Wednesday 4 June 2008

Bug-Eyed Monsters, ed. Anthony Cheetham

BUG-EYED MONSTERSI hope readers will indulge me in reviewing a rather older book than we would normally discuss here, because this was one of the best anthologies of science fiction I’ve ever read. To be honest it’s been far too long since I read such an anthology at all. I thought I’d run out of new worlds to discover; to realise how short-sighted I had been was a pleasure.

If there’s a movie producer in your life, you could do a lot worse than pressing a copy of this book into her hands!

Some of the stories, like Fredric Brown’s “Arena” and The War of the Worlds (represented here by the script of Orson Welles’ radio version) have already made it to the large or small screens, while William Tenn’s “The Deserter” seems to be the missing link between the Starship Troopers (the hawkish book) and Starship Troopers (the satirical film) (complete with brain-sucking alien bugs). Frank Herbert’s “Greenslaves” perhaps has too much in common with Mimic to make adapting it worthwhile. Others, though, as far as I know, are still pristine, unspoilt, and ready for exploitation!

AE van Vogt’s “Not Only Dead Men”, in which a World War II-era whaling ship encounters alien life at sea, would make a stunning movie – preferably starring Tom Hanks as the captain. In fact, it would almost certainly be one of the best films of all time! Sadly I can also easily imagine it as a cheap direct-to-DVD movie, which would be a shocking waste of its potential. I can only dream of how good it would have been as a black and white film made in the 1950s.

Pixar and Brad Bird could do much worse than adapt “Surface Tension” by James Blish. I say that because the premise, of tiny people living in a puddle, although brilliant, might be a hard sell to adults, as I’ve found when trying to explain to my wife and friends why it was such a superb story. Children would love it, though.

When reading “Stranger Station” by Damon Knight I couldn’t help mentally repurposing shots from films like Solaris and Sunshine – it might make quite a short film, but like James H Schmitz’s “Balanced Ecology”, Terry Carr’s “The Dance of the Changer and the Three” and Philip Jose Farmer’s “Mother” it would make for an amazing episode of The Outer Limits, if some version of that programme ever gains the budget to match its ideas.

Of course, even if no one ever makes a movie out of any of these stories, it won’t lessen them one bit. That I’ve taken that angle in this review is just an illustration of how exciting I found the concepts. That’s what really marks this out as an exceptional collection of science fiction – every story has an utterly different and astonishing premise. And of course, no film could ever be as perfectly executed as these stories are – on screen there’s always some flaw, however tiny, something that doesn’t quite work. That’s not the case here. Antony Cheetham did a marvellous job of bringing together a superb range of stories, by an immensely talented group of writers. The book’s only arguable flaw is its title, which makes it sound rather sillier than it really is, but even that can be excused, given that it was what made me buy the book in the first place.

Bug-Eyed Monsters, Anthony Cheetham (ed.), Panther (1970), pb, 256pp.

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