Science Fiction & Fantasy


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


ALLEN ADLER – Terror on Planet Ionus. Paperback Library #52-941, paperback, 1966; #63-048, 2nd printing, 1969. Originally published as Mach I: A Story of Planet Ionus Farrar Strauss & Cudahay, hardcover, 1957

   Wow.

   This science fiction novel, by a writer I’ve never heard of, is a knockout. Wise and gentle aliens from Ionus come to Earth to warn us that Klarkong, the monster that destroyed their planet is coming to Earth, an energy devouring monster that grows stronger no matter what you feed it.

   Earth’s only hope against this omnivorous energy monster is secret project Mach I, a super fast atomic powered ship, piloted by reckless dashing ladies man Lt. Commander Jeb Curtis, whose courage got him into the project despite his record as an insubordinate P.T. Boat commander in WW II.

   As the Ionusans warn, Klarkong is virtually unstoppable, and soon he’s in the Nevada and Southern California desert devouring all sources of energy. Helpless to fight him, the Americans have to stand by as the Soviet’s violate American air space to nuke the monster, which only sends it in a feeding frenzy for nuclear fuel.

   And where is there still nuclear power to devour? The Soviet Union, serves them right, so Klarkong heads across the Pacific.

   But the vast emptiness of the Pacific gives the desperate Americans one last chance to use Mach I where they can maneuver its incredible speeds and unleash it’s weapons safely if they can weaken Klarkong enough to kill it.

   If? The battle is down to the final paragraphs on a small island in the Pacific, Mach I’s last remaining nuclear torpedoes against a wounded Klarkong.

   This one is a pure fifties or early sixties monster movie in print, a kaiju from outer space rampaging across the world while desperate scientists and military, with a little alien help, fight and die bravely to end the menace. You can virtually see the epic unreeling in your head as you breathlessly read on.

   Granted it has little relation to actual mainstream or even pulp SF as such. It wears the cloak, but that is about all. Characterization is a B movie cliche, and actual scientific logic, or science for that matter, is zil.

   Adler isn’t unskilled as a writer of this kind of deathless prose, there just isn’t any there there beyond the basics, just like those movies we breathlessly devoured on Saturday Mornings or on late night television with all the epicurean dismissal of Klarkong himself.

   Still, it is short, great fun, slightly mad, and Klarkong a kissing cousin of Godzilla, Kronos, X the Unknown, and the Trollenberg Terror crossed with one of those Jack Kirby monsters that Marvel specialized in before turning to superheroes (Fin Fang Foom indeed) and Forbidden Planet’s monster of the Krell Id.

   If that is what you want, this book delivers in trumps.

   And give the guy this, Klarkong is a great name for an interstellar planet eater, not Galactus perhaps, but still pretty good, silvered surfing herald or not.

   Some books are full course gourmet delights.

   Others a filling home cooked meal.

   This one is a chili dog with the works and a side of greasy onion rings.

   I’m half surprised Klarkong himself didn’t eat it.

   Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need an Alka Seltzer and a nap.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


TORMENTED. Cheviot Productions, 1960. Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Juli Reding, Joe Turkel. Director: Bert I. Gordon.

   Sometimes a movie that isn’t particularly good sticks with you and you wonder why. What was it about the film that makes it difficult to completely forget? Was it a sense of childhood nostalgia, a great performance by a lead actor, or the film score? Or was it something else?

   In the case of Tormented, a mediocre thriller, it’s the general quirkiness of it all that made it linger in my mind well after watching. Directed by Bert I. Gordon, who is generally known for his work in the science fiction genre, Tormented combines elements of both film noir and horror to tell a story about how a man’s guilt drives him to the brink of madness and then some. The black and white film has a notably idiosyncratic jazzy score that, while often out of place, actually makes the film better than it would have been without it.

   Set on an island, the film effectively uses its geographical setting and its score to tell the story of doomed protagonist Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson). Stewart is a jazz musician about to be married to a girl who lives on the same island. But his former girlfriend Vi (Juli Reding) won’t let him go. She’s determined to keep him in her grasp. But it’s she who ends up falling out of his grasp after an accident leaves her struggling not to plunge from a damaged lighthouse railing. But it is not to be. For Tom decides that one way to have Vi out of his life once and for all is to let her plunge to her death.

   But these kind of things have a way of boomeranging. It isn’t long before Tom begins seeing footsteps in the sand and seeing visions of Vi. Did she die after all? Or is she haunting him from beyond her watery grave? Is it all in his head, or is a ghost really tormenting Tom Stewart?

   Truthfully, it doesn’t matter all that much and the sub-par acting by a lot of the supporting cast doesn’t do much to propel the film forward. But there’s just enough weirdness in the movie to make it a moderately enjoyable horror film. As far as the character of Tom Stewart, it’s a part that Carlson was meant to play.

BRAM STOKER – Dracula’s Guest. Published posthumously in the collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories (George Routledge & Sons, UK, hardcover, 1914). Reprinted many times including: Weird Tales, December 1927; The Ghouls, edited by Peter Haining (W. H. Allen, UK, hardcover, 1971; Pocket, US, paperback, April 1971); Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories, edited by Victor Ghidalia (Xerox, US, paperback, 1972); Werewolf!, edited by Bill Pronzini (Arbor House, US, hardcover, 1979); The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard / Vintage Books, softcover, 2009); The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, softcover, October 24 2017). Film: Among others “inspired” by the story, Universal’s film Dracula’s Daughter (1936) was supposedly based on the tale, but nothing of the plot was used.

   It is generally stated and accepted that this story, somewhat complete in itself, was the the first chapter of the original manuscript of Dracula, but deleted for reasons of length. It is told by an unknown narrator, but presumably it was Jonathan Harker who very foolishly ignores the advice of his innkeeper and the coachman of his carriage to get out to investigate on foot a village said to be unholy and abandoned for some 300 years.

   On Walpurgis Night, no less. Needless to say, he soon realizes that he has made a dangerous mistake. Some thoughts. First of all, how modern Stoker’s writing is. This is story that could easily pass as having been written last week, if not yesterday. Secondly, it is wonder how well this story anticipates all those Hammer horror films that came along so many years later.

         BONUS:

   Here are the stories included in the Rogues and Villains anthology:


      THE VICTORIANS

At the Edge of the Crater by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace
The Episode of the Mexican Seer by Grant Allen
The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker
The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby by Arthur Morrison
The Ides of March by E. W. Hornung

   19TH CENTURY AMERICANS

The Story of a Young Robber by Washington Irving
Moon-Face by Jack London
The Shadow of Quong Lung by C. W. Doyle

      THE EDWARDIANS

The Fire of London by Arnold Bennett
Madame Sara by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace
The Affair of the Man Who Called Himself Hamilton Cleek by Thomas W. Hanshew
The Mysterious Railway Passenger by Maurice Leblan
An Unposted Letter by Newton MacTavish
The Adventure of “The Brain” by Bertram Atkey
The Kailyard Novel by Clifford Ashdown
The Parole of Gevil-Hay by K. & Hesketh Prichard
The Hammerspond Park Burglary by H. G. Wells
The Zayat Kiss by Sax Rohmer

      EARLY 20TH CENTURY AMERICANS

The Infallible Godahl by Frederick Irving Anderson
The Caballero’s Way by O. Henry
Conscience in Art by O. Henry
The Unpublishable Memoirs by A. S. W. Rosenbach
The Universal Covered Carpet Tack Company by George Randolph Chester
Boston Blackie’s Code by Jack Boyle
The Gray Seal by Frank L. Packard
The Dignity of Honest Labor by Percival Pollard
The Eyes of the Countess Gerda by May Edginton
The Willow Walk by Sinclair Lewis
A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry

      BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS

The Burglar by John Russell
Portrait of a Murderer by Q. Patrick
Karmesin and the Big Flea by Gerald Kersh
The Very Raffles-Like Episode of Castor and Pollux, Diamonds De Luxe by Harry Stephen Keeler
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
Four Square Jane by Edgar Wallace
A Fortune in Tin by Edgar Wallace
The Genuine Old Master by David Durham
The Colonel Gives a Party by Everett Rhodes Castle
Footsteps of Fear by Vincent Starrett
The Signed Masterpieces by Frederick Irving Anderson
The Hands of Mr. Ottermole by Thomas Burke
“His Lady” to the Rescue by Bruce Graeme
On Getting an Introduction by Edgar Wallace
The 15 Murderers by Ben Hecht
The Damsel in Distress by Leslie Charteris

      THE PULP ERA

After-Dinner Story by William Irish
The Mystery of the Golden Skull by Donald E. Keyhoe
We Are All Dead by Bruno Fischer
Horror Insured by Paul Ernst
A Shock for the Countess by C. S. Montanye
A Shabby Millionaire by Christopher B. Booth
Crimson Shackles by Frederick C. Davis
The Adventure of the Voodoo Moon by Eugene Thomas
The Copper Bowl by George Fielding Eliot

      POST-WORLD WAR 2

The Cat-Woman by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Kid Stacks a Deck by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Theft from the Empty Room by Edward D. Hoch
The Shill by Stephen Marlowe
The Dr. Sherrock Commission by Frank McAuliffe
In Round Figures by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Racket Buster by Erle Stanley Gardner
Sweet Music by Robert L. Fish

      THE MODERNS

The Ehrengraf Experience by Lawrence Block
Quarry’s Luck by Max Allan Collins
The Partnership by David Morrell
Blackburn Sins by Bradley Denton
The Black Spot by Loren D. Estleman
Car Trouble by Jas A. Petrin
Keller on the Spot by Lawrence Block
Boudin Noir by R. T. Lawton
Like a Thief in the Night by Lawrence Block
Too Many Crooks by Donald E. Westlake

ROBERT BLOCH “The Cloak.” First published in Unknown, May 1939. First collected in The Opener of the Way (Arkham House, hardcover, 1945). Reprinted many times, including: Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories, edited by Victor Ghidalia (Xerox, paperback, 1972); Magic for Sale, edited by Avram Davidson (Ace, paperback, 1983); Vamps: An Anthology of Female Vampire Stories, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Daw, paperback, 1987); American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub (Library of America, hardcover, 2008). Film: Adapted as Part Four of The House That Dripped Blood (Amicus, 1971; reviewed here ).

   The list of places above where this small but obviously effective short story has appeared only scratches the surface, but what’s especially rewarding is seeing it progress from the pages of a 20 cent pulp magazine to a $35 hardcover from the prestigious Library of America.

   It’s one of those stories that begins, more or less, in one of those strange out-of-the-way shops that dot the side streets of the poorer sections of large cities, open for a while and perhaps only to pre-selected customers, only to disappear as mysteriously as they appeared, or to go up in flames, the owners vanished or even destroyed along with it.

   It is Halloween and a man named Henderson is looking for a costume. The shop owner in this case offers him the cloak — not a cloak, but the cloak — and once Henderson puts it one, he is a new man — or is he?

   What he definitely is is the center of attention at the party he attends that night. He is attracted to the neck of his fat host. Most positively attracted to him is a girl dressed as an angel — or is she?

   Told in Robert Bloch’s invariably easy to read writing style, the reader is always one step ahead of the main protagonist, until, that is, he meets the girl above, named Sheila, and once she is met, you are not exactly sure which way the rest of the tale is going to go. You think you do, but you’re not quite sure. Exactly where you should be at this stage of a story well told.

JUANITA COULSON – Crisis on Cheiron. Ace Double H-27, paperback original; 1st printing, 1967. Cover art: Jerome Podwil. Published back-to-back with The Winds of Gath, by E. C. Tubb.

   You may have to forgive me a little on this review, as I have some nostalgic bias toward it, as the author was, with her husband Buck, the co-publisher of a long-running science fiction fanzine called Yandro (1953-1986) that was not only very nearly my introduction to SF fandom, but also showed me what publishing a zine on one’s own was all about.

   Crisis on Cheiron was Juanita Coulson’s first novel, and while it’s not an award winner by any means, it’s a solid workmanlike effort that I read with pleasure.

   It’s the kind of puzzle story that drew me to SF in the first place. Carl Race is a troubleshooting ecologist who’s been sent to the planet Cheiron to find out why all the plant life there is beginning to die. If the problem is not solved soon, all life on the world, including the race of intelligent centaur-type natives, may be doomed.

   The solution, as it turns out, is an easy one. The bigger problem then becomes, who or what enemy agent is responsible? This is when the story becomes more or less routine, as Carl teams up with a feisty young Terran schoolteacher (female) and one of her bright native pupils to catch the wrongdoers in the act.

   There’s no more depth to the story than I’ve outlined here, but it’s well-written, with just enough drive to keep most readers of SF of the traditional (and now perhaps old-fashioned) sort involved in the tale until the end, including me.

MARK PHILLIPS – The Impossibles. Kenneth J. Malone / Psi-Power #2. Pyramid F-875, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1963. Previously serialized in Astounding SF in three parts as “Out Like a Light,” April-June 1960. Reprinted under this title but as by Laurence Janifer & Randall Garrett by Resurrected Press, trade paperback, 2011.

   The first in this series, concocted in high comic fashion by SF writers Laurence Janifer and Randall Garrett, was Braintwister (Pyramid, 1962), in which intrepid FBI agent Ken Malone meets up with a telepathic old lady who thinks she is Queen Elizabeth. The third and last was Supermind (Pyramid, 1963), in which he tangles with … well, you’ll have to tell me, as I haven’t read it yet.

   In this one, though, he meets up with a gang of kids in New York City who … well, I can’t tell you that, since that’s the mystery that Malone is called on to solve. Let me say that it begins with Malone lying flat on his back on a Greenwich Village sidewalk, having been sent to the big city to investigate a series of strange incidents involving red Cadillacs — only Cadillacs, and only red — that are being stolen and taken for joy rides all over the metropolitan area, but with no one being able to see who’s taking them or or even who’s behind the wheel.

   Truth be told, as a novel, The Impossibles is a minor affair, but the pleasure comes from watching Malone tackle the unknown in a wink and a nod sort of way, and then as he tries to explain to others what he comes across. That and passages such as this one, chosen from very early on in the book:

   Very slowly and carefully he opened his eyes again, one at a time. […] He closed his eyes again and waited for his head to go away.

   A few minutes passed. It was obvious that his head had settled down for a long stay, and no matter how bad it felt, Malone told himself, it was his head, after all. He felt a certain responsibility for it. And he couldn’t just leave it lying around somewhere with its eyes closed.

   All in all, a series that’s a lot of fun to read, but there’s no way I could call it essential.

CLIFFORD D. SIMAK – Out of Their Minds. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1970. Berkley, paperback; 1st printing, September 1970. Daw #514, paperback; January 1983.

   It is not clear at first where this book is taking place. All we know of the small backwoods town where our protagonist hero Horton Smith is heading is its name, the quietly evocative Pilot Knob. Later on, though, when Horton and his newly obtained female companion, a comely schoolteacher named Kathy Adams, find themselves on the run in turn to her hometown of Gettysburg PA, it is revealed that Chicago is not far off their route.

   So what this does is to place Pilot Knob in author Clifford Simak’s favorite story setting of either Wisconsin or Minnesota. It would be an ideal place for Horton Smith to settle in for a while, except for a couple of things: after making a wrong turn somewhere along the way, he sees a dinosaur, but only briefly before it disappears again. Tired eyes, he’s thinks. But then, after spending the night in a rundown farmhouse with a very strange couple, Norton wakes up in the morning in a cave full of rattlesnakes.

   The purely bucolic setting — again one of Simak’s specialties, and it is no different here — belies the fact that something strange is going on. After Horton realizes the couple he stayed with were actually Snuffy Smith and his wife Lowizey, he is reluctantly but totally convinced of that. (Today’s younger readers will need to be told that the couple were for many years the main characters in the “Barney Google” comic strip in every Sunday’s newspapers.)

   I’ve called this a science fiction review, and for the most part it is. Simak does his best to convince the reader that there is a scientific explanation for what goes on in the second half of the book, which turns out to be a collision between our world and the one created by the collective imagination of the people who live in ours: one in which Walt Disney characters and Don Quixote co-exist, a furious reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg is fought, as currently imagined, and where even the Devil himself eventually shows up.

   Since there are no rules in the world of fantastic literature, anything can happen, and does. Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, with only shaky logic behind the events that happen to Horton in this secondary world, I’m sure it’s not as fun to read as the author intended. Personally I found Simak’s description of life and the people in Horton Smith’s small backwoods hometown in the first half of the book a lot more interesting, even though that’s not the story he really had in mind to tell.

KEITH LAUMER – The Other Side of Time. Imperium agent Brion Bayard #2. Berkley F1129, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1965. Signet, paperback, November 1972. Collected in Beyond the Imperium (Tor, paperback, 1981) with Assignment in Nowhere (1968). Also collected in Imperium (Baen, paperback, 2005) by adding Worlds of the Imperium (1962) to the preceding volume. First hardcover edition: Walker, 1971. Originally serialized in Fantastic Stories, April-June 1965.

   From the title you might expect this to be a time-travel novel, and it is, but only in a way. What it really is is a novel of parallel universes, each separated from the other by the slimmest fabric of branched-off possibilities. What the world ruled by the Imperiumis is is an alternate Earth, one in which subtle differences between that world and ours are slowly but surely designed to be picked up on. (The time travel aspect comes in when it is discovered that in some parallel universes time travels at a different rate than it does in others.)

   It might be best to read Worlds of Imperium, the first in the series, before tackling this one. The Other Side of Time is a mapcap adventure in time and space that starts out in high gear and then notches the action up every two or three chapters along the way. What leading protagonist Bryon Bayard, based in Stockholm Zero-Zero, learns almost at once is that his world is being invaded by the orge-ish creatures called the Hagroon, and unless he does something about it, he will be the only one who survives. The rest of the books consists of him fighting a one-man resistance against the invaders, and as he does so, getting tossed this way and that in world after world, sometimes a captive and sometimes an utterly abandoned castaway.

   As a man of some endurance and ingenuity, Bayard is a MacGyver of his time times ten. It is a lot of fun seeing him juryrigging a shuttle based on a box and a few magnetic coils and setting off across a space-time continuum otherwise completely impossible to fathom — except in the imagination of an author like Keith Laumer.

   I cannot do better than to quote directly from page 152 of the Signet edition:

   The transparent helmet was in place, all the contacts tight. Dzok made a couple of quick checks, gave me the O sign with his fingers that meant all systems were go. I put my hand on the “activate” button and took my usual deep breath. If Dzok’s practice was as good as his theory, the rewired S-suit would twist the fabric of reality in a different manner than its designers had intended, stress the E-field of the normal continuum in a way that would expel me, like a watermelon seed squeezed in the fingers, into that curious non-temporal state of null entropy — the other side of time, as he poetically called it.

   If it worked, that was.

ERIC JAMES STONE – Unforgettable. Baen, trade paperback; January 2016; mass market paperback, May 2017. Previously published in ebook form, December 2015.

   Not too many science fiction novels take place in the present, but as I far as I can tell, this one does. There is only one aspect of it that makes it sfnal, and that is the fact that, since birth, Nat Morgan has had a unique talent: once out of sight of anyone, that person will forget everything about him in exactly sixty seconds.

   The same goes for computers and digital cameras, too. Anything in writing, fine, and (if I understand it correctly) photographs, the old-fashioned kind, if they’ve been printed out on paper they will continue to exist. It’s a tenuous hold on life, and it takes a lot of effort on Nat’s part just to survive.

   But who do you think he works for? The CIA, of course.

   And during the course of this current assignment, he’s finally given an explanation. Quantum physics, in other words, and Stone, as the author of this high-tech lighthearted thriller, somehow manages to convince me that it’s possible as well or better than any author could. (Store the information away along with intergalactic wormholes , faster-than-light drives and transporter beams. All I need is the basic concept and I say yes, OK, that makes sense, and now tell me a story about it.)

   And in this case the problem that Nat finds himself working on is how to stop a madman from building a quantum supercomputer so powerful that is can cancel out probability itself, and therefore control the fate of the entire planet. Aiding him in this effort is a female Russian agent who, as things progress, becomes the only one who does not forget him as soon as he steps out of the room. (If captured, stopping in a bathroom stall is a good way to elude his enemies.)

   It’s a one-note story, to tell you the truth, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m not sure that Stone has yet mastered all of the maneuvering you could do in life to both do good and to escape your would-be captors, but he’s thought of a lot of them. I enjoyed this one.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


JONATHAN LETHEM – Gun, with Occasional Music.Harcourt Brace & Co., hardcover, 1994. Tor, paperback, 1995.

   Lethem was “born in the 60s, watched TV in the 70s, and started writing in the 80s.” This is his first novel, he’s at work on a second, and that’s all we know.

   Conrad Metcalf in a Private Inquisitor, which is the futuristic equivalent of a PI. (“PQ” doesn’t quite have the same ring to ot, somehow.) An ex-client of his is murdered, and the man the Inquisitors suspect of killing him comes to Metcalf protesting his innocence, and asking for help.

   Metcalf turns him down, but then for quixotic reasons of his own decides to become involved. This is sort of a PI story, after all. Problem is, nobody wants him poking around — not the dead man’s wife, not an enigmatic gangster, and most of all not the Inquisitors. It’s a brave new world, and it such creatures in it.

   This is a mystery/science fiction hybrid that won’t satisfy either camp. For SF fans there’s a potentially interesting culture set an unspecified number of years in the future, but there’s no background or rationale for it at all — it just is.

   For PI fans, Metcalf is almost a stereotypical mean streets kin of guy, but the futuristic trappings — evolved animals, a taboo against questions, musical news, “babyheads,” Karma cards (a debit balance means the freezer), and more — only prove distracting.

   Lethem is a moderately good writer in terms of prose and pacing, though there’s not a great deal of characterization aside from Metcalf himself. I was able to get through the book with some enjoyment (though not a great deal) because I’m an ardent fan of both hardboiled PI’s and science fiction. I can’t imagine any other kind of reader liking this much at all.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.


Editorial Update:   This book received more acclaim from SF fans than Barry expected. It was ranked Number One in that year’s Locus poll for Best First Novel, was nominated for a Nebula, and had considerable support for a Hugo. I don’t recall mystery fans taking much if any notice of it, but I may be wrong about that. If you’re interested in learning more about Lethem’s career, you can do no better than to check out his entry in the online SF Encyclopedia.

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