Science Fiction & Fantasy

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


H. P. LOVECRAFT – 3 Tales of Horror. Arkham House, hardcover, 1967.

   So I’ve had this really cool edition of Lovecraft from August Derleth’s Arkham House, with ominous illustrations by Lee Brown Coye. Take a look here, using the link below, and you’ll get the general idea:

   But for whatever reason I’d never read it. Nor any Lovecraft. Now back in my D&D’ing days of yore (Dungeons and Dragons, for the uninitiated), I became somewhat familiar with and frightened by Cthulhu. But that’s where my acquaintance stopped.

Whether because of my general disdain for the horror genre, or due to Lovecraft’s reputation for racism and lack of stylistic panache — or even prosaic competence — I had hitherto avoided reading any. But upon crackling open the spine of this here volume, hither and thither hast my avoidance been vanquished.

   In other words, Lovecraft is freaking awesome! I loved these three stories. They’re great and I devoured them as quick as I could before they could devour me.

      The three stories were:

1. “The Colour Out of Space.” Amazing Stories, September 1927.

   In this one, some weird meteor hits near a farm house, west of Arkham, New England way, near Miskatonic University.

   The material of the ‘meteor’ is of some hitherto unknown quality that appears on no periodic table of this realm.

   The scientists are all excited to test a piece of it. But as they test it, it starts to shrink, then disappear.

   Finally they chip into the thing itself, deeply, releasing some amorphous blue globule. Nothing to see here. All is well. It continues to shrink, then disappear, til near forgotten.

   Then the farmer and his family start to grow gorgeous but inedible crops , and they begin to act crazier and crazier, and finally disappear one by one.

   There is something corrupt in the soil, in their wellspring. And it’s spreading.

2. “The Dunwich Horror.” Weird Tales, April 1929.

   Young Wilbur Whately is born in Dunwich, child of weak-minded albino mother, and fathered by some monstrosity. Gramps is some sort of sorcerer called Old Whately.

   Wilbur grows at an inhuman rate, able to walk around and read in multiple languages by the time he was a toddler, big as a 4 year old by 2, big as an 8 year old by 4. And so on.

   Wilbur and gramps are working to conjure an ancient spirit to retake the earth and vanquish humanity. Will they get away with it? Tune in next time…..same bat time…..same bat channel.

3. “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Weird Tales, January 1937.

   “It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman — madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium.”

   And so it begins….

   Our narrator has murdered a person who appears to be Edward Derby, his lifelong friend.   

   But the story tells the tale of Ephraim Waite — a mysterious man of whispered wizardry. And his Winona Ryder looking daughter Asenath who steals the heart of our beloved Mr. Derby, and they wed.

   Mr. Derby’s soul seems increasingly to be wrenched from his body, and transported into the body of his strange bride, and vice versa. And there is a struggle for control of the body between each soul. A battle for the corpus of the man, Edward.

   If Edward is killed whilst his body is possessed by Asenatha Waite—who then is the victim?


   Anyway, I really dug these stories. Yeah, the prose is antiquated. But the style fits the mysterious boggy settings. And adds to them, really.

   Another thing I liked about the stories is they are narrated in each case by a sceptic — a non-believer in magical spirits and alien powers. It is only by the ‘objective’ appearance of inexplicable happenings that the inherent skepticism is overcome. And you find yourself being slowly edged into belief, an objective observer of ineffable horrors.

JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything. Gold Medal s1259, paperback original, 1962. Reprinted several times. Made-for-TV movie with Robert Hays and Pam Dawber, 1980.

   Kirby Winter’s uncles had died and instead of the millions Kirby expected to inherit, he received only a gold watch as a keepsake. But he finds that there are others, quite unscrupulous, who believe that he must at least have received the secret of his uncle’s success. And in fact he has; the owner of the watch has the ability to stop normal time and t o exist in that stopped world for up to an hour, free to act without fear of exposure or reprisal.

   Such a secret carries with it a tremendous responsibility, and Kirby’s uncle had set up conditions in his will to guarantee that his nephew would have to quickly show that he was worthy. During his adventures, he meets Bonny Lee, and it is his love for the uninhibited singer-dancer that helps change him from the poor ninny he was, afraid of women and life.

   Humorous, wild, sexy, science-fantasy: not to be believed, but wouldn’t it be great? Of course moral philosophy is emphasized: responsibility and other obligations restrict the honest user, but then the watch should also not be used solemnly, but, ah, frivolously or happily. Removing bathing suits, for example, rather than killing folks.

   Which is precisely what happens. Happily. And justice triumphs.

Rating: ****

— July 1968.

JACK WILLIAMSON – Bright New Universe. Ace G-641, paperback original, 1967. Cover art by John Schoenherr. Collected in Seventy-Five: The Diamond Anniversary of a Science Fiction Pioneer (Hafner Press, hardcover, 2004).

   Idealism is confronted with reality, as Adam Cave meets opposition, then disappointment, as he rejects the material comfort which could be his on Earth. The Moon is the site of Project Lifeline, aimed at sending signals to space, seeking other life in the universe. He does not know contact has been made, with his own father, believed dead, and organized opposition has already been created,

   His conflict is with those who feel change is always destructive, and indeed with white racists who know their values cannot withstand the shock if the alien culture as it overwhelms Earth’s. The symbol of his triumph is a small Negro boy who now has the power of a transgalactic civilization at his fingertips.

   There is a message here, and it is obvious. […] The characters are symbols and little more. It comes as a shock to realize how crude the writing style is, as compared to a craftsman such as [for example] mystery writer Ross Macdonald. There are the ideas, though. Williamson meant for better things, but [this time around], he doesn’t succeed.

— July 1968.

KEITH LAUMER – Spaceman! Serialized in If SF, May-June-July 1967. Published in book form as Galactic Odyssey (Berkley X1447, paperback, September 1967).

   Billy Danger is accidentally kidnapped off Earth by a hunting expedition consisting of two men and a girl, The Lady Raire. He is made a gun-bearer, and when the two hunters are killed, he is made responsible for the girl’s safety. They find cover and means for a signal, but slavers respond and steal her from him, leaving him for dead.

   His hunt for her takes him across the galaxy, with many back-breaking jobs and imprisonments, but also with many friendships, until he reaches her home planet, where she has been returned but under another’s control.

   Rousing action, from beginning to end, descriptive passages of alienness and nightmares, captures and escapes make this a most exciting story in the old tradition. Although a college student, Billy Danger at first seems more a grade-schooler in character, but his experiences mature him soon enough and he begins to fit his name exactly.

Rating: ****½

— July 1968.

IF SCIENCE FICTION, July 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover art by Jack Gaughan. Full text and illustrations available at Overall rating: ***½

PHILIP JOSE FARMER – The Felled Star. Serial, part 1 of 2. See review later after both parts are available. [The entire two-part serial is a section of Farmer’s novel The Fabulous Riverboat.]

E. A. WALTON “Pelandra’s Husbands. First story. Love proves stronger than possible immortality. (1)

ANDREW J. OFFUTT “Population Implosion.” Novelette. The plague hits only old people, in direct correspondence to the birth rate. Excellent idea suffers [is marred] only by jumps in the story. (5)

C. C. MacAPP “A Ticket to Zenner.” Novelette. A thief leaves behind a ticket, in a SF intrigue story, reminiscent of Eric Ambler, but without the convincing background. (3)

ALAN DIRKSON “Adam’s Eve.” Novelette. A world without humans has only waiting robots, but two find how to obtain services for themselves. (3) [His only published SF story.]

KEITH LAUMER – Spaceman! Serial, part 3 of 3. See review coming up soon. [Book publication as Galactic Odyssey.]

— July 1968.

OTHER WORLDS SCIENCE STORIES. June-July 1951. Editor: Raymond A. Palmer. Cover art: H. W. McCauley. Overall rating: *

RUSSELL BRANCH “Time Flaw.” Novelette. The love betwen Captain Hunter of the S. S. Stella and one of his passengers is interrupted by disaster and application of Einstein’s theories. Poor writing keeps plot from any depths it might have been capable of. (1)

POUL ANDERSON “The Missionaries.” Alien worship of machines is carried to its logical conclusion, cannibalism. (2)

R. BRETNOR “The Fledermaus Report.” Martin Fledermaus, chosen as first human to fly to the moon, discovers that the beauty of one’s wife is relative. Tripe. (0)

ROBERT BLOCH “The Tin You Love to Touch.” Low-grade comedy about the female robot maid that comes between Roscoe Droop and his domineering wife, This is really low. (0)

RAY PALMER “Mr. Yellow Jacket.” Galactic census-takers discover that some humans have the power yo make thoughts real, Included (page 81) is one of the silliest theories of meteors ever. (0)

S. J. BYRNE “Beyond the Darkness.” Novella. Intrigue aboard one of a fleet of FTL ships seeking new worlds for humanity. The passengers are subjected to a memory-erasing device so that the rebellious navigators can return to contest for already inhabited worlds. Nad, our hero, finds the ex-captain still alive; the plan fails, escape, discovery, loss of heroine, villain returns from oblivion, cowardly brother redeems himself. People don’t really talk and act this way, do they? *½

— July 1968.

MURRAY LEINSTER “The Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator.” First published in Astounding Stories, December 1935. Reprinted in The Other Worlds, edited by Phil Stong (Funk, hardcover, 1941), and The Future Makers, edited by Peter Haining (Belmont, paperback, US edition, 1971). First collected in Sidewise in Time (Shasta, hardcover, 1950), then The Best of Murray Leinster (Ballantine/Del Rey, paperback, 1978), and A Logic Named Joe (Baen, paperback, 2005).

   This one begins with a fellow named Pate Davidson complaining to his newly inherited man servant Thomas that his uncle had left him nothing of value after his death. He is especially upset because his fiancée Daisy (currently the star attraction of the Green Paradise floor show) expects (had been allowed to expect) … well, something more than that.

   “Not so,” says Thomas, and shows Pete one of inventions his late uncle was working on. It’s in the shape of a cylinder standing upright with an open side and all kinds of gadgetry lining the inner surface. On the floor, in the center of the opening is a small plate, and as Peter soon discovers, if something is on the plate when the machinery is turned on, the demonstrator (that’s its name) brings that same object back to the present from a few seconds earlier.

   Never mind the physics behind this. Pete has a mind that quickly begins to work overtime. Place a dime on the plate, turn the switch on, then there’s two. Turn the handle again, than there’s four; then eight, then sixteen. (I hope I’m explaining this correctly.)

   This is only petty cash, though, right? Dimes, pah! Why not dollar bills? You probably know as well I do why not, and as soon as Peter realizes why not too, the cops are knocking on the door. And so is Daisy, and somehow they all end up stepping on the plate, and …

   Most SF stories from 1935 are staid and serious. Not this one. This one is a lot of fun.

   I might have done without the cigarette-eating kangaroo(s), though.

ROBERT SILVERBERG – Thorns. Ballantine U669, paperback original, 1st printing, August 1967; cover by Robert Foster. Walker, hardcover, 1969. Bantam, paperback, 1983. Nominated in 1968 for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1967.

   A manipulated love affair, between Minner Burris, starman disfigured by aliens, and Lona Kelvin, virgin but mother of one hundred children, Mutual sympathy was the original reason for their attraction. But their obvious differences were bound to lead to the emotional conflict that Duncan Chalk, dealer in public entertainment, could feed on.

   Tries a bit too hard to be literary, and what story there is suffers. Message abounds. People with power tend to make themselves into gods; aliens remake a human body without explanation, doctors take the product of a young girl’s ovaries without regard to her feelings, and of course Chalk, who lives on stolen emotions.

   And thorns? “They stick you.” (page 83). “To be alive … to feel pain – how important that is.” (page 222).

Rating: ****

— July 1968.

PIERS ANTHONY – Chthon. Ballantine U6107; paperback original; 1st printing, 1967. Cover artist unknown. Berkley, paperback, 1975. Ace, paperback, 1987. Nominated in 1968 for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1967.

   Because of his love for the creature known as a minionette, Aton Five is sentenced to imprisonment in the underground caverns of Chthon, from which no escape is known. But the image of his nymph drives Aton to find a way out, no matter the consequences to his fellow inmates.

   He must find the key to his own behavior, buried in his memory, before he can fight his evil birthright and love normally. For the minionette he loves is his mother, for whom inversion of love is natural, but who sacrifices herself to swing the balance in his inner conflict. Chthon is more than a place, It is an intelligence seeking to use Aton to destroy man, but all it has seen before [has been] man’s unsanity.

   A story of love, and of cultural conflict, on many levels. The very structure of the novel demonstrates this, as it is told in flashbacks and flashforward parallel to — and symbolizing — Aton’s adventures in Chthon’s caverns. A highly effective way of presentation, as parts which are obscure [at first reading] will be clarified by continuing on, but the significance [of which] would be decreased if told in the usual chronological fashion.

   Hence the story is more than a tale of love; it is also one which requires time and effort [to reach the depth it offers].

Rating: *****

— June-July 1968.

CHESTER ANDERSON – The Butterfly Kid. Book #1 of the Greenwich Village trilogy (see below). Pyramid X-1730; 1st printing, December 1967 (cover by Gray Morrow). Gregg Press, hardcover, 1977. Pocket, paperback, 1980. Dover, softcover, 2019. Nominated for the Hugo award in 1968 as Best Novel of 1967.

   The Reality Pill is introduced to Greenwich Village by six-foot tall lobster aliens with crummy Lazlo Scott as their agent. Chester and his roommate Michael the Theodore Bear are first directly confronted withe potentialities of the pills when they meet Sean sitting on a park bench calmly making hallucinogenic butterflies come to life.

   Later they accidentally take the pills themselves, and the resulting riot and destruction convinces them that the Communists or aliens or whatever behind the plot must be stopped. They recruit a group of friendly hippies and set out for the reservoir to stop citywide pollution

   The appeal is that of the quietly wild hippy outlook on life as they go about saving the world. “Have you ever tried to talk a bunch of hippies into helping you save the world? Forget it, Next time I save the world, by starky, I’m going to do it solo. Faster that way, less work.”

   Lots of laughs, which is remarkable in science fiction., but the ending is obvious. It is not until page 166 that the method of defeating the aliens occurs to Chester, but then he has other things on his mind.

Rating: ****

— June 1968.


      The Greenwich Village trilogy –

1 The Butterfly Kid (1967) by Chester Anderson
2 The Unicorn Girl (1969) by Michael Kurland
3 The Probability Pad (1970) by T. A. Waters

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