This is big…VERY BIG!! I just won the 2020 Cosmos Prize for my pulp story, “Battle at Neptune.” This is a big win for me as it was judged as a pulp science fiction story by people who really know what they’re reading. From the judges:
In which a desperate last stand buys time for a united Solar System to invent a new and devastating dimensional weapon to defeat the invader Ay-Artz. Includes original illustrations!
We chose the winning entries based on how creatively and thoroughly they digested the first sixteen chapters of Cosmos into a new and satisfying ending. Without spoiling anything, the winning entry tied together various threads of plot and character development, invented a new game-changing technology based on ideas previously established in the serial, and read like it could have been published in the pages of Science Fiction Digest.
Cosmos – a bold project from the 1930’s
Cosmos was an ambitious serial novel orchestrated by the staff of Science Fiction Digest (later Fantasy Magazine) beginning in June, 1933. The story of Cosmos spanned 17 chapters written by 16 different authors. Raymond A. Palmer drafted the plot outline and coordinated the work of the writers. Somehow, this young fanzine editor was able to convince many prominent professionals to participate.
The Story Behind the Story
I met David and Daniel Ritter of First Fandom Experience at PulpFest 2019 in Pittsburgh, PA.. I was immediately impressed by their project as it strongly appealed to my inner geeky historian. I’d heard about Cosmos but had never seen a copy. The Ritters have kindly put the entire text (with additional vintage materials) up on their First Fandom Experience web site. When they told me about the 2020 Cosmos Prize, I was delighted. Re-write Edmond Hamilton’s ending? What a challenge! I decided I would try.
The first thing I did was read the entire text. What a delightful mess! Yes, I said, “mess.” The authors were working off the editor’s outline and very limited (if any) communications between themselves. Writers dropped out along the way and had their places filled by others or the editor himself (in some cases under a pen name.) The writing is very uneven, understandably, and the plot leaves many hanging threads. But the story has the pulling power of more than a dozen good writers. It’s really fun and an important piece of science fiction history.
The next thing I did was go through the text with a fine tooth comb and pull out all the dangling threads. Although I planned to stay true to the original idea of a culminating space battle, Hamilton’s chapter had some features that I disagreed with very strongly. Most notably, I refused to blow up half the solar system in order to save the day. I’d also become very attached to the Neptunians and refused to destroy either them or their homeworld.
I read a great many 1930’s science fiction stories to get the tone just right. I discovered a lot of new writers in the process and took from them thematic ideas about space exploration and first contact.
Many of the characters in the original story were underused and I determined to give them more of a voice. One of them was the Martian commander, Fax Gatola. I gave him the stage in an early draft and he refused to shut up.
Terran Flight Commander, Alan Martin, is another of these underused characters. I gave him a pulp hero make-over and he gave readers a human hero to relate to.
The biggest dangling plot thread concerned the villainous, “Wrongness of Space.” He was a rather weak villain but provided a valuable idea—the fourth dimensional opener which exiles our heroes into alternate dimensions. I knew I could use this device to a good purpose in the end.
About the Illustrations
My title page illustration is drawn in an Edd Cartier style. I really like Cartier’s work, his illustrations are often on the edge of humor. My scene is also on the edge of humor, showing a furry Martian, a stately Venusian, and very dry human scientist deep in serious discussion.
The endpiece of the story shows the Neptunian commander, Bar Steepa. Raymond Palmer, writing as “Rea Winters” did a splendid job with the Neptunians, turning these unhuman monsters into Burroughs-style heroes. I fell in love with them at first blush. It’s impossible to know how Palmer envisioned the Neptunians but this is how I see them—cute beach balls with appendages.
I want to thank the judges for granting me the Grand Prize. Creating “Battle at Neptune” was a joy and I learned a great deal in the process. I’d like to think that wherever he is in time and space, Edmond Hamilton is pleased by my story.