Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M10-4.5

Available in: The Hashish Man And Other Stories

After a catastrophic manmade, uh, catastrophe, the boatman of the Styx takes the very last human being to Hades, wondering what the Hades he’s supposed to do with his life now that all mankind is dead. Of course, if Charon is looking for another job shuttling people across a dismal river to Hell, there’s an opening on the Manhattan-to-Newark ferry.  Zing! I’m going to sell that joke to The New Yorker. And if they reject it, I’ll change the names and sell it to their New Jersey competition, The Newarker. 

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Hertzsprung-Russell rating: K10-3.5

Available in: Dagon And Other Macabre Tales

Cthulhu was Lovecraft’s bread and butter, but among his admirable repertoire of non-Cthulhu tales is this one. Read it: if you fail to pick up on its overarching themes of desperation, personal failure and the futile repetition of history, you’ll at least learn the location of the Pole Star, the preferred celestial body of firemen, strippers and Polish people.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: 0106.5+

Available in: The Early Del Ray Volume 1

A brilliant biologist imbues a statue of Hermes with life using unorthodox methods. But in order to survive, his creation requires a steady diet of hard liquor.  I suppose you could call it a science experiment gone a-rye. Many famous scientists allowed alcohol to interfere with their work. A drunken Nikola Tesla, for example, would often ‘prank’ Thomas Edison by leaving a steaming ‘Tesla coil’ on Edison’s doorstep. And every Saturday night ended with Marie Curie puking her guts out, although that was from radiation poisoning.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F103

Available in: Adventures In Tomorrow

An alien in the year 4000 reads a C20 pulp scifi story about a time machine, builds it, then goes back in time to C20 to write the story he learned about the time machine from. Personally, I hate pulp in my scifi, so I read only the strained, pulp-free kind. Seriously, though: you can’t write a time-travel story without paradox. It’s like writing a tragedy with no sadness – there’s no fucking point. So just pretend it’s your creepy drunken uncle you see once a year at Christmas, embrace it, and hope it doesn’t get a boner.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: The Book Of Philip Jose Farmer

Intercourse between humans and aliens isn’t always the tasteful, soft-lit lovemaking you see on Star Trek and in the studio-owned, unreleased director’s cut of E.T. Sometimes, as in this story, it’s a grotesque biological process involving bizarre skin flaps, pulsing bladders, asexual trenches and a tumescent third leg. Not the Terrestrial slang for ‘penis’, but an actual third leg. Phil Farmer – what a weirdo.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: Study War No More

A tale of futuristic American military Imperialism, but instead of bombing, torture and rendering extraordinarily, invading soldiers deliver brand-new home appliances to third world countries and force enemy combatants to use them at gunpoint.  Forget napalm in the morning; wait’ll you get a whiff of freshly-made Freedom Toast served piping hot from a General Electric 3000-Series Liberator oven. Yum! BREAKING NEWS: I’ve just learned that, because of its involvement in the overcooking of a civilian casserole , General Electric has been court-martialed.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M10-4

Available in: Interfaces

The sole survivor of a once mighty empire returns to the glorious city of his birth to find it overrun with barbarians who’ve slaughtered the inhabitants. Hey, barbarians – would it kill you to not kill everyone for once? Sheesh! I loved this story, cuz it reminded me of when I was 35 and went back to my favourite university dive bar, only to discover it had been converted to a fabric store. Curiouser still, my favourite university fabric store is now a dive bar. So, zing.