Manly Wade Wellman, Giants From Eternity (Night Shade Books, 2004)
The second in the Lost Wellman series by Night Shade Books, this book is divided into two stories, dealing with biological terror from outer space and time travel, respectively. The title story describes the after effects of a meteor's crash landing in Kansas farmland. A blood-red ooze begins to creep across fields and valleys, swallowing everything (and everyone) in its path. The army seems powerless against it, and even the top scientists of the day can find no way of halting the killer's progress. But one scientist thinks the answer can be found not by the great minds of today, but by looking to the "giants" of the past.
The start of this story reminded me of "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" from Creepshow, based on the short story "Weeds" by Stephen King. Which would probably suit King just fine; Creepshow is a homage to pulp horror comics, after all. And though I would have loved to have read a story that reminded me of "goo gone crazy" movies like The Blob or The Creeping Terror, the story becomes a mini-history lesson before shifting into what I can only think of as historical sci-fi.
Wellman obviously did his research, breathing life into the historical figures he describes. Oh, I'm sure he takes some liberties with various personalities, and the total lack of ego these characters have is amazing, but not totally believable. He doesn't seem to get much of the language or speech patterns down, but that's probably to help the reader get into the flow of the story rather than any inability on Wellman's part. But it's not like I know any of these folks personally, so I'm not going to worry too much about it. In any case, this story takes off from the first page and pulls no punches. The modern taboo that seems to protect children and animals from harm in American entertainment? Forget it. Let's just say the ASPCA wouldn't be pleased. Not to mention the shudders from Parents of Young Children Everywhere. That's okay though, because throwing out these rules makes a better story; once I saw that Wellman had no problem breaking the rules, I had absolutely no idea where he was going to take me. I've had my fill of stories that let you know exactly what's going to happen and when. With fantasy and science fiction, that feeling of heading into the unknown is a good thing. The story is a little heavy at 125 pages, and could use a bit of judicious editing; scenes between Our Hero and The Bad Guy could have had some of the preening and posturing whittled down.
The second story, "The Timeless Tomorrow." deals with the French physician and astrologer Nostradamus. As his visions become more and more unsettling, he tries to find a way to aid those in need, even though they are centuries away. But in his quest to save the future, will he ignore the dangers posed to him in his own lifetime? At 29 pages, this brief story is fast paced without feeling rushed, and is as well researched as the previous story. Set almost entirely in 16th century France, it's a treat to seem to get a glimpse of what a famous person might have been like. Even if that glimpse is pure fantasy. Or is it? With Nostradamus, you never can tell.
As with Strangers on the Heights, the stories in this collection have a common thread. But while Stranger's stories have with a military feel to them, these new stories deal more with historical people and places, while still keeping to their science fiction/fantasy roots. The jacket art by well-known illustrator Vincent Di Fate looks like a cover from an old pulp magazine, and I mean that as a compliment. Plus, it's a nice, portable size, not too big and not too small, and it meets my strict short story collection criteria of "can it fit into my coat pocket?" It can, and I'm glad.