IN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904) by Robert W Chambers. Previously Balladeer’s Blog examined Chambers’ underrated horror classic The King in Yellow. The work we’re looking at this time around is a collection of short stories about Gilland the Zoologist. Gilland was a forerunner of the real-life Frank “Bring ’em Back Alive” Buck and the fictional Indiana Jones.
Our daring hero worked for the Bronx Zoological Gardens and was frequently dispatched by Professor Farrago to try to bring in dangerous crypto-zoological specimens or disprove their existence if they were hoaxes. The stories in this volume:
I. THE HARBOR MASTER – Gilland is sent north to Hudson Bay where a Harbor Master has reported capturing a pair of Great Auks, flightless birds which went extinct in the mid-1800s. The two-fisted scholar finds the Great Auks are for real but the Harbor Master harbors (see what I did there) a sinister secret.
This story also features the Harbor Master’s beautiful secretary, who naturally catches Gilland’s eye, and a gilled merman (shades of Creature From The Black Lagoon), who wants to mate with the lovely lady himself. Gilland’s not having it, of course, and must do battle with the creature.
II. IN QUEST OF THE DINGUE – The Graham Glacier melts, unleashing a number of animals from species that were long thought extinct. Among the crowd of academics converging on the unexplored area are Gilland and Professor Smawl. The Professor is a sexy, strong-willed female scholar that our hero has been forced to accompany into the region.
The battle of the sexes bickering flies like shrapnel as the pair encounter Woolly Mammoths and other creatures, find a primitive bell called a dingue and run afoul of a gigantic super-powered woman who calls herself the Spirit of the North. Continue reading
PSI CASSIOPEIA, or STAR: A MARVELOUS HISTORY OF WORLDS IN OUTER SPACE (1854) – Written by Dr Charlemagne Ischer Defontenay, a French M.D. and author. Long before J.R.R. Tolkien churned out obsessive amounts of fine detail about his fictional Middle Earth, Defontenay produced this volume of history, poetry and drama from his fictional planets in the star system Psi Cassiopeia.
The narrator of the story is supposedly translating alien documents which he discovered in an artificial meteor that crashed in the Himalayas. The documents were from a planet called (incongruously enough) “Star.”
The system where that planet is located is a three-star system. Ruliel is the large, white star at the center, around which orbit the two lesser stars Altether (green) and Erragror (blue). The planet called Star is orbited by large planetoids/ moons named Tassul, Lessur, Rudar and Elier. Throwing all science to the winds the planet is also orbited by a small red star called Urrias.
Star and its satellites are inhabited except, of course, for Urrias. The translated documents cover a roughly 1,000 year period of events regarding these worlds. The ancient Starian humanoids formed a united world-wide culture which started as an Empire before becoming a socialist planet economically and politically. The documents also claim that their culture boasted beautiful architecture, incredible feats of engineering and awe-inspiring works of art.
At one point a plague swept the globe, reducing the proud Starian civilization to chaos. A Nihilist Cult formed as the plague kept whittling away at the population over the course of years. In the post-apocalyptic ruins the Nihilists formed a fanatical religion devoted to ending all life on Star. The zealots formed armies which exterminated millions of Starians with the intention of taking their own lives when all non-members of their cult had been wiped out. Continue reading
THE WRECK OF A WORLD (1889) – Written by W. Grove. (No other name available) This novel is the sequel to Grove’s A Mexican Mystery, an ahead-of-its-time work about a train engine devised to have artificial intelligence. The machine – called only The Engine in that story – rebelled and took to preying on human beings in horrific fashion. For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of that novel click HERE
The Wreck of a World is not a direct sequel to A Mexican Mystery but does use one of that novel’s elements as its springboard: the deliciously frightening notion that the Engine’s artificial intelligence might have included the capacity to design and build others of its kind. Though A Mexican Mystery never explored that concept, Grove deals with it in much more detail in this second novel.
Our story begins in what was to Grove “the far future” of 1949. After a fairly superficial depiction of the world’s political and scientific situation in this imaginary future the meat of the tale begins. All in all the author did not present 1940s technology as being much more advanced than what was available in the 1880s. Grove might have done better to set his tale in 1899 or just into the 1900s to detract from his lack of vision on this particular element.
The revolt of the machines begins with train engines, presumably as a nod to the memorably malevolent Engine from Grove’s previous novel. The engines begin constructing others of their kind with the same robotic arms and with each new edition flaunting deadlier and deadlier weaponry to boot.
The engines soon modify themselves beyond the need for train tracks and become more like tanks, so kudos to this neglected author for nicely predicting the advent of such mobile death-machines. Continue reading
(1911) – Written by J.D. Berresford. The story centers around Victor Stott, the remarkable son of Cricket star Ginger Stott. A news reporter who is on friendly terms with Ginger Stott meets his one year old child Victor during a train trip.
The reporter is disturbed by Victor’s obvious intelligence and menacing, piercing stare, thougb the prodigy’s father has forbidden the child to speak in order to avoid confirming suspicions regarding his paranormal intellect.
When Victor is five years old the anthropologist Squire Challis, another friend of the family, lets the obviously brilliant child loose in his extensive library. Victor manages to complete every book in Challis’ library in a matter of days. He then proceeds to debate and demolish all of Challis’ deeply-held views in a variety of scholarly subjects. Continue reading
WITHIN AN ACE OF THE END OF THE WORLD (1900) – Written by Robert Barr. No doubt about it, Barr was obsessed with the notion of humanity possibly bringing on its own demise through ill-considered scientific tampering. Recently Balladeer’s Blog reviewed another of his stories, The Doom of London, which mined the same creative territory.
This time around the tale is set in the “present” and the near future of 1903. In 1900 a scientist named Bonsel treats a crowd of VIPs to a lavish banquet, after which he announces that all of the food consumed was created artificially. This was done through his new process of drawing nitrogen from the atmosphere and combining it with other chemicals.
Thus the Great Food Corporation is launched, with many of the banquet’s attendees being its initial investors. The company thrives until 1903, when the Guildhall Banquet degenerates into a chaotic bacchanal and partial riot. Soon this “Guildhall Syndrome” spreads, with the most beastly aspects of human nature on display everywhere it manifests.
John Rule, a British gentleman put off by the poor taste of it all, probes deeper and determines that the scandalous orgies and accompanying violence have been caused by an atmospheric imbalance. That imbalance was caused by the Great Food Corporation’s siphoning off of too much nitrogen from Earth’s atmosphere. Continue reading
A MODERN DAEDALUS (1887) – By Tom Greer. No, the title’s not referring to James Joyce’s character Stephen Dedalus (sic) but this tale IS about Ireland. The main character is a young man named Jack O’Halloran, a recent college graduate who returns to his native Ireland.
Jack has dreamed about flying since he was a child and now he uses his genius to create a winged apparatus that can be worn by a single person to take to the skies. Our modern Daedalus flies around at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour with his new invention. Jack is thrilled but complications arise when he shares the news with his father.
Old Man O’Halloran wants to use his son’s winged apparatus to wage aerial warfare against the hated British and thereby win independence for Ireland. Our protagonist doesn’t want his invention used for such a blood-soaked purpose and in the ensuing argument his father throws him out of the house. Continue reading
THE DOOM OF LONDON (1892) – Written by Robert Barr. In the “far future” of the mid-Twentieth Century the narrator of this tale looks back at the catastrophe that hit London in the 1890s.
The premise is that our narrator is outraged by a piece written by a Professor Mowberry in which the professor ventures the opinion that the destruction of London was an overall beneficial event. His reasoning is that it got rid of millions of unnecessary people. Pretty callous attitude, unless you’re talking about getting rid of the Kardashians.
At any rate we readers are informed that in the mid-Twentieth Century fog has been completely done away with (?), preventing what happened to London in the 1890s from ever happening again. It turns out that what started out seeming to be nothing but the usual London fog was actually deadly gases unleashed from deep in the Earth by careless mining. Continue reading