Dark Tides was first printed in hardcover in 1962 and collects twelve stories. I've read quite a few things by Russell, but I don't think I have read any of these dozen tales. So let's plan to read them all, three at a time, over the course of four blog posts, though not perhaps four consecutive posts--a varied diet is perhaps healthier than gorging ourselves on twelve freaks in a row.
"The Sin of Hyacinth Peuch" (1952)
Chateauverne's citizens are almost entirely devoted to agriculture--if constant itching and bitching can be called devotion...
Josephine Rimbaud had a date. She was young, buxom, interestingly rounded and far from overburdened with intellectual capacity.
At their secluded trysting place, a dense bunch of trees by an obelisk commemorating the site where a meteor landed some years ago, Josephine finds the hot guy she was scheduled to meet dead. Nobody in Chateauverne is much broken up about this, they all being portrayed as callous selfish jerks--Josephine the slut is with another guy in hours. As the story proceeds, more men, one by one, turn up dead by the meteor crash site. After each body is discovered, moron Hyacinth predicts a heavy rain, which soon follows. The text offers readers lots of jokes implying the French are oversexed cowards as well as other japery. Eventually the National Police get the info they need from Hyacinth, whom everybody else has been ignoring because he is a limping and drooling idiot, and then the army burns down the monster, which, as we owners of Dark Tides have known for a long time thanks to the cover illo and back cover text, is a blood-drinking tree from outer space.French people and sex positive people?) but they aren't laugh-out-loud funny, either. I don't want to call "The Sin of Hyacinth Peuch" filler, even though it has the unsurprising plot of a filler story, because Russell obviously put a lot of work into it--almost every line is a joke--but it is unmoving and forgettable. And of course I am not the audience for joke horror stories. I guess we're going to settle on calling this one "acceptable," as we do with so many things we read. We are very accepting here at MPorcius Fiction Log
"The Sin of Hyacinth Peuch" made its debut in Fantastic; Russell's name is on the cover along with Ted Sturgeon's, Tony Boucher's and Truman Capote's, and on the inside cover is a little autobio from Russell. This actually looks like a great issue of Fantastic, with stories by Jerome Bixby and Fritz Leiber as well as those named on the cover, and good illustrations of scenes of horror and of scantily clad young ladies by Virgil Finlay, Ed Emshwiller, and others. The more I dig into old SF magazines, the more I find that I want to read.
|LEFT: Text from back of my copy of Dark Tides|
RIGHT: Cover of 1969 anthology that reprints "The Sin of Hyacinth Peuch"
"With a Blunt Instrument" (1962/1941)
"With a Blunt Instrument" is a violent detective story about black magic. The story begins with a fat woman hiring a tall skinny guy to murder her husband, whose life insurance money she covets. One of her friends, another selfish and evil woman, has recommended skinny to her. Skinny hands the job over to his associate, a black-skinned dwarf who smells like goat!
Later scenes follow a math whiz who (luckily for the forces of justice!) is also a big strong athlete; this guy is a trouble-shooter with a big insurance company. Poring over the stats, he has detected a spike in unexpected deaths in this town, which has cost the company a lot of money, and he investigates, interviewing women beneficiaries of recent deaths. It turns out that the skinny guy is an Australian criminal and the black dwarf is a renegade aborigine witch doctor; these Aussies have been using sorcery to murder men holding insurance policies and splitting the cash with the wives. The story ends with a ferocious fight in which multiple people are killed.
This is a good story; the characters all have personality, the use of math to solve the crime is interesting, the black magic is good and the fights are good. Obviously, by today's standards, a story in which women ally with an immigrant member of a marginalized population to despoil white men is sexist and racist, so if that bothers you, steer clear, but I am giving "With a Blunt Instrument" a thumbs up--you know I like stories with black magic and stories about disastrous sexual relationships.
"With a Blunt Instrument" has not been anthologized, as far as isfdb knows. Spread the word, my friends!
"A Matter of Instinct" (1962/1938)
Dr. Blain has an unexpected visitor, a guy who looks horribly unhealthy and stumbles around, a guy who demonstrates he can read the doc's mind and then pulls a gun on the doc! "He" explains that this gaunt clumsy body is that of a dead man, animated by the presence of parasitic microscopic aliens! These tiny aliens customarily take over other creatures' bodies, and would prefer to take over the healthy body of an intelligent person, but doing so is tricky if the person is alert--these infinitesimal invaders from space want Dr. Blain to anesthetize some smart people so they can take over their bodies without risk.
Can Dr. Blain fight the aliens, who can predict his every move by reading his mind and have a gun with which to enforce their demands? What will happen to the healthy young woman who comes by unexpectedly seeking medical aid for a family member? Might the low IQ handyman Dr. Blain employs prove to be the savior of the human race?
This is a solidly entertaining little thriller: the pace is fast and the surprise ending makes sense and is fully integrated with the sciency elements of the plot. Thumbs up! Count me among the throngs cheering for "Impulse" AKA "A Matter of Instinct"!
|We've already read several stories from the "unholy bible" that is Twisted, |
including Theodore Sturgeon's "The World Well Lost" and
H. P. Lovecraft's "The Shunned House"