This is the cover illustration for the November 1940 edition of Startling Stories, which contains the novel A Million Years to Conquer, by Henry Kuttner. I picked up this issue on my initial sweep of Kuttner novels a few years ago, when looking for stories to reprint in Paizo’s Planet Stories fiction line. I bought it because (to my knowledge), it had never been reprinted.
Turns out I was wrong. In 1968, Popular Library re-issued the story with a new title, The Creature from Beyond Infinity, complete with a cover from legendary artist Frank Frazetta. At some point the story appears to have fallen into the public domain, and is fairly easily available online. I’ll get around to showing off that cover in the next few days.
Essentially, the novel was about this guy:
Old Ardath is the last survivor of an alien crash landing on Earth. He will be able to leave and repopulate his super-advanced civilization, but to do so he needs humans at the very top of their evolutionary peers. So he flies his space ship into orbit, from whence he periodically descends to kidnap super-awesome humans from various points in history. Like this:
I finally polished off the story on a recent trip to London, when I powered through five Kuttner novels over about a week and a half. This one turned out to be the turkey of the bunch, and although it has some fun points it doesn’t even come close to Kuttner’s finest offerings. Perhaps the effect was obvious because I read it in the same week I read The Mask of Circe, Valley of the Flame, and The Time Axis, but there you have it. On the other hand, the book was about 50 times better than the sorry POS that followed it (Frank Belknap Long’s It Was the Day of the Robot, so all was not lost.
The Startling Stories cover was painted by Earle Bergey, a mainstay of the magazine who nearly always painted a “good girl” image, so this cover is something of a departure. I actually prefer it to the Frazetta cover on the ’68 reprint, but then again I’m a sucker for the old stuff.