When the words Cosmic Horror are uttered, one typically thinks of the master of the subject, H.P. Lovecraft. There are others out there, though, and readers are beginning to rediscover one such author, William Sloane, whose two novels have recently been released as a single omnibus, The Rim of Morning: Two Tales Of Cosmic Horror.
William Milligan Sloane III was born on August 15th, 1906, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and received his education at The Hill School, a private school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He attended Princeton University and graduated in 1929. Following his graduation, he entered the publishing industry at 24 and began a career that he would follow for the rest of his life. In the same year, he married Julia Margaret Hawkins, and the pair went on to have three children.
Slone was highly interested in speculative fiction, however: in the early 1930s, he published several supernatural one act plays: Runner in the Snow: A Play of the Supernatural in One Act (1931), Back Home: A Ghost Play in One Act (1931), Crystal Clear (1932), and The Invisible Clue (1934). He wrote a number of other short plays and works in the intervening years, but it was in 1937 that he published his first science-fiction novel, titled To Walk the Night.
In it, a man named Bark Jones returns home to visit the family of a deceased friend, Jerry Lister. Together with Jerry’s father, Dr. Lister, the pair look into his mysterious suicide, as well as that of his mentor's, astronomy Professor LeNormand, whom they found burning alive in his laboratory. They begin to look into his research, as well as his mysterious widow, for clues that might have led to his and Jerry’s deaths. Horror author Robert Bloch (Psycho) called the novel one of his all-time favorites.
In 1939, Sloane published his second and final novel, The Edge of Running Water. This novel takes place in Maine, where a scientist invents a device that allows him to speak with his dead wife, only to find that his invention brings severe consequences for his town and, really, the entire universe. The novel was later turned into the film The Devil Commands, starring Boris Karloff and directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Both novels incorporate elements of pulp-era science fiction: scientists exploring the edge of knowledge and discovering far more than they anticipated. Sloane has been praised for his blending of genres and for his particular brand of horror fiction.
With the outbreak of World War II, Sloane shifted his career focus and became the director of the Council on Books in Wartime. From 1942 until the War’s end, the Council aimed to support the war effort through books, and later launched the famous Armed Services Editions, paperback books sent to soldiers deployed overseas. Sloane largely abandoned his career as a writer, deciding instead to focus on one as a publisher. In 1946, he founded his own house, William Sloane Associates. Around this time, he joined the faculty at Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont, a summer program run by Middlebury College. He returned each year for over a quarter century until 1972.
While Sloane only wrote a pair of novels, he remained interested in science fiction. In the mid-1950s, he edited two anthologies: Space, Space, Space in 1953 and Stories for Tomorrow (in which he published a short story, 'Let Nothing You Dismay') in 1954, each of which received praise from genre fans and publications. Around the same time, he left his own publishing company to become the director of the Rutgers University Press, a post which he held until his death. Sloane died at the age of 68 on September 25, 1974, at his home in New York City.
In recent years, Sloane has been slowly rediscovered. Earlier this month, The New York Review of Books republished an omnibus (originally assembled in 1964) of Sloane’s works titled The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror, set with an introduction by Stephen King, who notes that "because they ignore genre conventions, Sloane's novels are actual works of literature....If one compares these novels to what was then being published in SF magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories, or so-called 'shudder pulps' such as Weird Tales, what a difference in language, diction, theme, and ambition!" Washington Post reviewer Elizabeth Hand writes that the books "move with ease between science fiction, noir, dark fantasy, supernatural horror and mainstream fiction."
Maybe it’s time we all try out Sloane’s unique brand of horror.