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Sonnet_Monger’s book reviews

"Then happened one of those fatuous things that have led to the detection of so many negroes and can almost be counted on in their prosecution. Joel took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face, and as he did so I recognized the very handkerchief Halloway had shown me the night before ..."

It is lines like that that earn this story its 1-star rating. Perhaps, at one time, "The Spectre In The Cart" had its defenders when it came to a supposedly sympathetic tale of post-Civil War race relations, as told by a white lawyer whose quest for "hang 'em high" justice makes sure that "an old darky named Joel Turnell" and his son, Absalom (a drunken agitator, we are told, who is the real cause of ill will between the local "whites and negroes") both come to horrific ends at the hands of a white lynch mob. While there are hardly any ghosts in this ghost story, the author's use of black Southern speech does appear to be lifted from minstrel shows. I cannot tell whether Page's quip about self-incrimination (the handkerchief is the only evidence that links Joel to a murder, which he steals because he just cannot help himself) is suppose to be played for laughs or whether the author truly believes what he is writing. Either way, the narrator, Stokeman, is no Atticus Finch, and Thomas Nelson Page is no Harper Lee.
This isn't a ghost story; the sentry box isn't haunted. It's not a mystery; the narrator immediately explains what happened. It has the feeling of an urban legend, since highly implausible things are presented at face value with an ending that is groan-worthily bad. The most interesting aspect that I came away with is the accompanying illustration of the fortifications over-looking the sea in Old San Juan. If only the publisher had stopped there.
As phallic metaphors go, few names get campier than the hero of this story: Thorn Hard. Set in the distant future of 2037, and pre-dating 1987’s “Red Dawn” by 53 years, the villains here are all dastardly Russians with outrageous accents that are pure embarrassment. There is a single female character as well, Thorn’s fiancée, who doesn’t talk so much as “pant hysterically,” and must suffer from some terrible deteriorating sickness of the brain, hampering her ability to do almost anything except sob loudly and get rescued, since Thorn is constantly scooping her up over his manly shoulder and running away with her right before whatever room they’re in explodes. If you’re still worried about them pesky Russkies (this time skulking around the Colorado wilderness) or desperately need to root for the United Nations as the saviors of mankind, then this story is for you. For the rest of us there are much better tales of adventure and daring-do out there, even if they don’t contain the line, “Thorn shot upright and quivered.” (I wonder what Dr. Freud would have made of that?)
This is a micro-story written in 1898, full of a level of joyful cynicism that would make the Nihilists proud. Then, again, with another round of "For the Rowdy Dowdy Boys" playing in the background, I'm amazed some bitter 1970s BBC producer didn't film this to answer the burning question, "what would happen to that wastrel Bertie Wooster if he fell overboard?" For a 1087-word story it is well worth the two and a half minutes!
There is no science fiction in this story. You get the techno-babble that one can find in certain episodes of Star Trek to explain away plot holes (“we fell through a space-time fault in the crust of the Earth!”) but the only real mystery is why the editors of Amazing Stories agreed to publish it in the first place. In theory the story is about time-travel, though even in 1943 we knew dinosaurs and humans weren't living together “100 million years ago,” so I suppose one would categorize it as Lost Worlds. The villains (besides the “dirty Japs,” as the author puts it, who serve no other function than to prove how brave the Americans are by killing them in large numbers) are the Ogrum, a Morlock-like race who've yet to master language or personal hygiene but have somehow figured out how to make plastic airplanes and gas bombs, because, as explained by the author, “through some freak, nature developed a type of life that had the mentality to become excellent chemists but with little or no ability in any other line.” Like the Japanese in the beginning of the story the crew of the Idaho have no problem slaughtering every Ogrum they can lay their hands on and burning their city to the ground, because apparently pre-historic Earth wasn't big enough for a U.S. battleship with unlimited fuel and ammunition (magic!) and a bunch of ape-like chemists too stupid not to build their city of mud huts and airplane hangers on top of an active volcano.
Predating both the 1953 film, War of the Worlds, and the 1958 The Blob, this is the sort of story I think of when people talk about \"The Golden Age\" of science fiction; a simpler time, when scientists all used slide-rulers, the hero in horn-rimmed glasses might as well be named Doctor Clayton Forrester, and the military general in charge of getting rid of the enemy can\'t wait to use nuclear weapons in upstate New York. It\'s also the sort of story where generic Science is simply a stand-in for magic; it doesn\'t matter what sort of science is being used as a weapon (the hero is an anthropologist, great for explaining patterns in human culture, perhaps not my first choice in battling blob-like extraterrestrials), but quibbling about this is missing the point. It\'s a fun story, even if there are no female characters and the military decided to use the code name Operation Leech when attacking the Leech, because apparently that\'s how code names worked in 1952.">\"Have you figured out some scientific way of killing it?\"
The faulty logic used in this story hurts just thinking about it.

Apparently what keeps Hollywood from making good movies are "minority pressure groups" that protest every time one of them ends up being the villain. What are two rich white men to do?

Also, Hollywood has to hurry up and make as many Sci-Fi movies as possible because apparently once humans discover just how mundane the universe is no one will ever want to watch the SyFy channel ever again.

A Martian does show up at the end (the one minority the producers thought safe to villainize) and while I am sure that in 1954 this was played for laughs, considering the HUGE amount of casual racism found in the Golden Age, what could have been a radical critique instead is simply eye-rollingly bad status quo pulp ...
There is no Sci-Fi in this story, rather it is an example of the Weird West genre: a sad little bully rides into town with the ability to have his gun materialize in his hand, literally.

Like most Spaghetti Westerns as long as you don't look too hard at the plot you'll have fun. Never mind that the one person in all of the Southwest who could figure out what the cow-poke's secret was just happened to be passing through town at that exact moment, the point is that the bartender didn't lose his ears for nothing.
While attempting to escape, aliens fire upon a civilian transport. The survivors decide to hijack the alien ship.

This is the sort of story where the one person in the whole galaxy who could fly the alien ship just happens to be one of the three survivors. Also, if you've read War of the Worlds you know how this will end.
"I believe they have spiritual powers beyond the capability of the white man."

Cringe-worthy. Two modern-day scientists run into a band of pre-historic Indians (the author also uses the term Red Men) and everyone just happens to speak Pima and have names like Moon Water and Good Fox. The one female character runs around topless so the "men with white skin" can ogle her.

Not Science Fiction, not written well, not worth your time. If I could have rated it a 0 I would.