The Other E.E. Smith
The science fiction genre has been graced by the presence of two authors with the byline of “E.E. Smith”; both were largely responsible for revolutions in the field. The first, better known today as “Doc” Smith, gave us the earliest form of modern space opera in The Skylark of Space. This was followed by the famed Lensmen series and crashing suns and exploding planets became the order of the day. “Doc” Smith was followed in short order by John W. Campbell and Edmond Hamilton and the stage was set for mayhem on a cosmic scale not seen again until Star Wars.
Evelyn E. Smith was an integral part of a much quieter, but ultimately more influential, revolution. Beginning with her debut story “Tea Tray in the Sky” (included herein), she became one of the standard bearers for H.L. Gold’s anti-Campbellian science fiction and fantasy as characterized by Galaxy Magazine, Beyond, and If: Worlds of Science Fiction. Evelyn E. Smith certainly can’t be called the major author published in Galaxy, perhaps not even one of the top five, but what she was as much or more so than better-known authors such as Simak, Dick, Pohl, & Sturgeon was the very definition of the anti-Campbellian author.
Evelyn E. Smith wrote people stories, it didn’t matter if the “people” were furred, feathered, or even completely non-human, the characterization was deep and her stories for the most part were clever satire. Her very first story “Tea Tray in the Sky” remains one of the best skewering of the nonsense that multi-culturalism and political correctness leads to; and this was written in 1952!
The follies and foibles of modern society were her targets, and along with authors such as Frederick Pohl, James Blish, Robert Sheckley and C.M. Kornbluth. Whereas many a lesser writer fails to entertain while delivering a message, this cannot be said of Smith. First and foremost, her stories were entertaining, no matter how serious the message that she was getting across. There’s also a sense of a great love for humanity despite its failings, none of the bitterness of an Ambrose Bierce or the savagery of a Jonathan Swift. Smith sees the humor in humanity and in the tradition of the best humorists, gently pokes fun at her target without malice.
Readers responded enthusiastically to Smith’s stories, and she quickly became a mainstay of Galaxy and Beyond; with numerous appearances in Fantastic Universe and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While science fiction was her mainstay, Evelyn E. Smith also demonstrated a knack for the sort of urbane fantasy that made John W. Campbell’s Unknown a great magazine a decade earlier. Of course, by the 1950s, Campbell was no longer interested in fantasy and Smith never appeared in Astounding or Analog. We’ve included one such story in this volume, “Dragon Lady”, with her novella “Call Me Wizard” forming the centerpiece of a future volume in this series.
Smith seemed so omnipresent in the 1950s magazines that it may come as shock to realize that her entire output totaled less than sixty stories. Of course, those sixty stories all appeared within a period of only ten years, and in her most productive year (1955) she had a dozen stories published including three in the month of June alone!
Sadly, the market for short story collections was as dismal in the 1950s and 1960s as it is today; despite a wealth of great material for an editor to choose from, no one stepped up to assemble a collection of Smith’s work. Her short novel, The Copy Shop saw hardcover publication, but with the exception of a handful of anthology appearances, the majority of her work was allowed to vanish into obscurity. As the decade of the 1960s dawned, Evelyn E. Smith left the digest magazines behind to focus on the far more remunerative field of young-adult fiction. After 1961 only two more short stories appeared and the decade closed without seeing a collection published.
Evelyn E. Smith deserves to be remembered as one of the authors that made the 1950s a second “golden age” of science fiction. This is the first of at least four collections that will gather the best of her science fiction and fantasy in book form at long last. Readers will finally have a chance to read the best of her work and have it preserved in the permanence of a hardcover (or trade paperback) book. Evelyn E. Smith is truly one of the unjustly neglected masters of the form, and far, far more than just “the other E.E. Smith”.