Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" by Robert A. Heinlein

First Printing:  Unknown Worlds, October 1942

This was very different from any Robert Heinlein novel I have read in the past.  It appears to be a Twilight Zone crime noir story.  I can definitely see this as the perfect Unknown/Weird Tales type of mystery.

The protagonists are reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles of the Thin Man series.  The mystery of what exactly is Jonathan Hoag’s profession is the perfect case.  It starts out as a simple mystery that will be easy to solve.  Just when the reader thinks the mystery is explained, then the story takes a bizarre turn.  Heinlein would have been an excellent crime writer if he had chosen that direction.  I am curious what effect he would have had on the crime fiction field.  It would have been science fiction’s loss.  Fortunately he chose science fiction.

I wonder if Roger Zelazny read this story.  Zelazny liked using the Raymond Chandler style of writing, a setting that appears to be a normal world, then add an element of the fantastic to the mix.  Heinlein's script had a tighter plot that most of Zelazny’s work.  Zelazny had the upper hand with poetic, melancholy language.  I still enjoy re-reading Zelazny’s work because of the language.  

If you have not read “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag”, I would strongly recommend you take the time.  It is a short novel that deserves more attention.  It also shows that Heinlein could write something that is completely different from his traditional works.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"The Monster and the Maiden" by Roger Zelazny

First Printing:  Galaxy Magazine, December 1964

Once again, Roger Zelazny proves why he is one of my favorite writers.  It takes a special writer to craft a good story at this length.  He is one of the best.   This is one that I had never read.  On a side note, the three stories that sold me on Zelazny’s short fiction (“The Man Who Loved the Faoli”, “The Keys to December”, and “For A Breath I Tarry”) will be reviewed in the next few weeks.  I originally read them in Donald A. Wollheim’s World’s Best SF collections.  I have not read them since back in the 70s.  It should be a fun trip down memory lane.

Like “And I Alone…” , this one would have made a good Twilight Zone episode (with some creative directing).  He throws an unexpected twist at you that makes you reconsider other monster and the maiden stories.  Maybe things were not as cut and dry as they seemed.  I can not talk about the plot any more without ruining the story so just take my word for it and track down this little gem.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"And I Alone Am Escaped to Tell Thee " by Roger Zelazny

First Printing:  Twilight Zone, May 1981

Back in the early days of my sf reading, one of my friends and I were hooked on the Perry Rhodan series.  Many science fiction fans had a strong dislike of the series.  I can see their point.  Perry Rhodan was a German produced throw back to the old pulp style stories.  I have always been able to enjoy some fiction as escapism and others as serious fiction.  Would I enjoy that series today?  Probably not but it will always have a place on my bookshelf.  Sometimes I get them out and look through them.  It is fun to visit the places of our youth.  In the words of a famous writer, I told you that story so I could tell you another.

One of the features in the back of the Perry Rhodan books was called “Shock Shorts”.  Normally less than 5 pages, they told a story with a twist ending.  The idea was to invoke memories of the Twilight Zone television show or the old comic book anthologies.  The best part of “Shock Shorts” was it was a chance for a new writer to get something in print.  The first Steven Utley story I can remember was one of the “Shock Shorts”.  Reading “And I Alone Am Escaped to Tell Thee” brought back memories of those stories.  Being written by Roger Zelazny, one of my favorites, means that it is better written than the shorts in the back of Perry Rhodan.  

Roger Zelazny uses his skill at poetic, moody writing to quickly pull you into this very short story.  He manages to bring an old legend to life and combine it with a touch of history.  I would recommend tracking this story down and reading it.  It can easily be read in one sitting but the haunting images will stay with you long after you finish it.  At first I thought that it would make a great episode of the Twilight Zone.  This story originally appeared in the Twilight Zone magazine.

It would have been interesting to see what Roger would have done with the “New Weird” movement.  I think his style would have been perfect for it.