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Hamilton, Edmond

Entry updated 11 September 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1904-1977) US author, married to Leigh Brackett from 1946 until his death. With E E "Doc" Smith and Jack Williamson, he was one of the prime movers in the development of US sf, sharing with those writers in the creation and popularization of classic Space Opera as it first appeared in Pulp magazines from about 1928. His first story, "The Monster-God of Mamurth" for Weird Tales in August 1926, which vulgarized the florid weird-science world of Abraham Merritt, only hinted at the exploits to come, though Hamilton found Science Fantasy a fertile vein, collecting this story and others in his first book, The Horror on the Asteroid & Other Tales of Planetary Horror (coll 1936), a volume which includes a vivid Horror-In-Sf tale, "The Man Who Evolved" (April 1931 Wonder Stories) (for details see Brain in a Box). His early work is also assembled, more comprehensively, in The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume One: The Metal Giants and Others (coll 2009), which includes his more sf-like second story, "Across Space" (September-November 1926 Weird Tales), about refugees from Mars who have hidden for centuries on Easter Island.

But his importance to sf was only properly signalled two years later, with the publication of "Crashing Suns" (August-September 1928 Weird Tales), one of the founding texts of the kind of Space Opera with which he soon became identified: a Universe-spanning tale, often featuring in early years an Earthman and his comrades (not necessarily human) who discover a cosmic threat to the home Galaxy and successfully – either alone, or with the aid of a space armada, or both – combat the Aliens responsible for the threat; it would be left to E E Smith to transform adventures of this sort into larger-scale narratives involving Galactic Empires and their seemingly inevitable concomitant: structures based on (and presuming to comment upon) human history (see History in SF). Though not technically part of the series, "Crashing Suns" is closely linked to the six Tales of the Interstellar Patrol stories, which followed over the next two years. The 1960s partial book publication of the sequence – comprising Outside the Universe (July-October 1929 Weird Tales; 1964) and Crashing Suns (stories August 1928-November 1930 Weird Tales; coll 1965), omitting only "The Sun People" (May 1930 Weird Tales) – was useful, but has been superseded by The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume Two: The Star-Stealers: The Complete Tales of the Interstellar Patrol (coll 2009), which also includes two similar but unrelated book-length tales, The Hidden World (Fall 1929 Science Wonder Quarterly; 2017 dos) and The Other Side of the Moon (Fall 1929 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 2014 dos). In Hamilton's early work, science or pseudoscience (see Scientific Errors) served as a magically enabling doubletalk for the easier presentation of interstellar action, and the scope, colour and dynamic clarity of this liberated action did much to define the Sense of Wonder for a generation of readers, who rewarded Hamilton with several nicknames in recognition of his gift, variously "World-Destroyer", "The World Wrecker", or "World-Saver Hamilton".

Others of his works contributing to the creation of the form include The Metal Giants (December 1926 Weird Tales; 1932 chap), "The Comet Doom" (January 1928 Amazing) and The Universe Wreckers (May-July 1930 Amazing; 2015 dos). The main failure of Hamilton's in this subgenre is a lack of cohesion, as he seemed to lack any sense of strategic plotting, which was tied to an inability to "sell the shot" (that is, to time and to approach from obscuring angles of vision the moments of sense-of-wonder sublimity); that lack would of course be remedied in the work of E E Smith. Hamilton persisted with the format through the 1930s, with gradually diminishing success, occasionally under pseudonyms including Robert Castle, Hugh Davidson, Robert Wentworth and the House Name Will Garth.

Much of this material remained in magazines, or was erratically put into book form; but from the 1990s a revival of interest in Hamilton has inspired more sustained efforts to make this early era available to a larger audience. An ongoing project, The Collected Edmond Hamilton, the first two volumes of which are cited variously above [and in Checklist below], is projected to contain all his short work. Earlier volumes designed to recapture his early career – including Kaldar: World of Antares (coll of linked stories 1998), which assembles the three Kaldar tales from 1933-1935; Invisible Master (coll 2000 chap), which assembles two 1930 stories from Scientific Detective; and The Vampire Master and Other Stories (coll 2000), which mostly includes 1930s sf with a Horror cast – have already assembled sizeable samples from these prolific years.

Dangerously for his career, Hamilton also occupied much of his time in the early 1940s with the smoother but significantly less lively Captain Future series, published 1940-1950 by Standard Magazines in Captain Future (1940-1944) and afterwards in Startling Stories (1945-1946 and 1950-1951). Not all the Captain Future stories were by Hamilton. Five were signed with the House Name Brett Sterling, of which three – "The Star of Dread" (Summer 1943 Captain Future), "Magic Moon" (Winter 1944 Captain Future) and "Red Sun of Danger" (Spring 1945 Startling) – were by Hamilton and two – "Worlds to Come" (Spring 1943 Captain Future) and "Days of Creation" (Spring 1944 Captain Future) – were by Joseph Samachson, with one further title – The Solar Invasion (Fall 1946 Startling; 1969) – being by Manly Wade Wellman. Each tale was written to a rigorous formula in which the super-Scientist protagonist, backed by three aides (one Robot, one Android and one Brain in a Box), who after raising the young Future on the Moon now help him bring the interstellar Villain Ul Quorn to justice; a task which takes several volumes to accomplish. Hamilton's Captain Future titles eventually released in book form begin – in order of book publication – with Danger Planet (Spring 1945 Startling as "Red Sun of Danger"; 1968, as by Sterling); include The Comet Kings (Summer 1942 Captain Future; 1969), which was probably the outstanding tale among them; and end with Captain Future and the Space Emperor (Winter 1940 Captain Future; 1969) [for all titles see Checklist]; Captain Future, Man of Tomorrow (coll of linked stories 2005) assembles the final seven tales, reduced to novelette-length and first published in Startling (1950-1951). More recently, the ongoing Collected Captain Future sequence, beginning with The Collected Captain Future Wizard of Science: Volume One (coll 2009), is projected to include the entire series. The original idea for Captain Future had come from Mort Weisinger, a senior editor with the Standard Magazines group. Later, in 1941, Weisinger shifted over to DC Comics, and took many of his top writers with him, including Hamilton, who worked for some time in the mid-1940s as a staff writer on Superman, along with Henry Kuttner and others. Allen Steele's Avengers of the Moon: A Captain Future Novel (2017) radically updates the Captain's origin story, while remaining remarkably faithful to the tone of the original series.

Hamilton's early 1940s absence from adult sf, through his work in comics and his involvement with Captain Future (Young Adult titles aimed primarily at teenaged boys), made it initially somewhat difficult for him to be accepted after World War Two as the competent and versatile professional he had in fact been for years, for he was a writer with a much wider range than was generally realized, one who had already produced several stories whose comparatively sober verisimilitude prefigured post-World War Two requirements. After his marriage to Leigh Brackett in 1946 his output diminished, but its quality increased, a fact obscured by the publication in book form over the next years of material from his early career – like Tharkol, Lord of the Unknown (May 1939 Startling as "The Prisoner of Mars"; 1950), in which Martians invade Earth for its water – and by his habitual rehashing of space-opera conventions in old-fashioned epics like The Sun Smasher (September 1954 Universe as "Starman Come Home"; 1959 dos), Battle for the Stars (June 1956 Imagination as by Alexander Blade; exp 1961) and Fugitive of the Stars (December 1957 Imagination as "Fugitive from the Stars"; rev 1965 dos). His final series, however, the Starwolf tales about tough interstellar adventurer Morgan Chane, is similarly antiquated in premise, but told in a clean-cut trimmed-down language which has won it supporters. The sequence comprises The Weapon from Beyond (1967), The Closed Worlds (1968) and World of the Starwolves (1968), all three being assembled as Starwolf (omni 1982).

At the same time, however, Hamilton was writing novels which, though in the space-opera tradition, were more carefully composed and darker in texture. They include The Monsters of Juntonheim: A Complete Book-Length Novel of Amazing Adventure (January 1941 Startling as "A Yank at Valhalla"; 1950; vt A Yank at Valhalla 1973 dos); City at World's End (July 1950 Startling Stories; 1951), in which a super-Weapon dislocates a contemporary small city à la Clifford D Simak into a far future Dying Earth (the term is specifically used) where the survivors must cope with Alien Invasions and a demanding Galactic Empire; The Star of Life (January 1947 Startling; rev 1959) and The Valley of Creation (July 1948 Startling; rev 1964), a strongly written Sword-and-Sorcery tale with an sf denouement. (Hamilton revealed in "An Interview with Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton" [Summer 1976 Tangent #5] that Brackett, uncredited, had written three chapters of The Valley of Creation.) It is for these novels that he is now mainly remembered. The best of them is probably The Haunted Stars (1960), in which well-characterized humans face a shattering mystery on the Moon: the secret of star travel left by long-dead Aliens, along with dark warnings. The Star Kings (September 1947 Amazing; 1949; vt Beyond the Moon 1950), whose plot reflects The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony Hope (see Ruritania), is grander in scope but less impressively written; it forms the beginning of the Star Kings sequence which also includes Return to the Stars (coll of linked stories 1970), and both volumes are assembled as Chronicles of the Star Kings (omni 1986); both novels were also included in Stark and the Star Kings (anth/coll 2005) with Leigh Brackett, along with unrelated material by Brackett, plus the only credited collaboration between the two, the previously unpublished "Stark and the Star Kings", which lamely conflates Hamilton's Space Opera with his wife's Planetary Romance tales featuring Eric John Stark.

Hamilton shared with his long-time colleague Jack Williamson a capable and flexible attitude towards the post-World War Two genre and its markets (in contrast to the third great originator of US space opera, E E Smith [see above], who was a generation older, and who never adjusted). Through his ability to evolve a cleaner and more literate style to meet these new demands, and to apply this style to his old generic loves, Hamilton wrote novels at the end of his career that read perfectly idiomatically as novels of the 1960s, as evidenced also in two compendiums of his shorter work: What's It Like Out There? and Other Stories (coll 1974) and the posthumous The Best of Edmond Hamilton (coll 1977) edited by Leigh Brackett. In the end, it can be said of Hamilton that he took Space Opera seriously enough to make it good. [JC]

see also: Air Wonder Stories; Amazing Stories; Asteroids; Colonization of Other Worlds; Comics; Computers; Cosmology; Crime and Punishment; Cyborgs; Devolution; End of the World; ESP; Evolution; Fantastic Voyages; Fermi Paradox; Future War; Heroes; History of SF; Invisibility; Islands; Jupiter; Living Worlds; Matter Transmission; Mutants; Mythology; Omega Point; Parallel Worlds; Paranoia; Publishing; Religion; Space Flight; Stars; Sun.

Edmond Moore Hamilton

born Youngstown, Ohio: 21 October 1904

died Lancaster, California: 1 February 1977



Tales of the Interstellar Patrol

Captain Future: Collected

Captain Future: individual titles

Star Kings


The Collected Edmond Hamilton

Titles are separately listed under series designations where relevant.

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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