“Invaders from the Infinite” is the best title from the Gernsback era of space opera; it remains among the best titles in the history of the genre. What stroke of genius led 19-year-old MIT freshman John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) to conjure it for his very first attempt at writing a superscience story is unfathomable. Almost as bizarre is the story’s aftermath. It promptly sold to the 78-year-old T. O’Conor Sloane, the editor of Amazing Stories. Who just as promptly lost it. Since Amazing paid on publication, Campbell never got a penny for that first sale. He quite properly loved the title, though, and stuck it on a novel-length work which Sloane bought and kept close tabs on until he could see it safely in print.
Campbell immediately became one of the top names in 1930s sf pulps, rivaled in space opera only by E. E. Smith. At the end of Invaders, the good guys go to battle in a thought-controlled spaceship made from compressed cosmic rays, surely a contender for the ultimate moment in superscience. Yet Campbell’s alter ego Don A. Stewart might have ranked even higher in readers’ esteem for his stories that encompassed the entire history of the universe. He then topped himself by becoming the legendary editor of Astounding Science-Fiction and Unknown in the pre-WWII days, starting at the age of twenty-seven. Not merely did he raise the perception of science fiction in the eyes of the public, especially when his constant preaching about atomic energy appeared impossibly prescient post-Hiroshima, but he almost single-handedly created the mountain of product that small press publishers like Gnome mined for a decade. Like so many others in the field, he was a complicatedly-flawed human being with enormous presence, endless ideas and energy, and accomplishments that, like a star bends space, altered the fabric of the field forever.
Greenberg was unashamedly proud to stand in Campbell’s shadow. Look at the list of Gnome books that were built from the pages of a Campbell magazine: Pattern for Conquest, Sixth Column, The Castle of Iron, I, Robot, Cosmic Engineers, Seetee Ship, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and The Fairy Chessmen, Renaissance, Typewriter in the Sky and Fear, the Foundation trilogy, The Mixed Men, City [except for the last story], Robots Have No Tails…, Judgment Night, Children of the Atom [with two original stories], Space Lawyer, Mutant, Iceworld, The Shrouded Planet, Colonial Survey, Two Sought Adventure [except the last two stories], They’d Rather Be Right, Methuselah’s Children, The Dawning Light, Agent of Vega [except the last story], and The Philosophical Corps. Moreover, Greenberg’s six anthologies of fiction, his pet project, could have culled stories from any magazine in f&sf history. In the end 47 of the 59 stories he chose were from Campbell magazines.
Even that long list insufficiently conveys the magnitude of Gnome’s debt to Campbell. In total, counting each story and each serialized section of a novel separately as that was the way readers first encountered them, Gnome eventually reprinted 191 pieces of fiction from Campbell-edited magazines and an additional seven nonfiction articles. No better compilation of the best of Campbell’s Golden Age exists anywhere in the field.
Campbell stopped writing fiction when he became editor of Astounding but was still a grand name from the Gernsback Era when the small press revolution started. Why Greenberg didn’t instantly make a play for Campbell’s own works is puzzling, but he may have been afraid he’d been crushed in the scrum. Hadley Publishing, Shasta Publishers, and Fantasy Press (FP) all published books by him before 1950. Lloyd Eshbach, founder of the latter, was even more besotted with space opera than Gnome. He eventually released four Campbell books, including all but one of his early stories starring three engineers, Arcot, Morey, and Wade, who toured the universe having grand adventures in space. FP burned out in 1956, leaving that last story, Invaders, without a hardback edition.
As already told under The Vortex Blaster, Greenberg turned to Eshbach in the desperate year of 1960 as he sought a cheaper printer. You can’t get cheaper than zero and that’s how much Greenberg wound up paying Eshbach, marking an abrupt end to their relationship. Eshbach also used the type to print a limited edition run, all signed by Campbell, for FP, albeit on much better paper. CHALKER insists that “100 copies exactly” were printed. CURREY says 112. ESHBACH, who actually printed the thing, says 112, so he wins the coin flip. The original 112 were printed without a dust jacket, a fillip added in 1991. Completists take note.
With Eshbach’s detailed exegesis of the origins of the book, identifying the true first edition should be trivial. Somehow he managed to omit this detail. CURREY gives it to Gnome, R. Reginald to FP. CHALKER apparently gives the nod to FP as the Gnome edition is called an “alternate printing” but that doesn’t specify which was the first released. No one seems to doubt that the Gnome edition of Vortex is the true first, though. Without solid evidence, I have to assume that Gnome’s superior ability to distribute any title would allow it to get release Invaders first as well.
The number of copies that made it to circulation is also contentious. ESHBACH, using information from Greenberg, says 4000. CHALKER reports that “Greenberg says all were bound and distributed, but independent evidence suggests no more than 2500 bound.” KEMP puts that number at 2000. CURREY originally dropped the figure to 1000, but left that sentence out of the 2002 CURREY CD-ROM. However many were bound, two different bindings have been found, drab blue boards followed by the much nicer gray cloth that appears on a number of late titles. Since the book is widely available in the blue boards even without the rare gray cloth, I’m sticking to the original larger number.
P. Schuyler Miller, Analog Science Fact -> Fiction, September 1961
The fireworks are terrific and there’s never time to get choosy about the logic. … As it is, Invaders from the Infinite should have stayed in 1932, except for us old characters who like to resurrect the Age of Wonder.
Contents and Original Publications
• Chapters 1-26 (Amazing Stories Quarterly, Spring-Summer 1932).
Invaders from the Infinite, by John W. Campbell, Jr., 1961, copyright registration 15Mar61, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number not given [retroactively 60-53080], title #84, back panel #41, 189 pages, $3.00. 4000 copies printed. Hardback. Jacket design by W. I. Van der Poel, Jr. “First Edition” stated on copyright page. Printed in U.S.A. Back panel: 32 titles. Gnome Press address given as P. O. Box 161, Hicksville, N.Y.
Variants, in order of priority
1). (CURREY A) Blue boards, spine lettered in yellow.
2). (CURREY B) Gray cloth, spine lettered in red.