Friday, 3 August 2012

BOOK REVIEW

The End of Time by Wallace West (1933)

This week Todd Mason is the generous host of Friday’s Forgotten Books in place of Patti Abbott. Check out the entries at his blog Sweet Freedom and the previous FFB posts at Patti’s blog Pattinase.

“By millions of millions the creatures of earth slow and drop when their time-sense is mysteriously paralyzed.” 

A few remained standing like statues.

Dr. Frank Manthis, a brilliant chemical researcher, June Manthis, his lovely daughter, and Jack Baron, a young enterprising radio engineer and protégé of the chemist, are presumably the only people alive in New York and in the rest of the world.

Everyone else is in suspended animation, as it were. Something, or someone, has paralysed their sense of time as they stand rooted where they are or fall to the ground—“like characters from The Sleeping Beauty.

“There is no doubt of it! Time will come to an end at six o'clock this morning.”

The bespectacled chemist discovers the mysterious phenomenon—of one’s perception of time slowing down before it stands still—while figuring out a chemical formula. He finds that both he and June are affected.
 

The discovery prompts Dr. Manthis to inject himself, June and Jack Baron with the drug, hashish, by neutralising its deadly effects but retaining its time-expanding effects. Thus, the trio manages to remain normal but is unable to help the people of New York because there’s not enough of the drug and not enough time.

“There's nothing we can do for them now,” he said. “But we must learn all we can. Let’s go down and watch the city die.”

It doesn’t take Dr. Manthis very long to realise that only interference with the thought-waves could paralyse time-sense on such a terrifying scale. He suspects that someone inside or outside the known universe is breaking into the human thought process so as to turn humankind into zombies.

The chemist, the radio engineer and his girl embark on a do-or-die mission to trace the source of the short waves which, they find, is in India and intercept them in a desperate bid to render the waves powerless so as to reawaken the people.

“…if someone is broadcasting such a devilish wave from an earthly station we may have a chance to stop it.”

The task, however, is not easy as the three saviours have to fight a sinister looking Russian, a hashish addict, and end his evil designs to conquer the world.
 

The End of Time is quite a readable story if you overlook the fact that the theme, of time slowing down and stopping altogether, is a fairly common one. Wallace West makes two interesting observations in the story: one is Kant’s axiom that “time is purely subjective” and that “it exists in the mind only” and the other is the reference to ganja, the Indian word for hashish, the users of which “develop homicidal mania” and “run amuck” as they do in India. I quite liked that bit.

The author
American sf writer Wallace West first wrote this story for Astounding Stories, March 1933. He also contributed stories to Weird Tales. West initially wrote short fiction and reworked those into novels, many of which had 'time' as their theme. He also novelised at least four motion pictures and authored some non-fiction as well.

One of his more popular books is The Bird of Time (1959) comprising four of his short stories which had previously appeared in Astounding Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. It relates the adventures of Yahna, a Martian bird-woman, and Bill Newsome, an 
Earthman, and the conflict between their worlds. 


Bibliography (incomplete)

Novelised versions of films
1. Alice in Wonderland, a novelised version of the motion picture Alice in Wonderland, 1934
2. Jimmie Allen in the Sky Parade, 1936, a novelised version of Sky Parade starring Jimmie Allen
3. Betty Boop in Snow-White, 1934
4. Paramount newsreel men with Admiral Byrd in Little America: the story of Little America with pictures by Paramount newsreel cameramen and the story of their adventures, 1934
 

Novels
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, 1936
Thirteen Hours by Air, 1936
The Bird of Time, 1959
Lords of Atlantis, 1960
The Memory Bank, 1962
River of Time, 1963
The Time-lockers, 1964
The Everlasting Exiles, 1967
Outposts in Space, 1969

Click this link for a complete list of Wallace West’s books.

10 comments:

  1. "run amuck" -- Is that the actual spelling in the story? Love it. Mud must be present when smoking the divine weed in order to do that, I think. Never heard of Wallace West. But I'm not an avid SF reader.

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    1. John, "amuck" is how West spells it in his story. Ganja has a long and colourful history in India where godmen, the Hindu sadhus, regularly smoke the stuff. It's almost a way of life in some parts of the country. I hadn't heard of West either but, as is happening so often these days, he turned up in one of my ebook downloads.

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  2. I've read one of his books. LIked it. This looks pretty interesting.

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    1. Charles, it is an interesting story and the narrative style is clean. West is innovative in writing about the end of time. Some of his other works are available online.

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  3. To restate what I wrote in response to you, Prashant, when you posted on my blog: West had what seemed to young me a ridiculously long career...I read one of his last publications during his lifetime, newly published in FANTASTIC in 1978...while he first hit newsstands no later than 1927, with a WEIRD TALES contribution. Nowadays, a 50+ year career seems not that surprising, among writers who've lived long enough...

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  4. Infrequently, but occasionally, WorldCat listings will conflate two or more writers with the same name...but ISFDB, with its limitations as well, is also a pretty reliable source for the work in fantastic fiction of various writers...

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  5. And "amuck" is an acceptable, if vanishing, alternate spelling of the more concise "amok"...

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    1. Todd, since writing the post and your comments I have gleaned more about Wallace West at The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (as mentioned by you) and SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. You're right: West published his first short story called "Loup-Garou" in Weird Tales in 1927 and his last-known short fiction was "Leasehold" in Fantastic, 1978, followed by an unpublished work, provisionally titled, "The Other Side of Space." West was quite prolific up to the early 1970s. WorldCat did not list all his books and I have since added the word "imcomplete" to his bibliography on my post. Thanks for your valuable inputs.

      "Amuck" is, indeed, an acceptable word.

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  6. Never heard of West either, but enjoyed reading your post anyway. This story sounds like it would make a terrific film! You said that West wrote for the movies and it shows, at least in the plot you outlined.

    The funny thing with me is that though I love most sci-fi movies, I rarely read sci-fi books. Go figure. :)

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    1. Yvette, thanks for the appreciation. This was my first exposure to Wallace West's fiction. "The End of Time" sounds like a film already made. I wonder if there are shades of it in sf movies based on "time" as the theme. I don't think West wrote for the movies. IMDb lists just one film, HEADLINE SHOOTER (1933), directed by Otto Brower, as having been written by the author. He has, however, novelised at least four motion pictures. I have been watching sf films since high school but it's only in the last couple of years that I've been reading up in this fascinating genre.

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