widner - warner - karden - spencer:

Reviews FOR Youse

THE NEXT HUNDRED YEARS - C. C. Furnas - Reynal & Hitchcock - New York.

Here is a book which I am astonished hasn't been mentioned before in imaginist circles, since it was published in 1936.

I found it in the Post Library at Ft. Devens, and it's a must for all fen, especially the "inner circle".

It's non-fiction, and the author is prof of Chemengineering at Yale. Unfortunately I was unable to read all of it before I was shipped, but a hurried perusal, and a reading of the first 100 pages unearthed a lot of interesting stuff.

In brief, it's a summary of what science hasn't done, but what it mgt be expected to do in the next century. It actually makes one feel medieval to realize how little we really know about things.

Take medicine, for instance. The sulfa drugs and penicillin are the first really curative agents man has discovered to work against our heaviest diseases. True, we have conquered smallpox, bubonic plague, etc. but only by the negative methods of inoculations and vaccines. They are only preventive.

The rest of the book goes on in the same vein to cover the other branches of science, and show that we are really only at the frontier of knowledge. There are interjections of dry wit here and there which enliven the text and provide relief from the more technical discussions.

Altogether, it's right up your alley, imists, and opens more enthralling vistas than the average stf yarn, becoz it is fact, not fancy. Hily recommended.

-- Art Widner

THE BLUE BIRD - Maurice Maeterlinck

This is one of those books which every instinct within me revolted from reading, or even purchasing, when I saw it on a second-hand book dealer's ten cent shelf. The fact that Shirley Temple had appeared in a picture based on the play was responsible for the aversion; happily, like a good little superman, I overcame such prejudice, bought the book, read it, and am now wildly enthusiastic.

If ever something cried out for the hands of Walt Disney, this is it. Entitled by the author "A Fairy Play in Six Acts", it is quite obviously impossible of production on a suitable scale in the ordinary theatre, and I think that animated cartoons would be a far superior medium to an elaborate flesh-and-blood production if it were to be done the right way in Hollywood. For instance who but Disney could produce adequately the demand of this stage direction?--: "Then, from all the gaping tombs, there rises gradually an efflorescence at first frail and timid, like steam; then white and virginal and more and more tufty, nore and more tall and plentiful and marvellous. Little by little irresistably, it transforms the graveyard into a sort of fairy-like and nuptial garden, over which rise the first rays of the dawn. The dew glitters, the flowers open their blooms, the wind murmurs in the leaves, the bees hum, the birds wake and flood the air with the first rapture of their hymns to the sun and to life."

>From the reading angle, the book suggests rather than is complete in >itself. Its allegorical nature is known, I think, to most people >who were subjected to Shirley Temple propaganda, even though they >may not have seen the film itself. The entire thing is a most >wonderful blend of humor, fantasy, pathos, and subtle significance, >not to mention a Barnaby-like logic, as in: The Fairy: (Pointing >successively to the ceiling, the chimney and the window) Will you go >out this way, or that way, or that way? Tyltyl (pointing timidly to >the door) I would rather go out that way. The Fairy (suddenly angry >again) That's quite impossible, and it's a shocking habit!

align=right> --Harry Warner, Jr.

THE CROCK OF GOLD--James Stephens

Some strange coincidence deemed that I should be reading this when Cpl. Gus Willmorth published reference to the fact that he was doing likewise. As far as I know, it was the first fanzine reference to the volume, which is a terrible shame.

This writing is a sort of hybrid between L. Sprague De Camp and James B. Cabell, lacking the slapstick of the former, fortunately, and the deeper implications of the later, unfortunately. Nevertheless, I found this rather brief tale to be one of the most thoroughly amusing, yet beautiful, things I've come across in a long time.

It seems that somewhere in Ireland there lived two Philosophers, one of whom decides to die near the beginning of this book and by his unorthodox method of doing so and the casual way in which his friends dispose of the remains brings about trouble for the second Philosopher which provides what might by some stretch of the imagination be called a plot. There are also a number of leprechauns, and a mortal who steals their crock of gold, leading to further complications, and the virgin daughter of a native who falls in love with the Great God Pan.

The whole book is infused with a something that for lack of a better word I must call beauty; it's the sort of thing that makes it seem sacriligious when you snicker at the Philosopher's trip to jail with the Policemen even though that trip is a remarkably amusing thing, and hear again shades of Barnaby rise up, in the hopeless incompetence of ordinary people when confronted with things that don't exist, and logical actions which no one expects. Besides which there are stretches of page after page that I'd like to see quoted somewhere, of beautifully lyric prose.

The volume is short enough to read in three or four hours' time, even if you aren't a particularly fast reader, and you're a sucker if you don't investigate it.

--Harry Warner, Jr.

PENELOPE'S MAN: THE HOMING INSTINCT--John Erskine. Bobbs-Merrill--1927

John Erskine has written a whole group of books on ancient fables, poetry, etc., translated into the modern and cynical terms prevalent in the nineteen-twenties, all well worth reading. This, although inferior to some of his other works, is well worth reading, and undoubtedly one of the better satires of our generation.

With a very liberal viewpoint, and a healthy disregard for the accepted triteness of Homer, who first chronicled the tales of Odysseus, Erskine begins the saga of the Odyssey in Troy--the wooden horse incident. Odysseus is represented as a vain, self-centered man, who has been forced into the Trojan War by his own desire to escape his wife--much different, as you can see, from the accepted motives being taught in innumerable ancient history classes.

The whole book hinges on women--one of the points that make it well worth reading--and their influence in Odysseus. There undoubtedly is symbolism in this Odyssey, how the hero is repeatedly brought through different adventures with the help of woman, then kicked out when they become tired of him. Erskine only picks the incidents using women--and manages to leave both sexes in a very unfavorable light, with perhaps an edge on the side of the men. There is Helen of Troy; the naked girl of the Lotus Eaters, who wants Odysseus to give her a child, and then be killed; Circe, the Enchantress, whom he stays with a year, and turns out to become the same as her previous husbands, and is kicked out; ((kinda hammy what!))the Sirens, whom Odysseus merely finds boring; Calypso, whom he stays with seven years, and has a number of children from; Nausicaa, who is a surprise; and then his wife, Penelope, who is about to grab off a nice prince when Odysseus appears on the scene. The ending is a surprise; and makes the book well worth reading.

Sprinkled through the book, very liberally, as almost all the principal proponents go about naked, is a generous helping of pornography. This in itself would make the book well worth reading. ((Ah, these young reviewers))

But there are other things beside pornography in the book, and they all combine into a civilized, witty book, that can merit the highest praise this reviewer can give: It is well worth reading!

--Ray A. Karden

WORLD D -- Hal P. Trevarthen (Official Historian of the Superficies); being a brief account of the founding of Helioxenon. Edited by J. K. Heydon, New York: Sheed & Ward, Inc., 1935. (Printed in Great Britain.)

If you've read "The Messiah of the Cylinder", you'll have some idea of how "World D" is likely to affect you. You'll know how a book can be so startlingly good that you want to shout your joy from the rooftops--and at the same time so incredibly stupid that you hardly know whether to laugh or make a dive for a vomiting-pan.

"World D" as Walt has indicated, is in some respects deliciously good, reminiscent of the best of E. E. Smith. Consider the plot:

A great scientist taps the strange powers of the mind, opening up a whole new science of Psycho-Physics. His mental powers augmented to superhuman capacity by a series of brain-potential-boosting cells, he constructs in the red-hot magma beneath the Pacific Ocean a great cube of force to act as a shelter for selected specimens of humanity against the doom threatening our race. He sends into the outer world his daughter, to bring back a man fit to rule beside her as King of Helioxenon. The amazed newcomer witnesses the marvels of the Hallucinators, the Great Machine, the Little Machine, the Memories, and all the diverse superscientific marvels of this world within the Earth. Not the least of Helioxenon's wonders is the Psychophone, with which the scientist keeps in touch with three different worlds of distant solar systems. Truly alien civilizations are described, and the conflict of psychologies involves the shattering of the lovers' hopes unless the icily intellectual beings of Triangulum can be made to see the beauty of human love. The story is a tense drama of interstellar intrigue, bustling with vast and weirdly original comcepts. In at least one respect it is superior to Smith's stories, for while they frequently descend to blood-and-thunder action, the thrills of "World D" are conflicts of minds and personalities. This is a thoroughly adult story.

Sadly, however, there is another side to the picture. Two great weaknesses detract from the book's affect. First is the romance. It may be my own evil mind, but it seems to me that the author, for all his ravings about the spiritual beauty of love, is obsessed with the physical aspects of sex. There is one passage of pure pornography, and frequent overly-enthusiastic references to the warmth and softness of the heroine's body--a sort of between-the-lines leering. But, be that as it may, there are more serious flaws. The lovers simply do not act like human beings. The hero is bad enough, being a very thick-skulled and sentimental boob who professes to be madly in love with the Scientist Daughter about five minutes after he meets her. He shows no curiosity about the doom, which is convenient since there is no indication that the author has any idea of its nature. The lady in question is even worse, however; her combination of vast learning and intellectuality with childish naivete is very hard to swallow; moreover, her efforts to submerge her love in mimicking the opposite sex are an insult not only to manhood but to womanhood as well. (Pardon me if I seem to take this too much to heart, but "World D" could have been so good!) Throughout the book the characters act like anything but human beings; I suspect the author of being a hermit who has seen humans only at a distance, if at all.

The second flaw is the cloyingly sweet religiosity. The author (whose name is probably not Trevarthen) obviously is a person of considerable learning and splendid imagination; and it is almost unbelievable that he should accept the most reactionary orthodox religious views and mine them with science as though the two were made for each other. It is with no little surprise, for example, that one learns that evolution is guided by angels. Contraception, (which is accepted even by most Catholics) is given a thorough lambasting on the completely unscientific bases of what the author considers God's intentions, and of the mythical "safe period". As a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, the example (besides a more scientific one) is given of the Church, which we are told is not merely a union of Christians, but Christ Himself. (I suspect the Church would be surprised to know this.)

Well, there it is, a magnificent story told with spectacular incompetence. I recommend that you secure and read a copy, for it would not do for you to miss the tremendous tale of Helioxenon--just don't expect undiluted pleasure.

--Pfc. Paul Spencer

THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO--Charles G. Finney. Viking Press, 1935.

Do you enjoy Unknown Worlds? You do? Then don't miss "Circus of Dr. Lao"! For this is just the sort of utterly wacky, yet subtly logical fantasy that Unk specializes in--though, it must be confessed, it would have to be considerably expurgated for magazine publication.

If the word "Circus" calls to your mind clowns, brass bands, lions, elephants, trapeze artists, and such, forget all that right now. Dr. Lao's show is different. In fact, "different" is too mild a term. You see, he has a satyr, and a sphinx, and a werewolf, and a mermaid--and they're real! Have you ever attended the Witches' Sabbath? You haven't? Well, you'll meet up with all those things, and more, in the pages of this truly extrodinary book.

The story has no plot, no main characters, and--as far as I can see--very little sense. But it is delightful. It describes what various ordinary people saw and experienced at the mysterious Dr. Lao's very our-of-the-ordinary circus; and that's all it does. That task it accomplishes to perfection: in its disconnected, cynical, often obscure manner, it is top-notch entertainment.

The author includes at the end a "catalogue", which he subtitles "An explanation of the obvious, which must be read to be appreciated". It contains, mainly, definitions of the things mentioned in the story. Samples: clowns--pantaloons with bursting hearts; city clerk--a voice over the telephone; and so on. The book finishes with a list of some of "the questions and contradictions and obscurities".

It's a strange story, a funny story, at times a beautiful story. Look it up. Even if the story should happen to bore you, which is not likely, the glorious pictures by Artzybasheff, supreme artist of the grotesque, will surely delight you.

--Paul H. Spencer

((Thanks to Harry Warner for allowing me to reprint the foregoing review, which originally appeared in Spaceways. Incidentally, notice the remarkable improvement in Spencer's reviewing. "Lao" was reviewed in 42, "World D" in 44.))

Data entry by Judy Bemis

Updated January 17, 2015. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.