As noted in the review for The Drowned World, another part of the quartet of Ballard's "Elemental Apocalypse" - formerly titled THE BURNING WORLD, thi...moreAs noted in the review for The Drowned World, another part of the quartet of Ballard's "Elemental Apocalypse" - formerly titled THE BURNING WORLD, this describes a future in which water has grown scarce (yet another possibility for our future, sadly). IIRC, it starts out with the realization of what's going on just beginning to grip the populace of a British suburb, and then at mid-book jumps ahead a number of years to the dessicated, blasted future where rag-tag groups skate across vast salt plains looking to harvest what water they can find, and follows our group of varied characters back to the suburb they once left. As with DROWNED and CRYSTAL, it's yet another iteration of Ballard's musings on Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", with the crazy, decadent rich guy in the Kurtz role.
Didn't like it as much as DROWNED OR CRYSTAL, but more than WIND FROM NOWHERE. Worth checking out if you're interested in a salty, dry experience. (less)
In truth, I probably wouldn't have ever read this book - Yarbro is synonymous with dark fantasy/romance for me, thanks to her Saint Germaine books, an...moreIn truth, I probably wouldn't have ever read this book - Yarbro is synonymous with dark fantasy/romance for me, thanks to her Saint Germaine books, and that's not really my thing. But as I was cleaning out my deceased sister's holdings I came across this and, much like horror anthologies, I'm a total sucker for author short fiction compilations. And one of the stories on my "to be read" list was in here, so...
And, yes, up front - there's one story here I didn't finish. "Allies" was just too heavily invested in its sci-fi setting for me - not that that's a story flaw, I just really only like very particular forms of sci-fi and human zooming around in spaceships is not one of them. Related to that, the other, general sci-fi tales here were likely not to find much purchase with me, although I did read them all the way through. So having said that:
"Frog Pond" is a radioactive, post-apocalyptic slice of country livin' - cute but slim.
"Un Bel Di" is an interesting tale set in an alien scenario completely devoid of human beings and involves a predatory pedophile (the closest relative term) who finds himself in a position of power with a subjugated alien race more than willing to supply him with a specially bred personal servant. As I said, interesting.
"Into My Own" features an egotistical but brilliant playwright coming to terms (or not!) with the idea of a cyborg replacement of his consciousness - and what makes his art human. Good.
"The Meaning Of The Word" has an archeologist on a dead world discover an alien Rosetta stone to a long gone culture. Honestly... not my kind of thing.
"Dead In Irons" is a surprisingly grim and grisly piece about smuggling, power dynamics, sexual harassment and (eventually) murder on board a faster than light freighter. Pretty entertaining sci-fi horror - very grim.
Everything That Begins With An 'M'" is a modern fable in which a village projects all it's spiritual hopes and doubts onto a (presumably) retarded simpleton. Good for what it is.
In "Swan Song" a wealthy arms manufacturer finds that his new choice to run his space science department has a bit too much knowledge of old Finnish folklore. Okay, if a bit didactic, but I like the ambiguous ending.
"The Fellini Beggar" (as already said by another) is a somewhat Bradbury-esque story where an interviewer tracks down a deformed beggar (who once had a memorable cameo in a Fellini film, 'natch) to find out in what way he was compensated. Nice.
Count Cagliostro, that wannabe sorcerer and accomplished charlatan, works at solving the problem of his promise to evoke actual demons for some noblemen on "Lammas Night" - a fun historical piece.
"Disturb Not My Slumbering Fair", the reason I read the book, is a straight up horror/comedy, charming and macabre, about a teenage ghoul and how she gets on in the world (murder and a job at a morgue are the easy answers).
Finally, "The Generalissimo's Butterfly" was probably the best thing here - a soft science fiction tale about a former "scientist of the revolution" who must deal with the repercussions of the surveillance technology she invented when she is called out of exile to help the dictator she once supported. A brutally and emotionally honest story. Excellent.
There's also a short poem to end the book. And that's it. (less)
I got this through inter-library loan, simply to read Robert F. Young's story "To Fell A Tree", from 1959 (IIRC). It was on my short story read list a...moreI got this through inter-library loan, simply to read Robert F. Young's story "To Fell A Tree", from 1959 (IIRC). It was on my short story read list and so I tracked down a book that had it. I don't know why it was on my list - I'm not a sci-fi fan but this story echoes my youthful memories of reading sci-fi - interesting worlds and imaginative scenarios and a little moral at the end. This may have been on my list because it features a dryad, and I was gathering info on dryads once-upon-a-time for a short story I have yet to write.
Anyway, this was also mentioned online as being considered a fore-runner of AVATAR, but as I haven't seen that film, I can't say. What it is is an enjoyable read about the harvesting of the last giant tree (1100 feet tall) on same alien planet in the future. The main character is a lone, futuristic lumberjack sent up the enormous tree (with carefully explained equipment that really I couldn't care too much about - rational descriptions of gadgets, one of the many reasons I don't read much sci-fi) to begin trimming the branches from the top and work his way down. He runs into an elusive dryad-like being who pleads with him, as well as cajoles and threatens, as he camps out over a period of days, hacking up the enormous old tree that bleeds a reddish sap like blood. It's an effective ecological tale from before such things were fashionable and it held my interest.(less)
So, I was reading through my list of Zamyatin stories and thought, "well, here's a chance to get the one novel out of the way".
Famous for being the fi...moreSo, I was reading through my list of Zamyatin stories and thought, "well, here's a chance to get the one novel out of the way".
Famous for being the first "dystopian" novel, mentally this brings to mind images of Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (*although I especially appreciated the Bruce Sterling's introduction suggestion to envision the characters in Soviet Constructivist Art-era costumes* - worked a treat!). The idea is pretty easy to grasp - a "projecto ad absurdum" of Communist worker agit-prop into the far future (1000 years, in fact) - a future in which the One-State rules all, and all "ciphers" live by mathematical and logically precise conceptions - mere cogs in a single unit of "We" (but if there is a "We", who can "They" be?) serving the glorious one state in synchronized harmony, even if pesky human failings still rise up and get in the way every once in a while.
It's Zamyatin's satire of Soviet Russia's inhuman, anti-freedom practices, narrated to you as a memoir written by the chief architect of the Integral, the new worker-built spaceship that will soon launch and integrate the infinite equation of the universe with the yoke of reason ("Taming a wild zig-zag along a tangent towards the asymptote into a straight line" - it's like Darkseid's anti-life equation, for all you Kirby NEW GOD fans) - its belly full of writings to propagandize new, unruly worlds. But our "hero", D-503, is having problems, you see....
This was an interesting read - I'm not a big sci-fi fan but I can dig the historical stuff that's not written "in the genre". I;m sure oceans have been written about it already, not the least of all its effect on George Orwell. It's interesting because WE is a bit more fantastical than 1984, more given to flights of fantasy in its conception of a regimented future than the more serious, "realistic" Orwell text. Life in WE is ruled by geometry and equations - and D-503 is haunted by nightmares of the root of negative one, which is impossible....
Some minor points I found interesting: I liked the structure of the early satire, where D-503 presents his everyday, realistic life of future horrors and wonders in a blase narrative form. Since I'm a fan of the Futurist art movement, I liked the echoes of Futurism you can see here (although this was more about precise mathematics and science/logic, where Futurism was about brute energy and powerful force lines). It's interesting to see (in our modern world of dumbed-down, dualistic thinking) that Zamyatin's stinging satire not only strikes his obvious target, but seeks to critique the opposite number as well (organized religion's stupidities are slyly exposed, and one realizes that the inhuman regimentation of human workers, literally trained to work like machines following the process instigated by F.W. Taylor, was not only supported by the Russians but found a huge fan in the uber-Capitalist Henry Ford - the more things change...). The citizens of the One-State live in a panopticon, only allowed privacy on their pre-approved sex-hour (free love is another bonus of the future - you can sleep with anyone you'd like and no one is allowed to turn you down, or you turn anyone else down, of course). There's mathematical music (I couldn't help thinking of Basic Channel minimalist Techno), propaganda poetry and A Table of The Hours, a schedule that organizes all time efficiently (there's a wonderful bit where D-503 waxes rhapsodic over the "ancient literary legacy" of train schedules: "who is not made breathless when racing and tumbling through the pages of the schedule?"). In fact, the past seems to hold a subtle fascination for these perfectly balanced citizens of the future. And D-503 is still worried about his ugly, monkey hands....
The story moves through our main character's "unreasonable" fascination with I-330, a strange female who seems to flaunt her dislike of the status quo, occasionally smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. This drives a wedge between D and his frequent female companion 0-90. But D's investigation of I leads to further discoveries, including what really exists outside the Great Wall that separates the One State from the blasted wasteland (this sequence was particularly strong), the State's new operation which will insure happiness by surgically excising the imagination, and the existence of a rapidly forming underground movement committed to an outmoded and unlikely concept called "freedom". It may meander a bit at the 3/4 mark but the ending is very strong, as D-503 finally understands true happiness and why "reason should win."
Quite a nice little novel, part of Ballard's "elemental apocalypse" quartet. Not as good as The Crystal World, on par with The Drought aka THE BURNING...moreQuite a nice little novel, part of Ballard's "elemental apocalypse" quartet. Not as good as The Crystal World, on par with The Drought aka THE BURNING WORLD (although very different in focus), better than The Wind from Nowhere (which was probably a better title than THE BLOWING WORLD).
Much like all the others save WIND, this is in some ways Ballard reworking THE HEART OF DARKNESS by Conrad. In an oddly prescient, if coincidental, mirroring of global warming, the angle of the Earth's orbit has changed and so we've been bombarded by increased radiation for many decades before the novel starts. Melting icecaps, the flooding of Europe, increased heat and humidity, equatorial jungle expansion, and a strange, atavistic resurgence of mutated lizards now plague a slowly dying mankind.
There's lots of beautiful imagery here, especially the treasure hunting/looting by diving suits amongst ruined European cities (great bit with a drowned planetarium). All throughout, the narrator find himself plagued by dreams and visions of a prehistoric jungle world, pulled by an ancient call from the depths of his brain. The usual clashes between warring bands of humans, cultured pirates and scientists, fill out the plot. The ending may seem anticlimactic, but then, really, there's no other way to end this book. A very enjoyable read, especially if you like Ballard's "dry, clinical" tone, here finding purchase amongst so much damp and humidity. (less)
Probably the best of the Ballard "elemental apocalypse" quartet (or it ties with The Drowned World at least). Once again, it's Ballard taking apart Jo...moreProbably the best of the Ballard "elemental apocalypse" quartet (or it ties with The Drowned World at least). Once again, it's Ballard taking apart Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and reassembling it as a post-modern tale of apocalypse and humanity's failings - a journey up river through an African jungle slowly being encroached on, and transformed into, crystal. Time itself is the cause - like a dissolved material reaching maximum load in a solution, it begins to precipitate out into spacetime, slowing the world in stasis and accretion. Ballard's dry, surgical/psychological take on characters is here (too distanced for some, seemingly), as well as some visionary, surrealistic sights strongly conveyed. Worth your time.(less)
The first and least of Ballard "elemental apocalypse" quartet, and pretty much disowned by him from what I hear. Ballard hasn't developed as a writer...moreThe first and least of Ballard "elemental apocalypse" quartet, and pretty much disowned by him from what I hear. Ballard hasn't developed as a writer yet - so what you get is a pretty good concept (the earth's atmosphere has churned into an enormous storm, cyclonic winds steadily increasing and destroying everything worldwide - skyscrapers and towers are the first to go, 'natch - scouring the earth of everything as humanity attempts to deal and then mostly moves underground) and some hokey characters (the main bad guy is basically a James Bond supervillain who's set up an enormous pyramid-like fortress against the relentless winds) along with some grim visuals (although at some point, there were so many descriptions of various sturdy, box-like construction vehicles shuttling around that I began to develop an image in my head of a film version of THE WIND FROM NOWHERE that would look roughly like Irwin Allen meets Gerry Anderson). Cool cover, though. Eminently skippable...(less)
The short version - I read this entire book over one weekend. I was snowed in during a blizzard in Linden, NJ and was suffering under a terrible fever...moreThe short version - I read this entire book over one weekend. I was snowed in during a blizzard in Linden, NJ and was suffering under a terrible fever, so I spent the majority of my time sleeping, wandering around in a delirium (usually at 4 am) or soaking in a cold tub. After reading each chapter, I would listen to the recordings of WSB reading that chapter, if they existed (thanks to that wonderful box set of recordings). I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the only complaint I had was that I had carefully and instinctively pieced together the atomized narrative strewn throughout the first book, only to have it spelled out in plain text at the beginning of the second. But I guess some people needed that roadmap - I was just annoyed because I'd already drawn it with mental crayons. No, not a book for everyone, and very challenging, but if you've ever wondered why Burroughs gets lumped into science fiction, these cut-up books are part of the reason. Inspiring and visionary stuff.(less)
I only read one story in this book and - in truth - I didn't even read it in *this* book, it was available on the internet. It came up on my "short st...moreI only read one story in this book and - in truth - I didn't even read it in *this* book, it was available on the internet. It came up on my "short stories to be read list" and so I found it and checked it out - but I wanted to record my reactions and - lo and behold - this book wasn't even listed on GOODREADS. So I fixed that...
Anyway, the story was "The Rat" which seems to be Fowler's most reprinted story. It's from 1929 and I enjoyed it. It's a little "clunkily" written, as it starts as a straight ahead science-fiction (or perhaps scientific romance) story in which a scientist injects an aging, blind rat with his newest invention and it works - the rat doesn't die and slowly, over the next few months, gets young and healthy (and can see) again. So now he holds in his hands the secret of arresting aging in humans, the capability to bestow immortality (barring accidents) on the human race.
But then he starts thinking - what does that mean exactly? And I liked that (contrary to all the rules you get nowadays on how to write good short fiction - which should all be titled "how to write one kind of good short fiction") the story then just becomes him musing for quite a while about all the social, cultural, ecological, biological, etc. repercussions that such a major change in nature would engender. So he's conflicted. It reminded me a bit of John Wyndham's Trouble With Lichen.
Then, somewhat unexpectedly, the tale becomes almost a detective story as the unfortunate murder of a child occurs in the laboratory (off screen, of course).
It was fun. Not the kind of thing I would want to read a lot of but a cool little story.(less)
I read this as part of my new job. I don't normally read science fiction (outside of, say, J.G. Ballard and vague related authors) so take this with a...moreI read this as part of my new job. I don't normally read science fiction (outside of, say, J.G. Ballard and vague related authors) so take this with a grain of salt - I thoroughly respect science fiction without being particularly interested in it.
These are a handful of stories Cogswell wrote for various science fiction and related genre magazines of the time. Of course, writers in this situation weren't worrying about creating art or even timeless tales for future generations, just stories with creative ideas and competent writing that would sell to an editor and maybe get them noticed - pulps, essentially. Most of the stories here are science fiction, with a small smattering of weird/deal-with-the devil type fantasy stories.
There's a few clunkers here: "Impact With The Devil" is a clunky science-fiction demonology story about a criminal, a bank heist, a time machine and a demon - it's muddled and way too ambitious for a short story. "Lover Boy" is the hundredth reiteration of John Collier's "The Chaser" - you write the ending. "Minimum Sentence" is one of those comedy sci-fi stories, in this case involving some criminals and a faster-than-light spaceship, with an ironic ending. "One To a Customer" is an ironic twist time-travel story and "The Other Cheek" is a long, drawn out space-opera farce about an attempted truce between humans and an alien race, with a second alien race that abhors violence thrown into the mix. Ugh.
Most of the stories here are amiable time-wasters in a straight sci-fi, sci-fi comedy or fantasy mode. "No Gun For The Victor" is set in a future of "Consumers" and "Producers" where children play real war games, until an accidentally sabotaged weapon gives away what's really going on - again, ambitious, but it also jams a whole lot into exposition at the end. "Limiting Factor" features human super-mutants who decided to abandon Earth for outer space so they can survive being ostracized by xenophobic mankind, only to get a short lesson in cosmic evolution. Cute.
On the sci-fi comedy front (wry or broad comedy, mostly) - "A Spudget For Thilbert" is about future breakfast cereal manufacturers and the search for a new giveaway premium that ends up causing massive problems - it reminded of those jokey episodes of X-Minus One and was notable for featuring a mention of cannabis sativa. Hashish is mentioned in "Machine Record", in which a mad scientist hires a consultant to help his master plans get started - but they don't. "The Man Who Knew Grodnick" is about a washed-up "controversial" author from the 1920s (once "banned in Boston") who's nearing the end of his talk-circuit rope when he's accidentally thrust 100 years into the future - to little difference in his overall career. Cute but slight.
On the fantasy front - "Mr. Hoskin's Heel" is a somewhat extended, strange melange of Collegiate humor and Spiritualism as a milquetoast Professor ends up getting help with his (unexpected) gangster problems from an (unexpected) spirit guide. The part where he becomes Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer for a short stint was amusing, as were the Chaucer shout-outs.
There are occasional stories that rise above these workmanlike levels: "Conventional Ending" is an interesting meta-aware story told in epistolary form about the author and his writer friends contacting an editor about a story idea that would take place at a science fiction convention. "The Cabbage Patch" is a somewhat gruesome riff on how alien biology and reproductive systems might differ from ours. "Disassembly Line" features a nosy old lady who unaccountably finds herself held at a facility - with no knowledge how she got there - where she has to undergo painful daily tortures for some unnamed crime. The story's resolution might be predictable (and even rather questionable in its reliance on physical attributes as indicators) but having said that, it is heartfelt and offers a surprisingly Asian metaphysical twist on an old standard. "Training Device" contrasts a scared, new young soldier on a brutal battlefield with a parallel strand of alien cadets in training - to quite excellent effect.
The best, and most atypical piece here is "The Short Count" which eschews the pulp model for something more human, humane and Bradbury-esque. A young couple discuss their past histories of dating and anxieties involving the opposite sex as it slowly becomes apparent that they're awaiting something else in the current moment. Nicely done.
Read this for my work, minus three stories ("Freedom", "Revolution" and "Subversive").
As I've said before (but who knows who's reading a review when?)...moreRead this for my work, minus three stories ("Freedom", "Revolution" and "Subversive").
As I've said before (but who knows who's reading a review when?) science-fiction isn't really my thing, personally, but I read some Ray Bradbury growing up and J.G. Ballard later in life. This made an interesting read immediately after The Third Eye collection of work by Theodore R. Cogswell because you could argue that both authors were basically writing for the same markets, but with Reynolds about a decade behind - as the sci-fi pulps began to mature and specialize. So there's a sold sampling of the same type of stuff from the Cogswell book - jokey, short and punchy sci-fi pulp shorts built around an idea, usually with a punchline - sometimes informed by Reynold's fondness for Charles Fort. But then, he also has later work that starts to delve more deeply into concepts (Reynolds was, notably, one of the few genre authors to incorporate an understanding of modern economics into his work), and is more interested in characters, political history and spirituality. Which, for some, will come across as didactic at times, but as modern short science fiction, from what I can tell, seems more focused nowadays on the personal and individual over the general and conceptual, that's probably inescapable.
As always, let's get the less interesting stuff out of the way first - although it should be said that Reynolds knows his writing basics and even the unappealing (to me) stories are well-written, tight and considered.
"Business As Usual" is one those presumably cute time-travel stories everyone was writing once upon a time - traveler from the past arrives in the future and gets conned into believing he has to take "proof" back with him. Eh. "Prone" is about a space army cadet whose accident prone nature exhibits at a near catastrophic (and telekinetic) level - so what do you do with him? "Your Soul Comes C.O.D." is another popular item of the time, the Faustian Bargain (which we'll see yet again before we're done), here playing cannily with language as a man makes a deal and then lives an honorable life for 40 years, only to wonder whether it will make a difference. Cute but slim. "Good Indian" is a strange little story, set in a future where all Native Americans have been assimilated, about what happens when representatives of the last 50 Seminole show up to bargain for a treaty - it's built around the supposed fact that the Seminoles have never signed a treaty with the U.S. - but for all that, ends on a joke most would now consider racist (although it isn't as if the representative of the white-man is shown in a positive light either). "No Return From Elba" is a near-flash piece about an alien dictator who modeled himself after Napoleon - and how he doesn't take defeat easily. Cute but, yup, thin. "The Enemy Within" is an odd little piece about an automated flying saucer, a lost boy and a mother determined to rescue him. Eh, again. "Down The River" has Earth's absentee landlords show up to apologize about the fact that they've had to transfer ownership... to another party that isn't as "hands off" as they were. A cute trifle with an obvious point, but daring in 1950. "Earthlings Go Home!", written as a parody piece for a travel magazine, throws together a bunch of fun goofy ideas into an essay on visiting Mars as a swinging bachelor, but still saves room for a short little barb at the end.
Reynolds, as I said, seemed to like using his short science-fiction to get in some solid social commentary of varying levels of complexity. Thus, in "Albatross", Earth shoots down the first alien craft to arrive, only to discover just a small part of an important message in the wreckage. "Second Advent" has Christ himself return, just to reveal the truth about Earth and its history to the President of the United States, and then make an odd request of him. "Utopian" has a 20th Century rebel leader unfrozen from cryogenic sleep in the future, only to find that everything he worked for has come to fruition, creating a utopian world with unforeseen problems. "Compounded Interest" is one of those logical time-travel stories that someone had to write, and Reynolds is to be commended for making the punchline as caustic as it is. "Pacifist" is also acidic, as a devoted member of an underground organization dedicated to removing war-mongers goes about his terrible business (which he loathes but finds inescapable) while philosophically jousting with a Professor about how to effect change in the world. "Burnt Toast" features another Faustian bargain - this one is slight when it comes right down to it but so well-written and conceived in its details that you can't help but like it (PLAYBOY magazine certainly did).
There are a few oddities here. A piece written for inclusion in a guide for school-age readers, "Come In, Spaceport", is a gripping narrative about a space-lifeboat and the desperate pleas of a teenage boy, hoping to rescue himself and his injured sister but unsure how to pilot the craft and operate the radio - it's very good, just slightly marred by a slight and unneeded twist ending. "Survivor" is a nicely done during-and-post apocalypse story about who in a big city chooses to survive, and how, and why. "The Adventure Of The Extraterrestrial" has an aged, doddering, possibly senile Sherlock Holmes and a grumpy and tired Dr. Watson hired to prove that aliens are living in London - sure, it's just more pastiche but I thought the depiction of Holmes (which must surely have rankled some purists) was interesting and especially enjoyed the deal he strikes at the climax.
The two stories I enjoyed most were "Spaceman On A Spree" and "Fad." The former features the same societal/economic projections of "Utopian" as a retiring space pilot, extremely happy to have left his work behind him, enjoys a last night on the town before settling down. But lack of motivation and ambition in the welfare state have made him the only candidate for continuing space-flights that *must* occur if mankind is to find a new challenging horizon and not stagnate. So a tired man must be conned... It's, perhaps, not as well-written as some other pieces here but very heart-felt.
"Fad" had me both laughing and shaking my head in sad awareness of just how pathetic our modern culture is. Reynolds, in 1965, was sharp enough to know that modern economics also meant creating demand for endless production, thus the codifying of the advertising, demographics and consumer research fields as economic staples of the United States, endlessly dedicated to getting us to buy useless crap we don't really need with money we don't have by convincing us how pathetic we are, the more to create a middle class of low-self-esteem consumers, or, as a traditional con-man would have it, a mark or a rube.
And so here we watch a conosortium of wealthy men plot and plan, with the help of psychological modeling and up-to-date research, to deliberately create a cultural fad for adults that will make thems millionaires. After some very pointed and truthful commentary on the whole "Dan'l Boone/Davey Crockett" fad of the 50s out of the way, the plan just needs to find a historical figure to exploit. But some figures resonate more than others... "Fad" is cute sci-fi, which should make it disposable, but it's so on the money (It's basically the same point as ADBUSTERS magazine would make in the 1990s, just 30 years before the fact, identifying this shitty, reductive, culturally deadening, resource destroying social engineering we've all been subjected to by hyper-capitalists for 30 plus years at that time - 50 years, now - we just keep getting stupider and they just keep getting wealthier and more powerful) that I can't help but love it, even more so because Reynolds has chosen to make the prime motivator's of the scam two aging, traditional con-men with dialogue straight out of a Damon Runyon story (even though this is taking place in the "future"). Really fun stuff.(less)
I had bought a paperback of this when I was a wee lad (the edition pictured above) - tried to read it, gave up, and later lost it. Looking at it as an...moreI had bought a paperback of this when I was a wee lad (the edition pictured above) - tried to read it, gave up, and later lost it. Looking at it as an adult, I can see why it was tough for me to engage with it, as I even had some problems reading it as an adult now. I like lots of different styles of writing , including some experimental stuff that drives most people batty, so saying I had a tough time may be taken as code by some that this book is poorly written. It isn't.
It's inelegant and clunky at the start (Williamson was trying to stretch beyond his 30's pulp roots) and so it's repetitious and redundant at times, with a frustratingly weak-willed main character in one Will Barbee, a near-alcoholic newspaper reporter still nursing hurt feelings towards his Anthropologist Professor father-figure - a man who rejected Will from participating in the Prof's exploratory archeology team, now returning from the Mongolian desert with a rumored world-shaking discovery dug up from an ancient tomb. But during a dramatic press-conference at the airport, the Professor up and dies mere seconds away from making his revelation and the rest of his team bolt into hiding to protect the secret from shadow forces arrayed against them. And what does all have to do with the alluring, sensual red-head April Bell, cub reporter in town, who sidles up to Barbee for info and may (or may not) have secretly killed a little kitten at press conference in an act of primitive, sympathetic magic?
If you're interested, I will say that the writing smooths out at about the halfway point where, water-treading exposition out of the way, the plot really starts to cook, eventually reaching a fine crescendo suffused with both sickly demonic glee and powerful dark fantasy imagery (the book is less horror, despite the folkloric/demonic figures, than it is a strange mix of dark fantasy and science fiction - nowadays it would be considered an "Urban Fantasy", I think). So if you're considering reading it, I'd say gird your loins a bit for the frustrating first half (although honestly, the opening scenes at the airport had a kind of Doc Savage feel to them) because it does get good. Beyond that, I have to enter.... the spoiler zone...
(view spoiler)[The desire to spin a science-fiction take on the werewolf myth seems to have been buzzing around quite a bit in the 40's and 50s. This book brought to mind the extended novella "There Shall Be No Darkness" by James Blish, which I reviewed in Zacherley's Vulture Stew - although Blish's scientific rationale for actual physical shape-shifting involving pituitary glands is here replaced with a much easier to swallow (if slightly more nebulous and ill-defined) projecting of the will out of the body into a malleable energy form which can also bend probability to its desires (but which is hampered by sunlight and silver) - all a mutation possessed by a secret parallel species of mankind, homo lycanthropus, who are, for lack of a better term, witch-people living amongst us since the Ice Age, responsible for stories of monsters, vampires, sorcerers, etc.
Williamson crams a lot into this novel, and honestly does it only somewhat successfully. Partly it's down to that repetition I mentioned, as the novel's voice is a very "internalized but still surface-level observational" POV - Barbee repeats and repeats himself and experiences things and then questions them and then experiences them again and then questions them while blocks of exposition appear in the middle of tense scenes. When we do get Barbee's feelings, they are an anguished conflict over his desire to be a good man and his being driven (not too strongly, it must be said) to commit acts of evil - which is fine, but it does get repetitious as I said and you begin to get frustrated with him. Partly, this is always the problem of a book in which a main character is having a vast conspiracy revealed to them - it's almost inevitable that they have to sit back and listen to exposition or conjecture at various points, while wondering how far down the machinations go and how deeply they and their friends are involved. For the time period, there's some nice attempts at psychological detail involving unrequited love, wish fulfillment, sexual desire, parental attachment, addictions and even the vaguest whiff of sadomasochism in some of the transformation sequences involving Barbee and April. Those transformation scenes are some of the book's strongest, as they allow Williamson to indulge in a little sense-based (scent/sound) atmospherics during the character's wild, passionate stalkings through the night (although the actual details of the transformations are clumsily deployed at first - I like the detail that the forms remain invisible to mankind unless the transformed wishes to be seen, but we can only assume that they are "talking" through telepathy, and the fact that they leave their bodies behind is not made clear until later).
Similarly, the race-war aspect of the narrative is potentially interesting (Barbee's secret nature fighting against enculturated social training), with an initial flirting with a question of whether the Lycanthropes are inherently evil, but for the plot to continue, that question gets settled fairly easily, which makes Barbee's continued waffling frustrating, as I said (he basically seems driven to continue to question it simply because of his lust for April and his deep-seeded enjoyment of his exciting new form's freedoms - only that latter part seems justifiable). The hybrid status general humanity allows a bunch of "mixed blood" plot devices to move things along as well. Another level of frustration is found in the novel's decision to extend the "is it real or am I dreaming/crazy?" approach - understandable as a starting point but it continues on for far longer than the reader could desire or enjoy - perhaps more subtle writing at the start could have played this better, leaving the reader unsure and wary, perhaps even playing much more off Barbee's alcoholism (which, nicely, *is* subtly implied as extending from his rejection of his true nature), but Williamson doesn't seem up to it. Which is a shame, because April as Femme Fatale and Barbee as boozy sap, gradually transforming from that noir starting point and into something more mythic and horrific, would have really made this a classic. There are flashes of potential for that here, but it doesn't seem to have been Williamson's particular approach of interest as a writer...
The book's turning point is reached when Barbee checks himself into an asylum (even though he mentions his problems with booze, they assure him he can still have three bourbons a night, one before dinner and two after! Ah, the 1940s!) and the plot really picks up steam from that point. This was never going to be a deep, thoughtful book but as dark fantasy pulp yarn, it works a treat, getting more and more desperate and unnerving, verging on Cornell Woolrich territory (in plot and feel, if not actual writing), until a nicely nightmarish car chase in the rain and then the dramatic ending (this being a book about parallel races, sadly you do have to maneuver a bit of clumsy "who are your parents, really?" malarkey, which seems somewhat tacked on, along with an unsurprising revelation of "who is the Child Of The Night?", the answer to one of two pivotal questions in the book - the second question, "what's in the box" is really only half-answered, but that's okay). I liked that the ending is neither triumphant nor apocalyptic, but open-ended - a success for evil but a minor success for Barbee's better nature (I'll be interested to hunt down the otherly-authored sequel short stories in The Williamson Effect) and it occurred to me that this could make a quite entertaining modern cgi-effects film.... (hide spoiler)]
So, I liked it. It had problems, or maybe I had problems with it, but especially as the second half clicked along I could see how it had had such an impact at the time. Interesting read of a key text!
Since I had recently finished Williamson's classic Darker Than You Think, I figured I'd check my list of "stories to be read" and polish off anything...moreSince I had recently finished Williamson's classic Darker Than You Think, I figured I'd check my list of "stories to be read" and polish off anything short by him. There was only one tale and though "short" it was not (really, it's a novella), I got it off the web and read it. I'm putting the review here because "why not?" but please note "Wolves Of Darkness" is the only thing I read in this no doubt fine anthology (well, technically that's not true, I've also read 5 other stories here, but not recently enough to have reviews in my head).
So, "Wolves Of Darkness" - well, it's certainly pulp, in both the positive sense that it's a cracking weird mystery sci-fi horror fantasy hybrid, and in the negative sense that it's repetitive, action-focused and mostly surface level stuff. But then you don't really read pulp for literary depth, right? For a good yarn, sure, and for occasional flashes of visionary oddness and resonant strangeness...
A man arrives in a lonely, snow-bound West Texas town in answer to a strangely worded telegram from his scientist father. The locals live in fear of a weird wolf-pack that haunts the area, killing people and seemingly running alongside human beings. Eventually, our hero discovers his father and female assistant out on the farm acting strangely, with chalk white skin and glowing green eyes, assisted by a pack of similarly-orbed wolves, and the smashed remains of an experimental multi-dimensional gateway machine in the now-enormous basement.
While this is a good example of the weirdness the pulps could get up to (black onyx chambers lit with low red lights, an inter-dimensional view of a black-light city populated by fiendish shadow creatures, a woman chewing into a man's leg as a form of torture) it's also a good example of how frustrating they can be to read (and I'm a man who likes 19th century literature!) - endless repetition and circular plotting, the by-now-obvious stated baldly, little sense of atmosphere, mystery or larger resonances. Williamson is better at it than most, I'll give him that, and he does occasionally generate a weird atmosphere (the leg-chewing scene is unexpected and shocking, the view through the portal is weird and Lovecraftian - if over-written, and the setting and blizzard paralyzed town are nicely atmospheric) but, on the other hand, this isn't any different than some sci-fi potboiler movie in the end. Lack of realistic characters is probably a big culprit in this feeling. Worth reading if you like pulps but if you're just a horror fan surveying the field, not essential. (less)
I just finished Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson and Wikipedia told me that this tribute book to Williamson contained 3 "sequel" stories, so I...moreI just finished Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson and Wikipedia told me that this tribute book to Williamson contained 3 "sequel" stories, so I figured I'd check them out via Inter-Library loan. I didn't read anything else in the book.
"Darker Than You Wrote" by Mike Resnick is a short "meta-sequel" in that it argues that the book is true, with some details changed to protect people and some details changed to make Will Barbee a more sympathetic character. It's cute, although I'll admit that I liked it more for the scant few seconds when I thought it was implying something more simple and less fantastic (view spoiler)[(that Barbee was actually just a sociopath) (hide spoiler)] than what it actually was implying (view spoiler)[(that Barbee was actually killing and eating victims and that those details had been elided) (hide spoiler)]. Still, my assumption wouldn't really have been in the *spirit* of Williamson, and a bit too modern to boot, so I understand...
Jane Lindskold's "Child Of The Night" is a short sequel to the novel's ending, serving to tie up a few loose ends by taking the POV of harrowed archeologist and fall-guy Sam Quain's 5-year-old daughter Pat and following on the night of the climactic events of the book. On the one hand, it is nice to see a small plot-event in the novel (the killing of a family dog) blown-up into the importance such an event would have in the life of child (Jiminy Cricket, thou art avenged!), as well as some further behind the scenes machinations of the bad guys (for an evil being, Dr. Glenn sure runs an easily-escaped asylum!). On the other hand, while I appreciated the conception of Pat's nighttime sneaking and how it ties into one of the points of the book, I thought it didn't logically gel with her ability to gain comeuppance over the nasty men ((view spoiler)[(basically, if she is, like most of humanity, part-lycanthrope and unwittingly accessing her powers to sneak around the asylum - notice that she returns to the bedroom before rejoing her Mom - how can she even stand to handle the powerful stones that cause such pain to the lycanthropes, and use them as weapons?) (hide spoiler)]. Still, a fun little read.
Finally, and longest, Poul Anderson's "Inside Passage" is set in the same universe as the novel, but forty-odd years on. A research scientist has come up with a probability-wave viewing device which unwittingly allows him to see the true forms of the witch-people, who have just murdered his detective friend (Sam Quain puts in an off-stage appearance as a paranoid drifter that spills the beans). The scientist tracks some of the lycanthropes to Alaska to spy on their gathering, while reflecting on mankind's own destruction of nature. Not anything to write home about but not bad.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)