Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Public Domain Short Story Reviews

I started reading these stories months ago and keep forgetting to post the reviews.  All of these stories are public domain, so free to read on the internet.  I found them in several places, but the best concentration is Gutenberg.org, followed by Many Books.net.  If you have an Apple device, there's a great book reader called 'Free Books'.  It's all public domain stuff and if you don't mind the ads, it's free.

Unlike my novel reviews, I decided to go with a star rating on the stories, as there isn't enough plot to do a pro/con for each one.  Five stars means the story was excellent in every way.  Four means it was very good.  Three is good, two is ok and one is mediocre.  I've dated the stories, then give a very short synopsis and my, rather condensed, thoughts on the story.

Some of the links are to the stories themselves, others are to where you can download the stories in multiple formats.

**** "Most Dangerous Game" - Richard Connell (1924)

Very creepy story about a hunter who washes up on a Caribbean island owned by a Russian aristocrat, who has discovered the best thing to hunt.

Even knowing what's coming, the story is creepy.  The actual hunt is less detailed than I'd have liked, given the fantastic set-up.

***** "Keep Out" - Fredric Brown (1954)

Altered humans form a new colony on Mars.

Chilling story.  It's short but carries a very forceful message.

*** "The Ultimate Experiment" - Thornton DeKy (1941)

A robot achieves what the last humans on Earth couldn't: creating new homo sapiens

A interesting premise narrated by the robot.

**** "2+2 Makes Crazy" by Walter Sheldon (1954)

A public liaison officer gives a man from the Information Department a tour around Computer City, showing him the computer that's increasingly running their world.

A plausible look both at the importance of computers in the world, and the paranoia of humans when dealing with the unknown/misunderstood.

***** "This World Must Die!" by Horace Brown Fyfe (1951)

Four convicts, individuals who have murdered, or tried to commit murder, are asked to do what no others in normal society are capable of: destroy a ship full of plague victims before it can reach the inhabited Mars.

A complex story that explores many angles of morality.  The convicts have no knowledge beside what they're told, have seen no plague victims and have dubious histories (not all of which are violent).  This one will make you think.

***** "Time and Time Again" by Henry Beam Piper (1947)

43 year old Allen Hartley is sedated after being injured in World War III.  He wakes up in his 12 year old body in 1945.

A time travel story that questions whether the past can - or should - be changed.

**** "The Prize of Peril" by Robert Sheckley (1960) [the site I got this story doesn't exist anymore, so I have removed the link]

A man slowly rises in the reality game show circuit to the top: trying to stay alive for a week while being hunted by a gang of thugs.

This is the last few hours of the Prize of Peril game show, and Jim Raeder is convinced he's a walking dead man, because for every 'good samaritan' who's willing to help him, there's another person screaming his location to the thugs he's trying to avoid.

It's an interesting look at what people are willing to risk in the hopes of earning a quick buck.  Reality TV didn't exist when this was written and yet you can see how even the man betting his life is so far removed from reality that it's only in the last few hours of the game that he questions what made him decide to play in the first place.  And what kind of society allowed this show to flourish.

Given the debate around The Hunger Games and Battle Royale recently, this is an interesting story to look at.  These premises - of humans killing humans for sport - are obviously not new.  And we're not as far from the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome as we'd like to think.

** "The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft (1929)

A small rural village has some bizarre goings on as a boy is born who grows up remarkably fast and who has a malignant aura, unleashes a horror on the locals.

Originally serialized, this story is a lot longer than it needs to be.  Narrated by a character who faces the horror, the story tells of Wilbur Whateley's birth and youth, and the odd things that happen at the farm where he lives with his mother and grandfather.  There's a lot of build up towards a dual climax, one dealing with the boy, the other with the horror he's conjured.  The plot is interesting but there's so much unnecessary description that reading it was fairly boring.  The horror elements are also subtle (as the creatures mentioned are only haphazardly described).

**** "The Call of Cthulhu" by H. P. Lovecraft (1928)

Written as an account by an unnamed man who discovers the existence of a terrifying creature living underwater after going through his great-uncle's papers and researching the matter himself.

This story was quite scary, both in its attempts to be scholarly and realistic, and in it's slow build up of evidence to support the existence of the Cthulhu Cult and the monster itself.  If you're interested in trying H. P. Lovecraft, start here.

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