‘THAT FATAL FIRE…’
‘THE FATAL FIRE’
by KENNETH BULMER
(1962, Digit Books Paperback, published by
Brown, Watson Ltd, then hardback by
Hale, June 1969. Reprinted Hachette UK, 2011.
And Gateway Kindle edition www.sfgateway.com )
‘They began flaying Bella Rose
minutes after she died…’
(the opening line of ‘The Fatal Fire’)
Due to its aggressive and inherently warlike nature the human race is cryogenically frozen within the desolate Thread star system. Revived every three-thousand years or so by the docile and peaceful Galactic Union, only when they face an irresolvable military dilemma, and need to unleash their ‘ultimate weapon’. As they do when they’re threatened by an invasion of ho stile aliens from a neighbouring galaxy. This is the basis of “The Great Armadas”, a ‘novelette’ by Kenneth Bulmer featured in ‘Nebula no.19’ (December 1956). Editor Peter Hamilton comments that the writer makes ‘a fascinating suggestion as to the appropriate part which our descendents may play’ in this future, but that judging by then-current political tensions, he ‘may have a very valid suggestion’.
So is this story evidence of Bulmer’s bleak philosophical nihilism? A dark scornful refutation of those who see the human race aspire to greater things? On balance, I think not. Kenneth Bulmer’s fictional universe is vast, almost beyond comprehension. He was the kind of prolific writer who makes other prolific writers look like sluggards. As well as a storm of Science Fiction novels specialising in Space Opera and Galactic Adventure, frequently in linked series – ‘this was space. And space was a tough, pitiless taskmaster’, he wrote Westerns and Historical sagas featuring Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Normans, or the ‘Fox’ novel-series set in the Napoleonic period. As well as stories carrying his own name he published work under a maze of aliases and pseudonyms. And that’s before you even get to the picture-strip tales he scripted for the boys adventure comics, including the epic sagas of ‘Karl The Viking’ in ‘Lion’ and the action-packed ‘The Steel Claw’ for the pages of ‘Valiant’.
He was a writer. ‘One of the definers of yesterday’s tomorrow… a great entertainer’ according to his obituary in ‘The Independent’. So it’s more than likely that the dark theme of “The Great Armadas” was just another story idea too good to let go. Which he typed out, slotted into the envelope and dropped into the post-box. Then forgot about, and got on with the next story. At the time, during the late-fifties and early-sixties there were SF publishers eager for new manuscripts. Quality was not necessarily always an issue. Because the pay-rates were so low, the only way to make anything like a viable living from writing was to churn out new titles incredibly quickly. That was something that Kenneth Bulmer more than excelled in. That’s the way he worked.
To critically consider his entire oeuvre is virtually impossible, because there’s simply too much of it. Better to just take one of his books at random – say, the fairly modest 1962 novel ‘The Fatal Fire’, and look at it as representative of the greater whole. When it was originally serialised in three parts in ‘New Worlds’ (numbers 96 to 98, July to September 1960) – it was announced by editor John Carnell as ‘one of the finest novels of the far future we have yet published’. It was then novelised by Digit Books at 160pp. The paperback cover shows a blue-spacesuited figure on a pale arid planetscape, his eyes behind the visor are closed, and he’s holding up his right hand as though in an effort to stop something approaching, or to protect himself from the glare that is washing shadows over the crater-dunes behind him. Although nothing remotely resembling this actually occurs in the novel, the top-right flash says ‘Stowaways In Space!’, which was a teaser sufficient to snare my attention. The bottom-right price is 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence), although I bought it a few years later marked down to 1/6 at the ‘Motherby Book Stall’ in Hull’s Open Market in the cool shadow of Holy Trinity Church. At the time anything with a spaceship on the cover would exert a near-gravitational attraction on my adolescent mind, although I already recognised Bulmer’s name through seeing it in various SF magazines. He was already a name to look out for...
‘According to all the scientific facts,
this can never happen. And
according to all the scientific fiction,
it invariably does’
(“First Down”, ‘Authentic no.44’)
Born in London on Friday, 14 January 1921, Henry Kenneth Bulmer was one of those SF-fans with ‘rockets in your head and a dream in your eye’, hunting out imported issues of ‘Astounding SF’, ‘Amazing Stories’ and ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’ in Woolworths dump-bins. He collaborated with Arthur C Clarke and John F Burke for features in ‘Tales Of Wonder’ (no.12 and no.14, Autumn 1940 and Spring 1941), and edited his own fanzines ‘Star Parade’ (seven issues) and ‘Nirvana’ which included examples of his own early fiction – including “Juggernaut”, a single-story fanzine in 1941 illustrated by Arthur Williams and Jack Burns. So, following war-service with the Royal Corps of Signals in North Africa and Europe, it was these fan-connections that led to him becoming a regular contributor to the post-war splurge of new SF magazines, from John Carnell’s ‘New Worlds’, ‘Science Fiction Adventures’ and ‘Science Fantasy’, through to the Glasgow-based ‘Nebula’, and even the strange ‘Vargo Statten British SF Magazine’. Aliases such as ‘H Philip Stratford’, ‘Frank Brandon’, ‘Rupert Clinton’, ‘Philip Kent’, ‘Nelson Sherwood’ and innumerable others enabled him to appear more than once in the same issue, while a fruitful association with research chemist John Newman resulted in a series of fact-based articles on planets and asteroids run under the joint name ‘Kenneth Johns’. Later, as ‘Alan Burt Akers’ he established his own mythic ERB-ian heroic-fantasy planetary romance series – with the ‘Dray Prescot’ sagas running to some fifty-two volumes.
His first novel – ‘Space Treason’ (Hamilton/ Panther, May 1952) was co-written with fan-activist Aubrey Vincent Clarke and published as by ‘AV Clarke and HK Bulmer’ with a suitably garish scarlet spaceship on the cover glistening with streamlined nacelles and strap-lined ‘Rival Powers Struggle For Supremacy To Dominate Space’. The next – ‘Cybernetic Controller’ (Hamilton/ Panther, August 1952), ‘Man’s Revolt Against Scientific Segregation Brings Death To The Overlords’, was another Clarke collaboration. Bulmer’s first short story sale – “First Down”, followed in ‘Authentic SF’ (no.44, April 1954), blurbed ‘Two Men In A Ship That Can Carry Only One. Both With A Burning Ambition’. It opens with a lone John Curry leaving the silver wheel of the space station on course to become the first man on the moon, until he hears knocking. ‘I was hoping my stowaway was a woman’ he sighs, ‘it would have enlivened the trip’, as it turns out that stowaway pressman Steve is also determined, on the point of an automatic pistol, to replace Neil Armstrong in the history books. The brief story closes with an unexpected self-sacrifice plot-twist.
The same issue includes a full-page ad for Panther Books listing HK Bulmer novels ‘The Stars Are Ours’ – ‘The Robots Arrived, And An Unseen Menace Struck Terror Into The Heart Of Man’ (1953), ‘Galactic Intrigue’ – ‘A Matter Transmitter Runs Amok, Bringing A Nightmare Of Interstellar Madness’ (1953) and ‘Empire Of Chaos’ – ‘Terror! Conflict! Oppression! And A Galaxy In Chains’ (1953), with tick-boxes to facilitate mail orders. During that same year he’d also produced ‘Space Salvage’ – ‘Space Salvage Develops Into War When Space Wreckers Operate’, plus a novel as ‘Karl Maras’ (‘Zhorani: Master Of The Universe’ for ‘Comyns Ltd), and two as ‘Philip Kent’ (‘Vassals Of Venus’ and ‘Mission To The Stars’ both for ‘Tit-Bits SF Library’). Already, he was proving unstoppable. Each book gushing with effortlessly florid prose – ‘they raced through the Galaxy, stars flaring up ahead to vanish rearwards if the Guide offered no promise of any interesting rewards for planetfall, they sought like children for that wonderful morrow beyond the next stellar conewards…’ (from ‘The Changeling Worlds’, 1959).
If ‘The Fatal Fire’ is a transitional work, an early novel showing evidence of a growing ability at spinning fiction, but before his mature linked book-series, it was nevertheless produced during a period of furious writing activity. In a future where only the elite Aristo’s work, it opens in the ‘Pool’, a rundown inner-city realm of shiftless welfare dependency where family’s boast shamelessly of generations of joblessness – ‘the Talbots never work!’ Talbot said fiercely, proudly, ‘the family has not worked for five-hundred years’. Eighteen-year-old Julian Justin was adopted by Talbot when his unmarried mother, Talbot’s sister, died. He lives in a kind of cheerful tumbledown tenement-squalor enlivened by stealing chickens from an overturned street-market stall or hanging out with Pool-arab friend Raphe Bartram. His ghetto is a place with ‘washing hanging from pole-propped lines’, where tobacco fumes dance in the ‘harsh unshaded electric glare’ of ‘dim fluorescent lighting’, and where lives revolve around the ‘hi-fi set’ and ‘football gambling’ plus the ‘local club and the telly’. While Dickensian urchins scrabble in the gutter. If these ingredients now seem strangely retro, more bombsite austerity than future-speculative, that’s probably not intentional, merely a reflection of the late-fifties attitudes in which it was written.
Julian also has premonition-flashes that take the form of vivid warning colours, when ‘the colour smelled all wrong’. Although he’s not exactly dissatisfied – more ‘un-normal’, a misfit from the ‘usual ruck of humanity’, his life is jolted out of its rut by the death of his much-loved seventeen-year-old half-sister Bella Rose. In a subculture where everything can be bartered Honest John Flayer is summoned to render ‘her skin a miracle of nature’, into a neat plastic-wrapped package that Julian is tasked with carrying out of the Pool-ghetto to the twentieth-street reception-gate of Gorgon Industries where a Mister Cope will purchase the ‘human pelt’ for use in book-binding. But, once outside his familiar protective community, he falls hypnotic prey to CC-recruitment, and finds himself enrolled as an unwilling member of ‘Construction Crews’, and whisked off-planet to help terraform Erinore, a new world acquired for the Solar Technocratic Empire, with excavating-robots and JCB-style tractors.
Once there he teams up with ‘smart-alec’ Ed Rayburn, a gambler who plays with six aces in his pack, and who exploits Julian’s psi-abilities to make cash. Together, they soon plan to desert, escaping their contracts by jumping a ship from the nearby space-field. While all this is going on there’s a sub-plot concerning dynastically-wrangling Aristo’s at the other end of the social scale, ‘the ruling class, capable of performing many duties simultaneously and comprising the money barons, corporations, and manipulators of the Galaxy’s finances’. With Harold Vladimir Skardon and brother Luis impatiently scheming to replace ‘the dead hand’ of grim old patriarch father Eli Skardon as head of Gorgon Industries. While third generation young-Eli – son of Louis, can ‘recognise decay and obsolescence when he saw and smelled it’, and plans his own corporate coup. The dysfunctional Skardons hold a family conference in a hotel on Titan where robots pour them drinks and there are panoramic views of Saturn’s rings, but they spend all their time plotting against each other.
‘This story gave me a particular pleasure in the writing’ Bulmer claims in a ‘New Worlds’ profile, ‘a pleasure which I hope comes across in the reading. I hope that the points I try to make and what I have to say matches up to that pleasure. I have never wholly subscribed to the belief that the short story is the be-all and end-all of science fiction. For a mood piece, for a sudden, stimulating shock of wonder, the short story form is probably supreme. But for the logical extrapolation and development of ideas, the greater scope of the novel cannot be challenged. In ‘The Fatal Fire’ two trends have been followed up, with others, to provide the background bones against which the story moves. A short story might have done justice to one skein, scarcely both.’ Then he teasingly adds, ‘although part of the background is traceable back to one of my earlier shorts.’
That earlier story, “Three-Cornered Knife” in ‘Infinity Science Fiction’ (February 1957), proffered a future social diversification which is developed in the novel into a critique of capitalism in which violent take-overs are assisted by the Guild of Assassins, and in which it is convenient for the ruling Aristo-class to maintain a pool of unemployed on which to draw as necessary. Bulmer himself comments that ‘the political and economic notion that a pool of unemployed to be drawn on when business is brisk and to be discarded on the dole when a depression sets in is not only commercial good sense to some, it has proved a workable solution to problems of an unbalanced economy,’ adding pointedly ‘that it is unprincipled and savagely anti-human affects only people with a social conscience.’ Bulmer, needless to say, cleaves to the latter point of view.
Indeed, if he can be said to have a theme, this future social stratification into what he terms ‘Homo bigbusinessiensis’ and ‘homo moronicus’ is certainly a recurrent element in his fiction. In the playful throwaway prose of ‘The Changeling Worlds’ (1959) there’s an attempt to portray the ‘Set’ as a galactic elite, eternally partying as neglected outer-worlds devolve back into grimy 1950’s industrial or agrarian squalor. ‘Stars and planets, interstellar dust, clouds of gas, comets – the whole mysterious Universe moved about them on its eternal circle and they could still find time to laugh and love and play games.’ Freed from the bothersome inconvenience of reproduction they even buy their children from a ‘Baby Emporium’ staffed by robots! This allows one character to ask ‘Where do babies come from?’ The novel’s big revelation is that they are harvested during ‘ingathering’ from the primitive worlds. This flimsy and highly unlikely event will be the point of insurrection against the unjust system. Michael Moorcock’s indulgently decadent ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ (published between 1972 and 1976) might constitute a far more artfully imagined portrayal of such revellers, but Moorcock’s tales were written on the other side of a decade of vast social changes. Bulmer’s imaginings were constructed within tight 1950’s moral restrictions. And the straight-laced fifties do not do a convincing decadence. Although everyone smokes cigarettes.
For the characters caught up in ‘The Fatal Fire’, it’s something of a small universe. There are some unlikely links and coincidences. The spaceship the escaping Julian and Ed highjack happens to be owned by ‘suave and dapper’ Paul Hurwitz, an Aristo with Skardon connections. Estelle – archaeologist daughter of Harold, had once been the object of his suit. ‘What followed’ writes Bulmer, ‘however much it might be diluted by modern thinking, was an epic.’ The sabotaged ship crashes, stranding the three in Erinore’s hostile and arid wilderness. Their long trek back towards some semblance of civilisation forces the odd trio to bond, to become interdependent. So that Julian’s colour-sense alerts Hurwitz to assassination attempts as the returned Aristo launches a series of campaigns and corporate raids. There’s no alien threat. No space-battle dramas. Instead, the story assumes the contours of a Harold Robbins blockbuster in that the poor boy from the wrong side of town fights his way up into wealth and privilege, through a mix of chance and special ability. As Carnell writes, ‘Julian Justin finds himself climbing the ladder of success in a world he hardly knew existed. It is the method of his climb that is so interesting.’
The diverse plot-elements – what Bulmer calls ‘skeins’, come together after old Eli’s death, when the protagonists gather on the pleasure-world Mytilene. In the novel’s major imaginative flourish this is less a planet as a ‘magic web’ of atmosphere much larger than Jupiter, artificially-populated with planetoids from which hedonists resembling those of the ‘Set’ can flit to and fro on personal fliers, the entire phantasmagoria of worldlets ‘held together by electro-magnetic forces, created and maintained by the machines and the robot brains on the centre planet – which spins of itself, but does not move within the gaseous envelope’. There’s even a ‘daisy-chain’ of twelve suns of variegated colour drawn around it to provide eternal days of shifting light’. It’s here that Julian becomes distracted by his involvement with Estelle, after their accidental meeting at an anti-grav playground. In a romantic twist, he’s unaware of her true Skardon identity as the scheming upwardly-mobile triumvirate next set their sights on her family’s Gorgon Industries, who unleash assassins in retaliation. A promising trip to investigate the remains of an ancient civilisation on the Mytilene core-world is hastily postponed.
Back on Earth the various factions meet for negotiations. Full-circling to the novel’s opening as Harold Skardon sets a trap for Julian in a building beside the ‘Pool’, using Estelle as bait. It’s here, in the final face-off that it’s explained that the system’s social stratification has become an evolutionary one. That the Aristo’s ‘balancing’-skills have made them a kind of homo superior, the next upward step in evolution. And with Julian’s unknown father an Aristo, it makes him a kind of hybrid. The revelation about the true identity of Julian’s father – perhaps even that he’s Estelle’s half-sister, never comes. Instead, despite a token protestation that she’s free to make her own choices, Estelle’s future is bartered between the three men who desire her (or, in the novel’s 1950’s sense, intend to marry her!), Julian, Hurwitz, and a dynastically-inclined young-Eli. As these implications are being debated the ruthless young-Eli makes his power-grab move. Unfortunately for him the killer-for-hire assassin he’s contracted to eliminate the ‘targets’ standing in his way, turns out to be Julian’s old Pool-arab friend Raphe Bartram, who has joined the assassins-guild as his own route out of the ghetto. So, Estelle winds up with Hurwitz. Julian dies in the final struggle to kill Eli. Allowing Raphe to close the novel, as it began, with ‘Goodbye Julian. Remember me to Bella Rose’.
In its original ‘New Worlds’ serial-form Bulmer adds a footnote, omitted from later versions, in which he expounds on the novel’s evolutionary sub-text at some considerable length. To him, it is obviously the key ingredient of the tale. Even though none of Sci-Fi’s usual psi-powers apply to these mental-supermen, no telepathy, telekinesis or pyrokinetic abilities. Evolution, he points out, ‘operates under pressure’, but within the high-energy business eco-system the ‘pressure working on him and changing him are pressures of his own creation.’ And I’m certain there are mega-wealthy global plutocrats and a capitalist financial elite today who would happily own to Bulmer’s analysis.
Unless, he suggests in a teasing aside, ‘we opt out of society and join the Beat Generation’!
So, is it a good novel, a neglected classic deserving of serious academic attention? In every literary sense, no. It does not really stand overthinking in any deeply profound way. It’s an adventure story with some strong original ideas, some fast-moving action, and maybe a slight social critique to give it edge. It’s highly readable, easy to devour at one sitting. Ideal for a train-journey or some undemanding holiday free time. It won’t change your life or alter your perspective on anything. But it’s a solid and entertaining read. That’s enough. Bulmer himself would probably agree.
Always a gregariously accessible character, his long thin face and moustache a familiar presence at SF-Conventions wherever the SF-community gathered, Kenneth Bulmer died 16 December 2005. Other writers had evolved through a similar trajectory of disreputable magazines and cheap novels. Some – like John Brunner, Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss, achieved later respectability through critically-acclaimed mature works of considerable mainstream force. For Kenneth Bulmer this was not an option. Not that he was not capable of it.
Later, his editorial talents proved vital when he inherited the ‘New Writings In SF’ series of anthologies following John Carnell’s death in 1972, deliberately introducing fresh writers and taking the volumes on to new heights of achievement. And for ‘The Best Of British SF 2’ anthology, editor Mike Ashley selects Bulmer’s “Advertise Your Cyanide”, calling it ‘undoubtedly one of the finest stories it (‘Nebula’) ever published’. Constructed in the fragmented experimental style and set within the overpopulated resource-poor Earth later exploited by John Brunner, Bulmer himself later explains that ‘the form of the story is presented in a way that is now remarkably familiar to the many New Wave stories... This presentation was a conscious attempt, given that form and content are indivisible, to make the form work hard and punch home the content’. Yet this was a playful style-aberration, done as if to prove that he could do it if he chose, his preference was always for longer story-forms that allowed space to develop character and his frequently bizarre themes. Like the equally prolific EC Tubb, his considerable reputation as a writer remains largely within the SF-community. He was essentially a writer. That’s what he did.
MORE KENNETH BULMER…
‘SUNSET’ (1955) novelette with Harry Turner art in ‘Nebula no.14’ (November 1955). Portraying a grim future in which the State equates ‘unrestricted breeding’ with ‘food-shortages’ and hence controls population. Birth can only occur to replace a death. It opens with Neils Whitcombe attending his own funeral – complete with Dancing Girl Troupe, having been given a three-day notice as ‘no longer an asset to society, but a dragging handicap’ who ‘must make way for the unborn generations to come’. While Anton Rand is torn between his greedy pushy materialistic wife Netta, his pregnant former girlfriend Vicki, his father Corbon who is also on notice of termination, and the promise of promotion offered ‘in a confidential tone, with the self-importance underlying it so thick you can see them preen’. The story features the ‘Thames Yard’ of ‘Interplanetary Shipbuilders Ltd’
‘CITY UNDER THE SEA’ (1957), first appeared in three parts as ‘Green Destiny Part 1’ in ‘New Worlds no.57’ (March 1957), ‘Green Destiny Part 2’ in ‘New Worlds no.58’ (April 1957), and Part 3 in no.59 (May), then as ‘City Under The Sea’ (Ace Double, 1957), Avon edition, January 1980, 173pp. One of his best early novels, incident-packed with plot-twists.
‘NEVER TRUST A ROBOT’ (1958), novelette in ‘New Worlds no.67’ (January 1958) about the problem of robots controlling other robots in an unfamiliar environment
“Advertise Your Cyanide” (April 1958, ‘Nebula no.29’) experimental story later collected into ‘The Best Of British SF 2’ edited by Mike Ashley (1977, Futura) ‘HIT THAT SYNAPSE WITH A WHIZ, DRAG THAT JAG WITH A NUCLEAR FIZZ!’, set in a ‘Bladerunner’ resource-poor future-city, ‘he caught the magnificent glitter of the elder’s ring, set with a solid piece of genuine coal, surrounded by diamonds. If he worked all his life, his soured mind nagged him, he still couldn’t have bought a ring like that with his amassed salary.’ Spencer Lord must protect repulsive Sahndran Ambassador Gosheron from assassination at a cardio-doped erotibombed drugged-up party because the alien’s home-world has Q’s Earth needs, but the second assassin is Katy, the girl he loves
‘THE COVETOUS’ (1958), novelette as by ‘H Philip Stratford’ in ‘Nebula no.30’ (May 1958). Blurbed ‘there was something odd about this little Earth-like planet… and something priceless which its natives gave away, merely for the asking’. Ahead of ‘Star Wars’, the aliens are Ewok-style ‘jolly roly-poly teddy-bear bundles of fur’ who have gems like a ‘shining morsel of sunlight’, only their gifts are jewel-in-the-skull parasites who transfer to the crew intent on reaching Earth. Fortunately alcohol kills them
‘THE CHANGELING WORLDS’ (1959, Ace Double – with Brian Aldiss ‘Vanguard From Alpha’, then 1961, Digit Books at 2s/6d) cover-blurbed ‘An Excursion Into The Fantastic World Of Tomorrow’, Richard Makepeace Kirby is part of the ‘Set’ who live hedonistic lives of interstellar parties enlivened by degrav, vibro-stimulators and narcotic giggle-gas. Mildly racy by 1950’s standards, ‘Molly was wearing a petulantly perplexed expression, and nothing else’, and occasionally silly. When Kirby’s missionary brother Alec is murdered his investigations take him to the dark devolved outer-worlds and the secret of the forbidden ‘red or black-symbol’ worlds
‘KARL THE VIKING’ (1960), initial saga titled ‘The Sword Of Einger’ debuted in ‘Lion’ 29 October 1960, scripted by Ken Bulmer, illustrated by Don Lawrence, with blonde Karl and sneering rival Skurl both pledged to recover the sword stolen by the Saxon Earl Gyrth of Eastumbria. Its popularity resulted in the strip continuing, retitled ‘Karl the Viking’, to run for four years and 205-episodes, ending 29 September 1964, with a total of thirteen adventures, some with fantasy elements – Atlantis, and hideous transformations wrought by hallucinogenic fungus, plus four more in ‘Lion Annuals’, one written by Michael Moorcock. From 1 October 1966 ‘Lion’ began a reprint-series retitled ‘Swords Of The Sea Wolves’ with Karl renamed Rolf to imply it was a new strip. Rolf's adventures ended after a year, on 7 October 1967, though not before ‘Lion Annual 1968’ carried a brand new adventure. Two years later there was another reprint series as ‘Erik the Viking’, this time in ‘Smash!’ between 3 May 1969 and 3 April 1971, with a new text adventure in ‘Valiant Summer Special 1971’ following the merger of ‘Smash!’ with ‘Valiant’. Kenneth Bulmer’s adult Viking novels published as by ‘Neil Langholm’ may owe a debt to the early Karl sagas (‘The Dark Return’ and ‘Blood Sacrifice’ both in 1975, and ‘Blood On The Sun’ in 1979)
‘BEYOND THE SILVER SKY’ (April 1961, Ace Double – with John Brunner’s ‘Meeting At Infinity’) originally a ‘long novelette’ in ‘Science Fantasy no.43’ (October 1960), cover-illustrated by Brian Lewis, where it was advertised as a follow-up to “Green Destiny” – ‘now we bring you another epic of the ocean deeps, the last refuge of Man, and a wonderful journey of exploration to discover what is above the silver sky’
‘LAND BEYOND THE MAP’ (1961, Ace Double), first in Bulmer’s ‘Keys To The Dimensions’ story-series about parallel worlds. Began as ‘The Map Country’ (in ‘Science Fantasy’, February 1961), then ‘Land Beyond The Map’ blurbed ‘Take This Route To… Oblivion’ (1961, Ace Double), then ‘The Key To Irunium’ (1967, Ace Double), ‘The Key To Venudine’ (1968), ‘The Wizards Of Senchuria’ (1969), ‘The Ships Of Durostorum’ (1970),’The Hunters Of Jundagai’ – blurbed ‘quest and quarry are one in the dimensional steeplechase’ (1971, Ace Double with John Glasby’s ‘Project Jove’), ‘The Chariots Of Ra’ (1972), ‘The Diamond Contessa’ (1983)
‘BEHOLD THE STARS’ (1965, Ace Double), the human race ventures into deep space via giant matter transmitters positioned between star systems
‘WORLDS FOR THE TAKING’ (1966, Ace. Gateway Kindle edition, September 2011), bringing planets from other solar systems to orbit our sun, until Chief Commander Stephen Strang discovers that the core of stolen planet Vesta is a vast time-bomb
‘TO OUTRUN DOOMSDAY’ (1967, Ace with Kelly Freas cover-art, February 1975 by New English Library at 40p). ‘Science Fiction Monthly’ review says ‘a spaceman crash-lands on a planet and finds the people harassed by their leaders who they revere as gods. He takes the side of the oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. One of his best’
‘THE DOOMSDAY MEN’ (1968, Doubleday/ Robert Hale), in a future-age of omnipotent machines, vast megalopolis with pedways and monorails, Robert Carver is an esper who make psychic contact with murder victims to discover the identity of their killers. But experiencing a sudden wave of murders begins to affect him. Available in ‘Gateway’ Kindle edition from July 2012
‘THE ULCER CULTURE’ (April 1969, Macdonald, then as ‘Stained-Glass World’, April 1976 by NEL at 45p), sharp division between the haves and have-nots in an extreme compendia of everything that is most unpleasant about modern city life
‘TRANSIT TO SCORPIO’ (December 1972, DAW Books), first title of epic ‘Dray Prescot’ tales as by ‘Alan Burt Akers’ which runs to 52 novel titles – from (2) ‘The Suns Of Scorpio’, (3) ‘Warrior Of Scorpio’, (4) ‘Swordships Of Scorpio’ and on, collected into ten ‘Sagas’, (1) ‘The Delian Cycle’, (2) ‘The Havilfar Cycle 1’, (3) ‘The Havilfar Cycle II’, (4) ‘The Krozair Cycle’, (5) ‘The Vallian Cycle’, (6) ‘The Jikaida Cycle’, (7) ‘The Spikatur Cycle’, (8) ‘The Pandahem Cycle 1’, (9) ‘The Pandahem Cycle II’, and (10) ‘The Witch War Cycle’
‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF’ (1973) Ken Bulmer replaces John Carnell as editor of this original-fiction anthology-series with no.22 (April 1973, Sidgwick & Jackson, then Corgi paperback at 35p) through to the final edition, no.30 (1978, Corgi). Plus three editions of ‘New Writings In SF Special’ (1975, 1978 and 1978). In 1970 he had been commissioned to edit ‘Sword And Sorcery’ – a fantasy companion title to the ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ magazine. Two issues were prepared and type-set, but the project was aborted due to withdrawal of funds. Mike Ashley observes that ‘most of the unused material was snapped up by other magazines and the experience stood Bulmer in good stead’
‘THE PROFESSIONALS’ Kenneth Bulmer wrote a series of fifteen spin-off novels for the ‘The Professionals’, adapted from episode-scripts of the London Weekend TV-series and published as by ‘Ken Blake’ by Sphere, including (no.1, 1978) ‘Where The Jungle Ends’, (no.2, 1978) ‘Long Shot’, (no.10, 1981) ‘Cry Wolf’, (no.11, 1981) ‘Spy Probe’, (no.13, 1982) ‘The Untouchables’, (no.15, 1982) ‘You’ll Be Alright’
‘THE STEEL CLAW: THE VANISHING MAN’ (January 2006, Titan Books), 112-page graphic-novel reprint edition of the original ‘Valiant’ picture-strips, script by Ken Bulmer, art by Jesus Blasco. Although Bulmer only scripts the first three tales, the strip runs from 1962 to 1968, then in ‘Vulcan’ 1975-1976 with the ‘Mr No-Face’ story from 17 January to 31 January 1970 reprinted in the ‘Vulcan Annual 1977’. It opens ‘in the hushed privacy of a science laboratory the brilliant Professor Barringer and his hard-faced young assistant, Louis Crandell, were experimenting with a new ray for medical purposes. The assistant’s right hand was made of steel, replacing the real hand lost in a laboratory accident…’ but the experiment goes awry, ‘a crackling whiplash of ultra-high voltage smashed into Crandell’s hand!’ When the smoke clears, only the hand is left. Thereafter, the somewhat accident-prone Crandell is able to become invisible at will by passing an electrical current through it. At first he uses his powers for criminal activities, but later becomes a secret agent and superhero for the Shadow Squad of British Secret Service who refit his Claw with various secret weapons. He encounters genius children possessed by electrical aliens, and a mad genius who shrinks entire towns to hold their populations hostage
Henry Kenneth Bulmer (14 January 1921 – 16 December 2005). EC Tubb writes that ‘most men of imagination are chameleon-like in their diversity of interests, and Ken is no exception. Talk poetry, the old sailing ships, romantic voyages of discovery, archaeology and his special interest in the evolution of Man, and you will be enthralled and entertained.’ Ken Bulmer was also a model railway enthusiast.