Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Nowhere is that tiny spot of space between now and here." The Far Side of Nowhere review

Having previously spoken to you about Nelson S. Bond's great book Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies, I felt I might as well continue with a look at another of Bond's short story anthologies - this one from late in his life: the Far Side of Nowhere, published in 2002 by Arkham House and featuring short introductions from Bond himself.

Image from ISFDB

Many of the stories in the Far Side of Nowhere were first published in magazines during World War II, although the book's contents include stories from the 1950s and even 1990s. I would say this book belongs to the hardcore fans of Nelson S. Bond - the completists. I don't think the Far Side of Nowhere is as good as Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies, but the stories are very similar; therein lies the problem: Bond's stories involve so many familiar ideas and approaches, especially where time travel is involved. For this reason, I won't bother going through the stories one at a time; instead, here are my arbitrarily-chosen most interesting stories from the Far Side of Nowhere:

  • "Command Performance" Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story of an analyst attempting to uncover the meaning behind a man's nightmares is that he employs Dianetics to do so. I experienced a very brief panic as I wondered whether Bond converted to Hubbardology, but this story seems to be Bond's only foray into it.
  • "Time Exposure" Like the previous book's "Johnny Cartwright's Camera," this concerns a camera with temporal powers - it can take pictures of the past or the future, but pictures of the future can't be developed until the moment reaches the present.
  • "Private Line to Tomorrow" Concerns a man who accidentally "fixes" his telephone so that it receives calls 24 hours in advance; it takes him a while to catch on to what's happened and even then, it's difficult to sort out your personal life when all of your messages arrive 24 hours after you send them.
  • "The Battle of Blue Trout Basin" is a brief, odd story about a fisherman who finds a place where the fish are so eager to die they crowd up for the opportunity!
  • "The Unusual Romance of Ferdinand Pratt" features a shabby, wanna-be djinn who offers to make Ferdinand's typist fall in love with him via magic; instead, he makes Ferdinand's typewriter fall in love with him. It only gets worse when the typewriter becomes jealous!
  • "Herman and the Mermaid" tells the story of a man who falls in love with a mermaid and convinces her people to enter the War on behalf of the Allies to sink German submarines. For a moment, it's like reading a wartime Sub-Mariner comic book!
  • "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble" features Nelson S. Bond himself - twice over! Due to an unfortunate experiment, there are two Nelson S. Bonds, which gets to be very irritating to editor John W. Campbell as both Bonds are trying to sell him the same stories!
  • "Magic City" The protagonist of this story, Meg, has appeared in other Bond stories which I've yet to read. It's a post-apocalyptic world where a new matriarchal society has arisen with only dim memories of what had been; it's pretty well-told and often very subtle, leaving it to the audience to decipher the scrambled-up elements of contemporary times for themselves.
  • "The Masked Marvel" A sequel to the earlier "Bacular Clock." Pat Pending is back, his dialogue more wonderiferous than before. Sample: "My inventulation is stupendically importulant. One of the greatest things ever discoverized by man. It hasn't even been patentated yet." This time, Pat's built a robot golfer and sends it out to win big at a tournament, but an unfortunate downpour throws the robot off its game.
  • "The Scientific Pioneer Returns" brings back Horse-Sense Hank from "Socrates of the South Forty," but this time it's as a crossover with Bond's other character Lancelot Biggs and after a pretty good set-up, it becomes a lot of goofy technobabble.
  • "Miracles Made Easy" The Lobblies themselves are back!!! However, this story is a fairly typical Bondian time travel story; men try to use the Lobblies' knowledge of the future so they can bet on a football game. It has a neat enough solution, but it's not as special as the original Lobblies story.
  • "The Amazing Invention of Wilberforce Weems" Wilberforce invents a chemical which can impart all the knowledge of a book to one's mind by simply tapping the book against your head. This works well in giving Wilberforce the confidence and data he needs for work, but unfortunately his sister has absorbed a text on nudism, his brother-in-law absorbed "Mein Kampf" and his little nephew struck his head on a ribald men's magazine.
  • "The Man Who Weighed Minus Twelve" features exactly what the title says; a horse owner realizes that with a man who weighs -12, you could have a second jockey on your racehorse and still come in under weight. Sounds like a good plan...
  • "Occupation: Demigod" Finally, this is a charming story of a jazz musician who picks up an ancient horn which connects him to the Greek pantheon, causing some question as to whether or not they'll admit him into their ranks as a demigod.

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