Friday, January 21, 2011

The Horror of the Heights

Short Story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Read for Pseudopod by Alasdair Stuart

This is Alasdair's favorite short story ever, and I can see why our beloved host/narrator decided to read it for us, rather than farming it out to some lackey (or editor). I don't love it as much as he does, and for my money it isn't ever the best of Doyle, but it is a pretty darn good story.

Not so much horror as weird fiction, Horror of the Heights is about an English aviator who wants to set the world height record. He's been defending a crackpot theory about "air jungles" and various carnivorous beasts living up so high that only the highest airplanes reach them. A few pilots have never come back, and one was found... missing his head. He is determined to fly up there with his shotgun, set the new record, and maybe bring back evidence that he isn't such a crackpot afterall. I won't spoil the story, but in the first few sentences, we learn that we're getting this story from his diary, found in a crash with no body...

Published in 1913, we knew a lot less about the upper atmosphere back then, but something about this story still works. A bit slow at times, not bad, but it's more neat idea than great story. 3.5 out of 5 sky-creatures are herbivores. Somehow.

Text of the story is in the public domain, available at wikisource and many other places.
Note: This is part of a Pseudopod 200th anniversary doubleshot, along with Oil of Dog.

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