The Mysterious Force and Other Anomalous Phenomena

Long time readers of this blog won’t be surprised that, after hearing Brian Stableford cite Rosny’s The Mysterious Force as an influence on Théo Varlet’s The Xenobiotic Invasion, I decided to read it.

Low Res Scan: The Mysterious Force and Other Anomalous Phenomena, J. -H. Rosny Aîné, trans. Brian Stableford, 2010. 

Cover by Vincent Laik

Depending on which source I’m reading (Brian Stableford or the Brothers Lofficier), Rosny vies with Albert Robida for the title of second most significant writer of French science fiction after Jules Verne. These days he’s mostly remembered for the prehistoric fantasy Quest for Fire which was made into a movie. But there was much more to Rosny than prehistoric fantasies.

Since this is the third of eight Rosny books put out by Black Coat Press, Stableford’s “Introduction” doesn’t include a lot of detail on Rosny’s life and works.

The Catacylsm” is certainly worth reading, but I’ve already reviewed it elsewhere under its alternate title “Tornadres”.

The remarkable The Mysterious Force was published as La Force mystérieuse in 1913 and it’s pretty clear this was an inspiration for Théo Varlet’s The Xenobiotic Invasion. Here it’s not an alien fungus that alters civilization but an alien life form that may come from space and, possibly, an alternate dimension.

Both alien invasions greatly degrade technologies relying on electromagnetism. But Rosny’s novel is much more complex in its plot and concepts. 

Things get off to a rapid start with Georges Meyral, a scientist, noticing something has altered light. Double refraction lines can be detected and the spectrum seems to be disappearing starting with its ulltraviolet end. Meyral summons his friend Antonin Langre over to his home. Langre is a somewhat embittered scientist. A younger colleague stole his work which went on to great acclaim. A signficant part of the novel is the two scientists’ investigations into this new phenomena and it ends with their somewhat tenuous speculations. Rosny gives us detailed descriptions of that work.

Langre’s work is is interrupted by a call from his daughter Sabine. She has finally left her loutish husband Vérranes. He is sometimes abusive and always self-pitying. Meyral loves Sabine, but he never proposed to her. He didn’t think it right to do so given that he regards the older Langre as a mentor. He doesn’t even say anything when an exasperated Langre says he wishes Meyral would have married his daughter.

But the trip to get Sabine reveals a “fevered humanity” on the streets of Paris. Tempers are flaring and murderous mobs roam about. But Meyarl manages to find Sabine and her two children in a train station and get them back to Langre.

Continue reading

The Ultimate Werewolf

This isn’t Halloween programming. It contains a story by Kathe Koja, and I’m working on a couple of postings of her work.

Raw Feed (1993): The Ultimate Werewolf, eds. Byron Preiss, David Keller, Megan Miller, and John Betancourt, 1991.ultimate-werewolf

Introduction”, Harlan Ellison — Ellison makes an interesting case regarding the movie The Wolf Man as the inspiration for most modern werewolf tales, the reason the sub-genre became popular, and the source of most of the werewolf folklore movies and literature.

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54’ N Longitude 77° 00’ 13”, Harlan Ellison — It’s a great title and some of the writing and ideas are very good. I particularly liked Lawrence Talbot’s much hated fish and the idea of minituarizing yourself to travel a literal and fantastic inner landscape. Ellison does a good job with the scientific sounding doubletalk. However, the story bored me, and I found it alternately trivial and incomprehensible. Clearly, Ellison is trying to say something. The various images are designed to meet symbolic and thematic purposes: Talbot’s thoughts of mother link to entering his body through the navel and blood red placenta-like sea, his much hated pet fish links to the deadly fish of his interior landscape who kills dreams and dies at story’s end for lack of a worshipper, Talbot has the same name as the protagonist of the movie The Wolf Man but that end is unclear, or, worse, trivial. In his interior landscape, Talbot finds alls sorts of toys from a 30s and 40s childhood in a burst of nostalgia that reminded me of Ellison’s “Jefty Is Five” but not nearly as well-used here. (If Talbot is really that young, why does he want to die so badly? He can’t be an unnaturally old man at the time of the story. Is it the guilt? Another failing is no dealing with the relationship between Talbot and Victor’s father.) The point of the story is that it’s only one’s soul that makes life valueable but this soul quantity is unknowable and symbolized by, of all things, a “Howdy Doody button” (and, no, Ellison doesn’t assign specific human attributes like humor, naiveté, or innocence to the button). My reaction was much like Victor’s: “What the hell’s that supposed to signify…”. A story that never really gelled into anything.

Wolf, Iron, and Math”, Philip José Farmer — A slight story but better than I expected. The two major points of interest in this story are Farmer dwelling on the many details of the werewolf transformation experience, and a pleasant experience it i,s and the werewolf magazine complete with personals section in which people promise not to eat their date’s children. Continue reading

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: The Devil Genghis

Fortress of Solitude Devil Genghis

The Devil Genghis, by Lester Dent writing as Kenneth Robeson, 1938.

The Devil Genghis is a novel in the long running Doc Savage pulp magazine series that ran from March 1933 to July 1947.

Doc Savage, aka Clark Savage, Jr., and his five aides, all of them with military rank going back to the Great War, go “from one end of the world to the other, looking for excitement and adventure, striving to help those who needed help, punishing those who deserved it” as stated in the very first installment of the series, The Man of Bronze.

While Doc’s “Fantastic Five” all fought in the Great War, direct references to the war are rare in the series. We hear about how the nicknames of Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett “Monk” Mayfair and Brigadier General Theodore Marley “Ham” Brooks go back to practical jokes they played on each other during the war. Major Thomas J. “Long Tom” Roberts got his nickname, at least in one version, after repelling an enemy attack by loading an old “Long Tom” cannon in a French village square with broken bottles and cutlery. Continue reading

The Doc Savage Binge

I haven’t bothered to look up a lot of other people’s reviews of Doc Savage novels. However, I have liked the ones I’ve seen over at Brian Lindsey’s Groovy Age of Horror, so I’ll link to them. Be warned, though. All those scans of Italian fumetti earn the adult content warning for the site.

These aren’t my reviews of Doc Savage novels, just impressions. Plenty of spoilers are ahead.

Cold DeathCold Death was not a good return to Doc after eight years. The superscience weapon of VAR, the villain, was not really explained even by pulp standards. Some combo of a mysterious element and a ray. Or so I remember and I couldn’t be bothered to check that memory.

And we never leave New York City. I was relieved that this was authored by Lawrence Donovan. If a Dent-penned Savage novel was so disappointing, I would have been worried. Great James Bama cover. Continue reading

Visiting Doc Again

I haven’t just been reading Ambrose Bierce during the last three months.

I’ve been hanging out with the Bronze Guy, Doc Savage.

The excuse was preparing for Arcana 44 about three months back.

Anthony Tollin was a Guest of Honor. A former comic book colorist and editor, these days he’s an expert on old time radio shows, the sinister pulp hero the Shadow, and an editor at Nostalgia Ventures where he oversees the reprinting of various pulp magazine stories including Doc Savage.

I hoped he’d have samples of those Doc Savage reprints. He did. The advertising worked. I’ve since bought several including some with stories I already had from the Bantam Book reprint series.

So Who Is Doc Savage?

The Doc Savage cycle starts in March 1933 and continues today. It includes radio shows, comic books, reprints of pulp stories, and additions to the saga written yet today. Continue reading