D. R. BENSEN, Editor – The Unknown Five. Pyramid R-962, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1964. Cover art by John Schoenherr.

   A collection of five stories in all, four of them reprinted from the pages of Unknown, plus one by Isaac Asimov which was accepted for publication shortly before that magazine folded, but never actually having appeared in print in it before it did. Strange to say, that one is also the weakest of the five. But even knowing that the other four were chosen from the best of the magazine, the only restriction being the stories never having been published in book form before, Unknown well deserves its reputation among fantasy fans.   Overall rating: ****

ISAAC ASIMOV “Author, Author!” Novelette. In which author Graham Dorn’s famous detective Reginald de Metzter comes to life and demands his say in future plots. Too slaphappy and hectic rather than truly funny.  (2)

CLEVE CARTMILL “The Bargain.” (From Unknown Worlds, August 1942.) Death gives immortality to a woman in exchange for information the world should not have. The “folksy” approach entertains.  (4)

THEODORE STURGEON & JAMES H. BEARD “The Hag Saleen.” (From Unknown Worlds, December 1942). A man and his wife and daughter living in a small cabin in the bayous arouse the anger of a swamp witch. Besides the basic background, the story’s excellence depends on balance between fantasy and the explainable.  (5)

ALFRED BESTER “Hell Is Forever.” (From Unknown Worlds, August 1942,) Short novel. Five degenerate people, in the search for newer and stranger sensations, enter into a bargain giving them their choice of realities. Their new worlds are not what they expect, however:
   An artist can create only in his own distorted image. A woman wishing the strength to kill her husband finds that strength only in an unhappy extension of herself. An imaginative man find truth only in hell, or is it heaven?  A woman without love becomes the Consort of a God. A logical man finds he cannot kill himself — for they are all dead already.
   The meaning of hell is twisted to suit each personality, resulting in a story that should be analyzed more deeply and thoroughly to reveal all its implications.  *****

JANE RICE “The Crest of the Wave.” (From Unknown Fantasy Fiction, June 1941.) A St. Louis gambler is tossed from a bridge, but his drowned body revenges his death. Extremely picturesque language adds to a rather average ghost story. (3)

– March 1968