February 02, 2006


Other Worlds Than Ours. By Nelson Bond. Arkham House. $35.95.

     No one ever accused Nelson Slade Bond of being a great SF stylist.  He didn’t have to be.  He did most of his writing for the now-famous, then-infamous pulps of the 1930s and 1940s, where excellent writing was beside the point.  He contributed in particular to Blue Book, Thrilling Wonder Stories and Planet Stories, which are long, long gone.  He stopped writing SF altogether in the 1960s.  And he has long since had his revenge, if he ever wanted such, on the more-talented writers who did come up through the pulps, through the simple expedient of outliving them.  Bond is now 96, still active as an annotator of his own works, and has had several successful careers since his writing days: public relations, philately, antiquarian bookselling, and more.  And though he never won a Nebula award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, he did have the satisfaction of being named the group’s Author Emeritus in 1998.  Not bad at all.

     The same may be said of many of Bond’s stories: not bad at all.  Okay, some are pretty awful, and all are filled with the typecasting and standardized plots that brought mockery to SF for many years.  But Bond had an undeniable flair for the action yarn, and if his plotting was never particularly creative, he certainly knew how to move a story along, throw in a few twists and turns along the way, and create a satisfying ending (something that many more-recent SF writers have yet to learn how to do).

     Other Worlds Than Ours is the second recent Arkham House collection of Bond’s work, after The Far Side of Nowhere (2002).  This excellent small press also did a long-out-of-print Bond collection back in 1968.  The new book contains 13 tales, all written between 1940 and 1944.  One, “Gods of the Jungle,” is the length of a short novel of the “Martians and Venusians Battle on Earth” type; the others are novelettes or short stories.  All show Bond’s unmistakable pacing, plotting and often-repetitive verbiage.  To cite just one example of word repetition among many, we have “The skipper was one big hunk of melancholy dressed in officer’s blues…hurdling the asteroid belt” in “Legacy,” and “Lady Alice Charwell…had hurdled the amenities of speech” in “Revolt on Io.”  There is also plenty of the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo that passed for the “science” in “science fiction” when these stories were written: “‘Skipper!’ he cried. ‘The velocity intensifier!’”  There are the typical romance elements of these tales’ time and place: “The lithe, sure, free, but overwhelmingly feminine allure of her body, shoulder brushing his as they sat before the fireplace in the long evenings.”  And there are occasional remarks that, in these days of Internet focus and declining newspaper circulation, seem oddly prescient: “On the ground floor…rolled the massive presses, gushing in prolific stream the already ancient history of yesterday.”

     Bond occasionally rises above himself. The best story here, “The Ultimate Salient” (1940), is one of those snake-eating-its-own tail stories, but with a highly clever twist that speaks to the wished-for importance of the pulps for which Bond wrote.  It also includes a compliment-in-passing to the works of E.E. “Doc” Smith.  The tale is so good that the silliness of its scientific underpinnings scarcely matters; nor does Bond’s preoccupation with the word “salient,” which he uses at every opportunity in several of the works collected here.

     The most interesting thing about Bond’s stories is how often they transcend all the nonsense they contain.  Give your suspension-of-disbelief dial a slight extra twist to overcome the generations-later disdain for pulp writing, and you will find genuine enjoyment here.  And more: there are flashes of humor, a scattering of bad puns, and even occasional trenchant turns of phrase (“a little bleat of dismay,” “his eyes were as frigidly genial as those of a deep-sea fish”).  And there is always that hell-for-leather fast pace that will indeed take you to Other Worlds Than Ours if, for just a little while, you can time-travel your mindset back to the days when Bond and the pulps flourished together.

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