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Science Fiction Authors > Clare Winger Harris

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message 1: by Dan (last edited Aug 06, 2018 04:25PM) (new)

Dan I will change the name of this topic shortly, making it obvious why it belongs in the Science Fiction Authors folder. But before I do, I wish to pose the missing information as a trivia question:

If you accept what some SF purists (Isaac Asimov for one) contend, that science fiction proper begins in April 1926 with the publication of the first issue of Amazing Stories by Hugo Gernsback, then who is the first published SF female author? What month, year, and in what magazine was she published? What was the title of her story?

message 2: by Jim (last edited Aug 06, 2018 05:28PM) (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4029 comments Mod
Didn't Fritz Lang's wife write Metropolis? I think that came out the same year. Of course, I can't remember her name. It was weird, something like Therbough or something, IIRC.

message 3: by David (last edited Aug 06, 2018 06:40PM) (new)

David Lutkins | 33 comments Clare Winger Harris, "The Runaway World", July 1926 issue of Weird Tales?

Source is wikipedia. I have never read this author.

message 4: by David (new)

David Lutkins | 33 comments Seems there was a Gertrude Barrows Bennett who published SF stories in The Argosy magazine prior to 1926. She published under the pseudonym Francis Stevens.

Source is also wikipedia:

message 5: by Dan (last edited Aug 06, 2018 09:45PM) (new)

Dan David wrote: "Clare Winger Harris, "The Runaway World", July 1926 issue of Weird Tales?

Source is wikipedia. I have never read this author."

Nice going, David. That's the author. I have never read anything by her or heard of her either. The only issue is that Weird Tales is considered to be a fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine. It got its start in March 1923, not April 1926. Harris's second story, "The Fate of the Poseidonia" is therefore considered by SF historian Eric Leif Davin to be the first SF story written by a woman to be published in a science fiction magazine. However, I agree with you. From having read the first two pages of "The Runaway World" in Harris's short story collection Away From the Here and Now -- cool cover, isn't it? -- in an Amazon preview window, there can be no doubt of the story's science fiction credentials.

Argosy, by the way, is famous for declining to publish science fiction. E. E. Smith tried to sell "Skylark of Space" there in 1922, but was told it was too far out for their readers. He had to wait until Amazing Stories would publish it. Talk about short-sighted editors! But maybe they published near-genre stuff that some would argue could be considered science fiction by our standards. So you may be right about Gertrude Barrows Bennett being an even earlier female science fiction writer, even if she didn't publish in a science fiction magazine. She may have been an exclusively fantasy writer though. I'd have to read her stories to know for sure.

message 6: by Dan (last edited Aug 06, 2018 10:47PM) (new)

Dan That's a good Wikipedia article on Harris, much fuller than I expected. I wonder if the article's emphasis on Gernsback's surprise at Harris being a woman and the patronizing comments attributed to Gernsback are overstated. Everyone loves to repeat a good story and embellish when doing so. However, maybe he was that surprised.

What is incomplete for sure on the Harris Wikipedia page is the bibliography of her writing. It left out two of her published letters and her twelfth story. So I'll go ahead and correct/update that. Her twelfth story, "The Vibrometer", was published in 1933 in one of Jerry Siegel's magazines. Jerry Siegel, as you may recall, was the writer who created Superman, who first appeared in 1938. I was dubious at first that he put out a magazine for Harris to be published in since he would have been about 18 years old at the time and this was the fifth issue of Science Fiction, but ISFDB lists the magazine as a fanzine and the Wikipedia article on Siegel does mention he created fanzines (or booklets) during this time.

message 7: by David (new)

David Lutkins | 33 comments Dan wrote: "David wrote: "Nice going, David. That's the author. I have never read anything by her or heard of her either..."

Thanks, Dan. Glad I could help

message 8: by Dan (last edited Aug 07, 2018 07:36AM) (new)

Dan No problem. Getting hands on her last short story may prove challenging. It may have been challenging for her in 1947 and the reason it wasn't included in her collection.

It's titled "The Vibrometer". We didn't have vibrometers back in 1933. They weren't even conceptualized as far as I know. They're used now for measuring shifts in movement and velocities of all sorts of things by techniques precise enough to require laser technology. She indicates in one of her four letters (the one to Air Wonder Stories) that technology is not that great an interest for her. She couldn't have anticipated an actual vibrometer, could she?

message 9: by Dan (last edited Aug 07, 2018 07:34AM) (new)

message 10: by Dan (new)

Dan Internet Archive has three of her short stories available for free here:

It's also possible to bring up each of her four letters individually by searching on the Magazine title name and year (supplied by the Wikipedia article). Pull up the appropriate month's issue from the 10-12 returns. And search through the issue on Clare or Harris.

message 11: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4029 comments Mod
Thanks, Dan. I took a brief look & see there's an insert that says she won a $500 prize from the magazine.

message 12: by Dan (new)

Dan If Gernsback actually paid up.

message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4029 comments Mod
I almost wrote that, too. Decided not to, but it is a good question.

message 14: by Dan (new)

Dan I think he must have. She wrote more for Amazing Stories than any other pulp. Would anyone do that if being stiffed? I should not have written that. It was gratuitous.

message 15: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4029 comments Mod
I don't think it was gratuitous. He was well known for putting such things off & even reneging.

message 16: by Dan (last edited Aug 08, 2018 01:11PM) (new)

Dan The contest was a $500 contest to write the best story that went with the cover. Clare Winger Harris won third prize, not first or second. That may sound not so impressive, but there were over 300 entrants, so it's actually quite an achievement. She did not win $500 as widely reported though. It was a divided prize. Third place paid $100. It clearly states that as her winnings at the beginning of her story on page 245 of the June 1927 Amazing Stories. This is a decent sum for 1927, probably a little more than $1000 in today's money.

The first prize of $250 went to a Canadian author I have never heard of by the name of Cyril G. Wates for what looks like a really neat story: "The Visitation." Time now for me to read Harris's third place story. Incidentally, the story that follows Harris's story in the magazine, I note, is an H. G. Wells story.

message 17: by Dan (last edited Aug 10, 2018 02:41PM) (new)

Dan Here is my review of the three Clare Winger Harris stories available at the Internet Archive:


“The Fate of the Poseidonia” appeared in the June 1927 issue of Amazing Stories. This was the contest winner that netted Clare Winger Harris $100. It just occurred to me that if the story were 5,000 words long and Gernsback paid two cents per word, the sum works out to $100. I am not sure that “winning” the prize is quite the honor Gernsback made it seem.

Anyway, I found this story to be the strongest of Harris’s three reviewed here. It takes effort to fail with a story that has a lovers’ triangle for its centerpiece. Had the story stayed more tightly focused on this aspect, as I thought at the beginning it would, I could happily have given it five stars. It certainly started out strong and continued strong into the middle, but then we get a tangent that became the main story followed by too much exposition rather than drama. Harris brought the lovers’ triangle aspect back in at the end, which I appreciated, but I didn’t care for her resolution.

If this story hadn’t been a prize winner so that Gernsback could have proposed changes to it, good editor that he was I speculate he would have explained to Harris that it’s better to have the protagonist lose and learn from his mistake than to have him lose as a result of another character’s mistake and then be powerless to do anything about the loss. Were I the editor, I’d have then left it up to Harris to write or not write the different ending I proposed, as she saw fit. It’s a good story either way, and after all, it’s her work and would bear her name only, so it’s her call.


“A Certain Soldier” appeared in the November 1927 issue of Weird Tales. It was the second and last story she wrote for that particular magazine. It involves a question regarding the identity of the Roman soldier who threw the lit torch that burned the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. Why this matters was never made clear, at least not to me in my reading. We then have a jumbled story of two friends in the present day having some form of reincarnation dream experience to arrive at the answer. The end. Color me underwhelmed and unimpressed.

How could she so misfire with this story? From reading the Wikipedia entry, recall that Harris wrote a few years earlier a non-genre romance novel titled Persephone of Eleusis: A Romance of Ancient Greece (1923). What if this present short story were a deleted fragment written for that novel that she couldn’t use because it took place in Greece? Maybe she recrafted it as a short story she could sell to Weird Tales. Maybe it was a short story remnant from a writer’s workshop she had attended years earlier. Who knows? There could be any explanation for this strange fragment of a story that’s just barely “weird”.


“The Miracle of the Lily” was the second and not last Harris story to appear in Amazing Stories, in this case in the April 1928 issue. This story posits a near ascendancy of insects over mammals, including man, much like mammals’ ascendancy over reptiles some eons ago. Insects didn’t win in the struggle for dominance here on Earth after all, but they did elsewhere. Is it mankind’s job to battle insects everywhere?

This not extremely interesting story premise was expounded by Harris in the strange form of journal entries of characters who lived millennia apart. This allowed Harris to use what is for her the more natural form of expositing the story rather than making it dramatic through dialogue and conflict.

There are some characters in the story and a few neat twists with a thought-provoking moral at the end Orson Scott Card also raised to bring this not promising source material for a story idea up to three stars.


My overall impression of Clare Winger Harris’s work is that it is average. It has some imaginative plot situations, but suffers from the preference for writing exposition rather than in dramatic style, which is typical of the period. One theme in her work (her first and third reviewed story have it) that surprised me is her ongoing fascination with television. Considering that she was writing in 1927, the first year technology was advanced enough for movies to commonly be made as “talkies” instead of silent films, it is quite an observation by her that television would soon become ascendant reality.

Her writing style is sophisticated and well wrought with the singular jarring exception of one sentence from “The Fate of the Poseidonia”. In it, the protagonist takes a newspaper to read, informing the reader: “The headlines smote my vision with an almost tactile force.” Since nary an issue of a pulp magazine failed to have three or four smitings back in that day, I forgive her this one purple prose moment. Even still, I won’t seek out her 1947 story collection so that I can read eight stories I missed. Besides Deegan and Harris now, there are 201 more forgotten women science fiction authors' works to get to!

message 18: by David (new)

David Lutkins | 33 comments Nice reviews, Dan. Thanks.

message 19: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1868 comments Mod
Thanks for investigating her, Dan.

message 20: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 769 comments Yes, thanks, Dan!

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