A funny thing happened on the way to preparing the second collection by Evelyn E. Smith, (Call Me Wizard, which will be a later book in this series) . . . this volume happened . . . During a conversation with my good friend D.H. Olson, (who has helped behind the scenes on more of my projects than it would be possible to list here); I was rattling off the titles of the preceding books in the series and those planned for the future when he suggested I consider a collection by Charles De Vet, with the comment that all of his work was in the 1950s and 1960s, but that that timeframe might be too recent for me. I replied that while we do indeed go back to the 1930s, the “sweet spot” for this series is actually the 1940s through the 1960s, so that an author whose work was primarily in the 1950s and 1960s would actually be right in our sweet spot. I recalled reading some De Vet stories, enjoying them, but I couldn’t recall exactly where and asked where I should start looking . . .
Dwayne replied that his work had shown up everywhere from Imagination to Planet Stories to Galaxy and If; and that, knowing my collection of pulps and digest magazines, I was bound to have quite a bit of his work on hand. I said, “He sounds like he’s exactly the type of author this series is all about . . . Prolific in the magazines and underrepresented in terms of short story collections, much like Robert F. Young and C.C. MacApp, they were everywhere at their peak and pretty much out-of-print now . . .” (I fully realize that Robert F. Young has two excellent collections published during his lifetime and a splendid sampling of his work released as an e-book a few years ago. However, those three publications account for about 10-12% of his short fiction. That’s still under-represented as far as I’m concerned.)
C.C. MacApp. Oddly enough, until that moment I hadn’t really considered a MacApp collection. Certainly I remembered his novels, most of which were expansions of novellas that ran in Galaxy, Worlds of Tomorrow and If; and even more importantly for us, I recalled the excellent novelettes such as “The Mercurymen”, “Prisoners of the Sky” (both the original novelette and the book-length expansion), and the tales that chronicled mankind’s battles against the Gree and the Gaddyl. My recollection was that during the mid-1960s he seemed to be in every issue of the Galaxy Publishing trio. And as far as I knew his short fiction had never been collected.
And with that an evening of digging through several boxes of magazines followed. As it turns out, I owned nearly every magazine that Mr. MacApp had appeared in and thus I was in a much better position to work on this book than on the De Vet collection, (which will appear in due course). While I was an admirer of MacApp’s fiction, I didn’t know a great deal about the man himself. It was no secret that behind the byline was San Francisco chess master, Carroll M. Capps (in fact, one of his novels was released with his real name on the cover and the copyright attributed to the pseudonym!). Several phone calls to Bay Area friends who might have met him revealed that while very active in chess circles, Capps didn’t seem to have much of (if any) presence in SF fandom. However, every person I talked to had fond memories of his stories (though, oddly enough, no one mentioned the same stories, perhaps indicative as to why I remembered him as being in nearly every magazine . . .).
As it turns out, I had misremembered the volume of MacApp’s output. As opposed to appearing in every issue of the three magazines as I had remembered, his actual body of work totaled less than thirty stories. Why such a strong impression then? Two words, quality and variety. As to variety, readers familiar with these stories who are buying the book simply for the convenience of having all these terrific tales in one place would likely agree that “Somewhere in Space” is as different from “A Flask of Fine Arcturan” as “The Mercurymen” is from “All that Earthly Remains,” and none of these bear much resemblance to “Trees Like Torches” or “The Drug”. MacApp’s versatility is almost Kuttneresque, and truly remarkable when one considers, that with a couple of exceptions, the content of this volume is all from the early years of his career (1960-1965). That this collection is comprised primarily of early stories was not at all by design. Those of you familiar with my patterns in assembling single-author collections know that I generally eschew chronological collections in favor of presenting as wide a variety of an author’s work as possible in each collection, so as to show their full range to best advantage. It just so happens that the three volumes of non-series MacApp stories that took shape did so almost of their own accord and it turned out to be this first book which is comprised mainly of early work, the second volume draws mostly from the last years of his career, and the third volume mainly from 1965-1966 (his peak period, when he also has the popular “Gree” series running in Worlds of Tomorrow).
That I speak of MacApp’s career in three parts may seem a bit odd, as his entire career spanned just over a decade, beginning with the publication of “A Pride of Islands” in May of 1960 and ending with “Hot World” in November of 1971. However, looking at his bibliography, his career does indeed break up into three parts, just ten science fiction stories and two fantasy novelettes published from 1960-1964, the “Gree years” of 1965-1966, where most of his efforts concerned this series, and then a veritable explosion or “nova” starting in 1967 that saw seven books published and over a dozen excellent stories, most of which were at least novelette length.
Sadly, C.C. MacApp’s life and writing career share some unfortunate commonalities with another popular author in this series, Malcolm Jameson. Both began writing (or at least selling) rather late in life (in their forties), and both died far too young. MacApp was in his early fifties when he passed away in 1971 and, in terms of popularity, just beginning to hit his stride. Having expanded several novellas into novel length, his publishers were no doubt hungry for more and we can only speculate that he would have responded with several more novels.
Another similarity with Jameson, is that he started out at a fairly high level and went up from there. His first story, “A Pride of Islands,” written in 1960, was picked up for an anthology appearance alongside heavyweights like R.A. Lafferty and Daniel F. Galouye in 1965, the same year that “The Mercurymen” was a contender for the Nebula Award. When we look at the quality and quantity of his production during the last five years of his life there’s little doubt that he was well on the way to being a major name in the field. Had he been granted anything like a normal span of years, (say, even to age 72), it’s reasonable to speculate that even if had he slowed just a bit in later years, we might well have seen something on the order of another forty or so stories of substantial length and perhaps as many as two-dozen novels!
One of the most interesting features of MacApp’s work considering the time when he debuted is that (much to his credit) he seems to have ignored the New Wave entirely. Not that he was a reactionary like Lester Del Rey and some other authors from the so-called “Golden Age” who loudly proclaimed that the New Wave would be the death of science fiction. No, it was more a case of MacApp ignoring both sides of the raging debate as he quietly went about his business turning out one excellent story after another. As an aside, despite Sturgeon’s Law being true of the New Wave, the 10% that was good was very good indeed, Some of the best material it produced is still eminently readable today, with works by the likes of Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Samuel Delaney, Thomas Disch, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny rightfully being considered classics today. On the other hand, more traditional authors such as Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Daniel F. Galouye, Keith Laumer, Katherine MacLean, Clifford D. Simak, and Richard Wilson were producing some of their best work and, of course, the awesomely talented quartet of Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jack Vance stood above the fray like Olympians peering down at Troy by virtue of having always been so brilliant and original that all four men could be said to have been “new waves” unto themselves.
But back to C.C. MacApp. Unlike many authors who debuted in the early sixties, his work was much more in the mode of the traditionalists, which may go a long way to explaining MacApp’s general absence from Judith Merrill’s “Year’s Greatest” anthologies. The Merrill anthologies became progressively more idiosyncratic after the editor’s pronouncement that the “S” stood for “speculative” as opposed to science. Apparently no one was on hand to gently inform Ms. Merrill that all fiction is, by definition “speculative.” Coinciding with MacApp’s ascent to the top ranks in the field was a growing loss of credibility in a series that snubbed stories such as “The Mercurymen” and “The Fortunes of Peace” in order to make room for what passes for poetry by Randall Garrett, macabre cartoons and nearly anything from mainstream magazines that could conceivably earn the rubric of “SF”.
Were I editing a “Year’s Best” back then, I’d have to say that most years from 1960-1969 would feature a MacApp tale. In fairness to Ms. Merrill and also to Messrs. Carr and Wollheim (who only selected a couple of his tales for their annual anthology), it’s likely that the author’s preferred working length was one thing that worked against him. Many editors are somewhat gun-shy about using novelettes and looking at my list of the MacApp pieces that I’d consider necessary to include in a “Year’s Best” collection, only two are truly short stories, three come in at just under 10,000 words, and three tip the scales at well over 20,000 words! Most editors would be very likely to turn away from these tales is favor of using three or even four shorter pieces and thus getting more names on the table of contents. Just in case anyone ever gives me a chance to do a series of retro “Year’s Best” anthologies, here are the MacApp stories that you can expect to see:
1960 – “A Pride of Islands”
1964 – “Somewhere in Space” (As much as I like “For Every Action”, I’d opt for the longer piece.)
1965 – “The Mercurymen”
1966 – “Prisoners of the Sky”
1967 – “The Fortunes of Peace”
1968 – “Where the Subbs Go”
1969 – “Mad Ship”
A pretty impressive listing, and while I don’t feel anything from the missing years quite meets “Year’s Best” criteria, he certainly had good stories in the missing years, but the competition was exceedingly fierce as well. As to the lack of awards (and only one nomination, that for “The Mercurymen”), there was a odd tendency from the late fifties through the mid-seventies to bestow awards and nominations for same in the short fiction categories primarily to those authors who were also novelists, (the notable exception to this phenomena was Harlan Ellison). Certainly one line of thought would have it that writers who are successful enough to sell novels are probably at least commercially competent and thus their short fiction is also probably of a fairly high level; but I’m not one to discount the tendency of people to vote for familiar names when push comes to shove and I suspect that a lot of excellent magazine writers got the short end of the stick in this regard. The Ellison exception is likely due to two things: the exceptional quality of his work which simply could not be ignored, and his very visible public persona which more than made up for a lack of novels. (After all, I don’t think there’s a science fiction fan who was alive during the 1960s that didn’t own, or at least read, Dangerous Visions.)
By the end of the decade MacApp was appearing regularly in paperback, mostly with expansions of novelettes into novels. In all cases, these expansions are quite successful and read as though they were planned at that length in the first place. I suspect that few readers would know that Worlds of the Wall, Prisoners of the Sky, Subb, and Omaha Abides all had their genesis as shorter works in Amazing, If, Galaxy and Worlds of Tomorrow if the data wasn’t on the copyright page. Unlike many instances, where the expanded work merely seems a short story with a case of the bloat, MacApp’s expansions are all effective as novels.
Of course, with this mining of earlier material, one has to wonder what a hypothetical future career would have looked like. Would MacApp have jumped into the paperback original market with both feet, creating completely new worlds, or would he have continued working at the novella or novelette length and then expanding select works to a longer form? Sadly, we’ll never know.
I like to think that we probably would have seen some truly intriguing new worlds and new societies postulated. After all, one of MacApp’s real strengths was convincing world-building. His alien societies while having some reference points to Terran analogues still manage to convey that sense of true otherworldliness that is so much a part of the sense of wonder that can be instilled by the best science fiction. This book presents eleven very different worlds from the fertile imagination of Carroll M. Capps, we hope you enjoy visiting them all.
Near Area 51