermath: Alas, Babylon.

Prominent science fiction fan Wilson “Bob” Tucker’s debut as a novelist appeared in 1946 — but not as a genre title. The Chinese Doll was the first of Tucker’s mystery novels. Despite the departure in subject matter, his fellow fans recognized his success with two first-place votes.

Peabody’s Mermaid by Guy and Constance Jones (Random House) merits a mention as the basis for the 1948 film “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid,” starring William Powell and Ann Blyth.

Notably absent from Kennedy’s poll results are two important fantasy works issued in 1946. Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, first of the Gormenghast series, has since been recognized as a highlight of the genre. Fans in North America may not have seen this work due to its initial publication in the UK by Eyre and Spottiswoode. The allegorical Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White (Putnams) examines authoritarianism through the tale of a girl’s encounter with Lilliputians.

Not widely available to fans in North America were two paperbacks from London’s Pendulum Publications LTD, issued as entries in their “Popular Spacetime Series.” Wings Across Time by Frank Edward Arnold was a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Science Fiction Quarterly in 1942. Other Eyes Watching by John Russell Fearn (writing as Polton Cross) was new in 1946.

Also below fans’ radar was the Junior Literary Guild’s publication of The Angry Planet by John Keir Cross. “Living creatures — individuals — Martians!” Blatant indoctrination of youth into fanciful speculation!

Title pages from The Angry Planet by John Keir Ross, The Junior Literary Guild and Coward-McCann, 1946

Which science fiction and fantasy books from 1946 have you encountered? Which left an impression? Please send your thoughts to: