Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton
Sargasso of Space is the opening novel in Andre Norton's so-called DANE THORSON (SOLAR QUEEN) series, and is a fine introduction to the books that follow. In this first volume we meet Dane Thorson, a young cargo-apprentice who is assigned (by mechanical Psycho selection) to the trader ship Solar Queen. The crew of the Queen pools its earnings and wins an entire planet, sight unseen, at auction. (Perhaps Ebay will be conducting auctions such as this in 50 or so years!) The crew then explores this strange planet, called Limbo, and discovers the remnants of a lost civilization, as well as globular natives, space pirates, mysterious artifacts and so on.
Ostensibly written for juveniles and "young adults," this novel has a strong appeal for "grown-ups" as well. Not for nothing has Ms. Norton become one of the most popular of all SFF writers, selling kajillions of books and endear... Read More
Sandy FerberSandy Ferber is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough’s finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a “misspent youth” of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship — although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century – -and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror… but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle “ferbs54.” Film Forum is Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club….
Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton
And the Darkness Falls edited by Boris Karloff
In 1943, Boris Karloff was induced by his old friend Edmund Speare, an English professor and book editor, to assist in putting together an anthology of horror stories; as Speare put it, "a collection of bogey stories selected by a professional bogey man." The resulting volume, Tales of Terror, consisted of a six-page introduction by Karloff and 14 stories, ran to 317 pages, and was a popular release with the public. On the strength of that book's sales, the two tried their luck again with an even more ambitious project. The result was 1946's And the Darkness Falls, a whopping volume running to 631 pages and containing 59 short stories, each with an introduction from Karloff, in addition to 10 short, eerie poems scattered throughout. An impressively wide-ranging survey of the horror story, this staggeringly generous volume presents tales from as far back as the 8th century A.D.... Read More
Born With the Dead: Three Novellas About the Spirit of Man by Robert Silverberg
Born With the Dead gathers together three of Robert Silverberg's mid-career science fiction novellas into one remarkably fine collection. With a length greater than a short story or novelette but shorter than a full-length novel, these three tales clock in at around 55 to 70 pages each, and all display the intelligence, word craft and abundance of detail common to all of Silverberg's work in the late '60s to mid-'70s. Although subtitled "Three Novellas About the Spirit of Man" on its original 1974 release, the collection features a trio of tales that, strive as I might, I cannot find a common denominator among. Two of the stories concern how mankind deals with the subject of death, while the third has man's relation to religion and God as its central theme. OK, I HAVE thought of some commonalities among all three: They are all wonderful exemplars of modern-day sci... Read More
Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
British author William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost-Finder first saw the light of day in 1913. Consisting of six short stories, drawn from the pages of The Idler and The New Magazine, the collection was ultimately expanded to include nine stories, the last three being discovered after Hodgson's early death at age 40 in April 1918. In this fascinating group of tales, we meet Thomas Carnacki, a sort of occult investigator in Edwardian London. Just as Carnacki seems to be patterned on a similar fictional psychic investigator of the time, Algernon Blackwood's John Silence, a casual reading of the Carnacki stories will reveal the influence that Hodgson's Sistrand Manuscript, Outer Monstrosities and "electric pentacle" defense had on later authors such as Read More
The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson
William Hope Hodgson's epic novel The Night Land was chosen for inclusion in James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock's Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, and yet in this overview volume's sister collection, Horror: 100 Best Books, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman surprisingly declare the novel to be "unreadable." No less a critic than Read More
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
My ongoing attempt to read all 200 books spotlighted in Stephen Jones’s and Kim Newman's two excellent overview volumes, Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books, has led me to some fairly unusual finds. Case in point: Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl, which is — or so claims the Grove Press edition currently in print--"the most important work of modern Iranian literature." Originally published in Bombay in 1937 under the Persi... Read More
The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson
William Hope Hodgson's first published novel, The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907), is a story of survival after a disaster at sea, and of the monstrous plant and animal life-forms that the survivors encountered while trying to reach home. In his second book, the now-classic The House on the Borderland (1908), Hodgson described an old recluse's battle against swine creatures from the bowels of the Earth, and the old man's subsequent cosmic journey through both time and space. And in his third novel, 1909's The Ghost Pirates, Hodgson returned to that milieu for which eight hard years at sea had provided such an extensive background.
The book takes the form of a narrative told by able-bodied seaman Jessop, who had been sailing on the Mortzestus from San Francisco to (what we can only presume to be) England. As its name suggests, the ship has something of t... Read More
Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
At one point in William Hjortsberg's masterful horror novel, Falling Angel, Epiphany Proudfoot, a 17-year-old voodoo priestess, tells the detective hero Harry Angel, "you sure know a lot about the city." The city in question is the New York of 1959, and if Angel knows a lot about this crazy burg, then Hjortsberg, in the course of this tale, demonstrates that he knows even more.
While much has been said of this book's scary elements — its voodoo ceremonies and Black Mass meeting and horrible murders — what impressed me most about this tale is the incredible attention to realistic detail that the author invests it with. I don't know if the author grew up in this town in the '50s or just did a remarkable research job, but the reader really does get the impression that this book (which came out in 1978) was written a few decades earlier. Roosevelt Island is called Welfare Island, quite ... Read More
The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
William Hope Hodgson's first published novel, The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907), is a tale of survival after a foundering at sea, replete with carnivorous trees, crab monsters, bipedal slugmen and giant octopi. In his now-classic second novel, The House on the Borderland, which was released the following year, Hodgson, remarkably, upped the ante, and the result is one of the first instances of "cosmic horror" in literature, and a stunning amalgam of science fiction and macabre fantasy. An inspiration for no less a practitioner than H.P. Lovecraft, the book really is a parcel of malign wonders. Once read, it will not be easily forgotten. I myself read the book for the first time some 20-odd years ago, an... Read More
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
A novella-length piece written by a Swiss pastor in 1842 that initially seems to serve more as a religious parable than anything else — an unlikely choice as a Top 100 Horror selection, one would think. And yet, there it is, Jeremias Gotthelf's The Black Spider (or, as it was titled in its original German, Die schwarze Spinne), holding pride of place in Stephen Jones and Kim Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books. In his article in that volume, author Thomas Tessier refers to the novella as "one of those relatively rare examples of an outstanding horror novel that deservedly ranks among the best of world literature." And in his scholarly introduction to the currently in pr... Read More
The Boats of the Glen Carrig by William Hope Hodgson
The conventional words of wisdom for any aspiring new author have long been "write what you know," a bit of advice that English author William Hope Hodgson seemingly took to heart with his first published novel, The Boats of the Glen Carrig. Before embarking on his writing career, Hodgson had spent eight years at sea, first as an apprentice for four years and then, after a two-year break, as a third mate for another long stretch. And those hard years spent at sea were put to good use not only in The Boats of the Glen Carrig, but in his third novel, The Ghost Pirates, and in many of his short stories and poems as well. According to August Derleth, "No other writer — not Conrad nor Melville nor any other — has so consistently dealt with the eternal mystery of the sea," a sentiment very closely echoed by Read More
Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Cawthorn & Moorcock's Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, Three Hearts and Three Lions had long been on my "must read someday" list. This compactly written epic of "hard fantasy" was first serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1953 and released in an expanded book format in 1961. Author Poul Anderson was seemingly well suited to write this tale. The son of Scan... Read More
Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
I once met a woman in a bookstore who was in the process of buying Harry Harrison's 1965 classic Bill, the Galactic Hero. She told me that she'd read it many times already, and that it was the funniest book ever. Well, I've never forgotten that conversation, and had long been meaning to ascertain whether or not this woman was right. It took me almost 20 years to get around to this book, but having just finished Bill, the Galactic Hero, I must say that it is very amusing indeed.
In it, we meet Bill (no last name is ever provided), a simple farm lad on Phigerinadon II, who is shanghaied into the galactic emperor's army to fight in the war against the lizardlike Chingers. And what a grueling odyssey Bill goes through before all is said and done! He experiences a boot camp from hell, serves aboard the starship Christine Keeler and is almost killed, gets lost on the plane... Read More
The House of Souls: The Best of Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen
I had been wanting to check out Arthur Machen's 1906 collection of short stories, entitled The House of Souls, for quite some time; ever since I had read two highly laudatory pieces written about this work and its author. The first was H.P. Lovecraft's comments in his widely referred to essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," in which he claims "Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen." And, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books, T.E.D. Klein, in his essay on The House... Read More
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
In the 1978 horror movie Martin, writer/director George A. Romero presented us with a young man who enjoys killing people and drinking their blood, but who may or may not be a so-called "vampire"; the film is wonderfully ambiguous all the way down the line on that score. Seventeen years before Martin skulked through the dreary suburbs of Pittsburgh, however, another unconventional vampire was given to the world, in the pages of Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood. (Actually, an apology may be in order right now, as that last is a bit of a spoiler; the sanguinary habits of the central character of Sturgeon's novel are only revealed toward the story's conclusion. However, seeing that the back cover of the book's current incarnation, the one from Millipede Press, gives away even more spoiler details than this, perhaps I may be excused here.)
Theodore Sturgeon, of course, is a writer... Read More