Book Review: Lambda I and Other Stories

Book Review: Lambda I and Other Stories edited by John Carnell

New Worlds was a British science fiction magazine that started professional publication in 1946.  Despite some financial hiccups, it was a reasonably good seller, and was still going in the early 1960s when the stories chosen for this anthology were published.  The editor picked stories that had gotten a good reception in Great Britain, but never before published in America.   According to his introduction, this was the first paperback anthology of “foreign” science fiction stories published in the U.S.

Lambda I and Other Stories

“Lambda I” by Colin Kapp leads off with a transportation engineer being visited by an old friend.  It turns out the friend is a psychologist, here to try to reconcile the engineer and that man’s estranged wife.  The science fiction part comes in with the Tau transportation system, which uses a dimensional shift to send ships directly through the Earth so that one can travel in straight lines from one point to another.

It turns out that the Tau system has an inherent stability problem, and if a ship ever became locked into the never-actually-seen-before Omega frequency, disaster would ensue.  The engineer’s futile attempts to forestall this problem led to the stress that caused his marriage to collapse.

Oh, guess what!  Yes, a ship has gone into Omega frequency.  Yes, if it isn’t fixed, the entire Eastern Seaboard will be destroyed.  Yes, the engineer’s wife is aboard and she’s carrying his child!   Yes, there are only a few hours before the dimensional rift, and the one thing that might have a chance of getting the two protagonists there in time is an experimental prototype without proper shielding.

There’s some hallucinatory sequences that would have blown the budget in any 1960s movie as our heroes explore the weird dimensional shift that the lost ship in stranded in.  It turns out that psychic vibrations affect the Tau system, so the psychologist is the one who saves the day.

“Basis for Negotiation” by Brian W. Aldiss takes place in the then-near future of 1971.  America and Red China are at war, with the possibility of escalation into nuclear attacks imminent.  In a startlingly tone-deaf moment, the British Prime Minister has declared Great Britain strictly neutral.  He’s ordered all American military forces out of the British Isles, and is planning to Brexit from NATO.

Sir Simon, Chair of Moral History at the University College of East Lincoln, is livid.   True, he might not currently be in the government, but he feels a deep interest in public affairs.  He must get to London and see what can be done to fix this!  The remainder of the story is his journey to Whitehall and what he finds there.

This story was turned down by all the American magazines Mr. Aldiss submitted it to, possibly because it’s a bit too “insider cricket” (there’s a very House of Cards moment at the end), but it might also have been the relatively sympathetic portrayal of gay Communist David.

Yes, David was in favor of disarmament, but as part of a global reduction of arms, not a unilateral surrender.  And yes, he’s a Communist, but he is by George a British Communist.  One can’t fault his courage or moral fiber, but his combat judgement is poor.  Also, his obsession with classism makes him a very irritating companion for long car trips.

The science part of the science fiction comes in at the last moment and puts a very different cast on what the actions of various characters leads up to.

“Quest” by Lee Harding takes us to a future where robots are everywhere and everywhere looks exactly the same.  One man senses that this is wrong, and goes in search of something, anything, real.  He may be too late.  A grim story.

“All Laced Up” by George Whitley is a comedic tale about interior design.  You may have noticed that iron lace isn’t around much any more.  Especially the really intricate handcrafted stuff.  It turns out there’s a reason for that.  Unusual for having a female…villain? whose motive is pretty much entirely financial.

“Routine Exercise” by Philip E. High involves a time traveling nuclear submarine.  Has a mandatory twist at the end, but some very evocative scenes as the submariners try to figure out what’s going on while being hunted by aliens.

“Flux” by Michael Moorcock is set in a unified Europe of the future.  Max File, prototype superbrain, is called in because the ruling council has discovered that society is going to crash in the next few years.  They don’t know how, and fear that any action by the government to stall the crash will cause it instead.  However, they have a time machine.

File turns out to be the sole living subject of an experiment in creating artificial supergeniuses through vaguely-described education of children.  All the others went mad, and File might have joined them, but the scientists purged much of the excess knowledge from his brain.  He is still, however, the most flexible mind on Earth, and the only one who can be trusted with a time machine to go into the near future to gather information.

File arrives in the ruined future, and learns of the disastrous effects of several different social experiments that collapsed civilization in various ways.  He attempts to return to his present, only to discover that time machines don’t work that way.

Things get progressively weirder as File continues his quest, and finally learns the true nature of time itself.  This allows him to accomplish his goal…sort of.

Mr. Moorcock would soon take the helm of New Worlds and turn it into a haven for the experimental “New Wave” style of science fiction.  This is definitely a forerunner of the movement.

And we finish with “The Last Salamander” by John Rackham.  A coal-burning power plant awakens something from prehistory.  A living thing that is at a temperature that no human could withstand.   One of the workers (actually a company spy) must figure out a way to destroy the creature before it destroys all the workers and surrounding area.   It’s a bit of a sad story, and would have made a good episode of The Outer Limits.

I like “All Laced Up” and “The Last Salamander” best, but “Basis for Negotiation” and “Flux” are pretty good too.  “Quest” is perhaps too predictable.

Recommended to fans of British science fiction, and especially to those who favor Michael Moorcock and Brian W. Aldiss.

 

Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 14: 1951-1953

Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 14: 1951-1953 by Chester Gould

Another of the fine IDW reprints which are trying to cover the entire Chester Gould run of Dick Tracy, moving into the early 1950s.  As mentioned in the Max Allan Collins introduction, the stories shifted focus a bit.  Dick Tracy is a full time father now, and those concerns take up some of his time.  As well, forensic science was beginning to catch up with the comic strips, so more of that was included as part of the action.

Dick Tracy Volume 18 1951-1953

The volume begins with Crewy Lou’s flight from justice, which is complicated by the fact that she’s accidentally abducted Bonny Braids, Dick and Tess’ infant daughter who started the whole plotline when Crewy Lou photographed her.  They go deep into the mountains, and the desperate woman finally abandons the baby in the smashed-up car.  It’s late fall, and the temperatures are dropping…Bonny Braids is turning blue…would Chester Gould really go ahead and kill the baby?

With his family reunited, Tracy then finds himself the subject of investigation–evidence has gone missing from the police station, evidence Dick was the last to touch.  It didn’t help that Dick Tracy had just built a fine new house and had a brand new car on a cop’s salary.  The main villain this time is “Spinner” ReCord, an electronic entertainment and record store owner.  He was especially cold-blooded, crating himself up with a corpse for hours on a train.  But not, as it happened, quite cold-blooded enough as he is eventually caught due to his body heat.

The supplemental article in this issue talks a bit about how this sequence was modified for comic book publication a few years later when the Comics Code was in force.  A girl’s arms were crudely erased to avoid showing bondage, and a particularly brutal beating was replaced with a text panel that skips over that.

This is followed by one of the most striking Dick Tracy sequences, as Junior Tracy falls in love for the first time (and is now established as a teenager.)  Model Jones is a lovely young woman of decent character, but saddled with drunkard parents and a juvenile delinquent brother.  Gould’s point here is that neglecting your children for alcohol will destroy the family.  Model is killed by her brother (mostly accidentally) and he and their parents mourn the wasted lives as he is sent to prison.

Junior mourns as well, but the world moves on with the initially kind of silly Tonsils story.  Tonsils is a young man with a loud clear voice and a strange way of moving his hands when he “sings.”  He has a poor memory for lyrics, and can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but his manager Dude thinks Tonsils is the next sensation.  Dude wants to quit the rackets, but still has a racketeer’s way of doing things, using a gun to coerce people into giving Tonsils a shot.

Surprise!  Tonsils is exactly the sort of giftedly bad novelty singer the American public wants, and he becomes locally famous.  Unfortunately, Dude’s old racketeer buddies decide that he should not have left the rackets, killing him and nearly killing Tonsils.  This unbalances the lad, and he winds up getting himself on the run from the law due to his mistaken belief that he’s been betrayed.

At this point, Tonsils is picked up by a far more dangerous villain, Mr. Crime.  From his hidden lair beneath a barracuda-infested swimming pool, Mr. Crime is the current leader of the rackets.  He coerces Tonsils into making an assassination attempt on Dick Tracy, and then starts moving against the detective himself.  Mr. Crime is ably assisted by Newsuit Nan, a fashion plate biochemist who has a fascination with blood.

With Mr. Crime and his gang out of the way, there’s a power vacuum in the underworld, which gambler Odds Zon plans to fill.  He tries a combination of torture and bribery to get Dick Tracy off the case, but it obviously doesn’t work.  Things get more complicated when the Plenty family takes in his daughter Susie, who becomes known as Little Wings due to her hair looking like a pair of angel wings.  And this angel glows in the dark!  Uh-oh.

This volume holds off on the truly grotesque looking villains; the most odd appearance is Tonsils’ habit of squinting one eye and bugging out the other.  The Model Jones story is the most “real” seeming due to its down to earth nature.  There is of course considerable violence, and some torture.

This isn’t the most famous period of Gould’s work, but it’s good solid adventure strip territory.  The end piece talks (in addition to the bowdlerization of the comic books) about what Mr. Gould was up to in real life in those years, and the strip’s effects in real life.

Recommended to fans of classic newspaper comics.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...