I RECENTLY picked up a science-fiction anthology, The Shape of Things; the book consists of stories from the late '40s and early '50s. The stories are pulpy and populated by mad scientists, good-guy scientists and helpless young "girls," but they are great fun. Here is a choice sampling:
James Blish's "The Box" mixes heart-pounding suspense with convincing scientific exposition about an impenetrable force-field of unknown origin that seals off New York City from the outside world -- was it the Russians who did it? Another thought-provoking story is Charles L. Harness's "The New Reality," which adopts as its premise Kant's idea that the universe is only what man perceives it to be. Its central character is a "censor" suppressing nuclear physics research, in which a discovery might change the very structure of the universe. However, a diabolical scientist attempts to elude censorship and create a new universe in which he would hold the power. And I nodded with bemused sympathy during L. Sprague de Camp's "The Hibited Man," about a shy, desk-bound engineer who is transformed by "psychoelectronics" into a hell-raising, ultra-extroverted jerk.
The Shape of Things was published in 1965 by Popular Library and is currently out of print. It may be found in secondhand stores by the persistent aficionado. JEFFERY A. BEAUDRY Charlottesville, Va. Rocky Mountain High "DUST stanched the wet and naked heads of the scalped who with the fringe of hair below their wounds and tonsured to the bone now lay like maimed and naked monks in the bloodslaked dust and everywhere the dying groaned and gibbered and horses lay screaming."
Imagine that passage continuing for 300 pages and you have an inkling of Bood Meridian or the Evening Redness to the West by Cormac McCarthy (Random House, 1985).
This is not the Old West of Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour or even Larry McMurtry. No gold-hearted whores or crusty old coots here. Gold is for stealing, whores have a single function and the old coots quickly become corpses.
It is not an easy read, both for the violence and the writing itself. A single sentence, as convoluted and bloody as a beheaded snake, might run a page or more. Characters are violent, unwashed, selfish and seemingly unredeemable. But Cormac McCarthy finds true beauty and a sense of honor in this world of death.
The hardcover edition of Blood Meridian and a paperback edition (Ecco Press) are in print. ALLEN APPEL IV Upper Marlboro The Art of Crime THOUGH WOMEN have dominated mystery writing for decades, there are few outright feminists among them. Surprisingly unrecognized as a feminist, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels) published Borrower of the Night in 1961. In this humorous, offbeat mystery, the heroine, Vicky Bliss, follows her instincts on the trail of an ancient woodcarving. Begun as a challenge by a colleague where she teaches (his idea being that, if he finds it first, she will admit he is her intellectual superior and will marry him), she soon finds herself competing with an international set of men to unravel the clues in a drafty, secretive German castle. The mysteries involve not only furtive searching for the carving, but her attempting to understand the relation between castle chatelaine and the Cinderella-like castle heiress. By the book's conclusion, Vicky has triumphed, and not only has rejected two handsome suitors, but convinces a third, a museum director, of her capabilities as art historian. With a little coercion from Vicky, he not too reluctantly hires her on the spot.
Vicky romps through several of Peters' mysteries. While she likes men (and they like her 6-foot statuesque beauty), she never finds a man who's quite her intellectual equal.
Regrettably, Borrower of the Night is out of print. MARITTA PERRY GRAU Frederick, Md.
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