10. Cosmic Engineers


Clifford Donald Simak (1904-1988) started his newspaper career in 1929, or so say all the standard biographies. Maybe he landed his first newspaper job then, but his byline can be found on more than two dozen items in 1927 and 1928 in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, in a column called “Driftwood,” the “outpourings of those who harbor a hunger for expression.” He soon sold his first science fiction story as well, “The World of the Red Sun,” which ran in the December 1931 issue of Wonder Stories. Science fiction stayed mostly a sideline to his career in news until the 1960s, but he kept his name very much alive with his occasional high-quality short stories and a couple of bursts of longer work.

Cosmic is Simak’s first published novel. He would release four more by 1953 and then not another until 1961.

Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1939

Gnome Notes

The rocket ship with trailing flames printed in silhouette on the boards’ cover is very similar – though not quite identical – to the one embossed on the cover of Men Against the Stars. Still, it’s so close that it’s clear that they were meant to be a thematic symbol of “science fiction” as Gnome swung to a heavier emphasis on the sf side of the field. Other rocket ships with more detail appear on the cover and spine of the dust jacket.

The dust jacket reads “An Interplanetary Saga” but the title page and the copyright registration read “An Interplanetary Novel.”

Cosmic was the first Gnome release to be reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, a trade publication closely consulted by libraries. Their reviews followed a set pattern: a line or two describing the plot and a concluding zinger. Here the last line reads, “For hot rocket-eers only.” From now on, Gnome would become more heavily dependent on library sales and would start making adjustments to its output to accommodate them. Kirkus also provided a useful service both then and for me by sometimes giving planned publication dates with its reviews, another, albeit small, database to scavenge for publication order. Its date for Cosmic is October 15, 1950, a month before the copyright registration date. Since no reviews appeared before January, it’s more likely that Gnome fell behind its planned dates than that the book saw publication before registration.

CHALKER states “6000 copies printed, of which 1000 were bound as trade pb “Armed Forces Edition.” KEMP is possibly ambiguous: “5,000 copies printed. 1,000 paper copies bound for Armed Services Edition.” That could be read as meaning the same as CHALKER but to me implies 1,000 of the 5,000. For discussion of the problems behind Gnome Press trade paperbacks, see The Trade Paperbacks (forthcoming).

The copy below was Marty Greenberg’s file copy, signed by him on the flap. The condition is good but hardly perfect, showing how impossible it is to find high quality copies of any of the trade paperbacks.

— Cover art by Ed Emshwiller


Basil Davenport, New York Times Book Review, January 7, 1951
There is real imagination in the idea of the entity that has trapped them there – a collective race-mind but a race-mind in its dotage. In all, this comes under the general heading “space opera,” but it is better than most of its kind.

Damon Knight, Worlds Beyond, January 1951
[T]his pot-boiler, written for magazine publication more than ten years ago, should have been left interred. … the story has been placed, for no evident reason, in the 70th century A.D.; yet all the characters talk, think and act exactly like middle-class, middle-intellect 1930 Americans – including one who is revived in the second chapter from a thousand-year sleep.

Contents and Original Publication(s)

  • Chapters 1-18, Revised and expanded from “Cosmic Engineers” (Astounding Science-Fiction, February, March, and April 1939).

Bibliographic Information

Cosmic Engineers, by Clifford D. Simak, 1950, copyright registration 25Nov50, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number not given [retroactively 51-9901], title #10, back panel #10, 224 pages, $2.50. 5000 hardback copies printed, 1950; unknown number of trade paperback copies printed, 1952?. Jacket design by Edd Cartier. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. Printed in the U.S.A. Title page and copyright registration add “An Interplanetary Novel;” jacket adds “An Interplanetary Saga.” Back panel: 2 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th Street, New York 3, N. Y.

         Variants, in order of priority

1) (CURREY A) Hardback, blue cloth, spine lettered in yellow.

2) (CURREY B) Hardback, tan boards, spine lettered in black.

3) Trade paperback, front cover identical to hardback dust jacket, back cover is blank white. Spine reads COSMIC ENGINEERS by Clifford D. Simak printed in blue lettering on white spine. Stated “FIRST EDITION” but is later issue.


Cosmic Engineers dust jacket

Cosmic Engineers flaps
Cosmic Engineers blue coverCosmic Engineers, blue cloth, yellow lettering, variant 1

Cosmic Engineers tan cover

Cosmic Engineers, tan boards, black lettering, variant 2
Cosmic Engineers pb cover 2Cosmic Engineers, trade paperback, variant 3

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