Science Fiction & Fantasy


SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MANLY WADE WELLMAN “Ever the Faith Endures.” First published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VI, edited by Gerald W. Page (Daw #297, paperback original; 1st printing, 1978). Collected in The Devil is Not Mocked and Other Warnings (Night Shade Books, hardcover, 2001).

   I love this type of atmospheric horror story. One in which a man goes in search of his roots in either the United Kingdom or New England and discovers some shocking family secret. That, or something far more sinister, ones in which a sense of slowly creeping dread permeates the entire story.

   Such is the case in Manly Wade Wellman’s “Ever the Faith Endures.” From the title, one might expect that the faith references would be Christianity. But let me assure you: that is far from the case. The faith that plays such an important role in the story is a pagan one. Specifically, the worship of the god Baal. The connection between that old god and the story’s protagonist becomes evident soon enough, particularly because his name is Wofford Belson. His original family name back in England was Belstone. As in Baal’s stone. You see where this might be going.

   Not only does the story tie in Wofford Belson’s quest to learn about his family’s distant past and to visit their original home back in England (Belson is an American), it also brings him face to face with a long distant cousin. She’s nice enough, and Belson takes an immediate liking to her. But she’s adamant that she can’t leave England and return to the States with him. You see, she’s been tasked with guarding something inside the Belstone estate. Something grotesquely evil. A being that could just as easily come straight from the imagination of one H. P. Lovecraft.

   Recommended.

MICHAEL F. FLYNN “Nexus.” Lead (and cover) novella in Analog Science Fiction, March-April 2017.

      Nexus: a connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

   This is a time-travel story taking place in the present that packs a series of multiple punches, each centered around one of the several characters involved:

    … a time traveler from the future who is trying to track down where his particular timeline has gone off the track, dooming billions of people; a woman who is immortal and who met the time traveler once before back in the Byzantine times; a member of a hidden alien race on Earth on the track of a possible invader that may have followed them here: a five-legged spider-like creature alone on Earth that hopes to use the time traveler’s machine to repair his/her/its spaceship; a female android who, inadvertently connecting the pieces of the plot together, wonders if the immortal woman could be another of her kind; and a woman with telepathic abilities who overhears a conversation that brings her into the tale as well.

   That all of these players meet at one crucial time in this planet’s history may happen by a series of striking coincidences, perhaps, but then again, perhaps not.

   Michael F. Flynn has been around as a strong proponent of hard science fiction for a while now, but this is the first work of his that I’ve read. This had to have been a difficult story to write, pulling all of the threads together as he does in a clear, concise fashion, with a light touch every so often as it’s needed. I’m impressed, and I’ll see what I can do to find more of his short fiction to read. Long SF novels are pretty much beyond me any more, I’m afraid.

NINA KIRIKI HOFFMAN “Vinegar and Cinnamon.” Lead (and cover) story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017.

   In a world in which magic exists, but not everyone has the same ability to cast spells, one family undergoes a small tragedy when the twelve year old sister transforms her fourteen year old brother into a rat. It was in fit of anger, and once done, she does not know how to reverse it.

   Luckily Sam decides that he likes being a rat. His sense of sense of smell is enhanced tremendously, for example, even though his vision is restricted to seeing only objects nearby.

   Even emotions have smells: “vinegar surprise, hot-pepper anger from Ma; baking-bread love from Pa; and caramel love and salt-water dismay from Maura.” Maura does her best to change Sam back again and he finally agrees to let her try. Does she succeed? Read this delightfully enjoyable homespun sort of tale and find out.

   Nina Kiriki Hoffman has written 17 novels, some for pre-teens and young adults, including The Thread That Binds the Bones, reviewed by Barry Gardner here on this blog. Her short story “Trophy Wives” won a 2008 Nebula award.

STEVE MUDD – The Planet Beyond. Popular Library/Questar, paperback original; first printing, September 1990.

   There is an elite among the population of Seelzar, and only they have access to the powers provided by the mysterious Wells. Cross them and wham! You’re in exile before you know it.

   As for me, I know I’ve read far enough when: I’ve read five chapters and suddenly realize that I haven’t come across anything of interest so far.

   I know I’m right when: I read the last page, and find that the last sentence is “It was going to be a challenge indeed to get out of this alive, let alone with the Scepter.”

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993.


[UPDATE]   I’ve just done some online research about this book, something I couldn’t have done back in 1993. What I’ve discovered is that this book is actually a sequel to an earlier one, Tangled Webs (1989), a fact not at all indicated on either the covers or the blurbs inside this one. Not only that, but another source suggests that this book was intended to be the middle of a trilogy (as that last line indicates), but for whatever reason, the concluding volume was never published. I have come across no information on the author himself.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


WHO? Allied Artists, 1975. Released on video as Roboman. Elliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, James Noble. Based on the book by Algis Budrys. Director: Jack Gold.

   Part cold war thriller, part science fiction, Who? is an enjoyably complex movie that defies conventional expectations and aesthetic norms. Filmed in an almost semi-documentary style, the story not only unfolds in a nonlinear manner, but it also leaves the viewer guessing until the very end as to what the movie’s message or artistic statement, was really all about. Although the movie has its noticeable flaws, it is overall the result of a type of bold experimental film-making that’s sadly all too absent today.

   Elliott Gould portrays FBI Agent Sean Rogers. He’s quirky with a hairstyle a little too wild for a counterespionage agent, but an impassioned national servant nonetheless, a true skeptic always doubting and asking questions. He faces what appears to be the challenge of his career in the face of Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), an American scientist recently released from captivity in East Berlin. The problem facing Rogers is that he’s not sure Martino is who he claims to be. The reason why, as viewers will soon learn, is that Martino has apparently been in a horrific car accident. Eastern bloc scientists reconstructed as a robotic man, one with a silver metal skull and mechanical body parts.

   But just who is this robotic man? Is he really Martino or is he a Soviet spy? Rogers simply can’t accept that this silver coated remnant of a man is truly Martino. He’s sure that his Soviet nemesis, Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard) has somehow managed to either brainwash Martino into being a Soviet agent or that the man under the mask isn’t Martino at all. Complicating matters for Rogers is the fact that Martino seems to be who he says he is. He’s got Martino’s memories and personality traits.

   In order to build up to the big reveal as to the actual identity of the man released from Soviet captivity, the story unfolds on two parallel tracks, shifting the viewer’s perspective in terms of both time and space. The present dynamic between Rogers and Martino is contrasted with the past dynamic between Azarin and Martino when the scientist was captive in East Berlin.

   As it turns out, there’s not a whole world of difference between Rogers and Azarin. Both are committed patriots who care far more of what Martino could do for them than about Martino himself. Ultimately, however, it is Martino — or whoever it is under the mask — that will decide what his role in this world is going to be. In that sense, the film is very much part of the humanistic science fiction tradition, one that utilizes the tropes of speculative fiction in order to say something about what it means to be an individual.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


JOHN BARNES – Orbital Resonance. Tor, hardcover, December 1991; paperback, October 1992.

   A lot of different people have compared Barnes to Heinlein on the basis of this book, and for once the comparisons seem to have a modicum of validity. If you liked Heinlein’s “juveniles,” or any of his books before he went weird, you’re very likely to enjoy this.

   It chronicles the life of a 12-year-old girl living in an asteroid colony thousands of miles from a devastated earth, if you want a bare-bones summary. You might call it a coming-of-age story, but that wouldn’t do justice to it. For one thing, it presents one of the more believable self-contained environments I’ve come across, both physically and sociologically as well.

   For another, the lead character is both likeable and credible, an all too uncommon juxtaposition. It’s a well-paced story that will hold your interest, and excellent science fiction of a kind too seldom seen nowadays. Try it.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


JOHN WYNDHAM – Out of the Deeps. Ballantine #50, US, paperback, November 1953. Michael Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1953, as The Kraken Wakes. Reprinted several times under both titles.

   From the front cover:

      *All over the world, great slimy monsters crept out of the seas — to feed on human flesh!

   I think “slimy” is a nice touch; don’t you?

   In any case, this is a fast-moving and fairly gripping tale of one of those idiosyncratic Alien Invasions typical of British Sci-Fi, unfolding over a period of several years and narrated by a journalist of the Clark Kent school: handy at crucial moments, and observant enough to see the implications.

   It all starts conventionally enough as strange objects streak to Earth from somewhere around Jupiter and mostly plunk into the ocean deeps, except for a few that streak across the U.S. and/or Russia and are promptly shot to space-smithereens, since this was at the height (or depth, if you prefer) of the Cold War.

   Some time passes before the Government organizes a research team that includes our narrator and the usual insightful, eccentric) and politically inconvenient) Scientist to see what became of the things, leading to a suspenseful chapter where bathyspheres are dropped, only to have loose cables hauled back up, severed and fused by some awesome heat.

   Things progress from here to worse: depth bombs are dropped, ships disappear, then more ships, and finally whale-size blobs start crawling out on land, discharging “millebrachiate tentacular coelenterates” (big honkin’ jellyfish) to devour the locals.

   There are some really fine pages of pitched battles with the damn things until (SPOILER ALERT!) they put the blighters to rout, And everyone slaps himself on the back for vanquishing the foe…. And then, very slowly, the polar ice caps start to melt — and at this point the whole thing got unbelievable.

   The thing is, there’s a strong subtext in this book of Official dithering and Politicized inaction. Wyndham spreads his story over years, with connecting phrases like “It was not till months later…” or “the following summer…” and that sort of thing. The icecap-melt uses a lot of these, as elected officials all over the world argue over what’s going on and whose fault it is.

   Well, I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to swallow the notion that responsible elected officials, faced with clear evidence of climate change, would mostly just ignore it. There’s even a short bit about New Orleans getting flooded… makes the whole thing unbelievable.

   If you can get past this, however, there’s some good reading here, with large-scale catastrophe, small-scale personal crises, and a real feel for the characters involved. What impressed me most though was that Wyndham brought this whole epic in under two hundred pages. If it were done today, he’d have to spend five volumes detailing pointless subplots and diversions to tell the same damn story. No wonder I miss the fast, sharp writing of yester-pulp!

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


WILLIAM SHARP “The Graven Image.” First collected in The Gypsy Christ and Other Tales (Stone and Kimball, 1895). Reprinted in Great Tales of Terror, edited by S. T. Joshi (Dover, 2002). (Follow the link to read the story online.)

   Sometimes a story can leave you with an indelible sense of horror, indeed of terror. Skilled horror writers know exactly what imagery and settings can instantly evoke a sense of dread in the reader. Locales such as an abandoned mansion, a campground at twilight, and an uncharted island all can be utilized to great effect in transporting the reader into a realm of literary danger.

   In William Sharp’s “The Graven Image,” the reader is treated vicariously to a night’s stay in a haunted bedroom, a setting that should lend itself to a solidly constructed short story. Unfortunately, the setting itself is unable to carry the story to a satisfying conclusion.

   The tale follows the narrator, Cornwall native James Trenairy, as he recounts his disquieting stay at “The Mulberries,” an old house in Kensington, London inhabited by both the living … and the dead. Although the story is most certainly a well written and captivating supernatural tale, it nonetheless feels incomplete, as if it’s more of a vignette than a complete short story. The reason for this is as simple as it is oft neglected, particularly in stories that aim more for shock value than for dramatic effect. Other than resolving to never stay in the house again, the protagonist undergoes no fundamental character or life change as a result of his experiences.

   That’s not to say that Sharp wasn’t more than capable of both building tension in the story and envisioning a situation that surely would evoke a sense of horror in readers. It’s just that the story concludes without us wondering exactly how this horrible experience, described in exquisite detail, will affect the psyche of one James Trenairy.

A Reappraisal Review by Walter Albert:


SHE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1935. Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, Nigel Bruce. Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard. Directors: Lansing C. Holden & Irving Pichel.

   Herewith my reconsideration of She, bringing, I hope, a close to my rediscovery (thanks to your astute reviewers) of my earlier review.

   I watched first the b&w version of She, then a few sections of the colorized version.

   No, Nigel Bruce’s role is not a “throw-away,” although he’s very clearly a supporting player and is best used in the sections that lead up to the discovery of Kor.

   I’m not generally fond of colorizing films, but the process is rather tastefully used in She, and is especially effective in the Hall of Kings segment. Harryhausen and James V. D’Arc both compare the musical accompaniment to the dances in the Hall of Kings to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which is certainly stretching it quite a bit.

   I have CDs of both the original score and its restoration and recording with William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. I don’t find it musically as compelling as the score for King Kong, but it’s an impressive record of Steiner’s musical genius. His scores for the two Merian C. Cooper fantasy productions are at the top of my favorites among his film scores, as are Rozsa’s scores for The Jungle Book and The Thief of Baghdad among his numerous film scores.

   Helen Gahagan is not conventionally attractive, but her imperious manner contrasts very effectively with Helen Mack’s performance, two roles that are the strong emotional underpinnings of the film.

   And the production design and special effects are outstanding.

   I must say that I’ve enjoyed returning to the film after three decades and I appreciate the comments about my earlier review that prompted this voyage — dare I say it? — of discovery.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


CHARLES BEAUMONT “The New People.” First published in Rogue, August 1958. First collected in Night Ride and Other Journeys (Bantam, paperback, Mar 1960). Reprinted many times since, including in Perchance to Dream (Penguin, trade paperback, October 2015).

   It’s not every day that you discover that your neighbors are Satanists. But then again, the usual and the quotidian is hardly the terrain of writer Charles Beaumont. In “The New People,” one of the author’s stories assembled in Night Ride and Other Journeys (1960), the protagonist soon discovers that his typical suburban neighbors are anything but. It’s an altogether well constructed tale, one that ratchets up the suspense, all the while giving the reader the vague sense that he could just as easily find himself in the main character’s proverbial shoes.

   Beaumont, like Ira Levin and Stephen King following him, had a knack for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Just lurking behind the niceties of Any Town USA and blissful marriages are secrets that are first gently, then abruptly, exposed. We never learn the name of the town where “The New People” takes place, but it’s hinted that it may be a place where Hollywood screenwriters reside.

   Soon after moving into their new home, husband and wife Hank and Ann, along with their adopted son Davey, begin to form social relationships with their neighbors. While Davey doesn’t want to have anything to do with the locals, Hank and Ann host a small gathering in their home for the new friends.

   As the night unfolds, one of the neighbors hints to Hank that he has secret, pertinent information that he must share. In a twist of fate reminiscent of the best conte cruels, Hank comes to learn that his newfound friend is anything but. Overall, a well-written story which bolsters my appreciation for Beaumont’s writing.

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