Complete Book of Outer Space, The

Starting in the late 1940s, a group of enthusiasts, “space-happy” in Robert Heinlein’s term, engaged in an open campaign outside the pages of science fiction magazines to convince the U.S. public that exploring space with rockets was the single most important thing mankind could do in the 1950s. Heinlein’s 1950 movie, Destination Moon, was the first major public example. A series of high profile special issues of Collier’s magazine, then a striving rival to Life and Look, ran under the collective title of “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” The first issue, March 1952, with art by Chesley Bonestell and others, featured articles by Willy Ley, Dr. Wernher von Braun, and Dr. Hans Haber, with more articles in October, all collected into an expanded version under the title Conquest of the Moon, which was published as an oversized hardback in 1953 by the prestigious Viking Press. The articles were drawn from lectures given at The First Symposium on Space Flight, held on Columbus Day, October 12, 1951, at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

Call them the Usual Suspects. Before they got to the Moon, they conquered every form of media, culminating with the biggest prize of all. The 1954-55 television season saw the launch of Disneyland, a program explicitly designed to propagandize for Disney’s theme park of the same name. It ran on ABC, and the network also helped bankroll the park’s development. Each episode was tied in to one of the park’s section, like Frontierland or Adventureland. Tomorrowland was a problem. Not until the 20th episode, the last one of the first season, airing March 9, 1955, did Disney present a Tomorrowland episode, titled “Man in Space” replete with a cartoon history of rockets and interviews with… Ley, Haber, and von Braun. Forty million people watched and it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short.

In the meantime, Jerry Mason, author and editor, had founded Maco Magazine Corporation in 1953. Rather than issuing titles on a regular monthly basis, Maco put out single-topic publications in magazine format, which allowed them to be heavily illustrated with pictures and drawings at a lower cost. Over the years Maco put out titles like The Complete Book of Gardening and Lawn Care, The Complete Book of Cats, The Complete Book of Fishing Tackle, The Complete Book of Horses, The Complete Book of House Plants, and Jim Beard’s Complete Cookbook for Entertaining, essentially a compendia of 1950s obsessions and stereotypes, especially when his Marilyn Monroe Pin Ups is included. Her body funded Mason’s publishing empire just as it did for Hugh Hefner’s contemporary Playboy magazine.

Though it’s hard to believe that the RoI was as great, Mason exploited the Usual Suspects for The Complete Book of Outer Space, reprinting the series of lectures they had done for the Second Symposium on Space Flight at Hayden Planetarium, October 13, 1952. To bulk out the issue, he added a few other presumably sellable names like Dr. Leslie R. Shephard, Technical Director of the British Interplanetary Society, Dr. Donald H. Menzel, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, and Hugo Gernsback himself, who had printed their articles in his short-lived 1953 magazine Science-Fiction Plus. Editor Jeffrey Logan contributed the only new content: “The Spaceship in Science Fiction,” replete with wonderful images from old magazine covers, and “The Flying Saucer Myth,” mocking it with a blurry photo of a featureless white ball that could have been anything.

Three additional articles appear, mentioned in the Acknowledgements to “Hugo Gernsback, for permission to reprint his own article; Reaction Motors, Inc., for the article by James Wyld; the American Rocket Society for a second article by Dr. von Braun” but I haven’t been able to track down the original sources.

Chesley Bonestell’s pictures lose 99% of their punch in black and white but the hundreds of other photos made it superior in its overall coverage to the far more expensive Conquest of the Moon. It must have sold well, because Mason released a second edition (with a bare-bones cover) in 1957, although that one is almost forgotten today. The mention of “The Flying Saucer Myth” was removed, indicating how thoroughly the fad had died out.

The Complete Book of Outer Space Maco 1953 The Complete Book of Outer Space Maco 1957

Marty Greenberg saw a niche to exploit. Libraries were a prime market for him, now that science fiction appeared in hardcovers and had gained a modicum of respectability; many of his Young Adult titles were aimed almost exclusively at a library market. Libraries needed hardbacks for their sturdiness. Why not bind the magazine and sell a hardcover edition to libraries with the Gnome imprint? He had an in and a head start: Logan had dipped into his Travelers of Space anthology and reprinted Willy Ley’s introduction to that volume.

Greenberg grabbed 3000 copies, put them in the cheapest yellow boards he could find, and copied the magazine’s cover, merely swapping out the Maco logo for Gnome’s own and removing the blue overlay. The result is the largest Gnome release, a shelf-busting 247×169 mm. He didn’t change a word inside, which doesn’t mention Gnome anywhere except in the Acknowledgements. So slavishly did he copy that the magazine’s endpaper illustrations have captions that refer to them even though the illustrations themselves were left out of this printing. In a concession to his presumed audience he removed all the Conan titles from the list of Gnome’s “Outstanding Science Fiction Books” on the rear flap. There would be no fantasy in the Space Age.

Less explicable is that the book did not appear in any subsequent listings for a full year, until 1954’s Conan the Barbarian, title #39, where it appeared as THE COMPLETE BOOK OF OUTER SPACE, by Willey Ley & Others. Giving the credit to the ultra-popular Ley makes merchandising sense: misspelling his name as Willey is unfathomable. The mistake is corrected for title #40, Undersea Quest, where the credits are extended to “Willy Ley, von Braun, etc.” That is replicated on title #41, Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars, but title #42, Northwest of Earth, repeats Conan the Barbarian’s back cover in its entirety, including the misspelling. Title #43, The Forgotten Planet, makes several changes to the novel listing but keeps the misspelling. That back page is copied for #44, Lost Continents, but title #45, Prelude to Space, bizarrely retreats back to the back covers used on #40 and #41. In 1955 the ludicrous error is finally fixed. A new back cover design is introduced on title #46, Star Bridge, listing all books alphabetically by author so that “Ley, Willy & Others” is found after Leinster, Murray. That design is replicated on title #47, Address:Centauri, title #48, Sargasso of Space, title #49, Tales of Conan, title #50, This Fortress World, title #52, Reprieve from Paradise, and title #53 Science Fiction Terror Tales. Problem solved, right? Look carefully. I skipped Greenberg’s own anthology, All About the Future, title #51, which goes back to the Lost Continents cover design, keeping the Willey misspelling intact – even though more recent titles have been added so somebody certainly worked on the cover. What’s weird – if that word has any meaning at this point – that the covers on #44 through #53 (except #51) are identical, so that Groff Conklin’s anthology Science Fiction Terror Tales is listed seven volumes before it was published. Highways in Hiding, title #54, breaks the streak with a revised listing. The Complete Book of Science Fiction is gone, never again to be mentioned. Fate was not done laughing, even so. Science Fiction Terror Tales is now credited to Grof – one f – Conklin and that mistake would stay on the next five covers, until the title was removed forever starting with The Shrouded Planet, title #59.

Groff Conklin reviewed it for the May 1954 Galaxy:

It’s a weird miscellany … but generally an exciting one.

Contents and original publication:

• “[untitled preface]” by Kenneth MacLeish (original to this volume)
• “A Preview of the Future: Introduction” [no author credited]
• “Development of the Space Ship” by Willy Ley (Hayden Planetarium lecture)
• “Station in Space” by Dr. Wernher von Braun (Hayden Planetarium lecture)
• “Space Medicine” by Dr. Heinz Haber (Hayden Planetarium lecture)
• “Space Suits” by Dr. Donald H. Menzel (Science-Fiction Plus, May 1953, as “Future Space Suits”)
• “The Altitude Program” by Robert P. Haviland (Hayden Planetarium lecture)
• “History of the Rocket Engine” by James H. Wyld (reprint from Reaction Motors, Inc.)
• “Legal Aspects of Space Travel” by Oscar Schacter (Hayden Planetarium lecture)
• “Exploitation of the Moon” by Hugo Gernsback (reprint from unknown source)
• “Life Beyond the Earth” by Willy Ley (Travelers of Space, edited by Martin Greenberg as “Introduction: Other Life Than Ours”)
• “Interstellar Flight” by Dr. Leslie R. Shepherd (Science-Fiction Plus, April 1953)
• “The Spaceship in Science Fiction” by Jeffrey Logan (original to this volume)
• “Plea for a Coordinated Space Program” by Dr. Wernher von Braun (reprint from the American Rocket Society)
• “The Flying Saucer Myth” by Jeffrey Logan (original to this volume)
• “The Panel of Experts” [no author credited] (original to this volume)
• “Chart of the Moon Voyage” [no author credited] (original to this volume)
• “Chart of the Voyage to Mars” [no author credited] (original to this volume)
• “Timetables and Weights” [no author credited] (original to this volume)
• “Space Travel Dictionary” [no author credited] (original to this volume)

The Complete Book of Outer Space, edited by Jeffrey Logan, 1953, title #32, 144 pages, $2.50. 3000 hardbound copies printed. Yellow boards with red lettering. Jacket by Chesley Bonestell. No edition designated. Copyright MACO MAGAZINE CORPORATION. No printer designated. Rear flap: 21 titles, through Iceworld. Back cover: table of contents.

The Complete Book of Outer Space yellow boards


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