Friday, April 25, 2014

"There is a world within the cool shadows." The Thirty-First of February

Earlier I looked back at sci-fi/fantasy author Nelson S. Bond's Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies and the Far Side of Nowhere. Completing my look at Bond (for now), I recently finished reading his second short story collection, the Thirty-First of February (1949), published in softcover by Gnome Press; the stories collected date from 1938-1946.

Cover obtained via ISFDB

As before, these stories usually have a humourous bend and delve into light fantasy; it's gentle fiction and quite enjoyable.

"The Sportsman": I don't think this story can truly be called fantasy - it concerns a crippled hunter who befriends the able-bodied hunters at his club and how his presence enriches their lives. It's a sedate, sentimental story.

"The Mask of Medusa": I first heard this tale adapted on the radio program Mystery in the Air with Peter Lorre (go hear it at via this link). This story concerns a waxworks whose owner turns real people into displays. How does he do it? Say, have you ever seen the Medusa's head before...? It's interesting to discover the original text is quite brief - the radio version padded it out considerably, but both are good stories.

"My Nephew Norvell": An average mechanic meets his great-grandnephew from the future who's come back to get first-hand information for a biography he's writing. And yet, the mechanic couldn't possibly create the inventions his "nephew" credits him with, so he attempts to fashion by a paradox by suggesting his nephew simply give him the schematics!

"The Ring": A mystical ring grants its bearer dominion over others but carries with it a terrible doom; it's been worn by many men over the ages and as this story is set in Weimar Republic Germany... you can guess who it's owner turns out to be.

"The Gripes of Wraith": Beyond the very cute title lies a cute story about a drinker whose new drinking buddy is a ghost; he concocts a plan to get his good buddy out of eternal purgatory.

"The Cunning of the Beast": A dull story which tells the story of the Garden of Eden through the lens of science fiction. The parallels are so instantly obvious and it goes on for so long that, no, you can't redeem your story by revealing the "beasts" were named Adam & Eve - you have to either do a better job of distracting the reader from recognizing the parallels or insert a very clever dodge from the reader's expectations.

"The Five Lives of Robert Jordan": A somewhat Rod Serling-ish tale; Robert Jordan purchases a most unusual timepiece and finds his life jetting off into five different directions as he becomes different men, but pretty soon the five of us are... er, five of them are dying.

"Take My Drum to England...": During the retreat of Dunkirk, Sir Francis Drake helps spare the crew of a boat; sorry to ruin the twist ending for you, but it ain't one of Bond's best.

"Saint Mulligan": A humourous story about a police officer who helps out an angel; the angel insists on rewarding Mulligan and upon learning the cop wants a promotion, misunderstands this and turns Mulligan into an angel. Many complications insist, not the least of which is a fellow who goes by either "Abe Addon" or "B.L. Zeebub."

"The Monster From Nowhere": Here's an interesting curve - true horror story, quite unlike the other tales, although it does delve into the fourth dimension, one of Bond's favourite subjects. An explorer in Peru capture a 4-dimensional creature - or at least, part of the creature. Problems ensue when he decides to introduce the scientific community to the monster. The story notably invokes Ambrose Bierce's "the Damned Thing" and is definitely more in Bierce's line than Bond's usual fare.

"The Man Who Walked Through Glass": Speaking of the fourth dimension, here we have a man who discovers he can travel through glass, provided he's naked. It starts out seeming very whimsical, but it seems the sensation of traveling through glass is a little too addictive to the man...

"The Enchanted Pencil": A fun story about a pulp author whose pencil can write terrific stories, but without it he's as hopeless as, well, me. There is a clever solution to the problem of how he can continue being a writer after the pencil is used up: go work for Hollywood!

"Pilgrimage": This tale features Meg & Daiv, characters of Bond's I first encountered in "the Magic City" (the Far Side of Nowhere), but this is the first of his Meg & Daiv tales, telling of a post-apocalyptic world where the history of humanity has been corrupted by time and legend. Meg is introduced here as a very fine protagonist, easily the best female character of Bond's I've read - although the story's implication that Meg's matriarchy is inferior to Daiv's patriarchy raises other problems. Still, a good story - I'd like to read the other Meg & Daiv tales.

Once again, I'm very pleased to have explored Bond's writing more closely. Perhaps I'll unearth more of his anthologies in the future.

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