Among the many things I’ve done been reading lately is some scans of pulp magazines, so behold this breakdown of the stories in the May 1951 edition of Planet Stories! Thanks to the power of the Public Domain this issue is available at Pulp Magazines Project and Archive.org
Captives of the Thieve-Star – James H. Schmitz
The first novelette-length story (here called novelet-length), and the one chose to lead off the issue and snagged the cover feature. Schmitz is known for strong female characters who aren’t just damsels in distress, here Peer, while the young wife of story hero Channok, often is the one coming up with the ideas of how to get out of trouble and how to deal with the trouble they get into when they stumble across a derelict ship where something sinister went down
Peer comes from a family of space-nomads and has a lot of experience being a rock hopper and doing cool stuff in space, something Channok occasionally dismisses to his peril. Channok seems like a guy who just decided to do space adventures for a few years before joining the space police, though later he finds out that the people he looked up to are corrupt and the job prospect loses its luster. Creatures of note are the ghouls who live on the planet they hide out on, basically curious goblin monsters that live underground and are usually harmless.
Blind Play – Chan Davis
Nick Pappas is a hired goon for the family that is trying to forcibly take over a mining colony on Callisto by withholding supplies, but the miners saw trouble brewing and have formed a collective and sent for help on Earth. Pappas’ job is to stop them, but he’s bad at his job and tossed into space. Thanks to the magic of his space suit never running out of air, he floats towards Earth and maybe, just maybe, can figure out a way out of his mess. After looking up Chandler Davis it made 100% sense why the story was the way it was, he was a university professor tossed out of his job for not testifying for the HUAC and even spent a few months in jail over it. It’s also the story with the grandest vision of the future, characters tell Pappas that loners like him are out and working together is the future, and there is a ship named after a Chinese person.
Out of the Dark Nebula – Milton L. Coe
This one surprised me the most as being a solid space war adventure story with grizzled commanders and a ship full of green recruits as another war breaks out. The commanders do their duty and try to help the kids while dealing with saboteurs and infiltrators (the captain shoots a crewmember dead in front of others and then reveals he was an alien spy, telepathic of course that’s why he had to kill him with no warning!) The ship (the Albion) isn’t a super star but gives as good as it gets in fights and ends up crashed and stranded as enemy ships are heading for it. What will happen to our valiant crew? The aliens are two separate species from the Dark Nebula that have teamed up to take Earth down, usually these stories only have one species as the villain. Milton L. Coe doesn’t seem to have any other writing credits (unless this is another misspelling, lol), but the story is so slick I would guess this is someone’s pen name, maybe someone who normally writes military stories or something. If I keep reading more pulp stuff maybe I’ll recognize the style!
Garrigan’s BEMs – Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown
One of several stories that seem straight out of The Twilight Zone, a cartoonist discovers one of his drawings of ugly aliens are actually real aliens and they’ve come to take him back to their planet. As Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown were both struggling writers themselves, the hero also barely skates by on the income he makes from selling his cartoons and there is a lot of real life put on the page here for this goofy little tale.
Lake of Fire – Frank Belknap Long
This one was one of the more bizarre entries, largely due to it playing straight about two prospectors who find a Martian mirror in the Martian deserts that has an image of a woman in it. One guy falls madly in love with the image while the other struggles to try to get him to snap out of it while also fighting off raiders. Then suddenly it gets weird in a cool way but also as something that seems part of a larger tale.
The Bryd – Noel Loomis
Have you hread about the bryd? A galaxy-traveling magic parasite has to take a few seconds out of its slumber to keep its current host from being a moron and starting a war. Cool little short tale. Noel Loomis wrote a lot of westerns in addition to scifi tales, even authoring a history of Wells Fargo and writing several episodes of Bonanza
Open Invitation – H.B. Fyfe
A POV story from the aliens’ perspective as human craft being sent to Jupiter and Saturn might stumble across an alien scout ship. The aliens back on their home planet spend much of their time arguing office politics instead of bothering to solve the problem. Fyfe likes to write stories about alien bureaucrats and humans outsmarting them, though it probably helped that editor John W. Campbell typically bought such stories!
Dateline: Mars – Richard Wilson
In the not so distant future, Mars is colonized but there are native Martians who used to be under the yoke of a despotic government before the Earth government tricked them into giving up power. Yet there is still shades of Earth being a colonizer and internal alien politics. The hero is a newspaper reporter who has access to information normally taken out by censors and is brought along to witness some native Martians doing their own brand of justice. This story was interesting mainly due to some throwaway scenes where protestors complain about Mars being colonized and the author admits that they are right but since they are also hippies no one wants to be told the truth by them. Richard Wilson was a newspaperman himself so once again there’s probably more truth than not buried here.
Exile From Venus – E. Hoffmann Price (misspelled in the credits!)
The second novelette-lenght story is the last, in the far future Earth is a burned out wasteland and most people life on Venus, except for the savage survivors on Earth. Craig Verrill joins one of the groups as a doctor, but secretly to steal their sacred gigantic ruby. But he finds more than he bargained for when he joins the clan, he might even find where he belongs! Was pretty good if predictable, Verrill has a rival to steal the ruby who joins up with a rival clan and that sparks some action bits. It was by far the most saucy of all the tales, Verrill openly sleeping with one of the women in the clan he lives with. Not explicit, but only Captives of the Thieve-Star comes close to even implying characters are getting it on. Price was a prolific pulp writer who was also friends with Howard, Lovecraft, and many others (he seems to have visited more of them than usual, but it was also common back then for the authors to all be pen pals with each other. He has a bunch of pulpish fantasy novels that came out in the 1970s.