Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: 'Day of the Beasts' by John E. Muller (Robert Fanthorpe)

2/5 Stars

Day of the Beasts’ (1966) is a short (142 pp) pulp SF novel by ‘John E. Muller’, which is the pen name used by the British writer Robert Fanthorpe. According to the Wiki entry for Fanthorpe, he has written 250 books, many churned out on a monthly basis in the 50s and 60s for the schlocky British ‘Badger’ books imprint. This US paperback edition is rather low-budget in terms of cover illustration and production values, but in the spirit of investigating ‘vintage’ SF paperbacks I decided to pick it up.

‘Beasts’ takes place some time in the future, when the US and the USSR are engaged in a cold war competition to colonize the planets. The novel’s hero is one Brad Norton, a square-jawed American space pilot and scientist, who is investigating a top-secret government project taking place at an enormous installation in the southwest. The project is chaired by a Dr Mendel, and involves construction of a novel spaceship capable of interstellar flight. However, before the spacecraft can undergo its preliminary tests, a strange event takes place: a powerful tornado mysteriously appears in the nearby desert and, seemingly guided by some intelligence, pummels the test site.

Hardly have the dismayed scientists confronted the destruction of the spaceship when a monster resembling a giant spider (? !) is sighted in the surrounding landscape. Soon it becomes clear that earth is under attack from some alien force, and batches of supersize creatures are creating havoc in major metropolitan areas. Is the attack originating from the stars ? Or, as Brad Norton suspects, from earth’s future ? Will Brad be successful in divining the location of the enemy and putting a stop to their nefarious plans ?

‘Day of the Beasts’ is hardly a 60s SF classic, and as a low-carb pulp adventure, it sort of scrapes by. The writing isn’t great – practically every line of dialogue has an adverb appended to it (many characters can’t help but speak ‘tersely’ or ‘heavily’ or ‘thinly’ and carry out actions ‘feverishly’). Many passages suffer from poor syntax, and require several re-reads in order to figure out which subjects and objects given verbs are referencing. The monsters are vaguely described, and I had trouble believing them capable of physical destruction equivalent to that generated by nuclear bombs (!). The plot doesn’t expend too much effort in explaining why the earth is under attack in the first place, and a sub-plot involving a kind of alien doppellganger seems to be tossed in as a few pages' worth of filler before being abandoned.

However, the last 20 pages do succeed in generating some suspense, abetted somewhat by the author’s decision to keep the narrative sufficiently ambiguous in terms of an inevitable triumph of good over the forces of evil.

I can’t recommend ‘Day of the Beasts’ to readers looking for a particularly memorable SF book with old-school flavor, but those seeking light diversion may want to give it a try if they see it on the shelves.

Note: this book is not to be confused with another 'John E. Muller' / Fanthorpe title 'Mark of the Beast'

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