Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"These Stories Are, Altogether, More Amusing Than Intriguing"

This pretty much explains what you're getting into with the following book:
. . . The reader is confronted with even more lost species, including mammoths in the Canadian glaciers, a group of "cave-ladies" in the Everglades, a gigantic worm burrowing beneath the fields of upstate New York, a school of minnows the size of Pullman cars, etc. — ISFDB
By Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933).
D. Appleton & Co.
1915. 292 pages. $1.30
Collection: 6 stories.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
(1) "The Third Eye" [Hearst's Magazine, February 1915]
(2) "The Immortal" [Hearst's Magazine, August 1915]
(3) "The Ladies of the Lake" [Hearst's Magazine, July 1915]
(4) "One Over" [Hearst's Magazine, September 1915]
(5) "Un Peu d'Amour" [Hearst's Magazine, June 1915]
(6) "The Eggs of the Silver Moon" [Hearst's Magazine, March 1915]
[Full review] The series of extravaganzas that make up the latest volume by Mr. Robert Chambers, with its scarehead title of Police!!!, and its quite unashamed bathing-suit lady on the cover, leaves the impression that the author is sardonically laughing at his characters, his readers and the world at large.
The time was when Mr. Chambers had a peculiar gift for the uncanny; he could send little furtive creeps all the way up your spine and down again; he could distil virgin gold into loathsome, slimy, creeping shapes that would haunt you with the persistence of a delirium; or he could at will convey the charm of elusive, elfin shapes, airy, butterfly beings bridging the chasm of the unknown.
All this he has apparently lost. Whatever he purposed doing in relating the mythical adventures of Professor Smith, of the Bronx Zoological Park, one thing is certain: that they miss fire. He may have meant them as horror stories, but they fail to horrify; he may have meant merely to mystify, but the mystery is ineffective; or perhaps his ambition did not extend beyond farce comedy, but if so, it is too heavy-handed to be really amusing.
Take, for instance, "The Ladies of the Lake": two professors, masquerading as guides, escort an Amazonian band of elderly suffragettes into the wilds of Alaska, and there discover a small lake five miles deep, whose unfathomed waters contain a hitherto undiscovered species of minnow the size of a sperm whale. These giant fish have a habit of rising to the surface at nightfall and leaping high in the air, with a roar like Niagara, to feed on the myriads of bats that flit above the water. Well, one evening when the suffragettes indiscreetly venture out for a row at twilight, a playful flap of a giant tail sends the boat skyward and the ladies [SPOILER]. The whole thing is too overdrawn to hold you; it isn't convincing, it isn't creepy, it isn't even funny.
"Un Peu d'Amour" comes a little nearer to being a success in its own line. The professor discovers, in some remote, unspecified locality, a wonderful crater from which fumes constantly rise; and when he cautiously creeps down the inner slope, he sees that the fumes arise from a ring of flame, half-way down, and that below the ring the bottom of the crater is smooth and sandy, without smoke or fire. Moreover, in the flames, scores of little ferret-like creatures disport themselves, in salamander fashion, and when he succeeds in catching one with his naked hand, he finds it cold, with a glacial coldness that numbs his body. It is all quite elfish and fanciful, and leads you to the point of wishing it might be true,—and then suddenly Mr. Chambers rudely awakens you by weaving in a monstrous yarn about a [SPOILER], that sets the hills and valleys rocking as it [SPOILER], burying [SPOILER] under a vast cataclysm. Like all the other stories in the volume, it leaves you with an exasperated sense of having been hoaxed. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Some Novels of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (January 1916; go to page 602, right bottom)
Disappointing one-joke collection from the master who wrote The King in Yellow. Low levels of imagination and uninspired style, along with sub-sitcom levels of joke predictability sink the thing deep. — David Hambling, GOODREADS (February 10, 2014)
This final fantastical outing by horror great Chambers is amusing, but pale compared to his earlier works. Nestled in-between his once-popular parlor romances, 'Police!' continues the fantastical stories of Dr. Percy, ever searching the world for zoological discoveries and love, and doomed never to find either. Chambers apes Twain more than Bierce in these comical tales, and while he hits some high points, these stories are, altogether, more amusing than intriguing. — Keely, GOODREADS (February 28, 2011)
- More information about Robert W. Chambers is HERE and HERE.

Categories: Science fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Humor

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