Reviews by H. E. Parmer

Talents, Incorporated

by Murray Leinster

Set in the same future milieu as Leinster\'s \"Med Service\" series as well as novels like \"Checkpoint Lambda\" and \"The Pirates of Zan\", \"Talents, Incorporated\" is a fast-moving, entertaining mashup of interstellar warfare and paranormal powers, the \"Talents\" of the book\'s title.

The peaceful, prosperous planet of Kandar is slated for conquest by the brutal dictatorship of Mekin. The Mekinese have already annexed twenty planets and built a massive war fleet. The Mekinese ultimatum gives Kandar the same choice they gave all their previous conquests: submit or die.

The Kandarian leaders are inclined to surrender immediately, to spare their people the horrors of having their cities leveled with H-bombs by the notoriously cruel and short-tempered Mekinese. Others believe their hopelessly outnumbered Navy should at least go down fighting the invaders, on the theory that it will teach the conquerors some respect for the Kandarians.

Bors, a captain in the Kandarian Navy, is a refugee from Tralee, which some years earlier faced the same choice and surrendered without a fight. He knows sending the fleet out to be annihilated will be a futile gesture, yet he\'s not going to run away from the hated Mekinese again. Not after what they did to his home.

But there\'s a third choice: take the help offered by the mysterious Morgan\'s Talents, Incorporated, a collection of misfits, neurotics and paranoids -- whose oddball paranormal abilities could turn the tide of the upcoming invasion. If Bors and the Kandarians can unlearn their natural skepticism in time to make use of those wild talents.

After all, who could believe a lonely romantic can infect people with her daydreams, or that a nondescript former clerk can predict the exact time an approaching enemy fleet will break out of overdrive?

If I have any criticism of this novel, it\'s that it was too short. I\'d have liked to see more of Morgan and his daughter Gwenlyn\'s part of the story, rather than having them only briefly appear at critical moments in Bors\' narrative.

All in all, though, this is a great read for a rainy afternoon.

Reviewed on 2013.08.31

The World Peril of 1910

by George Chetwynd Griffith

Another blood-and-thunder speculative romance by George Griffith, somewhat in the vein of his earlier works, Angel of the Revolution and Olga Romanoff.

Irish genius and fanatical revolutionary John Castellan gives his design for a submersible flying submarine with advanced weaponry to Kaiser Wilhelm, on the understanding that when he's conquered Britain, Ireland will be freed. Austria, Russia and France combine under Germany's leadership to crush the British fleet and invade Great Britain with an army of millions of men. Backed up by a squadron of these diabolical new amphibious monsters under Castellan's command, victory over the hated English and the destruction of their Empire appears certain.

Despite the terrible carnage, things don't go entirely the Allies' way. (Yes, the Allies are the bad guys in this one, which is a bit confusing at times.)

For one thing, there's the newly-commissioned "Ithuriel", a prototype of a combined submarine ram and superfast cruiser with pneumatic cannon. Under the command of her brilliant designer, Captain Erskine, she will prove a major thorn in the side of the Allied fleet.

Meanwhile, brilliant British astronomer and chemist George Lennard -- there are quite a lot of brilliant inventors in this novel, and the roster isn't yet complete -- has discovered a comet will strike the Earth within a few months. Fortunately, he's also developed a new super-explosive which will destroy this intruder from space. If, with the help of his American millionaire patron, he can build a giant cannon a la Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" in time to deliver it.

Despite the destruction of both the British and Allied fleets, the Allies have managed to land three million soldiers on British soil. Between their overwhelming numbers and the advantage Castellan's aerial armada gives them, the conquest of Britain looks to be a foregone conclusion. Even so, the British will fight the invaders to the bitter end.

Will Kaiser Willy sit on the throne of England? Or will the oncoming comet put an end to the war, by destroying the planet?

This is a George Griffith novel, so character development and intricate plotting are not to be expected. The men are stalwart and the women beautiful and courageous. The most interesting personality -- the Irish revolutionary Castellan -- gets remarkably short shrift.

Where the novel shines is in its scenes of ferocious naval combat, of Britain's fierce resistance and the awesome destruction Castellan's ships rain down upon their helpless targets on land and sea. Hundreds of thousands die in the fleet engagements and subsequent fighting in southern England. There are eerie premonitions of the Blitz, as well as the horrific slaughter awaiting Europe a mere five years after the publication of the novel.

That this may also be the first appearance in speculative fiction of the concept of blowing up an extinction-level comet makes it even more interesting to the science fiction antiquarian. The World Peril of 1910 is the last gasp of a popular Late Victorian/Edwardian "invasion from the Continent" genre, soon to be superseded by the grimmest of realities.

Reviewed on 2013.07.19

Pharos the Egyptian

by Guy Newell Boothby

Although I found the ending abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying, there's still plenty to recommend this novel. Boothby concocts some very striking scenes, and an eerie, morbid atmosphere pervades the work. I'm half-convinced this novel might have been an influence on both H. P. Lovecraft and Universal's first mummy film. Especially the latter: fans of the 1932 film will recognize several similar plot elements in "Pharos the Egyptian". Overall, an enjoyable read.

Reviewed on 2013.07.13

Vampires of the Desert

by A. Hyatt Verrill

A sudden change in weather patterns brings massive amounts of rainfall to the desert regions of Peru and Chile. Almost overnight, strange, primeval plants begin to carpet the landscape. An isolated oil-drilling operation is suddenly beset by a series of mysterious murders, committed by a diabolically clever killer who strikes without warning and disappears without a trace. All the victims were strangled, and some of them -- the ones with dozens of strange, shallow wounds on their heads and chests -- have been drained of all their blood ...

This tense and generally well-written monsters-from-the-past romp from the period between the two world wars is marred only by a casual racism, which was all-too-typical for the day.

Reviewed on 2013.07.13

more reviews ->