Sunday, October 31, 2021

Weird Tales November 1934: E. Hoffmann Price, August Derleth and H. P. Lovecraft

As you may be aware, here at MPorcius Fiction Log we have become committed, Ahab-like, to reading at least one story from every issue of Weird Tales published in the 1930s.  Today we fill in a gap in our WT blogging catalog: I have yet to blog about anything from the November 1934 issue* and so today we tackle three pieces from that number, new stories by E. Hoffmann Price and August Derleth, and a reprinted 1922 story by H. P. Lovecraft.

*Yeah, I blogged about Robert E. Howard's four part serial "People of the Black Circle," the third part of which appears in this issue, but for the purposes of my quest a serial only counts for the issue that presents its first episode.

"Queen of the Lilin" by E. Hoffmann Price (1934)

Price is an important member of the Weird Tales circle whose work I have very little familiarity with.  Today seems like as good a day as any to broaden my weird horizons and read Price's Weird Tales cover story that, we are promised, is about "a gloriously beautiful" woman who, sadly, is an evil ghost!  isfdb tells us "Queen of the Lilin" is a novelette, and the last of the eight stories in the Pierre D'Artois series; apparently it is also a component of the Glenn Farrell series.

I am reading "Queen of the Lilin" at the internet archive scan of the Nov. '34 issue of Weird Tales; the story would be reprinted in 1975 in the Price collection Far Lands, Other Days.

Glenn Farrell is an American (I think) who got to southern France a few weeks ago and is visiting his buddy Pierre D'Artois, a Frenchman who lives in a refurbished 13th-century tower in Bayonne.  D'Artois is a scholar and former soldier.  Both D'Artois and Farrell are detectives, and again and again in the story demonstrate the ability to learn all about a person's character and mood just by taking a quick glance at his or her face, to the point of knowing what he or she is thinking and being able to predict what a person is about to do.

Farrell has made a new friend in France, a pretty girl, Diane Livaudais.  Diane has a problem--the last few days heavy items, like a bust of Bonaparte and a sword hung on a wall, have been mysterious falling from their perches and almost hitting her in the head.  Diane also has the feeling that some evil entity is following her!  Farrell, a logical Yank, of course thinks poor Diane is suffering some kind of psychological problem, but not scholar of the occult D'Artois!  The Frenchman hypnotizes Diane and this causes the being haunting her to manifest itself so he and Farrell can see it--its a misty apparition of a beautiful woman with a haughty and evil face!  

That bust of the Little Corporal that almost brained Diane was given to her by some dude she has been hanging with, Graf Erich, a German count.  D'Artois knows about this guy--he is some kind of wizard!  (The word D'Artois uses is "thaumaturgist.")  D'Artois has Diane finagle an invite for all three of them to Erich's place; they leave almost immediately after arriving because yet again some antique weapons fall off a wall and almost kill Diane.

I had expected that every scene of "Queen of the Lilin" would feature D'Artois and/or Farrell, that we readers wouldn't get any clues to the mystery that they didn't have, so I was surprised when the third of the novelette's six chapters had us watching Graf Erich, after the departure of his guests, sneaking down a secret staircase to a subterranean vault in which five silent robed men are seated around a pentacle.  We learn that D'Artois and his five students summoned from the ancient past the spirit of Lilith, Demon Queen of Zemargad, AKA Agrat bat Mahlat, the very epitome of feminine beauty and feminine jealousy.  Lilith demands that the Count only have eyes for her, which is why she is trying to murder Diane.  Graf Erich is unable to convince Lilith to spare Diane. 

Lilith is getting stronger and stronger, and luckily Farrell and D'Artois are at Diane's house when the demonic queen tries the direct approach, materializing at Diane's front door and trying to stab her with a dagger when she answers the doorbell.  Farrell wrestles briefly with Lilith, finding her skin cold, and then D'Artois whips out an ankh (he calls it a "crux ansata") and dispels the gorgeous demon by yelling Semitic phrases at her.  Lilith vanishes into mist but Farrell and D'Artois, not wanting to scare Diane, manage to convince her the woman who just attacked her was merely a nutcase who ran away.

D'Artois and Farrell go to Graf Erich's place and the Count unburdens himself, explaining regretfully how he summoned Lilith, why she is after Diane, and why he can't easily send her back to where she came from.  D'Artois convinces him to resort to a horrible expedient--Graf Erich takes a sword and decapitates his five disciples, hoping to deny Lilith their life energy and concentration, which is what brought her to our world.  But Lilith has already gathered enough of their power to remain here indefinitely, and she animates the five headless corpses and they tear the Count limb from limb.  

When Lilith tries to murder Diane with her bare hands, D'Artois tries some more magic on her, but she is too strong to be dispelled thusly, and is now so physically strong the two men can't wrestle her hands off of Diane's throat.  Just as Diane is about to expire, D'Artois realizes that the five junior wizards concentrated on a statuette of Lilith when they summoned her--he smashes the statuette and Lilith fades away.  I don't really understand why this dispelled Lilith, even though after her disappearance we get a scene of  D'Artois explaining to Farrell and Diane the pseudoscience behind all the magic we witnessed in the story (thoughts are like radio waves and never really go away and can be amplified blah blah blah....)

Diane just survived two murder attempts and Farrell just saw five animated headless cadavers rip apart a living man, but nothing stops true love--the next day the two young people start flirting and the final scene of the story suggests they will soon be married.

I like the basic premise of the story (wizard summons jealous female demon who wants to kill other women) and the magic and undead scenes are all good.  And it is sort of interesting to see a story that leans heavily on Jewish mythology.  But many of the mundane elements of the story are distracting and lame.  The happy ending feels a little out of place and undermines what should be a tragic tale about how six people's ambition led to their deaths.  And the structure of the story is also a little weak--I find it annoying in a story when there are three different houses and the characters are always shuttling back and forth between them unnecessarily; the author should figure out a way to minimize that sort of thing, like having all the main characters staying in the same house for the weekend or something.

The magic stuff and the catastrophic violence (six dead wizards!) are good enough that I can give "Queen of the Lilin" a mild recommendation.  Maybe I'll start reading more stories by Price, in Weird Tales and maybe in other wacky magazines of the '30s and '40s like Spicy Adventure and Spicy Mystery.  

"Feigman's Beard" by August Derleth (1934)

The frail little widow Klopp, everybody in the farming community knows, is a witch!  So when Martha Feigman has had it up to here with her violent and abusive half-brother Eb, she goes to visit Klopp, telling the old woman that Eb just sold their hogs without consulting her and has refused to hand over her share of the money.  Martha wants occult aid in getting the money she is owed...and maybe Klopp can make Eb's beard fall out--Eb is inordinately proud of his long red beard, and spends a lot of time sitting with a mirror in one hand and a comb in the other, grooming that beard of his.

The widow Klopp has her own reason to want vengeance on Eb--when Mr. Klopp died, Eb managed to steal much of the Klopps' land.  She has Martha bring to her Eb's mirror and some hairs from his beard, and puts a spell on the mirror--in the morning when Eb looks in the mirror he dies of a heart attack!  Martha can't resist looking in the mirror herself, and disaster occurs.  

This is an acceptable little black magic story that warns you against greed, vanity, and the lust for revenge, and advises you that under no circumstances should you look to the devil or his agents for help.  Good advice! 

"Feigman's Beard" would reappear in the 1948 Derleth collection Not Long for This World and its abridged 1961 paperback edition.

"The Music of Erich Zann" by H. P. Lovecraft (1922)

"The Music of Erich Zann" first appeared in The National Amateur, and later in Weird Tales in 1925, and was included in the November '34 Weird Tales under the reprint banner.  When I read "The Music of Erich Zann" in my youth I was underwhelmed, but the critics think this one of Lovecraft's best stories and Lovecraft himself considered it one of his favorites: in a letter to C. L. Moore dated April 27, 1935, Lovecraft lists the stories of his own which he likes and "Erich Zann" is second on the list after "Colour Out of Space" and in a February 16, 1936 letter to Henry Kuttner Lovecraft tells Kuttner "I like 'The Colour out of Space' best of all my stuff, & 'The Music of Erich Zann' second."  So today I give the tale a reread in my copy of The Dunwich Horror and Others (Corrected Eleventh Printing.)

The narrator, apparently a Frenchman, tells us he once lived in an ugly rundown neighborhood inhabited by taciturn old geezers, in a decrepit boarding house at the top of a steep street impassable by any vehicle.  On the top floor of this boarding house lived a mute German who played the viol, Erich Zann.  The narrator could hear Zann's playing at night--the man played songs the narrator has never heard before made up of strange notes.  The narrator convinced the hermitish Zann to let him come visit so he could hear him play.  Zann played for him ordinary popular songs, and when asked to play his unique weird pieces, became alarmed and refused, even requesting that the narrator take a different room in the house so that he would be too far from Zann's attic apartment to hear his nightly playing.  Zann also refused to allow the narrator to look out his window, the highest window on this queer street.

The narrator took to sneaking upstairs so he could sit near Zann's door to listen to his bizarre music, and one night heard even more unusual sounds than usual and joined Zann.  A night of fear and drama ensued, and it become clear that that window did not look out upon the city, but on to another universe, and that Zann played that weird music every night as a means of communicating with or influencing dangerous alien entities.  When it seemed the aliens were perhaps about to invade our universe, the narrator fled the boarding house, and when later he made to return, found himself unable, even with maps, to find that rundown neighborhood and that steep street. 

I have to agree with everybody that this is a very good story, more literary and more economical, and less plot-driven than most of Lovecraft's work.  In a September 28, 1935 letter to Duane W. Rimel, Lovecraft argued that "A really serious weird story does not depend on plot or incident at all, but puts all its emphasis on mood or atmosphere."  And Lovecraft here, by describing the strange street and leaving us wondering what exactly is up with Zann and his window (the mute Zann writes down an account of many pages about his relationship with whatever is on the other side of the window but before he can hand it to the narrator a wind sucks the papers irretrievably out the window) builds an unsettling and mysterious mood without offering much by way of conventional narrative.  

"The Music of Erich Zann" was included in Dashiell Hammet's anthology Creeps By Night, which would go on to be reprinted in both America and Britain in multiple volumes; "The Music of Erich Zann" was in the second volume of Belmont's edition, which is titled after Donald Wandrei's "The Red Brain."


My Weird Tales project creeps forward.  More stories by correspondents of H. P. Lovecraft in our next episode!

Friday, October 29, 2021

Four 1933 tales by Edmond Hamilton

Edmond Hamilton was a busy man in 1933!  We've already blogged about his 1933 serial, "The Vampire Master," which appeared in Weird Tales, as well as three other Weird Tales pieces from that year, "Snake-Man," "The Fire Creatures," and "Horror on the Asteroid."  And then there were the science fiction stories from Wonder Stories, "Island of Unreason" and "The Man Who Saw Everything" AKA "The Man With the X-Ray Eyes."  But there are still 1933 Hamilton stories for me to read and blog about!  

"Kaldar, World of Antares" 

Farnsworth Wright in 1933 wasn't just editing Weird Tales, but another magazine, Magic Carpet, in which many of the same authors appeared, and it was in Magic Carpet that "Kaldar, World of Antares" first appeared.  I'm reading the story in Donald Wollheim's 1964 anthology Swordsmen in the Sky, which I recently purchased at Wonder Book in Frederick, Maryland.

For five years the nine greatest of the world's astronomers and astrophysicists have labored.   And today their great work is complete--they have created a device that can separate a man's body into its constituent electrons, project this packet of particles any distance, to a point where they can be reassembled.  This way they can send a man to another planet with relative ease! 

Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson might be willing to travel into space via the device they and their colleagues constructed, but not these nine eggheads!  Their lives are too valuable to risk!  So they put out an ad, requesting the services of a young man in need of money who has no family ties.  And our hero, Stuart Merrick, answers!

The scientists propose to project our man Stu to a planet of the red giant Antares.  The brainiacs have no idea what is going on on this planet--for all they know it is covered in lava or poison gas and Stu will be instantly killed.  But if, in three days when they activate the projector in reverse, it brings Stu back to mother Earth alive, they will pay him $100,000!  I know that is peanuts to my upwardly mobile readership, but 100K was real money 90 years ago, and Stu is one impecunious mf'er and he signs on to this insane caper!

Stu materializes on Antares in the center of a city of ziggurats; above him is the burning red globe of Antares, which fills up a third of the sky, around him is a huge crowd of people.  He is standing on a dais, and, fortunately enough, this dais is associated with the city's elective monarchy, and, thinking his appearance must be the work of fate, the crowd acclaims the Earthman king!  One man is dismayed at Merrick's sudden arrival and elevation to the throne: Jhalan, the candidate who was minutes away from election when Stu came out of nowhere to ruin his political career.  Everyone is thrilled to have this guy as king, except for the guy who was about to be elected king, Jhalan.  One of the perks of kingship here in the city of Corla, Merrick learns after they hook a machine up to his brain that teaches him the language of this planet, Kaldar, is that newly elected kings are given as a wife the daughter of the last king; and Stu's lucky streak isn't over yet--the daughter of the previous king, Narna is gorgeous!

Corla, Merrick is told, is the only human city on planet Kaldar.  There are plenty of other cities on Kaldar, but they are all inhabited by monster people and each city is perpetually at war with every other city.  The biggest threat to Corla in this Hobbesian environment has been the city of spider people, whose aircraft regularly raid the city to capture slaves.  In fact, soon after Stu is crowned, in their flying boats the spidermen come.  The humans resist the attack with their "light-swords" which can "annihilate instantly" anything their "shining blades" touch--anything except another light-sword--and "light-guns," which shoot "small charges of shining force."  In the middle of the fight it is revealed that Jhalan is in cahoots with the spider-men, and he grabs Narna and flies off in a spider boat!

Hoping to rescue the princess, Stu and ten men pile into a Corlan aircraft and head for the spider-city, passing over a forest of ambulatory and carnivorous fungus on the way.  They meet a spider-man flyer and shoot it down; the spider-men survivors are devoured by the fungus. 

At the labyrinthine spider-city, Stu and a single comrade sneak around until they spot the traitor Jhalan and follow him to where Naran is imprisoned.  They burst in on Jhalan while he is struggling with the girl, presumably intent on raping her, and Stu and the traitor have a dramatic sword fight which leaves Jhalan unconscious.  Merrick and friends escape the town, and fly home, an airfleet on their tail.  Luckily they are met by a Corlan airfleet and survive the battle which ensues.  Back in Corla, King Stu gets up on the dais to give a victory speech but is transported back to Earth because it is exactly three days since he arrived.  Back on Earth he realizes Kaldar is his true home and insists the scientists send him back--they agree, but it will take weeks to recharge the "condensers" so he'll have to wait.

"Kaldar, World of Antares" is an acceptable Burroughs pastiche, with fun settings, monsters and alien technology.  However, it bears the marks of being a rush job, and is not one of Hamilton's better stories.  There are an unacceptable number of unlikely coincidences and plot holes, and some of the sentences are clumsy and should have been rewritten.  Hamilton tries to stuff a novel's worth of material into fewer than 40 pages, so the story feels rushed; you can tell Hamilton tried to give the Corlan characters distinct personalities, but didn't or couldn't take the time to really flesh them out.  Stuart Merrick is perhaps the worst drawn character; all we know about him at the start of the story is that he is impoverished, and then on Kaldar he offers all kinds of war-winning military and scientific advice as well as wielding a sword like a master fencer.  The story would have made more sense if we had been told Stu was a disgraced soldier or a scientist drummed out of his university for punching a corrupt colleague or something like that--not only would this make Stu's grasp of science and the military arts more believable, but it would have reinforced one of Hamilton's themes, that Stu doesn't belong on Earth, that Kaldar is his true home.  (Robert E. Howard in Almuric deals with this sort of theme in a more effective way.)

"The Snake Men of Kaldar"

Mere months later, Magic Carpet featured the second Stuart Merrick of Kaldar adventure, "The Snake Men of Kaldar."  At the internet archive I found a scan of an amateurish reprint collection of Magic Carpet stories put out by Odyssey Publications in 1976 that includes "The Snake Men of Kaldar," and that is where I am reading the story.   

Stu returns to Kaldar and immediately gets bad news from the people of Corla, his subjects: Jhalan, who was assumed to be dead after the spider-man aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed, is not only alive, but has seized Narna again and is flying with her to the city of the snake-men!  Stu leads a squadron of airboats after them.  They fly over the radiation barrier that surrounds the land of the snake people and they immediately get involved in a skirmish between snake-men and some humans.  The locals fight with ray guns that have a range of merely six feet (these radiation projectors consist of a shielded box within which is a radioactive rock of the same mineral as that which which emits the border barrier; opening an aperture in the box allows the radiation to escape in a narrow cone that is deadly, but only for a short distance) so the light-guns of Stu and crew make short work of the serpent people.

The humans Stu has rescued are fugitive slaves who escaped the city of the snake men; for as long as anybody can remember, this race of human beings, the Dortas, have been the slaves of the snake men--they didn't even know other nations of humans existed!  Stu and the Corlans have arrived at an opportune time: the Dortas have been planning a revolt and the escaped slaves have hand made an arsenal of those little radiation guns.  The snake men have no aircraft, and so it is child's play for Merrick and his men to, under cover of darkness, fly over the city wall and into the outer ring of the circular city, the slave quarter, to distribute the radiation projectors.  

Among the slaves our heroes find the treacherous Jhalan--the snake men didn't welcome him as he had hoped.  He leads Stu through the middle ring of the city, the industrial section, to the city center, the residential core where Narna is some snakeman's personal servant.

The Terran and the traitorous Corlan find Narna, and then are discovered by the snakemen.  They fight off the snakemen until the slave uprising is underway and the rebelling Dortas reach them.  But then Merrick realizes that in the confusion of the battle Jhalan has seized Narna and carried her off to the Corlan airboat he used to get here.  Stu catches up to them just in time, and he and Jhalan fight to the death on the deck of the flying boat.  With Jhalan dead and the snake people exterminated, the story ends happily.

My assessment of this second Stuart Merrick of Kaldar adventure is the same as that of the first--it is an acceptable Burroughs pastiche.  The snakemen and their circular city are fun, but I feel like more could have been done, though I guess Hamilton lacked the space to do much more.  "Kaldor, World of Antares" and "The Snake Men of Kaldar" would perhaps work better as films or comic strips than they do as short stories; Hamilton more vividly describes the sight of the moons of Kaldar in the sky than he does people's emotions and seems to have put more thought into the geography of cities than he has into people's motivations.

In 1998 Haffner Press published a collection of all three of Hamilton's Kaldar stories.  The third story appeared in Weird Tales in 1935, and no doubt we'll be reading it soon!  

"War of the Sexes"

"War of the Sexes" made its debut in the issue of Weird Tales which saw the appearance of C. L. Moore's classic "Shambleau" as well as the second installment of Hamilton's serial, "The Vampire Master."  The story would later be reprinted in 1951 by super-editor Donald A. Wollheim as the cover story of the first issue of the Avon Science Fiction Reader.  (Despite the prominence of bikini babes on the cover of the magazine, Avon Science Fiction Reader only survived three issues; in contrast, Avon Fantasy Reader endured 18 issues between 1947 and '52.)

The plot of "War of the Sexes" is surprisingly similar to that of "Kaldar, World of Antares."  Allan Brand answers an ad calling for a young man with no family connections.  The mad scientist who placed the ad binds Brand and tells him he is going to remove the young man's brain to prove that a disembodied brain can survive indefinitely if kept in a serum!

When Al wakes up he is in a different body, twenty thousand years in the future!  He learns that for eight thousand years the human race has been split into two warring nations--Male and Female!  A woman scientist figured out a method of creating babies in a lab from "human gamete-cells," and began mass producing female babies with the idea that if women outnumbered men they could achieve political power over them.  Then a male scientist figured out the same process and started mass producing baby boys!  Violence erupted, and for like 80 centuries men and women have lived in different countries, constantly at war, reproducing via ectogenesis.

So, whose body is Al inhabiting?  Well, the women were starting to win the war, and the only thing holding the men together was their heroic king.  (Oy, as if a world without sex wasn't bad enough, our poor pal Al has found himself in a world without representative government in which Western liberalism has fallen to fanatic identity politics!)  When the king died in an aircraft accident, the Male elites thought all was lost!  But science came to the rescue!  The king's body was mostly intact, so scientists shoved into the royal skull the handiest brain they had laying around--Al's!  (Yes, over the course of twenty thousand years scientists kept Al's brain alive in that serum, nobody ever knocking over after a night of drinking or feeding it to his dog during an economic downturn or anything like that.)

Al walks out onto the balcony of the royal palace to assure the Male populace that their king is alive, and seconds later there is a Female air raid, and Al jumps into the gunner position on a flying boat and participates in a dogfight over the Male capitol city.  Well, he doesn't really participate--when he gets some women in his sights he can't bring himself to pull the trigger.  And when the Queen of the women, Nara, is shot down and emerges from the wreck of her flying machine, Al insists that she be taken captive instead of summarily executed, as is the usual practice in this genocidal war between the sexes.

In an effort to end the war, Al tries to introduce Nara to the idea of love by kissing her.  This is the first kiss in thousands of years!  The Queen agrees to help him make peace, so he frees her and guides her to an aircraft so she can return to the women's country and try to convince them to seek peace while he will similarly work on the men here.  But Nara tricks our hero--she klunks him on the head and throws him into the flyer and takes him to the capitol city of the Females to be publicly executed!

At the last moment, just as he is about to be slain before a cheering crowd of bloodthirsty women, Nara decides to spare Brand.  But her subordinates refuse to follow orders, and, in fact, declare their Queen a traitor and announce they will execute her along with Al!

But then Al wakes up back in the 20th century.  His adventure in the future was all a dream!  The mad scientist did not remove his brain, he just anesthetized Brand--all that brain removal talk was playacting designed to gauge Al's spirit!  If Al had cried or begged for mercy, the scientist would have rejected him as a job candidate, but since Al cursed the scientist with his last conscious breaths, Al has been hired for an expedition to South America!  Why would Al sign on to leave the country with such a creep?  Because the woman he fell in love with in his dream looked like the scientist's daughter, whose picture he saw on the brainiac's desk before he was anaesthetized, and she is coming along!  Oh, brother!

I have to give this one a thumbs down--the trick ending that throws the entire adventure plot into the trash is very irritating.  And the adventure itself is lacking in the monsters and fights that make the Kaldar stories entertaining.  I applaud Hamilton for tackling a social issue--the relationship between the sexes--but he doesn't actually explore the topic.  Instead of speculating on what an all-male civilization or society might be like, and its all-female counterpart, he doesn't really describe them at all, other than to make the two societies totally identical.  Why bother?  

"The Star-Roamers"

Here's another Hamilton story from an issue of Weird Tales with which we already have some familiarity.  "The Star-Roamers" made its debut (and it seems its sole appearance!) alongside Clark Ashton Smith's tale of Hyperborea "The Ice Demon," and Carl Jacobi's famous vampire story "Revelations in Black."  

It is the future!  The human race has explored all the solar system, and there is a steady traffic of spacecraft between the planets.  Humanity has also developed telepathic ability so everybody can communicate with everybody else with ease.

Three spacemen found that travel within our system did not offer enough excitement to satisfy their desire for adventure, so they invented a FTL drive and set out for Alpha Centauri.  As our story begins these three buddies are approaching that double-star system.  They discover that the binary star has three planets, and approach the outermost.  A squadron of alien spacecraft attacks, but when things are looking bleak a friendly squadron of similar vessels comes by and saves the day.  

The Terrans are escorted to the surface of Alpha Centauri III by their new friends where they learn all about the political--and evolutionary!--situation in this star system.  On Alpha Cen I, the planet closest to the binary star, live the Rhels, people with liquid bodies!  Long ago these fluid people built a modern civilization and colonized Alpha Cen II.  Over the centuries the colonists, due to the different environment on Alpha Cen II, evolved semi-solid human-like bodies; these people with translucent protoplasm for flesh are called the Threns.  Some of those jokers colonized Alpha Cen III, where people over time evolved fully solid bodies, quite like a Terran's--these people call themselves the Kerts.  Nowadays, the technologically advanced Rhels of Alpha Cen I have almost no intercourse with the other races, while the Threns of Alpha Cen II are at war with the Kerts of Alpha Cen III.  The Kerts are losing the war, and would like to make peace, and a majority of the population of Alpha Cen II would also like to end the war, but the Thren rulers are bent on conquering Alpha Cen III and ignore the appeals of the public.

After this history lesson there is a Thren air raid on the Kert capitol, and one of the top Kert officials, as well as one of the three Terrans, is seized and carried off.  On Alpha Cen II they are put in a cell with a Rhel who was captured in a Thren raid on Alpha Cen I; they make friends with this guy, an important personage among the Rhels.  Meanwhile, the other two Earthers fly to Alpha Cen II, managing to elude detection and land near the palace where their fellow Terran is imprisoned.  The three prisoners escape, and meet up with the two Terrans, and then split up, one party stealing a Thren ship to fly to Alpha Cen I to arouse the isolationist Rhel to join the war on the Thren, the other party returning to Alpha Cen III. 

A Rhel spacefleet joins a Kert fleet and battle is joined with the Threns.  The Rhel have far superior weapons than the Kert and Thren, and make short work of the Thren space fleet.  On the surface of Alpha Cen II a revolution breaks out against the leadership that started this immoral and disastrous war.  The story ends with the three races of Alpha Centauri at peace and the Rhel promising to abandon their policy of isolation and share their superior technology (like weather control) with the Thren and Kerts, and the three Earthers heading off in their FTL ship to explore Sirius.   
I guess because of the FTL drive and the space battles "The Star Roamers" is a space opera, not a planetary romance/sword and planet adventure like the Kaldar tales, and it is also a little more believable, relying less on incredible coincidences.  But it still has the same basic plot as "Kaldar, World of Antares" and "Snake Men of Kaldar."  Unfortunately, the weapons, alien landscapes and peoples, and fights in "The Star Roamers" are less interesting than those encountered by Stuart Merrick, so the story is less entertaining.  I have to judge "The Star Roamers" barely acceptable. 


These four stories are all mediocre or poor examples of Hamilton's fiction, but still characteristic of his work and career.  In his correspondence, H. P. Lovecraft often complained that Hamilton used the same plots over and over again, and we can certainly see evidence that supports that charge in this sample of four 1933 stories.  Numerous times in the past we have seen themes of evolution and radiation in Hamilton's work, and they come up again here.  In "War of the Sexes" and "The Star-Roamers" we also find ideas that would turn up in Hamilton's far superior space opera The Star of Life, like a guy waking up in the future and strange and difficult relationships between a race of people and their startlingly evolved descendants.

1950s detective stories by August Derleth, Lord Dunsany and Evelyn E Smith

On a recent visit to the Wonder Book location in Frederick, MD, I found on the outside 95¢ shelves a pile of old Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines.  I flipped through them and selected some with stories by SF writers I am interested in like Avram Davidson and Robert Bloch.  When I brought them to the counter, the clerk told me that because of a current sale I could get three more for free, so I scooted outside and just grabbed three 1950s issues whose covers I liked because they depicted young ladies in distress.  Fortunately, these issues also included stories by people with ties to the SF community, so I can pretend I bought them for more respectable reasons than is the case.  So, before returning to our regular diet of 1930s Weird Tales, let's read a story from each of those three fetching Fifties issues of the leading mystery magazine.

"The Six Silver Spiders" by August Derleth (1950)   

The prolific August Derleth, co-founder of Arkham House, produced many pastiches of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, slotting into the London detective role a man with the unlikely name of Solar Pons.  People with street cred in the mystery fiction community like Anthony Boucher have effusively praised the Solar Pons stories, as we are reminded in the page-long intro to "The Six Silver Spiders" here in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  The editors of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine also tell us that "The Six Silver Spiders" is the best Solar Pons story yet!  I've never read one of these before, so I'm starting at the top!

Our narrator, Dr. Lyndon Parker, arrives to have dinner with Solar Pons and the genius immediately deduces, based on how wet his clothes are, that his friend took the subway there rather than walking or taking a cab.  After thus showing off, Pons then introduces his pal to his latest case in a way designed, I guess, to humiliate poor Parker.

You know how your spouse will ask you what day it is and you are expected to know it is your significant other's birthday or your wedding anniversary, or five years to the day since some career milestone or something?  Well, it seems like Pons does this to Parker all the time, making their relationship an endless series of traps.  Today's first trap is a catalog for an auction of rare books on the occult, among the titles are The Necronomicon by Alhazred, Nameless Cults by von Junzt, and The Mysteries of the Worm by Prinn.  Does Parker see anything odd about this brochure?  Parker falls right into the trap--when he says it looks like a normal auction come-on, Pons pounces, explaining that those books are not real, but the fictional creations of minor American authors!

Some Baron who lives close by received this catalog.  As a wealthy collector of occult books, he was excited to attend the auction, which would be held way up in Scotland.  When the Baron got up there, he and five other attendees--fellow students of the supernatural or their representatives--discovered that the auction was a hoax.  The mind reels at the damage suffered by the environment due to this unnecessary trip of over 300 miles--one way!  (It is almost enough to make you stop wondering why six collectors of occult books wouldn't already know that The Necronomicon, Nameless Cults, and The Mysteries of the Worm aren't real.)  What kind of monster would speed the approach of global warming in such a way?  And why?  The Baron has asked Pons to find out the answers to these questions.

Pons quickly figures out what the six people who received the bogus catalog have in common: each of these goofballs owns one of the six miniature books fashioned by master forger Yeovil.  These one-inch-tall handwritten copies of portions of the Egyptian Book of the Dead are each stored inside a silver scarab, which for some reason people call "spiders."  As Pons predicted, opening the Baron's scarab reveals that his copy was stolen while he was up in Scotland, as were the copies of the three other people who physically attended the bogus auction; two of the goofballs sent lackeys to the auction, so their copies of Yeovil's masterpiece are still in their custody. 

Pons borrows these two little books and figures out that each of the six books has, hidden within a decoration drawn on its endpapers, a single letter or number, one sixth of a secret message!  Pons figures a secret message of only six characters, a string not even long enough to constitute a strong Facebook password, must be an abbreviation of an address.  He has two of the characters, and quickly figures out what the address must be--that of a small private museum!  He and Parker go to the museum and with astonishing rapidity Pons figures out that two purportedly medieval items donated anonymously to the museum thirty years ago are in fact Yeovil forgeries.  One is an imposter Norse chest, within the false bottom of which are Yeovil's tools for forging coins.  It is not long before Pons has figured out that Yeovil secreted his tools in the museum and left the secret message as a test for his nephew, to see if said nephew is smart enough to take up his uncle's career as a forger.  It is this nephew who stole the other four miniature books via the ruse of the hoax auction.

The final scenes of the story have Pons not only recovering the stolen one-inch-high books from the nephew's apartment, but convincing the young man to abandon a career in crime because, should be become a forger, Solar Pons will always be there to foil all his enterprises.

It was fun to see Derleth's shout out to H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch at the start of the story, and the story is pretty well put together--"The Six Silver Spiders" really does feel like a Sherlock Holmes story, though maybe I am not exactly in a position to judge, not having read any authentic Holmes tales in like two decades.  

"The Six Silver Spiders" was included in the 1951 collection The Memoirs of Solar Pons as "The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders"    

"A Simple Matter of Deduction" by Lord Dunsany (1951)

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the 18th Baron of Dunsany--who signed his work Lord Dunsany--is widely recognized to be a major influence on the fantasy genre, a writer esteemed by many writers I care about like Lovecraft, Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, and others.  Despite his importance, I haven't read anything by Dunsany before.  Maybe it is strange to start with some detective thing, but I guess I gotta start somewhere.

The editors of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine introduce "A Simple Matter of Deduction" by telling us that the story is very much like a Sherlock Holmes story.  I guess I should not be surprised.

Our ersatz Holmes for this story is Mr. Linley.  Our imitation Dr. Watson is Smithers.  There is a perhaps unnecessary frame story in which a journalist asks Smithers to tell him about a case of Linley's he hasn't talked about before, and then comes the meat of the story, told in Smithers's voice.

Scotland Yard turns to Linley for help because they can't figure out who killed a guy who was lured by a phone call to an abandoned house where he was bludgeoned with a hammer.  The bobbies' only clue is a half-finished crossword puzzle found in the house; presumably the killer worked on this puzzle while waiting to ambush the victim.  (Nerves of steel!)  By seeing what parts of the puzzle the assassin filled in, and in what order (Linley can judge this from the boldness and breadth of the murderer's pen and pencil marks) the detective figures out lots of demographic info about the killer (what kind of school he attended, his hobbies, etc.) that allows the police identify him.

This crossword gimmick is practically the entire story; Dunsany does not go into the psychology of killing or being killed like motive or fear or any of that--this story has no human feeling.  In the closing section of the frame story we learn that the killer was put on trial but the jury let him off because they didn't think a crossword puzzle was enough evidence on which to convict a guy for a capital crime.  If you think this is supposed to show how vulnerable a liberal society is to ruthless murderers, think again: we are assured that the killer has been scared straight by this brush with the law.

(Is there a tradition in Sherlock Holmes stories of the criminal not being punished?  I find these sorts of endings unsatisfying; I like the catharsis of seeing the malefactor brought to justice.)

The editors of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine thought "A Simple Matter of Deduction" good enough to include in a reprint magazine in 1963.

"Really It Was Quite Simple" by Evelyn E. Smith (1953)

Years ago I read Evelyn E. Smith's vampire story "Softly While You're Sleeping" and thought it quite good.  More recently I read her crossword-puzzle-inspired alien invasion story "DAXBR/BAXBR" and condemned it for being a silly gimmicky joke story.  Well, let's read a third Evelyn E. Smith story, one which won an Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine contest.  The editors warn us this is a "locked room story."

"Really It Was Quite Simple" is another gimmicky joke story, I guess a sort of "meta" in-joke for mystery readers who already love (or hate) locked-room mysteries.  You might also call it a shaggy dog story as it lacks any kind of resolution.  

Four silly characters are in an apartment hanging out; the host of this little get-together, the Colonel, who served in India, is showing off card tricks he says he learned on the subcontinent.  One of the other characters, admitting he is stupid, says he can't figure out card tricks and can't figure out locked-room mysteries, either.  The Colonel claims he can disappear from a locked room, and bets are placed on whether he can do it.  The Colonel wins the bet--when his guests open the door to the room in which he was locked he is not there.  His explanation, after reappearing in a different room, behind his friends, is that while in India he also earned how to make himself invisible.

Is "Really It Was Quite Simple?" a spoof of locked room mysteries?  Or even an expose of how bogus the entire mystery genre is, Smith arguing that since these stories are entirely made up, the conventional practice of trying to figure them out is nothing but foolishness? 

I have to give "Really It Was Quite Simple" a thumbs down; I feel like Smith is playing a trick on the reader, wasting his time.  However, maybe this joke killed among people who were deeply invested in the mystery genre and read Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine every month and had some strong opinion, pro or con, about the locked-room mystery subgenre.

It seems the British edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine had a different cover and somewhat different contents from the US edition, but Smith's "Really It Was Quite Simple?" was included in both.


I am not the audience for these three stories, which seem to be aimed directly at lovers of detective stories of a specific type that totally lacks human drama or any kind of comment on life and instead consists of incredible Rube Goldberg schemes and equally unbelievable unravelling of said schemes.  The Holmes pastiches by Derleth and Dunsany are cold and mechanical, though they seem competent--I have to assume D and D delivered what Holmes-hungry readers of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine wanted when they wrote them.  As for the Smith, it won a contest so I guess mystery experts thought it worthwhile, but to me it seems almost like an insult to mystery readers, an attempt to subvert the genre to the point of destruction.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert

Lately I have become interested in the work of French artist Philippe Druillet, a major figure in the history of Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal, a fan of H. P. Lovecraft and A. E. van Vogt and the creator of intricately drawn comics largely consisting of wide vistas overlooking vast armies and weird cities of spires and anthropomorphic towers and bizarre symmetrical profiles of characters barbaric and exotic.  One of Druillet's major works is an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's 1862 novel Salammbo; a SF reimagining of Flaubert's book about the revolts against Carthage after the First Punic War.  Curious, and not quite ready to return to this blog's usual territory, 20th-century SF written in English, I decided to read the A. J. Krailsheimer translation of Salammbo, printed as a Penguin Classic in 1977.

The most noteworthy thing about Salammbo is not the plot, but the style and atmosphere.  Flaubert indulges in countless long descriptions of every building, every room, every character's clothing, and all of these things are elaborate, everything is studded with reflective materials, ivory, mother-of-pearl, gems and precious metals. 

Flaubert's primary object, it seems, is not to tell a story but to create a mood of exotic barbarism, of decadent splendor, to present bizarre and gorgeous visions of a rich and alien world of great beauty but also grotesquerie and gore.  The character Hanno, for example, is morbidly obese and has some kind of wasting disease, and we hear all about that.  Carthaginians eat dogs, sacrifice children, and crucify lions as well as people; among the jewels in Hamilcar Barca's treasure rooms are "carbuncles formed by lynx's urine;" Flaubert describes men being flogged so the blood "showered up into the foliage," and there are scores of such descriptions as Flaubert fills page after page with scenes of people whose bodies are broken and/or who suffer abject misery.

The plot of Salammbo is like that of an overly long Conan story, with mercenary armies, cruel merchants, a big snake and priests who sacrifice people to weird gods, though it lacks a central indomitable figure like Conan of Cimmeria, and instead has a large cast of main characters all of whom have tragic flaws and suffer terrible tragedies.  The novel also has a pervasive sensationalist and exploitative element, much of the text given over to explicit and graphic depictions of injury and death in battle, mass murder, and torture, though I suppose you could get away with saying this is social commentary of an anti-war, anti-bourgeois elite, anti-religious establishment character.  

Here follows my long-winded and repetitive summation of the plot:

The Punic War is over, the Romans and Carthaginians having come to terms, the Carthaginians getting the worst of it.  Much of Carthage's forces during the war consisted of an army of mercenaries from all over the known world--Gauls, Greeks, black Africans, desert nomads, etc.--lead by Carthage's best general, Hamilcar Barca.  Carthage can't or won't pay all that these men are owed, and, in an effort to appease this multicultural horde, the rulers of Carthage seize some of Hamilcar's assets (he is away from town) and hold a feast in the suburbs just outside the city walls, right by Hamilcar's opulent home. The drunken feast gets a little out of control, and the mercenaries free some prisoners, including a clever and ambitious Greek, Spendius, and break into Hamilcar's gardens where they wreck their former commander's plants, abuse his elephants and eat his decorative fish.  Hamilcar's beautiful daughter, Salammbo, a priestess of the moon goddess Tanit who has lived in seclusion her entire short life, emerges to speechify at and sing to the out of control soldiers, somewhat calming them down.

One of the mercenary officers, the Libyan Matho, falls madly in love with Salammbo.  As the mercenaries march across farmland and desert to the sacred city of Sicca, where they have been asked to await payment from Carthage, Matho moans pathetically over the pale young girl.  Spendius makes himself Matho's buddy and right-hand man; he is a charismatic and resourceful guy who has lived all over and had many adventures, and quickly ingratiates himself to all the mercenaries, mending their armor and entertaining them with juggling and so on.

At Sicca the mercenaries grow restless waiting for their pay, and when a Carthaginian representative, the wealthy but unhealthy Hanno, leader of the political faction opposed to Hamilcar's faction, comes by to explain they are going to get only a fraction of what they are owed, the soldiers are pretty angry; Spendius, playing the demagogue, rouses them further.  Hanno flees and the mercenaries take up their weapons and march on Carthage!

Scared of the mercenary army, the Carthaginians send another official, Gisco, and a pile of treasure to the camp to try to pay them off, but Spendius with his oratory makes sure they are unsatisfied.  Gisco is seized and mistreated by the mercs; periodically throughout the rest of the novel we check in with him to see what horrible shape he is in.

Clever Spendius knows how to sneak into Carthage and leads Matho inside the city walls via the aqueduct.  Once inside, he  convinces Matho to steal from the temple of Tanit a sacred artifact, the goddess's veil or mantle, which sometimes is called the "zaimph."  Spendius doesn't really believe the zaimph has magical powers and that anybody who touches it will die, but he thinks the loss of it will hurt Carthaginian morale.  Matho, wearing the mantle, then insists on sneaking into Hamilcar Barca's palace and into Salammbo's bedroom, he awakens her implores her to accept his love and come away with him.  Salammbo calls for help but Matho manages to escape the city because people are too afraid of touching or damaging the sacred zaimph to stab or shoot or tackle the Libyan interloper.

This bold exploit makes Matho the foremost man among the mercenaries, and inspires many of the lesser cities of North Africa as well as country people, all of whom are sick of Carthaginian taxes and regulations, to ally with the mercenary army and seek to overthrow the current government.  The war starts in earnest with Matho in command of a detachment of the mercenary army laying siege to Hippo-Zarytus and Spendius leading another force besieging Utica, these towns being unwilling to join the anti-Carthage coalition.  Hanno sneaks an army out of Carthage by sea and attacks Spendius's force; his elephants (there are lots of elephants in this book) scattering Spendius's men.  While Hanno is inside Utica resting, Spendius figures out how to disrupt the elephants and launches a counterattack which scatters Hanno's force; Hanno must creep back to Carthage in disgrace.

Hamilcar Barca returns and in a long scene has arguments with the ruling council--he doesn't get along with the rest of Carthage's ruing class.  He then spends a lot of time visiting his treasure rooms and discussing with his staff his many business ventures.  

One of the themes of Salammbo is that Carthage has become rich through trade and is ruled by ruthless greedy merchants.  Spendius the Greek is little better, a former pimp and slaver who looks at women and judges how much he could have made in the good old days selling them and their jewelry.  While they may be equally avaricious and heartless, Spendius and Hamilcar, compared to the bulk of Carthage's ruling class, are courageous and clever; the Carthaginian ruling council, in their dealings with the Romans and with the mercenaries, are bunglers who allow their greed to blind them to the wisest course in negotiations or in war.  Hamilcar Barca is one of the greatest generals in the world, but in his fighting against the Romans he was hamstrung by the jealous ruling council, which feared he would make himself dictator if given too much power and too many resources.

Hamilcar is inclined to refuse to lead the defense against the mercenaries and rebels, but when he sees the damage done to his gardens and to his elephants on the day of the feast, he relishes the opportunity to crush the mercenaries.  He spends months whipping the army into shape and then marches out, using a route over the sea to attack Spendius from an unexpected quarter and thrash his force.  Flaubert describes much gory fighting, and when Hamilcar sends 2,000 captives to Carthage, Flaubert talks about how the common people of the city entertain themselves, relieving their fear and indulging their anger by shooting arrows into the POWs, who are tied to stakes. 

But then the multiracial army of rebels and mercenaries gets its act together and traps the Carthaginian army in a valley.  Hamilcar has trenches and palisades built around his camp and waterholes dug within, and a long siege begins.  

We spend some time back in Carthage with Salammbo, who is worried about her black python, which is off its feed; this serpent is a sort of religious symbol for the people of Carthage and a source of auguries.  We learn about Salammbo's closest companions, the two old people who raised her, and their long and complex relationships with the beautiful young girl.  One is a eunuch priest, a sort of surrogate father to Salammbo, one of the most learned men in the world who over the decades has developed his own religious theories.  This old codger thinks that Carthage's woes are the result of the loss of Tanit's mantle, and he suggests the innocent virgin Salammbo sneak into the mercenaries' camp, seduce Matho, and thusly retrieve the veil.  When the black python recovers from its illness Salammbo thinks this a divine endorsement of the priests' scheme, and agrees to undertake the perilous mission.  In preparation, aided by her surrogate mother, a slave and nurse who, I suspect, is supposed to be Chinese ("her rather flattened features were as yellow as her tunic"), Salammbo goes through a complicated ritual that involves dancing naked with the python and smearing all over her body "the blood of a black dog, slaughtered by barren women, on a winter's night, in the ruins of a tomb."

Salammbo, disguised as a boy with the plague, is led by a guide across the war-devastated countryside to Matho's camp.  She appears before the lovestruck Matho, and then, by coincidence, Hamilcar's army bursts out of its besieged camp, aided by a significant portion of Matho's force, a bunch of Numidians who treacherously switch sides.  Matho dashes out of his tent, and Salammbo grabs the mantle of the goddess and sneaks across no-man's-land to her father's tent.  Everybody on the battlefield, Carthaginian, mercenary, and rebel, sees that the Carthaginians have the zaimph back and Carthaginian morale soars and the mercs and rebels are dismayed.  Hamilcar gives his daughter Salammbo in marriage to the leader of the Numidians on the spot, though the ceremony and consummation must wait until the war is won.  (We call this an incentive plan.)  

The armies of Matho and Spendius and their allies are thrashed, and Flaubert gives us several pages of descriptions of corpses decomposing and being eaten by crows and dogs, of women mourning, and that sort of thing.  Despite this victory Carthage is still in trouble; Utica and Hippo-Zarytus join the rebellion and the forces of Matho and Spendius begin to regroup; joined by people from all over the world who hate Carthage or covet its riches, the rebel army swells and lays siege to Carthage.

Flaubert describes the siege in some detail, all the different engines and techniques, tactics and countermeasures, as well as the horrible suffering of everybody involved.  Seeking the favor of heaven, the priests of Moloch, with the enthusiastic participation of the Carthaginian populace, who indulge in an ecstatic orgy of bloodletting, sacrifice people, mostly children, in a long and involved ritual involving parades and huge machines that represent their ravenous god.  Among those they select for sacrifice is Hamilcar's son Hannibal, but Hamilcar hides Hannibal and has some nobody's son sacrificed in sonny boy's place. Flaubert really pours on the horror and the tragedy here, but by this point he has cataloged so many catastrophes and atrocities that this reader, at least, was getting numb to it all.

Because Flaubert bases the plot of his novel on the historical record and with some degree of faithfulness reproduces the course of the war, instead of the novel having one or two big thrill scenes depicting battles and/or inhuman cruelty with the object of bringing to the reader the experience of the triumph and the tragedy, the glories and the horrors of war, we get a long series of battles and riots and mass murders, each followed by vivid descriptions of their heartbreaking aftermath.   After a while these passages lose their power to move the reader because we have already seen Matho and Spendius get beat and then make a comeback and we have already witnessed a surfeit of dreadful fates and gory crimes.

After the mass sacrifice, things start looking good for Carthage: it rains, relieving the city's thirst (Spendius sabotaged the aqueduct); Hamilcar sails out of the town, avoiding the besieging army, and begins looting the countryside, drawing away the local rebels and leaving only Matho's and Spendius's forces to continue the siege; and the Numidians also manage to get around the besiegers, bringing food and reinforcements to Carthage.  (All through the book the Carthaginians are able to outmaneuver the mercenaries and rebels in this way, again and again, entire armies moving in and out of the city unmolested by Matho and Spendius.)  Spendius's force joins the rebels in pursuing Hamilcar, and they all fall into a trap, getting confined in a gorge with no way out.  The mercs and rebels are stuck in this gorge for weeks and begin to starve, and Flaubert describes their descent into cannibalism.  After half the men in this army have died the Carthaginians let the other half out of the gorge and murder them in spectacular ways--tying up hundreds of mercenaries and laying them out in a carpet for elephants to walk on, for example, or ordering friends to fight each other to the death.  Spendius is captured. 

Matho's force retreats to the rebel city of Tunis to be besieged by three armies, Hamilcar's, Hanno's, and that of the Numidians.  The Carthaginians crucify Spendius before the city, and Matho sallies forth to defeat Hanno's army and crucify that guy.  But Hamilcar takes the town.  For months the Carthaginians pursue the fleeing remnant of Matho's army, as the countryside returns to obedience to Carthage and offers the mercs no haven.  Finally, a conclusive battle is fought, and the mercenaries are wiped out--only one man, Matho, is taken captive.  

As a preliminary part of the festivities on the day of Salammbo's wedding to the king of the Numidians, Matho is forced to run a gauntlet through the streets of Carthage that ends at the location of the wedding.  As he passes by, ordinary people strike him and abuse him so that by the time he gets to where await Salammbo, her betrothed, Hamilcar, and all the wealthy people of the city, he is covered in blood and wounds and delirious with agony.  Salammbo watches as he expires and then dies herself, I guess of a heart attack or something; Flaubert reminds us that Matho and Salammbo touched the mantle of Tanit, and the punishment for doing so is death.


I enjoyed the first third or so of Salammbo, and the relatively few scenes in which we learn about the young woman herself and her household, but the many battle scenes and scenes of atrocity, and the long descriptions of things like parades, get monotonous and the final third or quarter of the novel felt like a real slog and I was relieved when it was over.    

Monday, October 18, 2021

Order of Battle by Alfred Coppel

Alfred Coppel had a successful career as a writer, selling plenty of SF stories in the 1950s to magazines like Planet Stories (Andrew Offutt dedicates his 1977 sword-and-planet novel My Lord Barbarian to "the ABCs," Poul Anderson, Leigh Brackett and Coppel) and publishing numerous SF and mainstream novels in the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s.  Coppel also served in the U. S. Army Air Force in World War II as a fighter pilot, and one of those mainstream novels, 1968's Order of Battle, is about Lockheed P-38 Lightning pilots based in England.  I'm interested in World War II fiction by people who actually served in the war, and have read several such novels by Britons and a European and blogged about them here, and so, wanting a break from my usual fantastical and futuristic fare, decided to give Order of Battle a try.  I read a first edition hardcover copy put out by Harcourt, Brace and World that had been scanned into the internet archive.  

Coppel dedicated Order of Battle to his son, a sergeant in the U.S. Army special forces, and the dedication page features four lines from A. E. Housman:

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

Order of Battle consists of nine chapters, each named for one of four characters.  The Deveraux chapters are in the first person, a sort of memoir, but the Anne, Harry, and Porta chapters are in the third person.  The edition of Order of Battle I read is 273 pages long, but there are lots of blank pages between chapters, like 20 total, and the book doesn't feel long.

The first chapter is one of those in the voice of Mark Deveraux of California, pilot of a P-38G of the fictional 903rd Fighter-Bomber Group, based in southern England.  The 903rd strafes and bombs  barges, flak towers, locomotives, etc., across the Channel in France--they have never been given escort duty and have never been in any dogfights because all the Luftwaffe fighters are sticking close to Berlin.  This chapter introduces us to these sorts of military matters, various characters at the air base, including Deveraux's wingman, fellow college-educated Californian Harry Ward and his flight leader, working-class MidWesterner Raymond Porta, son of a "Portuguese steel puddler," and the fact that Devaraux is cheating on his wife with a widowed Englishwoman, Anne Charing.

The second chapter is told in the third person, though we are privy to the thoughts of Anne Charing.  Her husband was killed fighting in North Africa in 1940, and she met Devaraux in 1943.  This chapter is all about the love affair of the English widow and the American airman, how each feels guilty for betraying his or her spouse, how each is jealous of the other's spouse, how they wonder if what they have is love or just animal lust.  Much of the text is taken up with their cruel verbal jousting, her crying, her resisting his aggressive desire even as her body responds to his touches.  (This book is full of scenes of men using a little muscle to make women succumb to their physical desires.)  This relationship stuff was a little boring and had me yearning to get back to the 20mm cannons, 500 lb bombs and explosions. 

The third chapter is closer to what the doctor ordered, Deveraux again, mooning over Anne, who has decided to end their affair, but also describing a mission in France, Porta's flight (four P-38s, Porta, his wingman Dave Weiner, Deveraux and Harry Ward) bombing a railway and strafing some krauts.  Dev's landing gear is damaged and he has to crash land back in England; injured, he has to spend a few days in the hospital, where he thinks about Anne and about his wife.  

The fourth chapter has as its protagonist Harry Ward, Deveraux's wingman.  This dude is a mediocre pilot and a virgin, sort of a square and a loser who was raised by a single mother (a widow) and his sisters in a quiet town, shy and ineffectual.  In London on leave with the other men in his and Devaraux's flight (Deveraux is still convalescing) he runs into a Royal Navy pilot with a wooden leg (this guy lost his limb after ditching his Swordfish in the ocean) who turns out to be Anne Charing's cousin.  Harry ends up meeting Anne and trying to seduce her but failing--she treats him like a mother treats a sad child and comforts him, but refuses to allow any hanky panky, and, unlike the masculine Deveraux and Porta, Harry is not the sort to use physical force to get what he wants from a woman.

The fifth chapter has more about how Deveraux misses Anne.  Harry is seeing Anne, but I don't think she is putting out, though this is left ambiguous.  The 903rd starts being assigned escort missions and being sent further afield, carrying auxiliary fuel tanks instead of bombs and running the risk of dogfights with Me-109s, Me-110s and Focke-Wulfs.  Deveraux and Harry are witness to the tragic destruction of a B-17--they are in radio communication with members of its crew as they die.  

In that fifth chapter the commander of Deveraux's flight, Ray Porta, shoots down a Me-109, and the sixth chapter is the sole chapter named after him and is all about him and the aftermath of his victory.  Porta is an ambitious working-class man, a former enlisted man, who finds the poetry and modern painting that interests many of the other pilots (most of whom are college-educated, unlike Porta) bewildering or even disturbing.  But he is the best pilot in the Group.  Coppel uses Porta to address the theory (expressed by a minor character who is a medical officer) that "the really successful fighter pilot is basically a psychopathic personality," as well as the belief that women find such aggressive men sexually exciting.  Deveraux, with some reason, blames Porta's chasing after German fighters--and leaving the heavy bombers unguarded--for the loss of that B-17; Porta and Deveraux have butted heads before, and Porta silently swears revenge on Deveraux.  We readers are left to wonder if Porta's killer instinct and selfish ambition further the war effort or hamper it.

The seventh chapter relates, in Deveraux's voice, the role played by Porta's flight in the Normandy invasion, focusing on the day of the landings.  At the direction of a Frenchman assigned to a British Army battalion on the ground, they bomb a German artillery position and then attack lots of other stuff, including armored vehicles and infantry men.  I thought Coppell's description of naval warfare and ground fighting as seen from the seat of an aircraft quite good--this is the kind of thing I was looking for when I decided to read Order of Battle, not descriptions of Porta banging some nurse or Deveraux wondering if he still loved his wife.   

The big seventh chapter also features Deveraux learning that his wife back in sunny California has fallen in love with another man and wants a divorce; Deveraux's manic reaction is to show up at Anne's place and, more or less, rape her.  This wrecks his friendship with Harry, as you might expect.  Porta then works his revenge, getting Deveraux assigned to a tank battalion as a forward air controller, like that Frenchman.  Deveraux finds the idea of serving on the ground horrifying, something we vividly learned earlier in the chapter, when seeing dead Allied troops and knocked out Allied vehicles from his cockpit made him physically ill with sympathetic fear. 

I was totally stoked (as the kid say) to read all about what it was like to be a forward air controller in 1944, but--plot twist!--at the start of the eighth chapter Porta is doing some crazy aerobatics, showing off, and crashes, killing himself and two other people, and Deveraux takes his place as flight leader.  Then Harry gets shot up over the Netherlands and ditches in the Channel, breaking his legs; he is sent home to California.  Then comes another twist, a welcome one: out of a sense of penance or something Deveraux volunteers for that forward air controller job!

The final chapter has Dev attached to an American armored unit that is in the process of crossing a river; he and his team deploy beyond the armored unit's perimeter to spot artillery fire for 105mm guns and direct air strikes conducted by Dave Weiner and other people from the 903rd that knock out 88mm Flak guns and halt the advance of ten Tiger tanks.  Dev has to call a napalm strike down so close to his own position that he is burned and ends up at a hospital back in England.  (People getting burned is a recurring motif of the novel.)  Anne comes to the hospital and we are expected to believe that his horrible experiences have taught him how to love, something Anne recognizes.  Now that Dev is a better person (and his wife wants a divorce) she agrees to marry him.  The End.

I found it challenging to find decent photos of Order of Battle online

The military stuff in Order of Battle is all good, though there is an error that might just be a printing mistake, a character asserting that the Me-109G could carry a 40mm cannon--in reality, the weapon in question is a 30mm cannon.  The Ray Porta character stuff is effective, how he resents the middle-class "college boys" as he incessantly calls them and wants to show them up and irrationally blames them when his kill is not officially recognized because his gun camera malfunctioned.  Devereaux's character arc--I guess we are supposed to believe he almost became a selfish ambitious monster like Porta but stepped back from the brink to become a giving person--is merely acceptable.  (A contrast to Brian Aldiss's A Soldier Erect, in which the battle stuff was pedestrian and the character interactions were fun, striking and entertaining.)

A paperback edition of Order of Battle sells it as a "powerful love story," but I found the love story of Dev and Anne pretty opaque.  I couldn't even understand what they liked about each other--sure, they are both needy and horny, but it wasn't clear why, of all the other needy and horny people in Southern England in 1943 and 1944, they each choose the other over the many alternatives.  Dev and Anne are boring characters--Porta, who is driven and something of a fish out of water, is interesting, and Harry, who is a mediocrity and something of a fish out of water, is interesting, but Dev and Anne have no compelling character traits that I can recall, and most of their dialogue is them being jerks to each other.  Well, maybe I missed something.    

Worth my time, but not spectacular.


If you have an itch for more Alfred Coppel content, two of this blog's biggest supporters have reviewed Coppel novels.  Tarbandu of The Por Por Books Blog in 2017 wrote about The Apocalypse Brigade, and in 2019 Joachim Boaz of Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations reviewed Dark December.  Check them out!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Planet Stories, Fall 1950: R Bradbury, J Bixby, H Kuttner & C L Moore, and P Anderson

It is time to explore that final frontier--space!  We'll be travelling via the Fall 1950 issue of Planet Stories, then edited by Jerome Bixby of "It's a Good Life" fame.  Our guides into the starry void will be Bixby and some of our favorite people: Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner and his wife C. L. Moore, and Poul Anderson.    

The cover of this issue features a gorgeous blonde accoutered with the sorts of accessories all the gals clamor for, among them high heels and a dagger, and the interior illustrations in this issue are also pretty good-- lively, with robots, people getting blasted, and crashing spaceships.  The letters column features a missive from F. M. Busby (we read over 600 pages of small type about his heroine Rissa Kerguelen back in 2017) who praises Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett and Margaret St. Clair, and jokes that the blurbs on the cover of Planet Stories and even the story titles often bear little resemblance to the stories' content.  Another epistle is from Lin Carter, who jokes that he doesn't have a girlfriend (at least I think that is what he is doing) and complains that the letters column isn't as good as it was when people like Isaac Asimov and Chad Oliver were regularly writing in.  Like Busby he offers kudos to Bradbury (though he didn't care for "The Long Rain," which made its debut in Planet Stories as "Death-by-Rain") and Brackett, as well as praising Henry Kuttner and Edmond Hamilton.

"Death-Wish" (AKA "The Blue Bottle") by Ray Bradbury

I own a copy of William F. Nolan's 1970 anthology A Sea of Space, which includes the story "The Blue Bottle," a revised version of "Death-Wish."  In his intro to the story, Nolan says that, for this first book publication, the story has been "heavily revised" and "is now virtually a 'new' story."  So I will read "Death-Wish" in the internet archive scan of Planet Stories, and then read "The Blue Bottle" in my physical copy of A Sea of Space, and report my findings.

Bradbury starts off "Death-Wish" with poetic verbiage telling us how dead Mars is, the canals dry, the ancient cities so fragile that beautiful towers collapse into dust at the sound of a man's shout, that kind of thing.  Then we meet Albert Steinbeck and Leonard Craig, tramps, who are driving into one of these ancient cities in a rusty old automobile they spent six weeks repairing so they could drive around Mars.  Steinbeck is a man on a mission--he is looking for the fabled Blue Bottle, an ancient work of art that is said to contain the very treasure every man most wants.  For ten years Steinbeck has searched for this bottle, and the search has given to his life, otherwise bereft of purpose, structure and meaning; at this point he is actually afraid to find the artifact, because when he finds it his life will no longer have any direction.  As for Craig, he has no higher ambition than to drink booze, smoke cigarettes, fill his belly and get lots of sleep; he is just along with Steinbeck, whom he has known for two years, for the ride.

They split up in the city and Craig finds the bottle.  He doesn't realize what it is, and just drinks from it--bourbon--and then puts it aside among the other detritus of the long lost Martian civilization.  Steinbeck realizes what Craig found but right after he gets his hands on it, a fat rich guy appears, gun in hand, and steals the bottle.

Our heroes catch up with the rich guy--he is dead, his body unmarked, and the bottle is gone.  Steinbeck jumps in the car and chases after a party of mounted men he suspects looted the bottle from the rich porker's body--Craig, not interested in getting in a fight, stays behind--and when Steinbeck catches up to them they are also dead.  And there is the bottle.  Steinbeck realizes that the bottle does give everybody what they want, and what most men want is to die, to escape the responsibility and guilt and fear that comes with living!  Steinbeck dies, truly happy for the first time in his life.  When Craig catches up he finds the bottle and finds it is full of booze.

"Death-Wish" is a good story; I like the philosophy, and Bradbury's poetic flights--which I don't always appreciate--work this time around.  Thumbs up!

So, let's read "The Blue Bottle" and see what changes Bradbury made to the story 20 years after it was first published.

The changes are not big; they mostly serve to make the story more compact, and more thin, less detailed and less like an adventure story.  Steinbeck is now just "Beck," and he and Craig have known each other only a few weeks, not two years.  They don't carry guns or cigarettes.  The fat guy is no longer described as rich, and has less dialogue.  The "rusted automobile" is now an "ancient landcar," and Beck worked on it all by himself, and for an unspecified time period.  The guys who took the bottle off the fat guy are now on foot instead of riding horses.  In "Death-Wish" we are told one reason Mars is populated by human tramps is that "resources had petered out forty years ago."  In "The Blue Bottle" we are told instead that "the race had moved on to the stars."  (I guess that means "human race," but maybe we are also, or instead, to think of it as "the space race.")  All the philosophical stuff seems to be about the same, though in "Death-Wish" Bradbury specifically pointed out that rich people also were dissatisfied with life, but in this revised version the fat guy no longer is rich, and Bradbury doesn't say that.

I'm going to say these changes, on net, make the story slightly worse--it has less character, less personality, less texture.  The reason behind most of these changes is a mystery to me; it's not like Nolan could have been demanding he cut the story for length--the story is already short and Bradbury's is the biggest name in the book.     

"The Blue Bottle" has reappeared in several Bradbury collections, including Long After Midnight.

"The Crowded Colony" by Jerome Bixby 

This story appears under the pseudonym "Jay B. Drexel;" according to isfdb, Bixby used the Drexel pen name twice.

"The Crowded Colony" is an anti-imperialist joke story.  We meet three characters with the names Burke, Barnes and Randolph hanging out in an old Martian town.  A couple of days ago the expedition of which they are part landed on Mars and deciphered an old manuscript found in a temple and learned the Martian language and are now treating the Martians like slaves and servants.  The text of the manuscript strongly suggests the Martians were once a vital and creative race but have fallen into decadence and impotence.  The three conquerors argue over whether the Martians deserve the respect accorded to people or are just clever animals.    

So, we readers are lead to think these conquerors are callous, racist humans who are mistreating the natives of the red planet.  Then Bixby makes his gimmick clear.  Burke, Barnes and Randolph are octopoid aliens from another star system.  By a crazy coincidence they landed on Mars just days after the first human expedition from Earth landed on Mars--the real natives of Mars are extinct and the invaders have mistaken the Earthers for Martians.  That "temple" was the Earth space ship; the "Martian manuscript" was an English translation of an authentic Martian manuscript.  The extrasolar conquerors took what they thought were native Martian names because their Psych staff theorized that this would help the native "Martians" get acclimatized to being colonized.  

Anyway, as the story ends the humans are preparing their energy weapons to massacre the octopoids--they have been playing along with the invaders' mistaken belief that they are the real Martians, whom the octopoids assume, based on the manuscript, have no high technology and are unwarlike, and now that the aliens are complacent, they will take them by surprise.

This lame gimmick story would never be reprinted, for good reason.

"The Sky is Falling" by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore

"The Sky is Falling" appeared in Planet Stories under the pen name C. H. Liddell.  Bixby in the editor's space before the letters column even talks about how excited he is to find a brilliant new author in Liddell.  Is Bixby lying to readers, or had Kuttner and Moore pulled the wool over his eyes with a legitimately pseudonymous submission?  (Didn't J. K. Rowling, whose name has been in the news lately, do this a few years ago?)

As the story begins we are told the Earth is no more!  Holy crap!  Johnny Dyson is flying through space in a ship with a robot, God knows where, and he has a flashback to the story of how he survived the destruction of the Earth....

On Earth tensions are high as the nuclear armed nations teeter on the brink of war.  The defense industry is monopolizing most economic and human resources, and scientists are scrambling to figure out some way to neutralize atomic weapons.  A small amount of taxpayer money is devoted to a long shot--sending a manned space ship to Mars to mine ores there to bring back to Earth; it is hoped that those alien ores might reveal the secret of how to defend against nuclear attack.  Piloting a space ship to Mars takes an electronic brain and mining ores takes a vast amount of horsepower, so along with three men (three losers who aren't good enough scientists or technicians to have been drafted into the military industrial complex) goes a giant robot, an ogre-sized thing with many limbs that looks like a monster ant.

One of the three losers is Johnny Dyson.  Dyson is a pessimist and a depressive who thinks his generation has been screwed by the last generation, who thinks working hard and following the rules is for suckers.  Other people may be sheep, but not Johnny!  Most of the text of Kuttner and Moore's story is a tense thriller, as Johnny tries to convince or trick the two other astronauts--one a guy who misses his wife Poochie, even though she divorced him and even has put out a warrant for his arrest for his allegedly having taken some of her property, the other a drunk who is in command of the mission--into helping him to accomplish his plan of sabotaging the ship while it is on Mars so they don't have to return to Earth, which Johnny is sure is going to be wiped out in a nuclear war very soon.  There are many compelling scenes of Dyson trying to manipulate or evade these two guys, and we learn all about the psychologies of each of the three of them, as well as all about how the robot works, it being essential to the official mission and Dyson's treacherous scheme.  There is also a lot of philosophy, as Johnny rationalizes his traitorous actions and argues with the other men.  Are people good or evil?  What do we owe our fellow man--do we have to keep our word and fulfill our end of a bargain if we later realize we don't like the bargain we struck?

Johnny Dyson whines like one of those kids who spent eight years enjoying themselves studying something useless while the squares their age were working real jobs in stores or factories or starting businesses, and now demand those squares pay their debts for them, but Kuttner and Moore leave the story a little ambiguous, allowing readers to either identify with Johnny or to condemn him.  Are the world's problems the result of the behavior of selfish jerks like Dyson, or the behavior of those who blindly follow the rules like the other two goofs on the Mars mission?  Is Johnny Dyson villain or victim?

"The Sky is Falling" also offers plenty of metaphors and clever images and literary references.  I have several times noted that SF people love A. E. Housman, and here in "The Sky is Falling" we get a quote from "The Laws of God, The Laws of Man," as well as a quote from Eliot's "The Hollow Men."  Kuttner and Moore assume you are educated, just quoting the poems without telling you their titles or who wrote them.

The plot resolves itself in the way a Malzberg story might.  (And don't forget, Kuttner and Moore are Malzberg's heroes.)  Johnny comes close to succeeding in his aim of marooning himself and his comrades on Mars, but in the end they overpower him and he goes insane.  Dyson thinks Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear war, but it has not.  He is taken back to Earth and put in a madhouse he thinks is the space ship--he suffers the delusion that his crewmates and the robot are searching for a new world to settle on.  The final stinger is that Johnny was right, the ore from the Mars mission does not yield a defense against nuclear attack, and when Johnny dies in the asylum it is not from old age, but because the atomic war he predicted breaks out and all of human life is exterminated.

"The Sky is Falling" is a great story, a good thriller that has cool SF technology ideas (the robot stuff is great) and argues philosophical points and has such traditional literary values as compelling characters and images.  I think the story also offers ammunition to those who take sides in SF community controversies.  I think some sciency types who love Astounding and and some literary types who love F&SF think of Planet Stories as a magazine full of poorly written escapist nonsense--well, Kuttner and Moore's story here offers all the literary values and speculation about technology and its effect on people you could want.

Another point of contention.  Among both his detractors and supporters are people who seem to think New Jersey's own Barry Malzberg was somehow radical, somehow outside the SF mainstream, in his tone of pessimism and his depiction of astronauts going insane.  But in 1950's "The Sky is Falling" we have a story by two writers of great popularity who had their fingers in all corners of the SF world, people who had cover stories in both Weird Tales and Astounding, a story suffused with both of those Malzbergian themes, techno-pessimism and astronauts who go insane and put their comrades, and all of humanity, at risk.  This story is yet another reason to believe that Malzberg has roots in the center of the SF tradition and that SF before the New Wave was more diverse and well-rounded than many people today seem to think.

(The case for Malzberg's radical or unique nature rests much more strongly on his use of oblique stream of consciousness narratives, his depictions of sexual dysfunction, and his ability to write stories that are supposed to be funny that actually are funny, characteristics we see in his mainstream fiction as well as his SF, along with skepticism of all large institutions that often manifests itself in his SF work as skepticism of the space program.)

An enthusiastic thumbs up for "The Sky is Falling."  Somehow, this story has never appeared in a "Year's Best" or "SF Greats" or "Essential Classics" kind of anthology.  For shame, editor people!  It can be found in the Kuttner/Moore collection Return to Otherness, including in an abridged German translation of that book. 

"Star Ship" by Poul Anderson

"Star Ship" is one of the stories in Anderson's Psychotechnic League future history, a series totally distinct from the future history which features Nicholas Van Rijn, David Falkyn,  Dominic Flandry and the Polesotechnic League.  Brian Aldiss in 1974 would include "Star Ship" in his anthology Space Odysseys, and the 1950 tale would be the title story of an Anderson collection first printed in 1982.

Fifty years ago a Terran FTL exploration ship came to planet Khazak, a planet inhabited by cat people at an Iron-Age technological level, people split up into monarchical city states who are constantly raiding and warring on each other.  The humans came down to the planet in a space boat, but the boat became nonfunctional and so they were stuck among these warring furries.  For three generations the humans have been living among the bellicose Khazaki, some working to build up a Khazaki industrial base, making firearms and building a rocket to take them back to the starship, while others instead have gone native, human women abandoning the Terran idea of equality of the sexes to embrace the life of a housewife, human men becoming pirates who participate in the endless raiding of the feline natives.

Anson is a third generation human on Khazak who has been living the life of a pirate; his human height and human muscles (the cat people tend to be short and slender) have given him an advantage in the sort of sword and javelin and archery combat the Khazaki engage in.  A handsome and heroic muscleman, Anson has had a lot of luck with the ladies, and Anderson hints that Anson hasn't limited himself to human women--I guess humans can have sex with the furred and tailed and whiskered natives.  Oy.  But the human woman he truly loves, Ellen, has always eluded his grasp, partly because her bookish brother, Carson, does not approve of Anson.

Carson is like the opposite of Anson; this guy has always struck out with the ladies, and like his sister, has refused to embrace Khazaki culture and tried to stay as Terran as possible.  

One day Anson returns from a one-man fishing trip to find the Khazaki city-state where the humans live has been taken over by force by a rebellious aristocrat who was exiled a few years ago for plotting just such a coup.  To the shock and amazement of the human community, Carson was this rebel's right hand man!  He helped the rebels get a hold of the firearms the humans had made for their buddy the king and now Carson plans to use the recently completed rocket to fly to the space ship that is still orbiting Khazak.  With the spaceship, which has atomic weapons, Carson and the rebel aristo can become the invincible rulers of this world!

One wrinkle in Carson's plan: only one person in the world knows enough astrogation to get the rocket to the star ship, and that is his sister Ellen.  Ellen is against the rebellion, and is in hiding with humans and cat people loyal to the old king, but Carson's feline thugs are searching the city for her!

Anson brings Ellen along as he leads a force of picked cat men into the castle via a back way while the main force of loyalists assaults the front, and Anderson gives us plenty of bloody battle scenes with flashing swords and sizzling blasters and siege engines and testudos and all that.  During the fighting Ellen falls in love with Anson.  Anson's party seizes the rocket but suffers heavy casualties.  The rocket takes off with Ellen at the controls.  Anson, in the engine room with his best friend, a cat man he has been on many pirate adventures with, finds that Carson has stowed aboard the rocket!  He has to kill Carson, who has a blaster, and his best friend takes credit for the kill, as if Ellen knew Anson had killed her beloved brother, it would ruin their relationship.  With the atomic weapons of the star ship at their disposal, the loyalists now can depose the usurper, and Ellen and Anson can get in touch with the Terran space empire and bring civilization to Khazak.

This is a moderately entertaining sword and planet or planetary romance style adventure.  Anderson adds a little emotional and intellectual heft to "Star Ship" with a theme of the drawbacks of change.  Both Anson and his native crony realize that their close comradeship will end when he marries Ellen.  And this feline fighting man also reflects on how bringing civilization to Khazak will radically alter Khazak society, and maybe he won't feel at home in it any longer.


Based on what I've read, this is a pretty good issue of Planet Stories.  The Bradbury and especially the Kuttner and Moore stories are in particular recommended.

We'll be taking a break from SF for our next blog post, but with luck we'll see be experiencing technology, danger and death.