My life in outer space

Bug-Eyed Monsters – Anthony Cheetham (Ed) (1974)

Bug-Eyed Monsters

Fronted by a beautiful and apt Bruce Penninton painting, this is a wonderful selection of stories devoted to ‘the alien’. Cheetham has compiled a nicely balanced selection with not really a bad apple in the barrel. One of my favourite anthologies, this. Highly recommended.

Invasion From Mars – Howard Koch (1940)
Not only Dead Men – AE Van Vogt (Astounding Nov 1942)
Arena – Fredric Brown (1944)
Surface Tension – James Blish (1952)
The Deserter – William Tenn (1953)
Mother – Philip Jose Farmer (1953)
Stranger Station – Damon Knight (1956)
Greenslaves – Frank Herbert (1965)
Balanced Ecology – James H Schmitz (1967)
The Dance of The Changer & Three – Terry Carr (1968)

This is a curious little collection. It has seemingly been revised since its first publication (this is the 1974 reprint) as the unnamed Bertram Chandler novella mentioned in the introduction has been replaced by the Van Vogt story (Annoyingly Van Vogt has been spelt Van Voigt in both the contents and the story heading.)
No previous publishing details are given apart from the original date of publication so any errors in names of magazines etc. is purely down to me.
Despite the slipshod manner of its publication this is rather a decent collection – in chronological order – of quality work (with the possible exception of the Van Vogt) featuring alien intelligence of one sort or another; in a few cases First Contact situations.

‘Invasion From Mars’ is not, strictly speaking, a short story, but the transcript of Orson Welles’ famous radio broadcast (adapted by Howard Koch) of HG Wells’ ‘War of The Worlds’ which famously sent many gullible Americans packing their bags and heading for the hills.

In ‘Not Only Dead Men’ a whaling ship encounters an alien craft and is enlisted in the hunt for the Devil-blal; a space-borne deadly creature, which has landed in the Earth’s ocean. Unfortunately, humans who learn of the existence of galactic society have to be silenced – permanently.

‘Arena’ is the original story on which the Classic Star Trek episode of the same name is based. Sadly, due no doubt to logistical and budgetary issues, a man in a Godzilla-like rubber suit. replaced the spherical rolling tentacled alien of the story
Humans find themselves at war with hostile aliens, so alien that no co-existence is possible. A highly advanced gestalt being intervenes and sets one individual of each race against each other in an arena, where they have to battle to the death, using their strength and intelligence. The loser’s civilisation will consequently cease to exist.
Excellently written, it still stands as a classic short of the genre.

‘Surface Tension’ was later incorporated into Blish’s ‘Seedling Stars’

In ‘The Deserter’ we are once more in a war between species. This time Humanity is fighting for its existence against huge Jovian creatures, one of which has deserted and is being held in a military facility in a vast refrigerated tank.
One man, once a prisoner of the Jovians, is recruited to interrogate the monster and find out what it knows. As it happens, prisoner and interrogator turn out to have a great deal in common.

‘Mother’ is one of the most memorable stories I’ve come across and is – apart from a darkly humourous SF tale – a satirical look at a dysfunctional mother/son relationship.

‘Stranger Station’ takes us to a far darker place where, despite the best efforts of both sides, humanity and the alien race which has given them a longevity drug, cannot communicate or bear to be in the same vicinity.

‘Greenslaves’ is an ecological warning and is no doubt far more relevant today that it was in the Sixties. In South America, a project which aims to eliminate unnecessary insects produces a violent reaction when the remaining insects begin to mutate, some of them forming a gestalt and developing the ability to physically join together to mimic human beings. This I suspect was the basis for Herbert’s novel, The Green Brain.

‘Balanced Ecology’ takes a similar premise, whereby a sentient ecosystem, managed as a family business dealing in rare timbers, takes matters into its own hands (or leaves) when threatened with destruction. A little too juvenile and cute in sections, it nevertheless cleverly examines the nature of ecosystems and symbiosis.

In ‘The Dance of the Changer &Three’ Carr attempts to translate an element of the history/mythology of the energy beings who live in the forbidding environs of a gas giant. It’s an attempt to examine a possible alien mind-set or point of view, but despite it being a memorable and readable tale, Carr never really succeeds in doing so.


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