Pattern for Conquest

The third title and first true science fiction book that Gnome published, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, March, April, and May 1946. The argument over whether fantasy and science fiction are part of the same genre, two distinctly separate genres, or opposite sides of the same coin is as old as arguments about genre. The pulps regularly ran fantasies alongside proto-science fiction stories in the early part of the century. Weird Tales and Unknown featured names who could as easily be found in science fiction titles. H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Color out of Space” first appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories. NCG, Prime Press, and Shasta: Publishers all started their lines with fantasy books. Fantasy Press, however, was all science fiction. Greenberg would have seen it as completely natural to start with books by well-known names who happened to be writing fantasy, even if they were exploring widely disparate ends of that spectrum.

Readers looked at the field differently. Fantasy was in one of its periodic declines, while science fiction had boomed in the post-atomic world. The Carnelian Cube sold poorly; Owen didn’t sell at all. Whether Greenberg understood what was happening at the time is unclear; the evidence indicates that he did but books have to be purchased and put into production long before sales figures for previous titles can come in and we know that he had a stack of titles in inventory. Whether by fortune or design he hit on the perfect book to give his faltering line a boost. Look at this flap copy:

Jumping forward in time several hundred years, the reader finds himself in a future where space travel is commonplace. Spaceships of mankind crisscross from planet to planet, carrying civilization out of our Solar System to the stars beyond. Alien people are encountered on strange worlds and fascinating situations are experienced. Vast fleets of spaceships clash in battle.

Fascinating situations are experienced. Doesn’t that grab you by the ears? It ain’t easy, but if you ignore that giant flat tire, the rest of the car is beautiful. Spaceships. Aliens. Space battles. The future, or really, the Future! Edd Cartier, who was also producing art for Gnome’s calendars at the same time, drew a throwback 30s cover of two barechested futuremen – in shorts that would embarrass a superhero – who who are pulling blasters out of their holsters to stage a show-down in front of an uncircumcised phallic spaceship. This was Gnome’s first cover to scream Science Fiction. It would get confiscated if you dared sneak a peek at it in English class, but that was a feature for readers at the time. Another alien? futureman? stares out at the reader from the spine. The orange and black Halloweeny colors are broken by a blob of white containing the word “CONQUEST.” As with almost everything at Gnome, this comes with a story. Cartier got so carried away with his art that he accidentally spelled Conquest without the “s”. Kyle had to paste the proper spelling back in, and for some reason changing the background made it look better.

But it’s the rear cover that tells the best story of all, at least to historians looking back at Gnome. To emphasize thatGnome sf image Gnome published science fiction, right under the banner headline GNOME SCIENCE FICTION IS BEST! a comically large-eared alien in a transparent bubble space helmet is pictured reading a book that is labeled GNOME PRESS SCIENCE FICTION on its rear cover. Aliens apparently read right to left, as in Hebrew or Arabic. The Elf under the toadstool official logo is smaller and at the bottom of the page. Half the titles on the page are still fantasy, though. From now through the end of Gnome’s run science fiction subsumed fantasy as the label for what the press published.

Gnome’s back covers were advertising for the press, not for the author. That seems somewhat odd to us today, either because we associate back covers with blurbs and promotion of the author or because we question why all publishers don’t do something so obviously useful. Take a look at this page of Robert Heinlein covers, though. A pattern immediately emerges. The science fiction small presses used the covers to promote themselves; the major, mainstream publishers like Scribner’s and Doubleday promoted Heinlein. They could afford to. They knew that any books they published would find their way into all the bookstores of the country almost automatically. The small sf presses had no such luxury and needed readers to make an effort to reach out to them. Small wonder that the bottom of the cover reads “ORDER NOW FROM YOUR LOCAL BOOK DEALER OR THE GNOME PRESS“. (The address listed, 421 Claremont Parkway, New York 57, was Greenberg’s own house in The Bronx.) Distribution was the bête noire of small presses. No specialty science fiction bookstores existed. If the books were to be seen, bookstores had to know about them, order them, and receive them. All were huge tasks for firms with one or two employees, made more urgent by the ever-growing piles of books sitting in the office, or the warehouse, or at the printers. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of bookstore orders had to be processed promptly and properly, with all the follow-up paperwork for sales, payments, re-orders, demands for payments, shipments, returns, and threats on both sides eating up every spare moment. All for books that were a small slice of a tiny niche of a sideline to the regular book industry.

Pattern for Conquest BACK coverSo Greenberg touted himself every chance he got. The rear covers of almost all the Gnome books serve overtly as advertisements for Gnome, and covertly as wishful forecasts of what he hoped Gnome would become.

The box on the left side on Pattern for Conquest’s back cover is example number one. “Some Copies Still Available of:” The Carnelian Cube and The Porcelain Magician. “Many,” “Lots,” or “Huge Piles” Still Available wouldn’t have given the image of a successful company that he had to put forward. Even odder is the headline above, “CRITICS PRAISE THESE BEST-SELLING TITLES,” said titles being Robert A. Heinlein’s Sixth Column and a collection of Nelson Bond stories, The Thirty-First of February. From today’s perspective, nothing is amiss about a critic praising these titles, but in 1949, technically speaking, they hadn’t yet been published. They were the two books following Pattern for Conquest. Critics may have seen advance copies, but I have no evidence that they did. The only reference to either book in a search of is from the Reno Evening Gazette on Dec. 27, 1949. The Washoe County Library had added The Thirty-First of February to its collection. Listed under Non-fiction. Imagine that librarian’s face when the first reader pointed that out.

It’s more than likely, though, that Sixth Column and Pattern for Conquest were released at or very near the same time. The rear cover for the Heinlein book is identical except that a listing of Pattern for Conquest appears where the Sixth Column listing had been. Bond’s book is the unusual exception that promotes Bond instead of Gnome, probably because they had gotten an introduction from then famed author James Branch Cabell to publicize.

The seven titles on the right-hand side of the page would become Gnome titles number 6, 8, 7, 11, 9, and 15. (CHALKER and KEMP both give this order. The first edition of Chalker has a different chronology, but that’s apparently incorrect.) I’m not playing a game with this: that’s really only six. There’s a story behind that. In fact multiple untold stories can be teased out of that list. This is the sort of hidden-in-plain-sight history that Ph.D. candidates only dream of for their dissertations.

Start from the top. The 1949 buyer would see something very cool. “THE BEST BUY OF 1950! An exciting new type of science fiction anthology” Magazines were ephemeral. You bought them during the short window they appeared at a newsstand or, if you were lucky, obtained them from someone who had. Any story you missed was gone forever, unless it happened to appear in one of the cheaper mags that relied on reprints to bulk out their contents page. After seeing magazines get away with this, publishers slowly realized that an audience existed for reading major stories of the past that were unavailable to current readers.

The first anthology that fell within the genre of f&sf was The Other Worlds: 25 Modern Stories Of Mystery & Imagination, edited by Phil Stong and published by Garden City Publishing Co., Inc. in 1941. The contents reflected the mishmash that was f&sf in those days, a mixture of old fantasy and weird tales, modern horror, and that new-fangled scientifiction stuff. (See: “Scientifiction” as a term is today associated with Gernsback and the 1920s, but it lasted a good long while and came to be the term that the general public used to describe the genre. Orwell used it in a 1940 essay and Stong’s introduction refers to it frequently. Only the small fan community used “science fiction” to refer to the field in the 1930s, but that was about to change.

Possibly the most influential, and certainly most active, insider’s insider was Donald A. Wollheim. As a fan he organized the first science fiction convention. He was part of Gernsback’s New York Science Fiction League, and then helped form the Futurians when schisming fans left the League. He started the Fantasy Amateur Press Association. He wrote sf beginning in 1934 and edited sf starting in 1940. And in 1943 he got Pocket Books, by far the leading paperback publisher in the country, to put out The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, which may be the very first title to include the words science fiction. Included are early proto-sf stories, but more importantly he ran stories almost hot off the presses from Campbell’s Astounding. Except in this brief series that also included The Pocket Book of Mystery Stories and The Pocket Book of Ghost Stories, Pocket never did another sf anthology in this era, so Wollheim moved to Avon and began cranking out Avon Fantasy Readers starting in 1947. The occasional indisputable science fiction story snuck in – heck, the first story in the first issue was Murray Leinster’s “The Power Planet” – but mostly the series was geared around names like A. Merritt, Robert A. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft. Fletcher Platt appeared in issue #2. The trend line was obvious, though, and Wollheim put out the Avon Science Fiction Reader starting in 1951 and followed that with two issues of an Avon SF and Fantasy Reader in 1953.

Greenberg must have had a more immediate concern. As a nexus in the small world of science fiction, he probably knew in advance that Wollheim would be editing a major anthology for the mainstream publisher Frederick Fell that would be a theme anthology with individual stories set on the nine planets, the Moon, the asteroid belt, and even the Sun. It would be called Flight Into Space: Great Science Fiction Stories of Interplanetary Travel. Having tiny Gnome be the first to publish a theme anthology – something that author and editor Ellery Queen had already proved valuable in the mystery field – would be a coup.

Men Against the Stars: An Anthology Arranged as a Future Story of the Conquest of Space would be Gnome title #6, the first of its books to appear in 1950. The race against Wollheim is the only reason I can think of for touting the forthcoming anthology on Pattern for Conquest and Sixth Column without a title or editor’s name. Think about it. The point of listing these titles was to goad readers to order these titles, in advance if possible. How do you order such a book from your book dealer? Even if you brought in the cover all you could do was point to the description and ask the dealer to do the work of contacting Gnome to figure out what the heck it was. I’ve never seen anything similar on the back of any title in any field. There has to be a story behind it. Bragging rights are the best explanation.

It worked. Ever since, historians of Gnome and sf in general point to Men Against the Stars as the first theme sf anthology. Greenberg himself doesn’t quite claim this, though. In his Foreward he calls it “a science fiction anthology which, taken in its entirety, tells a complete story.” Why the difference? Maybe because by 1950 he knew that the race was lost. Dell Books #305, published in 1949, was Invasion from Mars: Interplanetary Stories, selected by Orson Welles. Howard Koch’s radio script for “The War of the Worlds” leads off the volume, and the others are stories by big names – including Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Sturgeon, Leinster, and Nelson Bond – from mostly minor and therefore harder to find magazines. It’s unquestionably a theme sf anthology and unquestionably earlier than Men Against the Stars and unquestionably would have been seen by an audience 100 times larger, especially with Welles’ name on the cover. You can’t control your destiny. Greenberg would run smack into this wall over and over in Gnome’s short history.

Another example appears in the list of six books that follows, under GNOME PRESS BOOKS FOR SPRING 1950. Did Greenberg honestly think he could publish seven books (those six plus the unnamed anthology) by Spring of the next year? More likely he knew he was stretching reality just as much as any of his authors. Readers, even if they had already been burned by the unreliable schedules and short lives of the small presses, were given many reasons to suspend their disbelief. The list had something for everyone: thrilling science fiction tales of an incredible future, the first appearance of Conan in book form, fantasy from name authors.

More was promised than possibly could be delivered, though. In fact, Greenberg published a total of six books in all of 1950. Minions of Mars never saw print in that year. Or ever. Why is a mystery I’ve never seen answered. William Gray Beyer has only six titles listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (a must bookmark for any and all fans of the field), and four of the six are multi-part Minions stories. Minions of the Moon appeared in the leading pulp magazine of the time, Argosy, in 1939. Minions of Mars and Minions of Mercury followed in 1940, Minions of Shadows in 1941. As with almost every title Gnome published in those years, all Greenberg had to do was secure the rights to already written and printed stories, set them up in type, and find a cover artist. He must have had the rights or else why list the book as a forthcoming title? Did Beyer balk for some reason? He is an utterly obscure author, and no more than a sentence of biography is available to me.

As I mentioned earlier, the five books that were published included Gnome Press volumes number 7, 8, 9, and 11. Number 10 wasn’t mentioned at all. A quick peek at its back cover reveals that it wasn’t mentioned on Men Against the Stars. It wasn’t mentioned on The Castle of Iron. It wasn’t mentioned on Minions of the Moon. It wasn’t mentioned on Conan the Conqueror. It wasn’t mentioned on Cosmic Engineers. It was never mentioned at all by name by Gnome before it suddenly appeared in bookstores. The name of this volume not worthy of publicity? I, Robot.

This is another deep mystery. Asimov wasn’t the powerhouse he is today, but he was many levels above Beyer in the sf hierarchy. The robot stories were half of his claim to fame along with the Foundation stories. Since Gnome would publish the Foundation trilogy starting in 1951, Greenberg must have already had a relationship with him that he would want to protect. The one clue that may possibly have a bearing on this puzzler is the last story in the collection. “The Evitable Conflict” wasn’t even published for the first time until the June 1950 issue of Astounding. The story, of course, had been written and sent in months earlier, and Asimov bundled it up with his other robot stories and got it in to Gnome on June 8, 1950. Greenberg might have been reluctant to publicize a book whose full content wasn’t in his hands. Conversely, he may have been so excited to pull off this coup that he turned the entire book around in such a rush – it was apparently published on December 2 – that all of his other covers were already locked in stone and unchangeable in time. Either way, the omission tells us a good deal about the uncertainty and haphazard nature of the business in 1949.

One more untold story lies in the last title on the page, Typewriter in the Sky. Hubbard was a well-known name at the time and still published stories regularly through 1949 and into 1950. The two stories here – the other being “Fear” – were from 1940 so needing to wait upon publication couldn’t be an issue. 1950 notably saw Hubbard’s blockbuster “nonfiction” bestseller Dianetics and that may have thrown a wrench into Greenberg’s schedule. Did Hubbard not want both books to appear at the same time? At any rate, the Gnome book got bumped into the middle of 1951.

Gnome would continue to use almost every one of its back covers as advertisements for itself, to paraphrase Mailer, but none of them are as deep with story and intrigue and archaeological significance as Pattern for Conquest. It’s a treasure chest as wonderful as any pirate’s and far more real.

August Derleth reviewed the book in the February 24, 1950 Madison Capital Times:

This is typical interplanetary fiction fare, neither better nor worse than average.

Pattern for Conquest, by George O. Smith, 1949, 16 Nov 49, title #3, 252 pages, $2.50. 5000 copies printed: 3000 bound as hardback 1949; 2000 bound as trade paperback, 1952? or 5000 hardback copies printed 1949; 2000 trade paperback copies printed 1952. [sources disagree]

“FIRST EDITION” stated on copyright page. Jacket design by Edd Cartier. Gnome Press address given as 421 Claremont Parkway, New York 57. No printer designated. Back cover lists 11 titles, through Typewriter in the Sky, with Men Against the Stars described without a title given.

1) Hardback, light orange cloth with darker orange lettering on spine.

2) Trade paperback, front cover identical to hardback; back cover is blank white. Spine reads PATTERN FOR CONQUEST by George O. Smith in black lettering on white background. “FIRST EDITION” stated on copyright page but is later issue.

Pattern for Conquest front jacket cover

Pattern for Conquest jacket flaps

Pattern for Conquest orange coverPattern for Conquest pb cover

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.