Tuesday, April 4, 2023

R. Chetwynd-Hayes, editor: Tales of Terror from Outer Space (1975)

Chetwynd-Hayes, R, editor. Tales of Terror from Outer Space. UK: Fontana Books, 1975.

Tales of Terror from Outer Space at the ISFdb
Tales of Terror from Outer Space at Goodreads

Cover by Justin Todd

Overall rating:     7/10

A part of the Fontana Tales of Terror series.

Where I was expecting a batch of silly stories, aside from the couple I'd already read, I was impressed as to how strong these stories are. While most of them deal with aliens coming to Earth for one reason or other, the motives behind each arrival differ story to story, and the plotting and styles are surprisingly varied for a topic that appears limited.

A couple of stories don't really fit the bill. The Sheckley, though a good story, is not horror despite having aliens arriving on Earth. Chetwynd-Hayes covers this in his introduction by stating that the stories "deal with invaders that either menace or disrupt the inhabitants of this already, agitated planet." The aliens here are nice enough and do not "invade," though they agitate one man, for a time. The Clarke is more of a quick joke, lightly entertaining but not horrifying. Sure the sun is about to explode, but there are so many other stories featuring this premise that present it more horrifically, such as Richard Matheson's "The Last Day," whereas Clarke is having fun and using a comedic tone.

My favourite story in the collection is easily the dark invasion story by French author Claude Veillot, "The First Days of May," well translated by Damon Knight. Close behind are those by the two Rays, Bradbury and Nelson, followed in turn by the Aldiss, the Bloch and the Sheckley. My least favourite would be the comedic pieces, led by the editor's own original entry.

Chetwynd-Hayes's introduction is a series of story synopses, so I treated it more like an epilogue. I prefer knowing as little as possible about a story when I begin to read, but I always read anthology and collection introductions. A good intro though, and he makes a nice link between his story and the one by Bounds, when he writes: "I think I would rather shake hands with Sydney J. Bounds's Animators." This sentence gives a hint as to the final joke in "Shipwreck."

I, Mars by Ray Bradbury     8/10
Super Science Stories, April 1949

Eighty year-old Emil Barton has been stranded on Mars for sixty years, after every colonist returned to Earth when global war erupted. He receives a phone call from himself, from recordings he had made when he was in his in twenties. And the calls keep coming, arrogant and mocking, tormenting the old man. An excellently dark story, in which a man suffers unceasingly for decades, and really for no apparent reason. Surprisingly, this story does not appear to have as yet been included in a Bradbury collection. This is the only story in the collection that does not feature an alien, and instead of having an extra terrestrial visit Earth, we have a human on Mars.

Eight O'Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson     8/10
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1963

George Nada awakens, not from sleep but from hypnosis, and becomes aware that there are aliens amidst humans. Not only do the aliens live among us, but they control humans via television and radio, brainwashing them to consume, reproduce and to obey. Certainly more pertinent today than in 1963, where the internet can be added to the mix. A good story overall with impact still felt sixty years after its original publication.

This is the short story that was adapted for John Carpenter's highly entertaining film, They Live.

Girl from Mars by Robert Bloch     7/10
Fantastic Adventures, March 1950 (as "The Girl from Mars")

Circus owner Ace Clawson has been unlucky lately. Business is slow, weather is bad and his girl has recently run off on him, But when an attractive woman shows up, claiming to be from Mars, he thinks his luck is about to change. Though predictable, Bloch writes with such charm that it is nonetheless enjoyable, and well written with a restrained humour and a deft handling of sex for the time.

Heresies of the Huge God by Brian W. Aldiss     7/10
Galaxy Magazine, August 1966

A manuscript by an official scribe nearly a thousand years in the future, recounts the devastation of the Earth after a large object lands, covering most of Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East. The event caused major changes to the planet's landscape, and sent humans into the religious fanatical dark ages. A truly original idea by Aldiss, and well constructed.

The Head-Hunters by Ralph Williams     6/10
Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951

In the Alaskan wilderness a man has escaped captivity from an alien head-hunter, and seeks the aid of a hunter and his guide who he has stumbled upon. The story employs a third person multiple point of view structure, shifting from the fugitive to the hunters and even to the alien as well, which elevates the otherwise standard plot. The ending itself is flat. There are similarities to the film Predator, and I suppose the author has a case to sue the filmmakers, the way Harlan Ellison got away with suing (an out-of-court arrangement) the makers of The Terminator.

The Animators by Sydney J. Bounds     6.5/10
Tales of Terror from Outer Space, edited by R. Chetwynd Hayes, Fontana Books, 1975

A group of scientists are collecting and studying specimens on Mars, when they accidentally awaken a virus that transforms humans into zombies. A surprisingly enjoyable story with a straightforward horror plot.

The story was adapted for the slightly enjoyable 2013 movie, The Last Days on Mars.

The Night of the Seventh Finger by Robert Presslie     7/10
New Writings in S-F 7, edited by John Carnell, Corgi, 1966

A teenage girl is taken hostage by a large, seven-fingered man who claims to be from outer space from the distant future. He will not hurt her, he repeats, but needs her help as he senses her natural female empathy. The story is made up of a single conversation, and the plot plays out within that conversation. A good story with some nice twists as the details of the situation become clearer. I am not familiar with Robert Presslie (1920 - 2000), a Scottish author with a number of short stories published in the UK during a ten-year span (1955-1966). I would be interested in discovering more of his work.

No More for Mary by Charles Birkin     5/10
Where Terror Stalked and Other Horror Stories, Tandem Press, 1966

Popular playwright Toby Lewis is near completing his latest play, and sets it aside for a holiday in Italy. There he discovers an unusual one-eyed insect, and decides to keep it in a jar for his sister Mary, an entomologist. The story offers some twists, but it just is not that interesting of a read, and the entire thing falls flat.

Invasion of Privacy by Bob Shaw     7/10
Amazing Science Fiction, July 1970

George Ferguson grows weary of his wife's unnatural mourning for her recently departed mother, while their seven year-old son insists that he has just seen his grandma, two weeks after her death. A premised ghost story that turns out to be something more complex. Plot aside, which is pretty good, the strongest element in the story is, without giving too much away, the dad's eventual struggle with his son's identity. It would be nice to see this portion developed further, but Shaw ended the story in the midst of this discovery, the moment of which is truly creepy.

The Ruum by Arthur Porges     6/10
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1953

In the distant past, a group of aliens dashing through space accidentally leave a ruum on the third planet of our solar system, intending to return, but preventing from doing so by a devastating space battle. In the present day Earth, a uranium prospector flies to the Canadian Rockies where he encounters the alien ruum. The thing has preserved several animals across time, and now appears to have its sights on the encroaching prospector.

This was included in Edmund Crispin's Best SF (1955), where I first read it many years ago. Even then, though a decent enough story, I'm pretty sure there were many stronger works published during the years covered (1948 - 1954).

The First Days of May by Claude Veillot     8/10
Translation of "Les premiers jours de mai" by Damon Knight
Fiction, #78, May 1960
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1961

Earth is invaded by an insect-like alien species, named Shrills for the piercing shrill sound they make that deafens and paralyses humans. A man is holed up in a hotel, and overcomes his fear to search for his wife. An excellent story; a truly dark vision of an invasion and humanity's dark side that emerges when hopelessly taken over by another race.

Specialist by Robert Sheckley     7/10
Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1953

A merchant ship containing several intergalactic species that essentially make up the structure of the ship, is blown off course and its Pusher is killed, preventing the crew from returning back home. In order not to perish light years from their own sector, they search the nearby area for a replacement Pusher. The story, though good, does not fit into the horror sci-fi category, and I am not sure which aspect of the story the editor found to be horror. As with the Aldiss story, this is highly original.

I read this a few years back as part of Sheckley's enjoyable collection Untouched By Human Hands (Ballantine, 1954). According to my notes, it impressed me more then than it did now (I had given it an 8/10). Still a good story, though, and I'm surprised I recalled nothing as I re-read it here. EDIT: Nearly a week has passed and this story has stayed with me. Maybe that original 8/10 was more accurate...

No Morning After by Arthur C. Clarke     6/10
Time to Come: Science-Fiction Stories of Tomorrow, edited by August Derleth, April 1954
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1956

Five hundred light years from Earth, the Thaarns are desperately reaching out to make telepathic communication with humans, and manage to connect with rocket engineer Dr. William Cross. Heartbroken and intoxicated, however, Cross believes that the voices and images are part of a drunken hallucination, and scoffs at their claim that the Earth's sun is expected to explode in four days.

Not exactly a horror story, as it is more of a quick joke story. Mildly entertaining for what it is, though does not belong in this anthology.

Shipwreck by R. Chetwynd-Hayes     6/10
Tales of Teror from Outer Space, edited by R. Chetwtynd-Hayes, Fontana Books, 1975

An alien being crash lands on Earth and takes over the life form of a young man named Sydney J. Beecham. The creature then joins his new bride and mother-in-law, who are shocked at the drastic change in his personality. The story has the potential to be horrific, particularly the creepy moment when the alien, as Beecham, coldly informs Beecham's wife that he has crashed on the planet and reveals his ultimate goal. Aside from that brief scene the story is mostly comedic, and ends with a punch-line.

I suspect the character of Sydney J. Beecham is named after Sydney J. Bounds. The Bounds story is the only other one original to this anthology, and the two share similar traits: aliens or a virus that reproduce or take over our bodies. Perhaps the two discussed the idea and each went ahead and developed their own version. And there is the little joke the editor makes in his introduction that links the two stories.

For more Wednesday Short Stories, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.


tarbandu said...

I agree, 'The First of May' is the standout piece of this anthology.

Todd Mason said...

Though "Specialist" is a nice (even if almost too convenient) story, told with conviction.

Casual Debris said...

I like "Specialist" very much. Highly original & hints at ideas more broadly experimented with decades later. Morphing, transmutation... It's almost like an early version of The Transformers.

Todd Mason said...

Well, yes...one wonders how much of the Japanese animation and such that was ripped off for various TRANSFORMERS projects might've been sparked by reading "Specialist" and similar work back when. But the Sheckley is a bit more sophisticated than what we ended up with in Robots In Disguise.

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