Short Reviews – Tooth or Consequences, by Robert Bloch

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Tooth or Consequences, by Robert Bloch appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Oof.

Well, not quite an oof, even though maybe it should have been an oof.

In Tooth or Consequences, Master of Horror Robert Bloch tells the story of a struggle between a vampire and his dentist that by all rights should’ve been terrible but is dragged kicking and screaming across the threshold of “Okay, that was entertaining enough,” by his excellent writing that successfully merged humor and horror without one too badly stepping on the other.

It’s really not so bad as the name or the art would imply.

A dentist gets a new patient with deformed teeth.

The patient is a vampire.

Naturally, this freaks the dentist out.

While the vampire is visiting the hospital for dental work, he’s also stopping in on the medical supplies to swipe some blood.

The dentist tries to figure out some way to stop the vampire. The vampire’s all “Look, man, it’s not like I want to be a vampire–I’m just stealing blood from the hospital, don’t make me bite your neck.”

The dentist decides to treat him like any other patient. Kills him with a silver filling. Laugh-line. Applause.

Again, this should’ve been awful, but somehow it works. It’s also one of the shorter stories in the issue, so it helps that it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Short Reviews – Keep it Simple, by Frances M. Deegan

[Originally posted here at Castalia House]

Keep it Simple, by Frances M. Deegan appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

I haven’t really read enough Spy-Fi from this period to accurately judge Frances M. Deegan’s Keep It Simple. While it wasn’t quite as high-tension thrilling as the first half of Heinlein’s Gulf, it didn’t wet itself with high-concept wankery at end, and managed to offer a consistently enjoyable, if not particularly groundbreaking, read.

You’ve got a no-nonsense, man-of-action agent who’s been burned, a cute Russo-Slavic dame with a thick accent who’s actually an alien princess or something, and a tidy little Men In Black-style “Aliens are living among us” story that gets the two of them together despite some Cold War-era diplomatic entanglements.

The tale begins with Mike Bannon being dressed down by his friend benefactor, the wealthy Washington tycoon JP Snell, over an incident in which Bannon drove off with Felice, the daughter of the Merovian minister, in the minister’s own private motor car. Papa was a spy, and the daughter wanted out; Bannon was hoping he could give it to her, but the incident puts him on the outs. Snell’s VP, Corboy, gets Bannon sent out to Mount Morgan on pretext to carry out a survey; effectively, the FBI dump him on a mountain to die—he can easily be “disappeared” here without notice: a mountaineering mishap perhaps?

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Short Reviews – The Lost Bomb, by Rog Phillips

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Lost Bomb by Rog Phillips appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Rog Phillips certainly dominates this issue of Amazing stories with around 50k words of his fiction. Unlike Slaves of the Crystal Brain, The Lost Bomb is published under his own name.

The Lost Bomb is two tales intertwined. Or maybe not intertwined so much as convergent. On one branch of the story, a group of scientists are testing out an all new atomic super weapon, creatively named the “Super Bomb”. A mysterious accident occurs and the bomb vanishes, replaced by a strange blue cloud of unknown energies that is swiftly moving across the planet. What is it? What dangers does it pose to mankind? What happened to the bomb!?

On the other branch of the story, a con man with a beautiful daughter with a heart of gold has built a cosmic whirligig that’s going make him a lot of money. Horace Quinley’s “Cosmic Energy Convert” is really just a bunch of junk that he’s soldered and welded together to look like some serious science machinery. He’s running an illicit power line off the local grid and putting on a show with it for investors who are planning on giving him lots of money for what they think is some kind of Tesla-esque free-power engine.

Quinley’s in a race against time with the hero of the story, Harry Shaw, a lineman for the electric company who’s on his way up; Harry’s fallen head over heels for Ann Quinley, but it’s his job to find the power leak and shut it down.

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Short Reviews – If This Be Utopia…, by Kris Neville

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

If This Be Utopia… by Kris Neville appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Kris Neville’s “If this Be Utopia…” is a classic example of one of those “warning what the future will be like under this or that political system” sci-fi fables.

In a future where everyone lives under a planned economy, tooled by the state for maximum efficiency (one of those each according to their abilities, each according to their needs, but also the luck of the draw type deals), we meet Mr. Morrison, a mid-level social administrator type who’s struggling to keep his head above water, overusing his alcohol ration cards and getting his hands on more illicitly because he needs it just to keep going.

It’s Mr. Morrison’s job to rate the efficiency of those below him—primarily menial labor workers in mines and factories—and report his finding to those above him. The responsibility is taking its toll, and he bemoans that the common laborer, at least, may leave his work behind him at the end of the day, while the office worker and administrator takes his work home, forever unfinished, to weigh on him at all hours until he resumes it the next day. Basically the whole “all classes envy aspects of the other and utopian efficiency is far from idyllic; actually it’s a nightmare” thing.

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Short Reviews – Slaves of the Crystal Brain, by Rog Phillips (as William Carter Sawtelle)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Slaves of the Crystal Brain, by Rog Phillips (as William Carter Sawtelle), was featured in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Slaves of the Crystal Brain has probably been the best pulp story I’ve read in a while. Sure, there was some okay stuff in the issue of Fantastic Story that I reviewed, and the older Kuttner reprint was particularly good, but this is the kind of story that I found in the pulps that made me excited to read the pulps.

Slaves is one of those classic fusions of detective/cop thriller plus mad science mystery that’s just fun to read. In the not-too-distant future of 1970, Joe January is part of a special top secret government agency that’s been tasked with keeping tabs on America’s scientists. They’re just working on stuff that’s too weird, wild and woolly to fall into the wrong hands, and some scientists have been mysteriously disappearing.

One of the scientists Joe January has to check in on, Dr. Atkinson, reveals that he’s discovered what happened to one of the missing scientists, Dr. William Henry Howe: he was abducted by an entity called a penth—a sphere of complete and utter darkness. Atkinson’s developed both a device to detect when a penth is nearby and a weapon which may be able to disrupt them. Atkinson’s barely able to reveal this information to the G-Man before he’s completely consumed by a penth, right in front of January!

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Retro-ad Friday

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Doing something a little different for this Retro Fandom Friday.

Honestly, none of the letters in this issue of Fantastic Story Magazine really grabbed me, and I’m not steeped enough in that fandom to appreciate or get a lot of the references yet.

There were a few shout-outs regarding C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s “Earth’s Last Citadel”, which may have been my least favorite C.L. Moore than I’ve read for reasons I’ve mentioned before, but nothing felt remarkable enough to highlight.

So, instead, I thought I’d share some vintage pulp advertisements from this issue. That’ll be fun, right? Maybe you’ll be able to ask Santa for some of these.

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Short Reviews – Split Personality, by William Morrison

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Split Personality by William Morrison appeared in the Winter 1954 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine. It can be read here at archive.org. 

This is one heck of a weird story! Chut-chut, a humanoid alien (a bihumanoid) with a bifurcated head is brought to a shrink to analyze why he’s suffering from headaches and horrible visions in one of his heads. The government needs Chut-chut in tip-top shape for the job that they’re having him perform, but there are no specialists in bihumanoid psychology or psychiatry to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with the poor creature.

Bihumanoids are as bizarre as you’d expect from two-headed creatures. While they look more or less human, aside from the two heads, they are born in thousands from eggs, without knowledge of their father or mother, and their heads eventually bifurcate after a series of moltings, following which certain vision and cognitive abilities either develop or decay in each head as the bihumanoid

Needless to say, standard practices of human psychology and application of Freud don’t yield any results on the alien being, and Split Personality ends up being a clever spoof on the pseudo-science of analytic psychology.

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