Monday, July 30, 2018

Tales from The Book of the Dead: A. Merritt and Edmond Hamilton

A story of A. Merritt and Edmond Hamilton, from E. Hoffman Price's The Book of the Dead:
A. Merritt's stories influenced many a beginner, and a certain number of careless professionals. Although such yarns could hardly be called pastiches, a form which Lovecraft worshippers have used as a shortcut to fame, there was progress in that direction. A. Merritt, however, regarded such bunglers with good humor. 
Picking up such a magazine in which such a story appeared, he would grin sourly, spit out the window, and say, "Mmm...not a great it is not without Merritt." 
At a convention, one of the members of a circle of sensitive-sincere-artistic-literary writers and would-be writers took the floor and denounced A. Merritt as "just another hack." This was too much for ordinarily amiable and easy going [Edmond] Hamilton. He took command and told the gathering a thing or two. 
"A hack is a writer who hires himself out for any kind of literary work. A literary drudge. A poor writer. 
"Are you by chance quoting one of the sincere artists who consider that anyone who earns a living by writing is a hack? Are you forgetting that one of your literary heros makes his living revising the slop cooked up by worse writers? That's the lowest sort of hack work! 
"Whether not a man is a poor writer is a matter of taste, and maybe A. Merrit is a poor writer. I'd not argue that with you. But let's get to literary drudge, one of the dictionary definitions. A. Merritt's salary is $60,000 a year. Whenever he does a yarn for Argosy, or other pulp, he's losing money. If you have to squawk about hacks, which most of us are, including a lot of self-styled literary folks, why not know what you're talking about before you sound off?" 
Applause, and no further mention of hacks at that con.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Blue Slime Fantasy

In the late 1970s, the surging popularity of both J. R. R. Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons fueled an increased appetite in fantasy novels. Publishers scrambled to meet this demand, buying up a number of derivative stories that congealed into Tolkien and D&D pastiche. This increasingly self-referencing sub-genre of fantasy was derided as “extruded fantasy product,” or, more commonly, pink slime. During this time, the tabletop game replaced the magazine as the primary means of experiencing fantasy. Many a fantasy work since can trace its origins to a role-playing campaign that the writer either ran or played in years prior. In the forty years since that fantasy explosion, gamers have shifted from the tabletop to first the console, and then the online video game. This change in the medium of fantasy has brought about a change in the conventions and stories in fantasy, incorporating many of the gaming mechanics into literary adventures. In Japan, this new set of expectations, settings, and tropes can be called Blue Slime fantasy.
The pink vs. blue divide has been used before to indicate the audience of what sex a story is intended for. Here, Blue Slime is intended not just to contrast with the earlier term, but also to pay homage to to the mascot of Dragon Quest, one of the video games that inspires the genre. And slimes are everywhere in the bestiaries of Blue Slime fantasy. What sets Blue Slime fantasy apart from other fantasies is that a Blue Slime fantasy is a video game-inspired story taking place in a pseudo-European setting, centered around a party of heroes taking quests from a guild, using  the leveling, health, magic, class, combat, dungeon, and reward mechanics found in games such as Dragon Quest and .hack (pronounced “dot Hack”). While many of these stories, such as Sword Art Online and Overlord, can take place in a virtual game world set in the near future, these tropes have been extended to the non-video game fantasy worlds of the isekai genre, as can be seen in ArifuretaKonosuba, and In Another World with My Smartphone, where adventurers still carry cards displaying their level, class, combat stats, HP, and MP. While some of the adventures have a resemblance to cyberpunk such as Otherland and Snow Crash, the “punk” has been replaced by an often too-self-aware gamer and other more mundane concerns. But whether online, in another world, or in a galaxy far, far away, the video game influence pervades all Blue Slime fantasy.
Less known in the West than Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest is a legendary RPG franchise stretching back over thirty years, filled with recurring elements, including its mascot, the Blue Slime. While each game follows a similar story in that a hero and his party must set out to defeat a powerful evil monster, the first three games are notable for their story of how the descendants of an isekai hero must destroy recurring ancient evils. The third, Dragon Quest III, or Dragon Warrior III in the United States, was quickly adapted into light novels, anime, and manga. This novelization provided an early adaptation of video games, setting standards for how to express a video game world into prose. Fortunately, the second-person choose-your-own-adventure format did not last, as other methods of reader immersion into the video game world gained favor. But many other aspects of Dragon Quest III continue into fiction even today, such as now ubiquitous leveling conventions, HP and MP systems; adventurers’ guilds, non-combat classes such as merchants, monster types including the ever-popular slime, and even party makeup. For instance, Konosuba’s band of idiot adventurers fall into the classic Hero, Soldier, Priest, and Wizard party of Dragon Quest III instead of the iconic Western quartet of Fighter, Thief, Priest, and Wizard.
While the Dragon Quest series provides the mechanics for Blue Slime fantasy, the .hack multimedia franchise provides inspiration for the society. In a story encompassing console games, anime, manga, and novels, .hack explored the game world and real world mysteries of The World, a popular immersive virtual reality MMO game. Somewhere along the way, likely in .hack//Legend of the Twilight, the franchise shifted from transhuman cyberpunk themes to the idea of what living would be like in a video game world. And it is that distortion, life in a video game world, that fills Blue Slime stories. In an attempt to raise the stakes of a game from simple reset and defeat, litRPG fantasies will often use punishing logout penalties and technological traps to force the game out of the online worlds, including permanent death of both the character and the player. This puts emphasis on society and relationships not necessarily found in the guilds and factions of Western MMOs such as World of Warcraft. So the characters build real life structures in the video world, typically in a pseudo-European fantasy setting and form. This also drives an attitude of dread towards player-vs-player combat, with “player-killers” being treated as sadistic madmen and outcasts. The audience for .hack and Blue Slime stories do not encounter the “I’m going to hop on my main and call a few buddies for revenge” attitude towards world PvP common to many MMOs. Finally, The World and its Blue Slime analogues are subject to the whims of god-like outside forces that can shape reality in the game, whether rogue programmers, uplifted AI, or hackers. Isekaiversions of Blue Slime fantasy follow the same strictures, keeping the mechanics, the societies, and the interfering gods, but ditch any pretense of a game in their new worlds, providing a seamless transition since there is no functional difference in story between immersive VR and physical travel to a new world.
Also present in the episodic nature of Blue Slime fantasy is the narrative structure of kishotenketsu, an exploration of consequence rather than conflict. Originally developed in Chinese four-line poetry, the kishotenketsu form was adopted by narrative story and even formal academic essay. For those familiar with Japanese visual culture, the 4-komaor four panel comic strip, represents the most familiar application of kishotenketsu structure to Western eyes. Whether argument or gag strip, the story is divided up into four parts:
The introduction: The characters, setting, and situation are introduced.
The development: Themes and events in the introduction are built upon and developed in more depth.
The twist/complication: An unexpected event illuminates everything that happened before in a new light.
The conclusion: Not only does this wrap up the dilemma of the story, it explores the consequences of the twist.
This allows a story to be told without the overt conflicts inherent to Western structures, most of which originate in Classical Greek theater. This doesn’t mean that the story does not have conflict. Just watch one of Chang Cheh’s Venom Mob film to see conflict in kishotenketsu. But the conflict is not built into the structure of the story like in Western works. Instead, it becomes part of the milieu for episodic adventures. And just as a three-act writer will string together multiple try-fail cycles in a story, many light novels and Chinese films stack multiple kishotenketsu cycles together into one story. Sometimes, in inexperienced hands, this leads to wild shifts in tone and a fascination with new developments as the lack of conflict as an engine of plot leaves the story to the winds of the moment. Also, in Brian Niemeier’s recent exploration of the form, he points out that “You can see how cultural differences between East and West come through in each culture’s preferred storytelling methods. Kishōtenketsu emphasizes developing a cast of characters over focusing on an individual protagonist. The Eastern approach is also more concerned with reconciling the story’s events to the status quo ante.” This emphasis on ensemble and status quo lends itself to romantic tension, or much more likely in Blue Slime fantasy, the hijinks of a harem of female orbiters floating around an indecisive male lead.
So why spend so much time on what at first glance appears to be solely a Japanese genre? Not only are translations of light novels hitting American shelves in droves, thanks to Yen Press, J-Novel Club, and other publishers, these light novels are selling, including Blue Slime, battle academies, and science fiction high schools. Many light novels remain in the top 1% of Amazon sales years after their initial publication in English. And thanks to the recurring cycle of adaptations taking light novels to manga and anime and games, Blue Slime fantasies have a multimedia reach greater than most American science fiction and fantasy novels, and, in manga form, are quickly supplanting comics. Not only does the growing audience inherent to these light novels matter, but the influence in fantasy can be felt in other genres as well. The rise of the litRPG over the past few years has been fueled by writers emulating Sword Art Online and other episodic .hack style light novels, creating Sanderson-style hard magic systems using a palette of RPG mechanics spanning traditional tabletop, Blue Slime RPG, and Western video games such as Skyrim. And despite cyberpunk and the transhumanism stories filling American science fiction, these writers chose the familiar fantasies of gaming instead. Isekai is returning as well, following the otherworldly patterns of GateOutbreak Company, and other Japanese cross-dimensional tales instead of such classics as A Princess of MarsThe Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Nine Princes in Amber. And the less said about the harem and reverse-harem fad flooding science fiction and fantasy, the better. But despite the broad sweep of Blue Slime, it is not replacing familiar genres of English-language fantasy, but cross-pollinating with them, bringing a healthy shot of adventure that is often sorely needed in American science fiction and fantasy.
And, most importantly, a wider audience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Razorfist on Solomon Kane

Once again, Razorfist graces us with a multi-media survey of a great pulp hero: Robert E. Howard's dour Puritan, Solomon Kane.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Light Novel Prose and Translations

Light novels have been a source of conversation among the PulpRev this summer, and not always for the best. Even as one of the most enthusiastic advocates for these foreign descendants of pulp, I have to admit that most don't aspire to the literary heights of a Bakemonogatari. In truth, all too many are shovelware, and the prose shows. But many middle quality stories and way too many aspiring literary light novels are just as painful to read.

I've read a couple dozen light novels this summer, with most placing a damper on my enthusiasm for the medium.  From a prose perspective, reading light novels has been an exercise in what doesn't work in English rather than examples of good writing.

I've suspected for a while that Japanese translation, while recovering from a love of 2000s animu jargon, still remains on the sentence level. And something this simple affects the reading experience. For instance, several years ago, I considered editing a fan translation of A Certain Magical Index, but quickly decided against it as the English version was functionally unreadable. Worse than George Lucas's "You can write this, but no one would say this." It lacked any semblance of flow of ideas or language. Yen Press's recent release of the same title, however, is readable as an English work. So I'm a bit more sensitive to the effect a translation has on a story. And regardless of the translator, I'm seeing the same issues.

It is way too common to find long stretches of tagless dialogue--and I already know the tricks used there to keep track of characters in the original language, da ze. But I'm also seeing what might be called deconstructed paragraphs, where the thoughts that would be one English paragraph are spread out among many. And I see the same issues in the most formulaic isekai as I do in the more literary occult detective stories. Something is being lost in translation.

To reinforce this, let's turn to the author's comments at the end of Invaders of the Rokujouma #9, by Takehaya.
While working on this volume, I had something on my mind. And that was regarding translation. As of writing this, there are two foreign versions of Invaders of the Rokujouma!?, a Taiwanese version and a Korean version. There’s been talk of a third one, but these were the two I was thinking of. 
In Japanese, we can distinguish the characters based on how they refer to themselves. Here’s a list of how it generally works out.
Ore = Koutarou
Atashi = Sanae
Warawa = Theia
Watashi = Yurika
Waga = Kiriha
Watakushi = Ruth
Oira = The Haniwas
On top of this, the characters can be differentiated by what they’re saying and their tone. When it’s all taken together, dialogue tags to label the speaker aren’t necessary.  
But a question popped into my mind the other day. How would this work in another language? Take English, for example. In English, all subjects refer to themselves as “I.” As a result, Sanae, the haniwas, and everyone else would all talk about themselves the same way. It would be impossible to distinguish them based on pronouns.  
Moreover, there aren’t as many linguistic distinctions between genders and social groups as there are in Japanese. While that kind of thing could be conveyed through body language and such in person, it’s much harder to do with just words. I think that’s one of the reasons people speak using such colorful language in English novels.  
But this isn’t about which language is superior. It’s just a difference in how we communicate. To someone who speaks English, Japanese must look like an incredibly inefficient language, trying to convey everything through words rather than using expressions and body language.
Takehaya. Invaders of the Rokujouma!?: Volume 9 (Kindle Locations 2363-2376). J-Novel Club. Kindle Edition. 
The emphases are mine. Here we see Takehaya understand a fundamental difference between Japanese and English; that one language can freely avoid the dialogue tags the other so desperately needs. Translation at the sentence level misses this, while an idea or a composition level translation would be more sensitive to what is required for an English speaker to understand the ideas.

Now, a proper idea translation isn't going to turn In Another World with My Smartphone into the Divine Comedy--or even Harry Potter or the Destroyer. However, if it is acceptable for scholars to write prose translations of the epic poetry of Dante, it should also be acceptable to put the occasional "he said/she said/I said" into the dialogue and reorder sentences and paragraph for better readability in English.

Until readability is a consideration in Japanese translation, light novels will continue to be negative examples for grammar and paragraph structure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Lives of Harry Lime: Operation Music Box

Since Razorfist's recent video on The Third Man, I've been taken with the old radio drama, The Lives of Harry Lime:

"That was the shot that killed Harry Lime. He died in a sewer beneath Vienna, as those of you know who saw the movie The Third Man. Yes, that was the end of Harry Lime. But it was not the beginning. No, he had many lives. And I can tell you about all of them. How?

"Because my name is Harry Lime."

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Second Look at Kishotenketsu

While it may be pushing it to call 2018 the Summer of Light Novels for Pulp Rev folk, the conversations around this outgrowth of the pulps have sparked a critical examination of these works. While most suffer from poor translations and a lack of craftsmanship, a rough charm remains, enough that several techniques are being explored. The main one is the story structure of Kishōtenketsu, which has entered the conversation through the usual Western appeal: a story without conflict. I discussed it earlier at this blog, but Brian Niemeier presents a new look at this unusual form:
Let’s start with the word itself. It’s made up of the names of the four different acts of the structure:

Ki : Introduction 
Shō : Development 
Ten : Twist (complication)  
Ketsu : Conclusion (reconciliation) 
The first act is self explanatory. It’s where we’re introduced to the story and we get to know the characters taking part and the world they live in. 
Similarly, the second act also doesn’t require much explanation. This is where we get to know the characters a little better. We learn about their relation to each other and their place in the world. This is where we develop an emotional connection to the characters. 
The third act however, the twist, is where things get a bit complicated. I’ve seen this act referred to as complication, and while I don’t think that’s technically correct, I feel it’s a better name. Calling it a twist brings with it associations to plot-twists as we know them from more traditional western narratives. 
This isn’t necessarily the case here. It can be, but it doesn’t have to. However, it’s often something unexpected, and usually unrelated to what’s happened in the first two acts. 
Finally, the fourth act is about the impact of the third act on the first two acts. This is why I like the term reconciliation. The third act will affect the situation presented in the first and second act, and in the fourth act the state of the world in first and second act is reconciled with the events of the the third.You can see how cultural differences between East and West come through in each culture's preferred storytelling methods. 
Kishōtenketsu emphasizes developing a cast of characters over focusing on an individual protagonist. The Eastern approach is also more concerned with reconciling the story's events to the status quo ante.
There're a couple observations to add.

As Brian says, and much to many a post-modernist critic's disgust, this doesn't mean that the story does not have conflict. Just watch a Shaw Brothers kung fu film to see evidence of conflict in kishotenketsu. But the conflict is not built into the structure of the story like in Western works. Instead, it becomes part of the milieu for episodic adventures. And just as a three-act writer will string together multiple try-fail cycles in a story, many light novels and Chinese films combine multiple kishotenketsu cycles together into one story. It takes clever plotting to do this without feeling aimless or disconnecting from lore, as can be seen in the faults of several xian'xia tales and light novels. 

The strengths Brian describes and the weaknesses together are key components to the style of fiction I call Blue Slime Fantasy, which uses Dragon Quest and MMOs for inspiration. In Western circles, Blue Slime is a key driver in the glut of litRPGs and harem fantasies. But more on that later.

Finally, let's give credit where credit is due. Kishotenketsu, despite the Japanese name, is a Chinese invention with roots in that nation's poetry and rhetoric. That we have comes to know it by the Japanese word is an example of how Western cultures tend to gravitate to japonisme over chinoiserie. Take one belle, call her Meiling one day, and Misuzu the next, and it will be the girl in the kimono who gathers all the attention. But despite the origin, kishotenketsu is part of a system of thought that does not come naturally to Western culture.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

John C. Wright's Roger Zelazny Recommendations

I suggest that if you like the family infighting, larger-than-life superhumans, and intrigue, you read yourself some Roger Zelazny’s deservedly famed Amber series. It is a delight: a film noir detective tale (starring my personal favorite character, an amnesiac), which morphs into a fantasy and a Jacobin-style revenge drama.
The Merlin books take place in the same background, but they are terrible. Avoid.
Of his work, I recommend LORD OF LIGHT as his best.
Check out Wright's site to see the full list, which covers some of Zelazny's lesser-known works.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Black Dawn, Smartphone, and the Scorpia Menace

In the opening moments of Black Dawn, by Jay Allan, the remnants of the once-proud White Fleet are leading the far superior ships of the Hegemony on a wild goose chase through unexplored space. The longer they can prolong the pursuit, the more time Admiral Tyler Barron has to rally the Confederation’s defenses before the Hegemony discovers Confederation space. But the Union has engineered a scandal to engulf the Confederation in chaos, implicating Barron as the center of corruption. Now Barron must escape custody, rally the Confederation’s fleets, and save his White Fleet from destruction.
Many military science fiction writers have been vying to become the next John Ringo; Jay Allan instead sets his sights on David Weber and David Drake. In broad strokes, Tyler Barron’s careers share much with Honor Harrington’s, where a brilliant ship-to-ship action heralds the meteoric rise of an officer’s career in a meat grinder of a war, only to watch as a more insidious foe based on genetic slavery shatter the hard-won peace. But where Weber follows in the wake of C. S. Forester, Allan instead draws on the recent Battlestar Galactica for inspiration. Fighter pilots and repair crews decide battles, not the huge salvos of the Manticore Missile Massacre. This change in approach makes space combat fresh again and personalizes the stakes. Fortunately for such an ensemble approach, Barron is a firm leader who does not overshadow the rest of the characters, a novelty not seen in many fleet mil-sf books. Keep an eye out for upcoming Blood on the Stars books; the best from Jay Allan is yet to come.

In Another World with My Smartphone, by Patora Fuyuhara, may just be the classic example of today’s popular blue slime (MMO-inspired) isekai fantasies. As in many light novels, the main character, Touya, dies before his time thanks to an error in heavenly bookkeeping. As a celestial apology, he is given a second chance at life in an European-influenced fantasy world, where, aided by new powers, he earns a living as an adventurer for a local guild. Along the way, he rounds out his party with a team of pretty and available young women. Yes, this plot has been done time and again, but the blueprint here is as true to the tropes as I’ve ever read.
Unfortunately, the trappings of the isekai genre start to choke out the fun of this brisk read. Gone are the focused plots of earlier isekai tales such as Vision of EscaflowneMagic Knight Rayearth, and Fushigi Yuugi; instead Smartphone is a collection of open-ended slice-of-life chapters, where exploring the consequences of a new complication provides the drama instead of conflict. Its an approach that lends itself to episodic writing. Unfortunately, it also encourages sprawl, cast bloat, and an obsession with new characters at the expense of Touya’s stalwart companions. And that’s before the tried and tired tropes of waifus, middle-school fascinations, gothic lolita frills, and unfortunate accidents clog the pages. Those familiar with the hijinks of most anime high school comedies know where Smartphone is heading and will likely enjoy the story. At least Touya is neither an unrepentant psychopath or a creepy loser like way too many isekai protagonists, which makes his adventures an excellent (and bearable) introduction to isekai.

The Phantom returns in The Scorpia Menace. With an ocean between Skull Island and Diana Palmer, The Phantom wonders how he can ask the woman he loves to give up the luxury of high society for a home in the jungle. Meanwhile, Diana is eager to learn more about her Phantom. While studying for a history class at her university, she learns of the Scorpia, an ancient band of pirates that served as nemesis time and again to the unbroken father and son line of the 21 Phantoms. Her research indicates that the Scorpia still lurk in the criminal underworld. When the socialite explorer announces this in an interview, she attracts the attention and the kidnappers of the Scorpia. Now The Phantom must ride forth to rescue his beloved and put an end to the Scorpia menace.
Here Lee Falk tries to squeeze a three-hundred-page story idea into a book only half as large. The scenes featuring Diana are fleshed out to the point where this is her book, not The Phantom’s. Kit Walker, unfortunately, gets shorted just as he’s showing some character, and The Phantom’s search for Scorpia and Diana is truncated–almost too easy for a battle of nemeses. The Phantom is supposed to be as much of an elemental force of vengeance as The Shadow, but that ominous charisma that all dark knights possess did not make the leap from comics to prose alongside The Phantom. The stakes for the Phantom certainly are present, but with a little more space, so could the tension. What is present is a rare look at what it takes to be a woman who could woo a pulp hero—brains, bravery, faith, and some hard-won common sense.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Emperor Ponders: "The Psychology of Reading"

Fellow Puppy of the Month alumnus the Emperor/the Frisky Pagan takes on a classic bit of writing advice:
In a previous post, I mentioned I believe the usual advice given to writers (or, rather, to people who want to write) may not be that good, if not downright useless. And if one wants to be controversial, you might as well start with a big bang: 
“Read a lot. Reading will make you a better writer,” or variations of the same. It seems logical, common-sensical. But if you think about it, it’s a bit like saying that if you want to be a good musician, you should listen to a lot of music, or look at many paintings if you want to be a painter. A kind of craftsmanship by osmosis. 
Of course, musicians listen to music, and painters look at the works of other people, but we know it’s not enough to do that to become skilled in their domains. But many people find it harder to accept that it may also apply to writing. And a good example would the people who may have read thousands of books and then decide to try their luck writing something. And they fail. Either it sucks or can’t get past the first page. Then they believe they lack talent or something like that, because, after all, they should have been good at it since they have been reading all their life.

No, it’s just that it was, literally, the first time you tried writing anything. Of course you didn’t succeed. If there’s a correlation between reading and writing skill, it’s probably weaker than we suspect, and most likely mediated by other factors.
Check out the rest at his blog. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Cosmic Express

In 1930, safe from the predations of Hugo “the Rat” Gernsback, future Appendix N author Jack Williamson returned to Amazing Stories, closing out the year with “The Cosmic Express.” In that far future, a pulp writer and his wife, Eric and Nada, are caught up in the nostalgia for more primitive times.  Eric writes hit savage stories that are a cross between Tarzan and the barbarians Hok/Hauk/Hoak, while Nada is a poet of a nature long extinct. Bored of an Earth that has turned into one city, they decide to use the recent invention of the Cosmic Express to travel to the pristine and savage jungles of Venus. After some bribery, they come face to face with the realities of the uncivilized life, including predatory beasts.
Like many short pulp stories, “The Cosmic Express” is built around its punchline, where the characters of Eric’s stories act with the heroism and competence that he did not display on Venus. It’s a standard punchline story, with the vivid descriptions expected of pulp adventure. To modern readers, this is a divisive story, with many of the usual suspects at Goodreads complaining about the naivety of Eric and Nada. Which, honestly, is the point of the story. For while “The Cosmic Express” serves to instill some proper respect for the peril inherent in nature, it is also a commentary in conversation with other science fiction and fantasy stories.
Talk of cosmic rays, Venusian forests, and man surviving in the wilds of nature suggested the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as Tarzan. And the direct challenge to the love of the barbarian certainly brings to mind Robert E. Howard. But where both Burroughs and Howard used the barbarian to explore the savagery of those who call themselves civilized, Williamson instead contrasts the softness of the writer to the characters they create. Here he shows the weakness of the civilized compared to the natural state they glorify. “The Cosmic Express” can be read as a challenge to the resulting glorification of the noble savage in science fiction and an extolling of the material comforts brought by civilization.
The novelty of the Cosmic Express as a method of transportation might be lost to modern readers as well, since the method of travel is reminiscent of Star Trek’s transporters. In fact, Eric and Nada’s adventure reads like an Away Team gone wrong, although one lacking redshirts. The ensuing rescue by Express Beam gives their ordeal the same impact as a miserable weak at camp, and just as easily forgotten, as Eric’s following story shows.
All in all, “The Cosmic Express” is an evocative but safe early short story by Williamson that helps establishes the Great Conversation between science fiction works so beloved by pulp and Campbelline writers. It helped to distance the Amazing Stories-brand of science fiction from the mainstream planetary and primitive romance adventures that served as the mainstream of science fiction, as well as establish Williamson as an author to follow. But the full promise of the fledgling genre and writer would need more time to develop.