By GW Thomas
The only paperback I had by Edmond Hamilton was a copy of Lancer's The Valley of Creation (1967). This was the red reprint version with a swordswoman riding a black horse alongside her pet hawk and tiger. In the background, armed space marines watch her ride by. (I'm pretty sure the cover art was by Gray Morrow.) The blurb says, "In the Tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs." Another edition uses the words: "Sword and Sorcery." Those Lancer people really wanted me to buy this book. Because usually that's all it would have taken. I did buy it or acquired it second-hand. I never read it back then.
Why? Because it's neither in the tradition of ERB nor sword-and-sorcery. In fact, it was in the tradition of A Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage. None of which I knew back then. I had no idea it had been published in Startling Stories, July 1948. But I never read it because I didn't know who Edmond Hamilton was. I was pretty limited in my pool of reading material. But we grow up. And we learn better.
A story that possessed such a magic was "The Comet Doom" (Amazing Stories, January 1928). This early story contains the original idea of placing a human brain inside a machine, a standard trope of science fiction since. It may have even inspired the idea of Neil R Jones' Zoromes, mechanical men with organic brains that became one of SF's longest running series. It may have inspired Lovecraft's evil Yuggothians, who steal human brains to run their technology on Pluto in "The Whisperer in Darkness" (written in 1930). Keith Laumer would use the idea in the 1950s and '60s for his super tanks known as Bolos. The BBC would use the idea for their cyber-men on Doctor Who starting in 1963. And on it goes...
The story begins with a lengthy (far too lengthy by modern standards) build-up with a comet coming closer to Earth. It is supposed to miss the Earth, but the planet is inexplicably drawn into a collision course. Hamilton's knowledge of comets is quite dated, as they are thought to be vaporous only and as ethereal as the Northern Lights. This comet, of course, in true Wellsian style, proves to be a vehicle bringing space invaders. The comet folk are robotic bodies run by alien brains. The relentless machine men are building a device that will neutralize the sun's gravity on the earth, allowing the comet to snag and claim the planet for its uranium; killing all life in the process.
It is easy to under-play how inspirational this story was. Cyborgs have become such a part of science fiction that we don't often think when did they begin? And this seems to be the pattern with Hamilton. He was an innovator, but his work tended to be ignored after the fact, partly because of where it was published (Weird Tales, quite often) and partly because SF moved so fast in the old days, with ideas sparking off single stories to be absorbed by SF as a whole. This is a fate Hamilton shared with Raymond Z Gallun, another innovator who is barely remembered. This may explain a little more why Edmond Hamilton took a while to find a home in my library.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.