This is the first installment of a 5 part review of this anthology put together by Martin Greenberg. The book claims to be ‘Five SF Novels,’ but it really is five novellas housed in a thick book. These mini-reviews will be done between reading other GP books, and each of these five reviews will be a bit shorter than usual. At the end I’ll aggregate the scores for a final verdict and ‘over-review’ of the whole.
But Without Horns
Norvell W. Page
An intriguing title. I was interested. The story started off quite well too.
Norvell W. Page was a prolific pulp and comic writer penning many installments of several long-running super-hero type magazine serials. This particular story is claimed on his wikipedia entry to be ‘an early classic explication of the superman theme.’ Perhaps so, but I can tell you that I didn’t enjoy it very much.
We were pitched straight into the story, having to pick up over the unfolding pages what our main character apparently already knew. This was great, I was taken along for the ride in a fast paced noir-style adventure. Our protagonist Walter Kilderling with two of his bureau buddies attempt to track down and eliminate a faceless entity. This unseen force/character is named John Miller(!) and he gains control of people by either driving them insane or inspiring devoted worship by getting inside their minds. John Miller is supposedly some sort of superman and is trying to breed a race of supermen using the city of Metropolis as a farm. All the people that don’t reach the required level of intelligence are eliminated using some sort of electrical effect and the remaining populace are kept happy by the kind of communal communist-style arrangement (I think there’s supposed to be some sort of political commentary here). However, about a third or half-way through, alarm bells started to go off. I could sense the wheels of the story were starting to lose traction.
Anyway, to cut it short, the reasons I didn’t enjoy it are thus: The motives of John Miller are never resolved. We never find out for sure who (or what) he really is. All the action in the story appears to lack a definite sense of direction. And the ending is a total let-down. I’m not going to ‘spoil’ the ending, but I turned the page and when I saw the ending was over on the other leaf I thought (as I had had the above questions running around upstairs for quite a while by this point), “Uh oh, this is either going to end spectacularly well, or spectacularly badly”.
The badness was indeed spectacular.