Announcement: The 2021 Cosmos Prize

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve won an important genre prize for pulp illustration. I’m very excited to announce it but there’s a problem…I actually won the award a few years ago but I couldn’t tell anyone until now!

Here’s the story…the 2021 Cosmos Prize was given for the best illustration(s) for—“The Challenge From Beyond”—which consisted of two shared world stories (one science fiction and one weird fantasy) that came out in an historically important semi-pro magazine back in September of 1935. That’s something of a mouthful, isn’t it?

I’ll explain it all more clearly in a minute. But let me first explain why I’ve had to sit on this information for three years. I knew that I’d won the prize but it was never announced because, in all honesty, I was the only horse in the race. Which doesn’t make it less of a win for me because the judges are experts in pulp material and they know a good thing when they see it. The stories are complex and to that end I produced four illustrations, three for the science fiction piece and one for the fantasy story. And if that seems uneven it’s because the fantasy piece was a real winner and I knew it. Up until now only a few people have seen these award-winning illustrations but I’m going to fix that today.

How did I feel knowing I’d won an important genre prize and wasn’t able to talk about it? To be honest, I was disappointed. But I knew that I couldn’t mention it before I had proof, so I just let it go. Needless to say, I was shocked and delighted when I got an email from David Ritter of First Fandom Experience last week telling me that the award had finally been announced.

If you’ve followed me for a while you know that I also won the 2020 Cosmos Prize for my short story, “Battle at Neptune.” I included two illustrations with that story because…well, it’s me. I had to. In that case, the contest was to rewrite the end of the first shared world science fiction story serialized in Science Fiction Digest during 1933 and 1934. Science Fiction Digest, later Fantasy Magazine, was an important semi-pro magazine during the early pulp era. In its pages you’ll find all the greats from that day from Lovecraft to Leinster. C.L. Moore to Weinbaum.

Ray Palmer (later the editor of Amazing Stories) was the young editor of that magazine and did a fantastic job. Cosmos was his brainchild and although it’s uneven as hell, it was still quite a book with chapters by Doc Smith, A. Merritt, Edmond Hamilton, and John W. Campbell Jr. to name a few. Hamilton’s story wrapped up the seventeen chapters of space opera and even I will admit that it’s not his best work. (And I am ever Hamilton’s champion!) But that the wrap-up story was lacking and it’s not only my opinion, it was a common sentiment. First Fandom Experience, presenting Cosmos in a new online format to interest modern readers, put on a contest to re-write the ending. Since Hamilton is a writing hero of mine, I knew I had to put my best foot forward. For several months I deconstructed the original work, noting inconsistencies, taking copious notes about the various races, their technology, etc.. I also had to make sure the characters were consistent, which was no mean feat, let me tell you! But in the end I did it and “Battle at Neptune” was the result. I’m pleased to say that my entry was compared favorably to Hamilton’s work and the judges awarded me the Grand Prize over several other good entries.

The next year, First Fandom Experience decided to try another contest and this time it was for pulp illustrations. How could I turn down that challenge? As you may have gathered from previous posts, I have a keen interest in not only writing and illustrating new pulp, but demand of myself that it be as accurate as possible to the original material in terms of language, style, and technique. (I’m not sure why this is so important to me, but it really is.) I want people to mistake my new work for the original deal and so far I’m doing pretty well according to the reviews.

I’m not shocked that the second Cosmos Prize in 2021 was “lightly” attended. The assignment was hard, truly. But my artistic interests and the contest’s assignment lined up perfectly. As for others …well, I can certainly see how they didn’t get many entries. The people who work professionally in the genre don’t have a lot of time or interest in contests, and the amateurs wouldn’t know what to make of these stories. But for me…it really was a perfect test of my skills.

Now let me tell you something about “The Challenge From Beyond.” After the success of Cosmos during the previous two years, the editorial staff of Fantasy Magazine created “The Challenge From Beyond” as part of their third anniversary celebration. There were five writers for each of two stories and they worked in a round robin format. These authors were some of the most famous voices in sci-fi/fantasy of that period. You will recognize some of their names even if you don’t usually read that far back.

Authors for the science fiction piece (above right): Stanley G. Weinbaum, Donald Wandrei, Edward E. Smith, Ph.D., Harl Vincent, and Murray Leinster.

Authors for the Weird Fantasy story (above right): C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long, Jr..

From a professional standpoint, the Weird Fantasy story hangs together better, although it’s hard to complain about the anything written by Doc Smith and Murray Leinster, not to mention Stanley Weinbaum. The plot of the science fiction story concerns a scientist and his assistants who take a journey into space through a wormhole and have trouble getting back. The fantasy piece is about a man who switches brains with an alien worm and becomes an emperor.

However these brief descriptions don’t do either of the “Challenges” any justice. They are weird and wonderful, both of them, and it’s clear that the authors were having a blast writing their distinct parts. In the original release the writer’s contributions were delineated by a first line of italics making to possible to figure out who wrote what.

Previous to her part in “The Challenge From Beyond” C.L. Moore published a piece in Astounding Stories in the October 1934 issue called, “The Bright Illusion.” That short story has some vague plot similarities to “The Challenge from Beyond.” As she started off the round robin for the Weird Fantasy story, I have to wonder if she was pulling on her earlier work. I certainly thought of it as I drew my contest entry for that story.

Here’s my award-winning contest art

Remember that all the art in this post is copyright, Sara Light-Waller, 2021-2024.


I want to thank David and Daniel Ritter and all the other folks at First Fandom Experience Project for their kind consideration in awarding me both the 2020 and the 2021 Cosmos Prizes. I feel greatly honored and both of the awards mean a great deal to me! Thank you!

2021 Cosmos Prize links:

2020 Cosmos Prize links:

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