Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Cummings, Ray

Entry updated 10 July 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


Working name of US author Raymond King Cummings (1887-1957), writer of over 600 identified stories under various names in various genres, about 350 of them between 1935 and 1942; it is estimated he probably wrote at least 750 tales in all. He was one of the few writers active during the heyday of US Pulp-magazine sf (1930-1950) to have begun his career before Hugo Gernsback launched Amazing in 1926. One of his best-known sf stories is also his first professional publication, "The Girl in the Golden Atom" for All-Story Weekly, 15 March 1919 (see The All-Story), which with its sequel, "People of the Golden Atom" (24 January-24 February 1920 All-Story Weekly), makes up a young man's Club Story account of his extraordinary adventures on a microscopic world after he takes a size-diminishing Drug and undergoes Miniaturization; the two tales, published together as The Girl in the Golden Atom (fixup 1922; exp 1923), proved the cornerstone both of Cummings's sf reputation and of much of his work from this time on, for he used the idea of the size-diminishing drug and the microscopic world, with many variations, for the rest of his long career (see Great and Small). The Girl in the Golden Atom is the first of the loose Scientific Club sequence – tales not closely connected beyond the Club Story venue of their telling – which also includes The Man Who Mastered Time (12 July-2 August 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1929), the stories assembled in Tales of the Scientific Crime Club (stories 1925 Flynn's [mostly] and 1925 The Sketch; coll 1979 chap), and some uncollected work. The two novels also constitute respectively "Matter" and the "Time" contributions to Cummings's extremely loose Matter, Space and Time sequence: the "Space" portion also contains The Fire People (21 October-18 November 1922 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 2008) and The Princess of the Atom (14 September-19 October 1929 Argosy All-Story Weekly and Argosy; 1950) (she is also "Matter"); the "Time" portion also takes in The Shadow Girl (22 June-13 July 1929 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1946) and The Exile of Time (April-July 1931 Astounding; 1964).

Along with a very large number of detective tales, Cummings wrote many further sf stories in his prolific period – combining the two genres in the nine stories of his Crimes of the Year 2000 sequence in Detective Fiction Weekly 1935-1937 – though his mechanical style and the formulaic stiffness of his work lost him popularity after World War Two, and he fell relatively silent after 1950; Cummings was fundamentally a Pulp (which see) Magazine writer and – in contrast to colleagues only a little younger, like Murray Leinster and Edmond Hamilton – he was never capable of adapting himself to the changing times, either scientifically or stylistically. All the same, a singleton like The Sea Girl (2 February-6 April 1929 Argosy All-Story Magazine as "Sea Girl"; 1930), in which a humanoid race from Under the Sea threatens 1990s Homo sapiens, has a rough charm; but his later works, published in a much changed literary world, could be interchanged with his earliest with very little adjustment. In the 1960s, some of his work was nostalgically reprinted in book form, but this revival did not affect the critical consensus. Typical of his rather roughshod prose and routine conceptualizing are the Tama novels: Tama of the Light Country (13-27 December 1930 Argosy; 1965) and Tama, Princess of Mercury (27 June-18 July 1931 Argosy; 1966), the heroine of which does very well after being kidnapped from Earth to Mercury. Brigands of the Moon (March-June 1930 Astounding; 1931) – later published in Canada with a mistaken attribution to John W Campbell Jr – and its sequel Wandl, the Invader (February-May 1932 Astounding; 1961 dos), which also features the adventurous Greg Haljan, are examples of his Space-Opera output, in which space pirates proliferate and humans defeat terrifying alien monsters. "The Snow Girl" (2-23 November 1928 Argosy) and "The Jungle Rebellion" (31 October-5 December 1931 Argosy) never achieved book publication.

So there will likely never be a Cummings revival; at the same time, in the hindsight now afforded by a considerable passage of time, his numerous contributions can be recognized as honourable and sustained in their context. He is securely embedded in the history of the field. [JC]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Black Holes; Conceptual Breakthrough; Fantastic Voyages; First Fandom Hall of Fame; History of SF; Publishing; Robots; Scientific Errors; Time; Time Travel.

Raymond King Cummings

born New York: 30 August 1887

died Mount Vernon, New York: 23 January 1957



Matter, Space and Time

  • The Girl in the Golden Atom (London: Methuen and Co, 1922) [fixup: first chapter appeared 15 March 1919 All-Story Weekly: Matter, Space and Time: hb/]
  • The Man Who Mastered Time (Chicago, Illinois: A C McClurg and Co, 1929) [first appeared 12 July-2 August 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly: Matter, Space and Time: hb/J Allen St John]
  • The Shadow Girl (London: Gerald G Swan, 1946) [first appeared 22 June-13 July 1929 Argosy All-Story Weekly: this edition was pirated: Matter, Space and Time: hb/]
  • The Princess of the Atom (New York: Avon Books, 1950) [first appeared 14-28 September 1919 Argosy All-Story Weekly and 19 October 1929 Argosy: Matter, Space and Time: pb/]
  • The Exile of Time (New York: Avalon Books, 1964) [first appeared April-July 1931 Astounding: Matter, Space and Time: hb/Ed Emshwiller]
  • The Fire People (McLean, Virginia:, 2008) [first appeared 21 October-18 November 1922 Argosy All-Story Weekly: Matter, Space and Time: hb/]

Greg Haljan


individual titles

collections and stories

about the author


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies