Here’s my survey of interesting texts and authors set to enter the public domain in early 2021 in nations which follow “the 70 year rule”, the author having died in 1950. Some of their works may already be in the public domain, but soon all of them will be. Then I follow this section by briefly noting the names in the “50-year rule” nations.
Nations following the 70 year rule:
* Edgar Rice Burroughs, for Tarzan, Barsoom, old Venus and more.
* George Orwell, for the anti-authoritarian political classics, Animal Farm and 1984. His essays might also be selected from to make a new themed book.
* Olaf Stapledon, ground-breaking British science-fiction author. His seminal ‘future history’ Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937) are his best known books. His post-war Worlds of Wonder: Three Tales of Fantasy (1949) was only issued in a limited edition of 500. Basil Davenport collected his best in To the End of Time: the Best of Olaf Stapledon (1953) and Sam Moskowitz gathered up the rest in Far Future Calling: Uncollected Science Fiction and Fantasies of Olaf Stapledon (1979).
* Ernest Haycox, an extremely prolific and popular author of what appear to be romping quality westerns and revolutionary war adventures, featuring tough and robust characters who live by their own rules. Had stories in the pulps of the 1920s, and he later graduated to the ‘slicks’ where he was admired by the likes of Ernest Hemingway. I would imagine he was being noticed by the likes of Robert E. Howard. One story was filmed as Stagecoach (1939), another as Union Pacific (1939). He had a vast output, and looks likely to be an excellent mine of brisk adventure plots that could be morphed into newly-told science-fiction works.
* Rafael Sabatini, a prolific English-Italian writer of historical adventure and mystery novels. His sea adventures The Sea Hawk (1915) and Captain Blood (1922) became best-sellers and were filmed. Blood became over time, effectively, a four-book set. Along with the works of Everett McNeil, the Blood books were among the very few books that librarians found it impossible to keep on the juvenile library shelves in the 1920s and 30s — as soon as they came back, another boy would take them out. He also published a three-book series The Historical Nights’ Entertainment, containing vivid re-tellings of real-life royal murders and intrigues, impersonations and similar bizarre doings in the upper echelons of society. His mystery stories were collected in The Evidence of the Sword and Other Mysteries (2006). At a guess, he’s now possibly of most interest today to makers of media productions looking for the next Game of Thrones with a pirate-y twist.
* Max Pemberton, a London dandy who had an early career as a boys’ magazine editor. Knowing what boys want, his The Iron Pirate was a best-seller of the 1890s — a tale of a giant new type of gas-powered ironclad ship which dominates the Atlantic. He went on to write many historical adventure novels and mystery-crime stories. His Wheels of Anarchy (1908) is an “adventure tale about anarchists and assassins that is set across Europe”.
* William Hovgaard, a naval historian. His early book The Voyages of the Norsemen in America (1914) has probably been superseded, but perhaps suitably updated with his 1925 article “The Norsemen in Greenland” and later scholarship, it might make the basis of an unusual non-fiction graphic novel?
* Erle Cox, an Australian science-fiction writer with a modest output. His novel Out of the Silence (1919 as a serial, 1925 as a book, 1928 in New York) was very popular in Australia and saw 13 reprints. This became a long-running comic strip and also a radio series in Australia. His Fools Harvest (1939) was a prophetic future-war tale. Short story collections available include Major Mendax: Tales of a Mad Scientist, and The Gift of Venus and Other Stories. He was perfectly timed, and with the right politics, to have been an occasional H.P. Lovecraft correspondent — but he doesn’t appear to have been.
* George Bernard Shaw, the once incredibly famous playwright and thinker. He had a vast output, but almost all of his work addressed ‘topical issues’ of his time and thus is not usually to modern tastes. Some of it has had a lasting popularity, such as his Pygmalion (famously filmed as My Fair Lady) which might be newly adapted into science-fiction, perhaps with themes of AI and robots. His Back to Methuselah (A Metabiological Pentateuch) is a series of linked plays leading into the far-future in an Olaf Stapledon-like manner, and it is his only serious attempt at science-fiction. It was ambitiously presented as an unabridged full-cast broadcast for BBC radio in 1952, but no recording or reading-script appears to have survived. By the 1950s Back to Methuselah had become a running joke in the dressing-rooms of British theatre-land, for its difficult staging and long running-time. Like most of the British left at that time, he was avidly in favour of eugenic breeding — which may freak out today’s enfeebled left and cause further problems with any revival.
* R. R. Ryan. (Evelyn Bradley). Tense and ghoulish psychological horror novels of the 1930s, usually involving girls being menaced. From the descriptions, he seems to be an acquired taste for hardened connoisseurs of obscure British horror.
* Ralph Straus, a science-fiction and fantasy author with some novels that still sound interesting and are probably already in the public domain in most places. His The Dust which is God (1907) takes the Edwardian reader on a Dante-esque guided tour of several utopian planets, and it may be of interest to those who enjoy early ideas-led Edwardian cosmic science-fiction and attempts to imagine utopias. Apparently rather a good book, according to several reviewers in the 1970s, though he doesn’t appear in Science Fiction: The Early Years. In his later Pengard Awake (1920) he departed from his usual style, and has “An English book collector travel to Chicago where he meets an antiquarian bookseller in his shop in Chicago and tries to help him cope with a dark mystery.” The review in Punch said that the author “tells his queer story so plausibly and with so light a touch that even though you may affect to scoff at his dashing improbabilities you cannot escape their attraction.” The New York Tribune made it sound a little darker… “an amazing but plausible novel of dual personality. Not since Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have we had a more powerful delineation of the forces of good and evil at war in a man’s soul.” Possibly there are other interesting stories by Straus to be found and collected.
* Irving Bacheller was a successful American newspaperman who introduced American readers to the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling, and who sponsored The Red Badge of Courage. He turned to writing his own enormously popular semi-autobiographical novels of early America, farm-life and war. He also wrote what appear to be vivid historical novels such as Vergilius: A Tale of the Coming of Christ, and his favourite A Man for the Ages: A Story of the Builders of Democracy (being the story of Abraham Lincoln).
* William Rose Benet the American encyclopedia-maker, reviewer, anthologist and poet. His more intriguing titles include The Flying King of Kurio: A Story of Children (1926) and the poetry pamphlet Mad Blake: A Poem (1937). The latter seemingly sunk without trace, but presumably being about the visionary William Blake. His dark poem “The Skater of Ghost Lake” is taught in American schools. His Pulitzer Prize winning poetry book The Dust which is God is not to be confused with the novel of the same name by Ralph Straus (see above).
* Frank Parker Day, whose novel Rockbound (1928) evokes the terrible powers of the Atlantic ocean, as it tells the story of bitterly feuding families on an isolated island off Nova Scotia. Not a novel to take away on your cheerful island holiday, by the sound of it, though it appears to have a cult following among modern gloomsters.
* Warwick Deeping, a once very popular British story and novel writer, who saw reprints in the Saturday Evening Post and Adventure. His early works were described as… “misty colour-shot, ultra-fantastic romances of pre-Arthurian days”, and he is is said to have gleefully re-worked Arthurian characters in a Marion Zimmer Bradley manner. But he was stung by vicious utilitarian critics for the crime of being both fantastical and middle-brow, and he appears to have tried to please the critics by turning to modern tales addressing worthy ‘social issues’. He apparently sometimes succeeded quite well at this, despite the continuing disdain of the critics — who made his name a by-word for popular mediocrity. But one wonders what he might have produced, if his lighter historical fantasies had been allowed to develop and deepen through the 1920s and 30s. But what we do have of the earlier historical and Arthurian novels are: Uther and Igraine; Love Among the Ruins; The Seven Streams; Bertrand of Brittany; The Red Saint; Joan of the Tower; The House of Spies (Napoleonic period); Martin Valliant, and also the posthumous The Sword and the Cross (1957). His time-travel story The Man Who Went Back popped up as the lead novel in Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine for Christmas 1947, and is essentially a historical work. Probably there are others like it…
* E.C. Bentley, a British poet who published a much-praised modern detective novel, Trent’s Last Case (1913) which was filmed three times. Later Trent short stories were collected in his Trent Intervenes (1938). A science-fiction story, “Flying Visit” (Evening Standard, 1953) has recently been re-discovered.
* Lawrence Donovan, a writer of nine Doc Savage novels, he may have died in 1948 or 1950 (Wikipedia has 1948, Gutenberg Australia has 1950). In the 1920s he landed stories in titles ranging from Argosy to Zeppelin Stories, and then continued publishing in the pulps and mystery magazines into the 1930s.
* Dorothy Kathleen Broster is now best known for a trilogy of historical Scottish novels set at the time of the Jacobites, but she also wrote some British ghost stories. These are said to be almost all collected in the wartime book Couching at the Door: Strange and Macabre Tales (1942).
* Percy K. Fitzhugh was an enormously popular writer of Boy Scout books in 1920s America, often humorous and most of them officially approved by the Boy Scouts of America. They sound vaguely like a sort of Scouting version of the British Just William tales, only with less grubby boys.
* Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, the Nobel Prize winner and a leading Danish author of the 20th century. His The Long Journey trilogy (in English 1923–24) “attempted to create a Darwinian alternative to the Biblical Genesis myth” by following “the development of mankind from the Ice Age to the times of Columbus”. Most of his work is in Danish, and some of it appears to be on ancient myths.
* Alfred Korzybski, a charlatan whose book General Semantics somewhat influenced early science fiction writers, with van Vogt using the ideas to fuel at least one imaginative work. General Semantics allegedly offered a way to “improve mental health through linguistic discipline”, and as such may have inspired Hubbard and perhaps even modern ‘political correctness’.
50-year rule nations:
E. M. Forster.
Erle Stanley Gardner (the Perry Mason books)