Science Fiction & Fantasy


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

HARRINGTON HEXT (EDEN PHILLPOTTS) – Number 87. Thornton Butterworth, UK, hardcover, 1922. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1922. Wildside Press, US, hardcover/trade paperback, 2008, as by Eden Phillpotts. Prologue Books, US, trade paperback, December 2012.

   A policeman, standing at the time on the suspension bridge that crosses the ornamental waters, heard a single, loud cry from the path that approaches the bridge easterly, and hastening to the spot he found a man lying upon his face on the grass at the path side. Close at hand, though but dimly visible, for the night was foggy, P,C. B49 declares that he saw a large and living animal, such as he had never seen before. He attempts no exact description of this creature, but has sworn that he distinguished a black, humped object, ‘as large as a horse’ with a very long neck and a narrow head above which were set tall ears. Its eyes shone like a cat’s as he turned his lantern upon it, and it appeared to hesitate as he advanced a short distance towards it. He then blew his whistle, and the thing, evidently alarmed, hopped twice, then spread black wings, ascended swiftly into the air and disappeared. The constable likens the creature to a huge bird, and though four other officers, who ran to answer his summons, saw nothing of this alleged rara avis, in one particular they corroborate a detail reported by John Syme (P.C. B49). All were conscious of an overpowering taint and reek in the air — an animal smell.

   
   The first sighting of the creature the world will come to know as the Bat in London is little but a curiosity, but soon it will become a world wide sensation of terror and horror, a monster striking from the sky and leaving death and destruction in its wake.

   Eden Phillpotts, who under the pseudonym Harrington Hext penned fantastic thrillers, was a considerable literary light in his day well respected by critics for his regional novels; a recognized master of the mystery novel whose The Red Remaynes (1922) stands with Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley as one of the first novels to create the Golden Age of the Classic Detective Novel; the man who convinced a discouraged Agatha Christie to keep writing because he saw something in her work; who partnered with notable writer Arnold Bennett (Doubloons); wrote early Science Fiction (Saurus and others); lost worlds (The Golden Feitch); and had more literary honors than we can list here, was born in 1862 (and died in 1961).

   In the late Victorian Era he made his debut with a pamphlet for a railroad line that both pioneered and popularized an entire sub genre the railroad mystery with My Adventure on the Flying Scotsman, and one of his last novels (1951) featured a murder involving an experimental nuclear physicist . That would be a full career for any writer in any age.

   But back to the central question, what is the Bat, and what is the secret of its reign of terror?

   Alexander Skeat is the first victim, no mark on him but a tiny red spot. Yes, because this one is no fair play detective novel, a drug unknown to science is the culprit. Indeed in the tradition of the thriller mysterious drugs, monstrous bat winged flying creatures, and enough thrills, horrors, and mysterious doings for a dozen weird pulps fill the pages of this unrepentant extravaganza. Even Edgar Wallace could take a few notes from Phillpotts.

   Our narrator is Ernest Granger, the Secretary of the Club of Friends and agent of the Apollo Life Insurance Company, both of who are intimately involved in the history of the Bat. His fellow club members General Fordyce and his scientist brother Sir Bruce, Rev, Walter Blore, Leon Jacobs Stockbroker, and Jack Smith, a barrister all figure in the action.

   Drawn into the case by the death of Skeats, a scientific charlatan, the drama will take the men from London to New York, to Yugoslavia (Jugo-Slavia here), Russia, and China in a race to discover what the Bat is and who is behind it, and why it has targeted the relatively new Christian Science movement.

   Like many books of the Post WWI era, Number 87 is concerned with the future, the fear of another Great War, and how to avoid that fearful fate.

   “The old security of the strong and the freedom of the mighty are gone. We are all in the same leaky boat, great and small together, and power is not vested in what you call ‘the humanities’ — far from it. Science, not the Arts, ended the war. War, indeed, is a ghost for a moment, but it remains for the men and women of this century to decide if the ghost shall vanish into thin air, or presently grow solid and clothe itself again with bones and flesh. We must, then, accept existing conditions and not indulge in metaphysics. Physics alone offers salvation. Physics alone is stronger than treaties and more trustworthy than the word of living man; because physics means power.”

   
   That voice is key to the solution of the novel, a modern Prometheus (and no, the Mary Shelley reference is no accident) who reaches too far and through mere humanity becomes a monster rather than a hero of mankind is the culprit and the Miltonian figure at its center.

   Like much popular fiction of the era the villain is no Fu Manchu or Bond villain, but a flawed superman of sorts, a figure both ultimately admired and feared, and in the end both he and his creation Number 87, the Bat, suffer exile rather than destruction more on the model of Nemo or Robur than the less noble villains to come.

   Phillpotts is hardly hard-boiled or pared down as a prose stylist, but he can write and his works, while dated, are often still quite good reads. This brief scene when our narrator first spies the creature for himself is a good example.

   Suddenly the light was darkened, but by no cloud. A black shadow fell and moved upon the moonlit fern, and looking upward I perceived an enormous winged object flying above the tree tops. For a moment it had crossed the disk of the moon and so attracted my eyes. It appeared to be a gigantic bat… Moonlight showed the thing standing where it had settled. I saw its long neck; its low ears set far back upon a snake-shaped head, its large, open eyes of phosphorescent green — the sort of illumination now familiar to me as the light from glowworms. The mass of its body was hidden by the fern and I could only see its head and neck and the hump of its shoulders rising above them.

   
   Revelations, horrors, and terrors are to come before Granger and his friends find the remarkable solution to what the Bat is and who lies behind it much less why. It is admittedly old fashioned, but not bad for that. Certainly not to everyone’s taste, but well worth taking the time to find (easy in e-book edition if not hard copy).

   It was the dark hour before dawn and one could actually see nothing of what happened; but within twenty minutes we all marked the eyes of ‘the Bat,’ like twin sparks of fire, upon the roof of the manor house. The machine ascended and became invisible to us, whereupon through the night there drifted drearily a strange mutter and a moaning — the lamentation, as it seemed, of that ancient Elizabethan pile, shuddering and sinking down under a swift rain of electrons, that transformed the granite at a touch and ground the ancient porphyry into dust.

   
   Splendid blood and thunder that.

RAYMOND J. HEALY & J. FRANCIS McCOMAS, Editors – Famous Science-Fiction Stories: Adventures in Time And Space. The Modern Library G-31; hardcover, 1957, xvi + 997 pages. First published as Adventures in Time in Space, Random House, hardcover, 1946. Bantam F3102, paperback, 1966, as Adventures in Time and Space (contains only 8 stories). Ballantine, paperback, 1975, also as Adventures in Time and Space.

Part 6 can be found here.

ROBERT A. HEINLEIN “The Roads Must Roll.” Novelette. A “Future History” story. Heinlein foresaw the present automobile traffic problem and proposed moving cross-country strips as a solution. The actual plot suffers in comparison to the details of the economic and sociological consequences. (3)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1940. First collected in The Man Who Sold the Moon (Shasta, hardcover, 1950). Also collected in The Past Through Tomorrow (Putnam, hardcover, 1967). Reprinted many times. Awarded a Retro Hugo as best novelette in 2016 for works published in 1940.

A. E. van VOGT “Asylum.” Short novel. Earth is pictured as a sanctuary maintained for mankind by beings with much bigger IQ’s. Two aliens with a need for fresh blood land and involve reporter William Leigh in their conflict with Earth’s guardians. This preliminary involvement is interesting, but although van Vogt does have a great knack for telling a story, the ending degenerates rapidly into confusion on a galactic scale. (3½)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1942. First collected in Away and Beyond (Pellegrini & Cudahy, hardcover, 1952). Reprinted in The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 4, 1942, edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (Daw #405, paperback original, October 1980), among others.

LEWIS PADGETT “The Twonky.” Short story. A strange invention disguised as a radio console destroys initiative then life if uncooperative. Better than Padgett’s more humorous stories in this volume. (4)

Update: First published in Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942. Lewis Padgett was a pen name used by the prolific husband-and-wife team Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. First collected in A Gnome There Was (Simon & Shuster, hardcover, 1950). Reprinted in The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 4, 1942, edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (Daw #405, paperback original, October 1980), among others. When adapted to the film of the same name (United Artists, 1953, written and directed by Arch Oboler), the radio in the original story was updated to a television set.

– July-August 1967

   

TO BE CONTINUED.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE – The Deep Range. Harcourt Brace, hardcover, 1957. Signet S1583, paperback, 1958. Expanded from a short story of the same title first published in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 3 (Ballantine, paperback, 1955). The novel first collected in From the Ocean, from the Stars (Harcourt Brace, hardcover, 1961).

   Essentially the life story of Walter Franklin and his career in the Bureau of Whales early next century. There are three distinct parts, each nearly independent of the others. In the first, Franklin is placed under the guidance of [Game] Warden Don Burley to learn a new career after astrophobia has forced him from space. Then, after becoming a warden himself, Franklin joins with Don in the capture of a giant squid, but an attempt to capture an unknown sea serpent ends in Don’s death.

   As Franklin rises to the directorship of the Bureau, he is forced to decide whether continued slaughter of the whales or conservation shall become policy. The philosophy of Buddhism is responsible for his choice.

   Smooth, intelligent and informative writing dominates, overshadowing a lack of real depth. An important exception occurs in the final third of the story. In the words of the Maha Thoro: “When that time comes, the treatment man receives from his superiors may well depend upon the way he has behaved toward the other creatures of his own world.”

   Another important facet of Clarke’s writing is his remarkable constraint in not telling the whole story when indeed it is not necessary.

Rating: 4 stars.

– September 1967

GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION. December 1966. Overall rating: 4 stars. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover by Wenzel. The full text is available at The Internet Archive.

POUL ANDERSON “Door to Anywhere.” Novelette. A senator goes to Mars to investigate an accident involving an experiment with jumpgates, which allow men to cross between any two points in the universe. High-powered physics and cosmology. (4)

JOHN BRUNNER “Children in Hiding.” A colony of Earth has a problem with children who d not develop properly. A shocking ending. (4)

HAYDEN HOWARD “The Modern Penitentiary.” Novelette. Dr. West is convicted of attempted genocide of the Esks, and is sent to New Ottawa Reformation Center, where enlightened practices of rehabilitation, including sex, are used. The scene with Noma in the cell demonstrates that an effective writer need not always be explicit. (5)

LARRY NIVEN “At the Bottom of a Hole.” Novelette. Two stories in one: [1] A smuggler is trapped on Mars and discovers how the old base was destroyed. [2] Two officials discover they have been opposing reasons for space exploration. (3)

ROBIN SCOTT “Decoy System.” Evidence of planetary invaders is rigged to effect nuclear disarmament. (3)

JACK VANCE “The Palace of Love.” Serial, part 2 of 3. Demon Princes #3. Review to appear later.

R. A. LAFFERTY “Primary Education of the Camiroi.” The Dubuque PTA travels to another world to compare educational systems, to Earth’s disadvantage. (4)

–September 1967

IF SCIENCE FICTION December 1966. Cover by Jack Gaughan. Overall rating: 3½ stars.

ALGIS BUDRYS “Be Merry.” Novelette. The survivors of the wreck of the Klarri spaceship had brought disease and plague to Earth, but they too were victims of terrestrial sickness. One small settlement finds a cure, but one they are ashamed of. Excellent story spoiled by an over-literary style, delighting in obscurity. (4)

DURANT IMBODEN “The Thousandth Birthday Party.” At age 1000, each person has one chance in 5000 for immortality. (3)

NEAL BARRETT, JR. “Starpath.” Novelette. After a promising beginning, in which the operation of the instant matter transmitter is described, the story ends as a routine tale of war. (2)

LARRY NIVEN “A Relic of the Empire.” Novelette. A xenobiologist learns the location of the puppeteers’ system by using local plant life to defeat a pirate crew. An episode only. (3)

BOB SHAW “Call Me Dumbo.” Novelette. A woman learns the secret of her drugged existence and neatly fails her “husband.” Two men shipwrecked alone on a planet can carry on the race. (4)

ANDREW J. OFFUTT “The Forgotten Gods of Earth.” Kymon of Kir frees the Princess Yasim from the sorcerer Gundrun. (3)

J. T. McINTOSH “Snow White and the Giant.” Serial, part 3 of 4. See report following the January 1967 issue.

– August-September 1967

RAYMOND J. HEALY & J. FRANCIS McCOMAS, Editors – Famous Science-Fiction Stories: Adventures in Time And Space. The Modern Library G-31; hardcover, 1957, xvi + 997 pages. First published as Adventures in Time in Space, Random House, hardcover, 1946. Bantam F3102, paperback, 1966, as Adventures in Time and Space (contains only 8 stories). Ballantine, paperback, 1975, also as Adventures in Time and Space.

Part 5 can be found here.

P. SCHUYLER MILLER “As Never Was.” Time-travel again, somewhat better handled than in “The Sands of Time,” but Miller leaves himself with a paradox he can’t write himself out of. (2)

Update: First published in Astounding Science Fiction, January 1944. First reprinted in this anthology. Collected in The Titan (Fantasy Press, hardcover, 1952). Also reprinted in Alpha 5, edited by Robert Silverberg (Ballantine, paperback original, 1974). This is Miller’s second story in this anthology. You can find my comments on the first here.

ANTHONY BOUCHER “Q.U.R.” Three men form Quimby’s Usuform Robots to produce completely functional robots. Not one of Boucher’s best but entertaining. (3)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1943. First reprinted in this anthology. First collected in The Compleat Werewolf and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1969). Later also reprinted in The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 5, 1943, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg (DAW Books, paperback original, 1981). During his lifetime Boucher was known for his contributions to both the SF and mystery community about equally well . I suspect he is better known today by mystery fans, but I sometimes wonder how many people who go to Bouchercons really know who Anthony Boucher was.

DON A. STUART “Who Goes There?” Novella. The basis for the movie The Thing. An alien monster is found buried in the Antarctica icecap, and it threatens to take over the world because of its ability to take on any shape or form exactly. Much better than might be expected from such a story, and after a slow beginning, the story moves very quickly, particularly after the creature’s unusual abilities are discovered. (4)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1938. First reprinted in this anthology. First collected in Who Goes There? (Shasta, hardcover, 1948). Also reprinted in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two A: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Science Fiction Writers of America, edited by Ben Bova (Doubleday, hardcover, 1973). Stuart was a pen name of John W. Campbell, Jr., long time editor of Astounding/Analog SF.

– July-August 1967

   

TO BE CONTINUED.

FRITZ LEIBER “The Sadness of the Executioner.” Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. First published in Flashing Swords #1, edited by Lin Carter (Dell, paperback original, July 1973). Collected in Swords and Ice Magic (Ace, paperback, 1977).

   Although this is nominally a Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser story, they don’t appear the ninth page of this 15 page tale, which is basically little more than long vignette. No, the main protagonist before then is Death, and in particular the death that services the World of Nehwon, and he has fallen behind on his duties. So far, as the story begins, he has to choose 200 of those now living to pass through to the other side.

   To that end, 196 have done so. He has four remaining, and two of them are our duly fated heroes, neither of who are aware of their upcoming destiny. Nonetheless destiny, or fate, has a way of stepping in, and Death being a sportsman, in spite of his inevitable cheating, decides to let it have its way.

   It was Leiber who is said to have coined the phrase “swords and sorcery” as a subgenre of the larger world of fantasy, and while a minor tale, “The Sadness of the Executioner” is a prime example.

   And as Lin Carter so states in his introduction to the story, Leiber’s finely tuned fantasy resembles in no way that of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, among other similar and inimitably ruthless characters, and the other major author in the field. Which is why I still read Leiber’s work, while tales of Conan lie today with their pages unopened, at least by me.

ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION. December 1966. [Cover by Kelly Freas.]   Overall rating: 2½ stars.

MACK REYNOLDS “Amazon Planet.” Serial, Part 1 of 3. See report following Feb 1967 issue.

BEN BOVA “The Weathermakers.” [Kinsman series] Novelette. A hurricane forces Project THUNDERBIRD to begin complete weather control in the East. Smooth, almost documentary style, but reasons for abandoning ship during storm are not clear. (3)

Update: Excerpt from the novel of the same name (Signet, paperback original, 1967). Included in many collections of Bova’s short fiction.

L. EDEY. The Blue-Penciled Throop. Twelve letter from Oswald Lempe, editor of a technical journal. (2)

Update: This was the author’s only work of science fiction.

KRIS NEVILLE “The Price of Simeryl.” Novelette. A Federation investigator considers a planetary government’s request for credit and guns. An interesting picture o what appears to be an entrenched bureaucracy, but the ending is dumb. (2)

Update: Collected in The Science Fiction of Kris Neville (Southern University Press, hardcover, 1984).

PHILIP LATHAM “Under the Dragon’s Tail.” An astronomer goes mad with the approach of the asteroid Icarus. (1)

Update: Reprinted in On Our Way to the Future, edited by Terry Carr (Ace, paperback, 1970).

– August 1967

WILSON TUCKER – Tomorrow Plus X. Avon T168, paperback, 1957. Cover by Richard Powers. Originally published as Time Bomb (Rinehart, hardcover, 1955).

   A detective story complicated by future developments if telepathy and time-travel. Lieutenant Danforth of the Illinois Security Police is assigned the task of solving several bombings directed at the fanatic Sons of America. The one responsible is from the future, determined to stop Ben’s Boys from taking over America under their dictatorship.

   The attempt to successfully portray this future society, undergoing severe technological upheavals, does not entirely come off. It cannot really escape the appearances of America ten years ago with a few new gadgets thrown in, but this may be caused chiefly by hindsight. Twice, in Chapters 1 and 6, the action seems to stumble badly, but this may have been intended, for later (p.155) Tucker makes a weak attempt to justify the points in question.

Rating: 3 stars.

– August 1967

RAYMOND J. HEALY & J. FRANCIS McCOMAS, Editors – Famous Science-Fiction Stories: Adventures in Time And Space. The Modern Library G-31; hardcover, 1957, xvi + 997 pages. First published as Adventures in Time in Space, Random House, hardcover, 1946. Bantam F3102, paperback, 1966, as Adventures in Time and Space (contains only 8 stories). Ballantine, paperback, 1975, also as Adventures in Time and Space.

Part 4 can be found here.

ALFRED BESTER “Adam and No Eve.” The destruction and rebirth of the earth ages ago, with the secret of rebirth the key to the story. (4)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1941. First reprinted in this anthology. Also included in Beyond Control, edited by Robert Silverberg (Thomas Nelson, hardcover, 1972). First collected in Starburst (Signet S1524, paperback original, 1958); then in Star Light, Star Bright (Berkley/Putnam, hardcover, 1976). Bester was an extremely well known author in his day, with several classic novels and short stories to his credit, but I think he’s all but forgotten today.

ISAAC ASIMOV “Nightfall.” One of the best known SF stories of all time, about a civilization haunted by fear of darkness, which recurs every 2050 years. (5)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1941. Reprinted and collected many times. Every SF reader  and collector  of a certain age must have read it at least once.

HARRY BATES “A Matter of Size.” Novella. A scientist caught up in a mysterious plot is reduced in size. The ratio of one to twelve makes the dimensions come out easy. (1)

Update: First published in Astounding Stories, April 1934. First reprinted in this anthology. Collected in The Day the Earth Stood Still & Other SF Classics (Renaissance E Books, trade paperback, 2008). Bates’ story “Farewell to the Master” (Astounding SF, October 1940) was the basis for the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Bates was also the editor of Astounding in the early 1930s (1930-33).

– July-August 1967

   

TO BE CONTINUED.

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