1950s British Science Fiction gets a boost – charting the growing success of Panther Books

Panther Books - Early Logo (1950s)

Author Philip Harbottle takes us back to 1952 with his latest look at the science fiction publishing in Britain, a new episode of 1950s British Science Fiction mini documentary again putting Hamilton & Company, and the rise of Panther Books in the spotlight.

Although best known for their SF releases, the Panther Books logo encompassed other genre, too, including adventure titles. Philip spotlights some of the best SF of the era, despite austerity-imposed restrictions on page counts, and draws our attention to the striking cover art of Gordon Davies and occasional SF artist, John Pollack, the latter usually working across many other genres.

As ever, the plots of some of these stories, such as Beyond the Visible by HJ Campbell sound utterly bonkers, but that author wrote much better stories later in his career – and another highlight in the early Panther SF range, Born in Captivity, by Bryan Berry, serves notice that the company seems keen to up its game in terms of never delivering a dull story.

Both books feature in a prestigious hardback format that, sadly, wasn’t a commercial success, perhaps because Hamilton weren’t established in the book trade as a hardback publisher. Undaunted, the company ploughed on with their paperbacks, which helped the publisher’s developing success.

This was helped still further by great novels such as The Mutants Rebel by EC Tubb, a story that has lost none of its appeal down the years and enabled Philip to resell it as World in Torment, to publisher Ulverscroft, released in 2008. Philip reveals it is soon to be released again, by Wildside Press, and suggests it is a book that should be among the collection of many a SF fan.

Philip Harbottle is a life-long science fiction fan, regarded as a world authority on the works of John Russell Fearn, whose credits encompass writing “Garth” for the Daily Mirror, and the “Golden Amazon” for Spaceship Away (adapting Fearn’s stories). 

He’s also very kindly contributed a number of synopses of early “Garth” stories to downthetubes, which we are adding as time permits.

Back in the 1950s, he adapted some of the Radio Luxembourg Dan Dare radio shows into comics at a young age – the only record of some of these tales known to exist, since very few recordings survive.

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World in Torment by EC Tubb  (Ulverscroft edition)

World in Torment by EC Tubb

Atomic war had been instituted by men – overriding the desires of women and plunging the world into destruction. Finally, the vast armies shattered, women succeed as rulers, and under successive Matriarchs the world recovers.

But when orders are issued for the assassination of Don Burgarde, the seeds of rebellion are sown…

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