A STREET IN MANILA,
AN APARTMENT IN CHICAGO
Richard A. Lupoff
The last time I saw E. Hoffmann Price we were sitting in the living room of his comfortable, modest house in the hills above Redwood City, California. Redwood City is a pleasant middle-class suburb of San Francisco. I believe this was the last interview that Price ever gave, shortly before his death on June 18, 1988, fifteen days before what would have been his ninetieth birthday.
We had spent much of the afternoon taping an interview for a local radio station. I had two partners with me, making for an overcrowded air sound. Normally only one or two of us would have done the show with Mr. Price, but nobody wanted to miss out on this opportunity.
Mrs. Price, a gracious hostess, served Turkish coffee to the guests. It was, to coin a phrase, so dense that a spoon would stand up in it and so strong that it nearly melted the spoons. I don’t think I slept for three nights after drinking a tiny cup of that fierce brew.
The room was furnished with a lifetime of memorabilia. On one shelf stood a row of miniature sculptures, created by Clark Ashton Smith as gifts for his friend Ed Price. A magnificently carved antique wooden throne stood against one wall. Ed Price warned us that no one was allowed to sit there. It was reserved for the Son of Heaven, should he ever deign to visit. Crossed swords — not the display variety, but actual weapons that might once have inflicted fatal wounds — were hung upon the wall.
Price was a great raconteur, and in a long life had known an astonishing who’s-who of the pulp world. On one occasion, while driving from California to Louisiana, he had stopped at Cross Plains, Texas, to visit Robert E. Howard. Once ensconced in New Orleans he had entertained Howard Phillips Lovecraft, serving him a bowl of homemade chili that, in Price’s words, “would have raised blisters on a saddle.” Even Lovecraft, who prided himself in his fondness for hot, hot dishes, admitted that Price’s chili was an outstanding brew.
Shortly before my colleagues and I were to leave, Ed Price drew me aside. He was a onetime army man, a West Point graduate and veteran of the First World War. He had traveled all over the world. He knew that I, too, was ex-military, a onetime enlisted man and then again an officer and a gentleman. My two associates had never served in uniform.
Indicating the others with a tilt of his head, Ed spoke to me sotto voce. “They’ve never been in the service, they wouldn’t understand. But you and I — listen, if you’d like the address of the best whorehouse in Manila —”
Then he interrupted himself. “Hmm, come to think of it, the last time I was there was 1915.”
That’s the kind of guy Edgar Hoffmann Price was. A unique character. And a real writer.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In his posthumously published memoir, Book of the Dead (2001), Price describes his first meeting with Otis Adelbert Kline. It was summer of 1926. Price was visiting the offices of Weird Tales in Chicago. The editor of that magazine, Farnsworth Wright, summoned Kline from an adjacent room.
The two writers were already familiar with each other’s work. Kline had been a Weird Tales regular since its first issue, which published his novelette “The Thing of a Thousand Shapes.” Kline was a sometime unofficial staff member at Weird Tales, while holding down a day job at a food and spice importing company.
Both Kline and Price had been prolific pulp writers, working in a variety of genres. Both had an interest in Middle Eastern and Arabic culture. Both had rejected traditional Christianity, Price becoming a lifelong Buddhist and Kline a Muslim of sorts. He could certainly not have practiced any orthodox variety of Islam, as Price was shortly to discover.
That very night Kline invited Price, Wright, and Weird Tales’ business manager, William Springer, to his apartment to meet Mrs. Kline and their children, and to share a generous meal and a variety of tasty concoctions. Obviously the then-official Prohibition Amendment was widely and thoroughly ignored.
Price had been a member of an intercollegiate dueling team; Kline, also, was an amateur swordsman. Late that night, having consumed copious and varied alcoholic beverages and after Wright and Springer had taken their leave and the rest of the Kline family had retired, Kline and Price engaged in an impromptu duel. They used sabers rather than epées and dispensed with such protective paraphernalia as masks and pads. How both emerged unscathed from this contest remains a mystery. The encounter, however, led to a friendship which lasted until Kline’s untimely death in 1946 at the age of fifty-five.
The initial collaboration between the two men also grew from this first meeting. It was a novelette, “Thirsty Blades,” which they sold to Weird Tales.
Kline was a busy and versatile writer. His best known works were a series of fantastic novels serialized in Argosy magazine, one of the most prestigious and lucrative of pulp markets. Between 1929 and 1935 he placed eight such works with Argosy. They closely paralleled the interplanetary romances and jungle adventure tales written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Kline even wrote a novel called Maza of the Moon, matching Burroughs’ The Moon Maid.
A lengthy dispute eventually arose in the fan press, as to whether Kline was attempting to capitalize on Burroughs’ popularity by imitating his oeuvre.
In the January, 1930 edition of The Writer, Kline published an essay, “Writing the Fantastic Story.” In this piece he recounted the story of his father, an amateur astronomer, instructing him in the wonders of the night sky.
“He told me of the vast distances which, according to the computations of scientists, lay between our world and these twinkling celestial bodies – that the stars were suns, some smaller than our own, and others so large that if they were hollow, our entire Solar System could operate inside them without danger of the planet farthest from the sun striking the shell. He told me of the nebulae, which might be giant universes in the making, and that beyond the known limits of our universe it was possible that there were countless others, stretching on into infinity.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Such, Kline averred, was the long-remembered inspiration of his interplanetary romances. He made no mention of Burroughs’ immensely successful stories of John Carter, the Warlord of Barsoom. It is hard to believe that he was totally unaware of them, and yet . . .
Decades later, during the massive Burroughs revival of the 1960s and long after the demise of both authors, Robert A. W. Lowndes of Avalon Books and Donald Wollheim of Ace Books resurrected Kline’s interplanetary romances and jungle adventures. Wollheim told me personally that he had tried to obtain publication rights to the Burroughs novels but been unable to get any response from the Burroughs interests, and published the Kline titles instead. In any case, once Kline’s interplanetaries were available to a mass market the bonfire of controversy was reignited.
Throughout the 1930s Kline and Price maintained their friendship and collaborated from time to time on literary and even culinary projects. By this time Kline had established himself as a literary agent, and was one of his own more popular clients. In the same era, Price recalled,
“Otis sent me the synopsis and character sketches of several stories he had long hoped to write. There was ever less chance for him to get at these projects. One was a space opera serial Satans on Saturn, widely damned as the worst of Kline and the worst of Price.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In his memoir, Price goes on to relate Kline’s unsuccessful attempts to market the serial. His prime market, Argosy, turned it down. Working his way through more conventional science fiction outlets, Kline finally reached Thrilling Wonder Stories, where he pleaded with editor Leo Margulies to take the novel for a token price of $250.
“Leo said, ‘I’d not publish this God-damned mess if you paid me $250!’ ”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
By this time, however, a new editor had arrived at Argosy so Kline gave that magazine another try and sold Satans on Saturn for $750! The story was serialized in five weekly installments starting with the issue of Argosy dated November 2, 1940.
Despite Price’s own poor opinion of Satans on Saturn, it reads as a perfectly respectable and enjoyable example of its type. Space opera? Of course! On a par with the very best works of Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, or Edward Elmer Smith? Perhaps not, but certainly far better than Price’s own description and light-years superior to some of the inferior works produced in the US and UK during the “mushroom” years of out-of-hand publishing in the 1950s and ’60s.
How much of the text is Price’s work and how much is Kline’s is subject to speculation. Price records that the original idea was Kline’s. The rhythm and style of the prose seems to sway between the two, and one might speculate that since the narrative involves two major protagonists, each author penned the chapters narrated from the viewpoint of each.
Satans on Saturn takes place in the traditional version of the solar system, in which all the planets are pretty much like the Earth — only more so. In this model, Mars is cold and dry, rather like the Gobi desert. Venus is hot and moist, rather like the Amazon rain forest. Mercury is hot on one side, frigid on the other, with a livable, temperate, twilight zone separating the two. And so on.
In Satans on Saturn the planet Jupiter has a solid surface and a hot climate, while its moons are frigid but habitable. The Saturnians are giant, bat-winged, and horned. They bear a remarkable resemblance to the Overlords in Arthur C. Clarke’s important novel Childhood’s End (1953). The novel was developed from an earlier Clarke short story first published in 1946.
Could Clarke, an avid science fiction fan in his early twenties when Satans on Saturn was serialized in Argosy, have come across a run of issues and read the story in its serial form? It is entirely possible that he had read Satans on Saturn and developed his Overlords from Kline and Price’s Saturnians. A caveat, however, must be expressed. This notion is purely speculative; should any evidence emerge to support it, the science fiction world will surely take note with great surprise.
Another aspect of Satans on Saturn which causes the modern reader to shudder is the recurring theme of humans being sent “to the ovens” by the Saturnians, and the Saturnians using “privileged” humans — in effect, turncoats — as overseers of human slave laborers in exchange for being spared “the ovens.”
By the time Kline and Price were working on Satans on Saturn, Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” had not yet come into being, and one may be sure that neither Kline nor Price would have wished to borrow this monstrous crime for use in a lightweight science fiction novel.
Otis Kline died long before the pulp magazine field withered and died. Ed Price enjoyed a long and productive life. He pursued a number of professions after his chosen literary markets had disappeared. He was a professional photographer of note. But he never lost his fondness for telling fantastic tales.
In 1967 a small collection of his short stories was issued by Arkham house under the title Strange Gateways. In 1975 a much larger collection, Far Lands, Other Days, was published by Carcosa. The stories in both of these books were gleaned from his contributions to the pulps.
Then in 1979, at the age of eighty one, he returned to writing and between 1979 and 1986 he produced six novels. Two of these are classified as fantasies: The Devil Wives of Li Fong and The Jade Enchantress. The others are a science fiction tetralogy: Operation Misfit, Operation Longlife, Operation Exile, and Operation Isis.
The day he departed this vale of tears, Edgar Hoffmann Price was found slumped over his typewriter, a partial manuscript on the platen.
The present Surinam Turtle Press edition is the first book edition of Satans on Saturn, and as far as we have been able to determine, the first republication, ever, of the 1940 serial. As such, it makes a valuable addition to the world library of science fiction.
As lagniappe, we have added two short stories by E. Hoffmann Price and a novelette by Otis Adelbert Kline.
“Web of Wizardry” is an example of the so-called Oriental Story of which Price was a master. Adventure tales set in the Middle East or in Asia, these stories are marked by their exotic settings and by a fascination with Eastern cultures, in this case those of the Arab-Muslim world. They are often, although not always, laced with elements of fantasy.
“Selene Slays by Night” is another fantasy by Price, but far different from “Web of Wizardry.” A skillful blending of whimsy and horror, “Selene” has a realistic, contemporary setting, an unusual venue for a Price story.
Both of these stories appeared in 1942 Spicy Mystery Stories, a pulp magazine that was ultimately suppressed because of its risqué contents. To the modern reader, a typical Spicy story would read like a tepid romance, but in its day attitudes were very different.
Otis Adelbert Kline’s “The Man from the Moon” was first published in 1930 in Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback’s pioneering science fiction magazine, although by 1930 Gernsback had lost control of Amazing and was publishing the Wonder group of magazines.
An odd story in its structure, “The Man from the Moon” is half earthbound exotic adventure tale, half space opera. The latter half is especially significant in that it describes an ancient solar system and the circumstances under which both Mars and Earth’s moon were brought to the condition in which modern astronomers know them.
We have noted elsewhere that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ version of Mars — Barsoom — is warmer, wetter, and more densely atmospheric than the present Mars. This has led to an exercise in Higher Criticism that suggests that Burroughs’ heroic earthmen were transported not merely across space but through time as well, to find themselves on ancient Barsoom. While most of Kline’s interplanetaries are set on Venus, he did transport an earthly adventurer to the red planet in Outlaws of Mars and his rationale for the differences between that planet’s ancient condition and its modern state is convincingly presented in “The Man from the Moon.”
The alert reader will have noticed that this book is titled Satans of Saturn, in keeping with many novels by Otis Adelbert Kline. The novel, Satans on Saturn, is as titled in its serial form in Argosy. The spectacular cover illustration is the work of Allen Koszowski. The black and white illustrations originally appeared in Argosy magazine; they were, regrettably, not credited.
— Richard A. Lupoff