Science Fiction & Fantasy


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

HENRY WILSON ALLEN – Genesis Five. William Morrow, hardcover, 1968. Pyramid T-2162, paperback, 1970.

   Somewhere in the deepest frost-bound hell of the Polar Icecap there sleeps beneath the eternally frozen Sea of Tursk an island once called Okatrai.

When I realized who Henry Wilson Allen was (and I’ll reveal that as this review progresses for anyone as ignorant as I was) I knew I had to read this 1968 near future Science Fiction/Horror Thriller somewhat in the Michael Crichton tradition, but with far deeper pulp roots.

I’ll say this, for all its flaws as scientific speculation or true SF, it is delightful barn=burner of a novel full of enough sturm n drang for a dozen longer books, and oddly looks forward to the kind of not quite SF speculative thrillers that often top today’s bestseller lists from James Rollins, Clive Cussler, and Andy McDermott.

It is well written, playful, and if closer to SF movies or the kind of “Monster” thriller from television thrillers by Nigel Kneale or episodes of Doctor Who, and Outer Limits, it is still for all that great fun. The “monster” here is a good one.

It is not Helnlein or Asimov and John Campbell wouldn’t recognize it, but it is a slam bang thriller.

As we are told the book is taken from The Suntar Papers found at the crash site of a Russian ship and recounts in the words of the papers author, Yuri Suntar, the events surrounding the The Siberian Center for Genetic Studies, known by its code name Genesis Five.

Whether this controversial journal is authentic or the bizarre creation of some deranged hoaxer must remain the subject of another time.

That rather Victorian disclaimer aside we plunge right in, and there is hardly time to catch a breath beyond that point.

Yuri Suntar, our narrator, is the half Mongol son of an American spy and a Soviet citizen, a blonde blue eyed Mongol distrusted all his life and always in the shadow of his brother Yang, Olympic athlete, physical giant, and perfect specimen of Mongol manhood. As the novel opens the security services have shown up at Yuri’s doorstep and he is none too sure whether he is under arrest or being offered a job.

   “You are the state police,” I asked.

“Let us say that is not the question.”

Whisked off across country Yuri is soon introduced to the exotic and beautiful Chandra Maringa, the lilac-eyed daughter of a Chinese woman and a Masai scientist, and the granddaughter of the Soviet Union’s most famous scientist the pure Mandarin genius Dr. Ho Wu Chen.

Entranced by Chandra (who has little use for him), frightened and impressed by Dr. Ho, and by no means certain of himself Yuri discovers that the doctor runs a vast underground scientific research station beneath Okatrai Island in the Arctic wastes where Yang, his brother, has been given the job of master of the savage wolves used for experiment at the facility. Yang asked for Yuri, and Yang gets what he wants.

Arriving at the bizarre underground base Yuri soon encounters Yang and his wolves, and they are not the three little pig kind. What they are is what some Cockney in every British horror movie ever made inevitably calls “an ’orror, Guv’nor, It were an ’orror!”

A hybrid of man and wolf with insect larva that allows Dr. Ho to bind them together they are strong, fast, smart, and murderous of fang claw and fatal stinger.

   The Chinese biochemist eyed me unblinkingly.

“…What we shall create here is the flawless shell of the human species programmed genetically for pack law behaviorism.”

“Programmed for what, Doctor?”

“To kill without conscience, hence without memory.”

“Men with the morals of a wolf superimposed with the work habits of the honeybee, it would have brought forth the work-troops of the new world…” He further informs Yuri.

In short, “It were an ’orror!”

Yuri wants out of the madhouse naturally. And to that end he discovers Ho has secrets of his own including having stored Chandra’s father in hyper-sleep and telling her he is dead. With Joseph Maringa’s help, and few allies, and Chandra won over to his cause Yuri sets out to let the world know what Dr. Ho plans, but things don’t go smoothly…

And thereby hangs a tale, as they used to say.

   Behind us Okatrai went up in a sucking spume of atomized rock, water, ice, of all living and nonliving that had been the vanished Island of Genesis Five.

Shades of Jules Verne.

You will have noted by now it is a “Yellow Peril” novel in many ways, with Dr. Ho in the Fu Manchu mold, but canny enough to do so with mixed race hero and heroine and a cast of good and bad Chinese and Russians. The author also shows he did his research in his study of Mongol culture and Yuri is both believable and admirable, but then the author has a pretty good history of writing sympathetically about races other than his own with insight and significant research.

I’ll tease a bit first, because readers of this blog know who Henry Wilson Allen is on multiple levels. First you know him because for ten years he worked at MGM animation studios as a gag man under the name of Hec Allen, and wrote almost all of the classic Tex Avery cartoons between 1944 and 1954 that have become the stuff of animation legend. He’s that Henry Wilson Allen.

Still, that would not explain his gift for research and writing about other races. He earned those spurs literally writing under two other better known names as my favorite Western writer of all time, Will Henry and Clay Fisher.

You know, McKenna’s Gold, Who Rides With Wyatt, Yellowstone Kelly, Pillars of the Sky, The Tall Men, Santa Fe Passage, I Tom Horn, From Where the Sun Now Stands, No Survivors, North Star, those Westerns, many of which were also movies.

I won’t pretend Genesis Five is politically correct in any way, but it is entertaining and well written, and for its time closer to Richard Condon teasing old pulp traditions (the villains in Whisper of the Axe are the PRC sponsoring terrorism and the villain and hero both ethnic minorities) than the last legs of the Sax Rohmer style Yellow Peril threat to the Western White world plots of old.

In 1968 Nixon had yet to go to China, and China was on the way to replacing the Soviets as the favorite villain of thriller fiction. Its no excuse, but you can see Allen trying to have it both ways, and almost getting away with it by making Yuri and Chandra attractive near superhuman heroes struggling against not just Ho’s madness, but a society and government who would employ him.

Read in context he succeeded, though not so much from a more modern view.

Knowing that, accepting its limitations, it makes for an interesting side light on the better known careers of Hec Allen, Will Henry, and Clay Fisher. There are stylistic touches, and moments when he gets in Yuri’s head that will remind you of some of his Western novels, and whatever else it is a rip roaring thriller.

   …this was the moment beyond which that stillness lit by strange lights and tolled by mute sounds of darkness, and for the space of time unknown.

MACK REYNOLDS – After Some Tomorrow. Belmont, paperback original, 1967.

   Two people, Michael Grant and Anne Enesco, are among those a strange foundation has given scholarships to Earl University on the condition they study para-psychology, Their psionic powers attract the attention of another foundation , which is interested in their ability to foresee the future for political gain.

   The sociopolitical systems of the world are about to fall, and knowledge of the prevailing forms of government could be of immense value. Hallucinogenic drugs play a part also and aid them in sending their original benefactor back to his own time.

   The major part of the book deals with their enforced study of political science, which gives Reynolds his usual chance for lecture. In addition, the story of narcotics and their relation to human culture is told. There is an underling story, however, and while it is not as thrilling as the cover would imply, it reads fairly well.

   Naturally, no clue can be given as to the social system that will eventually emerge from the welfare state that Reynolds quite pessimistically sees for the US, and the book ends without resolution on that level. The love interest proceeds beneath the lines, revealed mainly when Grant forbids Anna to wear a transparent blouse. A not too favorable view of Johnson’s role in Vietnam is given on page 67.

Rating: ***½

– January 1968
REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

SIMON CLARK – Night of the Triffids. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1991. New English Library, UK, paperback, 2001. Cemetery Dance Publications, US, hardcover, 2015.

   So we must regard the task ahead as ours alone. We think now we can see the way, but there is still a lot of work and research to be done before the day we… will cross the narrow straits on the great crusade to drive the triffids back…

   
   So ends John Wyndham’s classic disaster novel The Day of the Triffids about an inadvertent invasion of predatory man killing plants that came to earth in a meteor shower and that become a threat to mankind when another meteor shower blinds most of the people on the planet. That story was told by Bill Masen, a sailor, who by chance was in hospital temporarily blinded when the meteor shower came and who awakens to find himself one of the few sighted people in a terrifying world.

   In Simon Clark’s sequel to Wyndham’s classic thirty years have passed and our narrator is David Masen, Bill’s son, one of the survivors from the original colony on the Isle of Wight where humanity is rebuilding and where David is a pilot who helps keep contact with the scattered outposts of survivors around around the world and keep track of the deadly triffids.

   It is not a safe world, and it becomes even more unsafe when the skies are plunged into darkness in a shocking turn that threatens the tenuous hold of humanity to their former place as masters of the world much less as survivors.

   That plunge into darkness will send David Masen on a quest to unite the small colonies of mankind that survive, especially to New York where he finds a semi fascistic state led by the father of the beautiful Kerris, and ends up joining a revolution against the slave state as he learns more disturbing facts about growing signs of intelligence among the deadly triffids and the intentions of the King of New York.

   John Wyndham was the rare Science Fiction writer who broke out of the relative ghetto of the genre to critical acclaim and popularity. It didn’t hurt that books like The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned with George Sanders) were made into popular films or that his shorts stories like “Consider Her Ways” were adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

   Wyndham came out of the British tradition of Social Science Fiction sometimes called Cozy or Gothic Science Fiction founded by H. G. Wells and popular in serials like the Strand Magazine’s Doom of London series, that was as much about what the disasters that befall mankind in its pages reveal about the social strata and man’s tenuous hold on civilization as about aliens, disasters, and invasions.

   Wyndham brought a breath of fresh air and modernity to the somewhat heavy-handed style of later Wells novels and inspired a new generation of writers that included not only suspense and SF writers like John Christopher, L. P. Davies, Christopher Priest, and Charles Eric Maine, but also more experimental writers like J. G. Ballard and to some extent Michael Moorcock. Wyndham’s novels, including The Kraken Wakes (Out of the Depths), Re-Birth, Chocky, and The Chrysalids, were often adapted on BBC Radio and received far more attention than most standard SF in the UK and here.

   Simon Clark, the author of several genre novels including Judas Tree, King Blood, and The Fall, is no Wyndham, and I know how many of you, and sometimes I, feel about sequels and continuances, but this one does a fine job of continuing the story, staying in the same general mode of the original and expanding logically from that work. My chief complaint is that the novel ends anticipating a sequel that was never published as far as I know, and I would have much preferred a one time follow up rather than an attempt to capitalize on Wyndhams creation.

   It is no easy task to follow a writer like Wyndham whose vision of somehow cozy and still frightening disasters was unique among his contemporaries. Like Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury he was as comfortable in the slicks as in the SF digests or pulps where he began. Clark mostly does a good job of it, managing to avoid too obvious modernization’s of Wyndham’s style or subject matter.

   And once in a while he hits a very Wyndham like note:

   While the scattered remnants of humankind made war on each other, the wider universe ran according to the eternal laws that govern its own celestial mechanism…I can’t with any certainty write the end.

   Instead on the threshold of a new world and new adventures I can — and I will — write with total confidence:

   This is the beginning…

   You will have to forgive me but I’m still a sucker for this sort of thing.

LARRY NIVEN “All the Myriad Ways.” Short story. First published in Galaxy SF, October 1968. First reprinted in Worlds of Maybe, edited by Robert Silverberg (Thomas Nelson, hardcover, 1970). First collected as the title story in All the Myriad Ways (Ballantine, paperback original, 1971). Nominated for a Hugo, 1969.

   “There were timelines branching and branching, a mega-universe of universes, millions more every minute. Billions? Trillions? Trimble didn’t understand the theory, though God knows he’d tried. The universe split every time someone made a decision. Split, so that every decision ever made could go both ways. Every choice made by every man, woman and child on Earth was reversed in the universe next door. It was enough to confuse any citizen, let alone Detective-Lieutenant Gene Trimble, who had other problems.”

   Thus begins one of SF writer Larry Niven’s better known short stories. One of Niven’s strong points as a writer has always been to take complicated scientific ideas and incorporate them into stories that make the commonplace and easy.

   (If you were to ask me what science is involved in the concept of parallel worlds such as outlined above, I’d have to shrug my shoulders and say, “Quantum physics? Maybe??”)

   No matter. The idea of alternate realities branching off from each other has been around for a long time and not only in SF stories. What makes this one kind of unique is that Niven places it in a world in which an epidemic of suicides is taking place. The latest of these is that of the head of Crosstime Corporation which has found a way to transverse these myriad worlds and bring back inventions in those worlds which haven’t yet come to fruition in his own, making him fabulously wealthy.

      [WARNING: Plot details ahead.]

   Niven postulates that faced with worlds in which every choice made in making a decision of any kind, mankind is beginning to feel that there is no point in making choices of any kind, and that suicide is the only solution.

   It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not so sure about that. Right now, in this world, we don’t have the option of traveling across time, but the likelihood of me, say, jumping off a tall building because I no longer feel as though any decision I make is moot, is awfully slim, to say the least. But as food for thought, “All the Myriad Ways” really has me thinking about it. It’s too bad that I’m not a SF writer to put some of these thoughts into words. But I’m working on it.

Rating: Five stars.

IF SCIENCE FICTION, March 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. “Special Hugo Winners Issue.” Cover: McKenna. Overall rating: ***

ISAAC ASIMOV “The Billiard Ball.” Novelette. A conflict between a theoretical physicist and a technician over the possibility of ant-gravity leads to the death of one. The Master has not lost his touch. (5)

HARLAN ELLISON “I Have No Mouth and I must Scream.” Four men and a woman, the last human survivors, are trapped within the underground vaults of a computer. (4)

ROGER ZELAZNY “The Mortal Mountain.” Novelette. A mountain forty miles high challenges the best climbing team in the business. Complications arise when “energy beings” threaten their ascent. Too much of an adventure story only, but is SF. Symbolism, climbing to stars? (3)

JOSEPH WESLEY “Moonshine.” A marine orderly on the moon brews his own. Story has been told many times before. (1)

LARRY NIVEN “Flatlander.” Novelette. Beowulf Schaeffer and perhaps the richest man on Earth look for adventure on the mysterious planet of a protosun. All the clues to its true nature are provided. Well done, except that the details of the previous series parts are beginning to bore. (4)

ROSCOE WRIGHT “The Sepia Springs Affair.” A strange bunch of aliens write letters to Pohl. I’d rather read the [real] letter column. (0)

ALGIS BUDRYS “The Iron Thorn.” Serial; part 3 of 4. See report following final installment.

BETSY CURTIS “Latter-Day Daniel.” A man with one arm feeds synthetic ones to lion. (1)

–January 1968

PAPER GIRLS. “Growing Pains.” Amazon Prime Video, 29, July 2022 (Season 1, Episode 1). Camryn Jones as Tiff Quilkin, an African American girl with a high intellect; Riley Lai Nelet as Erin Tieng, a Chinese American girl on her first day delivering newspapers; Sofia Rosinsky as Mac Coyle, a tomboy who lives in the outskirts of Stony Stream [a suburb of Cleveland]; Fina Strazza as KJ Brandman, a Jewish American girl whose family owns several businesses in Stony Stream. [Thanks to Wikipedia for the preceding descriptions.] Based on the comic book series of the same title written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Image, 2015-19).

   The first episode of this SF-nal time-traveling series begins early on the morning of November 1, 1988, with four pre-teen girls working together on their respective newspaper delivery routes (on bicycle) as a means of protection from older boys who continually harass them.

   This night is different, though. The sky suddenly turns pink and no one is seen on the street. Have the Russians invaded?

   It’s actually worse than that. It takes them the whole episode to realize it, but somehow they’ve landed in the year 2019, where they meet the older version of one of them. They have also escaped from being caught in the crossfire war between two warring factions … of what, it is too early for them to tell, nor of course does the viewer have any idea where the series is going from here.

   It’s all very effectively done, and for a small group of four main leads, probably unknown to everyone watching, the acting and dialogue is as top notch as it could possibly be. I’ll probably bail out at this point, though. I tend to do that with recent SF on TV that I start and find myself entertained but with no desire to continue any farther. I suppose it’s me, and I’m not sure why. This is a series that seems to have become quite popular in its short run so far.

ROBERT E. HOWARD, L. SPRAGUE de CAMP & LIN CARTER – Conan. Lancer, paperback, 1967. Cover: Frank Frazetta. Chronologically the first in the series.

   My first exposure to the saga of Conan. I found him as exciting a character as his fans have been saying for years. The writing can be uneven, but Conan in combat is never dull. There were many points of similarity between story plots in this volume; Conan probably had his fill of kiling evil magicians. The quality of the pastiches is generally good – note that the highest rated story is by de Camp and Carter. It is also the shortest, however, which may imply something.    Overall rating: ****

“The Hyborean Age, Part I” – Howard. Originally published in The Fantagraph, Feb, Aug, Oct-Nov 1936. The fictional background for the series, telling of events up to the time of Conan (not rated).

“The Thing in the Crypt” – Carter & de Camp. Fifteen-year-old Conan discovers a sword guarded by one of the undying dead. Skillful blend of horror and swords and sorcery. (5)

“The Tower of the Elephant” – Howard. Originally published in Weird Tales, March 1933. Conan undertakes the theft of a well-guarded jewel in an evil priest’s tower and frees the captive alien from whom the priest received his powers. (4)

“The Hall of the Dead” – Howard & de Camp. Originally published in F&SF, February 1967. Conan and Nestor risk the unknown dangers of the ruined city of Larsha for the treasures rumored there, but their net gain is two gold coins. Nothing terribly remarkable this time. (3)

“The God in the Bowl” – Howard. Originally published in Space SF, September 1952. A museum owner is killed under strange circumstances, and Conan is accused, A bit slow at times, but it is made up for as Conan escapes and discovers the real murderer. (4)

“Rogues in the House” – Howard. Originally published in Weird Tales, January 1934. In return for help in escaping imprisonment, Conan helps a nobleman against an evil priest, then saves them both from an ape-man who has taken over the priest’s home. Fun. (4)

“The Hand of Nergal” – Howard & Carter. Conan, the sole survivor of a battle against Yaralet, is brought secretly to that city to destroy its ruler, who possesses a talisman giving him magical powers. The weakest story; Conan needs the counter-talisman to succeed. (3)

“The City of Skulls” – Carter & de Camp. Conan is captured and made a galley slave. When he escapes, a living stone god must be destroyed. Slow in the middle; ending saves story. (4)

– January 1968

KENNETH BULMER – Cycle of Nemesis. Ace G-680, paperback original, 1967. Cover art: Kelly Freas.

   After 7000 years, Khamushki the Undying is able to break the seven locks on the Time Vault in which has been imprisoned. The compete destruction of Earth for the second time is threatened, and it is up to our group pf five (plus one robot named Charlie) to prevent it. K the U has control over both time and space but the weakening of his guardians aid in his defeat for another 7000 years.

   The terror of mythology comes to life as science. Ridiculous. About as bad as a Fantastic Adventures story from the thirties. Even Bulmer cannot adequately motivate the continuity of he project, though he tries hard, every two or three pages. Probably too hard. Acceptance [of the basic story line] might otherwise come easier. Most people [caught up in a situation such as this] would become quietly drunk if not insane.

   The beginning is promising, at least, but by halfway through, reading is a struggle.

Rating: *½

– January 1968


JACK VANCE “Phalid’s Fate.” Novelette. First appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1946. First collected in The Dark Side of the Moon (Underwood-Miller, hardcover, 1986).

   As a strike against the enemy in the ongoing Earth-Phalid war, Ryan Wratch agrees to have his mind transferred to that of a Phalid that has been captured. Ryan’s own body had been all but destroyed in a Phalid attack, his brothers having been killed in the same incident. The Phalids are insect-like creatures with long black carapaces, oddly jointed legs, and rubbery tentacles with mottled gray undersides, hardly human looking at all.

   The plan is to have Ryan rescued in space by the Phalid, then taken to their hitherto unknown home planet, where he can act against them from the inside. The plan succeeds exceedingly well, and if you don’t realize that there has to be a beautiful female captive that also needs rescuing, you haven’t read all that many space opera stories like this one.

   And that is exactly what this story is. Out-and-out space opera. And I enjoyed it immensely. This was only the third published story in Vance’s long career, and it’s hardly representative of the kinds of story he became famous for. You can tell that he was a writer, though, even at this early stage, or that he was going to be one, especially in passages in which he is describing the Phalids’ home planet, in what I’m going to refer to as what became his well-established baroque style.

JACK VANCE – The Palace of Love. Demon Princes #3. Serialized in Galaxy SF, December 1996 through February 1967. Berkley X1454, paperback, October 1967. Cover by Richard Powers. Daw UE1442, paperback, February 1979.

   Keith Gerson managed to obtain a fortune for use in his life’s single purpose – revenge against his parents’ murderer. The hunt for the third is this story. The trail of Violo Falushe leads him to a mad poet Navarth; Drusilla, his ward; and then to the notorious Palace of Love. Falushe is killed and the love of Drusilla turned down.

   The first installment [of the serial version] is the best; at the beginning, trips to far-flung planets are a necessary part of Gerson’s hunt and are reminiscent of Delany in descriptive wonder. As the search narrows down, so does the tale itself slow down, to the pace of the final walk to the palace. The symbolism of that place escapes me, but there must be something more to it other than boredom.

Rating: ***½

–December 1967

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