Of science-fiction, that is. Tales that are strange, thoughtful, speculative, and humorous, by a largely-forgotten man from the golden age of the genre.
The thirteen tales are:
Fee of the Frontier
Manners of the Age
This World Must Die!
Outbreak of Peace
The Transmutation of Muddles
The Envoy, Her
Let There be Light
The Talkative Tree
“Dunraven Bleak, the managing editor of The Evening Balloon, sat at his desk in the center of the local-room, under a furious cone of electric light. It was six o’clock of a warm summer afternoon: he was filling his pipe and turning over the pages of the Final edition of the paper, which had just come up from the press-room. After the turmoil of the day the room had quieted, most of the reporters had left, and the shaded lamps shone upon empty tables and a floor strewn ankle-deep with papers. Nearby sat the city editor, checking over the list of assignments for the next morning. From an adjoining kennel issued occasional deep groans and a strong whiff of savage shag tobacco, blown outward by the droning gust of an electric fan. These proved that the cartoonist (a man whose sprightly drawings were born to an obbligato of vehement blasphemy) was at work within.”
So begins this droll, scathing, fantastic, and charming satire of prohibition and do-gooding tyranny. The Pan-Antis seem bent on banning everything. Even fermentable fruit and vegetables. It is enough for a man to be dragged off to the asylum if he is suspected of even thinking about having a drink. Against this, an underground movement foments unrest—and ferments not a little wine too.
The edition from Owlfoot Press includes prohibition-era illustrations by James Montgomery Flagg, as exemplified above.
The four dark tales here gathered represent Gothic at its literary high-point. Inexorable doom, cursed life, a grim setting, and nameless horror all find their place. The crown of these stories is perhaps the first, “The Headsman”, a long and well-woven tale of life gone awry. The second, “The Iron Shroud”, shows a Romantic-Gothic fascination with the medieval, and has its own take on the motif of time ticking away and walls closing in. The third, “Horror: A True Tale”, is the epitome of Gothic fiction: an old mansion, a hideous visitation, and a blighted life. The fourth, called “The Thirteenth”, is set, like the first, in Germany, and imparts in the reader the dread sense that, whatever may ensue, a happy ending is not to be found.
“The crowd was there—the living crowd eager for death—palpitating with excitement—each heart beating with one pitiless feeling of greedy cruelty. And the bells still rang ceaselessly their merry, joyous, fête-like peal.”
After nightfall, in the market-place of Hammelburg, the wretched and crippled form of the witchfinder crouches alone before the smoking cinders of his latest victim. Bloodlust and vengeful bitterness, mistaken in himself for holy zeal, are yet unsated. In him there stirs already the desire to seek another. But for this poor creature, both tormentor and tormented, relief may yet come in a way unexpected.