Short Reviews – Breath of Beelzebub, by Larry Sternig

Breath of Beelzebub by Larry Sternig appeared in the Winter 1946 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at

I’ve noted in the past that drug-use, particularly use of hallucinogens, are so prevalent in pulp science fiction that it’s a wonder that it took rock music decades to fully catch up. Sometimes the drugs invoke nightmarish visions and are used to subdue or control, while other times, they’re purely recreational and often a lark.

In Breath of Beelzebub, it’s purely a lark, but the symptoms described could make this compound similar to those used in the noir thriller The Martian Circe to lull and seduce attendees of a secretive pop-up bar to make them disappear.

While there’s not a lot of story to Breath of Beelzebub, the parade of the bizarre and grotesque it offers is rather colorful. A guy has discovered a new lichen which can be distilled into a powerful aerosolized intoxicant. The planetoid it was discovered on has been destroyed by a meteor, but the guy still has a supply of the stuff and he wants to offer it to Universal Liquors, Inc.

Needless to say, when they plan on having a little “demonstration” for the chief executive, disaster strikes—a whole vial ends up in the mermaid tank. Hilarity and mass cognitive dissociation ensues.

And because, why not?

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