Friday, January 07, 2011

Forgotten Books: Dreadful Sanctuary -- Eric Frank Russell

This is another of those books that kind of jumped into my hands as I was browsing a used-book store. When I was a kid, Eric Frank Russell was a big favorite of mine. I liked his short stories, and I really liked a couple of his novels, Wasp and The Space Willies. In fact, Wasp was one of my all-time favorites. But somehow I'd missed Dreadful Sanctuary, and I thought it would be fun to read it. After all, it's a sort of blend of a crime novel and science fiction set in the distant future (the 1970s). How could I go wrong?

All too easily, as it turned out.

But first the good stuff: secret societies, private-eyes, lots of shooting, bodies littering the floor. A tough hero. A little romance. When I was a kid, I ate that stuff up. Well, I still do, to tell the truth.

Now the bad stuff. The first problem was the writing style. Style is something that didn't bother me much when I was young. Now, I notice things that I probably took for granted then. Like the fact that people in this novel don't often "say" anything. A few examples from page 51: "he yelped," "he contradicted," "she admired." From page 108: "she diagnosed," "he invited," "he evaded," "she sighed," "she protested," "the pilot checked." And so on. Stuff like that takes me out of the story these days.

And the story, frankly, was just too hard to swallow. 50 years ago, probably not. Now, I couldn't get it down. I didn't like the ending, either. The story was originally published in John W. Campbell's Astounding in the late '40s, and I understand that Russell changed the ending for book publication. I've never read the serial, so I don't know if the original ending was any more satisfying.

I'll bet I'd still like Wasp, so if you want to read something by Russell, read that one, not this one. I had to struggle to finish it.

10 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Once you begin to notice something like that, it drives you wild. And I have a guy in my writing group, that despite years of comments, continues to do it.

Scott Cupp said...

I love WASP! I read DREADFUL SANCTUARY more than 40 years ago and liked it but will probably not revisit it.

Bill Crider said...

I hope WASP is as much fun as I remember. Maybe I shouldn't find out.

Lawrence Person said...

I read WASP last year, and though dated it's still fun:

http://www.lawrenceperson.com/?p=1709

Charles Gramlich said...

oh oh, I remember this.

Todd Mason said...

Russell was always inconsistent, brilliant on one page, dotty on the next sometimes, and definitely brilliant in some stories, just going through the motions with the next.

I'm intrigued by the "limited edition" label...is this Lancer book actually more durable than most?

Bill Crider said...

Yes, the cover is a bit sturdier than the usual pb cover. But not much. I have no idea how "limited" this edition was. Not very, would be my guess.

The "specially revised for this edition" remark refers, I believe to the original hardcover publication, not this specific Lancer book.

George said...

LANCER put out a series of "Limited Edition" titles, Todd. Many of them featured great EMSH covers.

Evan Lewis said...

"Sounds great!" I prevaricated.

BV Lawson said...

I've got to find a copy of "Space Willies," BV Lawson opined.