In a departure from his Adventures in Science Fiction series anthologies, Marty Greenberg plucked five longer works from John W. Campbell magazines for this anthology. Compared to those, his pet project, this is distinctly second rate – no introduction or foreward or embossed spaceship on the cover cloth. Yet it had the second largest original print run of any Gnome Press item, 6500 copies, a mark that didn’t fall until 1958 when the return of Robert A. Heinlein with Methuselah’s Children earned a 7500 copy flood of print. Many are the ways of Gnome unfathomable.
Calling these stories “novels” is another puzzler. A quick estimate puts the total word count at around 150,000, at which point modern fantasists are still introducing new characters to march to a far-distant end. Both the Hugo and Nebula Awards define an eligible novel as one of at least 40,000 words, though, a reflection of the times in which they were created. “Novels” once were almost always much shorter on average than today’s works, especially during the pulp era. Magazines liked to boast that they contained entire novels, necessitating that the word count stayed below a set maximum, and while some of these were expanded for book form, others went through as typeset. Thin paperbacks were common when those came into play in the 1950s and 1960s; two titles bound together, as in the Ace Double series, seemed to give twice the reward but generally ran only 250 pages.
Yet, even by that skimpy standard, these selections lack heft. Only the Page and Leiber entries remotely qualify as novels; the Knight and Vogt are novellas, today classed as between 17,500 and 40,000 words; the Williamson is a mere novelette, probably under 15,000 words. The book is a cheat, so much so than even contemporary reviewers recognized the fact.
Basil Davenport reviewed the book for the May 11, 1952 New York Times:
[S]o far as this reader is concerned he has marked up three hits, one near miss, and one bad miss … Jack Williamson’s “The Crucible of Power,” which is no more than a short story, even by science fiction standards.
Nancy Nye reviewed the book for the September 7, 1952 Oakland Tribune:
Editor Martin Greenberg proves that any old five stories shouldn’t be put into a book just because they are in the field of science fiction (or close to it).
Groff Conklin reviewed it for the August 1952 Galaxy:
Three good [Leiber, van Vogt, Knight], two not so good [WIlliamson, Page]…
Included below is a bookplate from the original owner, who signed his copy “April 1952.” The art contains Edd Cartier’s name and looks very much like a composite of the Gnome icons.
Contents and original publication:
• “But Without Horns,” by Norvell W. Page (Unknown, June 1940)
• “Destiny Times Three,” by Fritz Leiber, (Astounding Science Fiction, March, April 1945)
• “Crisis in Utopia,” by Norman L. Knight (Astounding Science Fiction, July, August 1940),
• “The Chronicler,” by A.E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, October, November 1946)
• “The Crucible of Power,” by Jack Williamson (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1939)
Five Science Fiction Novels, Compiled by Martin Greenberg, 1952, title #24, 382 pages, $3.50, 6500 copies printed.
Hardback, black cloth-backed spine with orange-red boards and silver lettering. Jacket design by Frank Kelly Frease [typo for Freas]. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. Colonial Press, Inc. Printers. David Kyle, Book Designer. Back cover: 15 titles. Gnome Press address is given as 80 East 11th St., N. Y. 3